Overnight Defense: House panel passes $716B defense bill | What's in the bill and what didn't make the cut | Pentagon details 'failures' in Niger operation | Trump, Kim meeting set

Overnight Defense: House panel passes $716B defense bill | What's in the bill and what didn't make the cut | Pentagon details 'failures' in Niger operation | Trump, Kim meeting set
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THE TOPLINE: The House Armed Services Committee early Thursday morning easily passed its $716 billion defense policy bill for fiscal 2019.

The committee's version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed, 60-1, after more than 14 hours of debate. It now moves to the full House for a vote later this month.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) was the only "no" vote, and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) was not present.

The committee considered about 400 amendments before the final vote, with debates largely centered around policy issues. Congress had already agreed on the final authorized topline amount as part of a two-year budget deal earlier this year.

 

What made it in: The bill would authorize nearly 16,000 additional active-duty troops across the military, provide a 2.6 percent pay raise for them -- the highest such raise in nine years -- and authorize almost $40 billion for aviation upgrades and more than $25 billion for equipment maintenance.

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It would also authorize two more Virginia-class submarines and littoral combat ships, 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the upgrade of thousands of vehicles.

The Fourth Estate: Thornberry originally planned to add reforms aimed at cutting the Pentagon's defense agencies' budget by more than $25 billion by 2021.

The plan, which included closing seven of the 28 agencies not directly under military services, was pulled back slightly after pushback from Democrats and the Pentagon, leaving cuts up to the Pentagon's chief management officer.

Still, Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) introduced an amendment to attempt to save the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) from elimination.

"It remains unclear what would happen to DISA's missions and functions," Brown argued of a potential shuttering, instead proposing a Pentagon report to look at the matter before any consolidation. His amendment was defeated along party lines.

But Thornberry's plan to cut the Test Resource Management Center was voted down.

Aviation accidents: The committee endorsed an amendment offered by committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) to establish an independent commission to study military aviation safety. The proposal comes after a series of deadly military aircraft incidents, including a C-130 cargo plane crash last week that killed all nine on board.

Space force: Among the amendments that were rejected was a proposal offered by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), that would have slowed plans for President Trump's desired Space Force. It was defeated unanimously.

Trump administration travel: An amendment that would have required the Pentagon to report on the cost of Trump administration officials using military aircraft for travel was narrowly defeated, 30-31.

Other failed amendments: A provision to limit Trump's planned Veterans Day military parade to only ceremonial units and equipment; a proposal to limit the role of National Guard troops ordered to the U.S.-Mexico border by Trump; and one to prevent Department of Defense funds from going to building a border wall.

In addition, Republicans shot down Smith's amendment to remove low-yield nuclear weapons from the bill, 28-33.

 

PENTAGON WON'T SEEK DISCIPLINARY ACTION OVER NIGER: Multiple "individual, organizational, and institutional failures" were to blame for the deaths of four U.S. soldiers last year in Niger, but no disciplinary action is being recommended for those involved, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Insufficient training and preparation, command mistakes, lack of attention to detail and an outnumbered force taken by surprise in an attack all contributed to the loss of the soldiers, according to an eight-page report summarizing an internal investigation.

U.S. Africa Command (Africom) head Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser said changes have already been made in his command, Special Operations Command and the Army at large to improve troop safety and preparation in Africa.

"I take ownership of all the events connected to the ambush of 4 October," Waldhauser told reporters at the Pentagon. "Again, the responsibility is mine."

 

What exactly happened: The Oct. 4 battle between U.S. and Nigerien forces and three times as many enemy combatants came after the group left Camp Ouallam in Niger on Oct. 3 to hunt for a high-ranking Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant linked to the kidnapping of a U.S. aid worker, the military said.

Leaders of the team had submitted a different mission to higher command for approval, according to the report.

When the ISIS militant was not found, troops were ultimately redirected to a mission to gather intelligence on the militant, which they completed before stopping near the village of Tongo Tongo to get water. The group then conducted an impromptu meeting with village leaders and were ambushed after leaving.

The four U.S. troops killed in action "sustained wounds that were either immediately fatal or rapidly fatal," and were not captured alive by the enemy, according to the report.

What will come next: Defense Secretary James Mattis has directed Waldhauser to complete in four months a review of shortfalls in training, procedures and planning. 

Waldhauser added that in the meantime, "we are now far more prudent in our missions." 

"We've increased the firepower, we've increased the [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capacity, we've increased various response times," he said. "We have beefed up a lot of things, posture wise." 

No punishments yet: Waldhauser also said the findings "call out individuals for certain activities," but Special Ops "will have the responsibility for taking appropriate action to ensure accountability." 

"We don't recommend punishment, we recommend appropriate action," he said. 

 

HASPEL WATCH: Republican senators offered deference to GOP Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) on Thursday but gave few signs that his opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel would sink her nomination

McCain was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War and has long been an outspoken opponent of the harsh interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration. 

Haspel, a veteran of the spy agency, was involved in the interrogations program, helping prompt McCain's opposition to her nomination.  

He became the second GOP senator to oppose Haspel, saying her "refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying."

McCain remains in Arizona battling brain cancer, leaving him unable to buttonhole and lobby his colleagues against Haspel's nomination in person. 

 

Other senators reveal their voting plans: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she will vote against Haspel.

"This nomination is bigger than one person. The torture program was illegal at the time based on international treaties. ... I believe those who were intimately involved should not lead the agency," Feinstein said in a statement. 

She added that the "CIA's Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program is one of the darkest chapters in our nation's history and it must not be repeated." 

Haspel a day earlier was grilled by the Senate Intelligence Committee on her background in the agency controversial post-9/11 interrogation program.

White House official 'mocked' dying McCain: A White House official mocked Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE's brain cancer diagnosis at an internal meeting on Thursday. Special assistant Kelly Sadler made the derisive comments during a closed-door meeting of about two-dozen communications staffers.

"It doesn't matter, he's dying anyway," Sadler said, according to a source familiar with the remarks at the meeting.

The White House did not deny the account of Sadler's remarks, which came amid a discussion of Haspel's nomination and McCain's opposition to it. The Hill's Jordan Fabian and Jonathan Easley were the first with the story.

 

TRUMP-KIM MEETING SET FOR JUNE IN SINGAPORE: President Trump announced Thursday his high-stakes summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place on June 12 in Singapore.

"The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th," he tweeted. "We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!" 

The announcement capped off weeks of negotiations over the date and location for the talks that began in early March, when the president said he would accept Kim's invitation to meet. 

 

Trump greets freed detainees: Trump revealed the details of the meeting after North Korea released three American detainees who were imprisoned there on charges that were widely viewed as politically motivated. 

On Thursday morning he greeted the freed prisoners, Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song. The three were escorted back to the U.S. by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., at 2:42 a.m. Thursday.

"The fact we were able to get them out so soon was a tribute to a lot of things," Trump said to a crowd of journalists. "I just want to say, this is a special night."

Dems say scrapped Iran deal sets new bar for N. Korea talks: Democrats say Trump's decision to scrap the Iran nuclear deal sets a high bar for ensuring denuclearization -- a standard they plan to hold him to ahead of his planned talks with Kim.

"By declaring that the extensive enforcement provisions against Iran are grossly deficient, in what he described as 'the worst deal ever,' Trump sets the standard by which he himself should be judged in Korea," Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).

"We cannot settle for some broad statement of principles," he continued. "We need to know that he will secure a more stringent inspection regime in Korea -- even more intrusive than that which he has unjustifiably condemned in Iran."

  

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHillicon Valley: Manafort to cooperate with Mueller probe | North Korea blasts US over cyber complaint | Lawmakers grill Google over China censorship | Bezos to reveal HQ2 location by year's end Overnight Defense: Details on defense spending bill | NATO chief dismisses talk of renaming HQ for McCain | North Korea warns US over cyber allegations Bipartisan House group presses Google over China censorship MORE (R-Texas) will speak at the Council on Foreign Relations at 12:45 p.m. in Washington 

 

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