OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Congress pushes quick work on Defense bill

The Topline: The race is on to finish the Defense authorization bill.

The House and Senate Armed Services leaders unveiled their final Defense bill on Monday, urging their colleagues to quickly pass it and arguing there were no other alternatives.

“This is the only way we can pass a bill this year,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said at a press conference where the committees released details of the $607 billion Pentagon policy bill.

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The committee leaders are suspending regular order to get the bill passed this year, but they risk running afoul of Republicans still angry that they did not get a chance to consider amendments to the bill, like a tougher Iran sanctions measure.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate panel's ranking member, said that he did not yet have a commitment from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to support the bill, but he felt his colleagues would be more supportive of the final measure.

“The people who before would have found objection with it are much more supportive than they were, mostly because they realize there’s no longer choices,” Inhofe said. “It’s either we do it or we don’t do it.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) also said that he had not yet secured a commitment to a vote from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). He said the two wanted to speak first.

The committee leaders hope they can pass the bill through the House this week, and then get it through the Senate the following week.

The upper chamber is where things will get tricky.

Republicans already filibustered the bill before Thanksgiving over a dispute on getting amendment votes, and one Senate aide predicted Reid could not get to 60 votes without including the Iran measure.

But several Senate Armed Services Republicans appear to be backing the bill, which could give Reid a route to 60 votes if the legislation is filibustered.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined Levin and Inhofe on the floor to push for passage, while Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) issued a statement with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) urging the Senate to pass the bill and its “dozens of historic provisions to protect and empower victims of sexual assault, boost prosecutions of sexual predators, and hold military commanders accountable.”

Gillibrand measure not in Defense bill: One of the biggest fights on the Defense bill this year did not make it into the final authorization bill, as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) controversial proposal to take sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command was not included.

Gillibrand’s amendment, as well as a competing measure from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), did not receive votes on the Senate floor, and as a result they weren’t included in the final bill.

But the measure did include more than two dozen measures that represent a major overhaul of the military’s handling of sexual assault cases.

The bill includes provisions stripping commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts, requiring mandatory discharge for those convicted of sexual assault and new victim protections in the pre-trial process.

While the Gillibrand and McCaskill amendments did not get votes on the Defense bill, they still could be considered as stand-alone measures.

“We are confident that we will get a vote,” Gillibrand spokeswoman Bethany Lesser said. “Regardless of what happens, the senator will not go away, she will keep fighting to protect our brave men and women in uniform and to strengthen our military."

Gillibrand’s measure would take the decision to prosecute sexual assault and other major criminal cases away from commanders and give it to military prosecutors. She had 53 public supporters, but it was opposed by McCaskill, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Pentagon leaders. 

Poll says plurality oppose Iran deal: A plurality of people opposed the interim nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, according to a new poll.

But a large chunk of respondents remained undecided on the agreement, the Pew Research/USA Today survey found.

In the poll released Monday, 43 percent of respondents disapproved of the deal, while 32 percent said they approved of it. A quarter of those responding said they had no opinion, which reflects a broad lack of public awareness about the agreement.

The deal reached last month between Iran and the six world powers traded $7 billion in sanctions relief in exchange for a curbing — but not stopping — of Iran’s nuclear activities.

 

In Case You Missed It:

— Hagel orders airlift help to Central African Republic

— Iran: ‘Deal is dead’ if Congress passes sanctions

— Cheney: Obama doesn’t believe in US exceptionalism

— McCain: No Afghan agreement would be ‘huge setback’

— Hagel arrives in Pakistan

 

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