Overnight Defense: Trump rolls back restrictions on land mines | Pentagon issues guidance on coronavirus | Impeachment trial nears end after Senate rejects witnesses

Overnight Defense: Trump rolls back restrictions on land mines | Pentagon issues guidance on coronavirus | Impeachment trial nears end after Senate rejects witnesses
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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: The Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era restrictions on the U.S. military's use of landmines that have been banned by more than 100 countries.

"The president has canceled the Obama administration's policy to prohibit United States military forces from employing anti-personnel landmines outside of the Korean peninsula," White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamTrumps to spend Thanksgiving at White House instead of traveling to Florida Melania Trump cancels campaign appearance over 'lingering cough' The Memo: Trump grapples with credibility gap in crisis MORE said in a statement. 

The Defense Department "has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama Administration's policy could place them at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries," she added. "The president is unwilling to accept this risk to our troops."

The move gets rid of President Obama's 2014 directive to no longer produce or acquire the anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean peninsula, where they are used to protect South Korea from any threats from the North.

Obama's commitment largely followed the 1997 Ottawa Convention. The international agreement banned the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of the weapon, and 164 countries banned the landmines as they are likely to kill and wound civilians. 

Esper's view: Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperActing Defense secretary makes surprise trip to Somalia Overnight 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 MORE told reporters the new policy was developed during his predecessor James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper MORE' tenure.

"I think landmines are an important tool that our forces need to have available to them in order to ensure mission success and in order to reduce risk to forces," Esper said during a joint press conference with Italy's defense minister.

"That said in everything we do we also want to make sure that these instruments in this case landmines also take into account both the safety of employment and the safety to civilians and others after a conflict," he added.

Opposition: Ahead of the announcement, lawmakers and human rights advocacy groups criticized the move as a threat to civilians in conflict zones.  

"The restriction on the production and use of landmines was based on research that showed the horrific human cost these weapons have caused over the years. Any action to ease restrictions on their use and availability is a massive step backward," Amnesty International said in a statement.

"There is a reason why the use of antipersonnel landmines is illegal: they can't distinguish between fighters and ordinary people, and often continue to kill and maim for years after conflicts end." 

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Durbin seeks to become top-ranking Democrat on Judiciary panel Feinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Vt.) complained that no member of Congress had been consulted on the new landmine policy ahead of its unveiling.

"The current policy, limiting the use of this inherently indiscriminate weapon to the Korean peninsula, is the culmination of nearly 30 years of incremental steps, taken by both Democratic and Republican administrations after extensive analysis and consultation, toward the growing global consensus that anti-personnel mines should be universally banned," Leahy said in a statement.


PENTAGON GUIDANCE ON CORONAVIRUS: The Pentagon has issued guidance to its personnel and service members aimed at preventing the possible spread of the new, deadly coronavirus.

The memorandum, issued Thursday and released to the public on Friday, tells forces how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the virus, officially known as 2019-nCov, and of the precautions they should take.

"The Department of Defense continues to work closely with our interagency partners as we monitor the situation and protect our service members and their families, which is my highest priority," Esper said in a statement accompanying the directive.  

Esper said the commanders of individually affected geographic commands will be issuing specific guidance to their forces.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs is also working with the Joint Staff and other leaders to identify possible additional screening needs for Pentagon personnel or service members at ports of entry, according to the memo.

US emergency: Later Friday, the Trump administration declared a public health emergency in the United States in response to the coronavirus that has sickened nearly 10,000 people worldwide.

The United States will also ban foreign nationals from entering the country if they have traveled in China within the preceding 14 days.

"The risk of infection for Americans remains low. With these and previous actions we are working to keep the risk low," Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.


NEW TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS FOR NIGERIA, OTHERS: The Trump administration announced Friday it will restrict the ability of immigrants to travel to the United States from six countries, including Nigeria.

The government will curb the ability of citizens of Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania to get certain immigration visas, according to officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and State Department, but it is not a blanket travel ban.

"Because we have higher confidence that these six countries will be able to make improvements in their system in a reasonable period of time, we did not feel it would be proportionate to impose restrictions on all immigrant and non-immigration visas," a DHS official said.

The officials cited national security concerns as the reason for the restrictions, saying the governments of the six countries impacted do not meet requirements for information-sharing and passport security.

Trump was expected to sign a proclamation approving the restrictions on Friday afternoon, and it will go into effect Feb. 22.

The proclamation will suspend immigrant visas for nationals of Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria. The restriction applies to those seeking to live in the U.S. permanently.

The order will restrict diversity visas for nationals of Sudan and Tanzania.

Context: The announcement comes at the outset of an election year where Trump is likely to tout his policies on immigration as a key issue to motivate his base of supporters.

It also comes just over three years after Trump first announced he would impose a travel ban targeted at several Muslim-majority nations. An altered version of that ban was later upheld by the Supreme Court, and travel from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen is still restricted. The administration separately restricted travel from North Korea and Venezuela as well.

The expanded ban is certain to be challenged in courts, and former diplomats have expressed confusion over the inclusion of Nigeria in particular, warning that restricting travel from some of those countries will harm American interests.

Opposition: Immigrant rights groups swiftly condemned the announcement and accused the administration of attempting to revive a ban on Muslims entering the country.

"One particular country jumps out from the list compiled - as Muslims and other ethnic minorities flee persecution in Myanmar, after being subjected to one atrocious crime after another with devastating results, including mass killings, rapes, and the burning of entire villages, the U.S. makes the unconscionable decision to deny them welcome," Amnesty International USA executive director Margaret Huang said in a statement.


IMPEACHMENT TRIAL, ENDGAME: Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate is in its final stages, but it's still expected to go late into Friday night, early Saturday morning or even into mid-week next week.

Senators are expecting hours of late-night votes Friday night and into Saturday because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.) and Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift MORE (N.Y.) don't have an agreement on the endgame.

A Senate Republican aide said McConnell is expected to announce a second organizing resolution Friday afternoon that would set the schedule for the end of the trial and a final up-or-down vote on two articles of impeachment.

The resolution, which could be offered as an amendment to the original organizing resolution the Senate adopted Wednesday of last week, is subject to amendment, which means that Democrats could force multiple changes to the document, with each vote preceded by two hours of debate.

That means the Senate could battle into Saturday morning over what the end of the trial should look like.

Keep those calendars clear: Senators and Trump administration officials are signaling the impeachment trial could spill over into next week.

The timeline is largely dependent on two things: how long senators want to deliberate and the level of cooperation between McConnell and Schumer -- which has been in short supply during the trial so far.

"It's a possibility that this could extend on another day or so," said Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions Hillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software MORE (R-S.D.) when asked about the possibility of the trial continuing into next week.

Because of the impeachment trial rules, if the proceedings go past Saturday it would automatically roll over into Monday, the same day as the Iowa caucuses.

Rounds, when asked what could slow down the proceedings, said there were some "time constraints," including how many members want to take 15 minutes to make a statement on the Senate floor.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Texas) told reporters he would be "surprised" if the trial wrapped up on Friday and that without cooperation it could drag on for days.

It could "carry us over to the first part of next week," Cornyn said.

Senate rejects witnesses: Senate Republicans rejected a mid-trial effort to call witnesses and documents on Friday, paving the way for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE’s acquittal on two articles of impeachment passed by the House.

Senators voted 49-51, with Republican Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls The Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Biden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies MORE (Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Two more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism MORE (Maine) breaking ranks to join Democrats in voting for witnesses. Fifty-one votes were needed to approve witnesses.

The vote is a significant win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump, letting them bypass a messy floor fight over hearing testimony from former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Bolton calls on GOP leadership to label Trump's behavior 'inexcusable' MORE and other witnesses.

The GOP leader has said publicly and privately that he did not want witnesses, warning that it set up a “mutually assured destruction” because both sides would call controversial witnesses.

"There is no need for the Senate to re-open the investigation which the House Democratic majority chose to conclude and which the Managers themselves continue to describe as 'overwhelming' and 'beyond any doubt,'" McConnell said.



The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host an event on the United Kingdom's post-Brexit foreign and security policy with British politician Liam Fox at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/37LWpx3



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