Overnight Defense: Pentagon plans to make sexual harassment a crime | Military sexual assaults up 38 percent | Senate fails to override Trump's Yemen veto

Overnight Defense: Pentagon plans to make sexual harassment a crime | Military sexual assaults up 38 percent | Senate fails to override Trump's Yemen veto
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Happy Thursday 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: The Pentagon plans to make sexual harassment a criminal offense following the latest Defense Department report that found reported sexual assaults jumped 38 percent in a two-year period.

At the recommendation of the Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force -- formed earlier this year at the request of Air Force veteran Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyWhite House makes push for paid family leave and child care reform The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R-Ariz.) -- the Pentagon will take steps "to seek a stand-alone military crime of sexual harassment," according to a statement Thursday by acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE.

"To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other," Shanahan said. "We must address how we are structured and how we resource efforts to combat this scourge. We must improve our culture to treat each other with dignity and respect and hold ourselves, and each other, more accountable."

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The numbers: Shanahan's remarks came on the same day the Defense Department released a report from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office that found the number of reported cases of sexual assault in the military jumped to 6,053 in 2018 from about 4,800 in 2016.

A survey of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines personnel found that last year there were an estimated 20,500 cases of unwanted sexual contact, a term that covers groping to rape. A similar survey in 2016 found 14,900 such cases.

The 2018 survey found more 85 percent of victims knew their assailants and that the demographic at the highest risk for assault was enlisted female service members between the ages of 17 and 24, according to the newspaper.

The Marine Corps reportedly had the highest rate of sexual assault among service members, at almost 11 percent, followed by the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Other changes: Shanahan also announced plans to train commanders "to prevent and properly respond to sexual assault," a new program to "improve the identification of repeat offenders," and "efforts to select recruits of the highest character."

The response: The announcement received a tepid response from some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

McSally, who revealed in March during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing that she was once raped by a superior officer -- said in a call with reporters that she agreed with the recommendations but that the "work is not done." 

"You'll see us working our part into legislation to be introduced in the next few weeks," McSally said. "We expect our military to be better."

Elsewhere on the hill: Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAdvocacy groups decry Trump's 'anti-family policies' ahead of White House summit This bipartisan plan is the most progressive approach to paid parental leave Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' MORE (D-N.Y.) tore into the nominee to be the Army's next top general over rising sexual assault rates in the military.

"I am tired of statements from commanders that say, 'zero tolerance.' I am tired of the statement I get over and over from the chain of command: 'We got this, ma'am. We got this,'" Gillibrand said during the Thursday confirmation hearing for Gen. James McConville to become the next Army chief of staff.

"You don't have it. You're failing us. The trajectories of every measurable are now going in the wrong direction."

Raising her voice, Gillibrand, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, told McConville, "I am tired of excuses."

 

SENATE FAILS TO OVERRIDE TRUMP'S YEMEN VETO: The Senate on Thursday failed to override President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE's veto of legislation ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Senators voted 53-45 on the attempt to override Trump's veto, falling short of the 67 votes needed to be successful.

The resolution, which initially passed the Senate in March, requires Trump to withdraw any troops in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda.

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesBullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Perry replacement moves closer to confirmation despite questions on Ukraine MORE (Mont.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Five takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPentagon to take bigger role in vetting foreign students after Pensacola shooting Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Rand Paul: 'We need to re-examine' US-Saudi relationship after Florida shooting MORE (Ky.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Statesmen seek bipartisan solutions to big challenges The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says he is fighting testimony to protect presidency MORE (Ind.) voted to override Trump's veto. 

The background: Trump vetoed the measure in April -- marking the second veto of his administration and his second veto in roughly a month.

"This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future," Trump said in his veto statement.

Any veto override attempt was expected to fall short after the resolution passed the Senate initially with 54 votes. Because the Senate voted first on the measure, its failure to nix Trump's veto effectively kills any override attempts on Capitol Hill.

McConnell's argument: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump McConnell says he'll be in 'total coordination' with White House on impeachment trial strategy MORE (R-Ky.) urged his colleagues to vote to uphold Trump's veto, arguing the War Powers Act wasn't the right tool for lawmakers who have concerns about the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

"The War Powers Act is a blunt tool and not the right vehicle to diplomatically express concern about the behavior of close partners of the U.S," McConnell said.

He added that the resolution would "make it actually more difficult to prevent the loss of innocent lives."

Supporters of the override: Democrats acknowledged their efforts to override Trump's veto would fall short. To be successful they would have needed to pick up 13 GOP senators to secure the 20 Republicans needed to buck Trump.

But supporters of the resolution argue that any vote, even if it fails, helps keep attention on the war in Yemen and pressure on the administration to try to improve the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

"Involvement in Yemen is far from being in the best interests of the United States. ... Every day it only becomes clearer and clearer that Saudi Arabia is not an ally that deserves our unwavering, unflinching, unquestionable support in military intervention," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who co-sponsored the resolution.

 

PENTAGON: US MILITARY OPERATIONS KILLED 120 CIVILIANS LAST YEAR: The Defense Department said in a report Thursday that U.S. military operations killed 120 civilians in 2018.

The annual report, mandated by Congress, said 42 civilians were killed in Iraq and Syria, 76 in Afghanistan and two in Somalia. Sixty-five people were injured in those countries.

The Pentagon said it found no "credible reports" of civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces in Libya or Yemen.

"All DoD operations in 2018 were conducted in accordance with law of war requirements, including law of war protections for civilians, such as the fundamental principles of distinction and proportionality and the requirement to take feasible precautions in planning and conducting attacks to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and other persons and objects protected from being made the object of an attack," the Pentagon said in its report.

The response: Outside watchdog groups say the Pentagon severely undercounts the number of civilians killed. Prominent monitor Airwars, which tracks the war against ISIS, says U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria alone killed 805 civilians last year.

"The administration failed to comply with Congressionally-mandated reporting requirements in a clear effort to conceal from the American public the true toll of its lethal strikes abroad," Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, said in a statement. "These numbers simply are not credible. As the Trump administration doubles down on the secrecy of its killing of civilians abroad, Congress needs to continue exercising its oversight power. The civilian victims, their families, and the American public deserve greater transparency and accountability."

Hidden figures: President Trump in March ended an Obama-era requirement to report on the number of people killed outside of traditional war zones in places like Libya, Somalia and Pakistan. The Trump administration cited duplication with the Defense Department's report, which Congress mandated in an annual defense policy bill last year.

The report ended by Trump included a tally of those killed in drone strikes carried out by the CIA, while the Pentagon's congressionally mandated report does not measure those casualties.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition fighting in the civil war that is supported by the U.S. military has been blamed for thousands of civilian deaths, but the Pentagon report only looked at U.S. military actions against ISIS and al Qaeda in Yemen.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Maj. Gen. Kimberly Crider, mobilization assistant to the commander for Air Force Space Command, will speak on "The Importance of Data in the Space Domain," at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Lawmakers offer bill to undo tax hike on Gold Star families

-- The Hill: House bill seeks to bolster security for synagogues, mosques in wake of attacks

-- The Hill: Trump signs executive order aimed at improving federal cybersecurity workforce

-- The Hill: Opinion: The reappearance of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

-- Military Times: Retired CENTCOM commander's lawsuit against privatized housing owners 'gives validation' to issue, advocate says