Overnight Defense: Over 500 amendments proposed for defense bill | Measures address transgender troops, Yemen war | Trump taps acting VA chief as permanent secretary

Overnight Defense: Over 500 amendments proposed for defense bill | Measures address transgender troops, Yemen war | Trump taps acting VA chief as permanent secretary
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Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. We're Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

 

THE TOPLINE: 554 and counting.

That's how many amendments have been filed on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as of Friday afternoon.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Monday and Tuesday to determine which ones make it to a floor vote. Expect a few more amendments to roll in before then, despite the fact the deadline was officially Thursday.

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Typically, controversial amendments -- i.e. the most interesting ones -- don't make it out of the Rules Committee so that the NDAA can sail smoothly on the floor. But one or two controversial ones sometimes squeak through.

We already told you about some of the more interesting amendments in Thursday's Overnight Defense. Here's a few others to keep an eye on:

 

On transgender military service: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking to codify the ability of transgender troops to serve openly with a proposed amendment.

The amendment would make the open-service policy crafted by the Obama administration law unless Congress acts to change it, effectively blocking the Trump administration from enacting its ban on transgender service members.

The amendment was offered by Democratic Reps. Jackie Speier (Calif.), Donald McEachin (Va.) and Susan Davis (Calif.) and moderate Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), whose son is transgender.

In March, Trump signed a memo banning most transgender people from serving in the military "except under certain limited circumstances." The memo gave Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversees the Coast Guard, "authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals."

 

On Yemen's civil war: Lawmakers in the House are looking to restrain U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in the Yemen civil war in the NDAA, so far filing at least nine amendments with that aim.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), has filed three amendments, including one that would require the Pentagon to issue a declassified report on the civil war's effect on the growth of Yemen's branches of al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Another would prevent funding from being used to refuel non-U.S. military aircraft for missions targeting the Houthis, and the third would require an investigation into whether U.S. military personnel, intelligence operatives or coalition partners violated federal law, the laws of armed conflict or Pentagon policy while conducting operations in Yemen.

Khanna also signed on to an amendment from Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeSanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina On The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Ex-Obama campaign manager: Sanders can't beat Trump MORE (D-Texas) on any mid-air refueling the U.S. military has done for any non-U.S. aircraft in anti-Houthi missions. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) is also a co-sponsor.

Pocan also filed two amendments. One would require a report within 120 days on all activities conducted by members of the military and civilian Pentagon personnel that help Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against the Houthis.

 

This and that: A few other amendments that piqued our interest: A group of Democrats led by Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersOn The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars Democrats should be careful wielding more investigations Dem House chairs: Mueller report 'does not exonerate the president' MORE (D-Calif.) want to get rid of the language that would allow for sanctions waivers for allies buying Russian weapons; Khanna wants a report on whether neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine have gotten U.S. military assistance; a group of Democrats led by House Armed Services ranking member Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump team spurns Adam Smith with its trade stance Top Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Overnight Defense: House votes to condemn transgender military ban | 5 Republicans vote against ban | Senate bill would block Turkey getting F-35s over Russia deal MORE (D-Wash.) want a report on U.S. operations in Niger; Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarRepublicans offer 'free market alternative' to paid family leave GOP lawmaker attacks critic as 'a little bitch' on Twitter Overnight Defense: NATO chief urges US to support alliance on its 70th anniversary | Turkey rebuffs Pentagon pressure over Russia deal | Rand Paul, liberals team up to push Trump on Syria withdrawal MORE (R-Ariz.) wants to allow the Army to build a wall on the southern border; and a group of Republicans led by Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Gallego tapped as national campaign chairman for Swalwell presidential bid MORE (R-Ariz.) want to codify the agreement between the Pentagon and the states that have deployed National Guardsmen to the southern border.

The full list of amendments is available at the Rules Committee website.

 

NEW VA NOMINEE: The Department of Veterans Affairs has been without a permanent secretary for 51 days, but that could change soon after President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll MORE tapped a new nominee Friday.

Trump announced he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to permanently fill the position.

Trump made the surprise announcement during a White House summit on prison reform as news broke of a deadly school shooting in southeast Texas.

After addressing the shooting, Trump informed Wilkie, who was sitting in the audience, that he would be the pick to lead the VA. The president said he had not shared the news with Wilkie before making it public.

"He has done an incredible job at the VA. I'll be informing him in a little while, he doesn't know this yet, we're going to be putting his name up for nomination to be secretary of the Veterans Administration," Trump said.

 

Who is Wilkie?: In addition to being acting VA secretary, Wilkie has been serving as undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness since November.

Other government experience includes serving as an assistant secretary of Defense under Bob Gates and Donald Rumsfeld during the Bush administration. Prior to that, he served as special assistant to the president for national security affairs and a senior director of the National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice.

Immediately before joining the Trump administration, he was a senior advisor to Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisPro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Abrams: Schumer has been 'relentless but thoughtful' about Senate bid MORE (R-N.C.).

Wilkie is an Air Force reserve colonel and the son of an Army artillery commander.

 

What are his chances: Wilkie appears to check a lot of the boxes veterans groups were looking for in a nominee.

Unlike withdrawn nominee Ronny Jackson, Wilkie has extensive administrative experience. Wilkie has also already undergone the vetting process to be confirmed, meaning a scandal like the one that hit Jackson is unlikely to crop up.

Wilkie took some criticism when he was appointed acting secretary because of his lack of experience specifically in the VA and because Trump bypassed the VA's deputy secretary to make the appointment.

But he's received generally positive reviews since then.

"Robert Wilkie has clearly been working hard to learn the many extremely complicated and most pressing issues facing veterans right now," AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly said in a statement Friday. "His early work has earned him the confidence of AMVETS, and we're looking forward to a thorough but hopefully speedy confirmation process."

Disabled American Veterans (DAV) echoed the sentiment.

"DAV is pleased to hear that Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie will be nominated to permanently serve as the tenth Secretary of Veterans Affairs," DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine said in a statement. "Since March, the acting secretary has taken it upon himself to work closely with the [veterans service organization] community to better understand the needs facing our nation's heroes. With more than a decade of service as an under secretary for the Department of Defense, Mr. Wilkie has considerable experience navigating federal government policies."

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology MORE (D-Mont.), the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee who Trump blamed for Jackson's downfall, reacted to Wilkie's nomination by noting their "good working relationship."

"Veterans deserve a strong leader who will address VA workforce shortages, reform community care and live up to the promises our nation made veterans and their families," Tester said in a statement. "I have a good working relationship with Acting Secretary Wilkie and I look forward to sitting down with him again to have an in-depth conversation about his vision and plan for the VA."

 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Pompeo rejects North Korean call for him to leave negotiations | Trump talk with rebel Libyan general raises eyebrows | New setback to Taliban talks The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems face tricky balancing act after Mueller report Pompeo: 'I'm still in charge of' North Korea negotiation team MORE will outline the administration's new Iran strategy at 9 a.m. at the Heritage Foundation. Watch live at state.gov.

The Senate Armed Services Committee's Airland subcommittee will hold a closed-door markup of its portion of the committee's version of the National Defense Authorization Act at 5 p.m. https://bit.ly/2HLYU9T

The House Rules Committee will meet to prepare the NDAA for floor consideration at 5 p.m. at the House side of the Capitol, room 313. https://bit.ly/2wQ6zip

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: North Korea rejects South Korean media proposed to witness dismantling nuclear test site

-- The Hill: Facebook, Google struggle to stop spread of terrorist content

-- Associated Press: Putin: New nuclear weapons to enter duty in next few years

-- The Washington Post: Air Force base that lost explosives: We're also missing a machine gun

-- The New York Times: Anti-American cleric's power grows, upending Pentagon's plans for Iraq

-- The Wall Street Journal: U.S. scrapped training exercise with South Korea involving B-52s