OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House GOP leaders name new chairmen

THE TOPLINE: Republican leaders on Tuesday picked new chairmen to head the powerful Armed Services and Intelligence committees in the next Congress.

The House Republican Steering Committee tapped Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) to lead Armed Services and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats On The Trail: How Trump lost the law and order debate MORE (R-Ohio) appointed Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to head up the Intelligence Committee.


Thornberry had served as the No. 2 Republican on Armed Services for the last four years and been widely expected to win the gavel despite a last-minute challenge from Rep. Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesBottom line Selection of Sarah Makin-Acciani shows the commitment to religious liberty Too much ‘can do,’ not enough candor MORE (R-Va.). He is replacing Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) who is retiring at the end of the year.

The promotion puts Thornberry, first elected in the 1994 Republican Revolution, in charge of writing the House draft of the Defense Department’s annual budget policy bill. It also provides him a key role overseeing the Obama administration’s national security and defense policies, including the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"Defending the country is the first job of the federal government, and that job may be more challenging now than it has ever been," Thornberry said in a statement.

"We face a wide array of threats, which means we have to have a wide array of capabilities. We also face a very volatile security environment. The only thing we can be sure of is that the unexpected will occur," Thornberry continued.

He said the U.S "must be strong" because a "weak America — or the perception of a weak, indecisive America — means a more dangerous world."

Thornberry also said he would consult with his colleagues in the coming weeks in order to "hit the ground running in January when the new Congress is sworn in."

Unlike most committee gavels that are voted on by the House Steering Committee, the Intelligence post is solely up to BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats On The Trail: How Trump lost the law and order debate MORE.

“The world is becoming increasingly dangerous and the Intelligence Committee is vital to our efforts to protect the American people. Over the past four years, Devin has been instrumental in ensuring that our intelligence professionals have the resources they need to keep America safe,” Boehner said in a statement announcing the appointment or Rep. Nunes. 

The Intelligence chairmanship is coveted among lawmakers as it provides a powerful oversight role with access to some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

Nunes, who has served in Congress since 2003, beat out Reps. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) for the post. 

“At a time when the United States faces major international challenges including significant terror threats, I am honored and humbled to have been entrusted with this position," Nunes said in a statement.

"The committee's work is vital because strong congressional oversight of the intelligence community is critical for our national defense posture,” he added.

Nunes will replace current Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) who is retiring at the end of this year.


DIVIDE ON DEFENSE POLICY BILL: Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees are grappling with outstanding issues on a joint defense policy bill.

“We’re moving,” House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told reporters Tuesday. “I think we should get a bill." McKeon though said he was not sure when the legislation would be rolled out.

Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinMichigan to pay 0M to victims of Flint water crisis Unintended consequences of killing the filibuster Inspector general independence must be a bipartisan priority in 2020 MORE (D-Mich.) said lawmakers shouldn't expect to propose amendments to the finished measure.

“I just think it’d be extremely difficult,” he said. “It’s always desirable to have amendments, obviously, but the longer this goes, the more difficult it is as a practical matter.”

Levin said he would “much prefer an open amendment process,” but added that “it’s not the ideal way to legislate.”

A second-consecutive year with a closed bill process is likely to anger GOP lawmakers, and could also infuriate Senate Democrats, who have privately expressed frustrations about the tight grip Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom Line Biden owes us an answer on court-packing Progressive group: Feinstein must step down as top Democrat on Judiciary panel MORE (D-Nev.) keeps on the legislative process.

Levin said the earliest a compromise policy bill could be brought up would be the first week of December, after the Thanksgiving break.

He said the “vast majority” of the differences between the House and Senate bills had been resolved but declined to provide examples.


PENTAGON TO ‘SPEED UP’ REBEL TRAINING: The Pentagon is accelerating plans to train and equip vetted Syrian rebel groups against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I think it's on track. And they're going to try to speed it up, and I hope they can,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Tuesday.

Defense Department Under Secretary for Policy Christine Wormuth is slated to brief the House and Senate Armed Services Committees Wednesday on U.S. efforts against ISIS, where she may address the Syrian program. 

Congress in September approved a temporary Pentagon program to train and arm 5,000 moderate Syrian fighters. Defense officials said at the time it would take three to five months to vet rebel groups, and up to an additional eight to 10 months to complete training. 

However, moderate Syrian rebels have criticized the U.S., arguing that the program is not moving fast enough to defeat ISIS, or to defend themselves against stepped-up attacks by Syrian leader Bashar Assad. 


WHITE HOUSE: RANSOMS OFF THE TABLE: The White House said Tuesday it is not reconsidering its policy of refusing to pay ransom for U.S. hostages as part of an administration-wide review.

"The reason for that is simple: We don’t want to put other American citizens at even greater risk when they’re around the globe, and that knowing that terrorist organizations can extract a ransom from the United States if they take a hostage only puts American citizens at greater risk," press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Earnest's remarks came after the Pentagon said in a letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) that the president had ordered a review of the government’s handling of hostage cases, "with specific emphasis on examining family engagement, intelligence collection, and diplomatic engagement policies."

Families of kidnapping victims of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have complained the government's response has been disorganized. They claim that different parts of the government have given them different guidance over ransoms, with some officials threatening prosecution.

Earnest said the review would include the Department of Defense, State Department, FBI and intelligence community.

News of the review came days after ISIS released a video showing the beheading of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig. He was the third American decapitated by the terror group.



— McConnell: NSA reform would help ISIS

— Dem rep insists AUMF needed for ISIS fight

— Report: Navy chief racks up $4.7M in travel

— Lawmakers condemn deadly Jerusalem attack

— Key Republican makes house call to Cheney


Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Martin Matishak, mmatishak@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill, @kristina_wong, @martinmatishak