Overnight Defense: Dems confident defense bill will pass despite party infighting | GOP chairman's bill would review US, Saudi ties | Senators briefed on sexual assault allegation against top general
THE TOPLINE: The annual defense policy bill now appears to be in good shape for passage later this week.
On Wednesday, Democratic leadership exuded confidence that National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will pass despite progressive grumbling.
During a closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday, there were no fireworks as leaders and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithDem tensions snag defense bill Trump’s pick for Pentagon chief wins allies on Capitol Hill Bipartisan House duo unveils amendment to block Iran strike without Congress’s approval MORE (D-Wash.) rallied support for the bill.
Smith told his colleagues inside the meeting that it’s a good bill and Democrats need to pass it, according to sources in the room.
“We didn’t hear any concerns in there. Everyone who spoke, spoke in favor of the bill,” Smith told reporters as he left the room.
A source in the room concurred with Smith. During the open-microphone period, all of the speakers spoke in favor of the bill, the source said.
The comments were “100 percent positive,” the source said.
Progressive stance: Members of the Progressive Caucus said Wednesday they remain undecided on how to vote on the $733 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) they consider too costly, adding they are watching to see which amendments get added to the bill on the floor.
“We’ll have to see what passes on the floor,” Progressive Caucus co-chairwoman Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDem tensions snag defense bill Overnight Health Care: Nixing private insurance divides ‘Medicare for All’ candidates | Warren calls on ex-FDA chief to quit Pfizer board | Facebook targets bogus medical claims Nixing private insurance divides ‘Medicare for All’ candidates MORE (D-Wash.) said. “We had a good meeting last night with Chairman Smith, and he has worked hard to include a lot of good progressive priorities. There are some more that need to pass on the floor. So we’re working to see exactly what that looks like.”
Republican stance: Republicans were disinclined to support the bill because they believe the defense budget should be $750 billion and because they oppose several policy provisions, including ones related to the border, nuclear weapons and Guantanamo Bay.
Their opposition calcified Wednesday when Democrats changed the bill through what’s known as a “self-executing” amendment, or an amendment that is added without a separate vote.
The self-executing amendment itself is sweeping. It gives all federal employees 12 weeks of paid family leave, repeals the so-called military widow’s tax, guarantees a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops, allows service members to sue the government for medical malpractice and adds another 70 visas to the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program.
“I was shocked to have a self-executing amendment on serious things that we’ve grappled with for years and just waive a magic wand and pretend that you can solve these mandatory spending issues that way,” Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryDem tensions snag defense bill US officials express optimism negotiations with Iran possible GOP rep: ‘This story is not over’ if Iran continues ‘aggressive’ and ‘provocative’ behavior MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told The Hill on Wednesday.
Thornberry said “we’ll see” when asked if he’s a definite “no,” but said based on the amendments getting a vote, the bill “may get worse.”
RISCH UNVEILS SAUDI BILL: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP chairman introduces bill to force ‘comprehensive review’ of U.S.-Saudi relationship The Hill’s Morning Report – Democrats assail border conditions as Congress returns to work Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Idaho) introduced legislation Wednesday to force the Trump administration to undergo a “comprehensive review” of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
“This legislation calls for a comprehensive review of U.S.-Saudi relations,” Risch said during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
The bill requires the Trump administration to submit a report to Congress within 270 days that reviews the foreign policy goals of Saudi Arabia and if they align with the United States, the level of risk to the United States created by Saudi Arabia’s actions and an evaluation of Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights.
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It would also deny or revoke visas to members of the Saudi royal family who serve in the Saudi government in positions equivalent to a deputy secretary or agency chief. But the bill would let President TrumpDonald John TrumpS&P 500 breaks 3,000 for first time Strife between Seoul and Tokyo makes Kim Jong Un’s DMZ victory even more valuable Chamber of Commerce hires former Giuliani, Cruz campaign aide MORE waive that provision if he deems it’s in the national interest.
On Yemen, Risch’s legislation requires the administration to provide a briefing to lawmakers about the progress made toward ending the war and would slap sanctions on individuals who are knowingly blocking humanitarian aid.
Background: Risch’s bill comes as lawmakers have struggled to find legislation to address Saudi Arabia that could both pass Congress and win over the White House.
The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been a point of contention between Trump and lawmakers in the wake of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi embassy in Turkey last year.
“The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been going south for a long time,” Risch told The Washington Post. “The Khashoggi event shocked a lot of people and brought a lot of people to the realization that the Saudis were not in tandem with us as they had been in the past.”
“The objective here is to maintain the relationship and at the same time bring [the Saudis] to the realization and change of conduct that needs to be done if the relationship is to be continued,” Risch added. “It can’t continue in the direction that it’s going. I have met with the Saudis and told them that they are only one Khashoggi-type of event away from having to find a new partner.”
SENATORS BRIEFED ON SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATION AGAINST GENERAL: President Trump’s nominee to be U.S. military’s No. 2 officer is facing an allegation of sexual assault that officials say is unsupported but which could still muddle his Senate confirmation.
Defense officials on Wednesday briefed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. John Hyten, who has been nominated to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Defense and congressional aides told Defense One, which first reported on the closed-door meeting, that the sit-down was aimed at addressing an alleged incident involving Hyten that took place sometime between the end of 2017 and start of 2018.
Defense officials met with members of the Senate on the allegations after Hyten’s accuser sent letters to lawmakers directly.
The Air Force in early April received the allegations, which accused Hyten of “abusive sexual contact” and creating “an unprofessional relationship,” a senior military official told Defense One.
Air Force officials then opened a “comprehensive investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations” on Hyten, who was cleared after “there was insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct,” Pentagon spokesperson Col. DeDe Halfhill said in a statement to The Hill.
“Gen. Hyten cooperated with the investigation,” the statement added.
Complicating factor: Trump on April 9 nominated Hyten to become the next vice chairman, a role that oversees the Pentagon’s weapons development, acquisition and budget.
If confirmed, Hyten would replace Gen. Paul Selva, who will leave his four-year appointment on July 31.
But the allegations could complicate Hyten’s confirmation.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown White House faces time crunch with Trump’s top Pentagon pick Trump’s pick for Pentagon chief wins allies on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Okla.) told Defense One that he believed that the Air Force investigation was “all factual,” but is waiting for feedback from committee members before deciding whether the panel will look into the allegations on its own.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Marines Corps will hold a change of command ceremony for Gen. David Berger to become commandant at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/2XCGfQL
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Gen. Mark Milley to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2XjIdum
A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on human rights in Cuba at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2G4tWXO
The House Appropriations Committee defense subpanel will hold a closed-door hearing with Southern Command commander Adm. Craig Faller at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/2XBDjsM
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