Overnight Defense: Officials grilled on Gitmo, budget

THE TOPLINE: Defense leaders testified on Capitol Hill Thursday on the administration's 2017 defense budget request, urging lawmakers to adhere to the levels agreed last year.

The administration earlier this month submitted a $583 billion defense budget to Congress, which aligns with the 2016 Bipartisan Budget Act agreed to last year. 

However, defense hawks in Congress say the level should be about $17 billion higher than that, to take into account increased spending to reassure European allies worried about Russia and for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

"I know some maybe looking at the difference between what we proposed last year and what we got in the budget deal, but I want to reiterate that we mitigated that difference and this budget meets our needs," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. 

"That budget deal was a good deal. It gave us stability and for that we remain grateful. Doing something to jeopardize that stability would concern me deeply," he added. 

Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford also had the opportunity to sell the administration's 2017 budget request, which prioritizes combat readiness and preparing for potential future fights with countries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. 


CARTER SAYS GITMO WON'T BE RETURNED TO CUBA: Republicans in Congress are keeping up their opposition to the administration's plan to close Gitmo, which was released on Tuesday.

Administration officials were grilled Thursday on the plan, which envisions bringing 30-60 Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter denied during the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee that the administration had any plans to return the naval base the military detention facility is located on to Cuba.

"I know of no such plans. Our plan, in fact, is just the opposite," he said. "The naval station is secure." 

The president is traveling to Cuba next month, and some lawmakers fear it would be the perfect time for the president to make such an announcement. 


MCCAIN: DEFENSE BILL WILL 'PROBABLY' BAN TRANSFERS TO US: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainYes, let’s set politics aside on sage grouse conservation Democrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Obama's right to tackle redistricting, but it won't be easy MORE (R-Ariz.) told reporters Thursday that the 2017 defense policy bill his committee drafts will "probably have another prohibition" on moving Guantánamo detainees to the U.S. 

"Whether I happen to want to or not," he added. "I do happen to want to, but the vote has always been overwhelming. So it's too bad," he said at a roundtable breakfast. 

Read our story about how the administration lost the support of McCain, one of the administration's few Republican allies for closing down the prison.


NOT A GOOD DAY FOR DEFENSE NOMINEES: Defense Department appointees faced a prickly reception during confirmation hearings in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

The hearing had barely started before Chairman McCain ripped into one of the nominees, for undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. 

McCain said Brad Carson had been serving as "Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness" and "Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness" in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. 

Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election A dozen senators call for crackdown on Chinese steel Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (R-Okla.) asked for a delay to consider Carson's nomination until after a command assessment could be taken, due to what he said were allegations there was a hostile climate at the office of Personnel and Readiness. 

Another of Obama's nominees, Jennifer O'Connor, for Pentagon general counsel, did not emerge entirely unscathed. Republican senators grilled her on whether she believed the swap, of five Guantanamo Bay detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was legal or not. 

She responded that it was "not a violation of the law." One Republican senator noted that even the administration has acknowledged it broke a law to give Congress 30 days of notification in advance of any detainee release. Last year, the Government Accountability Office determined the administration broke two laws in conducting the swap. 

O'Connor also faced questions over whether the administration can legally move detainees to the U.S. via executive action, despite a law prohibiting it. She said the law currently prohibits it, but deflected on whether she would resign if the administration took that move. 


COMMANDER: RUSSIA REWRITING RULES: The era of trying to work with Russia is over, the top U.S. commander in Europe said Thursday while arguing for the rebuilding of U.S. forces in that region.

"Russia does not want to challenge the agreed rules of the international order," Gen. Philip Breedlove told the House Armed Services Committee. "It wants to rewrite them."

Breedlove was on Capitol Hill defending the Pentagon's budget request for fiscal 2017, which includes a fourfold increase in funding for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) to deter an aggressive Russia.

The increase would bring the initiative's funding to $3.4 billion.



-- The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the Army's fiscal 2017 budget request, 8 a.m. at Rayburn 2118. 

-- The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on medical readiness, 9 a.m. Rayburn 2212. 

-- Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and military chiefs of the Navy and Marine Corps will discuss future challenges and strategies in the maritime environment at Brookings Institution at 10 a.m. 

-- Former House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump backers lack Ryan alternative Ryan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns MORE (R-Ohio) gives a keynote address at an event on Iran at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington at 11:30 a.m.



-- The Hill: Spy leaders: Libyan politics complicating anti-ISIS fight

-- The Hill: Senate bill would end Army, Marines troop cuts

-- The Hill: Poll: Most voters oppose closing Guantánamo

-- CNN: U.S.: Russia uses ceasefire process to seize key Syria territory

-- Washington Examiner: McCain prepared to block Air Force bomber contract


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