Overnight Defense: Mattis opposes torture despite Trump remarks | Gitmo numbers likely to rise | Dem to offer base closure plan

PENTAGON: MATTIS REMAINS OPPOSED TO TORTURE: Defense Secretary James Mattis is not wavering on his opposition to torture, the Pentagon said Thursday, despite President Trump endorsing its usage the day before.  

"Secretary Mattis said in his confirmation process that he will abide by and is committed to upholding international law, the Law of Armed Conflict, Geneva Conventions and U.S. law, and that has not changed," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Thursday. 

President Trump in an interview Wednesday evening on ABC News seemed to give conflicting statements on whether he would bring back the use of torture. 

The Hill's Kristina Wong has the story here

GITMO NUMBERS LIKELY TO RISE UNDER TRUMP: The Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba has seen its population continually shrink since 2008 to the point that it now holds only 41 prisoners.

That trend may be about to change.

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President Trump has pledged to "load" Guantánamo "up with some bad dudes," and executive orders he is expected to sign on Thursday will represent a sea change from the last eight years of U.S. policy.

While it is uncertain whether Trump will follow up on his vow, outside groups are preparing for a major battle.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has the story

GOP WANTS TRUMP TO EXEMPT VA FROM HIRING FREEZE: Two top Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing President Trump to offer clarity to the Department of Veterans Affairs over his federal hiring freeze.

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonPence, McConnell eulogize Sen. Richard Lugar On The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war MORE (R-Ga.) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the chairmen of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs committees, respectively, urged Trump in a letter Thursday to exempt VA direct patient care providers from the hiring freeze.

"On behalf of the over six million veterans nationwide who rely on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system, we are writing to respectfully request that you provide guidance indicating that exempting VA direct patient care providers is consistent with the tenants of and latitude permitted in your January 23rd Executive Order pertaining to a Federal civilian employee hiring freeze," they wrote.

The chairmen's letter comes on the heels of a separate one on Wednesday signed by dozens of Democrats that called on Trump to exempt the entire VA from his hiring freeze, saying it could delay veterans' access to health care and resolution of their disability claims.

Trump signed an executive order Monday that freezes all federal government hiring except in the military. There are also exceptions for public safety and public health jobs.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has more here

TOP DEM PLANS TO REINTRODUCE BASE CLOSURE PLAN: The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee says he's planning to reintroduce a bill that would allow the Pentagon to close excess military bases.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithLet's talk about education and school choice in 2020 Overnight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon's ability to transfer military construction dollars MORE's (D-Wash.) announcement comes after Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump Several factors have hindered 'next up' presidential candidates in recent years Small Florida county that backed Trump one of two targeted by Russians: reports MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedLet's stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens HUD chief Carson broke law with unauthorized purchases, GAO says Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto MORE (D-R.I.), the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said they are considering the possibility of closing bases to cut spending.

"We should not be wasting hard-earned taxpayer money to maintain excess infrastructure that [the Department of Defense] has determined it does not need," Smith said in a statement Thursday.

Rebecca Kheel has more here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW: 

Jay Solomon, author of "The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East," speaks at the Heritage Foundation at 12 p.m. For more information go to www.heritage.org

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Intel Committee Dems to Trump: Read torture report

-- The Hill: State Dept. senior management team resigns: report

-- The Hill: In break with Trump, GOP leaders say torture should remain illegal

-- The Hill: Priebus: Why do taxpayer dollars go to sanctuary cities that 'defy' laws?

-- The Hill: Trump review exposes GOP divide on torture 

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill@kristina_wong@Rebecca_H_K