Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief to press for Manchin’s support on Colin Kahl | House Dems seek to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police
Happy Tuesday 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: Pentagon chief to press for Manchin’s support on key nominee
The Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will reach out to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), a tiebreaker vote Democrats need to confirm Colin Kahl, President Biden‘s nominee for Pentagon policy chief.
“The secretary is planning to have a conversation with Sen. Manchin today. I’m not going to …talk about the details of conversations between the secretary and individual members of Congress,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.
Kirby said he did not know of “any other discussions” Austin might have with other members of Congress.
A precarious position: Republican senators last week during Kahl’s nomination hearing tore into him over his past Twitter activity, which in recent years was critical of the Trump administration.
Politico first reported that the administration was seeking Manchin’s support, with the White House directing Austin to reach out to the West Virginia Democrat.
Manchin has not publicly commented on Kahl’s nomination and did not attend his confirmation hearing last week. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tipping the scale: Manchin’s vote is seen as critical in confirming Kahl to the third most powerful civilian role at the Pentagon. If he does not support the nominee, the administration would need a Republican senator to vote for Kahl in the 50-50 Senate.
But Manchin was the lone Democrat to oppose Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Manchin pulled his support over past inflammatory tweets she had written about Republicans and progressive Democrats alike in her previous role heading the Center for American Progress think tank.
Tanden later withdrew her nomination after concerns she did not have enough votes to be confirmed.
GOP bashes tweets: Like Tanden, Republican senators lambasted Kahl over his past Twitter activity.
“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,” said Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.). “Unfortunately, in the past, in many cases, your public policy positions have been couched in partisan politics rather than fact-based analysis.”
Kahl during the hearing apologized for the “disrespectful” language in his tweets, saying he got “swept up” in a polarizing online environment during the Trump administration.
Pentagon stands by Kahl: The Pentagon, meanwhile, held fast to the nomination, stressing that Austin “looks forward to having Dr. Kahl installed as the undersecretary of Defense for policy” and “urges the Senate to give him a vote so we can get him on board,” according to Kirby.
“I think Mr. Kahl also spoke pretty eloquently about his Twitter habits in his hearing and I think made clear his respect for members of Congress of both parties and spoke to his Twitter activity and I think that I’ll leave it there,” he said.
HOUSE DEMS TO INTRODUCE BILL TO LIMIT TRANSFER OF MILITARY-GRADE GEAR TO POLICE
Dozens of House lawmakers are reintroducing a bill Tuesday to limit the Pentagon program that sends military-grade equipment to local police departments.
“Our neighborhoods need to be protected, but Americans and our founding fathers opposed blurring the line between police and the military,” sponsor Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in a statement Tuesday. “Before another town is transformed into a warzone with gifts of grenade launchers and high-caliber rifles, we must rein in this program and revisit our view of the safety of American cities and towns.”
Who backs the bill: The bill is co-sponsored by co-sponsored by 73 other House Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Tom McClintock (Calif.).
An uphill battle: The bill mirrors language that was included in a sweeping police reform bill the House passed last week. But that legislation, dubbed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, faces an uphill battle in getting the 60 votes needed to pass a Senate with a 50-50 party divide.
Why it was reintroduced: Lawmakers are reintroducing the standalone bill to tackle the Pentagon program in hopes of building momentum to include it in the annual defense policy bill, said Yasmine Taeb, a human rights lawyer and activist supporting the bill. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is one of the few bills that reliably becomes law each year, so is often a lightning rod for hot-button issues.
At issue is what’s known as the 1033 program, which allows the Pentagon to transfer excess military equipment to U.S. police departments.
Attention on the program was renewed last year amid the nationwide protests over police violence and racial injustice sparked by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.
A back and forth: Former President Obama curtailed the 1033 program in 2015 after local police suppressed protests in Ferguson, Mo., using military-grade equipment. But the Trump administration rescinded the restrictions in 2017.
President Biden has been expected to issue an executive order reimposing limits on the program.
Johnson’s bill could put pressure on Biden for what to include in an executive order. In addition, House members are expected to send Biden a letter later this week calling on him to issue an executive order to “end the transfer of military-grade weaponry through the Pentagon’s 1033 program onto the streets of our communities,” Taeb said.
Broader restrictions: Last year’s NDAA included language aimed at limiting the program by blocking the transfer of bayonets, grenades, weaponized tracked combat vehicles and weaponized drones, as well as requiring law enforcement getting equipment to be trained in de-escalation and citizens’ constitutional rights. But the language that made it into the NDAA did not go as far as Democrats and advocates wanted. Johnson’s bill would place much broader restrictions on the program.
Learn more specifics about what’s in the proposal here.
140 LAWMAKERS CALL FOR BIDEN ADMINISTRATION TO TAKE ‘COMPREHENSIVE’ APPROACH TO IRAN
A bipartisan group of 140 House lawmakers is urging the Biden administration to take a “comprehensive” approach to threats posed by Iran beyond just reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
“As Democrats and Republicans from across the political spectrum, we are united in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Who’s behind the letter: The letter, which was organized by Reps. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), is signed by 70 Democrats and 70 Republicans.
Context: The letter comes as the Biden administration has expressed a willingness to talk with Iran about rejoining the nuclear pact between Tehran and several world powers that was negotiated by the Obama administration.
Former President Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions. Since then, Iran has breached the deal’s limits on stockpiling and enriching uranium.
President Biden has said he would rejoin the deal if Iran comes back into compliance, but Iran is demanding sanctions relief before it returns to compliance.
More pressure: Tuesday’s bipartisan letter comes after one from 150 Democrats in December urging Biden to “swiftly” re-enter the Iran nuclear deal and one from 120 Republicans in February warning Biden not to rejoin the nuclear deal without significant changes.
Some of the same lawmakers signed both Tuesday’s bipartisan letter and one of the partisan letters.
Here are the three core tenets the letter stressed.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center; and Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting, commander of Air Force Space Command will speak at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Rocky Mountain Chapter virtual Cyberspace Symposium at 10 a.m.
State Department Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko will speak during a Center for Strategic and International Studies webinar at 10 a.m.
The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activities in the Indo-Pacific,” with David Helvey, acting assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs; Adm. Philip Davidson, commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; and Gen. Robert Abrams, commander, United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and U.S. Forces Korea, at 11 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118.
Lt. Gen. Laura Potter, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, will speak at the Association of the U.S. Army “Noon Report” webinar at 12 p.m.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Air Force Gen. John Hyten will speak at the Ottawa Conference on Security of Defense at 12:30 p.m.
Brig. Gen. Richard Coffman, director of Army Futures Command’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, will speak at a Center for Strategic and International Studies webinar on “The Army’s Next-Generation Vehicle,” at 2:30 p.m.
Dave Frederick, executive director of U.S. Cyber Command, will speak at a Intelligence National Security Alliance virtual “Wednesday Wisdom” discussion at 4:30 p.m.
The House Armed Services subcommittees on readiness and military personnel will hold a joint hearing on “Privatized Military Family Housing: Update on Implementation of Housing Reforms,” at 4:45 p.m. in Rayburn 2118.
— The Hill: Blinken calls on Iran to answer for Levinson
— The Hill: China’s Xi calls on military to ‘be prepared’ amid ‘unstable’ security situation
— The Hill: State Department designates two Iranians for ‘involvement in gross violations of human rights’
— The Hill: Biden challenged by early cyber threats
— The Hill: FBI releases new footage of suspect linked to pipe bombs at RNC, DNC
— The Hill: Nuclear watchdog says Iran is escalating its breaches of 2015 deal
— The Hill: Opinion: Royal Navy in the Pacific: An ally against China, where we need it
— Reuters: U.S. admiral calls for ground-based offensive weaponry in western Pacific
— Vox: Top Senate Democrat says Biden should “reconsider” May 1 Afghanistan troop withdrawal
— The Associated Press: Kosovo sends troops on peacekeeping mission for first time
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