Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves $733B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One

Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves $733B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One
© Aaron Schwartz

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 Trump administration is blaming Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Putin orders response to US missile test The Hill's Morning Report: How will Trump be received at G-7? MORE leveled the accusation from the State Department briefing room on Thursday.

"It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks the occurred in the Gulf of Oman today," Pompeo said in a roughly five-minute statement.

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"This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used and the level of expertise needed the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication," he added.

What he said: Pompeo did not go into further detail on what evidence the United States has against Iran, and he did not take questions after the statement.

He said he has told acting U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Jonathan Cohen to raise the incident at Thursday afternoon's U.N. Security Council meeting.

"The United States will defend its forces, interests and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability," Pompeo said.

The attack: The Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous were attacked Thursday morning in the Gulf of Oman about 25 miles off the southern coast of Iran.

U.S. Central Command said the U.S. Navy received two distress calls, one at 6:12 a.m. local time and a second 7 a.m.

The USS Bainbridge guided missile destroyer was operating in the area and responded, Central Command said. Twenty-one mariners from the Kokuka Courageous are now on the Bainbridge, it added.

The backdrop: The attack comes weeks after alleged sabotage attacks against four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The United States similarly blamed those attacks on Iran, pointing to limpet mines that officials said were Iranian.

"On April 22, Iran promised the world it would interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. It is now working to execute on that promise," Pompeo said Thursday.

Iran has frequently threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of all oil traded by sea passes but has not in the past acted.

'Insulting' to Japan: Thursday's attack occurred during a visit to Iran by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeking to mediate over the Iran nuclear deal.

Citing Abe's visit, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the attacks "suspicious."

"Reported attacks on Japan-related tankers occurred while PM @AbeShinzo was meeting with Ayatollah  @khamenei_ir for extensive and friendly talks," Zarif tweeted. "Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning."

Pompeo accused Iran of "insulting" Japan with the attack on the Japanese-owned tanker.

Trump's take: Shortly before Pompeo began his remarks, President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE tweeted that while he "very much appreciate[s] P.M. Abe going to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal."

"They are not ready, and neither are we!" Trump added.

Last month, the Trump administration warned of unspecified "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" coming from Iran and deployed a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the region in response.

The administration is pointing to the tanker attacks, as well as a rocket attack last month that landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, as evidence that the warning was correct.

 

HOUSE PANEL APPROVES DEFENSE BILL: The House Armed Services Committee early Thursday advanced its $733 billion defense policy bill.

After an all-night markup that lasted until past 6 a.m., the committee voted 33-24 largely along party lines to send the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the House floor.

Republican Reps. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikRepublican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (N.Y.) and Don Bacon (Neb.) voted with Democrats in support of the bill.

While Democrats hold a majority in the House, a lack of Republican support could become an issue when the bill comes to the floor if progressive Democrats balk at its $733 billion price tag.

Republicans voted against the bill in committee after losing amendment votes on several of their priorities, including increasing the dollar value of the bill and nuclear issues.

GOP concerns: Speaking to reporters after the vote, the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryPentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe U.S. and U.K. divide increases on Iran Republican lawmakers issue dueling letters over Pentagon 'war cloud' contract MORE (Texas), cited the funding and nuclear issues, as well as provisions related to Guantanamo Bay, as negatives that outweighed positives in the bill.

Thornberry offered an amendment to increase the topline to $750 billion, but was voted down, 27-30. Rep. Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Anti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump The House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort MORE (D-Va.) voted with Republicans.

Republicans argue a $750 billion defense budget -- the amount requested by the Trump administration -- is needed to counter Russia and China, citing testimony from defense officials on the need for a 3 to 5 percent year-over-year budget increase.

"Everything in here is core responsibility of this committee," Thornberry said of his amendment. "For us to authorize an amount less than the administration requested, less than the consistent testimony we have received, less than the Senate Armed Services Committee puts us at a disadvantage" in upcoming budget negotiations.

The Dems' argument: Democrats, though, highlight that the Pentagon planned to request $733 billion until late last year after defense hawks and former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOnly Donald Trump has a policy for Afghanistan New Pentagon report blames Trump troop withdrawal for ISIS surge in Iraq and Syria Mattis returns to board of General Dynamics MORE convinced President Trump to go higher.

"It's worth noting that $733 billion, by about $17 billion, is the largest defense budget ever," committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWarren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow Young Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path MORE (D-Wash.) said, adding that "$733 billion is not a small amount of money."

The hottest debates: The committee's markup, which started Wednesday morning and lasted nearly 21 hours, saw fierce debates about issues ranging from the deployment of low yield nukes to the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the potential for military conflict with Iran and Trump's proposed border wall.

Republicans are deeply opposed to nuclear cuts in the bill. In particular, the bill would block the deployment of the new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warhead.

Two amendments offered by Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report Steve King says 'left-wing media' and GOP leadership owe him apology after rape, incest comments MORE (R-Wyo.) to protect the low-yield warhead were voted down.

The committee's markup, which started Wednesday morning and lasted nearly 21 hours, also saw fierce debates about issues ranging from the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the potential for military conflict with Iran and Trump's proposed border wall.

The committee also voted to add in a proposal to create a new branch of the military dedicated to space. 

The committee's proposal is similar to Trump's Space Force idea but is a more slimmed-down Space Corps nearly identical to a 2017 House-passed plan.

 

TRUMP SHARES RENDERINGS OF RED, WHITE AND BLUE AIR FORCE ONE: President Trump in an interview broadcast early Thursday shared the first renderings of a redesigned Air Force One, featuring a red, white and blue paint job.

The president, who has expressed a desire to replace the traditional baby blue and white exterior with a fresh design, revealed some mock ups to ABC's George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Bret Baier calls out Trump for lashing out at Fox News polls: 'Fox has not changed' Trump allies defend attacks on Cummings amid Democratic denunciations MORE during an interview on Wednesday.

"There's your new Air Force One," he said, holding up the drawings. "And I'm doing that for other presidents, not for me."

Trump held a document that featured four slightly different variations of the presidential plane with a white top half, blue bottom third and red streak down the middle. The new planes are set to be delivered by the end of 2024, which would be the end of a possible second term for Trump.

The background: The mock ups were revealed one day after House panel voted to advance a potential roadblock to Trump's desired changes.

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday approved an amendment that would require the Trump administration to get congressional approval for any "work relating to aircraft paint scheme, interiors and livery" before it takes place.

Rep. Joe CourtneyJoseph (Joe) D. CourtneyHouse committee heads demand Coast Guard Academy explain handling of harassment allegations House votes to repeal ObamaCare's 'Cadillac tax' Overnight 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 MORE (D-Conn.) said his provision refers to the Air Force One replacement contract, a $3.9 billion, fixed-price deal the Air Force signed with Boeing in July 2018 to design, modify, test, certify and deliver two 737 planes by the end of 2024. He noted that small changes can create additional costs.

"Additional paint can add weight to the plane, additional fixtures inside the plane can also add cost and delays to the delivery of the plane," Courtney said in presenting his amendment.

  

GILLIBRAND REINTRODUCES PROPOSAL TO CONFRONT MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT: Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate Gillibrand unveils mental health plan MORE (D-N.Y.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, on Thursday reintroduced her bill to tackle military sexual assault.

Dubbed the Military Justice Improvement Act, the bill would take the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases away from military commanders and give it to independent military prosecutors.

"Our nation's military leaders have spent decades promising 'zero tolerance' on sexual assault, but it's painfully clear that they've failed at that mission. The Pentagon, by its own admission, is out of time – and should now be out of excuses," Gillibrand said in a statement Thursday. "For years, survivor after survivor has told us the change we need to make in the military justice system to end the scourge of sexual assault in our military – the same change that some of our allies all around the world have already made: move the decision to try these crimes outside of the chain of command to trained military prosecutors."

About the bill: Gillibrand has introduced the bill every year since 2013 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The proposal has not been voted on in the last couple years amid broader disputes over which amendments get voted on for the NDAA. The last time the amendment got a vote in 2015 it did not reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.

The Pentagon and other opponents of the proposal argue it would undermine the military justice system.

In her statement, Gillibrand slammed the "incremental reforms" the Pentagon has taken in past years, saying "they clearly haven't worked."

Gillibrand's bill has 29 co-sponsors, including fellow Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (D-Mass.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries MORE (D-Colo.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-N.J.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-Calif.).

The bill also has a few Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces White House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord MORE (Iowa), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzIs this any way for NASA to build a lunar lander? GOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (Ky.).

Background: The Pentagon's latest report on sexual assault showed the number of cases of unwanted sexual contact -- a term that covers groping to rape -- jumped to 20,500 in 2018 from 14,900 in 2016.

 

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