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Overnight Defense: GOP senator targets Confederate base rename | Trump OKs sale of more large armed drones

Overnight Defense: GOP senator targets Confederate base rename | Trump OKs sale of more large armed drones
© Greg Nash

Happy Friday 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: President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE said Friday a key Republican senator has committed to ensuring a requirement to rename Confederate-named military bases is stripped from the annual defense policy bill, even though the fate of that provision is now in the hands of bipartisan negotiators.

“I spoke to highly respected (Chairman) Senator @JimInhofe, who has informed me that he WILL NOT be changing the names of our great Military Bases and Forts, places from which we won two World Wars (and more!),” Trump tweeted, referring to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

“Like me, Jim is not a believer in ‘Cancel Culture,’ ” Trump added.

Inhofe’s position: Asked for more information about the conversation, a spokeswoman for Inhofe told The Hill in an email that the “tweet speaks for itself!” The spokeswoman did not return a follow-up request for clarity on what Inhofe said to Trump.

In an interview with his home state newspaper published Friday, Inhofe vowed to remove the provision.

“We’re going to see to it that provision doesn’t survive the bill,” Inhofe told the Oklahoman. “I’m not going to say how at this point.”

Provisions in both bills: Both the House and Senate this week passed versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require the Pentagon to rename bases and other property that are named after Confederate leaders. The Senate bill would require changes in three years, while the House bill would force changes in one year.

The House and Senate now must form a conference committee to work out differences between the two versions of the bill. Because both versions include a requirement to rename bases, it is seen as highly unlikely to be taken out of the bill.

Trump’s threat: Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA if the final version that reaches his desk requires name changes, with the White House saying in a statement this week the provision is “part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do not meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct.”

A change of heart?: Both bills passed their respective chambers with the more than two-thirds approval needed to override a presidential veto, though it’s possible Republicans could change their votes to uphold a veto.

But the requirement had bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, and Democrats are unlikely to back down.

Short on details: Asked how Inhofe assured Trump he would able to remove the language when the NDAA passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she would "leave that" to the senator to work out.

“I’ll leave that to Sen. Inhofe as to how that works legislatively speaking, but the president was assured by Sen. Inhofe that that would be changing and the Republicans stood with the president on this," McEnany said. 

As Armed Services Committee chairman, Inhofe will be a key negotiator in the final version of the bill. He has previously expressed opposition to renaming bases and indicated he would work to water down the language in the conference negotiations.

 

TRUMP BYPASSES ARMS CONTROL PACT TO SELL MORE LARGE ARMED DRONES: Trump this week signed a measure to allow U.S. defense contractors to bypass a 33-year-old arms treaty and sell more large armed drones to foreign militaries, a State Department official told reporters Friday.

The Trump administration has chosen to sidestep one part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) — a 1987 agreement between 35 countries to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons — to allow U.S. firms to sell the drones to foreign governments previously barred from buying them.

The new policy will help U.S. allies and partners meet “urgent national security and commercial requirements,” according to Clarke Cooper, the State Department's assistant secretary for political-military affairs.

The White House, meanwhile, claimed in a Friday statement that the pact is outdated and gives “an unfair advantage to countries outside of the MTCR and hurt United States industry.”

The rules before: Currently, only England, France and Australia are allowed to buy larger, armed drones from U.S. manufacturers.

The new policy: Under the new policy, drones that fly at speeds below 800 kilometers per hour are no longer subject to pact’s strict rules, opening up the international sale of General Atomics’s MQ-9 Reaper and Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk.

A dangerous shift?: Critics of the change say the shift could cause a dangerous increase in ballistic missiles and prompt other countries, including Russia, to undermine agreements and pick and choose rules to their advantage.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said the new policy was a “reckless decision” that “makes it more likely that we will export some of our most deadly weaponry to human rights abusers across the world.”

“To disregard this policy now is likely to undermine the credibility and influence of the MTCR generally, which also coordinates international controls on the sale and spread of dangerous ballistic missiles and technology around the world,” Menendez said in a statement. 

Defense firms on board: U.S. defense companies, meanwhile, have pushed for the change, as it would allow them to offer their products in markets currently claimed by Chinese and Israeli contractors, whose governments do not participate in the MTCR.

Cooper pressed that the new rules will not allow “weapons of mass destruction delivery” as higher-speed systems including cruise missiles, hypersonic aerial vehicles and advanced unmanned combat aerial vehicles "are not affected by this revision.”

A pattern: The move adds to the growing list of international treaties or deals that the United States has sidestepped or pulled out of during Trump's tenure, including the arms control pact between Russia and the United States known as the Open Skies Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

The administration also has yet to agree with Russia to renew the New START treaty, which is set to expire in February.

 

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