Overnight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze

Overnight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze
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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: The United States is formally rejecting China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Israeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report MORE announced the shift in U.S. policy Monday in a move likely to draw intense backlash from Beijing and further strain its relations with Washington.

“Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Specifically, Pompeo said the United States is formally aligning itself with the 2016 decision by an international tribunal that rejected Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea as having no basis in international law.

That puts the United States on the side of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in their territorial claims against China.

Background: China claims more than 80 percent of 1.4 million square miles in a key area of maritime trade and untapped resources of oil and gas despite international pushback. The maritime territory has seen decades of low-level disputes between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbors over claims to an archipelago and a buildup of manmade islands.

While the U.S. Navy has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea challenging Beijing’s maritimes claim, U.S. policy previously was officially to not take a side between China and its neighborhoods.

The change in policy on the South China Sea comes at one of the lowest points of relations between the U.S. and China, over the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic and concerns ranging from human rights to cybersecurity.

Naval competition: The announcement also comes about a week after the U.S. Navy conducted an exercise with two aircraft carriers in the South China Sea for the first time since 2014.

The exercise was criticized by China, which conducted its own dueling naval drills at the same time. The Pentagon criticized Beijing's exercise as destabilizing.

ENERGY SPENDING BILL ADVANCES: The House Appropriations Committee approves its fiscal year 2021 spending bill for the Energy Department in a party-line, 30-21 vote.

The bill is relevant to defense since it funds the National Nuclear Security Administration.

And of particular note this year, as we’ve reported, the bill would prohibit funding from being used to carry out an explosive nuclear test. The provision was included after reports the Trump administration was considering conducting the United States’ first nuclear test in decades as a negotiating tactic against Russia and China.

Defense on tap: A similar ban on funding for a nuclear test is in the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2021 defense spending bill.

The committee is slated to take up the defense bill Tuesday. As a reminder, the bill has several provisions aiming to limit 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’s use of Pentagon funds on the border wall, as well as funding to facilitate the Army renaming bases with Confederate names.

Ahead of Tuesday’s markup, the panel officially released Monday its report to accompany the bill, which can be read here.

MEANWHILE, ON THE NDAA: The House is also gearing up to consider the defense policy bill next week.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Hoyer on Trump election challenges: 'I think this borders on treason' Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview MORE (D-Md.) announced Monday the House is scheduled to consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on July 20 and 21.

Amendments were due Monday for the NDAA, though several amendments typically are filed late.

As of Monday afternoon, 480 amendments have been filed in hopes of being considered when the House takes up the NDAA. Typically, just a fraction of amendments are given a vote.

Of note so far, there are a few amendments that seek to address the allegations that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops. An amendment from Reps. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyWhy it's time for a majority female Cabinet Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Bank lobbying group launches ad backing Collins reelection bid MORE (D-Fla.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Bustos tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-S.C.), would require a briefing for congressional leadership and the intelligence and defense committees within 14 days after the DNI determines with “high or moderate confidence” that a foreign government is targeting U.S. troops.

Another amendment from Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinBickering Democrats return with divisions Questions swirl at Pentagon after wave of departures Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Mich.) would require a report on threats to U.S. forces from Russia and proxy forces, while another amendment from Rep. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeLawmakers call for small business aid at all levels of government The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Top tech executives testify in blockbuster antitrust hearing MORE (D-N.Y.) would require the Pentagon notify Congress within seven days after becoming aware of a bounty on U.S. troops. Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksHispanic Caucus endorses Castro for Foreign Affairs gavel Dozens of progressive groups endorse Joaquin Castro for Foreign Affairs chair Castro pledges to term limit himself if elected Foreign Affairs chair MORE (D-N.Y.) would prohibit funding from supporting Russia’s participation in the Group of Seven until Congress receives a report on Russia’s support to the Taliban, as well as determinations that Russia has stopped interfering in Western elections and has ended its occupation of Crimea.

There are also several amendments responding to Trump withdrawing from or threatening to withdraw from treaties and alliances, including one from Rep. Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaAmericans want to serve — it's up to us to give them the chance On The Money: McConnell previews GOP coronavirus bill | Senate panel advances Trump Fed nominee who recently supported gold standard | Economists warn about scaled-back unemployment benefits Bipartisan bill introduced to provide tax credit to food and beverage distributors MORE (D-Calif.) that would prevent withdrawal from treaties without congressional approval. Panetta is also the lead sponsor of an amendment that has bipartisan support that would prohibit the use of funds to withdraw from NATO.

An amendment from Reps. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTrump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin Dozens of progressive groups endorse Joaquin Castro for Foreign Affairs chair Castro pledges to term limit himself if elected Foreign Affairs chair MORE (D-N.Y.), Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Trump pardons Michael Flynn MORE (D-Calif.) and Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinCyberattack forces shutdown of Baltimore County schools for the day Pressure grows to reinstall White House cyber czar Hillicon Valley: Biden expected to take hard line on foreign interference | EU files antitrust charges against Amazon | Facebook takes down Bannon-linked network MORE (D-R.I.) would back the New START treaty and provide a path to continue the treaty’s inspections and verifications in Trump does allow it to expire.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan amendment seeks to limit any more expansion of the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), which has been cited as legal justification for a host of military operations. The amendment, of which Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerDivided citizenry and government — a call to action for common ground House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally Bickering Democrats return with divisions MORE (D-Va.) is the lead sponsor, would limit the 2001 AUMF to operations for which it is currently used.

There are also a slew of amendments related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Take a look at all 480 amendments here.

NAVY BATTLES WARSHIP FIRE: Firefighters were continuing Monday to battle a blaze aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship that’s docked in San Diego.

The fire, the cause of which officials say is unknown, started Sunday. The ship was ongoing extensive maintenance at the time the fire started.

On Monday morning, the Navy upped the number of injuries to 57, including 34 sailors and 23 civilians. The Navy says the injuries were minor and included heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. Five people in stable condition were still in the hospital for observation as of Monday morning.


The House Appropriations Committee will consider several fiscal year 2021 spending bills, including the defense spending bill, at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2OmkwKS

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing “The Importance of Transatlantic Cooperation During the COVID-19 Pandemic” at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/2AZ2s6w


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