Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay
The Pentagon is reviewing a draft request from Capitol Police to extend the deployment of thousands of National Guardsmen at the Capitol, a Defense Department official confirmed Thursday.
The deployment, which started after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, is currently scheduled to end March 12. Details of the potential extension "are still being worked out," the Pentagon official said.
Briefing wanted: Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinPandemic pushes teachers unions to center stage ahead of midterms Planned Parenthood endorses nearly 200 House incumbents ahead of midterms Key House chairman wants to lead official trip to Taiwan in January MORE (D-Mich.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and former Pentagon official, said Thursday that she has heard from contacts at the National Guard that Capitol Police asked them to extend their mission for 60 days and that the Guard is “soliciting states to send contributions.”
“No one likes seeing the fortress-like security around the Capitol. And no one wants to again have a security problem in and around this symbolic place,” Slotkin tweeted. “But whether an extension has been requested or the mission is indeed terminating on March 12, it’s critical that members of Congress get a briefing on what’s behind these decisions.”
What prompted the request: Tensions were running high Thursday because of a QAnon conspiracy theory that former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE will be inaugurated on March 4, the traditional date for presidential inaugurations until 1933.
Fears about a possible plot by a militia group to attack the Capitol prompted House Democrats to cancel previously scheduled votes for Thursday.
Asked about the prospect of Guard troops extending their stay, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTwo-thirds of Americans support banning lawmakers from trading stocks: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Watch: Lawmakers, activists, family members call for voting rights legislation on MLK day MORE (D-Calif.) referred questions to the officials overseeing Capitol security.
A review: Pelosi has tapped retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who had coordinated the response to Hurricane Katrina, to lead a review of Capitol security and recommend reforms. Honoré has provided congressional leaders with an early draft of that report, Pelosi said, and the recommendations could be shared with all House lawmakers as early as next week.
"This issue of the National Guard is one that will be made by the Capitol Police, and the Police Board and the rest," she said. "But I'm not in a position to respond to that [question]. But we should have them here as long as they are needed."
The Guard numbers now: About 5,200 Guardsmen from several states remain at the Capitol, down from the height of the deployment of about 26,000 troops from every state, three territories and Washington, D.C.
Criticisms: Republicans have been increasingly critical of the continued deployment of Guardsmen at the Capitol, questioning what intelligence exists to justify keeping them there beyond general threats on social media.
There have also been bipartisan concerns about the conditions Guardsmen stationed at the Capitol have faced, prompting some calls for them to return home.
In January, lawmakers were outraged after some Guardsmen were forced to rest in a parking garage instead of inside the Capitol complex. They were quickly moved back inside after photos of them cramped in the garage circulated online.
‘Outrageous’ to extend: The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Thursday it would be “outrageous” to keep the National Guard at the Capitol for potentially two more months.
“It’s outrageous because that’s not their function. It’s not their mission,” Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeRepublicans say Mayorkas failed to deliver report on evacuated Afghans Pelosi faces pushback over stock trade defense Overnight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate MORE (R-Okla.) told reporters.
Citing the fact that National Guardsmen have civilian jobs waiting for them, Inhofe said the deployment is “destroying careers of people.”
“We have the Capitol Police. That is their mission,” he said.
PENTAGON POLICY NOMINEE BLASTED OVER TWEETS, IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL:
Republican senators tore into President BidenJoe BidenMadame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats MORE’s nominee to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop Thursday, with several coming out in opposition to Colin Kahl over fiery tweets in recent years critical of the Trump administration.
Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee also grilled Kahl, Biden’s nominee to be under secretary of Defense for policy, over his support for the Iran nuclear deal, from which former President Trump withdrew and which Biden is hoping to revive.
“What concerns me here is that hyper-partisanship, especially in regards to our national security, is inappropriate for the position of under secretary of Defense for policy,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the committee, said. “Unfortunately, in the past, in many cases, your public policy positions have been couched in partisan politics rather than fact-based analysis.”
An important role: The under secretary of Defense for policy is widely considered the third most powerful civilian role at the Pentagon.
The job is also expected to be of particular importance in the Biden administration after Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinGOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Milley tests positive for COVID-19 MORE pledged to empower civilian voices, such as Kahl if he is confirmed, to assuage lawmakers concerned about a recently retired general leading the department.
Support needed: Kahl does not need Republican support to be confirmed. But with a 50-50 party split in the Senate, he cannot afford to lose any Democratic votes if all Republicans oppose him.
Biden’s first nominee for budget director, Neera TandenNeera TandenBiden to sign order to streamline government services to public Politics, media worlds react to Wallace news Biden's head of personnel to leave White House for UNICEF MORE, withdrew from consideration after Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate Democrats eye talking filibuster NAACP president presses senators on voting rights: 'You will decide who defines America' Schumer tees up showdown on voting rights, filibuster MORE (D-W.Va.) and several Republicans considered swing votes announced their opposition to her. Her opposition came in part due to her own past tweets.
Comparisons: At Thursday’s Armed Services hearing, several Republicans compared Kahl to one of former President Trump’s nominees for the same job, Anthony Tata.
Tata withdrew after several inflammatory, conspiratorial and racist tweets resurfaced, including ones calling former President Obama a “terrorist leader” and telling former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Israeli defense chiefs discuss Iran US ends combat mission against ISIS in Iraq, but troops remain This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE to “pick his poison” including execution or sucking “on a pistol.”
The objectionable tweets: The tweets from Kahl that Republicans found objectionable include him saying Republicans “debase themselves at the alter of Trump” and calling the GOP the “party of ethnic cleansing” in response to a news story on Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAll hostages free, safe after hours-long standoff at Texas synagogue: governor McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster MORE (R-Texas) defending Trump's decision to move troops out of northern Syria ahead of a Turkish invasion.
Republicans also pointed to a tweet from Kahl where he said “every Republican senator” who sustained Trump’s veto of a bill to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen “now shares ownership of the world's worst humanitarian crisis.”
In another tweet cited by Republicans, Kahl quoted a New York Times columnist’s criticism of Trump’s handling of COVID-19 that said “the Republican Party’s death-cult fealty to Trump is wholly man-made.”
Apologies: Kahl apologized for the “disrespectful” language in his tweets, saying he got “swept up” in a polarizing online environment during the Trump administration.
“There were a number of positions that President Trump took that I strongly opposed. I think the language that I used in opposing those was sometimes disrespectful, and for that I apologize,” Kahl said.
He also argued he has a “long track record of being able to put politics aside” while working at the Pentagon, citing his work for both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
“I understand that the position of the under secretary of Defense for policy, while it's a political appointment, is not a political job. It's a policy job. One that requires me to be nonpartisan," he added. "I know that I can comport myself in that way because I did it the last time I was at the Pentagon.”
Dems dismiss criticism: Democrats, though, dismissed the Republican criticism of Kahl as hypocritical and related more to partisan battles over how to handle Iran.
“That kind of criticism regarding tweets from folks who didn't say anything about the kind of lying, racist tweets out of the former president I think is pretty rich,” Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDems worry they'll be boxed out without changes to filibuster, voting rules Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two Senate Judiciary Committee to debate key antitrust bill MORE (D-Hawaii) said.
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWhite House dismisses report of new Build Back Better package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Democrats ponder Plan B strategy to circumvent voting rights filibuster MORE (D-Va.) called Republican opposition to Kahl a “proxy” for their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.
Biden has said he would rejoin the agreement if Iran, which began breaching the deal’s limits after Trump withdrew, comes back into compliance. He accepted an invitation from the European Union for talks between Iran and other signatories of the deal, though Iran rejected the offer.
NAVY MOVES NEARLY 200 TO HOTELS AFTER JUMP IN COVID-19 CASES:
Citing a spike in coronavirus cases, the U.S. Naval Academy has transferred nearly 200 midshipmen to Annapolis, Md., hotels, the academy announced this week.
In separate announcements Monday and Tuesday, the academy said a total of 196 midshipmen would be part of the transfer. The transfers include 98 personnel who have been moved to the Hilton Garden Inn and another 98 shifted to the Graduate Hotel. Both hotels are in downtown Annapolis.
“This is a dynamic situation and decisions are made on a daily basis in a way that prioritizes the healthcare needs of the midshipmen and well-being of our entire Naval Academy community,” Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a Tuesday statement. “I am thankful for the flexibility and adaptability of the Brigade and our entire team here on the Yard and in the local community as we navigate this challenging period, especially the hotels for their responsiveness and hospitality.”
When the spike began: Officials told The Washington Post the academy’s spike in case numbers began around Feb. 18, with the timeline suggesting at least some of the cases were the result of Valentine’s Day weekend exposures.
“While it might be satisfying to attribute this to just one variable, or one group, doing so would be an oversimplification,” Jenny Erickson, a spokeswoman for the academy, told the newspaper. “That said, actions taken during liberty that weekend is most likely the primary issue leading to that rise.”
Vaccines coming soon: More than 4,500 midshipmen comprise the academy’s student body. Erickson told the Post all those subject to the transfer will lodge with a roommate and be confined to their rooms except for two daily hours of supervised physical activity. They will be prohibited from accepting guests or deliveries.
The academy’s midshipmen will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine under phase 2 of Maryland’s rollout. Buck told Congress this week that the goal is to begin shots for midshipmen “in the near future.”
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHillicon Valley — Shutterfly gets hacked Biden signs 8 billion defense bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Democrats spar over military justice reform MORE (D-Wash.) will speak at a Brookings Institution webcast on on what the National Security Strategy should prioritize, at 11 a.m.
The Hudson Institute will hold a webinar on “Competing with China Through Budget Agility,” with Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for strategy, integration and requirements Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote; Michael Brown, director of the Defense Department's Defense Innovation Unit; former Defense Deputy Undersecretary for Industrial Policy Bill Greenwalt; and former Defense Department Comptroller Elaine McCusker, at 12 p.m.
Former Secretaries of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back Former defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions MORE and Leon Panetta, and former national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will speak at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute virtual event: “Assessing the State of Our National Defense,” at 3 p.m.
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-- Stars and Stripes: McDonough urges Senate to pass coronavirus relief aid for VA
-- Military Times: New congressional investigation to examine the link between veterans and extremist groups
-- Military.com: National Guard won't cut ties with contractor that served undercooked food, sickening troops