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 PompeoFormer British governor: China has betrayed Hong Kong The other dangerous virus infecting our country Hong Kong police fire tear gas at pro-democracy demonstrators 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.


"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 TrumpTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order 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 StefanikBipartisan House bill seeks to improve pandemic preparedness The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve House GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19 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 ThornberryBoosting military deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region Overnight Defense: Pentagon memo warns pandemic could go until summer 2021 | Watchdog finds Taliban violence is high despite US deal | Progressive Dems demand defense cuts Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic 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 LuriaThe Hill's Campaign Report: DOJ, intel to be major issues in 2020 House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary 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 Mattis'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? Trump sending ally to Pentagon to vet officials' loyalty: report Pentagon watchdog unable to 'definitively' determine if White House influenced JEDI contract 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 SmithBoosting military deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region House chairmen demand explanation on Trump's 'illegal' withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty Overnight Defense: Trump to withdraw US from Open Skies Treaty | Pentagon drops ban on recruits who had virus | FBI says Corpus Christi shooting terror-related 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 CheneyHouse GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19 Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former Rep. Harman says Russia is trying to exploit America; Mylan's Heather Bresch says US should make strategic reserve in medicines; Trump unveils leaders of 'Warp Speed' 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 StephanopoulosSanders pushes back on doubts supporters will back Biden Sunday shows - Trump trade adviser knocks Obama, whistleblower, CDC Navarro says whistleblower 'deserted' in an 'American tragedy' 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. CourtneyNavy recommends reinstating Crozier as captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt: report Overnight Defense: Aircraft carrier captain removed from duty after pleading for help with outbreak | Trump to expand use of defense law to build ventilators | Hospital ships receiving few patients Aircraft carrier captain removed from duty after pleading for help with coronavirus outbreak 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 GillibrandIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Hillicon Valley: Uber to lay off thousands of employees | Facebook content moderation board announces members | Lawmakers introduce bill to cut down online child exploitation Democrats introduce legislation to protect children from online exploitation 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 WarrenWarren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting MORE (D-Mass.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetCongress headed toward unemployment showdown Fight emerges over unemployment benefits in next relief bill Job losses approach Depression territory as election looms MORE (D-Colo.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Congress must fill the leadership void The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump spotted wearing a face mask MORE (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Booker introduces bill to create 'DemocracyCorps' for elections On The Money: GOP senators heed Fed chair's call for more relief | Rollout of new anti-redlining laws spark confusion in banking industry | Nearly half of American households have lost employment income during pandemic MORE (D-N.J.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Hawaii primary Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden Julián Castro to become senior advisor for Voto Latino MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE (D-Calif.).

The bill also has a few Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill State Department scrutiny threatens Pompeo's political ambitions Senators offer bill to prevent relief payments from being seized by private debt collectors MORE (Iowa), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzState Department scrutiny threatens Pompeo's political ambitions 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic Parties gear up for battle over Texas state House MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Doctors push Trump to quickly reopen country in letter organized by conservatives 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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