Overnight Defense

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Obama to sign Russia sanctions bill

THE TOPLINE: President Obama is poised to sign a bill by the end of the week that would allow additional sanctions against Russia over its incursions into Ukraine, the White House said Tuesday. 

The bill comes as Jason Furman, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, warned that Russia’s economy is on the “brink of crisis.”

{mosads}”If I were chairman of President Putin’s council of economic advisers, I would be extremely concerned,” Furman told reporters at the White House

The Russian ruble has collapsed in value alongside a dramatic fall in the price of oil, Russia’s top export. 

The United States and Europe have also implemented penalties on Russia’s energy, financial and military sectors to punish Moscow for annexing the Crimean peninsula and for backing separatist groups in Ukraine.

“I think they are facing a very serious economic situation and it’s a serious economic situation that is largely of their own making and largely reflects the consequences of not following a set of international rules,” Furman said.

The new legislation would allow the president to impose further sanctions on Russian weapons exports and oil production imports, and targets Moscow’s national energy company if it withholds supplies from European states. The bill also makes rolling back sanctions more difficult. 

Lawmakers had pressed the president to sign the bill quickly for days before the White House announcement on Tuesday.

“He needs to sign it,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill early Tuesday.

“We worked very closely with the administration to get the language so they would not hold it on the floor, so to now veto it would be a big breach,” Corker said. 

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in a statement that it was time to show Moscow that the U.S. is ready to defend its European allies.

“The question now is whether the President will backtrack again and blur another red line — to the detriment of U.S. credibility and security — or whether he will stand with the people of Ukraine in the face of blatant Russian aggression,” Ayotte said. 

The White House initially expressed reservations the language could move the U.S. ahead of European allies, harming future talks with Moscow.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the legislation “does send a confusing message to our allies because it includes some sanctions language that does not reflect the consultations that are ongoing.”


DEFENSE NOMINEES TO BE CONFIRMED: Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the retiring chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he expects the upper chamber to confirm thousands of Defense Department nominees before the 113th Congress adjourns.

“All of the ones we just voted out will be confirmed, I’m hoping. So far, we’ve never had a problem with Defense nominees. So I don’t foresee any problems here,” Levin told reporters.

The panel voted last week to favorably report out 3,579 pending military nominations, including a new U.S. Pacific Command chief, two assistant Defense secretaries and a new general counsel to the Army, according to a committee statement.

“I would hope that those could get done fairly quickly.” Levin added.

He could not say if the picks would be approved via unanimous consent.


SCHOOL ATTACK WON’T SLOW TROOP DRAWDOWN. The Defense Department on Tuesday said a Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar that killed at least 140 won’t change U.S. plans to withdraw troops from neighboring Afghanistan.

“As terrible as it is, its not going to change our strategy,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby at a press briefing.

The attack, which President Obama strongly condemned, comes as the U.S. plans to draw down its forces in Afghanistan to 10,800 by the end of December and end its combat mission there.

U.S. forces would be cut to roughly half of that number by the end of 2015 and down to an embassy presence of about 1,000 by the end of 2016, when President Obama leaves office.

“Nothing has changed of the fact that the combat mission will end at the end of the month,” Kirby said.

Critics in Congress say the president should reconsider his timetable, given Iraq’s security meltdown after U.S. troops left in 2011.


VETERANS’ SUICIDE PREVENTION BILL IN 2015? Lawmakers vowed to renew their push for a bill aimed at boosting suicide prevention for military veterans in 2015.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, passed the House but was blocked Monday night by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who decried its $22 million cost and said it duplicated programs at the Veterans Affairs Department.

“I’m going to be objecting to this bill because it actually throws money away,” Coburn said on the Senate floor. “We’re the ones to blame for not holding the VA accountable.”

The move infuriated supporters of the bill, which is named after a young Iraq veteran who killed himself.

“Make no mistake, the fight isn’t over,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), one of the original sponsors of the bill, said in a statement. “We will rally from this setback; I will reintroduce this important legislation immediately in the 114th Congress, and there is no doubt in my mind it will eventually become law.”

He said that based on the VA’s own math, around 8,000 veterans commit suicide every year.

“Each day we fail to address this problem, more veterans die. It’s incredibly disappointing that this commonsense legislation was stymied by the only member of Congress in either the House or Senate who objects to the bill,” Walz said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is slated to be the ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee next year, said that, if the bill “fails this time, we will bring it back.”

“As parents who experienced the pain of losing a veteran to suicide, it is shocking to see this bill blocked because of one lone Senator’s agenda,” Susan Selke, Hunt’s mother, said in a statement put out by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA’s CEO and founder, called Coburn’s move “unconscionable.”

“Have no doubt, we will be back with reinforcements when the next Congress arrives,” he said.



-Poll: Majority supports ending sequestration

-Senate OKs ‘nice little water bill’ — hold the ISIS

-Conn. Dem hears echo of Sandy Hook in Pakistan attack

-Kerry sees ‘constructive’ Russian steps

-Pentagon chided over ‘imprudent spending’ on Afghan gem industry


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Tags Afghanistan Carl Levin Economic sanctions Jason Furman John Kirby Josh Earnest military suicide Pentagon Russia Taliban Tom Coburn Ukraine
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