OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate to grill NSA, Cyber nominee

The Topline: A flurry of defense-related Capitol Hill hearings begin Tuesday with President Obama’s nominee to head the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command.

Vice Adm. Michael Rogers will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., the first step in what’s sure to be a contentious confirmation process.

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Rogers is sure to get pointed questions about the role of the National Security Agency in the wake of last year’s revelations of the NSA’s sweeping phone and Internet surveillance programs.

If confirmed, Rogers would succeed Gen. Keith Alexander, who has been NSA chief since 2005.

Rogers is currently commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, and he has previously been director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Pacific Command.

Rogers is appearing on Tuesday before the Armed Services panel — and not the Senate Intelligence Committee — because his confirmation is only required for his promotion to Cyber Command, not the NSA.

Some lawmakers have called for the White House to divide the Cyber Command and NSA positions, to require Senate confirmation for the NSA chief and to consider a civilian head.

A review panel recommended to President Obama that he divide the two positions, but the White House opted to keep them together and nominated Rogers for the role.

While the Armed Services Committee will surely press Rogers on the role and scope of the NSA, the real test for him will come on the Senate floor, where senators critical of the NSA could use his nomination to make their case against the NSA’s surveillance powers.

Alexander, meanwhile, will also be up on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on cyber operations. 

Send in the Cabinet: The Rogers confirmation hearing is only an appetizer in a huge diet of defense hearings this week.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will be back before Congress on Thursday testifying before the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee on the Pentagon’s 2015 budget request.

Secretary of State John Kerry will testify at four hearings Wednesday and Thursday on the State budget — but also, of course, the situation in Ukraine.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will hold back-to-back Armed Services hearings Wednesday and Thursday in the House and Senate.

And the service secretaries and chiefs begin their annual trips to Capitol Hill: the House Armed Services Committee has the Navy and Marines and the Air Force Friday.

Need to catch your breath? Both chambers are on recess next week, before the budget hearings start back up.

And here's a full rundown of this week's defense hearings.

McCaskill sex assault bill passes 97-0: The Senate on Monday passed Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) sexual assault bill in a rare unanimous vote.

The 97-0 vote occurred after the Senate rejected moving forward with a competing measure from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Gillibrand’s bill received 55 votes — short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

McCaskill’s legislation builds on the reforms passed in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including ending the “good soldier” defense in trying to defeat charges.

The bill now heads to the House, where it’s not clear whether it will be taken up as standalone legislation. A more likely scenario may be that the measure is incorporated into the 2015 Defense authorization bill. 

Lawmakers push Pentagon on Sikh service: More than 100 House members are pressuring the Pentagon to make further changes to its dress and grooming policies so Sikh Americans can serve without requesting a waiver.

The lawmakers sent a letter to the Defense Department on Monday calling for an end to the “presumptive ban” on Sikhs wearing turbans and keeping their beards in accordance with their religious beliefs.

“We believe it is time for our military to make inclusion of practicing Sikh Americans the rule, not the exception,” wrote the 105 lawmakers, led by Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).

The Pentagon in January changed its polices so the services would accommodate religious requests for individual service members, unless the request would interfere with military readiness, a mission or unit cohesion.

But the lawmakers and Sikh advocates argue that doesn’t go far enough because it places too much of a burden on individual service members to seek out the waiver.

 

In Case You Missed It:

— Judge weighs dismissing sex assault case

— Snowden: NSA ‘setting fire’ to Internet

— Clapper: Ukraine was not an intelligence failure

— Ukraine prime minister to visit Obama

— Gates: ‘Serious mistake’ to cut defense budget

 

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