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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

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
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Happy Friday 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: Four people are dead, including the suspected gunman, after a man authorities identified as a Saudi aviation student open fired in a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday morning.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Group of Florida mayors calls on DeSantis to issue mask mandate DeSantis promises to keep Florida open despite recent coronavirus case surge MORE (R) confirmed the suspect was a member of the Saudi military at a news conference Friday afternoon outside the military base.

"There's obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi Air Force and then to be here training on our soil and to do this," he said.

DeSantis said he spoke with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE about the shooting and emphasized that Riyadh would eventually need to respond.

"Obviously, the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims. I think they're going to owe a debt here given that this was one of their individuals," he said.

Trump talks to Saudi king: Later Friday afternoon, Trump said he had spoken with Saudi Arabia's King Salman about the shooting.

"The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people," Trump tweeted.

The Saudi leader expressed his condolences to the families of those killed in the shooting, Trump said.

"It's a horrible thing that took place, and we're getting to the bottom of it," Trump said of the shooting during an event focused on deregulation.

The president would not say whether he believed the incident was an act of terrorism.

International training: The base's commanding officer, Capt. Timothy Kinsella Jr., said the suspect was training in aviation, though he would not elaborate.

Kinsella said there are roughly "a couple hundred" international students who train at the base.

"We have an international training syllabus. We have students from several different countries that come here. They learn aviation, they become naval aviators while they're here. It's something we've been doing for quite a while just with our partner nations," he said.

Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzFlorida passes 850k coronavirus cases Florida GOP Rep. Mike Waltz tests positive for COVID-19 Gaetz says he has coronavirus antibodies MORE (R-Fla.), who represents Pensacola, said in a video posted on social media that U.S. allies around the world often go to the base to train, but said Friday's incident demonstrates a "serious failure in the vetting process."

Deadly week: Friday's shooting is the second at a naval base in two days.

On Wednesday, a U.S. sailor killed two civilian workers and himself at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

On Friday, the Navy identified the victims in the Pearl Harbor shooting as Vincent J. Kapoi and Roldan A. Agustin. The Navy also confirmed the shooter was 22-year-old Machinist's Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel Antonio Romero of Texas, who was assigned to the USS Columbia submarine.

"Our entire Navy and Marine Corps team is struck and deeply saddened by the attacks within our own naval family over the past several days, at Little Creek, Virginia, last week, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Wednesday, and today in Pensacola, Florida," acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said in a statement Friday.

In addition to the Pearl Harbor and Pensacola shootings, a 23-year-old sailor was killed Saturday at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story when his patrol car was hit by a driver who had driven past the base's gate. The driver has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

"These acts are crimes against all of us. Our prayers are with the families of the fallen and with the wounded. It is our solemn duty to find the causes of such tragic loss and ceaselessly work together to prevent them. Let us make concerted efforts to care for the families of those lost, and those wounded, visibly and not," Modly added.

 

ESPER DENIES 14K TROOPS FOR MIDEAST UNDER CONSIDERATION: The Pentagon gave another go Friday at denying it has considered sending 14,000 more U.S. troops to the Middle East to counter Iran.

This time, the statement came from Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition Brennan takes final shot at Trump: 'I leave his fate to our judicial system, his infamy to history, & his legacy to a trash heap' MORE himself, who said reports otherwise are "flat out wrong."

"As the department has stated repeatedly, we were never discussing or considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East. Reports of this are flat out wrong," Esper said in a statement Friday morning.

But...: Esper's statement doesn't rule out the possibility of deploying a lesser number of troops to the region, a possibility several other U.S. officials have also left open in recent days.

The Defense Department "will always stand ready to respond to future actions by our adversaries if and when they arise," he said, "but the Pentagon is not considering sending 14,000 troops to" U.S. Central Command.

The original Wall Street Journal article at issue reported "as many as" 14,000 troops were under consideration.

Since the Journal's report Wednesday, several other outlets have reported that thousands more troops could be deployed to the region, with CNN reporting Thursday the most likely deployment is 4,000 to 7,000 troops.

And at a Senate hearing Thursday, John Rood, the undersecretary of Defense for policy, also confirmed the administration could deploy more U.S. troops to the region.

What Trump says: President Trump himself left the door open Thursday to sending more troops to the Middle East to counter Iran.

"There might be a threat and if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly. But we'll be announcing whatever we may be doing -- may or may not be doing," Trump said during a White House luncheon with all of the permanent representatives to the United Nations Security Council.

Trump did issue a confusing denial later Thursday night.

"The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!" he tweeted.

The tweet raised eyebrows because none of the reports used the number 12,000 and none specifically said troops would go to Saudi Arabia.

 

DEFENSE BILL TALKS DONE: Democratic-championed provisions in the annual defense policy bill that would regulate cancer-linked "forever chemicals" have been pulled from the final version of the bill, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee confirmed Friday.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHouse Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races US national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names MORE (D-Wash.) told reporters negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) are all but done, with the conference report only needing to be printed before negotiators' signatures are gathered.

Negotiations on the bill had been tripped up for months over issues including President Trump's border wall and Space Force. In recent weeks, provisions regulating a class of chemicals known as PFAS, which have been leaching into the water supply near military sites, also emerged as a major stumbling block.

"We did not get what we wanted on PFAS because the Republicans refused to give it to us," Smith said. "I strongly support listing this is a toxic substance and letting EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency] go to work. That's what the Republicans refused to do."

Ultimately, Smith added, the issue falls outside the jurisdiction of the NDAA, which made Democrats' stance harder to defend after Republicans said they would not sign the conference report with the language in the bill.

"What everyone forgets is, we kind of have a day job here, which is authorizing the defense bill so that we can continue to defend the country and support our troops, and that's about 2,000 pages and a whole bunch of different provisions, and that's kind of important," he said.

"And yes, we can grab other stuff, and I'm happy to do it ... I'm not going to jettison the entire authorizing bill. We pushed it as hard as we could, and then we pushed it a little bit harder. Republicans wouldn't give in," he added.

Background: The cancer-linked substance known as PFAS is used in firefighting foam and has contaminated water near at least 425 military sites.

The House-passed version of the NDAA would have forced the cleanup of PFAS under the Superfund law and would have directed the EPA to set a maximum contaminant level.

The elimination of those provisions from the final NDAA could mean the bill will lose some Democratic votes when it comes to final passage in the House. Last month, 69 House Democrats wrote a letter to negotiators saying they "cannot, in good conscience" support an NDAA that "fails to significantly address" PFAS contamination.

On Friday, Smith stressed the bill retains several provisions on the Department of Defense's (DOD) use of PFAS.

"What is in our jurisdiction, we pushed pretty hard and we got some good regulations on reducing what DOD does with PFAS. The stuff within our jurisdiction, we got what we wanted," he said.

 

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

The House Judiciary Committee will hold its next impeachment hearing at 9 a.m. at the Longworth House Office Building, room 1100. https://bit.ly/2rdhSPM

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: White House tells Democrats it won't cooperate in impeachment hearings

-- The Hill: House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump

-- Associated Press: US envoy: US has `other tools' if Iran's bad actions go on

-- Associated Press: Pearl Harbor shooting unfolded in 23 seconds in packed area

-- The Washington Post: U.S. blacklists Iraqi militia leaders over killing of anti-government protesters