Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Defense authorization bill enters final stretch

Lawmakers are staring down the final leg of the journey to getting the annual defense spending bill passed, but not without a few hiccups along the way, including last minute efforts to tack on unrelated bills to the legislation and a late GOP push to try to end the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military service members.  

We’ll share where the bill is in all of this plus the secretly modified rocket systems sent to Ukraine and how the Ukraine-Russia war is affecting U.S.-Russia nuclear talks. 

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. Sign up here or in the box below.

White House opposes repealing mandate via NDAA 

The White House opposes using the annual defense spending bill to repeal a vaccine mandate for military service members, national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Monday. 

President Biden is in agreement with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that the mandate should remain in place, Kirby said. Republican lawmakers have threatened to delay passage of the annual defense authorization bill if the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which was instituted last year, is not rescinded. 

“He continues to believe that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19,” Kirby told reporters, calling it a “health and readiness issue for the force.” 

Some background: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is vying for the Speaker’s gavel in the next Congress, said on Sunday that he believes the vaccine mandate for the military will be lifted through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

“Otherwise, the bill will not move,” McCarthy said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” 

A possible compromise: McCarthy and other congressional leaders met with Biden last week at the White House. 

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Politico last week that a rollback of the vaccine mandate was possible in a compromise NDAA. 

The GOP argument: Republican officials have argued for months that a vaccine mandate for the military is an example of government overreach. Former President Trump and others have argued that members who were discharged for refusing the vaccine should be reinstated. 

Read the full story here 

PROGRESSIVES PUSH BACK ON MANCHIN PERMITTING DEAL IN NDAA 

At least two progressive Democrats on Monday said they would vote against a defense spending bill if it contains elements of Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) permitting reform push.  

Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted that they would vote against the NDAA if it contained what they described as “giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.” 

“We can advance permitting for clean energy without taking a hatchet to environmental protections for frontline communities. This is not what @RepMcEachin would have wanted,” Grijalva said, invoking the late Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.).  

“I will vote against the NDAA rule if we continue with this fossil fuel giveaway,” he added.  

Optimistic: Meanwhile, Khanna expressed optimism that the legislation could be stopped. 

“I will vote against the rule for NDAA consideration if it includes giveaways to the fossil fuel industry. If even 10 House progressives vote against it, it likely can’t pass,” Khanna tweeted. 

Read the rest here 

Also from The Hill:  

US secretly modified HIMARS for Ukraine   

The Pentagon secretly modified advanced rocket systems it sent to Ukraine to make the weapons unable to fire into Russia and escalate the war. 

Since June, the U.S. has supplied Kyiv with 20 of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), but the weapons are uniquely modified so they can’t fire long-range missiles, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. officials. 

More on the weapon: The HIMARS are wheeled vehicles equipped with rocket systems, which are attached to the back. 

Along with the HIMARS, the U.S. has supplied Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) with a range of 50 miles, which have been used to strike Russian ammunition depots and command centers within Ukraine. 

Earlier: When President Biden announced the Defense Department was shipping the HIMARS and ammunition to Ukraine at the end of May, he said they would only be used for defense and the administration was “not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia.” 

  • Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky also promised at the time not to use the missile systems to strike targets inside Russia. 
  • The U.S. has also resisted sending Army Tactical Missile System (ATMS) rockets, a surface-to-surface missile that can hit targets up to 186 miles away. Officials cited similar concerns about Ukraine striking targets in Russia. 

Ongoing call to arms: Calls to provide Ukraine with longer-range missile systems and more advanced weaponry to strike back have grown more urgent after Russia in October began bombarding civilian infrastructure and energy grids in Ukraine. 

A new wave of Russian rocket strikes hit cities across Ukraine on Monday. 

Read the rest here 

Ukraine war bleeds into Russia-US nuclear talks    

Rock-bottom relations between the U.S. and Russia amid the Ukraine war are bleeding into one of the most high-stakes area of the relationship: strategic communication over nuclear weapons.  

Russia’s rejection of meeting U.S. officials in Egypt for nuclear talks over a soon-to-expire treaty is raising the risk that Washington is losing its ability to communicate with Moscow, even over one of the most fragile and preserved issues of mutual importance.   

Russian President Vladimir Putin has appeared to tone down rhetoric threatening the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but experts say the loose talk, coupled with a breakdown in diplomacy, has put the risk of nuclear conflict nearly on par with the Cold War.  

“Even during the worst of the Cold War, we were still talking to one another,” said Jim Townsend, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO during the Obama administration.  

“We want these things to happen because it means we’re trying to bring some sanity to the nuclear world.” 

Read that story here 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Brookings Institution will hold a conversation on “The arc of insecurity in the Horn of Africa and new breakthroughs,” at 8:30 a.m. 
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will speak at the International Anti-Corruption Conference on “Uprooting Corruption, Defending Democratic Values,” at 9 a.m. 
  • The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “Confronting Yemen’s Humanitarian and Political Crises Without a Ceasefire,” at 10 a.m. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on “The Role of Digital Management Systems in Ukraine’s Reconstruction,” with Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandra Azarkhina, at 11:30 a.m.  
  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will speak at a Hudson Institute talk on “Australia’s Role in the China Struggle,” at 12:30 p.m.  
  • The Atlantic Council will hold a forum on “Securing space: Preparing for future space contingencies,” with Principal Defense Department Director of Space and Missile Defense Policy Travis Langster, at 2 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 Adam Smith Biden John Kirby Kevin McCarthy Lloyd Austin Raul Grijalva
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