Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Inside the House’s $717B defense policy bill | Bill would authorize Trump’s military parade, halt weapons sales to Turkey, allow sanctions waivers for allies with Russian weapons | SEALs discharged over drug use

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Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. We’re Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

THE TOPLINE: The House on Friday released details of its $717 billion defense policy bill, with several notable provisions dealing with everything from President Trump’s desired military parade in Washington, D.C., to arms sales to Turkey, to an aviation crisis among the service branches.

The fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would authorize $616.7 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, $22.1 billion for the Department of Energy’s defense programs and $300 million for other defense-related base budget items. It would also authorize $69 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, with additional mandatory spending of $8.9 billion rounding out the total.

An aviation crisis: Citing a “crisis point,” including 25 service members killed in military aviation accidents this spring, the NDAA includes increases in funding for training, maintenance and new equipment aimed at helping to restore readiness.

The bill goes beyond the administration’s budget request for funding for flying hours by $24.2 million, which “will help reverse the tragic trend of military aviation accidents,” the summary said.

The proposal also has $83 million more than the administration’s request for other training operations.

Trump’s military parade gets House GOP support: House Republicans backed Trump’s planned military parade with a provision in the NDAA that would allow the event to go forward.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) “agrees with President Trump that it is appropriate to honor and celebrate 100 years of patriotic sacrifice in a way that expresses appreciation and admiration for our men and women in uniform, including a parade in the nation’s capital and a national celebration for that purpose,” according to a summary of the bill.

In order to ensure the parade does not leave the military flat-footed, the NDAA “prohibits the use of operational units or equipment in the parade if the secretary of Defense believes such use will hamper readiness.”

US defense sales to Turkey would be temporarily stopped: The bill also would hold U.S. weapons sales to NATO ally Turkey until a report is created to analyze worsening tensions between Washington and Ankara.

The provision would require the Pentagon to provide Congress a report “on the impact that increasing strains on the U.S.-Turkey relationship, caused by provocative actions taken by the Turkish government over the past year, will have on all U.S. military and diplomatic activities currently conducted in Turkey.”

The Pentagon would be prohibited from delivering major defense equipment sold to Turkey until the report is complete, according to the language, included in a minority summary of the NDAA released Friday.

A senior committee aide told reporters that lawmakers are trying to work with the Defense Department to figure out where the countries’ relationship is headed as Washington is poised to hand over more than 100 F-35 Lightning II fighters to Turkey.

Allies could get Russia sanctions waivers: The NDAA would also establish a “special rule” allowing the Trump administration to waive some sanctions on U.S. allies for buying Russian arms.

The sanctions in question were required by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which Congress overwhelmingly passed last year.

That bill, which was passed to punish Moscow for destabilizing activities, including its 2016 election interference, included a section requiring sanctions against those making transactions with Russia’s defense industry.

But Defense Secretary James Mattis has been arguing the sanctions bill left no wiggle room not to sanction allies who intend to move away from Russian arms, but still need to contract with Moscow to maintain their older equipment.

NORTH KOREA MEETING DRAWS CLOSER: Trump on Friday announced that a time and location had been chosen for the upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We now have a date. And we have a location. We’ll be announcing it very soon,” Trump said from the White House lawn.

Trump predicted “very good things” from the meeting, which will be the first between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader since the end of the Korean War.

U.S. troops are not on the table, he says: Trump said Friday that reducing the number of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea is “not on the table” in upcoming talks with Kim.

“Not really, not at this moment, certainly not,” Trump said when asked if a reduction of American troops is a bargaining chip in the talks.

Trump added that “we haven’t been asked” to reduce the military presence, but said a future withdrawal was still possible, citing the cost of U.S. forces’ upkeep.

“Now, I have to tell you, at some point into the future, I would like to save the money. You know, we have 32,000 troops there, but I think a lot a great things will happen, but troops are not on the table.”

The U.S. has roughly 28,000 soldiers stationed on the Korean peninsula, according to the Pentagon. U.S. forces have supported South Korea since the Korean War, but Trump in the past has complained that Washington is not properly compensated for the cost of maintaining them.

And administration pushes back on new reports on troop discussions: Prior to Trump’s comments on U.S. troops in the Korean peninsula, the White House on Friday strongly denied a New York Times story claiming the administration is talking to South Korea about reducing the troops stationed in that country.

“The New York Times story is utter nonsense,” national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement. Bolton said the Pentagon has not discussed a troop drawdown with South Korea.

US prisoners still hang in the balance: Trump also addressed the ongoing negotiations for the release of three U.S. prisoners in North Korea.

“We’re having very substantive talks with North Korea,” Trump says. “And a lot of things have already happened, with respect to the hostages. And I think you’re going to be seeing very good things. As I said yesterday: Stay tuned.”

Trump’s comments come after erroneous reports on social media that claimed the Trump administration had secured the release of the three Americans.

NAVY SEALS DISCHARGED OVER METH, COCAINE USE: Eleven Naval service members are being discharged after testing positive for cocaine and methamphetamines.

Ten Navy SEALs and one sailor in Navy special warfare tested positive for the substances, according to Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for the use of illicit drugs and as such these individuals will be held accountable for their actions,” Lawrence said in the statement, according to Business Insider.

A CBS investigation last April found that drug abuse in the elite military segment was “staggering.” Active and retired SEALs told CBS that speaking up about teammates’ drug use was considered a “career killer.”

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a discussion on the results of the inter-Korean summit last month and its implications for the U.S.-North Korea summit in May, to begin at 8:45 a.m. in Washington, D.C. https://bit.ly/2uG6QmZ

Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, will give an analysis on Air Force operations at 9:30 a.m. at the Air Force Association  in Arlington, Va. https://bit.ly/2FLvAdF

Sen. Ben Cardin with speak on the impact of sanctions on Russia’s economy and foreign policy at 1 p.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. https://bit.ly/2JSLlSw

ICYMI:

— The Hill: Macron: Trump pulling out of Iran deal ‘could mean war’

— The Hill: State Dept. freezes funding for famed Syrian humanitarian group: report

— The Hill: North Korea changes time zone to match South Korea

— Defense News: The US Navy’s new command puts Russia in the crosshairs

— Associated Press: China denies using lasers on US aircraft in Djibouti

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com, and Ellen Mitchell, emitchell@thehill.com.

Tags Ben Cardin Donald Trump James Mattis Mac Thornberry
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