Overnight Defense: Panel approves $694.6B bill addressing border wall funds, Confederate name changes | Navy ship fire rages on

Overnight Defense: Panel approves $694.6B bill addressing border wall funds, Confederate name changes | Navy ship fire rages on
© Greg Nash

Happy Tuesday 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: A House committee has approved a $694.6 billion defense spending bill that includes money for the Army to change Confederate base names and that seeks to block 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 for his border wall.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced its fiscal year 2021 defense spending bill in a party-line vote of 30-22 on Tuesday.

What’s in the bill: The Pentagon spending bill would cover $626.2 billion in base budget funding and $68.4 billion in a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

The money would go toward a 3 percent pay raise for troops, 91 F-35 fighter jets, nine new Navy ships and $758 million to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on subcontractors in the defense industrial base, among other big-ticket items.

The wall issue: The Republicans, who say the bill includes much they support that would protect the United States, took issue with several provisions aimed at stopping Trump from using Pentagon funding for the border wall.

“While this is a very strong bill, there are numerous provisions, like the prohibition on funding for the southwest border wall construction and limitations on DoD’s general and special transfer authorities, that will draw a veto threat from the administration,” said Rep. Ken CalvertKenneth (Ken) Stanton CalvertMORE (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel.

The bill would broadly prohibit the use of Pentagon funding for a barrier on the southern border, as well as cap the amount of money the Pentagon can transfer between accounts at $1.9 billion.

It would also require the Pentagon to put back into its original accounts money it shuffled around for the wall earlier this year.

Dems’ stance: Democrats argued the provisions are necessary after the Pentagon eroded Congress’ trust by transferring money for wall construction without congressional approval.

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said the Pentagon’s actions have “irreparably harmed the department’s credibility with the committee.”

“The sense of entitlement in these actions is galling, and I hope that at some point the department will have the leadership in place who recognize Congress’ constitutional prerogative and restore trust to the appropriations process,” Visclosky added.

A failed amendment: An amendment offered Tuesday by Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisHillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it House rebuffs GOP lawmaker's effort to remove references to Democrats in Capitol MORE (R-Md.) to take out the prohibition on border wall funding, as well as a ban on troop deployments to the border unless another government agency reimburses the Pentagon, failed 21-31. Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHouse Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members Democrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities MORE (Texas), who is retiring after his current term, was the only Republican “no” vote.

Bill funds Confederate base name change: Also in this year’s defense spending bill is $1 million set aside in the Army’s operations and maintenance account to pay to change the names of bases and other property with Confederate monikers.

The Army has 10 bases named after Confederate military officers. The issue of renaming them has emerged as a battle between Congress and Trump after the president publicly rebuked the Army for considering doing so and threatened to veto the defense policy bill if it includes a renaming requirement.

And moves to repeal war authorizations: At Tuesday’s markup, the Appropriations Committee also approved two amendments from Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Top contender for Biden Defense chief would be historic pick Overnight Defense: 5 US service members killed in international peacekeeping helicopter crash in Egypt | Progressives warn Biden against Defense nominee with contractor ties | Trump executive order to ban investment in Chinese military-linked companies MORE (D-Calif.) to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF). The panel also approved an amendment from Lee to block funding for military action against Iran.

Democrats have repeatedly pushed all three measures in recent months as tensions with Iran teetered on the brink of war while the Trump administration executes its so-called maximum pressure campaign against Tehran.

The committee has approved Lee’s repeal of the 2001 AUMF for the past couple years, but the amendment has not survived negotiations to make it into final spending bills signed into law.


NAVY WARSHIP FIRE RAGES ON: The fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego has been contained to two parts of the Navy vessel, with the possibility that it could be put out in the next 24 hours, a top service official said Tuesday.

Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck said hundreds of sailors have been combating the blaze from both inside and outside the amphibious assault ship, with helicopters dropping more than 1,200 buckets of water and tugboats helping from the waterline.

The efforts have cooled the ship enough to allow crews to get onboard and internally fight the fire.

“We have investigated the four main engineering spaces and found no major damage. There is no threat to the fuel tanks, which is well-below any active fires or heat sources. The ship is stable and the structure is safe,” Sobeck said.

Details on the blaze: A fire first broke out on the USS Bonhomme Richard on Sunday morning in a lower cargo area, where cardboard and drywall supplies were kept. The ship was undergoing maintenance at the shipyard when the blaze began.

The fire suppression system aboard the vessel was inoperable at the time due to the maintenance work, Sobeck said Monday.

As a result of the fire, 61 personnel, including 38 sailors and 23 civilians, have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. No personnel were hospitalized as of Tuesday.

The Navy does not yet know how the fire started, and an investigation is underway.

Coming to an end?: Asked if the flames could be put out within 24 hours Sobeck said, “It’s absolutely possible. . . . we’re very hopeful.”

He also said that there is now additional space - more than two decks worth - between the fire and the million gallons of fuel on board due to the work of overnight crews.



Navy Vice Adm. Nancy Norton, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Force Headquarters Department of Defense Information Network, will deliver keynote remarks to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association virtual Army Signal Conference at 9 a.m. 


The Heritage Foundation will hold a virtual event on “How to Make the Pentagon Work Better and Cost Less,” with Peter Levine, senior research fellow at the Institute for Defense Analyses and former undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, at 10:30 a.m. 


The Hill will host a webinar on “New Threats, New Defense: The Future of National Security,” with speakers including 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 and 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.), beginning at 11 a.m. 


Booz Allen Hamilton will host a panel of experts from the company, including veterans, for a webinar on “Achieving Overmatch in the Digital Battlespace,” at 12:00 p.m.  


The Air Force Association will host a conversation with Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, commander, 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber). 



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