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 MattisAllies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump Congress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Trump nominates ambassador to Turkey 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.

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He added that the Defense Department will work closely with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump administration combining Palestinian mission, Israeli embassy next month: report The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race The Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration 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 John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ 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 DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosStudents call on DeVos to offer free tampons, pads in schools to address 'period poverty' DeVos recovering from broken pelvis, hip socket after bicycle accident Student veterans deserve better than the DeVos agenda 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 McCainMellman: Where are good faith and integrity? GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech MORE(R-Ariz.) is facing political headwinds on Capitol Hill from Republican lawmakers.

Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger 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 ShelbyHow the border deal came together Winners and losers in the border security deal GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration 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 CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Ivanka Trump to meet with GOP senators to discuss paid family leave legislation Bipartisan senators ask industry for information on surprise medical bills 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 McConnellDems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Sanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump 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 Duane HunterThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP 'retirements to watch' for House Dems unveil initial GOP targets in 2020 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.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

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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