Overnight Defense: Lawmakers returning to funding work | Esper tells allies to be wary of China | Pentagon identifies soldier killed in Afghanistan | Taliban carries out third attack this week
Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: Lawmakers will be off to a running start when they return from recess next week. Senators are set to start work on their fiscal 2020 government funding bills, including defense, with only weeks to go until the deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
What needs to be done: The Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on four funding bills Thursday, according to a schedule released by Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate to start work on funding bills with shutdown deadline looming House Democrats brace for short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown Is this any way for NASA to build a lunar lander? MORE (R-Ala.): defense; labor, health and human services, and education; energy and water; and state and foreign operations.
The panel will also vote on the topline spending numbers, known as 302(b)s, for the 12 individual spending bills next week.
About the votes: The votes will mark the first package of fiscal 2020 funding bills to be taken up by the committee so far this year. While the House has passed 10 out of the 12 individual funding bills, the Senate put its legislation on hold while leadership and President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo pressed on possible Senate run by Kansas media The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump digs in on Hurricane Dorian projection Trump’s mental decline is perfectly clear for those with eyes to see and ears to hear MORE hashed out a two-year budget deal.
Congress has until Oct. 1 to pass the fiscal 2020 funding bills or a continuing resolution (CR), which would give them more time to negotiate and temporarily continue funding at the fiscal 2019 levels.
Timing: The plan for the Senate Appropriations Committee to move forward with its funding bills comes after House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerSenate to start work on funding bills with shutdown deadline looming The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump’s hurricane forecast controversy won’t go away Overnight Energy: Key moments from Democrats’ 7-hour climate forum | Watchdog finds Interior broke the law over use of park fees during shutdown | House Dems to push for offshore drilling ban MORE (D-Md.) said in a letter to House Democrats that they are planning to bring up a CR during the week of Sept. 16 — the week after Congress returns from its current break.
Senators have acknowledged that a CR of some form will be necessary to prevent a shutdown starting on Oct. 1.
But Senate appropriators are hoping to get at least one significant package to Trump’s desk before the deadline, which would limit how much of the government has to be funded by a CR.
ESPER WARNS EUROPEAN ALLIES ABOUT CHINA: Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China’s investments, blasts Russia Military school aided by McConnell among those losing funds to Trump wall The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump’s hurricane forecast controversy won’t go away MORE called on U.S. allies in Europe to be wary of Chinese investments while blasting Russia for violating arms control rules and for its aggression in Europe.
“Governments and businesses around the world should be concerned by Chinese influence that opens them to costly deals, future coercion, loss of technical advantage, or other malicious activity,” Esper said in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.
“I would caution my friends in Europe – this is not a problem in some distant land that does not affect you.”
Timing: His remarks came as the Trump administration is embroiled in a trade dispute with China as well as a legal battle over Huawei, a major technology company in the Asian country.
Esper said that China seeks to “expand its influence well beyond the shores of the mainland” through technology theft, urging European nations to be wary of working with Chinese companies, which he said are intrinsically linked to Beijing’s government.
“The more dependent a country becomes on Chinese investment and trade, the more susceptible they are to coercion and retribution when they act outside of Beijing’s wishes,” Esper said, adding that “every Chinese company has the potential to be an accomplice in Beijing’s state-sponsored theft of other nations’ military and civilian technology.”
Other warnings: Both Russia and China, Esper also argued, were using economic influence to gain leverage over foreign governments to pressure them against decisions that could harm their interests.
“It is increasingly clear that Russia and China want to disrupt the international order by gaining a veto over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions,” he said.
“For anyone who wonders what a world dominated by Beijing might look like,” he reportedly added, “I would argue all you need to do is look at how they treat their own people, within their borders.”
Esper also hit out at Russia, including over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and said Russian cruise missiles that are pointed at Europe are “probably nuclear-tipped.”
PENTAGON IDENTIFIES SOLIDER KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN: The Pentagon has identified the U.S. service member that was killed by a Taliban bombing earlier this week in Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Elis Barreto Ortiz, 34, of Morovis, Puerto Rico was killed on Thursday when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Kabul, according to a Defense Department announcement on Friday.
The Taliban has taken responsibility for the incident, which is under investigation.
TALIBAN STRIKES FOR THIRD TIME IN A WEEK AS US ENVOY VISITS QATAR TO TALK PEACE DEAL: Taliban forces struck a third provincial capital in Afghanistan in seven days on Friday when militants briefly seized an army recruiting center in Farah, according to local officials.
The Associated Press reported that militants briefly overtook the recruitment center on Friday, setting fires and killing at least two civilians while wounding 15 others before Afghan security forces retook the building.
Provincial governor Mohammad Shoaib Sabet told the AP that military clashes continued in the city and added that airstrikes had been carried out against the militants. Shops in the area were reportedly closed as residents fled.
Fighting also occurred elsewhere in the country Friday as battles erupted in the Kunduz province, according to the AP. Attacks also took place in the Baghlan province last weekend.
Why it’s noteworthy: The sporadic attacks around the country come as the U.S. and Taliban announced the basic framework of a peace plan that has yet to be formally agreed upon. The possible deal, which has been in the works for months, is being negotiated by Trump administration negotiators and the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar.
“We are at the threshold of an agreement that will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honorable & sustainable peace and a unified, sovereign Afghanistan that does not threaten the United States, its allies, or any other country,” U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted on Monday.
Critics of the peace process in Afghanistan worry that the plan may result in failures to protect minority groups in the country as well as the possibility of a return to power for the repressive, hardline Taliban.
“The Afghan government is also concerned and we, therefore, would like further clarity on this document to completely analyze its dangers and negative consequences and avoid the dangers,” a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday.
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