OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate starts work on defense bill

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are managing the bill and its numerous amendments, and they warned of long hours on the wide-ranging bill in the coming days.

“We’re going to have amendments and debate and if that requires long hours, then I think our colleagues should be prepared to do that,” McCain said Wednesday. “We’re not here to work three-day work weeks.”

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One of the most contentious amendments was tackled early, as the Senate voted on an amendment from Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on biofuels and the military.

Udall’s amendment overturned an amendment that had passed in committee restricting the military from purchasing biofuels that cost more than petroleum. The Senate passed Udall’s amendment 62-37.

A similar measure that restricts the military purchasing biofuels still remains in the House-passed defense authorization bills, making it one of the key issues that will need to be resolved in conference committee.

Embassy security amendment also adopted: The Senate also passed several amendments by voice-vote Wednesday, including one from McCain that would place more Marines at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.

McCain said the amendment was important in the wake of the attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The Senate also moved several other amendments on the defense bill by voice vote Wednesday afternoon, including one from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would discharge those found guilty of sexual violence in the military, and another from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to improve mental health and suicide services the Pentagon provides.

US shutters Afghan base named after Tillman: American troops have closed the forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan named after slain Army Ranger and former NFL star Pat Tillman.

The Hill’s Carlo Muñoz reports from Paktika, Afghanistan, that Army units based in Forward Operating base Orgun-E near the Afghan-Pakistan border shuttered the base that bore Tillman’s name over Thanksgiving.

“It's a soccer field ... kids are already playing on it,” one Army officer said.

The closure is a sign of the U.S. plans to withdraw most U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when NATO will transfer security control to the Afghans.

Read more about the end of the base named for Tillman here.

Rice meetings with GOP continue: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice continued to meet with senators as she is considered on the short list to be nominated by President Obama as the next secretary of State.

On Wednesday, Rice met with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is set to become the next ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which would handle Rice’s confirmation should she be chosen.

The two Republican senators had different reactions one day after McCain and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said they were unsatisfied with Rice’s answers.

Collins said she continued to be “troubled” by the fact that “the UN ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election.”

Corker, however, took a more diplomatic route, declining to criticize Rice after he met with her.

“I know that at some point I may play a semi-important role in who the next secretary of State may be,” Corker told reporters. “Whoever the president nominates, I certainly plan to sit down and give a full hearing to, as I’ve said from Day One, regardless of who that nominee is.”


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— Report: Hagel vetted for Cabinet posts

— Senate passes sexual violence, mental health amendments

— Biofuel investments restored in defense bill

— Reid avoids filibuster to start defense bill debate


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