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Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill

Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill
© Greg Nash

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: Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAustin tight lipped on whether to take sexual assault cases out of commanders' hands Gillibrand touts legislation to lower drug costs: This idea 'is deeply bipartisan' A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces MORE (D-N.Y.) on Thursday unveiled her latest attempt to curtail sexual assault in the military, proposing a bill that would remove decisions about whether to prosecute such cases from the hands of military commanders.

“Sexual assault in the military is an epidemic, it has been for a very long time,” Gillibrand said, alongside several senators from both parties at a news conference.

“We owe it to our service members to do more to prevent these crimes and to properly prosecute them when they occur.”

A long effort: Gillibrand for eight years has attempted to push a bill that would remove military commanders from deciding on sexual assault cases. She argues having commanders involved in the decision has prevented service members from coming forward out of fear of retaliation and emboldened attackers, as those who commit such crimes rarely face punishment.

The Pentagon and Gillibrand's fellow lawmakers for years have pushed back on the proposal, claiming taking such decisions out of the commanders' hands would cause a breakdown in unit cohesion.

The new bill: But her latest legislation, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act — which would require specially trained military prosecutors, not commanders, to decide whether to try assault crimes in the military — has gained a level of support her past efforts have failed to reach.

“This new coalition will make the difference of passing this legislation, I am certain of it,” Gillibrand said while flanked by Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Biden says workers can't turn down job and get benefits | Treasury launches state and local aid | Businesses jump into vax push Grassley criticizes Biden's proposal to provide IRS with B The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns MORE (R-Iowa), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGraham warns about trying to 'drive' Trump from GOP: 'Half the people will leave' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate braces for daylong brawl on elections bill Top female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' MORE (R-Iowa), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenCongress may force Biden to stop Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline Kabul attack spurs fears over fate of Afghan women as US exits Bowser on Manchin's DC statehood stance: He's 'not right' MORE (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mark KellyMark KellyArizona governor signs controversial election bill into law Ex-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds Bowser on Manchin's DC statehood stance: He's 'not right' MORE (D-Ariz.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Ocasio-Cortez hits Yang over scrapped Eid event: 'Utterly shameful' MORE (R-Texas).  

Extra help from Ernst: Ernst, a retired National Guard lieutenant colonel and sexual assault survivor who previously opposed taking the decision out of the chain of command, now backs the bill after she worked with Gillibrand to add several prevention efforts to it, including better training for commanders and increased physical security measures.

“It has been an evolution, and I’ve made it very clear that I have been very torn about this in the past,” Ernst said Thursday of her decision to support the bill.

“I said I would always keep an open mind and if we didn’t see things change then perhaps it would be time to make those changes. And so I have kept an open mind.”

Gillibrand, who has approached Ernst for years to gain her support, said the backing from the sole female Republican senator who has seen combat was “extremely meaningful.”

New support: Ernst’s aid is also likely to attract other lawmakers who voted against a similar bill from Gillibrand in 2014.

Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineHow leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force Manchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction MORE (D-Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Wyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move MORE (D-Va.), Angus KingAngus KingSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE (I-Maine) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAmericans for Prosperity launches campaign targeting six Democrats to oppose ending filibuster Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (D-Mont.) previously opposed the measure but now support the new legislation.

“You’re seeing people giving this fair consideration,” Gillibrand said of the shift. 

Read the rest here.

 

US TROOPS BEGIN LEAVING AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan has officially begun in line with President BidenJoe BidenKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' US officials testify on domestic terrorism in wake of Capitol attack MORE’s order for all U.S. troops to be out by Sept. 11, the White House confirmed Thursday.

“A drawdown is underway,” deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-PierreKarine Jean-PierreBattle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers White House: Florida 'moving in the wrong direction' with voting law As US pulls out of Afghanistan, al Qaeda says war 'on all other fronts' to continue: report MORE told reporters traveling on Air Force One.

Biden ordered the withdrawal earlier this month, intent on bringing to a close America’s longest war by the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the conflict.

Moving out: Biden had said the withdrawal would start by Saturday, which was the deadline for a full U.S. withdrawal under an agreement with the Taliban signed by the Trump administration.

About 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan nearly 20 years after the United States first invaded the country.

In addition to those U.S. troops, the 7,000 or so NATO troops still in Afghanistan are also withdrawing, as are all U.S. contractors.

Nonessential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have also been ordered to leave the country ahead of an expected increase in violence amid the withdrawal.

New threats: The Taliban has largely refrained from attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel since it signed the agreement with the United States last year but has threatened to resume attacks since the withdrawal is not meeting the May 1 deadline in that deal.

On Thursday, Jean-Pierre detailed the force protection measures the U.S. military is taking in light of those threats.

In addition to the deployment of B-52 bombers and the extended deployment of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier the Pentagon has previously confirmed, Jean-Pierre confirmed that parts of an Army Ranger task force are deploying to Afghanistan to help with force protection.

“Potential adversaries should know that if they attack us during our withdrawal, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal,” she said.

And last night: During his first address to Congress on Wednesday evening, Biden touted the withdrawal as an example of U.S. leadership.

“American leadership means ending the forever war in Afghanistan,” he said to a standing ovation from Democrats in attendance.

Biden, however, stressed the U.S. military would retain the ability to strike threats in Afghanistan from afar, pledging that “we will maintain an over-the-horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland.”

Both sides’ argument: Biden’s withdrawal has been met with skepticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle worried about a potential collapse of the Afghan government leading to a resurgent threat from al Qaeda.

But it has also been praised by some Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans who say it is far past time to bring troops home from America’s longest war.

Read more here.

 

BIDEN BUDGET DELAY CAUSES HEADACHES

The Senate Armed Services Committee is delaying consideration of its annual defense policy bill because of “uncertainty” over when President Biden will submit his full budget request to Congress, the committee’s chairman said Thursday.

“Because of the uncertainty of the timing of the president's budget submission, the committee has made a difficult decision to delay the markup of the NDAA until July,” committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal Overnight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill MORE (D-R.I.) said at the top of an unrelated hearing Thursday, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The panel typically takes up the bill, which is considered a must-pass, in May, though there are sometimes delays. Last year, for example, the committee did not consider the bill until June amid COVID-19 pandemic-related delays.

A new focus: Instead of working on the defense bill in May, Reed said, the committee will now focus on confirmation hearings. The panel has 23 pending nominations to consider, he said.

In June, the panel will hear from Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move The best defense? An alternative to all-out war or nothing MORE, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech Trump's Navy secretary spent over M on travel during pandemic: report Overnight Defense: US may keep training Afghan forces in other countries | Defense chief tight-lipped on sexual assault decision | 'Swift' return to Iran deal possible, US says MORE and the military service chiefs, Reed added.

What caused the delay: Earlier this month, the White House released an outline of its fiscal 2022 budget request that provided top-line dollar amounts for federal government agencies. The budget outline called for $753 billion for defense, including $715 billion for the Pentagon, modest increases over this year.

But the outline provided no specifics on what the money would buy, with the White House saying a more detailed budget request would follow later.

New administrations typically do not meet the usual March time frame to deliver Congress a budget request. But the Biden administration has blamed obfuscation by the Trump team during the presidential transition for delaying its budget even more than normal for a new administration.

Read more of the story here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will preside over a change-of-command ceremony for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, at 8 a.m. at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. 

The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement will hear from Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, on the final day of its virtual 2021 Hypersonic Weapons conference, at  9 a.m. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on worldwide threats with Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director, Defense Intelligence Agency; and Avril HainesAvril HainesDomestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? States step in as Congress fails to fight foreign influence MORE, director of national intelligence, at 9:30 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G50.  

The Aspen Security Forum will hold a virtual event on “The Biden Administration's first 100 days,” with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, former Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun, and former national security adviser Tom Donilon, at 9:30 a.m. 

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, will speak at the Business Council for International Understanding in an off-the-record and closed press discussion at 2 p.m. 

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, chief of space operations for U.S. Space Force, will speak at a Washington Post Live event: “The Path Forward: Space Force,” at 3:30 p.m. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Biden spy chief: China would find change in US policy toward Taiwan 'deeply destabilizing'

-- The Hill: Biden touts Afghan withdrawal: 'American leadership means ending the forever war'

-- The Hill: US investigating possible 'Havana syndrome' attack near White House: CNN

-- The Hill: Biden prepping cybersecurity executive order in response to SolarWinds attack

-- The Hill: Blinken meets with Israeli spy chief over concerns with Iran

-- The Hill: China: US military activity increasing under Biden administration

-- The Hill: Opinion: America stands to lose if we save Iran from more economic trouble

-- Military.com: Hawaii-Based Navy Submarine Commander Relieved Over Morale Problems

-- Stars and Stripes: Lawmakers try again to change VA motto with new administration