Overnight Defense: Navy secretary nominee: Service in 'rough waters' after 'failure of leadership'| Senate fails to override Trump's Iran war powers veto| Top Armed Services Republican expects to address Pentagon border wall funds in defense policy bill

Overnight Defense: Navy secretary nominee: Service in 'rough waters' after 'failure of leadership'| Senate fails to override Trump's Iran war powers veto| Top Armed Services Republican expects to address Pentagon border wall funds in defense policy bill
© Getty

Happy Thursday 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: The nominee to be Navy secretary on Thursday blamed a “failure of leadership” for the Navy being in “rough waters” and pledged to restore a culture of good order and discipline.

“It saddens me to say that the Department of the Navy is in rough waters due to many factors, but primarily the failure of leadership,” Kenneth Braithwaite told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Whether Glenn Marine Defense, the ship collisions in 2017, judicial missteps or the crisis recently aboard USS Roosevelt, they are all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service,” he added.

Where he said it: Braithwaite, the current U.S. ambassador to Norway, was testifying at his confirmation hearing to be Navy secretary as the military service reels from the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier that infected more than 1,000 sailors.

Reminder: The previous commander of the ship, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired after a letter he wrote warning about the outbreak leaked in the media. The acting Navy secretary who fired him, Thomas Modly, subsequently resigned after flying to Guam where the ship is docked to give a speech aboard the ship’s loudspeakers berating Crozier.

The Navy conducted a preliminary investigation into the situation on the Roosevelt, resulting in a recommendation to reinstate Crozier. But current acting Secretary James McPherson ordered a more in-depth probe, effectively delaying a decision on the Crozier’s fate.

Open to reinstatement: Braithwaite — who Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said committed during a pre-hearing meeting to reinstate Crozier pending results of the investigation — said Thursday he supported the decision to open a broader inquiry as recommended by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

“Whenever you’re confronted with a challenge like this, it’s best to pause, consider all the facts and then make the right decision,” Braithwaite said.

“I learned that in flight school as a young naval aviator, that whenever any bell or whistle went off in your cockpit, the most important thing to do is to sit on your hands for two seconds … because then you can assess the problem correctly before shutting down the wrong system.”

Compounding scandals: The Roosevelt scandal came months after the Navy was rocked by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE’s decision to intervene in Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s discipline for being convicted in the military justice system of posing with the corpse of an ISIS fighter, an episode that ended with the ouster of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.

The Navy was also shaken by ship collisions in 2017 that killed 17 sailors, as well as the so-called Fat Leonard corruption scandal that ensnared several top officers allegedly bribed by contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia head Leonard Glenn Francis.

Other commitments: On Thursday, Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, pressed Braithwaite on what “specific steps” he would take to address the Navy’s leadership issues “because without a functioning chain of command, without a culture of trust and confidence, the platforms are irrelevant.”

Braithwaite replied that it would be his top priority to restore a culture in the service that focuses on good order and discipline, “empowering people to understand their responsibilities along that chain of command,” and “setting the tone here from the very highest level.”

 

SENATE FAILS TO OVERRIDE TRUMP’S IRAN WAR POWERS VETO: The Senate on Thursday failed to override President Trump’s veto of a resolution seeking to rein in his ability to take military action against Iran.

Senators voted 49-44, falling short of the two-thirds support necessary to nix Trump’s veto and send the effort to the House.

The Senate vote comes less than a day after Trump vetoed the resolution, marking the seventh time he has used his veto pen since entering office in 2017.

What the resolution would have done: The resolution, spearheaded by Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineEx-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets USAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal MORE (D-Va.), would require Trump to pull U.S. troops from any hostilities against Iran within 30 days unless he gets congressional approval for the military action.

The issue came to a head earlier this year when the United States launched an airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, sparking weeks of escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Kaine urged his colleagues to support the resolution, saying it would “avoid unnecessary war in the Middle East."

“I urge my colleagues to join me in voting to override his veto. Unless there’s a carefully reached consensus in Congress that war is necessary, we should not be sending our troops into harm’s way,” he said.

An expected outcome: The resolution was expected to fall short. It initially passed the Senate in February in a 55-45 vote with eight GOP senators supporting it. It then passed the House in March in a 227-186 vote. But because Congress was out of town the resolution wasn’t formally sent to the White House until this week, where Trump quickly vetoed it.

Trump, in a statement accompanying the veto message, lashed out at Congress, saying it "should not have passed this resolution."

"This was a very insulting resolution, introduced by Democrats as part of a strategy to win an election on November 3 by dividing the Republican Party. The few Republicans who voted for it played right into their hands," he said in the statement.

Kaine pushes back: Kaine argued in a call with reporters that Trump was making the resolution about his reelection bid.

"That's what he's worried about, not worried about war. He's worried about himself and his reelection. And so he can only look at this important constitutional matter, and there isn't a more important one than war and peace, through the lens of Donald Trump and my own reelection,” Kaine said.

McConnell’s argument: Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE (R-Ky.), speaking from the floor on Thursday, urged the Senate to uphold the president’s veto, calling the war powers resolution “misguided.” 

“Iran has not let popular unrest, a mismanaged economy or even COVID-19 slow their aggressive meddling from Yemen to the Mediterranean. ... We must maintain the measure of deterrence that we restored with the decisive strike on Soleimani. That starts today with upholding the president’s rightful veto of a misguided war powers resolution,” he said.

 

TOP HASC REPUBLICAN TALKS NDAA: The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday he anticipates language in the annual defense policy bill to address President Trump using Pentagon funding to build his border wall.

“We are looking at some of those options. Obviously some of the most extreme ones would not get the support of most Republicans and may well encounter a veto,” Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin Lawmakers torch Trump plan to pull 11,900 troops from Germany Former White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff MORE (R-Texas) told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

“I've been concerned, where Congress passes and the president signs into law funding for a particular purpose, and then the department on its own just moves that around. It's not just about second guessing opinions. There are deeper constitutional issues which are raised.”

“One way to avoid all this stuff is to fund the border wall where it ought to be funded, so that you don't have to go hunting at [the Defense Department] or anywhere else to fund the money. But I think you may see something on this topic in the NDAA,” he added, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act.

A vocal opposition: In February, Thornberry was vocal in his opposition to the Trump administration taking $3.8 billion, mostly from weapons programs, and putting it into a counter-drug fund to pay to build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

A couple other Armed Services Republicans expressed some concern at the time, but have not backed legislation to reverse it.

This year’s $3.8 billion was on top of $6.1 billion the Pentagon shuffled around last year for the border wall.

Last year, House Democrats included in the defense policy spending bills restrictions on the Pentagon transferring money between accounts, but those provisions were taken out of the final products signed into law amid opposition from Republicans.

Thornberry’s reasoning: The Texas representative, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term, argues this year’s move raises constitutional questions that last year’s didn’t about Congress appropriating money for a specific reason the Pentagon then ignores.

He has expressed hope this year’s House NDAA will be more bipartisan than last year’s, which he and other Republicans voted against.

Thornberry acknowledged anything in the bill about the border wall would be “politically sensitive,” but said lawmakers have “got to figure out a way to navigate around” the issue.

“I think we can,” Thornberry added. “I'm still, at this point, pretty optimistic that we can come up with something that both sides will support.”

Pushing back on criticisms: Thornberry also on Thursday defended the Pentagon’s response to the coronavirus pandemic against criticism from “vice presidential wannabes.”

“I think overall, so far, they've done a pretty good job,” he said about the Pentagon’s response to the crisis. “There's always criticism, and some has gotten some attention recently from some vice presidential wannabes. But I think if you look at it objectively, it's been good.”

Thornberry appeared to be referencing a letter nine Senate Democrats sent to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperPentagon sends 3 cargo planes to Lebanon filled with aid as questions on blast remain Overnight Defense: Esper says 'most believe' Beirut explosion was accident, contradicting Trump | Trump later says 'nobody knows yet' what happened in Lebanon | 61-year-old reservist ID'd as fourth military COVID-19 death Trump tempers his description of Beirut explosion as an attack: 'Nobody knows yet' MORE last week expressing “grave concern” about how the Pentagon has handled the coronavirus crisis.

Among the signatories were former Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden VP race is highly fluid days before expected pick Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package MORE (D-Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden VP race is highly fluid days before expected pick Harris, Ocasio-Cortez push climate equity bill with Green New Deal roots Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Calif.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Lobbying world MORE (D-Minn.), who are all considered to be in the running for presumptive presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Biden clarifies comments comparing African American and Latino communities Kanye West may have missed deadline to get on Wisconsin ballot by minutes: report MORE’s vice presidential pick.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Brookings Institution will host a webinar on “Global China: Assessing China's Technological Reach in the World,” with Michael Brown, director of the Defense Department's Defense Innovation Unit; and former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at 11 a.m.  

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Space Force unveils first ad in push to attract recruit

-- The Hill: Pentagon pulling Patriot missile systems from Saudi Arabia

-- The Hill: Three Marines restrain passenger who made threats on international flight

-- The Hill: Trump administration approves $2.3B helicopter deal for Egypt, $556M in vehicles for UAE

-- The Hill: Trump sending ally to Pentagon to vet officials' loyalty: report

-- The Hill: Pentagon official: FCC decision on 5G threatens GPS, national security

-- The Hill: House panel releases long-awaited transcripts from Russia probe

-- The Hill: Democratic senators demand answers on US involvement in foiled Venezuela plot

-- The Hill: Trump administration negotiating with Iran for release of Navy veteran: NYT

-- The Hill: Opinion: Caution: China's nuclear strategy may be 'nuclear thoughtlessness'

-- The Hill: Opinion: Where are the carriers?