Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Biden unveils $625M weapons package to Ukraine 

President Biden
Greg Nash
President Biden speaks to reporters on South Lawn of the White House on Monday, October 3, 2022 before heading to Puerto Rico to examine damage from Hurricane Fiona.

The Biden administration unveiled a $625 million security assistance package to Ukraine on Tuesday as the West continues to grapple with Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian territories.  

We’ll break down what’s in the latest package. Plus, we’ll look at how the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is wading into uncharted territory with its interim final rule on abortion access.  

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. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Biden speaks with Zelensky, unveils $625M package 

President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday and unveiled a $625 million security assistance package to Ukraine amid Russia’s annexation of regions in the eastern and southern parts of the country. 

Biden and Harris underscored that the U.S. “will never recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Ukrainian territory,” according to a White House readout of the conversation. 

Totals and weapons: The U.S. has now committed more than
$17.5 billion in aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including $16.8 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement. 

Tuesday’s weapons package will be the second under presidential drawdown authority, and includes four High Mobility Rocket Artillery Systems, 16 155 mm howitzers, 16 105 mm howitzers, 75,000 155mm artillery rounds, 500 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds and 1,000 155mm rounds of Remote Anti-Armor Mine Systems, among other equipment. 

Backstory: The meeting comes as the West continues to grapple with the fallout of Russia moving to annex the Luhansk, Kherson, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine after holding referendums largely decried as shams.  

National security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Andriy Yermak, head of the office of Ukraine’s president, in Istanbul on Sunday, during which Sullivan said there would be “severe costs” for anyone who supported Russia’s annexation. 

What else was said: During the conversation with Zelensky, Biden also affirmed the U.S.’s “continued readiness” to impose sanctions on any entity that supports Russia’s annexation and welcomed an agreement that allowed the safe export of grain from Ukraine, the White House said. 

The president also spoke of the U.S.’s efforts to “rally the world behind Ukraine’s efforts to defend its freedom and democracy, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter,” the statement added. 

Read the full story here.  

VA steps into abortion fight with contentious rule  

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is wading into tense territory with a new rule essentially making the agency an abortion provider, facing the wrath of GOP lawmakers and likely legal challenges. 

The VA has already started providing abortions to pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries in limited circumstances set out in the rule, which took effect when it was published on Sept. 9.   

The landmark rule quickly raised questions about the infrastructure to handle demand, and the legal consequences of performing the services in red states where abortion is banned or severely restricted. 

Some interesting terminology: The rule would allow abortions for those who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or if a pregnancy endangered the “life and health” of the person seeking an abortion. 

However, there are still questions about how “health” will be interpreted. 

  • Sean Timmons, a managing partner at law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC, interpreted the “health” of the mother as a possible a catch-all term the VA is using to broaden the scope of who can obtain abortions.  
  • “I understand that trying to limit it to health, but I think that description of health means the individual is asking for this procedure because it’s going to be the service that is going to assist in their health,” he said. “So, I don’t see that as limitation.” 

A GOP perspective: Republicans have questioned the legality of the rule and promised to give the department a tough time if the GOP regains control of Congress in the fall.  

  • Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, argued in a Sept. 15 hearing that the rule violates The Veterans Healthcare Act of 1992, which essentially prohibited the agency from providing abortions. He added that he was working with his House and Senate colleagues to sanction the VA over the rule. 
  • “Following the law isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. By ignoring the law, VA is violating the wishes and values of millions of Americans who don’t want their tax dollars used to pay for abortions at VA or anywhere else,” Bost said during the hearing. 

Moving forward: Leaders of the VA have said they are ready for the challenges. VA Secretary Denis McDonough has said the department is working to bolster security at VA facilities — and trying to avoid the politics of abortion.   

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself in terms of what’s going to happen, in terms of the politics — I wasn’t very good at politics when I was the White House chief of staff, and I can guarantee you, I’m no good at politics now,” McDonough said at a media roundtable on Sept. 26. 

“Our job is to keep our head down, do the work, make sure that work is executed well. That’s what we intend to do, and I have every expectation that’s what we will do — the rest of it will work itself out.” 

Read the full story here.  

BIDEN SPEAKS WITH JAPANESE PM AMID NORTH KOREAN MISSILE LAUNCH

President Biden on Tuesday spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida after a North Korean missile launch over Japan a day earlier. 

“The two leaders jointly condemned the DPRK’s missile test in the strongest terms, recognizing the launch as a danger to the Japanese people, destabilizing to the region and a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions,” the White House said in a readout of the call. 

Biden and Kishida discussed a coordinated response to the missile launch, as well as ongoing efforts to bring back Japanese citizens who have been abducted by North Korea. 

Read more here.  

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will host a discussion with Kimberly Buehler, the Army’s Director for Small Business Programs, at 8 a.m. 
  • The Atlantic Council will host “The Japan-Africa dialogue, a follow-up for the 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development” at 8 a.m. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a discussion on “#NAFO and Winning the Information War: Lessons Learned from Ukraine” at 12 p.m. 
  • The Hudson Institute will hold a discussion on “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD” at 12 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

Tags Jake Sullivan Mike Bost Volodymyr Zelensky

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