Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader

Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader
© Greg Nash

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: Amid nationwide protests over racial injustices, the Army is taking another look at its bases that are named after Confederate military officers. 

An Army spokesperson said Monday that Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyMaryland GOP governor: Fauci has 'never let me' down Trump mocks push to rename Fort Bragg: 'We're going to name it after the Rev. Al Sharpton?' Pentagon mulling plan to ban Confederate flag without mentioning it by name: report MORE is open to renaming bases that are named after Confederate leaders, a reversal from as recently as February.

“The secretary of the Army is open to a bipartisan discussion on the topic,” the spokesperson said.

There are 10 Army bases around the country named for Confederate heroes: Fort Lee, Fort Hood, Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, Fort Bragg, Fort Polk, Fort Pickett, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Rucker and Camp Beuregard.

Background: In February, the service told Task and Purpose it had no plans to change the name of any base, including those named after Confederate military officers.

The Army has previously argued the bases were named in the “spirit of reconciliation.”

But the service has been under increasing pressure to rename the bases, with advocates for doing so arguing it is not appropriate to honor those who betrayed the country and fought to preserve slavery. A New York Times editorial last month said the bases “celebrate white supremacist traitors.”

In the Marines: The Army’s announcement also comes after the Marine Corps officially banned the display of the Confederate battle flag. On Friday, the Marine Corps issued guidance on removing public displays of the flag, including on clothing, mugs, posters and bumper stickers.

"The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremists and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps," the Marines said Friday. "This presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline. This must be addressed."

The guidance followed Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s announcement in February he would ban the display of all Confederate-related symbols.

TOP DEMS DEMAND ANSWERS ON POSSIBLE NUKE TESTING: A group of top House Democrats is demanding answers from the Trump administration on reported conversations within the administration on whether to resume nuclear testing.

“It is unfathomable that the administration is considering something so short-sighted and dangerous, and that directly contradicts its own 2018 Nuclear Posture Review,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter Monday to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Esper confirms plans to drop below 5,000 troops in Afghanistan | State Department says it's cleared of wrongdoing in emergency arms sales before investigation's release 400 'hard-core' Taliban prisoners to be released ahead of Afghan peace talks Esper says officials still don't know source of Beirut blast MORE.

The posture review, the lawmakers wrote, “which this administration often cites as inviolable, makes clear that ‘the United States will not resume nuclear explosive testing unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.’”

The letter was signed by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump pushed to restore full National Guard funding | Watchdog faults Pompeo on civilian risk of Saudi arms sales Lawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to 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 MORE (D-Wash.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyGovernors air frustrations with Trump on unemployment plans It's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Helping our seniors before it's too late MORE (D-N.Y.), along with Reps. Jim CooperJim CooperTennessee Rep. Jim Cooper wins primary  Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader Top Democrats demand answers on Trump administration's 'unfathomable' consideration of nuclear testing MORE (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces; Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturEye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader Top Democrats demand answers on Trump administration's 'unfathomable' consideration of nuclear testing MORE (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water; and Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

The Pentagon declined to comment, with spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver saying that "as with all congressional correspondence, we will respond directly to the author(s) of the letter.”

A Department of Energy official said the department received the letter and "will respond to the members through the appropriate channels."

Background: The Washington Post reported last month that the idea of conducting the United States’s first nuclear test in decades was raised at a May 15 meeting of senior officials. An official told the Post a test could be useful to gain leverage over Russia and China as the administration seeks a new trilateral nuclear agreement.

One official told the Post the idea for a test is “very much an ongoing conversation,” while another official said a decision was made to avoid resuming testing.

The United States has not conducted an explosive nuclear test since 1992, checking the efficacy and reliability of its weapons with subcritical tests that produce no nuclear yield, computer simulations and other scientific methods.

Other congressional activity: A separate letter Monday to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE, Esper and Brouillette from Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer | Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee | Border wall water use threatens endangered species, environmentalists say Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer Trump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterFormer Obama Ebola czar Ron Klain says White House's bad decisions have put US behind many other nations on COVID-19; Fears of virus reemergence intensify Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader Top Democrats demand answers on Trump administration's 'unfathomable' consideration of nuclear testing MORE (D-Ill.), co-signed by 80 other House and Senate Democrats, similarly warned that “taking this unnecessary and provocative step would be an abdication of America’s scientific leadership and would weaken our ability to make the world a safer place to live.”

Also Monday, Democratic Reps. Dina TitusAlice (Dina) Costandina TitusOvernight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader Top Democrats demand answers on Trump administration's 'unfathomable' consideration of nuclear testing Federal employees push for COVID-19 protections in 'dangerous' workplaces MORE and Steven HorsfordSteven Alexander HorsfordThe robbing of a wildlife refuge in Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford wins Democratic House primary in Nevada Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader MORE, both representing Nevada, introduced a bill that seeks to prevent a resumption in nuclear testing. The legislation is a companion bill to one introduced in the upper chamber last week by Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySens. Markey, Cruz clash over coronavirus relief: 'It's not a goddamn joke Ted' Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Mass.).

PENTAGON CONFIRMS DEATH OF NORTH AFRICAN AL QAEDA LEADER: French troops last week killed a top al Qaeda leader in northern Mali, the Pentagon confirmed Monday

French officials announced on Friday that two days earlier forces killed Abdelmalek Droukdal, the head of the extremist group's affiliates in North Africa and the Sahel.

Droukdal was involved in all aspects of al Qaeda in the region, including financing, planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, according to a U.S. Africa Command statement. 

“Droukdal was the engineer behind expanding [the group's] ideology throughout the Sahel and Maghreb, and more recently into western Africa, where al-Qa’ida aligned elements have conducted attacks and kidnappings from Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire,” Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, Africom's director of intelligence, said in the statement. 

“He was responsible for numerous attacks and the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians.”

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Senate Armed Services Committee subpanels will mark up their portions of the National Defense Authorization Act throughout the day:

-- The emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee will hold a closed-door markup at 9:30 a.m.

-- The airland subcommittee will hold a closed-door markup at 11 a.m.

-- The personnel subcommittee will hold a public markup at 2 p.m.

-- The seapower subcommittee will hold a closed-door markup at 3:30 p.m.

-- The cybersecurity subcommittee will hold a closed-door markup at 5:30 p.m.

https://bit.ly/2Uk931K

Brian Hook, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Iran, will speak at a webinar hosted by the Heritage Foundation at 10:30 a.m. https://herit.ag/2YflWeD

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host an online event, “The Role of the Military During Times of Civil Discord,” featuring former Defense Secretary William Cohen, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman retired Adm. Mike Mullen at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/3cJi3nz

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Defense bill turns into proxy battle over Floyd protests

-- The Hill: Voices grow in condemnation of Trump's military response to protests

-- The Hill: Reported US troop drawdown could hurt NATO security, German official says

-- The Hill: Opinion: Why are we pulling additional forces out of Germany?

-- The Hill: Opinion: We must constrain Iran's access to weapons — especially as it steps up cyberattacks

-- Stars and Stripes: More than 40 states, countries now meet criteria to lift travel restrictions for service members and families

-- Reuters: Exclusive: U.S. Navy test shows 60 percent of carrier crew have coronavirus antibodies

-- Bloomberg: U.S. and Russia to meet June 22 on curbing nuclear stockpiles