OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Kerry in Congress

The Topline: Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryIn the fight between Rick Perry and climate scientists — He’s winning Obama cyber czar: Trump State Department needs cybersecurity office Kerry on Trump’s military transgender ban: ‘We’re better than this’ MORE on Tuesday defended his efforts on a host of foreign policy fronts against fierce criticism from Senate Republicans, who accused the administration of being at the brink of a series of historic failures. 

“I think you’re about to hit the trifecta,” declared Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate OPINION | Michael Steele: Yes, GOP will own ObamaCare failure Four GOP senators threaten to block ‘skinny’ repeal MORE (R-Ariz.). “Geneva II [a Syrian peace meeting] was a total collapse, as I predicted to you that it would be ... the Israeli-Palestinian talks, even though you may drag them out for a while, are finished. 

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"And I predict to you," McCain continued, "that even though we gave the Iranians the right to enrich, which is unbelievable, that those talks will collapse too.” 

On perhaps the most pressing front, concerns about a further Russian invasion into Eastern Ukraine, Kerry declared pro-Russian protesters were sent by Moscow and could be a “contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea.” 

He warned of sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy if the situation escalates, but said he would meet with the Russians and Ukrainians together next week to seek a solution.

He told Sen. Jim RischJim RischBipartisan push to prioritize cyber advice for small businesses Five questions after Comey’s testimony Comey delivers dramatic rebuke of Trump MORE (R-Idaho) that there are no easy answers to any of the issues.

“When you say something like our foreign policy is spinning out of control, those are great talking points,” Kerry said. “They make for great sound bites on TV nowadays but I have to tell you, senator, that’s just not true.”

GOP lawmakers unveil new Russia bill: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and GOP Reps. Mike Turner (Ohio) and Mike Rogers (Ala.) proposed new legislation that calls for more dramatic steps to bolster Ukrainian forces, reassure NATO allies and punish Russia. 

“We believe that the administration has been somewhat uncertain in what actions to take in answering [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's aggression and the crisis that is unfolding in the Ukraine,” Turner said at a press conference announcing the bill.  

“Because of that uncertainty, we felt it was necessary on a legislative basis to formulate a to-do list for the administration,” he said.  

The list includes providing military advice and technical assistance to Ukrainian forces, suspending U.S.-Russia military and nuclear cooperation until the Defense secretary certifies that Russian forces are no longer illegally occupying Crimea, the counbtry is no longer violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force Treaty, and is in compliance with the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. 

Turner said he expected significant support from Democrats for the legislation, which is expected to be formally introduced Wednesday. 

Senators question cuts to National Guard: Senators on the Armed Services Committee showed significant skepticism for an Army plan to transfer all the National Guard’s Apache helicopters over to the active Army in exchange for 111 Black Hawk helicopters. 

The opposition arose even though National Guard Chief Gen. Frank Grass, who previously testified against the plan, said he had now accepted the planned cuts.

“The decision’s been made. I provided my best military advice, and I provided options. But now that the decision’s been made, I have to plan for the future,” Grass said. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamOvernight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate Four GOP senators threaten to block ‘skinny’ repeal Passing the DACA legislation will provide relief to children living in fear MORE (R-S.C.) was very hostile to the plan, telling The Hill that taking away its Apaches would “transform how the Guard works” by depriving them of direct combat utility. 

“Taking the Apaches away from the Army National Guard is a huge change. ...The Guard has been a combat arms reserve force, and by taking the attack helicopters out of the card, they have no more combat mission in aviation,” Graham said. “It’s not the number of aircraft, [the problem is] losing the mission.”

Graham said he is planning to propose an independent Senate commission, similar to one already proposed by Rep. Joe WilsonJoe WilsonObama left nuclear waste in South Carolina, Trump can clean it up Congress to take up North Korea travel ban legislation as soon as next month: report An unlikely home in DC MORE (R-S.C.) in the House, to evaluate the force structure changes.

Sens. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump to announce MS-13 gang crackdown in Long Island Judiciary Committee Republicans want a second special counsel: report Senate panel advances measure to protect medical marijuana states MORE (R-Ala.) and Mark UdallMark UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (D-Colo.) also showed concern that the changes would demoralize the Guard and devalue it as a combat arm comparable to the active Army.

Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinTrump and GOP wise to keep tax reform and infrastructure separate Former senator investigated man in Trump Jr. meeting for money laundering Dems abuse yet another Senate tradition to block Trump's agenda MORE (D-Mich.) was more amenable, saying the Army had made a strong case for its plan and praising Gen. Grass for endorsing it despite his past opposition.

Members seek sequestration solution: Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are planning to begin a new effort to overturn defense budget cuts known as sequestration, according to several senators. 

"There's going to be discussion coming up among all the members of the committee informally," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), committee chairman. "We're all going to have a chance to throw out ideas."

If sequestration is not lifted by 2016, the Army will have to cut its active-duty end strength to 420,000 and retire a Navy aircraft carrier. 

Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOvernight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate Angus King: No one knows what healthcare plan Senate will consider MORE (I-Maine) had first publicly floated the idea of working on overturning the cuts during a panel hearing last Wednesday, although Levin told The Hill the idea was already in the works. 

"I don't know where it's going. I just wanted to open up a discussion in the committee about what to do about sequester instead of just complaining about it," he said. 

Pentagon proposes missile cuts: The Pentagon proposed on Tuesday cutting its ground-based nuclear missiles.

The proposed cuts are part of the U.S.’s cooperation with the New START treaty, which limits the total number of 700 deployed and 100 non-deployed strategic delivery vehicles, according to a Pentagon statement. 

By Feb. 5, 2018, the total deployed and non-deployed force will consist of 454 intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, 280 submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and 66 heavy bombers, said the statement. 

The deployed assets will include 400 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles and 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The Pentagon also will maintain 60 deployed nuclear-capable heavy bombers.

Pentagon officials called it a “capable, survivable and balance force that fully supports the president's national security and nuclear weapons employment strategies and maintains strategic stability and deterrence, extended deterrence and allied assurance,” according to the Pentagon statement. 

 

In Case You Missed It:

—Senators grill general on A-10 retirement

—Feinstein: Hayden using an 'old male fallback'

—Pentagon: Russia not causing defense strategy rethink

—Holder: ‘We’re not done’ on NSA reform

—NATO warns Russia against 'historic mistake'

 

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