OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House passes defense authorization

The White House is threatening to veto the bill over its restrictions on moving Guantanamo detainees and other provisions, including killing the funding to the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) and blocking Tricare increases and Air Guard cuts.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinCongress: The sleeping watchdog Congress must not give companies tax reasons to move jobs overseas A lesson on abuse of power by Obama and his Senate allies MORE (D-Mich.) said Tuesday that he didn’t have any reason to believe the White House would veto the final version of the bill.

Nevertheless, White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday said the administration’s position had not changed on its veto threat.

McKeon backs BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE 'Plan B': House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is supporting Boehner’s "Plan B" on taxes after House Republicans included a sequester replacement bill.

McKeon took to the floor to voice his support, saying that the House was acting to stop sequestration, while the Senate and president were not.

“We cannot stand idly by while we have American men and women fighting to keep us safe across the globe,” McKeon said. “It is a disgrace that the president decided to use them as pawns in these negotiations. And it is a disgrace that we haven't managed to rescue them yet.”

Democrats are accusing Boehner of playing politics with his proposal to let tax rates rise on incomes above $1 million, saying it has no chance of passing the Senate. The original proposal also did not include a sequestration replacement, which was added on Wednesday evening.

The sequester replacement passed the House 215-209, while the tax vote will be later on Thursday.

Ambassadors defend Hagel: A group of former ambassadors is coming to the defense of potential Defense secretary nominee Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelHagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase Pentagon documents hundreds of serious misconduct cases against top brass MORE.

Foreign Policy reported on an open letter from nine ambassadors sent Thursday in Hagel’s defense, which included six former ambassadors to Israel.

The ambassadors urged a speedy confirmation of Hagel if he is nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

“He has invariably demonstrated strong support for Israel and for a two-state solution and has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security,” the ambassadors wrote. “We can think of few more qualified, more nonpartisan, more courageous or better equipped to head the Department of Defense at this critical moment in strengthening America’s role in the world.”

Hagel has come under criticism from pro-Israel groups for his comments about the “Jewish lobby” and willingness to engage with Hamas and Iran.

While Hagel’s nomination would be an across-the-aisle pick, he could also run into problems with Republican senators for his opposition to the Iraq war and the surge.

Carney calls for cooperation in wake of Benghazi: Further disciplinary and oversight efforts called for by an independent review board on the terrorist attacks in Benghazi will require cooperation from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday. 

The Accountability Review Board (ARB), led by former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” of the State Department, but also placed blame on Congress for cutting funds.

Four senior State Department officials have resigned in the wake of an independent review of the Benghazi attack, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. 

Carney said the White House is already moving forward with instituting the recommendations put forth by the ARB, but noted the administration cannot meet the board's requirements without help from Capitol Hill. 

"Some of it will have to do with working with Congress to ensure that Congress provides the necessary funds to allow for enhanced security at our diplomatic missions around the world," he said. 

Congressional Republicans have been critical of the administration's response to the Benghazi attack and the management of its aftermath. At one point, McCain accused the White House of "a massive cover-up" of the Benghazi incident, noting the administration's shifting stories on exactly who was responsible for the strike. 

Initially, administration officials claimed the attack was the result of a protest that got out of control. Later, White House officials admitted the attack was the work of Islamic militants operating in Benghazi. 

Republicans weigh in on Libya report: Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteLessons from Alabama: GOP, throw out the old playbook The Hill's 12:30 Report Explaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid MORE (R-N.H.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.) on Friday are also planning to weigh in on the findings of the scathing review of the State Department’s handling of the deadly terrorist strike in Benghazi earlier this year. 

All three lawmakers have been highly critical of the administration's response to the Benghazi attack and the management of its aftermath. The three senators also played a critical role in scuttling the proposed nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE as the new secretary of State. 

Rice withdrew her nomination earlier this year, under enormous pressure from congressional Republicans over her claims that the Benghazi strike was the work of Libyan protesters. 

Initially, President Obama defended his nomination despite the withering criticism coming from the GOP, telling McCain and others to "go after me" in their criticism of Rice. 

Shortly before withdrawing her nomination, Rice acknowledged she had incorrectly said that the attack in Benghazi was the result of a protest over an anti-Islam video.

Rice said in a statement after the meeting that she made the incorrect statements due to faulty intelligence and that she did not mean to mislead the public with her comments on television the Sunday after the Sept. 11 attack.

— Pete Kasperowicz contributed.

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