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 CrapoCongress can defend against Russia by outlawing anonymous shell companies On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump MORE (R-Idaho), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeDemocrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Senators clinch votes to rebuke Trump on Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales MORE (R-Ky.), Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSenate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senators take bipartisan step toward blocking Trump's Saudi arms sales MORE (R-Idaho), Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' Buttigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' The generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party 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 PompeoUS-Iran tensions rise: Five things to know about oil tanker attack US-Iran tensions rise: Five things to know about oil tanker attack The US must do its part in closing the largest outdoor prison in the world 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 McCain#JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday #JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday New poll finds little GOP support for spending cuts to specific federal programs 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 HunterDuncan Hunter's wife pleads guilty to misusing campaign funds Duncan Hunter's wife pleads guilty to misusing campaign funds Duncan Hunter's wife will plead guilty in campaign fund misuse case 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 RyanIndiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Inside Biden's preparations for first debate 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 TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' 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 ClintonHouse Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally It's about the delegates, stupid 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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