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 CrapoBanking panel showcases 2020 Dems On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle MORE (R-Idaho), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ Tim Scott: Stop giving court picks with 'questionable track records on race' a Senate vote Flake stands firm on sending a ‘message to the White House’ on Mueller MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCorker to introduce resolution holding Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi's death This week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight Congress digs in for prolonged Saudi battle MORE (R-Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLimited Senate access to CIA intelligence is not conspiracy Dems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator' Rand Paul downplays potential Trump campaign finance violations: 'We’ve over-criminalized campaign finance' MORE (R-Ky.), Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischCongress digs in for prolonged Saudi battle Pence, Kushner huddle with Senate GOP on criminal justice reform Congress can save arms control MORE (R-Idaho), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCorker to introduce resolution holding Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi's death Gillum reached out to O’Rourke amid 2020 speculation: report O'Rourke spoke with Al Sharpton amid 2020 speculation 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 PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump shakes up staff with eye on 2020, Mueller probe Trump ultimatum sparks fears of new arms race Paul calls Trump's pick for attorney general's views on surveillance 'very troubling' 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 McCainCohen’s pleas concocted by prosecutors to snare Trump Overnight Defense: Senate Armed Services chair eyes Russia, China threats | Pushes Trump not to cut defense budget | Mattis says US looking for more Khashoggi evidence Dem strategist says Trump should not have attended George H.W. Bush's funeral 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 HunterProposed House GOP rules would force indicted lawmakers to step down from leader roles: report Overnight Defense: What the midterms mean for defense panels | Pompeo cancels North Korea meeting | Trump eyes Kim summit in early 2019 | Pentagon drops name for border mission GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter wins reelection despite criminal charges 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 RyanOvernight Defense: Dunford expected to finish Joint Chiefs term | House lawmakers pushing for Yemen vote | Pentagon says a few hundred troops leaving border Ocasio-Cortez: Paul Ryan got called a 'genius' when he was elected at 28, I get accused of being 'a fraud' Meadows looks to make his move 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 TrumpThe Memo: Ayers decision casts harsh light on Trump NASA offers to show Stephen Curry evidence from moon landings Freedom Caucus calls on leadership to include wall funding, end to 'catch and release' in funding bill 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 ClintonHillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — NRCC exposes security flaws 2 years after Russia hacks | Google Plus to shut down early | Scathing House report scolds Equifax for breach | McCarthy knocks Google ahead of CEO's hearing Press: Mueller closes in on Trump McCarthy dismisses Dem-led Trump probes 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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