Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Trump signs $2T coronavirus relief package | What’s in it for defense | Trump uses defense powers to force GM to make ventilators | Hospital ship arrives in Los Angeles

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, 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: President Trump on Friday signed a bipartisan $2 trillion economic relief package aimed at helping American workers and businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill includes $1,200 one-time payments to many Americans; sets up a $500 billion corporate liquidity fund to help struggling industries like airlines; allocates $377 billion for aid to small businesses; and boosts the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week for four months, among other provisions.

Trump signed the legislation hours after it passed the House, thanking Republicans and Democrats “for coming together, setting aside their differences and putting America first” with the legislation.

“We got hit by the invisible enemy and we got hit hard,” Trump said during an Oval Office signing ceremony, later noting that he believed the economy would come back strongly before the end of the year.

How it got here: The massive bill, dubbed the CARES Act, was the result of days of high-stakes negotiations between the Trump administration and Senate leaders.

The upper chamber passed the legislation in a unanimous 96-0 vote overnight Wednesday, after it hit a last-minute snag when a handful of Republican senators objected to a provision related to unemployment insurance.

The House followed suit, passing the measure in a voice vote Friday. The passage did not come without drama: House lawmakers were forced to scramble back to Washington Friday over concerns a conservative lawmaker objecting to the legislation, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), would force a roll call vote.

The president lashed out at Massie in a tweet on Friday morning before the vote, calling him a “third rate grandstander” and accusing him of needlessly delaying its passage.

Trump had urged Congress to pass the legislation quickly as his administration seeks to blunt the economic damage of the coronavirus, which has forced businesses across the country to close and lay off employees.

What’s in it for defense: The massive stimulus package Senate leaders and the White House agreed to has $10.5 billion to help the Pentagon fight the coronavirus.

Of note, the bill would prohibit the Pentagon from shifting that money to a counter-drug account it has been using to fund President Trump’s southern border wall.

According to bill text released by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill would allow the Pentagon to transfer the coronavirus funds to other accounts “except for ‘Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities, Defense.'”

A Democratic summary of the bill described the language as intended to “prevent funds in this title from being diverted to build a wall on the southern border.”

What the money buys: The stimulus deal’s $10.5 billion for the Pentagon includes $1.5 billion for the National Guard and $713.6 million for operations including the hospital ship deployments.

The bill would also provide $1 billion for the Defense Production Act, a wartime authority for ramping up production of coronavirus tests, ventilators, masks and other critical supplies.

The stimulus package would provide $3.8 billion for defense health programs, including $3.4 billion to buy more equipment to treat patients and physical protective equipment for medical personnel and disease response, to expand the capacity of military treatment facilities and to buy expeditionary hospital packages.

The other $415 million for defense health programs would go toward research and development into vaccines and antivirals to use against the coronavirus.


TRUMP USES DEFENSE PRODUCTION LAW: President Trump on Friday used the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to produce ventilators to combat the coronavirus after days of hesitating to use the powers in the law.

The president in a statement said the federal government had abandoned negotiations with the automaker on ventilator production, complaining that the automaker was “wasting time.”

“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” Trump said.

“GM was wasting time,” the president asserted. “Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”

The holdup: The Trump administration had been negotiating with GM to make tens of thousands of ventilators, but talks broke down due to concerns that the price tag would exceed $1 billion.

The president turned his ire on the automaker earlier Friday, singling out CEO Mary Barra for criticism.

“As usual with ‘this’ General Motors, things just never seem to work out,” Trump tweeted. “They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, ‘very quickly’. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B.”

And Trump taps a production coordinator: President Trump said Friday that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro would become the national Defense Production Act policy coordinator for the federal government as the administration seeks to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump made the announcement at an afternoon press conference at the White House, saying he gave Navarro the new authorities when he signed an executive order earlier that day.

“My order establishes that Peter will serve as national Defense Production Act policy coordinator for the federal government,” Trump told reporters.


NAVY HOSPITAL SHIP ARRIVES IN LOS ANGELES: A U.S. Navy hospital ship arrived in Los Angeles on Friday to help relieve local hospitals expected to be overburdened by coronavirus patients.

The USNS Mercy will treat non-coronavirus patients to free up beds at local hospitals while they focus on the surge of patients suffering from COVID-19.

The ship has a capacity of 1,000 beds and is expected to be staffed by 1,128 personnel.

The transit: The ship pulled into the Port of Los Angeles on Friday morning after leaving its home port in San Diego on Monday. Despite San Diego’s proximity to Los Angeles, the ship needed a few extra days to arrive to complete training and certifications that must be done at sea.

Meanwhile on the East coast…: The U.S. Navy operates two hospital ships, the Mercy and the Comfort, to help with relief efforts during crises, such as in Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria.

The USNS Comfort, which is based in Virginia, will deploy to New York with the same mission of relieving local hospitals fighting the coronavirus. Its deployment is taking longer than the Mercy’s because it was undergoing maintenance.

On Thursday, President Trump announced the Comfort will deploy Saturday. Trump said he will travel to Norfolk, Va., to see the ship off.


HOUSE PANEL FORMALLY KICKS OF DEFENSE BILL PROCESS: The leaders of the House Armed Services Committee have officially kicked off the process for crafting the annual defense policy bill, introducing the “by request” version.

The churning of the legislative process for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) comes despite the coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted business as usual in Congress and the country.

“As the nation grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, the committee continues to adhere to the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sergeant at Arms and the House Attending Physician,” the Armed Services Committee said in a statement Friday.

“During this time of uncertainty, the committee remains focused on completing the FY21 NDAA and performing rigorous oversight through formal communications and teleconferences, which can and will be accomplished while protecting the health of our members and staff,” the statement added.

The timeline now: The committee has been expected to consider the bill — which dictates defense policy for the year and is considered must-pass — at the end of April, with the full House voting on it in May.

The panel traditionally kicks off the process a month or so before the markup by introducing a “by request” version, which only has proposals from the Pentagon and does not reflect any work done by the committee.

The text in that version is eventually stripped out and replaced with the committee’s work.

A very different markup process: The committee’s markup of the bill is typically its best-attended session of the year, with a hearing room packed the entire day with the nearly 60-member panel, staffers, reporters and lobbyists sitting in tightly spaced chairs — something that would not adhere to social distancing guidelines meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has started holding “paper hearings” to keep up work on the NDAA while adhering to social distancing rules.

In the paper hearings, written testimony and opening statements are being posted online and are expected to be followed a week later by senators’ written questions and witnesses’ written answers. The committee held its first hearing in that format Thursday for the secretary and chief of staff of the Army.


NEED SOME GOOD NEWS? The Hill has been keeping track of how Americans are helping each other through the coronavirus pandemic.

If you need your faith in humanity restored, take a look here.



— The Hill: Army Corps of Engineers eyes 114 sites to convert to hospitals in coronavirus fight

— The Hill: Trump uses Defense Production Act to require GM to make ventilators

— The Hill: Trump names new Defense Production Act coordinator for coronavirus fight

— The Hill: FBI chief says bureau won’t stop ‘finding out what happened’ to ex-agent

— The Hill: Opinion: Preparing for the next pandemic— The Hill: Opinion: Defense industrial base workers belong at home during this public health crisis

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump General Motors Pentagon Thomas Massie

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