OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Obama moves on sequester delay

Republican defense hawks in the Senate said they had their own plan to stave off sequester, as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said they would re-introduce a bill from the last Congress to reverse the first year of sequestration through cuts to the federal workforce.

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That legislation, however, did not go anywhere last year in either the Senate or House.

Drone debate heats up: The debate between the White House and Congress over the Obama administration's controversial use of armed drone strikes heated up on Monday, when a previously undisclosed Justice Department memo defended the possible targeting of U.S. citizens.

The memo, sent by Department of Justice (DOJ) officials to members of Congress last June, claims the White House has the right to launch drone strikes against suspected terrorists — regardless of nationality — if they pose an imminent threat to the United States or its interests.

The disclosure caused a stir on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle demanding more details on the legal criteria that allows Americans to possibly be targeted by armed drones. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on Tuesday that her committee would be looking for the specific legal opinions from DOJ that back up the department's memo, which was first reported by NBC News.

White House press secretary Jay Carney pushed back against those demands, saying the Obama administration has no intention of releasing "alleged memos regarding potentially classified matters" pertaining to counterterrorism operations involving armed drone strikes.

The DOJ memo, according to Carney, was already an attempt by the Obama administration to add transparency to the strike process. Targeted drone attacks against suspected terrorists across the globe are sometimes "necessary to mitigate ongoing attacks," Carney explained. 

"[The strikes] are legal, they are ethical and they are wise," he said.

How and when Americans could be legally subjected to armed drone strikes is guaranteed to be a hot-button issue during the Thursday confirmation hearing for White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan to become the new CIA director.

During his time at CIA and the White House, Brennan played an integral role in drafting the administration's policy on the use of targeted drone attacks.

The drone strikes have played a key role in the Obama administration's increasingly aggressive counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda. U.S. national security officials claim the strikes have decimated the terror group's top leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

But the drone strikes, particularly those targeting U.S. citizens suspected of collaborating with groups like al Qaeda, have drawn fierce opposition from civil-liberties groups claiming due process is being trampled in the name of national security.

Pentagon doesn’t confirm same-sex benefits: The Pentagon wasn’t confirming Tuesday that the military would announce the extension of some benefits to same-sex spouses of military service members, after The Washington Post reported an announcement was coming this week.

“We are not commenting at this time on press reports of an announcement on the extension of same-sex benefits," Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.

It’s still unclear what benefits will be extended to same-sex spouses without violating the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

While no announcement was official yet, the news sparked some optimism from gay-rights advocates that “the full extent of benefits” available under the law would be included as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s tenure nears its end.

“We are hopeful that he will not take half-measures here; for him to grant anything less than the full extent of benefits available under current law would be an anticlimactic end to an otherwise exemplary record on civil rights,” said OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson in a statement.

Panetta delves into Egyptian unrest: Even though he's halfway out the door, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta took time on Monday to get an update on the rising political unrest in Egypt.

Egyptian Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi updated Panetta on the situation and how the newly installed government leaders were handling the growing public outcry against that new ruling authority. Panetta also took the time to re-emphasize the importance of maintaining U.S.-Egyptian military ties, even after his time at the Pentagon is over.

"Al-Sisi reiterated his support for the defense relationship, and thanked Secretary Panetta for his leadership and support," according to a DOD statement on the conversation between the two defense chiefs.

"Secretary Panetta and Minister Al-Sisi discussed the importance of continued security assistance for Egypt, so that the Egyptian Armed Forces can continue to address shared security objectives while modernizing their equipment and capabilities."

As part of his farewell tour, Panetta also conducted a week-long goodwill trip to Western Europe, meeting with various defense leaders and the heads of NATO's military forces in the region. On Wednesday, the DOD chief will give a speech at Georgetown University on the importance of leadership on issues of national security and its impact on the world stage.


In Case You Missed It:

— Turner: N. Korea video previews missile threat 
— Pentagon provides intel to Algeria
— White House: Drone strikes consistent with Constitution
— Feinstein demands more drone details
— Graham wants Obama to withdraw Hagel


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