Overnight Defense: Congress plans session to override potential Trump veto | Miller makes unannounced trip to Afghanistan

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense.  I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pent...

Happy Tuesday 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.

Programming note: Wednesday, Dec. 23 will be the last edition of Overnight Defense this year. We’ll be back on Jan. 4, 2021. Have a great holiday season!

THE TOPLINE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Senate to return Dec. 29 for potential Trump veto override vote Congress passes .3T coronavirus relief, government funding deal No. 2 GOP senator: Efforts to overturn election would ‘go down like a shot dog’ MORE (R-Ky.) announced early Tuesday morning that the Senate will return to Washington on Dec. 29 to respond to a potential veto from President Trump of a mammoth defense bill.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, said that he had struck a deal with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) for the chamber to return for a rare post-Christmas session during which he said they will “process” a veto override, if it’s passed by the House.

“My intention was and is to ensure the Senate continues fulfilling our obligation to the men and women of our armed forces. I hope the president will not veto this bill,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. 

“In the event that President TrumpDonald TrumpMcConnell: Senate to return Dec. 29 for potential Trump veto override vote Congress passes .3T coronavirus relief, government funding deal No. 2 GOP senator: Efforts to overturn election would ‘go down like a shot dog’ MORE does elect to veto this bipartisan bill, it appears the House may choose to return after the holidays to set up a vote to consider the veto. … In the event that the president has vetoed the bill, and the House has voted to override the veto, the Senate would have the opportunity to process a veto override at that time,” McConnell added.

Potential snags: Even if the Senate returns on Dec. 29, it could still be days before a final vote takes place on whether to override a potential veto from Trump of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

The agreement from the Senate comes after the House decided on Monday that it would return to Washington on Dec. 28 for a veto override vote. Trump has issued eight vetoes during his tenure, none of which have been successfully overridden. 

Because the House passed the defense bill first initially, it also has to vote on the override attempt first. A Democratic House aide previously told The Hill that in order to overcome any procedural hurdles in the Senate, members would need to vote to send the veto message across the Capitol by Dec. 29. If the House fails to override the veto, the effort is automatically quashed on Capitol Hill. 

Senate leaders are likely to face procedural hurdles to getting to a final vote on whether to override Trump’s veto. 

Other issues: Opponents of overriding the president’s veto could drag out procedural hurdles by forcing a cloture vote, requiring the override effort to initially get 60 votes, according to the Congressional Research Service. To ultimately override in the Senate, as in the House, will require two-thirds support. 

GOP senators have previously suggested that a final vote could wait until the morning of Jan. 3, before the new Congress is sworn in. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, warned on Monday night that it could take a “few days” for the Senate to go through all of the legislative hoops.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has aligned closely with Trump and tried to slow-walk the defense bill earlier this month, indicated Monday he could similarly delay an override vote.

“I very much am opposed to the Afghan war, and I’ve told them I’ll come back to try to prevent them from easily overriding the president’s veto,” Paul told reporters.

A deadline: Congress has until noon on Jan. 3 to override the veto. If Congress fails to override the veto by then, lawmakers would need to start from scratch on the bill, and it would be the first time in 60 years the bill does not become law.

The defense bill passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities and top GOP senators had indicated that there was backchanneling underway to try to get Trump to back down from his veto threat. He has until Wednesday to veto the bill. 

Trump has doubled down on his threat several times, reiterating his complaints that it would not repeal a tech liability shield and would rename military bases honoring Confederates. The president also added an unspecified gripe that the NDAA is weak on China.


MILLER MAKES UNANNOUNCED TRIP TO AFGHANISTAN AMID DRAWDOWN: Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday in the second trip by a top U.S. official to the country in a week.

Miller’s trip, which was not announced beforehand for security reasons, comes as the U.S. military is fulfilling President Trump’s order to draw down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by mid-January.

“So I’m the guy who’s drawing it down to 2,500 on the president’s behalf,” Miller told a group of troops during lunch, according to Military.com, which was traveling with him. “I firmly believe that’s the right thing to do.”

What happened on the trip: During the trip, Miller met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, as well as the top U.S. general in Afghanistan.

Miller and Ghani “discussed the historic opportunity for peace, the continued U.S. support for the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, and the importance of achieving a reduction in violence to advance the peace process,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The secretary’s meeting with Gen. Scott Miller was meant to “gain his assessment of the overall security situation to include the current counterterrorism and train, advise and assist missions, the level of Taliban violence and the ongoing drawdown of U.S. forces,” the Pentagon said in a separate statement.

The secretary also met with troops to “thank them and acknowledge their sacrifice of being away from their Families during a difficult holiday season,” the Pentagon said.

Second time in a week: Last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also met with Ghani and Scott Miller during a trip to Afghanistan.

Milley’s stop in Afghanistan came after he met with Taliban negotiators in Qatar in what was revealed to be his second meeting with the United States’ 19-year foes. In his meetings, Milley also stressed the need to reduce violence in Afghanistan.

Moving forward: Trump has continued to push forward with drawing down in Afghanistan even as U.S. and military officials have said the Taliban has yet to meet commitments it agreed to in February.

The U.S.-Taliban deal calls for a full U.S. withdrawal by this coming May if the Taliban upholds counterterrorism commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.

In addition to not yet breaking with al Qaeda, the Taliban has stepped up attacks against Afghan forces, drawing condemnation from U.S. officials.


NAVAL ACADEMY PHYSICS EXAMS REVIEWED OVER ‘INCONSISTENCIES’: The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., is reviewing hundreds of physics exams over possible “inconsistencies.”

U.S. Naval Academy Provost Andrew Philips said in a statement on Tuesday that the academy was working to resolve all uncertainties around the computer-based final exam for its Physics 1 (SP211) course.

The academy did not specify what the inconsistencies were.

“The Naval Academy is working to resolve the uncertainties surrounding the final examination as quickly as possible,” Philips said. “Final grades will be posted upon completion of this review.”

The details: SP211 is a core class primarily taken by sophomores, or what the academy refers to as 3rd class midshipmen. All midshipmen who were enrolled in the course received an ‘I-incomplete’ marking.

The exam was taken by about 650 sophomores, who brought their laptops to the classroom to submit their answers online CNN reported.

Earlier: The development comes one day after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point said that it was dealing with its worst academic dishonesty scandal in decades. Seventy-three cadets were accused of cheating on a math final exam in May, officials confirmed to The Hill on Monday, including 72 first-year cadets and one second-year cadet.



– The Hill: Biden nominee: VA staff hampered by ‘mismanagement’

– The Hill: Fighters scrambled after Russian, Chinese military aircraft enter South Korean defense zone

– The Hill: Air Force review finds Black and white service members treated differently

– The Hill: US boosts military presence off coast of Somalia to relocate 700 troops

– The Hill: Biden faults Trump administration on cybersecurity following massive hack

– The Hill: Trump sanctions Syrian president’s wife, family over ongoing civil war

– Military Times: December is now the VA’s deadliest month for coronavirus as deaths top 6,000

– The Washington Post: Trump’s acting Pentagon chief unlikely to advance plan for splitting NSA, Cyber Command leadership

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Newsrust: Overnight Defense: Congress plans session to override potential Trump veto | Miller makes unannounced trip to Afghanistan
Overnight Defense: Congress plans session to override potential Trump veto | Miller makes unannounced trip to Afghanistan
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