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

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
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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, 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: Five U.S. service members were among seven international peacekeepers killed Thursday in a helicopter crash in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

The helicopter belonged to the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), an international peacekeeping body that monitors the 40-year-old peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

The Pentagon and MFO initially said six U.S. members were killed, but the Pentagon said Thursday evening five were killed and one was injured.

"At this point, there is no information to indicate the crash was anything except an accident," the MFO said in a statement.

In addition to the five Americans, one French and one Czech citizen were killed.

What the Pentagon says: Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said in a statement the department is “deeply saddened” by the deaths.

“Yesterday we recognized the sacrifice of millions of American veterans who have defended our nation for generations, and today we are tragically reminded of the last full measure our uniformed warriors may pay for their service,” he said.

“I extend the department’s condolences to the families, friends and teammates of these service members,” he added.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman tweeted that the department is “in close contact with MFO leadership and are standing by to support their investigation.”

The names of the service members have not been released in line with Pentagon policy to wait until after next-of-kin is notified.

Biden’s condolences: President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE also offered condolences on Twitter.

“I extend my deep condolences to the loved ones of the peacekeepers, including [5] American service members, who died on Tiran Island, and wish a speedy recovery to the surviving American,” he tweeted before the death toll was updated. “I join all Americans in honoring their sacrifice, as I keep their loved ones in my prayers.”

As of this writing, President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE has not commented on the crash.

PROGRESSIVE SIGNALING ON BIDEN SECDEF: The jockeying and speculation over Cabinet positions in the Biden administration has begun.

In terms of Defense secretary, a pair of progressive House Democrats is urging Biden not to nominate someone who has previously worked for a defense contractor.

“Respectfully, and in full agreement with your past statements, we write to request that the next secretary of Defense have no prior employment history with a defense contractor,” Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanWatch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget Former Progressive Caucus co-chair won't challenge Johnson in 2022 Congressional Progressive Caucus announces new leadership team MORE (D-Wis.) and Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeWatch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis 150 House Democrats support Biden push to reenter Iran nuclear deal MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Biden released Thursday.

Pocan is the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Lee is the caucus’s chairwoman emeritus.

Why it matters: As House members, Pocan and Lee will not get a vote on Biden’s eventual nominee. But the letter signals the progressive position on the woman widely seen as Biden’s likely choice, Michèle Flournoy.

Flournoy, who was under secretary of Defense for policy in the Obama administration, co-founded consultant group WestExec Advisors, which counts defense contractors among its clients. She is also on the board of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

Pocan and Lee’s letter does not mention Flournoy. Rather, they “strongly” urge Biden to “reject the mistaken nominations of the Trump era.”

Wider view: The Hill’s Jordain Carney and Julia Manchester took a look Thursday at how the battle for the Senate majority could affect Biden’s decision-making on nominees.

A razor-tight Senate margin is complicating Biden's strategy for filling his Cabinet by making it more difficult to pick sitting lawmakers for plum posts.

Normally, members of Congress would be at the top of the list for an incoming administration looking to poach talent from the party's ranks on Capitol Hill.

But with Biden wanting to move fast and control of the Senate in limbo until early next year, he’ll have to think twice before tapping congressional Democrats — a move that could open up a seat for Republicans to try to flip or tip the scales in a closely divided Congress.

“I think the vice president understands that politics is a game of addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright.

“I can’t see a scenario where [Biden] will risk losing numbers in the Senate that he would need to deliver an agenda that is so critical,” he continued. “You could argue the same point with a swing-district member of Congress.”

TRUMP MOVES TO BLACKLIST CHINESE COMPANIES LINKED TO MILITARY: Trump on Thursday signed an executive order paving the way for the United States to blacklist Chinese companies that the administration alleges are connected to Beijing’s military. 

The order is expected to go into effect Jan. 11, days before Biden will take office.

A series of high-profile Chinese companies are named in the order including Huawei, a technology company that the Trump White House has sought to block sales from U.S. businesses to over national security concerns. 

The Department of Defense over the summer released a list of dozens of Chinese companies it identified as having connections to the Chinese military, including telecommunications firms, aviation, aerospace, shipping and construction companies, to name a few.  

Now, U.S. citizens are blocked from owning or trading securities linked to these companies.

The president said he signed the executive order because the Chinese government seeks to compel “civilian Chinese companies to support its military and intelligence activities,” which he warned will pose an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the U.S. including its national security, foreign policy and economy.

“Those companies, though remaining ostensibly private and civilian, directly support the PRC's military, intelligence, and security apparatuses and aid in their development and modernization,” the order says. 


Marc Knapper, deputy assistant secretary of State for Korea and Japan, will speak about “Prospects for US-South Korea cooperation in an era of US-China strategic competition” at an online event hosted by the Brookings Institution at 9 a.m. https://brook.gs/3plMK9L

Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler, deputy chief of naval operations for information, will talk about the role of the Navy in information warfare at an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2IvbbB6


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