Overnight Defense: Bolton says 'all options are on the table' for Venezuela | Trump drops plans to retire USS Truman aircraft carrier | House bill would block military funds for border wall

Overnight Defense: Bolton says 'all options are on the table' for Venezuela | Trump drops plans to retire USS Truman aircraft carrier | House bill would block military funds for border wall
© Getty

Happy Tuesday 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: National security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonWhite House considers sweeping travel ban on members, families of the Chinese Communist Party: report Navarro-Fauci battle intensifies, to detriment of Trump Judge lifts restraining order on Mary Trump on eve of book's release MORE on Tuesday repeated that "all options remain on the table" in regard to possible U.S. military intervention into Venezuela, where clashes worsened between forces loyal to President Nicolás Maduro and opposition groups

"We want as our principle objective the peaceful transfer of power, but I will say again as the president has said from the outset ... all options are on the table," Bolton told reporters outside the White House.

What's happening: The Trump administration quickly threw its support behind protests in Caracas that began Tuesday morning led by National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. recognized as the country's interim president in January.

Bolton said so far that "over 40 people have been killed by the Maduro regime in the course of these protests."

ADVERTISEMENT
A call to Venezuelan officials: Bolton called upon key Venezuelan officials to follow through on promises he said they had made to support Guaidó.

"We think it's still very important for key figures in the regime who have been talking to the opposition over these last three months to make good on their commitments to achieve the peaceful transfer of power" from Maduro to Guaidó, he said.

He specifically mentioned Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino; Maikel Moreno Pérez, president of Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice; and Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala, the commander of Venezuela's Directorate General of Military Counter-Intelligence.

"All agreed that Maduro had to go. They need to be able to act this afternoon or this evening to help bring other military forces to the side of the interim president," Bolton said.

A refresher: Ousting Maduro in Venezuela has become a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.

Venezuela policy has been led and executed from the National Security Council under Bolton and his Western Hemisphere chief, Mauricio Claver-Carone, a close ally of Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioChina sanctions Cruz, Rubio, others over Xinjiang legislation The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - All eyes on Florida as daily COVID-19 cases hit 15K GOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' MORE (R-Fla.).

The U.S. has imposed heavy sanctions on Venezuela, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpProgressive group launches M pro-Biden ad buy targeting young voters Ilhan Omar: GOP response to calls for police reform 'was vicious' White House considers sweeping travel ban on members, families of the Chinese Communist Party: report MORE in February came close to threatening military action in the country, saying then that "all options" were on the table. 

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Twitter accounts of Obama, Biden, Musk, others compromised | U.S. announces sanctions on Huawei, citing human rights abuses | Pompeo 'confident' foreign adversaries will interfere in elections Pompeo says China will 'absolutely' pay a price for pandemic Pompeo says he is 'confident' other countries will meddle in 2020 elections MORE expressed support for Guaidó's efforts on Tuesday morning, writing on Twitter that the U.S. government "fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be defeated." 

Efforts to support Guaidó's claim hinge on getting enough high-ranking government officers, particularly from the military, to switch allegiances.

The issue with that plan: But Padrino consistently tweeted Tuesday in support of Maduro, directly blaming the political opposition for the shooting of a colonel in his command.

"It's a very delicate moment," Bolton said. "I want to stress again that the president wants to see a peaceful transfer of power from Maduro to Guaidó. The possibility still exists if enough figures depart from the regime and support the opposition and that's what we'd like to see."

Bolton also said the uprising was "clearly not a coup."

  

TRUMP DROPS PLAN TO RETIRE USS TRUMAN AIRCRAFT CARRIER: The Trump administration has scrapped plans to retire the USS Harry S. Truman early, Vice President Pence said Tuesday.

Pence made the announcement while speaking to crew members aboard the aircraft carrier, hours after top Navy officials defended the administration's previous plan.

"As I stand before you today, I know that the future of this aircraft carrier is the subject of some budget discussions in Washington, D.C.," Pence said in Virginia.

"As we continue to fight Congress to make sure that our military has the resources you need to accomplish your mission, President Donald Trump asked me to deliver a message to each and every one of you on the deck of the USS Truman," he continued.

"We are keeping the best carrier in the world in the fight. We are not retiring the Truman," he said to applause. "The USS Harry S. Truman is going to be giving them hell for many more years to come."

What was supposed to happen: The carrier, first commissioned in 1998, was set to undergo a lengthy and $3.5 billion midlife refueling process in 2024.

But the Pentagon announced plans as part of Trump's 2020 budget request to reduce its aircraft carrier fleet from 11 to 10 by retiring the USS Truman early as part of a cost-cutting measure.

Service leaders back retirement: As recently as Tuesday morning, top Navy officials were defending the plan.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of his confirmation to be the Navy's top officer, current Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran said retiring the Truman will allow the Navy to fund new technologies such as drone ships.

"We believe we're going to need to modernize our force in a way we haven't thought of in the past -- especially in the unmanned arena," Moran said.

On Monday, the current Navy chief, Adm. John Richardson, also defended the plan, similarly arguing that the Navy needs to look forward to new technologies.

"The most mortal sin we can have right now is to stay stable or stagnant," Richardson said at the Future Security Forum.

But lawmakers say hold off: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were skeptical of retiring the Truman, and observers expected language in the annual defense policy bill to prevent it from happening.

For example, at Tuesday's Senate hearing, Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFinger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police MORE (D-Va.) said the idea is "just kind of a head-scratcher for us."

And Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan MORE (R-Okla.) previously told top Pentagon officials at a March hearing that he was "not happy" about the plan.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerUS praises British ban on China's Huawei after pressure campaign GOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls MORE (D-Va.) blasted the administration on Tuesday over its plans to retire the aircraft carrier, arguing it appeared to be "a budget gimmick all along."

 

HOUSE SPENDING BILL WOULD BLOCK MILITARY FUNDS FOR BORDER WALL: A draft spending bill introduced Tuesday by House Democrats would prohibit the use of any military construction funds approved since fiscal 2015 to be used for President Trump's border wall.

"This year's funding bill makes tremendous investments in our veterans and military families, rebuilds our national security infrastructure, and soundly rejects President Trump's attempt to steal funds from our armed services to pay for a nativist, border wall boondoggle," Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOn The Money: Businesses plead for states to enforce mask mandates | Trump tax returns unlikely before November | June deficit sets record at 4 billion Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending House panel advances bill banning construction on bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee in charge of the bill, said in statement.

What it says: According to draft text for the bill, the House's fiscal 2020 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill would prohibit funds from fiscal 2015 through fiscal 2020 from being "obligated, expended or used to design, construct, or carry out a project to construct a wall, barrier, fence, or road along the Southern border of the United States or a road to provide access to a wall, barrier, or fence constructed along the Southern border of the United States."

Background: The legislative text is the latest effort by Democrats to block the Trump administration from dipping into Pentagon coffers to build the president's proposed wall.

Trump declared a national emergency in February to unlock military construction funds to build the wall without congressional approval.

Congress passed a bill to block the emergency declaration, but Trump vetoed it, and the House did not muster the votes to override the veto.

House Democrats have since sued Trump over the emergency declaration.

The administration has said it is eyeing $3.6 billion from the military construction accounts to be used for the wall.

The Pentagon's fiscal 2020 budget proposal asks for $3.6 billion to backfill the money expected to be used by the emergency declaration as well as another $3.6 billion for any additional construction on the southern border.

 

ARMED SERVICES CHAIR CALLS SHANAHAN 'READY' FOR PERMANENT POST: The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Tuesday he thinks Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanHouse Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Boeing pleads for bailout under weight of coronavirus, 737 fallout Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January MORE is ready to be Defense secretary and is surprised President Trump has yet to nominate him.

“Right now, there’s a general good feeling about him,” Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan MORE (R-Okla.) said of Shanahan. “I think he’s ready, and I’m surprised the president hasn’t already done it."

Shanahan has served as acting Defense secretary since January following the resignation of James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet Budowsky: Biden-Duckworth would be America's team Trump insulted UK's May, called Germany's Merkel 'stupid' in calls: report MORE, making him the longest acting secretary in the Pentagon's history.

Shanahan’s nomination to take the job permanently was widely believed to be imminent last month before the Pentagon’s inspector general opened an investigation into allegations he violated his ethics agreement by promoting his former employer Boeing.

Last week, the inspector general cleared Shanahan. But Trump has yet to announce a nomination days later.

Inhofe said he last spoke with Trump about the Defense secretary opening in mid-April. Trump did not give Inhofe a reason for the delay on the phone call and even appeared frustrated it hasn’t happened yet despite the fact it’s up to Trump to nominate someone, Inhofe said.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, and acting deputy secretary of defense David Norquist will testify before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee on the Pentagon's proposed fiscal year 2020 budget at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2359. 

U.S. Southern Command head Adm. Craig Faller, U.S. Northern Command head Gen. Terrance O'Shaughnessy and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano will testify before the House Armed Services Committee on "National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activity in North and South America," at 10 a.m. in Rayburn 2118. 

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hear from defense officials on Army modernization programs at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2118. 

Another House Armed Services panel will hold a hearing on "Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request for Military Construction, Energy, and Environmental Programs" at 2:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2212. 

A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on U.S. nuclear weapons policy with witnesses Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment; David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; Gen. Timothy Ray, Air Force global strike commander; and Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, director, strategic systems programs at 2:30 p.m. in Russell Senate Office Building, room 222. 

 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Senate confirms top generals for Europe, Africa

-- The Hill: Top admiral nominee: Climate change 'going to be a problem' for Navy

-- The Hill: Marines nominee: Gender-integrated battalion at boot camp 'went great'

-- The Hill: Top Venezuelan opposition leader claims asylum at Chilean embassy

-- The Hill: Iran's president signs bill labeling US troops in Middle East as terrorists 

-- The Hill: Russia: 'Radical opposition' in Venezuela whipping up conflict

-- The Hill: Air Force secretary warns against European military force

-- The Hill: Pentagon to send 320 more troops to southern border amid migrant surge

-- The Hill: Mattis ignored orders from Trump, White house on North Korea, Iran: report

-- The Hill: Schiff: House panel to recommend DOJ open investigation into Erik Prince testimony

-- The Hill: Opinion: The Senkaku Paradox: Preparing for conflict with the great powers