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Overnight Defense: Biden warns of sanctions after Myanmar coup | Biden asks Supreme Court to cancel border wall arguments | Dem urges screening of troops' social media

Overnight Defense: Biden warns of sanctions after Myanmar coup | Biden asks Supreme Court to cancel border wall arguments | Dem urges screening of troops' social media
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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: President Biden raised the specter of sanctions Monday after the military coup in Myanmar, an early foreign policy test for his week-and-a-half-old administration.

In a statement Monday, Biden condemned the military takeover as a “direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.”

“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy,” he said. “The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.”

Background: Early Monday in Myanmar — still Sunday in U.S. time — the Burmese military arrested civilian government leaders, including Nobel laureate and leader of the ruling National League for Democracy Party (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi. The military declared a state of emergency and said its chief commander would rule the country for one year.

The arrests of NLD leaders came as the civilian government was set to open the first parliamentary session Monday following the party’s majority victory in the November elections.

The military has criticized the elections as fraudulent, a charge rejected by the country's election commission. The elections were viewed as a hard-won victory for Burma's transition to democracy after decades of military rule.

Congress briefed: The Biden administration has briefed Congress on the situation, Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Former state Rep. Vernon Jones launches challenge to Kemp in Georgia Schumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform MORE (D-N.Y.) said.

Speaking from the Senate floor, Schumer said Congress stands ready to work with the administration on efforts to support restoring democracy in the Southeast Asian country. 

“We are monitoring this situation with great concern, and the Biden administration is already providing briefings to the Hill on the state of affairs,” he said. “Congress stands ready to work collaboratively with the administration to resolve the situation.”

The New York senator called for bipartisan cooperation with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Pelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Progressives put Democrats on defense MORE (R-Ky.) in responding to the military coup. 

“I know this is a region of long-standing concern and interest to the Republican leader, so I hope that we can productively work together in a bipartisan fashion to determine the best course of action for America's interests and for the people of Myanmar,” he said.

More condemnation: Biden’s statement was preceded by several others condemning the coup.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenPompeo violated ethics rules, State Department watchdog finds Iran begins enriching uranium to highest ever level The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden to Putin: Tough sanctions, straight talk MORE called for the release of all government officials and civil society leaders and to respect the results of the democratic elections that took place in the country on Nov. 8. 

“The United States stands with the people of Burma in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace, and development. The military must reverse these actions immediately,” Blinken said in a statement.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges MORE (D-N.J.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for the U.S. and other countries to impose “strict economic sanctions” against the military if the democratic leaders of Myanmar are not released and restored to their positions in government.

“The launch of another coup would be a tragedy for the people of Burma after a decade of work to establish a civilian-led democratic government,” Menendez said in a statement.

What’s in a name? While the Biden administration has condemned the military takeover, the statements have not explicitly called it a coup.

According to Politico and CNN, the Biden administration is debating whether to use the word because officially declaring it a coup would come with the requirement to cut off foreign aid to Myanmar.

BIDEN ASKS SUPREME COURT TO CANCEL BORDER WALL ARGUMENTS: The Biden administration on Monday asked the Supreme Court to cancel upcoming arguments in the case challenging former President TrumpDonald TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report MORE’s border wall.

That’s the case where the Sierra Club and others are challenging Trump’s use of $2.5 billion in Pentagon funding to build the wall.

But the Biden administration is reviewing the funding following an executive action in Biden’s first day in office, potentially making moot the Feb. 22 hearing.

"The President has directed the Executive Branch to undertake an assessment of 'the legality of the funding and contracting methods used to construct the wall,'" the administration wrote to the court.

"It would therefore be appropriate for the court to hold further proceedings in this case in abeyance to allow for the completion of the process that the president has directed," it added. 

The border wall case brought by the Sierra Club and others challenges $2.5 billion in Department of Defense spending that was diverted to complete construction — the same funding Biden is now reviewing.

Reaction: Court filings noted the challengers had agreed to the delay.

"We are relieved to see a pause on wall construction while the Biden administration decides whether to defend Trump’s illegal and disastrous national emergency declaration,” Gloria Smith, a managing attorney at the Sierra Club, said in a release. 

“Ultimately, the destructive border wall must be torn down.... The new administration must implement a new vision for the borderlands — one that protects human rights, tribal sovereignty and the environment,” she added.

DEM DEMANDS SCREENING OF TROOPS’ SOCIAL MEDIA: A top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is urging the Biden administration to screen social media accounts of military members and others with security clearances for ties to white supremacist and far-right groups.

In a letter to Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinSecret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations Overnight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests MORE and Director of National Intelligence Avril HainesAvril HainesHillicon Valley: Facebook Oversight board to rule on Trump ban in 'coming weeks' | Russia blocks Biden Cabinet officials in retaliation for sanctions Russia blocks key Biden Cabinet officials from entering in retaliation for sanctions Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE, Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierOvernight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats hearing House removes deadline for ratifying ERA MORE (D-Calif.), who chairs the Armed Services panel’s personnel subcommittee, said it is “inexcusable” social media is not reviewed during the security clearance process.

She specifically called for Biden to issue an executive order directing agencies to update their background investigation process to include a review of social media to identify white supremacy or violent extremist ties.

She also asked Austin to direct the military services to establish procedures to review the social media activity of recruits as part of the accessions process.

“While I believe strongly that the actions recommended in this letter have been justified for quite some time, the appalling events at the Capitol this month — and the central role of social media in their planning and organization — offer a new sense of urgency,” Speier wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Politico. “Modernizing background investigations to bring them in line with these new realities should be among your highest priorities as the new administration commences.”

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Kathleen Hicks to be deputy Defense secretary at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3rdyzng

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a business meeting to consider the nomination of Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured Veterans shouldn't have to wait for quality care MORE to be Veterans Affairs secretary at noon. https://bit.ly/39Ef4hL

Adm. Robert Burke, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, will speak about “Setting the Theater in the Arctic” an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3pFdHFi

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