Overnight Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb

Overnight Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb
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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: The House approved its annual defense policy bill in a 295-125 vote on Tuesday, taking a step toward a confrontation with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE over stripping Confederate names from military bases.

The White House earlier in the day issued a formal veto threat over the legislation in part because it includes a provision that would direct the Pentagon to rename military bases currently named after Confederate leaders.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a statement hours before the House vote expressing “serious concerns” about multiple provisions of the bill. The White House said that if the bill were presented to President Trump in its current form, “his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it.” 

“The Administration strongly objects to section 2829, which would require renaming of certain military institutions,” the statement reads. “It also has serious concerns about provisions of the bill that seek to micromanage aspects of the executive branch’s authority, impose highly prescriptive limitations on the use of funds for Afghanistan, and otherwise constrain the President’s authority to protect national security interests.”

The White House said that many of the provisions “would pose significant challenges” to the administration’s implementation of its national defense strategy.

An expected stance: Trump has previously expressed opposition to the renaming of bases named after Confederate leaders — a position that put him at odds with Pentagon leaders — and has also defended flying the Confederate flag as “freedom of speech.” Trump has described the bases named for Confederate leaders as a part of American history.

The president threatened to veto the bill, formally known as the National Defense Authorization Act, in a tweet earlier this month. In an interview with Fox News over the weekend, Trump appeared to soften his position, saying that he “might” veto the bill.

“President Trump has been clear in his opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to rewrite history and to displace the enduring legacy of the American Revolution with a new left-wing cultural revolution,” the OMB statement reads.

The latest statement: The statement released Tuesday describes the provision as “part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do not meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct,” pointing to ongoing efforts to rename or topple federal monuments and memorials.

The details: There are 10 Army bases around the United States, all of which are located in Southern states, named for Confederate military officers: Fort Lee, Fort Hood, Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, Fort Bragg, Fort Polk, Fort Pickett, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Rucker and Camp Beauregard.

The White House took issue with several other provisions of the legislation, including one that would constrain Trump’s ability to withdraw American troops from Germany and another that would limit Trump’s efforts to scale back the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

The $740.5 billion House bill was approved unanimously by the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month. The veto threat came shortly before the full House was slated to vote on the bill Tuesday evening.

 

ESPER CONCERNED ABOUT OFFICERS WEARING MILITARY GARB: 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 has expressed concern within the administration about federal law enforcement officers wearing military-style uniforms while responding to protests.

Esper has not directly raised his concerns with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but he has expressed concerns within the administration, Esper’s spokesman said Tuesday.

“We saw this take place back in June when there were some law enforcement that wear uniforms that make them appear military in appearance," chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at a Pentagon briefing.

"The secretary has expressed a concern of this within the administration that we want a system where people can tell the difference,” he said. “I’m not aware of any direct conversations with DHS on this particular deployment or their particular operations in Portland over the last week or so.”

No Pentagon assets to Portland: Hoffman also stressed “unequivocally” that no Pentagon assets have been or are planning to be deployed to Portland, which has seen continued demonstrations.

Context: The comments come as top Democrats are demanding answers after reports of federal law enforcement officers wearing military-style fatigues while apprehending protesters in Portland without identifying themselves. Some protesters have been held for hours without being charged or read their Miranda rights.

Trump has doubled down by threatening to deploy federal agents to other U.S. cities, such as Chicago.

Lawmakers push back: Several top House Democrats have asked inspectors general to investigate whether federal officers have violated the constitutional rights of protesters.

A trio of top Democrats, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight 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 The Hill's Coronavirus Report: iBIO Chairman and CEO Thomas Isett says developing a safe vaccine is paramount; US surpasses 150,000 coronavirus deaths with roughy one death per minute Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin MORE (Wash.), on Monday also expressed concern that by wearing military-style uniforms, the law enforcement agents “sully the reputation of members of our Armed Forces who were not involved.”

Earlier: Similar concerns were raised in June during the height of nationwide protests against racial injustice, particularly after federal law enforcement agents forcibly cleared protesters from Lafayette Square across the White House.

After the June protests, Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told the House Armed Services Committee in July they have learned of the need to better differentiate between law enforcement and the military. Milley specifically raised the issue of uniforms.

“Our guys are wearing, you know, camouflage uniforms; some of these police are in blue uniforms, others in camouflage, others are in solid green,” Milley said in early July. “You want a clear definition between that which is military and that which is police, in my view.”

 

SENATE REJECTS BROAD RESTRICTIONS ON TRANSFERS OF MILITARY-GRADE EQUIPMENT TO POLICE: The Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposal to place broad restrictions on the transfer of military-grade equipment to local police departments.

Senators voted 51-49 on an amendment, spearheaded by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), to a mammoth defense bill, falling short of the 60 votes needed.

GOP Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Rand Paul (Ky.) supported the amendment.

What the amendment would have done: Schatz’s proposals included broad limits on what can’t be transferred, including tracked combat vehicles, weaponized drones, bayonets, grenade launchers and certain gases including tear gas. Schatz's amendment would not have prohibited the transfer of defensive equipment.

“Our amendment will permanently prohibit the transfer of lethal military weapons to police departments,” Schatz said ahead of the vote.

“Our communities are not battlefields. The American people are not enemy combatants,” he added.

A renewed scrutiny: The transfer of military-style equipment to local police departments has been in the spotlight amid scrutiny over the police response to recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd while detained by police in Minneapolis.

Former President Obama curtailed the program in 2015 after local police suppressed protests in Ferguson, Mo., using military-grade equipment. But the Trump administration rescinded the restrictions in 2017.

What the Senate did instead: Instead the Senate approved a narrower amendment from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, that only limits the transfer of bayonets, grenades, weaponized tracked combat vehicles and weaponized drones. Inhofe's amendment also requires law enforcement to be trained in de-escalation and citizens' constitutional rights.

Inhofe's amendment was added to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a 90-10 vote.

Inhofe, speaking before the vote, said he was against Schatz's amendment and argued that the program, known as 1033, is needed given the ongoing protests and riots.

"We need to be continuing this transparent, responsive program," he said. "People are trying to play down law enforcement, trying to break the law, trying to say it's acceptable. This has never happened before in America, but that's what we're seeing right now." 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The House Committee on Oversight and reform will hold a hearing on the “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Ensuring Safety and Accountability in the Government’s Trillion Dollar Investment” at 10 a.m.

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: House Democrats add some 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking major amendment

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– The Hill: Feds charge visiting Stanford researcher with lying about ties to China's military

– The Hill: DHS expands authority of personnel to collect information on people threatening monuments: report

– Defense News: In memos to force, Esper issues directions on operational security

– Stars and Stripes: Lawmakers, advocates urge change after the killing of Spc. Vanessa Guillen