Overnight Defense: Senate passes annual defense policy bill that sparked Trump veto threat | Military has considered two waivers for transgender troops since ban

Overnight Defense: Senate passes annual defense policy bill that sparked Trump veto threat | Military has considered two waivers for transgender troops since ban
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Happy Thursday 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 Senate on Thursday passed a mammoth defense policy bill that sparked a veto threat from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE over its inclusion of a plan to rename bases named after Confederate figures.

The Senate voted 86-14 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That’s above the two-thirds majority it would take to override a potential veto, though senators could flip their votes on a potential override. 

The Senate’s vote comes days after the House passed its version of the annual NDAA. The two chambers will now have to reconcile their bills and craft a final deal, but with both versions containing plans to rename the bases it will likely be difficult to keep the issue out of a final agreement. 

What the bill includes: The Senate’s bill includes broad outlines for Pentagon policy initiatives and allocates a total of $740.5 billion, including $636.4 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, $25.9 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy and $69 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a war fund that isn’t subject to budget caps.

The biggest flashpoint: But the language over renaming Confederate-named bases quickly emerged as a flash point after protests over racial injustice put a national focus on lingering tributes to the Confederacy, including statues and military installations.  

The Senate’s bill would form a commission to come up with a plan for renaming the bases. The Defense secretary would then “implement the plan submitted by the commission ... and remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America ... or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defense” within three years of the bill being enacted. 

The language was agreed on in the Senate Armed Services Committee by a voice vote, but it sparked the threat of a veto from Trump. 

GOP tries to temper Trump: "I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth "Pocahontas" Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!" Trump tweeted earlier this month. 

Senate Republicans have urged Trump to back down from his veto threat, arguing that it’s time for the country to rethink who it chooses to memorialize. 

"Well, I would hope the president really wouldn't veto the bill over this issue. ... I hope the president will reconsider vetoing the entire defense bill, which includes pay raises for our troops, over a provision in there that could lead to changing the names," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE (R-Ky.) told Fox News shortly after Trump’s veto threat. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary Democrats eye Dec. 11 exit for House due to COVID-19 A need for reauthorization of the Elder Justice Act MORE (R-Iowa) predicted earlier this month that Republicans would “probably” override a veto of the bill, which would be a first for the Trump administration. 

Other hot button topics: The fight over Confederate-named bases wasn’t the only hot button topic brought up during the Senate’s debate.  

Senators rejected broad limits on what weapons the military could transfer to police departments, an issue that reemerged when videos of police using such equipment in response to protests sparked criticism. 

Instead the Senate agreed to include a more limited ban on the transfer of bayonets, grenades, weaponized tracked combat vehicles and weaponized drones. The amendment, from Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeCongress faces late-year logjam Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill Hillicon Valley: GOP chairman says defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal | Senate panel advances FCC nominee | Krebs says threats to election officials 'undermining democracy' MORE (R-Okla.), also requires law enforcement to be trained in de-escalation and citizens' constitutional rights.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMark Kelly sworn in to Senate seat Bipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE (R-Utah) had offered a bipartisan amendment to restrict Trump’s ability to reduce U.S. military presence in Germany. He voted against ending debate on the Senate bill, but ultimately voted for the bill on final passage, because he didn’t get a vote on his proposal. 

“By all appearance, the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Germany is a very bad idea. First of all, it's a slap in the face at a key ally, a friend, and a great country,” Romney said during a Senate floor speech. 

What didn't get a vote: Democrats had also wanted to use the bill respond to recent protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, including requiring federal law enforcement uniforms to identify an individual and their agency, limit their activities to federal property and the immediate surrounding area unless a governor or mayor requests more assistance and to publicly disclose the number of personnel deployed and what activities they are carrying out.

But that amendment did not get a vote.

“It would be the right thing for us to debate my simple amendment,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats introduce legislation to strike slavery exception in 13th Amendment Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising MORE (D-Ore.) on Thursday. “We should debate it. If people disagree with it they should stand up and explain why. ….You know how rare it is for senators to come down and actually have a dialogue and debate?”  

PENTAGON REPORT: MILITARY HAS CONSIDERED TWO WAIVERS FOR TRANSGENDER TROOPS SINCE BAN: Three transgender U.S. troops have been to subject to processing for involuntary separation and two have been considered for waivers as of February under the Trump administration’s transgender military policy, according to a recent Pentagon report to Congress.

The report also says no waivers have been denied, nor has anyone been discharged as of February.

Lawmakers take notice: The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, prompted a letter from 12 House Democrats to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperBiden plans to keep Wray as FBI director: report ISIS Task Force director resigns from Pentagon post in continued post-election purge The perils of a US troop drawdown to the Afghan army and tribes MORE demanding to know why more waivers were not considered or granted.

“While we continue to make positive steps forward for female, minority, gay and lesbian military service members, we are deeply concerned that the administration’s policies towards transgender service members are highly discriminatory against this class of individuals and remain an effective ban on their ability to serve our country in uniform,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter released Thursday.

The letter was organized by Reps. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names 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 Esper, amid resignation talk, reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases MORE (D-Md.) and Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDemocratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief Pentagon puts on show of force as questions circle on COVID-19 outbreak Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety MORE (D-Calif.) and co-signed by 10 Democratic House colleagues. 

What’s in the report: The report, which was sent to Congress in late June, covers the period from the day the administration’s transgender military policy took effect in April 2019 to Feb. 17 and is already out of date in at least one respect. The report says no waivers have been granted, but the Navy in May announced it granted a waiver to a transgender officer, the military’s first since the policy was put in place.

It is unclear whether any of the other data is out of date. A Pentagon spokeswoman told The Hill on Thursday new data was not readily available.

In their letter, the Democrats asked for updated data by Aug. 15 that goes through the end of July.

Background: Before the Pentagon's current transgender policy took effect, transgender troops had been allowed to serve openly since June 2016 when the Obama administration lifted the previous ban on their service.

Under the Trump administration policy, transgender service members can only continue serving if they do so in their biological sex unless they are granted a waiver. The policy also allows those who came out under the Obama administration policy to continue serving openly.

Because of the exceptions, the Pentagon argues the policy is not a ban on transgender service.

The Dems' argument: But in their letter, the Democrats argued the data shows that “it is clear the administration’s policy towards transgender service members is effectively a ban.”

According to the report, 197 service members have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria since the Trump administration’s policy took effect: 86 in the Army, 59 in the Navy, 13 in the Marines and 39 in the Air Force.

A diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the clinical term for emotional distress caused by a conflict between gender identity and sex assigned at birth, could result in “the initiation of administrative separation” if a service member is “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex,” according to the policy.

Of the service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria, 12 have been referred to the Pentagon’s Disability Evaluation System, which determines whether a service member will return to duty, be discharged for medical reasons or retire, according to the report. Eleven are in the Army and one is in the Navy.

More report details: The three who have been subject to processing for administrative separation include one Army soldier and two Navy sailors, according to the report. The two who were considered for a waiver are both in the Navy.

In addition to currently serving troops, the report also looks at recruits. According to the report, 19 people were medically disqualified from enlisting or commissioning as an officer based on the administration’s transgender policy: 11 in the Army, seven in the Navy and one in the Air Force.

Of those 19, none were considered for a waiver and none ended up enlisting or commissioning, according to the report.

What the Dems ask for: In their letter, the Democrats asked for answers by Aug. 15 on why more waivers were not considered for recruits and current service members, as well as why waivers were not granted for those currently serving.

“The military must be open to all who meet a common set of requirements and wish to serve their country,” the lawmakers wrote. “We must treat all service members with respect and gratitude for their selfless sacrifice. Since the administration’s imposition of these policies, thousands of transgender service members have been treated as second class citizens and discriminated against by the very nation they fight to protect. This is unacceptable and we ask you to take immediate action to remedy this situation.”


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