Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Congress headed to veto showdown with Trump over defense bill | House to vote on stopgap spending bill | Biden to name Pentagon chief pick Friday

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Happy Monday 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: All eyes this week are on the showdown between President Trump and Congress on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the bill, which Trump has threatened to veto.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday the Senate will take up and pass the mammoth defense bill despite the looming veto showdown.

McConnell mentioned the NDAA as he outlined the items left on Congress’s year-end to-do list as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington for the year as soon as next week.

“We also expect to receive and pass a conference report on the annual defense authorization,” McConnell said about the massive policy bill.

McConnell did not address Trump’s veto threat during his floor remarks.

House views: Both House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) spoke to reporters Monday about the importance of the bill becoming law.

The NDAA, which has become law 59 years in a row, is considered must-pass because it authorizes dozens of special pay and bonuses for troops, as well as military construction projects and several training programs.

Thornberry told reporters he does not believe Trump’s threat is “empty,” but that he’s hopeful the president can be talked down.

“I’m hoping for a strong vote tomorrow. I think the stronger the vote, the less chance of having to deal with a veto later,” Thornberry said.

Smith, meanwhile, said Congress, which is currently expected to leave town for the year next week, would return to Washington to override Trump.

“If the president vetoes it, we will come back to vote override,” Smith said. “There’s not a single member of this Congress who can’t vote for this bill in good conscience and feel good about it, in my humble opinion. So we should pass it, and if it takes two-thirds to pass it because the president is being unreasonable, then we will get that.”

Broad rebuke: Apart from the two issues provoking a veto showdown — Confederate base names and a tech liability shield — the NDAA breaks with Trump on a slew of policies.

Over the weekend, we took a look at all the various ways the bill breaks with Trump, from his troop withdrawals in Germany and Afghanistan to his relationship with Turkey to even his signature border wall.

“The politicization of our military that has occurred under this administration has encouraged the Armed Services Committee to take its duly recognized responsibility to be a check on the administration as well as our responsibilities for oversight of the military” seriously, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who sponsored language blocking a Germany drawdown, told The Hill in an interview when asked about the compromise bill’s inclusion of several Trump rebukes.

Read more here.

HOUSE TO VOTE ON STOPGAP SPENDING BILL: One other big thing on Congress’ to-do list for the rest of the year is funding the government.

The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown after current funding expires this Friday, an acknowledgment that negotiators need more time to reach a longer-term deal.

Democratic aides confirmed Monday that the stopgap is expected to last through Dec. 18.

House Democratic leaders initially hoped to wrap up work on an all-encompassing spending package, coronavirus economic relief and the NDAA by Friday and send members home in time to quarantine for two weeks before spending Christmas with their families.

House Democrats are now acknowledging that negotiators will need more time.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) expressed frustration on Monday that progress is moving slowly on a spending package and coronavirus relief.

“Not getting a deal is not on the table,” he told reporters in the Capitol.

COVID concerns: Congressional leaders are leery of staying in session for much longer given the spike in COVID-19 cases nationally and among lawmakers.

Three House members tested positive for COVID-19 last week alone. And of the 35 lawmakers who have tested positive since March, about 40 percent have been within the last month.

Several other lawmakers have also had presumed cases or tested positive for antibodies.

SECDEF SWEEPSTAKES NEARING END: President-elect Joe Biden will name his nominee for Defense secretary Friday, he announced Monday.

Pentagon chief and Justice Department head are the two biggest Cabinet posts Biden has yet to fill after formally announcing his choice for Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Monday.

Biden is facing pressure from various lawmakers and advocacy groups over who to appoint as Defense secretary and attorney general. 

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus have all advocated for ethnic diversity, while the moderate and progressive wings of the party have lobbied for representation.

Smith backs Flournoy: In his call with reporters Monday, House Armed Services Chairman Smith threw his public support behind Michele Flournoy for Defense secretary.

“I don’t think I’ve said this publicly because I don’t think it would have made any difference, but I certainly communicated to the Biden people that I think Michele Flournoy is hands down the best-qualified person for the job,” Smith said.

“That does not mean that she’s the only person that could do the job,” he continued. “There are a lot of capable people that could more than adequately fill the position. But I think Michele Flournoy is uniquely qualified, having her experience as under secretary of policy, the work that she has done since.”

Flournoy, who served as under secretary of Defense for policy in the Obama administration, was initially seen as a lock to be Biden’s Defense secretary, but as more time goes by without Biden naming a nominee, competition for the post has heated up. She would be the first female Defense secretary.


The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on U.S.-Balkans policy in the next administration with testimony from outside experts at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3qEblHJ

The House Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on supporting veterans through the COVID-19 pandemic at 10:15 a.m. https://bit.ly/2K01qLA

Pentagon officials will provide a briefing on COVID-19 vaccine distribution at 10:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3mW33bJ

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) will speak about nuclear modernization and arms control at noon at an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://bit.ly/3qxCwUB

Army officials will provide a briefing on the results of the Fort Hood Independent Review at 1:30 p.m., followed immediately by members of the review committee. https://bit.ly/3mW33bJ

A Senate Commerce Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on Coast Guard capabilities in the Arctic with testimony from Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray at 2:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/3glWoFg


— The Hill: Washington braces for clash over defense budget

— The Hill: Trump critic: I am not afraid of Trump

— The Hill: US sanctions 14 Chinese officials for crackdown on Hong Kong opposition

— Task and Purpose: A woman will take command of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for the first time in US Navy history

— Defense One: Trump admin to rename two bases for Space Force over military objections

— CNN: Member of Pentagon advisory board resigns in protest at recent purge

— New York Times: In Somalia, U.S. troop withdrawal is seen as badly timed

Tags Adam Smith Donald Trump Joe Biden Mac Thornberry Mitch McConnell Ruben Gallego Steny Hoyer

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