Overnight Defense: Lawmakers point fingers over impending Army cuts

THE TOPLINE: The Army on Thursday will announce massive troop cuts over the next two years that will affect bases all over the country. 

The planned cuts of 40,000 soldiers, as well as 17,000 civilian layoffs, will be politically painful for lawmakers from both parties who have fought to protect troops, civilians and bases in their states. 

And the pain may not end there. The Army has warned it may have to cut 30,000 more soldiers if Congress does not reverse caps on the Pentagon's budget mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act. 

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Although the cuts were long anticipated, they will add pressure to an already fraught budget situation, for which both sides are blaming the other as Congress flirts with another shutdown in October. 

Republicans are attempting to pass spending bills that would adhere to the caps, yet boost the Pentagon's budget through a war fund not subject to the same limits. 

Democrats have refused to consider those proposals until Republicans sit down with them to discuss lifting the caps on defense and non-defense spending alike. 

The White House, for its part, has threatened to veto the GOP bills. 

Neither side is backing down. On Wednesday, both sides blasted the cuts and sought to pin the blame for them on each other.

"Planned reductions in Army force levels have been public for some time and are a result of hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts since President Obama took office," said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. 

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCNN anchor hits Trump: He didn't go to Vietnam 'until he was in his 70s' with 'Secret Service protection' Trump reignites criticism of McCain months after senator's death Graham defends McCain amid Trump attacks: 'Nothing about his service will ever be changed' MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also blasted the cuts but said he would continue to work on a 2016 defense policy bill that adheres to the budget caps, despite the president's veto threat. 

"We're reducing the military at a time of increased threats ... I think it's a threat to our ability to defend the nation," he told The Hill. 

But Democrats, who also objected vigorously to the cuts, said they demonstrated why Republicans needed to sit down and negotiate. 

"We need to end sequestration on the domestic side and the defense side of the budget," said Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Overnight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election Democrats offer legislation to counter White House climate science council MORE (D-N.H.), a member of the Armed Services Committee.

If there is no resolution by Sept. 30, Congress would either have to shut down or temporarily extend 2015 spending levels that would prevent authorized pay raises for troops and also stall new projects and spending for the Pentagon. 

Defense experts say while the cuts were long planned, the announcement of where the cuts would take place are new, and could motivate lawmakers to consider reversing the budget caps. 

The Army cuts "bring home the consequences," said Justin Johnson, a defense expert at the Heritage Foundation and a former congressional aide. 

"There will be a lot of very upset communities, and that will certainly lead to upset members of Congress," he said.

FBI SAYS 200 AMERICANS TRIED TO FIGHT OVERSEAS: The FBI chief told Senate lawmakers on Wednesday that more than 200 Americans have tried to join Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, reported The Hill's Julian Hattem.

"We estimate upwards of 200 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to participate in the conflict," FBI Director James Comey said in written testimony given during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

"These threats remain among the highest priorities for the FBI and the intelligence community as a whole," he added.

Compared to other Western nations, however, the figure of 200 people attempting to join ISIS abroad is relatively low, compared to the more than 20,000 foreign fighters that have been estimated to have joined ISIS's ranks. 

"While this number is lower in comparison to many of our international partners, we closely analyze and assess the influence groups like ISIL have on individuals located in the United States who are inspired to commit acts of violence," Comey said, using an alternate acronym for the group.

"Whether or not the individuals are affiliated with a foreign terrorist organization and are willing to travel abroad to fight or are inspired by the call to arms to act in their communities, they potentially pose a significant threat to the safety of the United States and U.S. persons."

CLINTON SUBPOENA RELEASED: The GOP-controlled House Select Committee on Benghazi released the subpoena it served on former secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP lawmaker defends Chelsea Clinton after confrontation over New Zealand attacks Klobuchar: Race, gender should not be litmus tests for 2020 Dem nominee Kirsten Gillibrand officially announces White House run MORE earlier this year.

The release came the day after Clinton chastised Republicans for making her use of a private email server a political issue, saying in a CNN interview that she "never had a subpoena."

Benghazi Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview Gowdy calls congressional hearings like Cohen's 'utterly useless' The family secret Bruce Ohr told Rod Rosenstein about Russia case MORE (R-S.C.) took issue with Clinton's remarks.

"The committee has issued several subpoenas, but I have not sought to make them public," he said Wednesday in a statement.

"I would not make this one public now, but after Secretary Clinton falsely claimed the committee did not subpoena her, I have no choice in order to correct the inaccuracy," Gowdy added.

The six-page subpoena, delivered to Clinton's attorney on March 4, asks for all documents sent to and from the private email she used while in office between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2012.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the Benghazi panel's top Democrat, said the GOP is twisting Clinton's words.

"Obviously everyone-including Secretary Clinton-knows Chairman Gowdy issued a subpoena back in March because he also issued a press release about it at the time," he said in a statement.

"It appears clear that Secretary Clinton was answering a question about whether she deleted emails 'while facing a subpoena.' She produced her work-related emails to the State Department in December, which was months before the Chairman's subpoena in March," he added.

Meanwhile, the panel's Democrats also chided Gowdy for not holding a vote over whether to make public the deposition of Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal, calling it an "abuse of power."

SYRIAN REBEL PLAN RIPPED: Top Republicans argued the revelation that the Pentagon's $500 million effort to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has only had 60 recruits means the program is a failure.

"I think that the initiative, which is the president's -- basically his anchor in the strategy, isn't working. And the fact is that we need to recruit more fighters from Syria and we need to get them trained. That's the sum total here," House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE (R-Ohio) said during a press conference.

However, the small figure doesn't mean that the U.S. has to boost its ground presence in the region to counter ISIS, he added.

"The first step is to get the Syrians trained to fight ISIS. In addition to that, the steps being taken to train Iraqi soldiers continue. What's needed on the Iraqi side is a little more engagement rather than just solely training," said BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE.

The low recruit tally, made public Tuesday by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, stunned lawmakers and rekindled GOP criticism that President Obama has no coherent strategy to destroy ISIS.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) called the number of recruits "incredibly disappointing."

He said his panel called Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to appear shortly before the July 4 recess was to have them "show us a path to success to degrade and destroy ISIS."

"I don't see it," he told The Hill. "They didn't offer it then, my impression is they didn't really offer one yesterday. So it's very discouraging."

ICYMI: 

-- Senate Dem wants action to cut off ISIS's money

-- Petraeus: Obama playing 'roulette' in Afghanistan

-- A-10 advocate shrugs off challenger's announcement

-- Pentagon chief stuns lawmakers on Syria

-- Benghazi chair: Clinton had a 'duty' to save her emails

 

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