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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 McCarthyArmy secretary responds to news reports on sexual assault allegations in military: 'we must do better' OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases | Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says | Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing 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: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition Brennan takes final shot at Trump: 'I leave his fate to our judicial system, his infamy to history, & his legacy to a trash heap' 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 SmithThe pandemic and a 'rainy day fund' for American charity House Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races US national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration MORE (D-Wash.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweySpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight GSA offers to brief Congress next week on presidential transition Biden aide: First Cabinet picks will be announced Tuesday, GSA holdup preventing background checks MORE (D-N.Y.), along with Reps. Jim CooperJim CooperSpokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome House Democrat to DeJoy: 'Is your backup plan to be pardoned like Roger Stone?' House Democrats call on State Department for information on Uighur prisoner Ekpar Asat MORE (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces; Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturDeLauro racks up labor endorsements for Appropriations gavel Ukraine language in GOP platform underscores Trump tensions Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending 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 TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE, Esper and Brouillette from Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Britain to infect healthy individuals with coronavirus for vaccine trials Pelosi, Mnuchin continue COVID-19 talks amid dwindling odds for deal 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 TitusCoordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Safe, responsible casino gaming supports state economies at crucial time MORE and Steven HorsfordSteven Alexander HorsfordNevada Democrat Steven Horsford wins reelection The robbing of a wildlife refuge in Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford wins Democratic House primary in Nevada 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 MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally 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