Overnight Defense: McCain in farewell letter: 'We never surrender' | Trump expresses 'respect' for McCain, orders flags re-lowered after backlash | Trump battles Afghanistan inertia | Canceled trip latest bad sign for Korea talks

Overnight Defense: McCain in farewell letter: 'We never surrender' | Trump expresses 'respect' for McCain, orders flags re-lowered after backlash | Trump battles Afghanistan inertia | Canceled trip latest bad sign for Korea talks

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

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THE TOPLINE: The country is in mourning for Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress must use bipartisan oversight as the gold standard The Hill's Morning Report — Ford, Kavanaugh to testify Thursday as another accuser comes forward Trump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote MORE (R-Ariz.), the Senate giant and war hero who died Saturday a little more than a year after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

On Monday, during a press briefing in Arizona to discuss the memorials planned for McCain, former campaign manager and current family spokesman, Rick Davis, read aloud the senator's final words to the American people.

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"To be connected to America's causes: liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people, brings happiness more sublime than life's fleeting pleasures," McCain wrote in his farewell letter. "Fellow Americans, that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American."

The statement also appeared to lament the current state of politics, without mentioning President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE by name.

"We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe," McCain wrote. "We weaken it when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down. When we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

"Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here," he added later. "Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history."

Read the full statement here.

 

Memorial schedule: This week will see a series of memorials to honor McCain. It starts Wednesday with McCain's body lying in state at the Arizona State Capitol.

At 10 a.m. local time Thursday, there will be a memorial service at the North Phoenix Baptist Church. Former Vice President Biden is scheduled to speak.

On Friday, McCain's body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. There will be a formal ceremony at 11 a.m., and the public can pay their respects from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, there will be a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama are among those scheduled to speak. Davis confirmed Monday that Trump is not expected to attend.

On Sunday, McCain's family and close friends will have a private funeral service and burial at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He will be buried next to his close friend, Adm. Chuck Larson.

For more information, visit johnmccain.com.

 

Flag row: The flags over the White House were re-lowered to half staff Monday afternoon after a backlash over being raised to full staff less than two days after McCain's death.

Traditionally, when a sitting lawmaker dies, a presidential proclamation orders the flags lowered to half staff until the day of the burial.

But there initially was no presidential proclamation about McCain. The White House flags were lowered over the weekend, but by Monday morning they were at full staff.

At least two veterans groups blasted the move as failing to honor McCain in the way he deserves.

In the afternoon, after the criticism, a presidential proclamation was issued and the flags were re-lowered, to be kept there until sunset on the day of McCain's burial.

 

Trump statement: Alongside issuing the proclamation, Trump in a written statement expressed "respect" for McCain.

"Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment," Trump said in the statement.

"I have asked Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceIndiana sisters with history of opposing Pence donate millions to Dems Hillicon 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 Overnight Defense: Trump marks 9/11 anniversary | Mattis says Assad 'has been warned' on chemical weapons | US identifies first remains of returned Korean war troops MORE to offer an address at the ceremony honoring Senator McCain at the United States Capitol this Friday," Trump added.

The president said Chief of Staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump returns to UN praising Kim | Iran in crosshairs later this week | US warns Russia on missile defense in Syria Bolton: Russian missile system sale to Syria a 'significant escalation' Overnight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' MORE and national security adviser John Bolton will represent his administration at McCain's funeral services.

The statement came after Trump earlier in the day ignored reporters' shouted questions about McCain.

Prior to Monday's written statement, Trump had only sent a tweet offering "deepest sympathies and respect" to McCain's family. He reportedly rejected a draft White House statement calling McCain a "hero" in favor of sending that tweet.

 

More reaction: Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpHard choices in training Americans for AI workplace of future Ex-Trump, progressive strategists battle over charges of anti-Semitism surrounding Eric Trump Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events MORE said the nation was "united in its grief" over the loss of a "true hero." Sarah Huckabee Sanders also called McCain an "American hero" and said she would attend the funeral. GOP Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofePentagon releases report on sexual assault risk Trump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE, though, said McCain was partially to blame for the flag controversy.

 

AFGHANISTAN INERTIA: Over the weekend, we took a look at what's changed in Afghanistan in the year since Trump backed away from his campaign promise to withdraw.

The verdict: Not much.

If you missed it, here's what we reported:

A year after reversing course on a key campaign pledge and announcing that U.S. troops would stay in Afghanistan with a tweaked strategy, President Trump is faced with a war that has seen little progress since.

Pentagon officials insist the strategy adopted by the Trump administration last summer is working, pointing to a three-day ceasefire earlier this year and backchannel talks with elements of the Taliban.

But insurgents continue to be able to stage high-profile attacks, territorial control has remained largely unchanged and civilian deaths are hitting all-time highs 17 years into what has sometimes been called the "forever war" or "forgotten war."

"I think it's been a difficult slog with mixed prioritization from the top national security leadership, frankly, including Congress," Andy Keiser, a principal at the lobbying firm Navigators Global who worked on the Trump transition team's national security section, said of the past year.

"The strategy was to move the needle on the battlefield so that when we got to negotiation we were in a strong position, and that result has been mixed."

Read the rest here.

 

NORTH KOREA TALKS WOBBLING: The Hill's Ellen Mitchell also took a look over the weekend at the latest bad sign for the administration's North Korea talks -- the cancellation of Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUN condemns Iran military parade attack President strikes softer tone on North Korea at United Nations Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump returns to UN praising Kim | Iran in crosshairs later this week | US warns Russia on missile defense in Syria MORE's fourth trip to Pyongyang.

The cancellation was especially jarring since it came a day after Pompeo appointed a special envoy for North Korea, a move that pleased critics worried the administration did not have someone whose sole focus is the talks.

From the story:

Trump's decision Friday to abruptly put a hold on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's planned trip to North Korea is stoking concerns among foreign policy experts that Trump is pulling back on diplomacy in the push for denuclearization.

Trump, who has struggled to point to significant achievements from his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un two months ago, accused Pyongyang on Friday of dragging its feet on efforts to dismantle its nuclear program.

A high-level visit to North Korea, Trump wrote on Twitter, is not appropriate at "this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

"I think this was a mistake," said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for National Interest and a contributor to The Hill.

"They should have went to Pyongyang and really tested Kim's intentions. Now, we all wait for North Korea's reaction."

Read the rest here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford will brief reporters in the Pentagon briefing room at 10 a.m. Watch live at defense.gov/live.

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies will host a national security summit starting at 10:15 a.m. Speakers include U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyPresident Trump at the UN General Assembly — Making the UN great again? Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warns US, Israel of ‘crushing and devastating’ response to parade attack The Hill's Morning Report — Ford, Kavanaugh to testify Thursday as another accuser comes forward MORE. Watch live at defenddemocracy.org.

 

ICYMI 

-- The Hill: McConnell demurs on renaming Senate building after McCain

-- The Hill: Iran: No need for US Navy in Gulf

-- The Hill: Opinion: In Bolton, US has a practiced competitor to Putin's judo strategy

-- The Hill: Opinion: Peace in Korea is more likely -- and important -- than denuclearization

-- Associated Press: Iran asks UN's highest court to suspend US sanctions

-- The Washington Post: Baghdad gets its groove back