Overnight Defense: 50 House Democrats urge Biden to ‘significantly’ slash defense budget | Blinken, Austin put China on warning | Pentagon could extend Guard mission at border

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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: 50 House Democrats urge Biden to ‘significantly’ slash defense budget

A group of 50 House Democrats is urging President Biden to “significantly” slash the more than $700 billion Pentagon budget.

“While we are heartened that your administration is not contemplating expanding the Pentagon’s already inflated budget, our new Democratic majorities in Congress along with your administration should go further,” the lawmakers wrote Tuesday in a letter to Biden. “Rather than requesting a flat Pentagon budget, we urge you to seek a significantly reduced Pentagon topline.”

Who sent it: The letter was organized by former Progressive Caucus chairs Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), as well as Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), and co-signed by a cadre of other prominent progressives.

Earlier: The letter follows reports that Pentagon officials are crafting a $704 billion to $708 billion fiscal 2022 budget request that is essentially flat compared to this year’s Defense Department budget.

Any effort to slash the defense budget is likely to face strong political headwinds.

Republicans have been pushing Biden to boost the defense budget by 3 to 5 percent, the amount of annual growth officials early in the Trump administration said was needed to properly fund the National Defense Strategy. The strategy seeks to reorient the U.S. military toward competition with Russia and China after decades of focusing on counterterrorism.

What the Dems need: With a slim Democratic majority in the House and 50-50 party split in the Senate, Democrats are expected to need Republican votes to pass a defense budget.

Avoid across-the-board: Top Democrats, including the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, have also rejected across-the-board defense cuts, saying the budget needs to match a strategy and that they’re expecting a relatively flat budget request from the Biden administration.

Limited details: Tuesday’s letter to Biden did not specify how big a cut the lawmakers would like to see, but a news release from Pocan’s office highlights an amendment he and Lee pushed last year that would have cut the overall defense budget by 10 percent. That amendment failed with large bipartisan majorities voting against it in both chambers of Congress.

Undo the damage: In their letter, the Democrats argued “part of undoing the damage” of the Trump administration is a reevaluation of spending priorities and that such a reevaluation should “begin with the Department of Defense.”

Read more here.



Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday warned during remarks in Tokyo that the U.S. would respond to any Chinese “coercion and aggression.”

“We will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion and aggression to get its way,” Blinken said, according to a State Department transcript of his remarks. 

“China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abusing human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet,” he added.

First trip: Blinken made the comments alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as part of the first overseas trip taken by members of President Biden’s Cabinet. 

Japan backs up US: Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu added that officials agreed that “China’s behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military and technological challenges to the alliance and to the international community.” 

China responds: Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian appeared to respond to the statement, Reuters notes, saying the U.S. and Japan “shouldn’t target or undermine the interests of any third party” and instead should promote “peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.”

The remarks come just days before a meeting in Alaska between U.S. officials and their Chinese counterparts to discuss relations between Washington and Beijing.

Read more here.



The National Guard deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border could continue past its expected fall end date, the head of U.S. Northern Command said Tuesday.

About 3,500 National Guard troops from 22 states are currently assisting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in a mission along the southern border funded through September.

“Homeland Security, CBP, would like to continue [Department of Defense] DOD support,” Air Force Gen. Glenn VanHerck told reporters at the Pentagon. “There’s a request on the street to ask for additional support.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “will make a risk assessment” to ultimately decide if Guardsmen will stay and continue the mission or return home, VanHerck added.

How long they’ve been there: Thousands of U.S. troops have been deployed to the southern border since late 2018, when the Trump administration sought to tout strengthened national security in the final week before the midterm elections.

At its height, more than 2,500 National Guardsmen and more than 5,800 active-duty troops were stationed along the border.

What’s happening now: President Biden has since ended the national emergency, but the Pentagon does not have plans to end the deployment before the approved September end date.

The remaining 3,500 troops perform maintenance and repairs on CBP vehicles and also provide surveillance on the ground and with helicopters, VanHerck said. Any spotted attempts to cross the border are reported to CBP, with the Guardsmen uninvolved with apprehension or detention efforts, he added. 

Read more here.



The U.S. Institute of Peace will hold a webinar on “Lessons from the Four Party Peace Talks on the Korean Peninsula,” with former State Department Northeast Asia Division Chief Robert Carlin; former Senior Policy Adviser for the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Philip Yun; and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Chip Gregson, at 2 p.m. 

And coming up on Thursday: Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will speak at The Hill Virtually Live event The Future of Modern Expeditionary Warfare, discussing how the Navy and Marine Corps can maintain military readiness domestically and abroad, at 1:30 p.m.



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Tags Antony Blinken Barbara Lee Joe Biden Lloyd Austin Mark Pocan
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