Overnight Defense: Trump seeks $377M for Pentagon in $4.5B border funding request | US general says focus in Venezuela is on intel | Biden backs ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen

Overnight Defense: Trump seeks $377M for Pentagon in $4.5B border funding request | US general says focus in Venezuela is on intel | Biden backs ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen
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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 White House is asking Congress for $4.5 billion in emergency funding for the southern border -- with $377 million meant for the Pentagon.

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee, first disclosed $377 million request at a hearing Wednesday morning, followed by the White House releasing the full $4.5 billion request later in the day.

Democrats on the House Appropriations defense subpanel were, unsurprisingly, not happy.

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"There is no emergency at the border that requires the use of the armed forces," Visclosky said. "We are here to appropriate funds needed for the military, not to make good on a campaign promise."

Why use troops?: This week, 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 approved sending 320 more U.S. troops to the border, on top of the 3,000 active-duty troops and 2,000 National Guardsmen already there. 

Asked on Wednesday why the Pentagon is using its resources on the border when there are other military needs, Shanahan told lawmakers, "the simple version is, I have a legal standing order from the commander in chief to deploy resources to support a national emergency."

But Shanahan also said the Pentagon needs to determine "how long will we be at the border" rather than taking an "a la carte approach."

"We've initiated a set of actions to really how many people are [Customs and Border Protection] short because we need to get that into a sustained environment," Shanahan said. "We're driving buses, we're serving food, we're doing medical support, we're doing logistics support."

"For now we haven't degraded any readiness," Shanahan continued. "But we really need to go back to our primary missions to continue to generate readiness."

Elsewhere on the Capitol: At the same time as the appropriations hearing, the House Armed Services Committee was hearing from the commanders of U.S. Northern and Southern Commands. 

During that hearing, the top Republican on the committee questioned why the Pentagon does not use more contractors to aid in the U.S. military's increasing role at the southern border.

"We face an unprecedented situation at the border. The Border Patrol is completely overwhelmed [and] reports this week are that military folks are going to be asked to do more tasks at the border than they have been doing before," said Rep. 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).

"Why can we not use contractors for these support activities that we are now asking the military to do? Any time any of us visit Afghanistan, other places around the world, a lot of the people doing the cooking, the cleaning, the driving, monitoring sensors, are often contractors," Thornberry added during a committee hearing on security challenges in North and South America.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano replied that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have been using contractors. But he noted that there is "a practical limit" to their use "in terms of availability of contractors in the areas where they seek to have the work done, and the timelines associated with getting those contractors on task."

 

MILITARY FOCUSED ON INTEL IN VENEZUELA: As clashes in Venezuela continued for a second day, lawmakers had questions for Pentagon brass on potential U.S. military involvement there. 

At the appropriations hearing, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers the U.S. military's focus right now is on gathering intelligence.

"The situation is a little bit unclear today from our perspective between Maduro and Guaidó," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told the House Appropriations Committee defense subpanel.

The United States recognizes National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president, and the Trump administration has made ousting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro -- whose reelection earlier this year was considered illegitimate by much of the international community -- a key foreign policy goal.

"We're doing what we can now to collect intelligence and make sure we have good visibility on what's happening down in Venezuela and also be prepared to support the president should he require more from the U.S. military," Dunford added.

Canceled trip: The Pentagon also announced Wednesday that Shanahan canceled a planned trip to Europe in order to "more effectively coordinate" with the National Security Council and State Department on Venezuela, as well as issues on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Shanahan was scheduled to leave Thursday to attend the change-of-command ceremony for new European Command chief and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod Wolters.

Shanahan also told the House Appropriations subcommittee that he, Dunford, Bolton and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIs America headed toward war? Is America headed toward war? Polar bear spotted hundreds of miles south of normal hunting grounds MORE would meet later Thursday to discuss Venezuela.

"When people say all options are on the table, they literally are," Shanahan said. "We've done exhaustive planning. There's not a situation or scenario that we don't have a contingency for."

At Armed Services: Meanwhile, at the House Armed Services hearing, Pentagon officials stressed they have not gotten any orders for military action in Venezuela. 

"We of course always review available options and plan for contingencies but in this case we have not been given the sort of orders you're discussing, no," Katie Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, told lawmakers.

Southern Command chief Adm. Craig Faller also told the committee he's been focused on working with regional partners.

"We've been focused on working with our regional partners – intelligence sharing, information sharing, gathering and generating a shared appreciation for the complexities associated with the problem," he said.

 

BIDEN CALLS FOR END TO YEMEN SUPPORT: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Ted Kennedy in defending remarks about working with segregationists Biden invokes Ted Kennedy in defending remarks about working with segregationists Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' MORE has taken the first major foreign policy position of his 2020 presidential campaign, and it is to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen's civil war. 

"Vice President Biden believes it is past time to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen and cancel the blank check the Trump administration has given Saudi Arabia for its conduct of that war," Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told The Washington Post's Josh Rogin. "He urges Congress to override 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 veto."

Timing: The statement comes a day before the Senate is scheduled to vote on President Trump's veto of a resolution that would end U.S. military support for the campaign. 

The chief sponsor of the resolution is one of Biden's main rivals in the presidential campaign, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders denies tweet about corporate Democrats was dig at Warren Sanders denies tweet about corporate Democrats was dig at Warren Democrats asked to create ideal candidate to beat Trump pick white man: poll MORE (I-Vt.).

Supporters are not expected to have the two-thirds majority needed to override Trump's veto, given that the resolution passed the Senate with 54 votes.

Context: The U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign started during the Obama administration, where Biden was vice president. 

The Obama administration curtailed some of the support during the waning days of the administration amid mounting civilian causalities, but the Trump administration ramped it back up.

Later, as congressional opposition mounted in November, the Trump administration ended one of the most visible aspects of the support, midair refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft.

 

US CUTS BACK AFGHAN WAR DATA: The U.S. military is no longer tracking how many districts in Afghanistan are controlled by the Afghan government and what territory is under Taliban control, a Pentagon watchdog said Wednesday. 

In its latest quarterly report to Congress, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) said it was told the district assessments were "of limited decisionmaking value" to the commander of the Resolute Support (RS) mission.

"Despite its limitations, the control data was the only unclassi­fied metric provided by RS that consistently tracked changes to the security situation on the ground," the report said. "While the data did not on its own indicate the success or failure of the South Asia strategy, it did contribute to an overall understanding of the situation in the country."

Background: Special inspector general John Sopko last week signaled that the control data would be missing from the next quarterly assessment, lamenting to reporters that "almost every metric for success or failure is now classified or non-existent."

The move away from assessing district control is in line with President Trump's complaint that too much information about the war was being made public.

But Sopko told reporters last week he did not think there was "any link specifically" between the recent change and Trump's January comments that releasing inspector general reports on wars is "insane."

Last stats: The previous SIGAR report, released in January, said the Afghan government controlled or influenced 53.8 percent of districts, the Taliban controlled or influenced 12.3 percent and 33.9 percent were contested.

In terms of population, 63.5 percent of Afghans lived in areas controlled or influenced by the government, compared with 10.8 percent in Taliban areas and 25.6 percent in contested districts, according to the previous report.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on Air Force acquisition and modernization at 9 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. https://bit.ly/2IU10op

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting to consider several nominations at 9:30 a.m. at the Senate, room 116. https://bit.ly/2ITkQQr

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Gen. James McConville to be Army chief of staff at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2J0UNWU

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson will speak at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies at 4:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/2GMBG00

 

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