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 CrapoHillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Idaho), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley panel scraps Kavanaugh hearing, warns committee will vote without deal Coulter mocks Kavanaugh accuser: She'll only testify 'from a ski lift' Poll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeKavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Reexamining presidential power over national monuments Utah group complains Mia Love should face criminal penalties for improper fundraising MORE (R-Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report 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 fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states 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 PompeoSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Pompeo: 'We've not been successful' in changing US-Russia relations Positive Moon-Kim summit creates a diplomatic opening in North Korea 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 McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ 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 HunterIndicted lawmaker angers GOP with decision to run for reelection Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency Indicted GOP lawmaker to stay on ballot in New York this fall: report 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 RyanHow does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act GOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign 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 TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 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 ClintonPompeo: 'We've not been successful' in changing US-Russia relations Michael Moore ties Obama to Trump's win in Michigan in 2016 The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’? 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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