Overnight Defense: Latest on USS McCain controversy | Trump says order was 'well-meaning' | Shanahan asks chief to investigate | Democrat demands answers from Navy | Trump touts military strength in Air Force Academy speech

Overnight Defense: Latest on USS McCain controversy | Trump says order was 'well-meaning' | Shanahan asks chief to investigate | Democrat demands answers from Navy | Trump touts military strength in Air Force Academy speech
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Happy Thursday 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: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE's feud with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego More than 300 military family members endorse Biden Jennifer Lawrence says until Trump she was 'a little Republican' MORE (R-Ariz.) is still causing controversy months after the senator's death.

The latest dustup involves an apparent order the White House gave the Navy to hide a ship named for McCain, his father and his grandfather while Trump was visiting Japan.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Wednesday night on an email from the White House Military Office that requested the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer be kept "out of sight" during Trump's visit to Yokosuka Naval Base on Memorial Day. Other news outlets have since confirmed the story.


What Trump says: Trump tweeted after the Journal story that he was unaware of the order.

He reiterated that Thursday, but added that whoever gave the order was "well-meaning."

"I didn't know anything about it. I would never have done that," Trump told reporters as he departed the White House to deliver a commencement address at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Trump went on to chastise McCain for his vote that helped doom GOP efforts to repeal ObamaCare in 2017, saying he "was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape or form."

"But I would never do a thing like that," he added. "Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn't like him. And they were well-meaning, I will say."

What Pentagon chief says: The original Wall Street Journal story said acting Defense Secretary 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 was aware of the order, but the Pentagon and Shanahan himself have denied that.

"Secretary Shanahan was not aware of the directive to move the USS John S McCain nor was he aware of the concern precipitating the directive," Shanahan's spokesman, Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, said in a statement.

Shanahan later told reporters traveling with him in Asia that he's asked his chief of staff to investigate what happened.

"I would never dishonor the memory of a great American patriot like Sen. McCain. I would never disrespect the young men and women that crew that ship," said Shanahan, who has been nominated as the full-time Pentagon chief.

What the Navy says: The Navy's chief of information activated his office's Twitter account for the first time since 2014 to deny that the McCain was obscured during Trump's visit.

"The name of USS John S. McCain was not obscured during the POTUS visit to Yokosuka on Memorial Day. The Navy is proud of that ship, its crew, its namesake and its heritage," Rear Adm. Charlie Brown tweeted.

Still, the Navy hasn't denied that the order was given, nor other details from the reports, such as sailors from the McCain being turned away from Trump's speech.

Family weighs in: McCain's daughter, Meghan McCainMeghan Marguerite McCainChris Cuomo, Ted Cruz explode in off-the-rails CNN interview Meghan McCain, husband welcome first baby girl, Liberty Sage McCain Domenech Kasich to Meghan McCain: Concern over abortion 'dwarfed' by need to beat Trump MORE, who has been a fierce defender of her father's legacy, tweeted Wednesday night that Trump is a "child who will always be deeply threatened by the greatness of my dads incredible life."

On Thursday, while co-hosting "The View," she added that Trump created a culture "fearful to show my father's name."

"The president's actions have consequences, and when you repeatedly are attacking my father and war heroes it creates a culture in the military where people are clearly fearful to show my father's name," she said. "That's what started this again ... if you're afraid to have a hat or show the name of the warship which is named after my grandfather, who was an officer in the Navy."

Dem demands answers: By Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoMark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego Legal marijuana backers tout potential money for states Leadership matters: President's words and actions show he is unfit to lead our nation MORE (D-Ariz.), a House Armed Services Committee member, demanded answers from the Navy on its handling of the McCain order.

"As a fellow Arizonan and in the long tradition of U.S. Marines serving with sailors, I am furious that the Navy would allow the service of the McCains to be diminished in this way," Gallego wrote in a letter to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.

"And as a member of the Armed Services Committee, I am concerned about how prioritizing the emotional instability of the president over the morale of the USS John S. McCain's crew will affect readiness," Gallego added.

Gallego asked Richardson to explain how the order was received and executed, whether any funding was used to carry it out and how he will "ensure that the Navy protects its greatest heroes against petty White House whims in the future."


DISASTER AID BLOCKED FOR THIRD TIME: A conservative House Republican prevented the passage of a disaster aid bill on Thursday, meaning lawmakers won't be able to send the measure to President Trump until the chamber reconvenes next week.

Rep. John RoseJohn Williams RoseFrom state agriculture departments to Congress: Our farmers need the USMCA Trump signs long-awaited .1B disaster aid bill 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill MORE (R-Tenn.) objected to the third attempt by Democrats in the last week to clear a $19.1 billion package providing funds for disaster-stricken areas by unanimous consent.

House members left Washington last Thursday for the Memorial Day recess and won't be back until Monday. Democrats tried to clear the bill during pro forma sessions with few lawmakers present last Friday and on Tuesday, but were met with objections from conservative Republicans who demanded a roll call vote.

"Our nation is $22 trillion in debt, primed to pass nearly $20 billion in new spending while the majority of Congress is not even in Washington," Rose said, calling the attempt to pass the disaster aid package by unanimous consent "another act of irresponsible big government."

The disaster aid measure is expected to pass once Democrats put it to a roll call vote next week.

Reminder: The bill does have a defense connection. Military officials have been begging lawmakers for months for money to rebuild bases destroyed by hurricanes and flooding last year.

Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska; and Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina were all ravaged by natural disaster.

As such, the disaster aid bill would provide $1.67 billion for the Air Force and $981 million for the Navy and Marine Corps.


TRUMP SPEAKS AT AIR FORCE ACADEMY: Trump delivered the Air Force Academy's commencement speech Thursday.

The speech was largely uneventful, with Trump staying on-message and not causing any controversies by going off tangent.

His main message to the cadets was on the need for American military strength.

Trump gave a roughly 30-minute speech in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he spoke of innovation in the military, including the development of his long-desired Space Force, and expressed confidence the cadets in attendance would uphold the Air Force's legacy as a premiere fighting force.

"To dominate the future, America must rule the skies," Trump said. "And that is what your time at this great academy has been all about: Preparing you to do whatever it takes to learn to adapt and to win, win, win.

"You're going win so much you're going to get so tired of winning -- but not really," he added to laughter.

Light-hearted moments: Amid the tough talk of military readiness were a few more light-hearted moments.

Trump cited his role as commander in chief to absolve cadets on restriction for bad behavior and called multiple graduates up to the stage to recognize their achievements.

The president acknowledged one student who had been diagnosed with cancer, and another who won last year's college baseball home run derby.

"I wanna feel this guy's muscles," Trump said as baseball player Nic Ready made his way to the front.

As Ready approached Trump, the president reached out to grab his biceps before shaking his hand.

"It's real," Trump said to laughter. "That's real."



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