OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Bergdahl debate heats up

THE TOPLINE: The Obama administration on Tuesday came under withering criticism from Republican lawmakers over its decision to trade five Taliban commanders for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the White House notified congressional members two years ago of a potential prisoner exchange but then never addressed the “questions and concerns” raised about such a swap because its chances had diminished.

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The GOP leader endorsed the idea of a congressional investigation into the deal, which prompted House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to demand Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appear before his panel next week.

In a rare move, the White House apologized to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for not giving her advance notice of the controversial prisoner trade.

Off the Hill, Army Secretary John McHugh announced the service would look into the conditions of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his post in Afghanistan in 2009, an effort signaled earlier by Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.

MCCAIN OFFERS VETS A ‘CHOICE’: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) rolled out legislation that would give veterans more opportunity to seek medical treatment outside the Veterans Affairs Department’s healthcare system.

The proposed bill would issue veterans a “choice card” that would allow them to see a non-VA provider within 40 miles of their home if they can’t get a “timely” appointment with an agency doctor.

The measure would also eliminate “wait time goals" as a factor that informs a VA manager’s job performance, as well as monetary awards and bonuses for senior executives.

The bill's chances of passage are uncertain, especially as Democrats rally around another proposal from Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Tuesday also introduced a bill to revamp the VA. Her bill includes measures to reduce delays in treatment and would also hold officials responsible for mismanagement by witholding bonuses.

DURBIN SUPPORTS DELAY OF IMMIGRATION RULING: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he backs the White House’s decision to hold up plans to let more young illegal immigrants serve in the military.

The administration reportedly asked the Defense Department to wait on a ruling that would likely have expanded the talent pool for immigrants with certain skill sets to join the armed forces in a bid to prompt House Republicans to act on comprehensive immigration reform.

“I want to stand by the White House,” said Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. “Let’s give the Speaker [John Boehner (R-Ohio)] the opportunity to do the right thing and finally call this bill.”

Still, Durbin said he would to see a “much grander approach” to the issue and implied he could include immigration language into the Senate’s 2015 defense spending bill when his Appropriations Defense subcommittee takes up the legislation next month.

OBAMA WANTS NATO TO PAY UP: President Obama wants European leaders to funnel more money into their defense budgets in light of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

The president also announced that he would ask Congress to authorize $1 billion in additional spending to bolster the U.S. military presence in Europe. The additional cash would pay for joint military exercises and training missions, supporting U.S. operations in the region and help modernize the militaries of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

The presidents of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, and Slovakia joined Obama in the meeting in Poland.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-Interim VA secretary rolls up sleeves on care

-Senators back funding for criminal probe of VA

-Feinstein demands VA review of Calif. facilities

-Hillary: No ‘second guessing’ on swap

-Russian counterpart set to meet with Kerry

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