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 AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Rocky US alliances as Biden heads to UN assembly Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol Capitol Police swear in state, local law enforcement ahead of 'Justice for J6' rally MORE took the stage with President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit 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 AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Rocky US alliances as Biden heads to UN assembly Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol Capitol Police swear in state, local law enforcement ahead of 'Justice for J6' rally 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 Mattis20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan House panel advances 8B defense bill MORE.
“I think the burden of proof is on the administration,” said Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake 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 SmithStumbling plutonium pit project reveals DOE's uphill climb of nuclear modernization Congress should control its appetite for legacy programs when increasing defense budget House panel advances 8B defense bill 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 JeffriesFormer Bad Boy rapper turned politician meets with US lawmakers Watch live: House Democratic leaders hold press conference Congressional staff pay is still too low 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 CottonProgressive foreign policy should not be pro-autocracy Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right 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 TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default 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 ShelbyMcConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike Crypto debate set to return in force Press: Why is Mo Brooks still in the House? 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) MenendezDemocrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Failed drug vote points to bigger challenges for Democrats MORE (D-N.J.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' Sunday shows preview: Bombing in Kabul delivers blow to evacuation effort; US orders strikes on ISIS-K MORE (D-Conn.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulWhite House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken Rand Paul: 'Hatred for Trump' blocking research into ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment 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.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
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 MnuchinMenendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election 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
-- The Hill: Wisconsin Air National Guard pilot missing after F-16 crash
-- The Hill: Colin PowellColin Luther PowellCivil rights museum to honor Michelle Obama, Poor People's Campaign In Afghanistan, lines between aid and government agendas are blurred The Powell Doctrine could have helped us avoid the Afghanistan debacle MORE praises Biden's pick for Pentagon chief: 'Superb choice'
-- The Hill: Iran moving key nuclear facility underground: report
-- The Hill: Pompeo offers warning on China in Georgia speech ahead of Senate elections
-- Defense News: McCarthy could serve as interim Army secretary in Biden administration
-- Military.com: Did Michèle Flournoy face 'double standard' over defense industry ties?
-- Washington Post: Biden’s Pentagon pick signals his desire to avoid foreign policy battles of the past