Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences

Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences
© Greg Nash

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: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails MORE is nominating 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 be his second secretary of Defense, a position the former Boeing executive has held on an interim basis since December.

The move, announced Thursday, comes as the Trump administration grapples with rising tensions in a number of high-profile hot spots around the globe, from Iran to Venezuela to China.

"Based upon his outstanding service to the Country and his demonstrated ability to lead, President Trump intends to nominate Patrick M. Shanahan to be the Secretary of Defense," White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersBill Press: Mulvaney proves need for daily briefings White House correspondent April Ryan to moderate fundraising event for Buttigieg White House press secretary defends lack of daily briefings: Trump 'is the most accessible president in history' MORE Sanders said in a statement.

"Acting Secretary Shanahan has served in high profile positions, including the Deputy Secretary of Defense and Vice President of Supply Chain and Operations at Boeing ... he has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense, and he will continue to do an excellent job," she said.

A slow process: Shanahan, who has less than two years of government experience, took over as the top Defense Department official after James MattisJames Norman MattisJohn Feehery: Mutiny on the Bounty Amash rips Trump over move to send troops from Syria to Iraq Defense chief says US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq MORE resigned late last year.

It's unusual for the Pentagon to have an interim leader for so long, but Shanahan appeared to be one of the few choices left available for Trump after several potential nominees earlier reportedly turned down the offer. Among the names floated were Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump weighs leaving some troops in Syria to 'secure the oil' | US has pulled 2,000 troops from Afghanistan | Pelosi leads delegation to Afghanistan, Jordan US troops leaving Syria cross into Iraq Graham says he's open-minded on supporting impeachment: 'Sure, I mean show me something that is a crime' MORE (R-S.C.), Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Lawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip MORE (R-Ark.) and former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, another person who was considered a contender, took herself out of the running when she announced that she would leave the administration at the end of May to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Shanahan's response: "I am honored by today's announcement of President Trump's intent to nominate. If confirmed by the Senate, I will continue the aggressive implementation of our National Defense Strategy. I remain committed to modernizing the force so our remarkable Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have everything they need to keep our military lethal and our country safe," Shanahan said in a statement Thursday.

Shanahan later told reporters at the Pentagon that he was "very excited" to receive the nomination, which Trump told him about at the White House earlier that afternoon.

Asked what he expects his biggest challenge would be if confirmed, Shanahan replied "balancing it all."

"For me it's about practicing selectful neglect so that we can stay focused on the future but not ignore a lot of the emerging really important issues that ... pop up day-to-day that you don't plan for."

Lawmakers response: Shanahan's performance at the Pentagon and his dealings with Boeing will now be scrutinized by many of the same lawmakers who approved his nomination as deputy Defense secretary two years ago.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions MORE (R-Okla.) voiced his support for Shanahan on Thursday.

"We need a confirmed leader at the Department and, after working with him closely over the last few months, I welcome his selection," Inhofe said in a statement. "I look forward to talking with him at his confirmation hearing about how we can work together to implement the National Defense Strategy and care for our service members, veterans and military families."

Inhofe has come around to Shanahan in recent months after telling reporters in February that he didn't believe the former Boeing executive would get the nomination. He said at the time that Shanahan doesn't "have the force you need in the office," and lacks the "humility" of Mattis.

In April, Inhofe said there's a "general good feeling about" the acting Pentagon chief.

Graham comes around: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Thursday that he will support Shanahan's nomination despite previously clashing with Shanahan over Syria. 

Graham said he viewed Shanahan, who has been serving as acting secretary since December, as a "logical choice" and that he expects to support him when his nomination comes to the Senate.

"He has demonstrated to me his detailed understanding that a strong, modern, and well-trained military is essential in a dangerous and complex world," Graham said. 

Graham reportedly clashed with Shanahan during a security conference in Munich earlier this year about the administration's decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria, telling Shanahan that the plan to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of April was "the dumbest f---ing idea I've ever heard."

 

 

 

HOUSE PANEL ADVANCES BILL TO BLOCK MILITARY CONSTRUCTION FUNDS FOR BORDER WALL: The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would prohibit using military construction funds on a border wall.

The prohibition is included in the fiscal 2020 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill, which the committee advanced in a largely party line 31-21 vote. Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGOP lawmaker: Trump administration 'playing checkers' in Syria while others are 'playing chess' Sunday shows — Mulvaney seeks to tamp down firestorm over quid pro quo comments, Doral decision Hurd: No Ukrainian officials have told State Department 'they felt like their arms were being twisted' MORE (R-Texas) voted with Democrats in support of the bill.

This year's controversy: The bill is typically one of the least controversial spending bills, often passing with large bipartisan majorities even as lawmakers struggle to reach wider deals to keep the rest of the government open.

But this year's military construction budget has become wrapped up in the fight over President Trump's proposed border wall.

"Whether we agree or disagree on the need for a wall or whether or not there is or is not a crisis at the border, I hope this committee can agree that funds for the wall should not be stolen from previously approved vital military construction projects that are to a dollar a higher priority than any wall," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzLawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings DeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief Democrats walk tightrope in fight over Trump wall funds MORE (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the subcommittee in charge of the bill.

What the bill says: The bill written by House Democrats would prohibit funds from the 2015 through 2020 fiscal years 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."

The bill would provide a total $10.5 billion for military construction – including $2 billion to rebuild military bases battered by Hurricanes Michael and Florence - and $217.5 billion for veterans' affairs.

There is also $1.5 billion for military housing. That's $117.8 million below the fiscal 2019 level, but $140.8 million above the administration's budget request. The committee went higher than the request to address widespread issues in military housing, such as mold, vermin and lead, according to a bill summary.

Efforts to throw it out: Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisHouse conservatives attempt to access closed-door impeachment hearing GOP lawmakers, states back gunmaker in Sandy Hook appeal Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess MORE (R-Md.) offered an amendment to get rid of the border prohibition, calling the provision a "poison pill" because Trump won't sign a bill that "ties his hands."

"Words were used like 'stolen funds' when we talk about what's been done," Harris said. "That's pretty inappropriate because stealing is actually a crime. No crime was committed."

Harris later threatened disciplinary action against lawmakers continuing to describe the president's actions as stealing.

His amendment was voted down in a 22-31 vote.

A refresher: Trump declared a national emergency in February in order to unlock military construction funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval.

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

The Pentagon has yet to use military construction dollars on the wall, though it has separately transferred $1 billion from Army accounts to use on the wall under separate executive authority.

 

NORTH KOREA FIRES UNIDENTIFIED PROJECTILE: South Korea's military said on Thursday that North Korea had fired an unidentified projectile amid tensions with the U.S.

The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the projectile was fired in an easterly direction from the northwestern town of Sino-ri, according to Reuters. It was believed to have traveled about 260 miles, the news service noted, citing a South Korean official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Japanese defense ministry reportedly said there was no immediate threat to Japan's security and that it had not detected any ballistic missiles in territorial waters.

"You don't know what missile it is just from how far it flew," Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, told Reuters. "But one thing is clear - there's no doubt that it is a missile."

Pentagon's response: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later on Thursday would not say what type of projectile was launched.

"We're going to stick to our diplomacy and as you all know we haven't changed our operations or our posture," he told reporters outside the Pentagon. "We continue to generate the readiness we need in case diplomacy fails."

The background: The report comes less than a week after North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnUS proposed helping North Korea build tourist area amid nuclear talks: report Kim poses for photos on white horse on sacred mountain, plans 'great operation' Beware the 34th month of Trump's presidency MORE oversaw the firing of what the South called short-range projectiles, which were believed to have flown up to 125 miles. North Korea said Wednesday that its tests were not intended as provocations and were "regular and self-defensive."

President Trump responded to that launch by saying he remains confident in the U.S. and North Korea's ability to reach a nuclear deal, tweeting that Kim "knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me."

Trump and Kim have attended two summits together to attempt to reach a deal on Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, one in Singapore in 2018 and the other a session in Vietnam earlier this year that was cut short.

 

TRUMP DEFENDS BOLTON BUT ADMITS THEY HAVE DIFFERENCES: President Trump on Thursday conceded he has policy differences with John BoltonJohn BoltonGadhafi's ghost still haunts US policymakers Trump job approval slips 2 points in Gallup poll Washington indecision compounded the Kurds' dilemma MORE, even as he defended his national security adviser amid media reports he has grown frustrated with some of his hawkish foreign policy moves.

"John's very good. He has strong views on things, but that's OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing isn't it?" Trump said during an impromptu briefing with reporters in the White House Roosevelt Room when asked if he is satisfied with Bolton's advice.

Why the statement? The comments come one day after The Washington Post reported Trump has groused Bolton wants to get him "into a war" in Venezuela, where the administration is backing an effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. and other nations recognize as the interim president.

Bolton vocally supported a failed uprising against Maduro last week, which reportedly led Trump to question his administration's strategy in the Latin American hot spot. Despite those tensions, Bolton's job is not in danger, according to the Post.

Trump pledged to disentangle the U.S. from foreign wars during his 2016 campaign, views that are at odds with Bolton, who has long held hawkish views and was a vocal proponent of the Iraq War.

And The Hill's Rebecca Kheel wrote about how crisis in Iran and Venezuela are putting a spotlight on Bolton. That story here.

 

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ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on "Rules in War - A Thing of the Past?" starting at 10:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Brookings Institution will hold a discussion on "Operation Tidal Wave II and its role in the destruction of the Islamic State's finances," with speakers including former commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan retired Gen. John Allen; former State Department official David Asher; and former commander of the coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq retired Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, starting at 12 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Bolton held unexpected meeting on Iran with top intel, military advisers at CIA: report

-- The Hill: US joins Japan, India in show of force in South China Sea

-- The Hill: Dem spending bill would block funds to support nuclear sales to Saudis

-- The Hill: Top Iranian official approved attacks on US military: report

-- The Hill: Pompeo cancels Greenland stop amid tensions with Iran

-- The Hill: Federal officials announce seizure of North Korean vessel

-- The Hill: EU urges Iran to remain in nuclear pact, regrets US sanctions

-- The Hill: Opinion: US, Iran must both tread lightly with tensions running so high

-- The Hill: Opinion: Congress must act on arms control with extension of New Start Treaty