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 PompeoDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Linda Ronstadt tells Pompeo at dinner that he'll 'be loved' when 'he stops enabling Donald Trump' Gaetz defends Ukraine call: Trump acted on 'sincere' concerns of corruption 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 TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades 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 StefanikLawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to allow new parents to advance tax credits CNN's Bianna Golodryga: 'Rumblings' from Democrats on censuring Trump instead of impeachment Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings 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 ThornberryDemocrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Meadows says Republican colleagues 'wrong' for suggesting Trump's phone call was inappropriate Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon watchdog says Syria withdrawal hurt ISIS fight | Vindman testifies on third day of public hearings | Lawmakers to wrap up defense bill talks this week 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 LuriaLawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Overnight Health Care: Democratic group to only endorse AG candidates who back abortion rights | Protect Our Care launches seven-figure ad buy to boost vulnerable Dems | California sues Juul Group launches seven-figure ad buy boosting vulnerable Democrats on drug prices 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 MattisThreatening foreign states with sanctions can backfire Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court 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 SmithWhite House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Defense: Suspect in Pensacola shooting identified as Saudi aviation student | Trump speaks with Saudi king after shooting | Esper denies considering 14K deployment to Mideast 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 CheneyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran Cruz, Graham and Cheney call on Trump to end all nuclear waivers for Iran Pompeo: US ending sanctions waiver for site where Iran resumed uranium enrichment 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 StephanopoulosBooker on Harris dropping out: 'Iowa voters should have the right to choose' Judiciary Democrat says House should focus on Ukraine, avoid Mueller report in articles of impeachment Impeachment can't wait 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 passes bill tackling workplace violence in health care, social services sectors This week: Round 2 of House impeachment inquiry hearings State dinner highlights the enduring importance of US-Australia alliance 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 GillibrandWhite House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers Bloomberg on 2020 rivals blasting him for using his own money: 'They had a chance to go out and make a lot of money' Harris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day 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 WarrenBiden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE (D-Mass.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetKey House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills Bloomberg on 2020 rivals blasting him for using his own money: 'They had a chance to go out and make a lot of money' Senators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats MORE (D-Colo.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden: All-white debate not representative of party, but 'you can't dictate' nominee Delaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down MORE (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' Booker on Harris dropping out: 'Iowa voters should have the right to choose' Booker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race MORE (D-N.J.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersHow can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? Biden rallies with John Kerry in early primary states Buttigieg campaign says 2000 people attended Iowa rally MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' Booker on Harris dropping out: 'Iowa voters should have the right to choose' Booker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race MORE (D-Calif.).

The bill also has a few Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties Congressional leaders unite to fight for better future for America's children and families MORE (Iowa), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Chuck Todd challenges Cruz after senator pushes theory that Ukraine meddled in election Sunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Democratic congressman calls for study of effects of sex-trafficking law McConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' 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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