Overnight Defense: Navy hospital ship heading to Los Angeles | Military field hospitals to deploy to New York, Seattle | Pompeo flies to Afghanistan to revive peace process

Overnight Defense: Navy hospital ship heading to Los Angeles | Military field hospitals to deploy to New York, Seattle | Pompeo flies to Afghanistan to revive peace process
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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: A Navy hospital ship in San Diego deployed Monday to Los Angeles to help relieve hospitals expected to become overburdened by coronavirus patients.

In a news release, the U.S. Navy 3rd Fleet said the USNS Mercy will treat non-coronavirus patients referred to the ship by hospitals ashore, providing them with "a full spectrum of medical care."

"This will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their Intensive Care Units and ventilators for those patients," the release said.

At a briefing, Navy officials said the Mercy was scheduled to leave San Diego at 2 p.m. local time Monday. The Mercy is expected to arrive at the port of Los Angeles "within the week" and will be able to treat patients the day after arriving, Capt. John Rotruck, commanding officer of the ship, told reporters at the Pentagon Monday via teleconference.

Despite San Diego's proximity to Los Angeles, the Mercy will take a couple extra days to travel to conduct operations, tests and certifications that must be done at sea before arrival, as well as to allow the crew time to train, Navy officials said.

Why Los Angeles: Washington state has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases on the West Coast, and last week reports circulated that the Mercy would be bound for the Seattle area.

But Trump administration officials said Sunday that Los Angeles was chosen because California is expected to need the extra hospital beds more than Washington.

"Even though there are more cases right now in Washington, the projected needs for beds in California is five times more that of Washington," Pete Gaynor, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) administrator, said Sunday at the White House.

More restrictions at the Pentagon: 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 on Monday upgraded the Pentagon's health protection level to its second-highest setting, putting more restrictions on entering the building in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

"Today we are elevating the Pentagon reservation status to Health Protection Condition C," Esper told reporters at a press conference in the building. 

"This limits the number of access points to the Pentagon and increases the amount of personnel who would telework, among a few other things."

He added that the latest health protection level could include "some medical screening," including temperature testing.

Defense One was the first to report on the new designation, which lines up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Level 3 warning for some countries.

Field hospitals preparing to deploy: Esper also announced the Defense Department is preparing to deploy field hospitals to New York City and Seattle later this week.

"Right now, I anticipate sending a [field] hospital to Seattle and a hospital to New York City," Esper told reporters at the Pentagon, adding, "my aim is to get them out this week."

He said five such expeditionary units had been given "prepare to deploy orders," and the Pentagon is looking to send them to other locations as needed.

He said the deployments will include the hospital, equipment and medical professionals. They will be sent once FEMA validates the move.  

Monday's numbers: As of Monday morning, 133 service members had tested positive for the coronavirus -- nearly double the number from Friday -- with seven in the hospital and four recovered.

In addition, 44 civilian employees, 35 dependents and 31 contractors have been diagnosed with the illness.

Over the weekend: A Defense Department contractor died Saturday after getting the coronavirus, marking the first military-related death from the illness. 

The Arlington, Va.-based contractor, worked at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Pentagon said in a statement on Sunday.

The individual had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been under medical treatment at a local hospital.

Spaces in DSCA where the individual worked have been cleaned in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance when he tested positive, and the person's co-workers have been teleworking, the statement said.

"Our condolences go out to his family, friends and co-workers and we thank the medical professionals who worked to save his life in the face of this virus," the release said. "The Department remains committed to protecting our service members, their families, and our civilian co-workers."

In the Senate: The Senate on Monday failed to advance a massive coronavirus stimulus package for the second time in as many days. 

Senators voted 49-46, falling short of the three-fifths support necessary to move forward with a "shell" bill, which the text of the agreement would ultimately be swapped into. 

Democratic Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) broke with the party to vote in support of the measure. 

The failed vote comes as negotiators have been in around-the-clock meetings over the past four days to try to close an agreement. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Initial jobless claims rise for 2nd week | Dow dips below 30K | Mnuchin draws fire for COVID-19 relief move | Manhattan DA appeals dismissal of Manafort charges Mnuchin to put 5B in COVID-19 relief funds beyond successor's reach The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience MORE met at least six times on Sunday, and restarted talks after 9 a.m. on Monday. 

Ahead of the vote, tensions boiled over on the Senate floor, as Democrats temporarily blocked Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (R-Maine) from speaking from the floor as they tried to get clarity on what the schedule was. Collins called the tactics "unbelievable." Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection More conservatives break with Trump over election claims MORE (R-Ark.), who was on the floor, could be overheard calling the maneuver "bullshit." 

After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.) warned the stimulus package could be delayed for days unless every senator agrees to speed it up. 

"We have put the Senate in the following position: If any one of the 100 of us choose to object, we can't deal with this until Friday or Saturday at the earliest," McConnell said.

McConnell, if he wants to bring the bill back up, will have to go through procedural hoops that will eat up days of floor time. He could speed the process up, but would need consent from every senator. 

In the House: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-Calif.) on Monday offered an early glimpse of House Democrats' sweeping proposal to boost the crippled economy amid the coronavirus crisis, presenting it as a family-focused alternative to the Senate Republicans' package, which Democrats deem too friendly to corporations.

The Speaker said she still intends to have the House return to Washington to vote on the package but suggested such a step might not be necessary if Senate negotiators can seal a deal on the upper chamber's bill that wins the support of her House caucus.

"That's our hope, yes, but we'll see what the Senate does," Pelosi said from the Speaker's balcony in the Capitol.

House Democrats want to expand funding for unemployment insurance, offer student loan relief, extend the reach of food stamps and bar corporations that receive federal help from buying back stocks or firing employees, among other provisions. The bill would also expand worker safety protections -- like those governing the front-line medical workers dealing with infected patients -- and require the Trump administration to enforce them.

At the White House: A high-stakes debate is playing out among key figures in President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE's orbit over how quickly to loosen restrictions meant to combat the coronavirus.

A number of people around Trump have pushed for prioritizing the economy and sending people back to work as quickly as possible, particularly in less afflicted areas.

But Trump's own public health officials and some of his allies on Capitol Hill have warned against risking higher infection rates and deaths for the sake of boosting the economy in the short term.

Sources close to the Trump administration described a "split" in the larger Trump world where some people around the president believe the federal government should ease recommendations on social distancing after the 15-day period while others favor waiting a few more weeks or taking even more dramatic action to stamp out the spread of the virus.


MEANWHILE ... IN AFGHANISTAN: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Israeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report Biden's State Department picks are a diplomatic slam dunk MORE made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Monday in an effort to end a political crisis that has stalled U.S. efforts to end the war there.

Pompeo's trip came even as most official government travel has been canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pompeo met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Ghani's chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah. The pair have been locked in a power struggle since Afghanistan's September elections.

Afghanistan's elections commission declared Ghani the winner of the election last month, but Abdullah continues to dispute the results. Ghani and Abdullah held dueling inauguration ceremonies earlier this month, and Abdullah has vowed to form a parallel government.

The dispute between Ghani and Abdullah has thrown a wrench into U.S. efforts to make progress on the deal the Trump administration signed with the Taliban late last month.

As for the Taliban: After Afghanistan, Pompeo made a stop in Doha, Qatar, to meet with the Taliban's chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Pompeo planned to use the meeting to "press the Taliban to continue to comply with the agreement signed last month," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters in Doha.



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-- Associated Press: War-torn Syria braces for lockdown after first virus case

-- The New York Times: Trump writes to Kim Jong Un offering help in virus fight, North Korea says

-- The Washington Post: Fresh barbs fly between Tehran and Washington over who's to blame for coronavirus's spread in Iran