Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Esper officially nominated for Defense secretary | Pentagon silent on Turkey getting Russian missile system | House, Senate headed for clash over defense bill

Happy Monday 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: As of Monday afternoon, the Pentagon has its third interim leader of the year.

The White House officially sent the Senate the paperwork nominating Mark Esper to be Defense secretary at 3:04 p.m.

That means Esper stepped down from being acting Defense secretary and is back to being Army secretary during the confirmation process.

Stepping up be to acting Defense secretary for the time being is Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.

Spencer's message: Spencer arrived in his new office shortly after Esper was nominated to begin work as acting Department of Defense chief.

"While my time in this role is anticipated to be brief, I am fully prepared and committed to serve as acting secretary of defense, and I will provide continuity in the leadership of the department," Spencer wrote in a memo to Pentagon personnel.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that Spencer "has the full authority and responsibility of the Secretary of Defense. The senior team supporting the Office of the Secretary remains in place to ensure institutional continuity."

Don't get comfortable: If everything goes according to plan, Spencer won't be acting secretary for too long.

With Esper's paperwork in, his confirmation hearing is locked in for Tuesday, as the Senate Armed Services Committee previously announced.

And because the Pentagon is in its longest ever stretch without a confirmed secretary, senators are hoping to fast-track Esper so that he is confirmed before the August recess.

 

PENTAGON SILENT ON TURKEY: It's been days since the Russian S-400 anti-missile system landed in Turkey, and the Trump administration has yet to publicly respond.

The Pentagon was supposed to hold its first on-camera briefing in a while on Friday morning to discuss the issue, but then delayed it to the afternoon, before cancelling it altogether.

As of Monday evening, a briefing still has not materialized.

The silence has been particularly noticeable because administration officials have spent months warning Turkey of swift and severe consequences if the NATO ally follows through on buying the S-400.

Turkey not worried: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday the S-400 would be fully deployed by April 2020, according to Reuters.

That comes after he highlighted Sunday that President Trump has the authority to waive sanctions.

"Since this is the case, it is Trump who needs to find the middle ground," Erdogan was quoted as saying by a Turkish broadcaster, according to Reuters.

"Right now, I don't believe Trump is of the same opinion of those below him and he has said this in front of all the world's media," Erdogan added. 

The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act does indeed allow for some wiggle room in granting a sanctions waiver if the president it is in the "vital national security interests" of the United States.

And at the Group of 20 summit last month, Trump expressed sympathy for Turkey's position.

 

DEFENSE BILL HEADED FOR ROUGH CONFERENCE: With the House passing its version of the annual defense policy bill last week with a slew of progressive priorities, the question now turns to, what's next.

Over the weekend, your Overnight Defense correspondent took a look at the likely impending fight between the House and Senate during conference negotiations over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Senate Republicans say the House amendments are non-starters for them in bicameral negotiations over the final product.

It's unclear how hard Democrats will fight to keep the provisions, with Democratic House Armed Services Committee leaders saying the most important goal is to get a bill to the president's desk.

That means liberal victories, such as amendments to block military action against Iran and reverse the transgender military ban, could be short-lived. It also adds uncertainty to the timing and fate for final passage of a bill long considered must-pass.

For now, Democrats aren't tipping their hands about their strategy for the negotiations.

"I'm not going to answer a hypothetical like that," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Friday when asked what he would do if it came down to completing the bill or keeping the progressive amendments.

"We're going to get it done, and we're going to try to respect and honor members' contributions to the bill as we do that," Smith added.

Read the rest here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Mark Esper to be Defense secretary at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2Y00Kve

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on Russian disinformation attacks on elections in Europe at 2 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2NRZLt0

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on U.S. policy in Iraq with testimony from officials from the departments of State and Defense at 2:30 p.m. at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2LoHIsu

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: UK sees 'small window' to save Iran nuclear deal

-- The Hill: China warns it will cut ties with US firms that sell weapons to Taiwan

-- The Hill: Opinion: Congress, stop ducking war-declaration authority on Iran

-- Reuters: U.S., Russia to discuss nuclear arms limits in Geneva on Wednesday: officials

-- Stars and Stripes: Pentagon identifies Green Beret killed in Afghanistan

Outbrain