OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Iraq vets join Armed Services panel

THE TOPLINE: Senate GOP leaders announced assignments to the powerful Armed Services Committee in the next Congress, filling the panel with five freshman senators, many with military service.

The GOP freshmen joining the panel include Sens.-elect Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonAnti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle Tim Scott to participate in GOP event in Iowa Exclusive: GOP senators seek FBI investigation into Biden Pentagon nominee MORE (Ark.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTim Scott to participate in GOP event in Iowa Exclusive: GOP senators seek FBI investigation into Biden Pentagon nominee Trump faces test of power with early endorsements MORE (Iowa), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Thom Tillis (N.C.).


Cotton, an Army veteran, served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Ernst served in Iraq as a lieutenant colonel with the Iowa National Guard and will be the first female combat veteran in the upper chamber.

Sullivan is a Marine Corps veteran.

In a widely anticipated choice, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will head the panel that oversees the Defense Department.

McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, will wield the gavel and oversee the Obama administration's military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Ashton Carter's nomination for Pentagon chief.

Democrats on Friday announced that Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) would become the committee’s ranking member and Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.) would join the panel.

WHAT'S IN THE 'CROMNIBUS'?: The Senate over the weekend approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill that included funding for the Defense Department. The bill now heads to President Obama's desk. 

The bill provides most of the government, including the Pentagon, with funding through Sept. 30, and for the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 27. The vote was 56-40. 

The bill provides a base budget of $490 billion to the Pentagon. According to the Associated Press, defense and foreign-policy-related provisions include: 

- $128 billion for the 1.3 million active-duty troops, and 820,800 reserves

- $162 billion for operations and maintenance

- $92 billion for new weapons systems, including 38 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. 

- A 1 percent pay raise for troops and civilian Pentagon employees in fiscal 2015

- Scaling back the housing stipend by 1 percent

- $25 million to provide more legal help to military sexual assault victims

The bill would also give the Veterans Affairs Department $160 billion, according to the Military Times, including:

- $4.2 billion for programs to specifically aid Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans 

- $4.6 billion for female veterans

- $7.4 billion to combat homelessness among veterans

The bill provides $73.7 billion for overseas military operations and diplomatic efforts by the State Department to combat terrorism, including:

- $3.4 billion for U.S. operations in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

- $1.6 billion to train and equip the Iraqi military

- $4.1 billion for the Afghan military. 

The bill also provides $5.4 billion towards efforts to fight Ebola in the U.S. and abroad, including:

- $2.5 billion to help African countries

- $2.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services

- $1.2 billion for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention efforts in West Africa and to strengthen public health systems in at-risk countries

WH 'EVALUATING' RUSSIA SANCTIONS BILL: The White House said Monday it was evaluating whether President Obama would sign new legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Russia and authorize the administration to send Ukraine additional defensive weapons and non-lethal aid.

A senior administration official said it was “important that our sanctions regime strikes a delicate balance that maintains a united front with allies and partners, optimizes costs on Russia, and minimizes the impact on American business, international oil markets and the global economy.” 

Obama is under pressure from both parties on Capitol Hill to sign the legislation, with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) calling for him to sign the bill "immediately" in a statement Monday. 

“With this support, we underline our strong moral commitment to the cause of the Ukrainian people,” Boehner said.

The new legislation imposes penalties on Russian weapons exports and oil production imports, targets Moscow’s national energy company if it withholds supplies from European states, and makes rolling those sanctions back more difficult. The defense sanctions are mandatory, barring a presidential waiver and other potential exceptions. 

The White House is concerned, however, that the penalties could get out in front of European allies, who have sought to impose sanctions without risking significant harm to their own economies, as well as handcuff the administration in future negotiations with Moscow.

And while the bill authorizes lethal aid for Ukraine, the White House has so far not endorsed such action, out of concern it would provoke Russia, and would not match Moscow's assistance to the separatists. 

Ukraine has asked the U.S. for an array of military assistance, but so far, the White House has only provided nonlethal military aid, including body armor, food packets, and communications and medical gear. 

SYDNEY SIEGE LEAVES THREE DEAD: Australian police ended a 16-hour hostage situation at a Sydney café on Monday when they raided the restaurant.

Three people, two hostages and the lone gunman, were killed.

The crisis began on Monday in Sydney — Sunday evening on the East Coast — when a single gunman entered the restaurant and locked the doors.

Police identified the gunman as Man Haron Monis, who they said had a prior criminal record. Shortly after he entered the restaurant, hostages were seen holding a flag associated with jihadist groups.

Australia has been particularly concerned about so-called lone wolf attacks, where a terrorist sympathizer acts without the close direction of a terrorist group, after an operative of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) called for Australian supporters to carry out public beheadings.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said the deadly situation highlights the need for increased government surveillance. He applauded former police programs that spied on Muslim communities in the United States.


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