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Overnight Defense: Senate passes massive defense, domestic spending bill | Duncan Hunter to step down from committees | Pompeo names North Korea envoy

Overnight Defense: Senate passes massive defense, domestic spending bill | Duncan Hunter to step down from committees | Pompeo names North Korea envoy
© Greg Nash

THE TOPLINE: Senators passed a mammoth government funding bill on Thursday as Congress works to avoid a government shutdown next month.

Senators voted 85-7 to pass bill the third "minibus" package of year, which includes funding for the Defense Department, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education.

Sens. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoGOP digs in on preserving Trump tax cuts OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement Sweeping COVID-19, spending deal hits speed bumps MORE (R-Idaho), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOregon Republican Party calls Capitol riot a 'false flag' operation to discredit GOP, silence Trump supporters The Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis State-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate committee advances Biden's DHS pick despite Republican pushback Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Austin sworn in as nation's first Black Pentagon chief MORE (R-Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenators discussing Trump censure resolution Senate GOP signals it's likely to acquit Trump for second time Trump ex-chief says Senate vote signals impeachment effort 'dead on arrival' MORE (R-Ky.), Jim RischJim Elroy RischBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (R-Idaho), Bernie SandersBernie SandersWhat the shift in Senate control means for marijuana policy reform Business groups prepare for lobbying push against minimum wage Schumer: Senate could pave way for reconciliation on COVID relief next week MORE (I-Vt.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Pa.) opposed the bill.

The Senate has now passed nine of the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government past Sept. 30. The $854 billion Labor-HHS-Defense-Education bill alone accounts for roughly 60 percent of the 2019 appropriations bills.

Avoiding 'poison pills': The defense and health appropriations bills, in particular, are a lightning rod for controversial, partisan amendments from both sides.

But leadership made a deal earlier this year to avoid attacking so-called "poison pill" proposals, which would threaten bipartisan support, to the funding bills.

For example, the Senate didn't take up amendments tied to the administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policies or a bipartisan proposal that would have reined in Trump's ability to revoke security clearances.

Senators also rejected an effort from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would have used the bill to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

What's in there for defense: The Defense bill provides a total of $675 billion in funding, including $67.9 billion in spending not covered by budget caps. It includes funds to sustain a military pay raise and anticipated a civilian pay raise as well, and funds new defense research and military upgrades.

 

POMPEO NAMES FORD EXEC AS NORTH KOREA SPECIAL ENVOY: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoBiden (mostly) builds on Trump's foreign policy China: US military presence in South China Sea a threat to peace, stability White House installs new leadership at federally-funded international broadcasters MORE has named a senior executive with Ford Motor Company to be the State Department's special representative for North Korea.

Stephen Biegun, Ford's vice president of international governmental affairs, will travel with Pompeo to Pyongyang next week, the top U.S. diplomat announced Thursday.

Biegun will take over the day-to-day talks concerning North Korea's "final, fully verifiable denuclearization," he said in remarks.

"Steve is taking the reigns of a great team effort," Pompeo said.

What's happened up to this point: Pompeo so far has led negotiations with North Korea to attempt to push the nation to dismantle its nuclear program, making three trips to the isolated country since April.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore in June, when the two leaders signed a joint statement that committed Pyongyang "to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

That statement, however, included no specifics on how that would be achieved, and White House national security adviser John Bolton said earlier this month that North Korea "has not taken the steps we feel are necessary to denuclearize."

Biegun's background: Prior to his stint at Ford, Biegun was a national security adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

He also served as a senior staffer to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice during President George W. Bush's administration, and was chief operating officer for the National Security Council.

In addition, Biegun was the top foreign relations adviser on Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOn The Money: GOP digs in on defending Trump tax cuts | Democrats bullish on raising minimum wage | Financial sector braces for Biden's consumer bureau pick No. 2 Senate Democrat says minimum wage can be increased with simple majority vote State-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss MORE's (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign.

 

HUNTER FINALLY STEPS DOWN FROM COMMITTEES: After a brief fight, House Armed Services Committee member and Marine Corps veteran Duncan HunterDuncan HunterPresidential pardons need to go Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Pardon talk intensifies as Trump approaches final 24 hours in office MORE (R-Calif), agreed to step down from his committee assignments.

Hunter – who is facing charges that he used at least $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses - initially signaled that he would fight Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices MORE's (R-Wis.) call for him to step down from his committee posts.

That would have forced the Steering Committee to meet to recommend his forcible removal in September, creating headaches for the GOP and another potentially embarrassing headline for Hunter.

The apparent reversal comes the same day that Hunter and his wife, Margaret, pleaded not guilty to the charges in federal court in San Diego.

Hunter keeps his head up: Hunter -- one of President TrumpDonald TrumpBlinken holds first calls as Biden's secretary of State Senators discussing Trump censure resolution Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' MORE's earliest supporters in Congress -- maintains his innocence, arguing he is a victim of a politically motivated "witch hunt."

"For over two years, I have made myself available to cooperate with this investigation in any manner. To date, I have not been asked one time to answer any questions or address any issue. I have not had one opportunity to present my side of anything in this investigation or to counter any allegations against me," Hunter said in a statement Wednesday.

"All the while, there has been a constant barrage of misinformation and salacious headlines in our media regarding this matter. I purposely choose to remain silent, not to feed into this witch-hunt and trust the process."

Hunter's legal team also questioned the timing of the indictment, noting his name cannot be taken off the ballot in the November midterm elections.

Courthouse protesters meet Hunter: Protesters chanted "lock him up" at Hunter on Thursday as he arrived at a federal courthouse to plead not guilty.

Video of Hunter's arrival at the courthouse on Thursday morning shows Hunter walking quickly past dozens of protesters chanting an altered version of "lock her up," the chant popularized by President Trump's supporters against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonEverytown urges Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to resign over newly uncovered remarks Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed support on Facebook for violence against Democrats McConnell last spoke to Trump on Dec. 15 MORE during the 2016 presidential campaign.

And Hunter's indictment has also put his traditionally red seat in Southern California in play this fall, further scrambling the GOP's effort to hang on to its majority.

 

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