Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pen...
Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, 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: The Senate has passed a short-term funding bill just hours before the deadline to prevent a government shutdown.
Senators voted 84-10 on Wednesday to keep the government funded at current levels through Dec. 11, setting up another funding fight after the November elections and right before the holidays.
The funding bill, passed by the House earlier this month, now heads to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE’s desk, where he is expected to sign it before midnight to keep the government running.
The last-minute passage of the legislation comes after the Senate punted the bill last week as a burgeoning fight over the Supreme Court has diminished day-to-day cooperation in the chamber. Republicans had hoped to pass the continuing resolution (CR), which continues funding at fiscal 2020 levels, last week, but argue Democrats wanted to keep them off the campaign trail in the final stretch of the election.
See you back here in December: To avoid a shutdown on Dec. 12, lawmakers and the Trump administration will need to pass either another CR or a dozen fiscal year 2021 funding bills.
Getting a deal on all 12 appropriations bills would be a herculean task given the deep disagreements between the two parties and the short timeframe. The outcome of the November elections will also play a role: If Democrats win back the White House and the Senate majority they could try to pass another CR into early 2021, when they would have more leverage.
Though the House has passed 10 of the 12 fiscal 2021 spending bills, the Senate has not taken up any amid a disagreement in the Appropriations Committee about the amendment process.
ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Tuesday night marked the first debate between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE.
The debate was generally considered a chaotic mess caused by Trump’s frequent interruptions of Biden and debate moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE, and defense issues were not really discussed.
But there were a couple mentions of the military we can recap:
Biden hits Trump over ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’ scandal: Biden called out Trump for reportedly calling fallen service members “suckers” and “losers.”
Invoking his son Beau Biden, who served in Iraq and died of brain cancer in 2015, Biden said “he was not a loser. He was a patriot. And the people left behind there were heroes.”
In response, Trump quickly turned to attacking Biden’s other son, Hunter.
“Oh, really? Are you talking about Hunter?” Trump asked Biden on Tuesday.
When the former vice president said he was talking about his deceased son Beau, Trump replied: “I don’t know Beau, I know Hunter.”
Trump’s preoccupation with Hunter Biden and his work at a Ukrainian energy firm in an effort to dig up dirt on Biden was what led to the president’s impeachment.
Trump on Tuesday also launched a new personal attack on his Democratic rival by focusing on Hunter Biden’s 2014 dismissal from the Navy for cocaine use. Hunter Biden received an administrative discharge after failing a drug test.
Trump mischaracterized the Navy’s actions against Hunter Biden, saying he was dishonorably discharged.
Biden shot back on Tuesday that his son wasn’t dishonorably discharged and that like a lot of Americans his son had a drug problem but was “working on it” and had “fixed it,” adding that he’s proud of his son.
308,000 dead?: Early in the debate, Trump also lobbed an attack line at Biden that left many defense watchers scratching their heads.
After Biden mentioned the more than 200,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus, Trump claimed that Biden’s actions in office led to “308,000 military people dying because you couldn’t provide them proper healthcare in the military.”
Later in the debate, Trump said the Department of Veterans Affairs “was a mess under him, 308,000 people died because they didn’t have proper health care.”
Trump did not elaborate at all during the debate, but his Twitter account later tweeted out a CNN article on a 2015 VA inspector general report. The report did not find what Trump suggested it did.
According to the report, about 307,000 pending applications for VA health care out of nearly 900,000 it looked it belonged to veterans who likely had already died. But because of “data limitations,” according to the report, investigators could not determine how many of the veterans actually applied for healthcare and when.
In some cases, veterans died years beforehand. For example, in one case, a veteran who died in 1988 was listed as awaiting approval to enroll VA healthcare until January 2015.
LAWMAKER FUME OVER GERMANY DRAWDOWN: Defense officials faced a bipartisan grilling Wednesday over the Trump administration’s plans to slash the U.S. troop presence in Germany by nearly 12,000 service members.
Lawmakers in both parties have previously expressed their opposition to the plan, but Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing offered the panel’s first opportunity to publicly question the Pentagon since the department officially rolled out the plans in July.
Pentagon officials defended the plans, but had few details for lawmakers on specifics such as cost, consultations with allies, the department’s decision-making process and how the move would affect U.S. deterrence against Russia — a dynamic that appeared only to frustrate members further.
“This is just not acceptable from the Department of Defense that on a move of this kind — whatever you guys may think of Congress, whatever you may think of this committee, it is our responsibility to exercise oversight of this,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBottom line Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon’s use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police MORE (D-Wash.) said in the middle of the hearing.
“The American people in their infinite wisdom have put us in these chairs, and we are not getting the level of insight in this decision that we should,” he added. “The level of detail that we’re getting here is just not acceptable for us to exercise our oversight and for what the Pentagon should be putting in front of us. I just want that on the record from my perspective, and I have a strong sense that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle would agree with me on that point. So on this and other decisions, we just need to hear better what the hell’s going on, so that we can exercise our oversight.”
Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon’s use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police Trump payroll-tax deferral for federal workers sparks backlash MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the committee, put blame on the White House, arguing Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Government funding bill butts up against deadline | Pentagon reports eighth military COVID-19 death | Trump, Pentagon collide over anti-diversity training push Trump, Pentagon collide over anti-diversity training push Overnight Defense: Stopgap spending measure awaits Senate vote | Trump nominates former Nunes aide for intelligence community watchdog | Trump extends ban on racial discrimination training to contractors, military MORE has kept the panel informed about other troop reviews.
“What’s different is that a couple staffers in the White House decided that they wanted to try to sell the president on an absolute troop cap for Germany,” said Thornberry, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term. “They clearly hadn’t thought through the consequences, they didn’t know how it would be implemented, and so what’s happened is Secretary Esper and the folks at the Pentagon are trying to put lipstick on the pig or make lemons out of lemonade or whatever colloquialism you want to use.”
The committee was hearing testimony from James Anderson, acting under secretary of Defense for policy, and Lt. Gen. David Allvin, director for strategy, plans and policy at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Anderson told the committee there would be a “much more mature plan to share with Congress” in early 2021.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
A Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on supply chain integrity, with testimony from under secretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord, at 9:15 a.m. https://bit.ly/3n7xnk3
The House Foreign Affairs Committee will mark up several bills at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3joGomU
Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr., chief of naval personnel, will participate in a pre-recorded event on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the U.S. Navy” hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Naval Institute airing online at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/33eLnRo
Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson will speak at Defense One’s “State of the Space Force” event at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/3cLPXcR
— The Hill: ‘One more serious try’ on COVID relief yields progress but no deal
— The Hill: House GOP China task force releases recommendations
— The Hill: Romney, Murphy ‘extremely concerned’ about threats to withdraw from US Embassy in Baghdad
— The Hill: House panel says US intelligence community not equipped to address evolving Chinese threats
— The Hill: Trump announces new sanctions targeting Assad regime over human rights abuses
— Wall Street Journal: Navy chief fell ill, underwent heart surgery, officials say
— Associated Press: US defense chief visits North Africa, World War II cemetery
— Roll Call: As military rollover deaths increase, families push for change