OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: White House says Syria used chemical weapons

The announcement from the White House that it now has “high confidence” Assad’s regime used chemical weapons will put new pressure on the administration to take further action.

Rhodes said that Obama would be moving forward “on our own timeline.” He said that he couldn’t yet “lay out an inventory” of the types of assistance that the U.S. might provide.

Republicans critical of Obama’s Syria policy responded by saying Obama needed to do more than just supply rebels weapons in Syria.

“Every bone in my body knows that simply supplying weapons will not change the equation,” Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump's new debate challenge: Silence Senate rivals gear up for debates McCain opponent releases new ad hitting his record MORE (R-Ariz.) said on the Senate floor. “The president better understand that just supplying weapons will not change the balance.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), one of the first Democrats to call for arming the rebels, said the administration should act immediately.

"In using chemical weapons, Assad has committed a war crime against his own people," said Engel, who introduced legislation authorizing weapons to be sent back in March.

Senate panel clears defense authorization bill: The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a $625 billion spending package for the Department of Defense on Thursday, clearing the way for a vote by the full Senate on the budget bill for fiscal 2014.

Committee members passed their version of the Defense budget blueprint, which finances the department's annual operations and the war in Afghanistan, by a vote of 23 to 3, according to panel Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinThe Fed and a return to banking simplicity What Our presidential candidates can learn from Elmo Zumwalt Will there be a 50-50 Senate next year? MORE (D-Mich.).

The panel also trimmed $1.8 billion from the department and service accounts to finance training and readiness shortfalls in the military, Levin told reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

The bill included provisions designed to tackle sexual assault, but not a proposal offered by Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Senate Dems call for investigation into Wells Fargo's wage practices Fears mount that Obama will change course on Israel in final months MORE (D-N.Y.) that would have taken the decision to prosecute cases outside the chain of command.

Instead, the committee adopted a replacement from Levin that established a review process for sexual assault cases that are not prosecuted.

The panel also opted not to include funds for a third East Coast missile defense site that were included in the House’s version of the bill.

Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeDemocrats blast GOP for ‘sabotaging’ House waterways bill GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Week ahead: Flint aid fight shifts to House MORE (R-Okla.) said Republicans would take up the East Coast site on the Senate floor.

Senators planning to limit contractor NSA access: Lawmakers plan to draft legislation that would limit the access that federal contractors have to highly classified information, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence panel said Thursday.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinOvernight Tech: Pressure builds ahead of TV box vote | Intel Dems warn about Russian election hacks | Spending bill doesn't include internet measure Intel Dems: Russia making 'serious effort' to influence US election GOP senators: Obama rebuffed negotiations on 9/11 bill MORE (D-Calif.) said Congress is considering changes to the rules for contractors in the wake of illegally leaked details about domestic intelligence programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA).

"We will consider changes," Feinstein told reporters after a classified briefing with administration officials on the NSA leaks. “We will certainly have legislation which will limit [or] prevent contractors from handling highly classified data.”

Sen. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (R-Ga.), the ranking member on the Senate intel committee, said after the briefing that it’s clear the U.S. needs to "do a better job of making sure that our top secret clearances go to only those individuals that deserve it."

"I think there are some changes that we’re going to look at, but I don’t know that it needs to be done legislatively," Chambliss said. "We just have to wait and see."

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinSpending bill doesn't include Cruz internet fight Overnight Tech: GOP says internet fight isn't over | EU chief defends Apple tax ruling | Feds roll out self-driving car guidelines | Netflix's China worries Reid blasts Cruz over internet fight MORE (D-Ill.) said there were still serious questions on how Snowden "ended up with access to some of the most sensitive data in American security."

House moves through Defense bill: The House began consideration of 172 amendments to the defense authorization bill on Thursday afternoon, a process that was expected to last well into the evening Thursday.

In the first chunk of amendments taken up, the House adopted a two-year minimum sentence for sexual assault crimes, and passed a measure re-affirming Obama’s plan to remove all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The House voted narrowly to put some limits on the president’s power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens accused who are terrorism suspects, but rejected an attempt to eliminate the authority altogether.

In a close 214-211 vote, members approved an amendment, from Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteInternal memo: Refugee program vulnerable to fraud Sen. Thune slams Dems for protecting Internet transition Top GOP chairmen investigating foreign visa program MORE (R-Va.) that says nothing in U.S. law can deny citizens the right to a habeas review. They voted down an amendment from Armed Services ranking member Rep. Adam SmithAdam SmithDem pushing colleagues to back Obama's veto of 9/11 bill: report Overnight Defense: NY/NJ bombings renew terror debate | US probes Syrian air strike | Senators push measure on Saudi arms sale Key House Dems claim Trump would weaken US MORE (D-Wash.) that would require terrorism suspects captured on U.S. soil to be moved into the federal court system.

Lawmakers submitted were 299 amendments that were submitted for the bill, and the Rules Committee ruled 172 were in order.

Democrats objected to the committee blocking two amendments dealing with sexual assault that would have taken the decision to prosecute cases outside the chain of command. One of the amendments was the same as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) proposal, and the other was from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).

The House is expected to finish work on the Defense bill on Friday.

In Case You Missed It:

— House votes for free military Internet

— House limits detention authority for citizens

— GAO denies Beechcraft protest

— White House questions on Gillibrand bill

— NSA conducting ‘damage assessment’ of leak

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