Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Pentagon vaccine mandate to get the chop

Congress is poised to use the annual defense policy bill to eliminate the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.   

We’ll share the details of that compromise and where the bill is now, plus the lingering divisions from the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot and the push from one senator to prioritize sending arms to Taiwan to defend itself against China over helping Ukraine.

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. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Sign up here or in the box below.

Lawmakers set to repeal military vaccine mandate

In a compromise with Republicans, House Democrats are allowing language into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that repeals the coronavirus vaccine mandate for U.S. service members a year after it was enacted, House Armed Services committee ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) told The Hill.

The bill, which lays out how a $847 billion Defense Department topline will be allocated in fiscal year 2023, is tentatively set to be released late Tuesday or early Wednesday and voted on by the House Thursday, Rogers said.   

Asked if he believes the language will stick amid all the last-minute jostling over the bill, Rogers replied: “Yes.”  

An organized push: Republican lawmakers for months have pushed back on the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin first instated in August 2021.

Since then, thousands of active-duty service members have been discharged for refusing the shots, according to the latest Pentagon numbers.   

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is vying for the Speaker’s gavel in the next Congress, said on Sunday that the NDAA “will not move” unless the mandate for the military is lifted through the bill. 

Biden’s loss: The compromise is effectively a loss for the White House and Pentagon, which have both opposed using the NDAA to repeal the vaccine mandate.

“We lost a million people to this virus,” Austin told reporters traveling with him Saturday, as reported by The Associated Press. “A million people died in the United States of America. We lost hundreds in DOD. So this mandate has kept people healthy.” 

Not included: One thing not expected in the bill, however, is language to reinstate troops, sailors and airmen who were discharged or received penalties for declining the vaccine, a provision GOP lawmakers hoped to insert in the legislation.   

Instead, lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are planning report language for the bill that allows DOD to evaluate service members affected by the mandate, Rogers said.   

Read the full story here 

Jan. 6 divisions on display at Gold Medal ceremony

Lingering divisions from the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot were on full display Tuesday when legislative leaders presented the Congressional Gold Medal to law enforcement personnel who protected the Capitol during last year’s attack. 

In a moment that drew widespread attention, family members of former Capitol Police Office Brian Sicknick — who died one day after the Capitol attack from natural causes following multiple strokes — snubbed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during the ceremony, declining to shake their hands after the medals were presented.

The snub: The family members were captured on camera shaking hands with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), but when they got to McConnell and McCarthy, they continued walking.

McConnell’s hand was extended during the interaction.

“It’s self-explanatory,” Ken Sicknick, the officer’s brother, told reporters following the ceremony. “They came out right away and condemned what happened on Jan. 6. And whatever hold that Trump has on them, they’ve backstepped, they’ve danced, they won’t admit to wrongdoing.” 

Asked if they deserved a handshake, Sicknick responded “no.” 

“Unlike Liz Cheney they have no idea what integrity is,” he said. “They can’t stand up for what’s right and wrong. With them it’s party first.” 

Read the rest here 

Hawley presses Blinken to prioritize arming Taiwan

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday to prioritize sending arms to Taiwan to defend itself against China over helping Ukraine hold off the Russian invasion, arguing that the former is more important to U.S. national security interests.

  • Hawley said in a letter to Blinken that arms transfers to Ukraine are impeding the United States’ ability to prevent a war in Asia through supplying Taiwan.
  • “Seizing Taiwan is Beijing’s next step toward dominating the Indo-Pacific region,” he said. “If Beijing succeeds, it would have dire ramifications for Americans’ national security, as well as our economic security and freedom of action.”  

Focusing on Beijing: Hawley said the Biden administration is prioritizing Ukraine over the United States’ “vital security interests” in Asia, a strategy he said is not sustainable. He pointed to comments in which Blinken noted the Chinese government is determined to accomplish “reunification” on a faster timeline. 

Hawley said the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an independent government agency that submits annual reports to Congress on the U.S.-Chinese relationship, found the direction of existing stocks of munitions and arms to Ukraine and supply issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a backlog in delivering weapons that were approved for sale to Taiwan. 

Earlier: Hawley has previously called for the U.S. to prioritize Taiwan’s security over Ukraine. He asked the Biden administration in February to drop any U.S. support for Ukraine joining NATO, arguing that it distracts from China’s growing influence.  

He has also voted against overwhelmingly bipartisan bills to send additional aid packages to Ukraine. 

Read that story here 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström will speak at The Atlantic Council at 7 a.m.
  • The German Marshall Fund of the U.S. will host a virtual discussion on “The role of NATO allies in supporting and defending Ukraine against Russian aggression,” with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, at 8:30 a.m.
  • The Brookings Institution will hold a virtual conversation on “South Korean foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific,” at 9 a.m.
  • The U.S. Institute of Peace will host a virtual talk on “Prosecuting the Crime of Aggression in Ukraine,” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova, among others, at 10:30 a.m.
  • The Center for a New American Security will hold a virtual discussion on a new report, “Precision and Posture: Defense Spending Trends and the FY23 Budget Request,” with Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Force Readiness Kimberly Jackson, at 1 p.m.
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will give the keynote address at the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the National Park Service’s wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, at 12:53 p.m. 1750 Independence Ave. SW
  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will host a conversation on “A Modern Alliance in a Changing World” with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong at 2 p.m.
  • The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe will hold a hearing on “Crowdsourcing Victory: Inside the Civil Society Campaign to Improve the Lethality and Survivability of the Ukrainian Military,” at 2:30 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

In Ukraine, a new approach to modern conflict is emerging

Authorize State Department programs so we can truly lead with diplomacy

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

Tags Anthony Blinken Jan. 6 Josh Hawley Kevin McCarthy Lloyd Austin Mike Rogers military vaccine mandate National Defense Authorization Act Taiwan
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