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 EsperPence reverses position barring coronavirus task force members from appearing on CNN: report Pence bars coronavirus task force members from appearing on CNN: report Trip that led to acting Navy secretary's resignation cost 3K: reports 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHarris, Ocasio-Cortez among Democrats calling for recurring direct payments in fourth coronavirus bill House Republicans, key administration officials push for additional funding for coronavirus small business loans Rep. Massie threatens to block next relief bill, calls for remote voting MORE (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOvernight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Trump downplays need for widespread testing before reopening economy On The Money: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | More than 6M file for jobless benefits | Fed launches T in economic relief | Dems, Mnuchin in talks over next aid deal 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 Democrats roll out bill to protect inspectors general from politically motivated firing Senators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Senators push for changes to small business aid 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 CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former Trump advisor Bossert says to test the well, not ill; Senate standoff on next relief bill Trump's ambitious infrastructure vision faces Senate GOP roadblock  GOP lawmaker touts bill prohibiting purchases of drugs made in China 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 McConnellThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former Trump advisor Bossert says to test the well, not ill; Senate standoff on next relief bill McCarthy slams Democrats on funding for mail-in balloting Harris, Ocasio-Cortez among Democrats calling for recurring direct payments in fourth coronavirus bill 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 PelosiPelosi calls for investigation into reports of mistreatment of pregnant women in DHS custody Wisconsin highlights why states need a bipartisan plan that doesn't include Democrats federalizing elections Pelosi defends push for mail-in voting: GOP 'afraid' to let people vote 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 TrumpSanders says he wouldn't 'drop dead' if Trump decided on universal healthcare Overnight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Hillicon Valley: State officials push for more election funds | Coronavirus surveillance concerns ramp up pressure for privacy bill | Senators warned not to use Zoom | Agencies ask FCC to revoke China Telecom's license 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 PompeoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Senate deadlocked on relief measures The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump as Sanders exits race GOP rep calls for US to bring international case against China over coronavirus 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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