OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: GOP mulls curbing defense bill amendments

Cantor said that the Rules Committee would determine the structure of the debate and that "the discourse and debate on this floor has been a lot more open than in years past."

Appropriations Committee leaders aren’t exactly thrilled with the idea, but they appear to be going along with it.

“I believe that legislation should come under open rule, but I understand the leadership’s concern, and if that’s what they decide, we’ll work with that,” Defense Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) told The Hill.

A spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said that the panel “understands that an exception to a completely open rule on appropriations bills may be made in this case, but does not support it as a precedent.”

Congress still angry over Rosoboronexport: Lawmakers are still taking shots at the Pentagon for its purchase of 30 Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport, a Russian defense firm that has provided arms to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, 80 House lawmakers demanded an explanation for why it was in the U.S. national security interest to purchase the Russian-made helicopters, which are going to be used by the Afghan military.

The lawmakers also asked for an assessment of whether Rosoboronexport’s S-300 anti-aircraft missiles had been sold to the Assad regime.

Lawmakers are still angry after the Pentagon purchased 30 Mi-17 helicopters last month, despite provisions in the 2013 defense authorization bill restricting DOD purchases from Rosoboronexport. The Pentagon used 2012 funds to make the purchase.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also went after the Mi-17 buy on Thursday, seizing on an inspector general report that warned the Afghans weren’t ready to use the helicopters. He requested Hagel send officials for a briefing to outline how the U.S. will ensure the helicopters are used.

Durbin to hold Gitmo hearing: Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced Thursday that he’s holding a hearing later this month on closing Guantánamo Bay.

The hearing in Durbin’s Senate Judiciary subcommittee will be the first on closing the detention facility since 2009, he said, and will examine the national security, fiscal and human rights implications of closing Guantánamo.

“Congress needs to address the future of the prison swiftly and decisively,” Durbin said in a statement. “This hearing will be the first step toward putting this dark period behind us once and for all.”

President Obama has vowed to make good on his first-term pledge to close Guantánamo, and he said he would begin transferring some detainees already cleared for release.

Durbin and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent Obama a letter on Wednesday urging him to stop the large-scale force-feedings in the prison.

Syrian opposition unhappy at congressional arms delay: The U.S.-backed Syrian opposition coalition is calling out Congress for blocking U.S. arms from reaching Syrian rebel fighters.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces issued a statement Thursday calling for the congressional Intelligence committees to allow the U.S. weapons to proceed “without delay.”

 “The urgency of delivering these arms cannot be overstated as the regime continues to intensify its attacks on civilians and opposition forces in Homs, Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria,” said Najib Ghadbian, the coalition’s special representative to the United States.

The Obama administration said last month it would begin providing arms to the rebels, but the House and Senate Intelligence Committees voted to block the plan out of concerns that the weapons would wind up in the hands of al Qaeda-affiliated groups. 

— Pete Kasperowicz contributed.

In Case You Missed It:

— Congress keeps firing at Russian helicopter buys
— Amos: ‘Dust hasn’t settled’ on Pacific pivot
— GOP mulls limiting defense bill changes
— Gohmert: Obama ‘intolerant’ of Christians in military

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