Overnight Defense: Pentagon transfers $1B for wall over Dem objections | Top general says North Korean activities 'inconsistent' with denuclearization | Pentagon details bases at risk from climate change

Happy Wednesday 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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: The battle lines are drawn in the fight over the Pentagon shifting money to help build President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE's proposed border wall.

The Pentagon has moved ahead with its plan to transfer $1 billion from its accounts to help build Trump's border wall, despite congressional backlash and the possibility that the Defense Department will lose its ability to move dollars between accounts in the future.

Defense Department Chief Financial Officer David Norquist told lawmakers Wednesday the money was transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday night.

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Norquist, who testified Wednesday before the House Budget Committee, said the decision to move the funds came from higher up in the administration.

"What we did is we built up the requirement and presented it in the way we were asked to present it," he told lawmakers.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran MORE told reporters traveling with him to Florida that the Pentagon always planned to move forward with the plan to shift the money, no matter the expected "consequences," Defense News reported.

"We're following the law," Shanahan said. "We're very sensitive to the consequences of these kinds of actions, and the relationships we've built up over time. There are going to be consequences, and I understand the position of the committees. I also have a standing legal order from the commander in chief."

Threat from Congress: The reprogramming of funds comes after Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, rejected the Pentagon's bid to shift the money, adding his weight to the growing group of lawmakers that have condemned the move.

"The Committee denies the request," Visclosky wrote in a Tuesday letter to Norquist that was made public the following day. "These funds were neither requested nor appropriated for the activities described in the reprogramming. With this unilateral action, the historic and unprecedented comity that has existed between the Committee and the Department has been breached."

Visclosky added in a statement that "this unprecedented action will clearly be a consideration as the committee disposes the entirety of the department's budget request, including its current transfer authority."

In other words, Democrats are digging in to strip the Pentagon of its authority to do something similar in the future.

Background: The Pentagon is able to move ahead with transfers from one account to another since it is not required by law to obtain congressional approval.

But that breaks a decades-long precedent in which defense officials notify Congress in advance of such transfers, giving lawmakers the chance to approve or deny the request – something Pentagon officials have traditionally heeded.

That privilege – allowing the Pentagon to reprogram funding that has already been appropriated in order to quickly respond to threats and changes in the world – is now in jeopardy.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (D-Wash.) told Shanahan during a panel hearing on Tuesday that the Pentagon would likely lose the reprogramming authority if it moved forward with the funding transfer.

Smith also rejected the Pentagon's request to shift funding Tuesday.

 

US COMMANDER SAYS N. KOREA WORK 'INCONSISTENT' WITH DENUKING: U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Robert Abrams testified publicly Wednesday for the first time since last month's failed North Korea summit.

During the testimony, he indicated that North Korea's weapons program is proceeding apace despite ongoing diplomatic efforts for them to relinquish their nuclear weapons.

"We know they have not tested, but in the production of nuclear weapons and material and missiles, has there been a change?" House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (R-Texas) asked Abrams.

"Their activity that we've observed is inconsistent with denuclearization," Abrams replied.

Abrams declined to elaborate in an unclassified setting, telling the committee he would do so when they reconvened for a classified session later in the afternoon.

Why it matters: Trump has said he is in no rush to reach a denuclearization deal with Kim so long as Pyongyang maintains its moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.

But regional experts have said that just because North Korea is no longer visibly testing does not mean it is not progressing its weapons program, and reports in recent months citing commercial satellite imagery say North Korea continues to produce and deploy nuclear-armed missiles.

Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Intel to take first major deep dive into threat of 'deepfakes' MORE similarly told a Senate committee in February that the intelligence community's assessment that North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons "is bolstered by observation of some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization."

But...: Still, Abrams also made clear, as he has before, that diplomacy has resulted in a dramatic drop in tensions on the peninsula.

"Ongoing diplomatic engagement between South Korea, North Korea and the United States has led to a significant reduction in tension compared to the recent past marked by missile launches and nuclear tests," he said. "While diplomacy is not without its challenges, it remains the mechanism underpinning the transformation we have witnessed over the past 14 months as we have moved from provocation to detente."

 

PROGRESSIVE GROUPS WARN DEMS ON YEMEN VOTE: The House will soon vote a second a time on a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's civil war, and progressive groups are making clear to Democrats they're watching.

In a letter sent to all House Democrats on Wednesday, progressive organizations are urging them not to vote for any Republican motions to recommit when the chamber takes up the resolution as soon as next week.

"A vote in favor of the [motion to recommit] is a vote to destroy the viability of the bill, prevent it from reaching the president's desk and prolong the conflict," the progressive groups wrote in a letter to House Democrats on Wednesday.

The letter, obtained by The Hill ahead of its release, was organized by Win Without War, Indivisible, Just Foreign Policy, Demand Progress and MoveOn and was co-signed by 43 other progressive groups.

Background: Motions to recommit are procedural moves in the House that are typically offered by the minority party to make a statement but then voted down by the majority.

But Republicans have successfully passed two motions to recommit this year, capitalizing on tensions between centrist and liberal Democrats.

One of the motions to recommit that was passed was on the House's version of the Yemen war powers resolution. The underlying resolution, first passed by the House in February, would require the president to withdraw any troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda or associated forces.

The Republican motion to recommit amended the resolution to denounce anti-Semitism, offered in the wake controversial comments about Israel involving Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarGOP hopes dim on reclaiming House GOP hopes dim on reclaiming House Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE (D-Minn.).

The addition of the anti-Semitism language delayed the resolution when it came to the Senate. The Senate parliamentarian ruled the Yemen resolution was no longer privileged, the mechanism that allowed supporters to force a vote on it and pass it with a simple majority.

That meant supporters in the Senate had to reintroduce the resolution, and the House now has to revote on it. The House revote is expected as soon as next week.

Worried?: Asked by The Hill earlier this month whether he's worried another motion to recommit will derail the bill again, chief House sponsor Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaPelosi shoots down censure for Trump: 'If the goods are there you must impeach' Pelosi shoots down censure for Trump: 'If the goods are there you must impeach' Biggs, Khanna launch bipartisan War Powers Caucus MORE (D-Calif.) said he thinks Democrats know they will get hammered if that happens.

"I think any Democrat who looks at it and says they're going to vote for a motion to recommit will get excoriated by the media and liberal groups and I think they will conclude it's not in their self-interest to do so," he said.

 

PENTAGON REVISES CLIMATE REPORT: The Pentagon has sent to Congress a letter containing a list of bases most at risk from climate change threats within the next 20 years.

The bases include Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Naval Air Station Key West, Fla.; and the Army's Fort Hood in Texas.

The locations top a list of Air Force, Navy and Army installations most at risk from climate change, sent to Congress on March 22 after a group of lawmakers demanded more information from a Pentagon report in January.

The list "includes scoring and weighting of the five climate-related hazards (recurrent flooding, wildfire, drought, desertification, and permafrost thaw) based on the immediacy of the threat," writes undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord.

"The Department has been and will continue to be proactive in developing comprehensive policy, guidance, and tools to mitigate potential climate impacts, with a focus on robust infrastructure, sound land management policies, and increased energy resilience," she wrote.

Around Washington, D.C., several sites make the Army, Air Force and Navy lists, including Fort Belvoir, Va., and Fort Meade, Md., both at risk for recurrent flooding; Joint Base Andrews, Md., at risk for flooding, drought and wildfires; and Washington Navy Yard and Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, at risk for flooding and drought.

Take two: The lists are add-ons to a Defense Department study from January -- "Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense" -- that found that of 79 operationally critical military installations, 74 are threatened by the effects of climate change over the next 20 years.

Democratic lawmakers, however, were not pleased with the congressionally mandated report when it was released.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), along with fellow committee members Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHouse passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy MORE (D-R.I.), and John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiHouse panel shoots down funding, deployment of low-yield nukes in defense bill House panel shoots down funding, deployment of low-yield nukes in defense bill Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland MORE (D-Calif.), sent a letter to the Pentagon demanding the information that Congress had ordered it to include, such as the lists, specific mitigation measures to alleviate climate risks at installations, and cost estimates for such efforts.

Still not happy: Lawmakers now appear equally unhappy with the Pentagon's latest version of the report, which Langevin likened to "a student rushing to finish a term paper."

"The Department's methodology remains opaque. The revised report continues to leave off overseas bases, and it fails to include massive military installations like Camp Lejeune. Most importantly, it continues to lack any assessment of the funds Congress will need to appropriate to mitigate the ever increasing risks to our service members," Langevin said in a statement sent to The Hill on Wednesday.

"I have repeatedly made myself available to the Department to clarify the intent behind the specific language of the statute providing for the climate report. No one from the Department has ever taken me up on my offer. Given this record, the assurances from the Secretary that he cares about resiliency ring hollow," he said.

Timing: News of the updated list comes as the Air Force is asking Congress for $4.9 billion to repair bases damaged by recent floods and storms.

Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida was badly damaged last year after Hurricane Michael swept through the state, battering the base and damaging several F-22 Raptor fighter jets, the Air Force's most expensive and advanced fighter.

More recently, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which sits along the Missouri River and is home to U.S. Strategic Command, was damaged when floodwaters reached up to seven feet deep in some places last week.

Neither Tyndall nor Offutt were on the Pentagon's top risk list for the Air Force.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryHouse Dems attempt to block Trump admin roll back Obama-era lightbulb rule House Dems attempt to block Trump admin roll back Obama-era lightbulb rule Shutting down plastics at the source MORE and National Nuclear Security Administration administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2Osfdsr

Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security subcommittee at 10 a.m. at Dirksen 192. https://bit.ly/2TwDXkh

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the Pentagon's budget request for science and technology programs at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2212. https://bit.ly/2CzpEph

Another House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Pentagon's nuclear programs at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. https://bit.ly/2UXZoMv

 

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