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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 CrapoLawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Republicans shift course after outside counsel falters MORE (R-Idaho), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeIMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Bernie Sanders: US should pull out of war in Yemen if Saudis killed journalist Senators warn Trump that Saudi relationship is on the line MORE (R-Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks MORE (R-Ky.), Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischMcCain’s death marks decline of Trump’s GOP Senate critics Overnight Health Care: Senate approves massive bill including health spending | Bill includes drug pricing measure | Move to block Planned Parenthood funding fails Overnight Defense: Senate passes massive defense, domestic spending bill | Duncan Hunter to step down from committees | Pompeo names North Korea envoy MORE (R-Idaho), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (I-Vt.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race 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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' 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 McCainComey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Is there difference between good and bad online election targeting? 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 Duane HunterCalifornia Dem hits Trump Jr. over claims of links to extremist groups Poll: Dems lead in 5 critical California House seats GOP Rep. ties opponent to terrorists 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 RyanSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP GOP group makes late play in Iowa seat once seen as lost Adelsons donated M in September to help GOP in midterms 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 John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East 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 ClintonBudowsky: Closing message for Democrats Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP mocks Clinton after minor vehicle collision outside Mendendez campaign event 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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