Defense & National Security — Biden heads to Alabama to tout response to Russia
President Biden will travel to Alabama on Tuesday for a domestic trip focused on his response to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
We’ll detail where he’s heading and why this trip is different than his past domestic travels, plus how U.S. diplomats are resuming limited activities in Ukraine and why lawmakers and advocates are demanding answers from the Navy.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Subscribe here.
Biden ventures to Trump country with Alabama trip
President Biden will travel to deep-red Alabama on Tuesday for an unusual domestic trip focused on his response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Biden’s trip on Tuesday to a Lockheed Martin facility in Alabama marks a shift from his typical travel within the U.S., which has largely been focused on swing states where Democrats are in tough reelection campaigns and has consisted of him touting his domestic accomplishments.
“Alabama is one of those states where I’m not even sure the Republican wave has crested yet,” said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. “In Alabama, it’s still going full bore.”
Where he’s going: The Lockheed Martin facility is located in Troy in Pike County, which former President Trump won by double digits in 2020. Still, the surrounding area is heavily Black and leans Democratic; Biden defeated Trump by 50 points and more than 60 points in the nearby Bullock and Macon Counties, respectively.
“He should get a friendly response in that area,” Bullock said.
It will be Biden’s first visit as president to Alabama, where his current approval rating is underwater by 32 percentage points, according to Morning Consult.
A different kind of trip: Alabama won’t be the first red state that Biden has visited while in office — he’s also stopped in Louisiana and Texas — but the visit stands out amid a flurry of other trips to help boost Democrats facing difficult reelections.
Biden has stepped up his domestic travel with the midterms quickly approaching, but has been challenged with balancing touring the U.S. with focusing on the war in Ukraine. When he went to Europe at the end of March to meet with European leaders and Ukrainian refugees, Biden’s domestic trips largely stopped for about a month.
And while Biden’s recent domestic trips has spotlighted investments from the bipartisan infrastructure law while working to revive parts of his sweeping domestic climate and social spending proposal, Tuesday’s trip will have a decidedly different focus: U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.
The intent: The Lockheed Martin facility manufactures weapons systems like the Javelin anti-tank missiles, which the U.S. has provided Ukraine.
Biden is expected to use the trip in part to push Congress to quickly approve the $33 billion he has requested in additional military, economic and humanitarian assistance to address Russia’s war in Ukraine.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said a goal of Biden’s trip is “to make the case in these remarks about how vital it is to move this legislation forward.”
Biden on Tuesday will also argue it is important for Congress to quickly pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which aims to boost domestic manufacturing of semiconductors. Each Javelin missile requires more than 200 semiconductors to make, according to Psaki.
US diplomats resuming limited activities in Ukraine
The U.S. hopes to reopen its embassy in Kyiv if the situation permits, its chargé d’affaires said Monday from Ukraine’s capital city.
“We listen to the security professionals, and when they tell us we can go back we will go back,” the official, Kristina Kvien, said during a press conference.
A trial period: Kvien, who was visiting Kyiv on a day trip, said that diplomats would make day trips for the next week or two before coming back permanently.
“We are thrilled to be back and will continue our efforts to do everything possible here on the ground to help Ukraine win this war.”
Earlier: The U.S. evacuated its embassy personnel and shut down the building nearly two weeks before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday and said the U.S. diplomats will initially make visits to Lviv this week with plans to return to Kyiv as soon as possible.
Navy aircraft carrier deaths spur calls for change
After seven deaths in a year among the crew of a single aircraft carrier, including three suicides in just more than a week, lawmakers and advocates are demanding answers from the Navy.
The USS George Washington, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carrier, has been at the Newport News, Va., shipyard since 2017 for a midlife, multiyear refueling and complex overhaul.
Between last year and April, seven sailors assigned to it have died, four of them being apparent or confirmed suicides. After a CBS News report on the deaths, a spokesperson for the Navy told The Hill that there were three additional suicides before 2021 — in November 2019, July 2020 and October 2020.
Rough working conditions: Sailors on the ship have spoken to outlets including Navy Times and NBC News about conditions aboard, with one saying they also attempted suicide, in large part due to working conditions.
The Navy for its part has acknowledged the issues on the aircraft carrier and says it is investigating the deaths.
‘A big distrust’: But Chrystal Verrengia-Bushnell, the vice president of 22 Until None, a volunteer organization aimed at providing resources for active-duty service members and veterans, says her group has heard from sailors and their families about the harsh conditions on the George Washington and that some fear accessing the resources provided by the military because their commanders could find out.
“There’s a big distrust there,” Verrengia-Bushnell said. “We get emails and messages daily on all three of our social media platforms and through email asking, ‘Are there any — is there anybody that I could talk to you about my command won’t find out?’”
ON TAP TOMORROW
- President Biden will travel to Alabama to visit a Lockheed Martin facility that “manufactures weapon systems such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, which the Biden-Harris Administration is providing Ukraine to effectively defend against the Russian invasion,” according to the White House
- United Kingdom Defense Staff Chief Adm. Tony Radakin will speak on “Russia, Ukraine and the New World Order,” as part of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit at 6:30 a.m.
- The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “The Posture of the Department of the Air Force in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2023 and the Future Years Defense Program,” with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond, at 9:30 a.m.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a virtual discussion on “The Spear and the Shield? Japan’s Defense Strategy Trajectory,” with former Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera and former Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Masahisa Sato, at 10 a.m.
- The Arms Control Association, the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, and the Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security will hold a virtual discussion on “The Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons and Russia’s War on Ukraine: Meeting the Legal and Political Challenge,” at 11 a.m.
- A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Artificial Intelligence Applications to Operations in Cyberspace,” at 2:30 p.m.
- The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “The VA Workforce: Assessing Ways to Bolster Recruitment and Retention,” at 3:30 p.m.
White House: DHS disinformation board ‘apolitical’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that a board on disinformation recently convened by the Department of Homeland Security will operate “in a nonpartisan and apolitical manner.”
“The mandate is not to adjudicate what is true or false online or otherwise,” Psaki told reporters during a briefing. “It will operate in a nonpartisan and apolitical manner. It’s basically meant to coordinate a lot of the ongoing work that is happening … and the focus is on disinformation and threats to the homeland.”
Psaki said that the board would address disinformation related to threats such as violent extremism, human trafficking and malign foreign influence. She also noted — as she did last week — that the work of the board started under former President Trump’s administration in 2020.
Republicans have attacked the board since its creation was disclosed last week, comparing the effort to the “Ministry of Truth” depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
Read more from The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Russia’s cyber warfare against Ukraine more nuanced than expected Ukraine war speeds up US cyber agenda
- Taiwan ‘can learn from Ukraine’ in face of China threat: foreign minister
- The Hill: Opinion: How to stop Putin from popping a nuke
On last thing…
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that former President Trump asked authorities if they could shoot protesters in the legs amid the demonstrations that filled the streets of Washington following the murder of George Floyd.
“Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” Esper says Trump said.
Esper’s revelation from his new memoir “A Sacred Oath” — first seen by Axios — uncovers more details about their rocky relationship during the nationwide racial protests in 2020, as Esper publicly opposed Trump’s threat to deploy active-duty troops.
That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.