Overnight Defense: Trump vetoes Saudi arms sale resolutions | A look at Esper's first day as Pentagon chief | Iran, 'forever chemicals' mark early priorities | Budget deal set for Thursday House vote

Overnight Defense: Trump vetoes Saudi arms sale resolutions | A look at Esper's first day as Pentagon chief | Iran, 'forever chemicals' mark early priorities | Budget deal set for Thursday House vote
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, 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 era of Esper is upon us.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war The Biden administration and Tunisia: Off to a good start Overnight Defense: Navy pulls plug on 0 million railgun effort | Esper defends Milley after Trump attacks | Navy vet charged in Jan. 6 riot wants trial moved MORE had his first full day on the job Wednesday.

Entering the building Wednesday morning, he told reporters that “the troops and their families are my top priority.”

A few hours later, Esper met with reporters for more a detailed discussion.

There, he announced he will travel to U.S. Central Command (Centcom) headquarters in Florida next week to discuss details of a plan to monitor hostile Iranian activity in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

Esper said he and Centcom leaders will discuss the U.S.-proposed Operation Sentinel — an effort to escort vessels traveling in the region if requested.

Esper said the U.S. Navy would escort its American vessels “to the degree the threat requires it,” but added later that “escort doesn’t mean [Navy warships] are following right behind.”

“But as long as you are in the area and can react quick enough to deter a provocation, that’s the key,” he said.

First order of business: Esper’s first official act as Defense secretary was to set up a task force to review the military’s obligation in cleaning up contamination from cancer-linked “forever chemicals”

“The Department is committed to taking a strong and proactive stance to address the effects arising out of any releases of these substances from all defense activities including the National Guard and Reserves. We must approach the problem in an aggressive and holistic way, ensuring a coordinated DOD-wide approach to the issue,” Esper wrote in a memo establishing the taskforce.

There are at least 400 military sites reported to have PFAS contamination, and the chemical has often spread to the water supply of nearby communities. The cleanup tab is estimated to be $2 billion.

But the military has come under heavy criticism for it’s response to PFAS, including accusations the agency pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to weaken its proposed regulations on PFAS — a move likely to save the military a substantive amount of money.

The Air Force has already had to divert $66 million designated for other purposes to cover cleanup costs tied to PFAS.

The military’s new PFAS task force would be responsible for devising PFAS cleanup standards, finding an alternative firefighting foam without PFAS, and addressing “Public/Congress perceptions of DoD's efforts.”

Esper gave the task force six months to report back.

On to the next one: Esper also told reporters that getting his leadership team in place is a top priority.

To that end, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a confirmation hearing Wednesday for the man nominated to be Esper’s deputy, David Norquist.

Norquist had been acting deputy Defense secretary since January, but stepped aside for the confirmation process. He has been the Pentagon’s comptroller since 2017.

The confirmation hearing was largely uneventful, with senators indicating he’ll be easily confirmed.

“I'm probably the wrong one to be chairing this hearing because I've already decided and I have strong feelings about you. In fact, I remember telling the president a long time ago it doesn't matter who ends up being secretary of Defense so long as you have Norquist in here helping,” committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Biden administration expands Afghan refugee program | Culture war comes for female draft registration | US launches third Somalia strike in recent weeks Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Gillibrand expects vote on military justice bill in fall MORE (R-Okla.) said.

“Secretary Norquist, we face many challenges that require strong leadership and the ability to make tough decisions. I am very confident you can make those tough decisions,” the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense: Biden administration expands Afghan refugee program | Culture war comes for female draft registration | US launches third Somalia strike in recent weeks Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors MORE (D-R.I.), added.

TRUMP VETOES SAUDI RESOLUTIONS: President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions The Memo: Left pins hopes on Nina Turner in Ohio after recent defeats Biden administration to keep Trump-era rule of turning away migrants during pandemic MORE has vetoed three congressional resolutions that would block his emergency arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"This resolution would weaken America's global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners," Trump wrote in veto messages to Congress released by the White House on Wednesday evening.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal On The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns MORE (R-Ky.) earlier in the afternoon entered Trump's veto messages into the Senate record and set up a vote on the messages before Aug. 2.

Congress is not expected to have the two-thirds majority needed to override Trump’s vetoes.

Background: The move marks the third time Trump has used his veto pen, and it follows an earlier veto of a Saudi-related measure.

The Trump administration in May invoked an emergency provision of the law governing arms sales to push through 22 deals with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan without the typical 30-day congressional review period.

The Senate voted 53-45 in June to block two of the emergency arms sales, and 51-45 to block the other 20.

The House followed suit by blocking three of the arms sales in mid-July. Two resolutions passed 238-190, and the third passed 237-190.

Next steps: With Congress likely unable to overturn Trump's vetoes, lawmakers have already begun plotting their next steps. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled Thursday to debate competing bills to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the Khashoggi killing and Yemen civil war.

BUDGET VOTE THURSDAY: Democrats will bring a bipartisan deal to raise spending caps and suspend the debt ceiling to a House vote on Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse bundling is bad for deliberation CBC presses Biden to extend eviction moratorium Top House Democrats call on Biden administration to extend eviction moratorium MORE (D-Md.) said Wednesday.

The vote will be among the last the House takes before leaving town for a six-week August recess.

The Senate is expected to take up the vote next week, before it begins its own recess.

The legislation would head off a potential debt default and steep spending cuts.

Top defense Republican onboard: The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-Texas), met with reporters on Wednesday to affirm his support for the deal.

The agreement sets a defense topline of $738 billion for fiscal year 2020 and $740 billion for fiscal year 2021.

Thornberry voted against House Democrats’ version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in part because he didn’t think its $733 billion topline was high enough.

But he said Wednesday that while he thinks $738 billion is still too low, the benefits of the budget agreement outweigh the drawbacks. In particular, the deal means the Pentagon will likely get appropriations before the start of the fiscal year.

It’s also a two-year deal, meaning it gives the Pentagon predictability and gets past the much-maligned Budget Control Act that expires in 2021.

“Bottom line, I don't think I've met anybody at DoD or industry who doesn't agree with the fact that $738 [billion] on time is more valuable than $750 [billion] in December of January after you've gone through a [continuing resolution] and had all of the uncertainty that goes with that,” Thornberry said.

He added that he’s encouraged other Armed Services Republicans to support the deal, as well.


The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a business meeting to discuss pending nominations at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/2Mm2Qjg

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on human rights in South Asia at 10 a.m. the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2JX9RUk

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting to consider several bills and nominations at 10:30 a.m. at the Senate, room 116. https://bit.ly/2Z5n0RJ

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on the New START Treaty at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2172. https://bit.ly/2M02SN4


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