Overnight Defense: Biden defends picking retired general for Pentagon head | House passes weeklong stopgap spending bill | Senate rejects effort to block Trump's UAE arms sale

Overnight Defense: Biden defends picking retired general for Pentagon head | House passes weeklong stopgap spending bill | Senate rejects effort to block Trump's UAE arms sale
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Happy Wednesday 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: Defense secretary nominee Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinCan a common bond of service unite our nation? Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Pentagon releases training materials to address extremism MORE took the stage with President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Rural Americans are the future of the clean energy economy — policymakers must to catch up WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year MORE on Wednesday, where the two sought to blunt criticism of Biden’s choice.

The retired general is facing a significant hurdle because he has not been out of the military for as long as the law requires and so will need Congress to grant a waiver allowing him to take the job.

At Wednesday’s formal introduction, both he and Biden argued he would uphold the principle of civilian control of the military.

“I believe in the importance of civilian control of the military,” Biden said. “So does Secretary-designate Austin. He'll be bolstered by a strong and empowered civilian sector and senior officers, senior officials I should say, working to shape DOD’s policies and ensure that our defense policies are accountable to the American people.”

“Four years ago, I hung up my uniform for the last time and went from being Gen. Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinCan a common bond of service unite our nation? Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Pentagon releases training materials to address extremism MORE to Lloyd Austin,” Austin said during his own remarks. “It is an important distinction, and one that I make with utmost seriousness and sincerity. And so, I come to this role this new role as a civilian leader, with military experience to be sure, but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military.”

Waiver fight: Lawmakers in both parties are expressing unease at granting Austin a waiver just four years after doing the same for former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisRejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs The GOP senators likely to vote for Trump's conviction MORE.

“I think the burden of proof is on the administration,” said Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video Senate Armed Services chair expects 'some extension' of troops in Afghanistan MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who warned after Mattis he would “not support a waiver for future nominees.”

“It also comes down ... to the quality of the nominee,” Reed said Tuesday, calling Austin an “outstanding officer.”

“It’s still — I think the preference would be for someone who is not recently retired,” Reed added.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBiden seeks to walk fine line with Syria strike Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display MORE (D-Wash.) called Austin “very qualified” in an interview with MSNBC but added that “the civilian control of the military is a bedrock principle of our Constitution and of our democracy.”

“So I would prefer it be a civilian person. Now, that doesn’t mean that a general can’t effectively be secretary of Defense,” added Smith, who stressed the importance of Austin testifying before his panel on the issue. Smith said a Biden aide committed to him that Austin will be allowed to testify; Trump did not allow Mattis to testify before the House in 2017.

Despite weak Democratic support for Mattis’s waiver, Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesHarris holds first meeting in ceremonial office with CBC members Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Congressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, predicted Tuesday that Austin’s waiver would sail through the lower chamber with the overwhelming support of Democrats. He sidestepped questions to explain the discrepancy but praised Austin as a highly qualified figure well-equipped for the position.

“By all accounts he is a ground-breaking, trail-blazing four-star general who dedicated his life to protecting and serving the freedoms that the American people hold dear,” Jeffries told reporters in the Capitol.

Some Republicans who supported Mattis, meanwhile, indicated hesitation about making the same exception for Biden’s nominee.

“I, like many other senators, have real reservations about giving another waiver under federal law for a recently retired general to become secretary of Defense,” Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonScarborough tears into 'Ivy League brats' Cruz, Hawley for attacking 'elites' Judiciary Committee greenlights Garland's AG nomination Juan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP MORE (R-Ark.) said on Fox News. “I can tell you that senators across the spectrum, from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans, are opposed to doing that again.”

The Beau factor: In picking Austin, Biden also turned to someone he formed a bond with during the Obama administration.

The two grew particularly close when Biden’s late son Beau served on Austin’s staff in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. Biden’s transition team has highlighted that Austin and the younger Biden often sat next to each other at Sunday mass and kept in touch after returning from his deployment.

At Wednesday’s event, Biden reflected on that shared history, recounting that Beau told him about some advice from Austin: “If you focus on your people, take care of them, get out in front and lead them, they'll refuse to let you fail.”

“That's why he’s inspired so many young people who work for him, and give their very best to live up to his example of leadership including for time a young lawyer serving a year in Iraq as a captain with his Delaware National Guard unit,” Biden said.

“Beau was a very special person and a true patriot, and a good friend to all who knew him,” Austin said.

HOUSE PASSES STOPGAP SPENDING BILL: The House on Wednesday passed a weeklong stopgap bill to keep the government open through Dec. 18 before current funding expires Friday as lawmakers continue to negotiate a longer-term spending package and coronavirus relief.

The bill passed handily, 343-67, and now heads to the Senate for approval. It is expected to be quickly cleared for President TrumpDonald TrumpProsecutors focus Trump Organization probe on company's financial officer: report WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year Romney released from hospital after fall over the weekend MORE's signature.

House Democratic leaders had initially hoped to wrap up legislative work for the year by the end of this week so that members could go home in time to quarantine for two weeks from any potential COVID-19 exposure from traveling and gathering in the Capitol before spending Christmas with their families.

But with talks over an all-encompassing spending package known as an omnibus and coronavirus relief moving slowly, lawmakers acknowledged that they would need more time. Both sides are keen to avoid a damaging government shutdown during the height of the pandemic.

Status update: Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyBlack Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (R-Ala.) said Wednesday that negotiators agreed on most issues for the omnibus package but still had some sticking points.

"We were at probably 95 percent closure a couple of days ago," Shelby told reporters in the Capitol. "We’ve got to get a deal. I think perhaps the omnibus and the COVID relief are kind of linked."

Momentum for COVID-19 relief, though, is stalling amid differences not only between the parties, but between Senate Republicans and the White House over what should be included in the legislation.

UAE ARMS SALE NOT BLOCKED: The Senate on Wednesday rejected a bipartisan effort to block Trump’s $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates. 

Senators voted on two resolutions to block the arms sale, with both failing to get the simple majority to advance over the initial procedural hurdles in 46-50 and 47-49 votes, respectively. 

The administration notified Congress last month that it approved selling the UAE up to 50 F-35s worth $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions worth $10 billion. 

Sens. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden holds off punishing Saudi crown prince, despite US intel Senate confirms Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador The Memo: Biden bets big on immigration MORE (D-N.J.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyAmazon manager sues company over racial discrimination, harassment allegations Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster MORE (D-Conn.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.) introduced resolutions to block the sale. Because arms sale resolutions are privileged, the three senators were are able to force the votes on their resolutions, even though GOP leadership opposed them. They only needed a simple majority to pass.

But several Republicans who have supported efforts to block previous arms sales stuck with the administration on the UAE votes. Paul was the only Republican to support the resolutions to block the arms sale. 

PENTAGON DETAILS VACCINE PLANS: The Pentagon will get “just under 44,000” initial doses of a coronavirus vaccine, with health care providers and support personnel to be among the first to receive it, officials told reporters Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery said the Pfizer vaccine would come “as early as next week for immediate use.”

In the first phase of the rollout, which the Pentagon has dubbed a “controlled pilot,” health care providers and support personnel, residents and staff of Defense Department long-term care facilities, other essential workers and high-risk beneficiaries will receive the vaccine, a schedule which is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

The department has already targeted 13 military installations within the United States and three additional in Germany, Korea and Japan to preposition the first round of vaccines, to go out in batches of 975 doses.

The Pentagon will use this method, adding in personnel and locations as it goes, until 60 percent, or roughly 11 million, of Defense Department personnel receive the vaccine. At that point, supply should be enough to distribute doses much as the department rolls out its annual flu vaccine, McCaffery said.


A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on U.S.-Taiwan relations at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/37NZM8e

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report MORE will testify at a Congressional Oversight Commission hearing on CARES Act loans to businesses critical to national security at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2Loy6PF

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will speak at Defense One’s “Outlook 2021” at 11 a.m., and Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie will speak at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/2KdmgHl

The Aspen Institute will host a virtual conversation with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at 7 p.m. https://bit.ly/3gsTdfa


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