Overnight Defense: House to begin work on defense policy bill | Panel to vote Monday on Pompeo | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump appeals decision blocking suspected combatant's transfer

Overnight Defense: House to begin work on defense policy bill | Panel to vote Monday on Pompeo | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump appeals decision blocking suspected combatant's transfer
© Greg Nash

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. We're Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

 

THE TOPLINE: Next week is gearing up to be a busy one, as lawmakers look to finish a slate of business ahead of their recess the first week of May.

Work on a major defense bill kicks into high gear, while several nominations are on the line.

ADVERTISEMENT

Here are some things to keep an eye out for next week:

Pompeo: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is slated to vote Monday evening on Mike Pompeo's nomination to become secretary of State.

A favorable recommendation is not looking good, as Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and all but one committee Democrat have already said they will vote against him. The last Democrat, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), has not definitively said how he'll vote, but has said he's leaning against Pompeo.

Still, Pompeo appeared to secure the votes he needs to win confirmation on the Senate floor after Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) became the first Democrat to say she'll vote for him.

But Democrats could still try an audacious tactic to try and block Pompeo, The Hill's Alexander Bolton reported.

Defense bill: The House Armed Services Committee will begin its markup of the annual defense policy bill next week.

First at bat are the subcommittees. All six of the panel's subcommittees will mark up their portions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Thursday.

The NDAA authorizes funding for the Department of Defense and all of its activities, and frequently touches on hot-button issues. For example, last year's House version would have created a space corps opposed by the Air Force but since endorsed by President Trump.

VA secretary: President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE's choice for Veterans Affairs secretary gets his turn in the hot seat Wednesday.

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who serves as White House physician, will face a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee skeptical of his lack of experience in managing a bureaucracy.

Democrats are also likely to press Jackson on the issue of privatization. Committee ranking member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said this week that Jackson told him in a meeting he opposes privatizing the VA.

But there are lingering concerns Jackson will acquiesce to those in the administration who want to move more veterans services over to private providers.

 

TRUMP COMMENCEMENT SPEECH: President Trump announced on Twitter that he's giving the commencement address at the Naval Academy this year.

"So exciting! I have agreed to be the Commencement Speaker at our GREAT Naval Academy on May 25th in Annapolis, Maryland," Trump tweeted Friday. "Looking forward to being there."

The Navy replied on Twitter: "looking forward to it, Sir!"

Presidents typically rotate which service academy they deliver the graduation speech to each year. Last year, Trump addressed the Coast Guard Academy.

 

Flashback: Trump caught some flak for bringing politics into his Coast Guard speech last year. During the speech, he declared that "no politician in history -- and I say this with great surety -- has been treated worse or more unfairly" than him.

"You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted," he told the cadets. "But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine."

 

TRUMP APPEALS BLOCK ON COMBATANT TRANSFER: The Trump administration on Friday appealed an order from a federal judge blocking it from transferring a U.S. citizen held in military custody to Saudi Arabia, protracting the legal fight over the fate of a man known only as John Doe.

Doe was captured by Syrian forces in mid-September as a suspected Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighter and transferred to U.S. military custody in Iraq, where he has remained since.

The background: Doe is challenging his status as an enemy combatant, arguing that the government must either charge him with a crime or release him. He claimed to have traveled to Syria to report on the conflict there and said that he was kidnapped by ISIS. The U.S. government says that he joined the terror group.

The government recently struck a deal with a third country -- confirmed to The Hill by a U.S. official to be Saudi Arabia, where Doe also holds citizenship -- to take Doe off of U.S. hands.

The administration provided notice of Doe's transfer on Monday night, but on Thursday a federal judge agreed to block the transfer minutes before the 72-hour clock was set to run out.

 

Why it's a big deal: There is no exact legal precedent for his case and the Trump administration has struggled with how to handle him. It reportedly lacks sufficient evidence to charge him in federal court, as it has done with other U.S. citizens captured working for ISIS. But for security reasons, it is loath to simply release him.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing Doe, argues that forcibly transferring him to foreign custody would trample on his rights as an American citizen.

 

LOCKHEED TO OFFER FIGHTER HYBRID TO JAPAN: Lockheed Martin wants to offer Japan a stealth fighter design that would be a mashup of its F-22 Raptor and its advanced F-35 Lightning II fighter, Reuters reported.

Two sources told Reuters that Lockheed has discussed the idea with Japanese defense ministry officials and plans to make a formal proposal.

The potential aircraft "would combine the F-22 and F-35 and could be superior to both of them," according to one of the sources.

What Lockheed needs to pull it off: The world's largest defense contractor would need permission from the U.S. government to offer the sensitive military technology. The F-22 is banned from export to other countries and the United States in the past has refused to sell Japan the fighter.

What they have already: Japan has already ordered 42 F-35A aircraft, and in February it was reported that the island nation plans to buy at least 20 more of the stealth fighters over the next six years.

The first order of the aircraft will help replace the country's aging F-4 Phantom fighters, and the additional buy will allow Japan to retire some of its F-15s.

The island nation also wants to create a stealth aircraft, called the F-3, to be introduced in the 2030s to deter Chinese and Russian jets. It is expected to cost about $40 billion.

 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will speak about U.S.-Iran relations at the Council on Foreign Relations at 6 p.m. https://on.cfr.org/2HGnpEz

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Russian foreign minister: Trump invited Putin to the US in recent phone call

-- The Hill: California National Guard after Trump tweet: Nothing has changed

-- The Hill: Poll: Americans think tensions with Russia, China will get worse

-- The Hill: Bolton meets with Russian ambassador at White House

-- The Hill: Senate confirms Trump's pick to lead NASA

-- The Washington Post: 'He knows how to read a room really, really well': How White House physician Ronny L. Jackson became Trump's nominee to lead VA

-- Associated Press: US says China, Iran, Russia are 'forces for instability'

-- Reuters: Man linked to 9/11 attacks on U.S. captured in Syria: Pentagon