Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: National Guard chief negative in third coronavirus test | Pentagon IG probing Navy’s coronavirus response | Democrats blast use of Russia deterrence funds on border wall


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: Coronavirus scares hit the upper echelons of the military over the weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, National Guard chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel tested positive for the virus — but in a second test later on Saturday, he tested negative.

On Monday, Lengyel took a third test to confirm his status, and tested negative.

“Thank you to all who have expressed concern for my health and safety,” Lengyel said in a statement. “I am happy to continue to focus on the efforts of the 46,000 Guardsmen and women who are battling this pandemic in the 50 states, three territories and District of Columbia.”

Meanwhile, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday is self-quarantining after coming into contact with a family member who tested positive. Gilday tested negative Friday, but is quarantining as a precaution.

Not just the military: Lengyel and Gilday’s close calls came amid new cases at the White House and Senate.

Last week, a military member who serves as one of President Trump’s personal valets and Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, both tested positive for the virus.

Following those cases, White House officials working in the West Wing are being asked to wear masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to a memo distributed to staffers on Monday.

Officials in the building are being asked to wear face coverings when they’re not at their desks or able to maintain social distancing from others, a White House official confirmed to The Hill.

The memo, which was obtained by The Hill, also urges staffers to “avoid unnecessary visits” to the White House.

In the Senate, the office of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Sunday he will self-quarantine after a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus.

David Cleary, Alexander’s chief of staff, said the GOP senator had no symptoms and had tested negative for the coronavirus on Thursday. The staff member, according to Cleary, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday.

In other coronavirus news…

Pentagon watchdog probing Navy response: The Pentagon’s inspector general will evaluate the Navy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic onboard its ships, according to a memo released Monday.

“The objective of this evaluation is to determine whether the Navy has implemented policies and procedures to prevent and mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, such as coronavirus-disease-2019 (COVID-19), on ships and submarine,” said the memo from Randolph Stone, assistant inspector general for evaluations of space, intelligence, engineering and oversight.

“In addition, we will determine whether mitigation measures that are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 were implemented across the fleet,” the memo added.

The evaluation, which will start this month, will be conducted at “relevant offices” in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet. Meetings and discussions will be done by video and teleconference “due to the current health protection condition level,” the memo said.

The Navy has come under fire for its handling of the pandemic after an outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

Monday’s numbers: More than 8,000 people connected with the Pentagon have been diagnosed with the coronavirus as of Monday, the Pentagon said.

The 8,046 cases include 5,316 cases in the military. Of the military cases, 118 have been hospitalized and 2,218 have recovered.

The Pentagon’s death toll continues to stay put at 27.

Questions on recruiting policy: House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) is calling on the Pentagon to reverse recent guidelines that prohibit the enlistment of coronavirus survivors who were previously hospitalized.

In a letter Monday to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Biggs argued banning coronavirus survivors from serving could have negative repercussions in the long run. He noted the guidelines have already been changed once, with the initial guidelines restricting anyone who tested positive from enlisting, not just those who were hospitalized.

“As the various states begin to free their economies from draconian coronavirus restrictions, it is critical for the Department of Defense to immediately halt implementation of any related bureaucratic actions that threaten the honor to serve in the U.S. military,” he wrote.

“If an individual can pass the Military Entrance Processing Station screening process — despite a hospitalization for coronavirus — they should be allowed to serve,” he added.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) also wrote a letter to Esper on Monday expressing concern about the guidance.

“Given existing uncertainty over COVID-19 infections, it may be prudent for [United States Military Entrance Processing Command] to be cautious until we better understand the long-term implications of COVID-19 infections,” she wrote.

“However, DoD must not allow inertia to make permanent blunt, far-reaching policies that were quickly produced in the midst of a deadly global pandemic,” she added. “Accordingly, I am requesting that DoD consult with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to begin developing long-term standards informed by emerging knowledge of COVID-19, while expediting the establishment of an effective, science-based waiver policy and process to efficiently evaluate individuals classified as permanently disqualified due to a COVID-19 hospitalization.”

MEANWHILE … ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL: More than 50 liberal groups signed a letter to former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday asking him support measures aimed at “prioritizing diplomacy” over the “militarism” they say has been a feature of U.S. foreign policy in both parties.

The letter was organized by the group Demand Progress, and was signed by dozens of liberal super PACs, think tanks and outside groups, including MoveOn.org, Our Revolution, Greenpeace and the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

During the 2020 primary, Biden was dogged by criticism from the left over his vote to authorize military action in Iraq. He has said it was a mistake to trust former President George W. Bush in the run-up to the war.

The liberal groups are now asking Biden to support 10 key measures they say will usher in a new progressive vision for U.S. foreign policy, including the repeal of the authorization for use military force that gave presidents new war powers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The groups are also asking Biden to reduce the Pentagon budget by $200 billion annually, and to commit to opposing an approach that prioritizes “regime change interventions and broad-based sanctions.”

DEMS CRY FOUL ON LATEST WALL FUNDING MOVE: Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are calling on the Trump administration to “immediately” stop funding Trump’s border wall with money meant to deter Russian aggression in Europe.

“This is a blatant misuse of appropriated funds intended to bolster security and support for our European allies,” the lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Esper in a letter released Monday. “We urge you to respect Congress’ authority and immediately cease the use of these critical funds to prop up President Trump’s failed border wall initiative.”

The letter was organized by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.), chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on Europe, and was co-signed by 17 Democratic committee members.

Late last month, the Pentagon notified Congress it was shuffling around about $545.5 million to fund 22 stateside projects that had been delayed because money was reallocated to Trump’s wall on the southern border.

Instead of the U.S. projects, wall money will now come from 19 mostly overseas military construction projects, according to a memo. Ten of those projects are listed as being part of the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), a fund created in 2014 to reassure U.S. allies shaken by a resurgent Russia.


The Hudson Institute will host a video event on “Maximum Pressure on the Assad Regime for its Chemical Weapons Use and Other Atrocities” featuring special envoy James Jeffrey and Thomas DiNanno, an assistant secretary of State, at noon. https://bit.ly/2yPkcjv

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) will discuss the congressional response to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the pandemic’s effects on defense and foreign policy, during an online event with Meridian International Center at 3:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/2Wlrpkg


— The Hill: Iranian warship hit during military exercise, 19 killed

— The Hill: Senate revives surveillance brawl

— The Hill: WHO says it cannot invite Taiwan to upcoming global health meeting

— New York Times: This Afghan general fought the Taliban for years. Now he has joined them

— Task and Purpose: A Few Bad Men: How the Marine Corps fails to punish senior officer misconduct, time and again

— Bloomberg: Ex-Trump security aide who left in controversy rejoins Pentagon

Tags Bill Keating Donald Trump Eliot Engel Joe Biden Lamar Alexander Mark Esper Mike Pompeo Tammy Duckworth Tim Kaine

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video