Overnight Defense: New allegations against VA nominee | Pompeo vote set for Thursday | Work begins on defense policy bill | Measures push space corps, pay bump for troops

Overnight Defense: New allegations against VA nominee | Pompeo vote set for Thursday | Work begins on defense policy bill | Measures push space corps, pay bump for troops
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

 

THE TOPLINE: Ronny Jackson's nomination to be Veterans Affairs secretary appears to be in even worse shape than yesterday as allegations of wrongdoing pile up.

On Wednesday afternoon, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Democrats released a compilation of the allegation against Jackson.

The revelations in the document include that he has been accused of providing a "large supply" of Percocet to a White House Military Office staffer. The missing medication had sent the White House Medical Unit "into a panic," according to the report.

Jackson was also accused of getting drunk and wrecking a government vehicle at a Secret Service going away party, the report says.

Jackson's defense: Jackson denied the allegations he drunkenly wrecked a car and said his embattled nomination is "moving ahead."

"I never wrecked a car," Jackson told reporters at the White House, adding that he has "no idea where that is coming from."

Jackson said the charge would be easy to disprove and insisted "we're still moving ahead as planned."

White House digs in: The White House showed no signs Wednesday of abandoning Jackson.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered a vehement defense of President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE's embattled pick to the lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying Jackson's record is "impeccable" and that the choice was aggressively vetted.

"He has received more vetting than most nominees," she told reporters at a daily briefing dominated by questions about Jackson, whose nomination appeared to be on life support after the allegations of misconduct.

Sanders said Jackson had been scrutinized in a "pretty thorough vetting process done by the FBI, as well as three independent investigations."

Takeaway: It's hard to see how Jackson survives the growing firestorm around his nomination.

Senators were already skeptical of Jackson's lack of experience managing a bureaucracy as large as the VA. And veterans service organizations, which have considerable sway on veterans issues in Congress, are getting increasingly frustrated at the dysfunction over VA leadership.

 

POMPEO CONFIRMATION SET FOR THURSDAY: After securing enough votes to be confirmed and getting past committee drama, Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoAs tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Trump's Huawei concession is 'the rope that could hang America' MORE is scheduled to get a vote on his confirmation to be secretary of State on Thursday.

Senators locked in an initial vote for Pompeo on Thursday at noon, followed immediately by a final vote on his nomination.

The agreement speeds up the timeline for Pompeo's nomination, though opponents could have delayed a final vote until Friday.

In addition to support from every Republican senator, four Democrats have said they will support him.

Democratic Sens. Doug Jones (Ala.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Kentucky Democrat says primary challenge to McGrath 'might be helpful' McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (Ind.) have said they will back Pompeo.

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingFive things to watch for at Defense nominee's confirmation hearing Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, also came out as a "yes" vote on Wednesday.

What is means: Pompeo will be in place ahead of a number of thorny foreign policy debates, including Trump's May 12 deadline to decide whether to withdraw from the Iran deal and the upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that Trump has said will take place in May or June.

NDAA GETS GOING: National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) season officially kicked off Wednesday, as subcommittees release their portions of the bill and committee staffers briefed reporters.

The most juicy details won't be known until the so-called "chairman's mark" is released in the coming weeks, but the subcommittees offered a few interesting tidbits.

Here's a rundown of what we learned Wednesday:

Space: Lawmakers on a House panel are moving forward with a push to build up a space war fighting unit, though they are stopping short of trying to create a separate military branch as floated by President Trump.

The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee is working to use its portion of the annual defense policy bill to create a new numbered unit within the Air Force as well as a subunified command that would report to Strategic Command.

"I don't think that the members are backing off on this," a committee staffer said of the so-called space corps suggested by some Republicans in recent months.

"President Trump has come out and said that he has endorsed an independent space force. I think our members are still focused on that. I think our members also realize that nothing happens overnight," the staffer said.

Oxygen issues: A subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee is taking steps in its portion of the annual defense policy bill to address physiological episodes that have been hitting military pilots midflight, committee staffers said Wednesday. 

"This mark reflects the continued emphasis on keeping this issue in the spotlight at senior department-level leadership so we can continue to work this," a staffer told reporters at a background briefing.

Navy and Air Force pilots on various aircraft have been reporting unexplained incidents of hypoxia, which is when the body is deprived of oxygen at the tissue level.

There have also been unexplained incidents of disorientation, and hypocapnia and hypercapnia, which is when there is abnormally low and high levels, respectively, of carbon dioxide in the blood.

Navy ships: House lawmakers are proposing giving the Navy three more ships than it asked for in fiscal 2019 -- one aircraft carrier and two littoral combat ships.

A House Armed Services Committee's subpanel would give the Navy a total of 13 ships in its portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

"As Russia and China grow their naval presence it is absolutely critical that we continue to invest in and rebuild our Navy," subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland House panel votes to restrict possible changes to Air Force One design 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill MORE (R-Va.) said in a statement. "The mark released today would put our Navy on the path to make our way to a 355-ship fleet."

Pay, troop bump: The House Armed Services Committee is supporting a White House push for a 2.6 percent pay raise for troops in fiscal year 2019, according to a draft defense policy bill released Wednesday.

The committee's military personnel subpanel – in its mark for the FY-19 National Defense Authorization Act – wants "full funding of the by-law pay raise for the troops, the highest in 9 years," a notice of the mark states.

Unlike last year, the pay increase is in line with what the White House asked for in President Trump's budget proposal released in February. 

Trump wanted 2.1 percent pay increase for troops in FY-18, but Congress instead approved a 2.4 percent jump.

The subcommittee's draft bill, which sets military policy for the coming year, also includes the extension of several special pay and bonus provisions.

In addition, the mark has an increase in troops across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, also in line with White House increases. 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Five things to watch for at Defense nominee's confirmation hearing MORE, Joint Chief Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and Pentagon comptroller David Norquist will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. at the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. https://bit.ly/2I4koue

The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee will hold a hearing on the fiscal 2019 budget request for the Defense Health Agency at 10 a.m. at Dirksen 192. https://bit.ly/2Fhjdpv

House Armed Services subcommittees will mark up their portions of the NDAA:

-- Readiness at 9 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2212

-- Emerging Threats and Capabilities at 10 a.m. at Rayburn 2118.

-- Military Personnel at 11 a.m. at Rayburn 2212

-- Tactical Air and Land Forces at 12:30 p.m. at Rayburn 2118

-- Seapower and Projection Forces at 1:30 p.m. Rayburn 2212

-- Strategic Forces at 3 p.m. at Rayburn 2118.

https://bit.ly/2qWGk4A

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Lawmakers planning hearings over deadly Niger attack

-- The Hill: Sex assault reports in military up 10 percent: report

-- The Hill: Opinion: Kim's concessions seem too good to be true; they may be just that

-- The Hill: Opinion: Summits and denuclearizing North Korea: Good start, but don't hold your breath

-- The Hill: Opinion: US must act decisively to weaken Russia and Iran as guarantors of Assad's survival