Overnight Defense: Trump pushed to restore full National Guard funding | Watchdog faults Pompeo on civilian risk of Saudi arms sales

Overnight Defense: Trump pushed to restore full National Guard funding | Watchdog faults Pompeo on civilian risk of Saudi arms sales

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: Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are pressing President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE to restore full federal funding for National Guard forces that are tasked with responding to the coronavirus pandemic across the U.S.   

Thirty-four senators, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), asked Trump in a letter Tuesday to "re-authorize one hundred percent cost share for all states and territories." 

Why they sent the letter: The president announced last week that he was extending the deployment of National Guard forces until the end of the year, but after Aug. 21, the federal government would go from paying 100 percent of the deployment costs to 75 percent, leaving states to foot the remaining 25 percent.

"The National Guard response has been critical within our states to supporting the health and well-being of millions of Americans," the Senate Democrats wrote.

Meanwhile, in the House: Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) also led more than 115 House Democrats and some GOP members in sending a similar letter Tuesday that urged the president to restore full federal funding while blasting the cuts.

“States are the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. Due to the additional costs and lost revenues caused by COVID-19, state and local governments are facing unprecedented pressures on their budgets,” the House members wrote.

‘The worst possible time’: Lawmakers voicing opposition to the president's decision said it came with no explanation and amid an ongoing crisis, when funding for the National Guard is needed most. They also pointed out that Texas and Florida, two critical states in the upcoming 2020 presidential race, are among the exceptions to this new cost-sharing decision.

"This new determination to reduce the cost share comes at the worst possible time, as positive cases continue to rise, and food security and other basic needs increase due to the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. Further, by singling out Florida and Texas for a full cost share as other states face challenges of similar magnitude, the decision appears arbitrary and without justification," the Senate Democrats argued.

The background: The National Guard has helped respond to the outbreak in various ways, including distributing food and provisions, performing contact tracing, running remote testing locations, and setting up additional alternate medical care facilities to help overwhelmed hospitals. 

Much of the National Guard's work on coronavirus relief has been done under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, in which the National Guard forces are deployed to respond to disasters and emergencies that endanger Americans. While the Guards are at the command of state and territory governors, the federal government provides pay and benefits for the deployed Guard members.

Trump in May extended the Title 32 status, which is set to expire on Aug. 21. The cost-sharing initiative will begin after that deadline. 

Critics also noted that the White House agreed to extend short-term restoration of the full funding for certain states through Sept. 30, arguing that the administration is not making rational decisions. 

The White House’s rationale: According to a White House official with knowledge of the matter, Texas and Florida were exempted from the decision because their governors made personal appeals directly to the president for full federal funding.

The pushback: Critics have disputed this line of reasoning, arguing that other governors also had conversations with the president and other White House officials and have made the same appeal.

And while the list of special exceptions has expanded to also include states such as Arizona, California and Connecticut, they will receive the full federal funding only through the end of September. 

“States are the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. Due to the additional costs and lost revenues caused by COVID-19, state and local governments are facing unprecedented pressures on their budgets,” wrote the House members.

"Furthermore, we are alarmed with your decision to treat states differently. Picking and choosing which states receive full Federal funding, whatever the rationale, sets a dangerous precedent and raises serious questions about the motivations for why certain states are selected and others are not," they added.

 

WATCHDOG CLEARS POMPEO IN ARMS SALES, FAULTS HIM ON RISKS TO CIVILIANS: The State Department’s internal watchdog on Tuesday said Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Overnight Defense: House Democrats unveil stopgap spending measure to GOP opposition | Bill includes .6B for new subs | Trump issues Iran sanctions after world shrugs at US action at UN Navalny calls on Russia to return clothes he was wearing when he fell ill MORE was within his authority last year to push through billion-dollar arms sales to allies in the Middle East, but faulted him for not ensuring American weapons weren't used against civilian populations.

The findings are part of a controversial investigation launched at the request of Congress to probe Pompeo’s use of an emergency declaration in May 2019 to sell more than $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan and without the approval of Congress.

The report’s publication is also a key part of Democrats' probe into the ousting of Inspector General Steve Linick, whom President Trump abruptly fired in mid-May at the request of Pompeo.

About the investigation: Linick had launched the investigation in June 2019 at the request of Congress — and in particular Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — over the legality of the arms sales.

Congress was working at the time to block sales of weapons to those countries over concerns of human rights abuses and civilian casualties in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition as well as to hold Riyadh accountable over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

The findings: Pompeo issued the declaration under authority in the Arms Export Control Act and said the weapons sales were necessary to “deter Iranian aggression,” a move the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) found was within his authority.

Yet the agency “did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of [Precision Guided Missiles] included in the May 2019 emergency certification,” acting Inspector General Diana Shaw, who took over the investigation, wrote in the summary.

The watchdog offered a recommendation on this matter in a classified version of the report.

Dems likely to push back: The inspector general’s conclusions are sure to receive pushback from Democrats, who have raised concerns that Linick’s firing could have undermined the investigation, pointing to the State Department’s “pre-spin” of commenting on the report before it was released

Democrats are concerned that Pompeo pushed for Linick’s firing to obstruct at least two investigations, including the Saudi arms sales and an additional investigation over the secretary and his wife’s possible misuse of federal resources for personal benefit.

Pompeo has maintained that he was not aware he was part of investigations when he pushed for Linick’s ouster, but that he had provided written answers related to an investigation earlier in the year.

Linick testified in front of lawmakers in June that Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, a close and longtime aide to Pompeo, attempted to “bully” him over the report. 

The next battleground: The next battleground on the report is likely to focus on the redacted portions of the classified report that were made at the request of the State Department.

Shaw wrote in her summary that she pushed for as little redactions as possible but the determination was ultimately with the leadership of the agency.

“Although the Department withheld relatively little information in the unclassified portion of the report, it withheld significant information in the classified annex necessary to understand OIG’s finding and recommendation,” Shaw wrote.

Engel, one of the committee heads probing Linick’s firing, said ahead of the reports release that he will focus on whether the redacted parts aim to “bury important or possibly incriminating information."

 

KAMALA ON THE ISSUES: Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate Trump attacks Omar for criticizing US: 'How did you do where you came from?' MORE named Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate on Tuesday, ending months of speculation over one of the most consequential decisions of his 2020 presidential bid.

Biden called Harris – a former rival in the Democratic primary and onetime California attorney general – the best equipped to help him defeat President Trump and lead the nation through the coronavirus pandemic, economic downturn and racial divide.

Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, would be the first woman to be vice president if Biden is elected. Though she has not spoken often on major defense issues, here are where she stands on a few issues:

She wants continued military exercises with South Korea: During the fifth Democratic primary debate in November 2019, Harris said “Trump got punked” when asked whether she would make concessions to North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnSatellite images indicate North Korea preparing for massive military parade South Korea warns of underwater missile test launch by North Korea Trump says he didn't share classified information following Woodward book MORE in order to keep the talks started under the Trump administration going with the country.  

She also called out the president for meeting multiple times with the North Korean leader, while the U.S. and South Korea have ended some joint military exercises and other operations.

“There are no concessions to be made. [Trump] has traded a photo op for nothing. By shutting down the operations with South Korea for the last year and a half, so those operations, which should be and those exercises which should be active because they are in our best national security, the relationship we have with Japan, he has in every way comprised our ability to have any influence on slowing down or at least having a check and balance on North Korea’s nuclear program,” Harris said.

She’s no fan of Trump pulling out of agreements: Harris specifically targeted a swath of Trump’s other foreign policy decisions, such as removing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement and announcing that he would pull troops from northeastern Syria, which garnered bipartisan ire for leaving Kurdish allies in the region.

“He has conducted foreign policy since day one borne out of a very fragile ego that fails to understand that one of the most important responsibilities of the commander in chief is to concern herself with the security of our nation and homeland and to do it in a way that understands that part of the strength of who we are as a nation – and therefore an extension of our ability to be secure – is not only that we have a vibrant military but that when we walk in any room around the globe, we are respected, because we keep to our word. We are consistent. We speak truths, and we are loyal,” she said. 

 

ON TAP:

The U.S. Institute of Peace will hold a webinar Wednesday on “How ISIS Really Ends,” with Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander, U.S. Central Command; and Amb. Bill Roebuck, deputy special envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, at 10 a.m. 

 

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