Overnight Defense: Push to rename Senate building for McCain sparks GOP backlash | Pentagon has no plans to suspend future Korea war games | Mattis rejects plan to privatize Afghan War

Overnight Defense: Push to rename Senate building for McCain sparks GOP backlash | Pentagon has no plans to suspend future Korea war games | Mattis rejects plan to privatize Afghan War
© Camille Fine

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.


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THE TOPLINE: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisRejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs The GOP senators likely to vote for Trump's conviction MORE on Tuesday said that the Pentagon won't suspend any future military exercises with South Korea.

"We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.


He added that the Defense Department will work closely with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoDeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Pompeo not ruling out 2024 White House bid Houthis: US sanctions prolonging war in Yemen MORE to get "what he needs done ... to reinforce his effort, but at this time there is no discussion about further suspensions."

What has been suspended thus far: The Pentagon announced in June it would indefinitely suspend two training exercises with South Korea as part of the Trump administration's push to negotiate for the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

Mattis said at the time that the decision was contingent on future "good faith" negotiations and developments with North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

The U.S. military has suspended two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises scheduled to occur in the summer and early fall.

But smaller exercises continue: Mattis said that smaller-scale exercises will continue, noting "there are ongoing exercises all the time on the peninsula. The reason you've not heard much about them is North Korea could not in any way misinterpret those as somehow breaking faith with the negotiations."

Asked directly if the next major military exercise in spring, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, would take place, Mattis declined a definite answer.

"We have not made decisions on that at this time and we'll do that in consultation with State."

Meanwhile, Japan labels North Korea a threat: Japan's government said Tuesday that North Korea is still a serious nuclear threat and hasn't made progress toward denuclearization.

"Its military actions have become an unprecedentedly serious and imminent threat to Japan's national security," Japan said in its annual defense review, according The Associated Press. "There is no change in our basic recognition about the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles."

The report, which is approved by the nation's Cabinet, also said that Japan needs to improve its missile defense programs to counteract North Korea.


MATTIS REJECTS PLAN TO PRIVATIZE AFGHAN WAR: Mattis also on Tuesday shot down recently recirculated plans to privatize combat efforts in Afghanistan.

"When the Americans put their nation's credibility on the line, privatizing it is probably not a wise idea," Mattis said.

The former head of U.S. Central Command did not mention by name Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder who in recent weeks has shopped a plan to replace most U.S. troops in Afghanistan with private contractors.

Mattis had been asked if there was an advantage to privatizing forces if there are going to be boots on the ground in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.


The current plan: About 14,000 U.S. military personnel are currently in Afghanistan to counter terrorist groups including the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as to train and assist Afghan forces.

More than 3,000 troops were added to the fight after President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food MORE in August 2017 announced a new strategy to turn around the war, which top generals had compared to a stalemate at the time.

Mattis that the U.S. military remains in the 17-year war "in order to ensure America's security."

Prince's push: Prince, whose sister is Education Secretary Betsy DeVosBetsy DeVosDeVos's student aid chief resigns from Education Department Cardona seeks to pivot from DeVos era at Education Senate confirms Biden's Education secretary MORE, previously tried to sell Trump on his privatization plan last year. He has been pushing for it once more in media appearances, including on programs such as "Fox & Friends" that Trump is known to watch.

There is little backing for such a plan among defense officials and lawmakers.


DIVIDE OVER HOW TO HONOR MCCAIN: A push to rename a Senate office building after the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFormer Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute We need an independent 1/6 commission that the whole country can have confidence in GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra MORE(R-Ariz.) is facing political headwinds on Capitol Hill from Republican lawmakers.

Sens. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Ron Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' MORE (R-Ariz.) are working on a resolution that would rename the Russell Senate Office Building, named in honor of former Democratic Sen. Richard Brevard Russell (Ga.), after McCain.

But the proposal is facing skepticism, and in some cases outright opposition, threatening to inject partisan fighting into the chamber's bipartisan mourning.

The issue: Russell is considered controversial because of his opposition to civil rights legislation.

But Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCBC 'unequivocally' endorses Shalanda Young for White House budget chief Black Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (R-Ala.), - one of several Southern GOP senators who pushed back on the idea of taking Russell's name off the Senate office building – argued that if reporters were going to judge Russell on his civil rights stance then they would also need to reevaluate the Founding Fathers.

Georgia Sen. David Perdue -- a Republican and close ally of Trump -- touted Russell's Senate work, saying on Tuesday that he was a "stalwart" of the military and involved in the Great Society, referring to the domestic program of former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

And Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyTrump was unhinged and unchanged at CPAC Republicans, please save your party Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra MORE (R-La.) told reporters that he would prefer to "find another way" to honor McCain.

Will the name change happen? The GOP pushback is the latest sign that what had emerged as a bipartisan idea in the immediate wake of McCain's death is already losing momentum in the Senate, where McCain served for more than three decades.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell makes failed bid to adjourn Senate after hours-long delay Paul Ryan to host fundraiser for Cheney amid GOP tensions Senate Democrats near deal to reduce jobless boost to 0 MORE (R-Ky.) demurred on Monday when asked if he supports renaming the building after McCain. He instead announced that he would create a bipartisan "gang" to make a decision on how the Senate honors McCain.

Here are a few more stories from The Hill on McCain's passing:

-- Graham: McCain told me to help Trump, but not get sucked into 'bull----'

-- McCain's death marks decline of Trump's GOP Senate critics

-- Jimmy Carter: Trump statement on McCain was 'at the best, adequate' 

-- Hatch on White House delaying McCain statement: 'That should not have happened'


LATEST ON Duncan HunterDuncan HunterTrust, transparency, and tithing is not enough to sustain democracy Presidential pardons need to go Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon MORE: House Armed Services Committee member and Marine Corps veteran Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) on Tuesday told a reporter to "leave my wife out of it" as he discussed their recent indictment on charges of misusing campaign funds, days after he appeared to blame his wife, Margaret, for the charges.

"Leave my wife out of it. Leave my family out of it," he said in an interview with 10News, an ABC affiliate in San Diego. "It's me they're after anyway. They're not after my wife. They want to take me down. That's what they're up to."

The background: Both Duncan and Margaret Hunter were indicted last week, charged with misusing at least $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses. Hunter is accused of using the funds to pay for trips to Italy and Hawaii, his family's dental work, his children's tuition and travel for relatives, among other personal expenses.

Hunter said in an interview on Fox News last week that his wife was responsible for the campaign spending.



Army Secretary Mark Esper will speak to reporters at the Defense Writers Group Breakfast at 8 a.m. in Washington D.C.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver will speak on diplomatic and defense cooperation between the United States and India at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Hudson Institute will hold a discussion on obstacles to Syria reconstruction and stability at 12 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 



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