Overnight Defense: Trump decision on Korea summit coming 'next week' | China disinvited from major naval exercise | Senate sends VA reform bill to Trump

Overnight Defense: Trump decision on Korea summit coming 'next week' | China disinvited from major naval exercise | Senate sends VA reform bill to Trump
© Greg Nash

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

 

THE TOPLINE: Next week will be one to watch for those tracking U.S.-North Korea ties.

That's when President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Pawlenty loses comeback bid in Minnesota Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary MORE said he'll decide whether to go ahead with plans to hold a nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"We will know next week about Singapore," Trump told reporters Wednesday on the South Lawn of the White House, referring to the planned location of the June 12 meeting.

U.S. officials are expected to meet with North Korea's representatives in the coming days about planning for the summit, which has been thrown into doubt by comments from Trump and Kim.

Trump made it clear on Thursday, however, that the summit could still happen despite the saber-rattling between the two leaders.

"Some day, a date will happen," he said. "It could very well be June 12. We'll see."

 

How we got here: The president fueled uncertainty about the meeting on Tuesday when he acknowledged it "may not work out" on the agreed-to date.

"There's a very substantial chance that it won't work out, and that's OK," Trump said in the Oval Office during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. "That doesn't mean it won't work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12."

That, in turn, came after North Korea threw a wrench in the planning last week when it scrapped high-level talks with the South and threatened to walk away from negotiations with Trump if the U.S. continued to demand "unilateral" nuclear disarmament.

A top North Korean officials also blasted national security advisor John Bolton, who said a nuclear deal could follow a "Libya model."

Libya struck an agreement with the U.S. in 2003 to surrender its nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. But eight years later, Col. Moammar Gaddafi, Libya's longtime ruler, was ousted from power in a popular uprising and killed by NATO-backed rebels.

 

ELSEWHERE IN ASIA: Those upset when China participated in the 2014 and 2016 Rim of the Pacific exercises got some good news Wednesday: the United States has uninvited the country to the 2018 exercise over its military buildup in the South China Sea, the Pentagon confirmed.

"The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific," Pentagon spokesman Chris Logan said in a statement. "China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region.

"As an initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the [Chinese] Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise. China's behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise."

The move was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

 

What's at issue: Last week, China for the first time released video of a nuclear-capable bomber landing on Woody Island in the disputed South China Sea. That followed reports of China deploying anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Spratly Islands.

"We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea," Logan said. "China's landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions."

 

Why it matters: An invitation to the exercise, scheduled to start in June, carries political clout, and the disinvitation is likely to heighten U.S.-Chinese tensions at a fraught time.

Though the move in the South China Sea is the stated reason for rescinding China's invitation to RIMPAC, the decision comes amid delicate trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing. It also comes a day after President Trump appeared to hint that he believes Chinese President Xi Jinping is playing spoiler in his planned summit with North Korea's leader.

"I will say I'm a little disappointed because when Kim Jong Un had the meeting with President Xi in China, the second meeting -- the first meeting we knew about -- the second meeting -- I think there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong Un," Trump said Tuesday. "So I don't like that. I don't like that. I don't like it from the standpoint of China."

 

China's response: At a press conference with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s GOP feuds dominate ahead of midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts Turkish president: US set deadline to release detained pastor MORE, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the decision "very unconstructive."

"It's unhelpful to mutual understanding between China and the U.S.," Wang continued. "We hope the U.S. will change such a negative mindset. Both China, the U.S. are big countries, and we are well positioned to have greater cooperation at sea. Mil-to-mil exchanges will help to increase mutual trust. It will also help us to make greater efforts towards world peace and stability."

 

DEFENSE BILL TRACKER: The House picked up debating Wednesday on the couple hundred amendments for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with a vote on the full bill expected Thursday.

As predicted, the most controversial amendments didn't make it past the House Rules Committee.

One of interest that made it through would have restricted half of the fiscal 2019 funding for the low-yield nuclear warhead the administration wants until the Pentagon submits a report on the warhead's effect on strategic stability and options to reduce the risk of miscalculation.

The amendment was defeated on a largely party line 188-226 vote. Seven Democrats voted "no," while five Republicans voted "yes."

 

By the numbers: In total, the Rules Committee made 271 amendments in order out of the 578 filed. Of the 271, 15 are being considered on their own. The remaining 256 are being considered in various en bloc packages, or groups of noncontroversial amendments that are voted on together.

 

White House position: The White House put out its statement of administration policy on the NDAA late Tuesday.

 

Overall, the administration "supports ultimate passage" of a defense bill.

But it took issue with several specific provisions within the bill. Among them are one that would buy one more aircraft carrier than the administration requested; one that would eliminate funding for a plane used to carry out observation flights as part of a multilateral treaty; and one that would create a new numbered air force for space and a U.S. Space Command.

The White House also objected to what was not in the bill -- namely no authorization for a high-value detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

Amid the list of objections, the statement also expressed support for the provision that would allow sanctions waivers for allies who have bought Russian weapons.

 

VETS REFORM: The Senate easily cleared legislation on Wednesday overhauling medical care options for veterans, sending the bill to President Trump's desk.

Senators voted 92-5 on the proposal, called the VA Mission Act, with only a simple majority needed to pass the bill. Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Ellison wins Minnesota AG primary amid late domestic violence allegations Ironworker and star of viral video wins Dem primary for Speaker Ryan's seat MORE (I-Vt.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzPentagon’s No. 2 official: Trump’s ‘Space Force’ could cost 'billions' Senate Dem rips 'Space Force:' No Republican is willing to tell Trump it's a 'dumb idea' EPA pushes back on asbestos criticisms MORE (D-Hawaii), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyBipartisanship alive and well, protecting critical infrastructure Overnight Defense: Senate sends 7B annual defense bill to Trump's desk | US sanctions Turkish officials over detained pastor | Korean War remains headed to Hawaii | Senators reassure allies on NATO support Dem strategist: It's 'far-left thinking' to call for Nielsen's resignation MORE (D-Ore.), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsTougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing Tenn. Republicans to go on offense against Dem MORE (R-S.D.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP leaders: No talk of inviting Russia delegation to Capitol Collins and Murkowski face recess pressure cooker on Supreme Court Tougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans MORE (R-Tenn.) voted against the legislation.

With its passage, the bill will meet Trump's public deadline to act on the issue and arrive on his desk before Congress departs for a weeklong Memorial Day recess. The bill passed the House last week in a 347-70 vote.

The sweeping, $52 billion reform bill would overhaul medical care options for veterans, including giving them more access to private doctors and hospitals.

 

What supporters say: Sens. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOvernight Defense: Questions mount over Trump's Iran tweet | House, Senate unveil compromise defense bill | Bill includes Russia sanctions waivers, limits on Turkey's access to F-35 | Endangered species measures dropped Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems This week: House GOP heads for the exit MORE (R-Ga.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMontana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad Vulnerable Dems side with Warren in battle over consumer bureau The Memo: Trump roars into rally season MORE (D-Mont.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate's veterans panel, held a press conference earlier this week with a coalition of veterans organizations to tout the bill ahead of a procedural vote.

"[This is] the last piece of a great mosaic to reform the veterans benefits for our veterans to make them contemporary with the 21st century and see to it that the best care, the best attention and the best legislation is in place," Isakson said.

 

What opponents say: Critics of the VA Mission Act argue it goes too far toward privatizing health care for veterans and threatens to hollow out the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sanders, announcing his decision to oppose the bill, said he was concerned it would continue a "slow, steady privatization of the VA" and "will open the door to the draining, year after year, of much-needed resources from the VA."

"I acknowledge the work done by some of my colleagues to improve this bill, but I believe it moves us too far in the direction of privatization. That is why I will vote against it," he said.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Senate Armed Services Committee will continue marking up its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) behind closed doors at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/2wajFqu

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2If0cq4 

 

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