Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects $193M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, 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: Transgender troops, supportive lawmakers and other advocates rallied outside the Capitol on Wednesday, two days before the Pentagon is set to enforce a ban on most transgender military service.

"Our best weapon is to lace up our boots and go to work every day and do the mission and to get it done," Air Force Lt. Col. Bryan Bree Fram. "We're doing that every day around the world, at home and abroad."

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"What we ask is that you do not let the security of our country be put at risk by the loss of these valuable, well-trained service members that contribute to the readiness and lethality of our force," Fram added.

The lawmakers who came to Wednesday's rally were Democratic Reps. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyJoseph Kennedy mulling primary challenge to Markey in Massachusetts Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House passes annual intelligence bill MORE III (Mass.), Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE (Calif.) and Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question MORE (Md).

"I cannot promise you we will win this fight by Friday night, but I can promise you that we will win it," Kennedy, chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus's Transgender Equality Task Force, told the crowd, to applause.

Background: Transgender troops have been serving openly since the Obama administration lifted a previous ban in 2016.

But the Pentagon is set to implement a policy Friday that would bar most transgender people from serving in the military.

The policy, taking effect almost two years after President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE first tweeted his intention to ban transgender troops, comes after courts paved the way by lifting four injunctions that were blocking it.

Courts did not rule on the underlying merits of the four lawsuits, though, and the litigants have vowed to press on. Shannon Minter, legal director at National Center for Lesbian Rights, told The Hill on Wednesday that the next steps are to enforce the requirement for the government to deliver documents requested as part of the discovery process.

What the policy does: Under the policy taking effect Friday, people diagnosed with gender dysphoria will not be able to serve unless a doctor certifies they have been stable in their biological sex for 36 months, have not transitioned to the gender they identify with and are willing to serve in their biological sex.

The policy will grandfather in currently serving transgender troops or anyone who has already signed an enlistment contract, allowing them to continue serving openly and receiving medical care.

Is it a ban?: The Pentagon denies the policy is a ban because of the carveouts for currently serving transgender service members and transgender people willing to serve in their biological sex.

But transgender service members and their advocates argue it effectively is a ban akin to the defunct "don't ask, don't tell" policy that barred open service by gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

"Your bravery in the military is only eclipsed by your bravery taking this fight head on while still wearing the uniform and sits in stark contrast to the man in the White House and his bigoted ban," Brown told the crowd in his speech. "I promise we will not allow transgender troops to fight alone."

 

NATIONAL GUARD EXPECTS $193M SHORTFALL IN TRAINING DUE TO BORDER DEPLOYMENT: The National Guard will have to cut back weekend drills because of its deployment to the southern border if the Pentagon doesn't move around money to replenish its training account, the chief of the National Guard said Wednesday.

National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee he anticipates a $193 million shortfall as a result of the border deployment.

"If we don't reprogram funds back into our training accounts, we will have to make modifications within our current appropriation that will either reduce our training opportunities or do things like cancel drill weekends to find the money," Lengyel said.

The numbers: Right now, there are 2,079 National Guard members deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of President Trump's hardline immigration approach. They are joined by about 3,900 active-duty troops.

Guardsmen were first deployed to the border in April 2018 and are scheduled to stay there until the end of the fiscal year in September.

Lengyel said he expects the number of Guardsmen on the border to stay at roughly 2,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year, despite Department of Homeland Security requests for more.

This fiscal year, the deployment is expected to cost about $247 million.

Readiness impacted: Lengyel's comment Wednesday about possibly canceling training did not sit well with the subcommittee's top Democrat, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (Ill.).

"General, haven't you come before this committee repeatedly, and told us you need readiness more than anything else?" Durbin asked. "Would you like to explain to me how canceling drill weekends enhances the readiness of the National Guard?"

Lengyel acknowledged canceled drills would affect readiness, but said he is hopeful funds will be transferred to prevent that.

"Canceling drill weekends will impact readiness," Lengyel replied. "I would tell you that what our hope is that the department finds funds available inside the department that are re-allocatable so that we don't have to do that."

 

PENTAGON APPROVES REQUEST TO FIND HOUSING FOR 5,000 MIGRANT CHILDREN: The Department of Defense (DOD) has approved a government request to find housing for as many as 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children. 

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis told The Hill on Wednesday that acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanWhy Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary Five questions for Trump's new defense secretary on first major tour Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' MORE approved a March request from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the DOD to identify locations for housing to last through September. He added that the HHS request did not ask that the Pentagon actually oversee the housing of the children.

Reuters was the first to report the news that the Pentagon had accepted the HHS request.

Rising numbers: Migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border have been gradually rising for several months as Central American families make the journey north. 

The military was asked to house up to 20,000 migrants last year, though the allocated space was never used, according to Reuters. 

A refresher: The news comes as President Trump signals that he intends to take a more hardline approach to immigration, floating measures to curtail migrants' paths to asylum and overseeing a shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security's upper echelons. He did maintain, however, that he is not seeking to bring back a policy of separating children from their parents at the border if they illegally entered the U.S. 

The president has blamed Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries for failing to adequately stem the flow of migrants to the U.S., announcing he was cutting aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and threatening to apply automobile tariffs on Mexico and perhaps even close the border.

More troops to the border? Trump also said Wednesday he will "have to call up more military" to patrol the border to deal with the rise of illegal crossings. There are currently roughly 6,000 active duty and National Guard troops manning the border.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters on Tuesday that he expects that the Pentagon's role on the southern border will grow as the situation there "deteriorates."

"We're still working with DHS to understand, enduring wise, what's the best fit and role for us and how do we help make sure that DHS can stand up the right capability," Shanahan told reporters while travelling home to Washington.

"But just strictly on the basis of the volume and how much the situation there has deteriorated, I would expect us to do more."

 

POMPEO: RUSSIA COMPLYING WITH NUCLEAR TREATY: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBill Maher says he's 'glad' David Koch is dead Trump spurs new wave of economic angst by escalating China fight Trump on North Korean projectile launches: Kim 'likes testing missiles' MORE said Wednesday that Russia is largely in compliance with the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States, but indicated the Trump administration is looking at expanding the scope of the pact as renewal talks begin.

"There are some arguments on the edges each, but largely they have been compliant," Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Both the Russians and the United States have been compliant. We're at the very beginning of conversations about renewing that. If we can get the deal right, if we can make sure it fits 2021 and beyond, President Trump has made very clear that if we can get a good solid arms control agreement, we ought to get one."

The background: The New START Treaty caps the number of nuclear warheads the United States and Russia can deploy at 1,550 each. There are also limits on the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear warheads, as well as the number of deployed and nondeployed launchers.

The Obama-era treaty expires in 2021, but there is an option to extend it another five years.

Arms control advocates are worried Trump will let New START expire after he withdrew from a separate arms control treaty with Russia. Advocates warn that for the first time in decades the two biggest nuclear powers might not have limits on their nuclear arsenals.

Lawmakers still support New START: At Wednesday's hearing, Republicans touted the benefits of New START.

"The thing I liked about the START Treaty, and the reason I spoke for it and worked with [former Secretary of State John] Kerry to get the votes to pass it was because it had a unique identifier system, which we never had available before with the Russians, where we could more accurately count their weapons," Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonGeorgia senator discharged from hospital after fall Georgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Ga.) said. "Second, we had the no-notice inspection provisions."

But administration officials unsure: In February, the general in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal told senators he remains a "big supporter" of New START. But Gen. John Hyten also expressed concern Russia is developing weapons outside the scope of the treaty, such as hypersonic missiles and submarine drones.

Pompeo indicated in his testimony he has similar concerns. Asked what will make the treaty "fit in 2021 and beyond," Pompeo said, "Technology has moved."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW: 

Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for information warfare and Director of Naval Intelligence Vice Adm. Matt Kohler will give the keynote address at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's (AFCEA) Foreign Naval and Maritime Threat Symposium at 8:35 a.m. in Chantilly, Va. 

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) will speak at the American Enterprise Institute on "What is Next for U.S.-Venezuela Policy?" at 8:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, and U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. John Hyten will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the "Proposal to Establish a United States Space Force," at 9:30 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. 

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Turkey says it will go to Russia if US won't sell it military equipment

-- The Hill: Pentagon awards first border wall contracts for diverted funds

-- The Hill: Shanahan says he's 'never favored' Boeing as acting Defense chief

-- The Hill: Military stores advised to keep TVs off 'divisive' news channels

-- The Hill: Meghan McCain rips Trump transgender military ban days before implementation

-- The Hill: Pentagon IDs Marines killed in Afghanistan attack

-- The Hill: Senate confirms Trump's pick for ambassador to Saudi Arabia

-- The Hill: Acting ICE director resigns after Trump pulls nomination

-- The Hill: Opinion: Afghanistan: Need for thinking beyond bumper stickers 

-- The Hill: Opinion: A familiar role for Moon: Smoothing the way for US-North Korea talks

-- Military Times: The new push for getting more women to sign up for VA benefits