Defense & National Security — Veterans offer bright spot in Washington
Veterans are in the spotlight in Washington this week as the Senate considers legislation helping those exposed to toxins and President Biden signs bills aimed at supporting Americans who have served.
We’ll have more on the legislation plus the Department of Homeland Security’s grim warning on the threats of domestic extremists.
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 Jordan Williams. Subscribe here.
Veterans’ bills progress through Washington
Veterans took the spotlight on Tuesday as both President Biden and the Senate advanced legislation expanding care and benefits.
On Capitol Hill, the upper chamber advanced a bill that would expand care to veterans suffering illnesses because of exposures to toxins during their service.
Meanwhile, Biden signed nine bipartisan bills also aimed at expanding access to veterans’ care and honoring veterans’ legacies.
Honor our PACT Act: The Senate invoked cloture on the Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honor our PACT Act, which would expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health care eligibility to veterans impacted by toxic exposures.
The upper chamber voted 86-12 to advance the bill, with all no votes coming from Republicans. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) unveiled the legislation last month, which came on the heels of a year of bipartisan negotiations.
In a statement after the cloture vote, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Tuesday’s vote was a “critical step towards delivering health care and benefits to veterans and survivors impacted by toxic exposures.”
“President Biden looks forward to working with Congress to swiftly enact this legislation and continue to uphold our sacred obligation to support those who have served our nation, their families, caregivers, and survivors,” she added.
A familiar face: Comedian Jon Stewart joined advocates and lawmakers on Tuesday morning to urge the Senate to pass the bill.
Stewart—an outspoken advocates for veterans who suffer from toxic exposures— applauded the veterans who advocated for the bill, and the legislative aides who negotiated over the past year.
“Real men and women who served this country through heroism and sacrifice—whether they were fighting for freedom or just trying to get out of a drug treatment program doesn’t matter. They kept their covenant with this country,” Stewart said.
“And today is the day that this country says if they’re going to keep their covenant with them,” he continued.
Meanwhile, on Pennsylvania Ave: Biden signed the Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas SERVICE Act to provide better access to mammograms for veterans exposed to burn pits.
The legislation aims to ensure that veterans who serve near burn pits get preventative care and requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct breast cancer screenings for women who experience toxic exposures.
He signed eight other pieces of legislation Tuesday focused on veteran health care, including a bill to improve breast imaging services for veterans regardless of if they’re exposed to burn pits or not, and to compensate veterans who developed cancer and medical conditions from the World War II-era nuclear programs.
“Less than one percent of the population risk everything to defend our nation and our values and everything we hold dear. And you know, the 99 percent of us who don’t, we owe them, we owe them big,” Biden said at the bill signing. “And that’s what today is all about, is paying a debt in my view.”
DHS offers grim warning after mass shootings
After several particularly violent weeks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is warning the threats the U.S. faces are only expected to become more “dynamic” as domestic extremists eye vulnerable targets.
The specific warning: “Several recent violent attacks by lone offenders against minority communities, schools, houses of worship, and mass transit have demonstrated the dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment facing the United States,” the agency wrote in a terrorism advisory bulletin posted Tuesday.
The bulletin, updated every few months, is the first since gunmen opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., and at a school in Uvalde, Texas.
“In the coming months, we expect the threat environment to become more dynamic as several high-profile events could be exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets,” DHS wrote, noting schools, houses of worship and minority groups could all be targeted.
On divisive issues: DHS again warned the U.S. debate surrounding abortion rights could prompt violence, noting that “individuals who advocate both for and against abortion have, on public forums, encouraged violence, including against government, religious, and reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities, as well as those with opposing ideologies.”
DHS for the first time this year also issued a warning over border politics possibly serving as a motivating factor behind violence.
The role of foreign adversaries: DHS reported that ISIS and al Qaeda supporters “released statements celebrating the hostage taker” who hit a Texas synagogue earlier this year. The agency also described “pro-al-Qa‘ida and ISIS users” celebrating an April attack on the New York City subway system that is still under investigation.
Efforts to promote division are only expected to intensify leading up to the midterm elections this fall.
“Chinese, Iranian, Russian, and other foreign malign influence actors have sought to contribute to U.S. internal discord and weaken its focus and position internationally,” DHS wrote.
Raytheon moves to DC area
Raytheon Technologies on Tuesday announced it will move its global headquarters from Massachusetts to Arlington, Va., making it the latest major defense contractor to reside in the Washington, D.C., area.
Its headquarters will be moved to Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood, where the defense contractor already has offices for its intelligence and space business, the company said.
Why make the move? The maker of the thousands of Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine amid its war with Russia said in a statement the move “increases agility in supporting U.S. government and commercial aerospace customers.”
It also pointed to the area’s position as “a convenient travel hub for the company’s global customers and employees.”
Joining the competition: With the move, the surrounding D.C. suburbs will now host the headquarters for the top five U.S. defense companies: Lockheed Martin in Bethesda, Md.; Raytheon and Boeing in Arlington; Northrop Grumman in Falls Church, Va.; and General Dynamics in Reston, Va. Boeing announced its move to Arlington early last month.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) announced the Raytheon move in a statement on Twitter, saying the shift “demonstrates that the Commonwealth is the best destination for the aerospace and defense community.”
Senate confirms Air Force manpower boss
The Senate voted 76-21 on Tuesday to confirm Alex Wagner to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
President Biden nominated Wagner—a longtime defense official from the Obama administration—for the position in July. The Senate Armed Services committee advanced his nomination in October.
He will be replacing John Fedrigo, who has served in the role in an acting capacity since January 2021.
Wagner will be responsible for supervising manpower, military and civilian personnel issues, reserve component affairs and readiness support in the Air Force.
During the Obama administration, Wagner served as Chief of Staff to the Army. He also served as a senior adviser and special assistant in the Pentagon
He currently serves as the vice president for Strategic Initiatives at the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).
ON TAP TOMORROW
- The Department of Defense will begin the 2022 DoD Digital and AI Symposium
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “The Path Forward On U.S.-Syria Policy: Strategy And Accountability” at 10 a.m.
- The Atlantic Council will host a discussion on “Strengthening Black Sea security and defense in a new era” at 12:30 p.m.
- The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will host “Trouble on the Homefront” at 1 p.m.
- Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) will join the Heritage Foundation’s discussion on Maintaining American Nuclear Deterrence at 3:30 p.m.
- The Institute of World Politics will host an online seminar on Enterprise Threat Modeling at 6 p.m.
- The Intelligence and National Security Alliance will host a leadership dinner with DoD Chief Information Officer John Sherman at 7:30 p.m.
- The Ploughshares Fund will hold an event titled “Chain Reaction: Action Now”
- The Armed Services subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems will hold a markup for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 at 10 a.m.
- The Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on Technology Modernization will hold a hearing on “Cybersecurity and Risk Management at VA: Addressing Ongoing Challenges and Moving Forward” at 10 a.m.
- The Committee on Small Business will hold a hearing on “Military to Main Street: Serving Veteran Entrepreneurship” at 10 a.m.
- The Armed Services subcommittee on Strategic Forces will hold a markup for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 at 12 p.m.
- The Armed Services subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces will hold a markup for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 at 2 p.m.
- The House Armed Services subcommittee on Military Personnel will hold a markup for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 at 3:30 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Here’s a list of the people who have been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee
- Democrat on Jan. 6 hearing: ‘We’re going to see how much Trump was involved’
- McConaughey calls for ‘real change’ on guns in emotional White House appearance
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.