Overnight Defense: Law enforcement officials blame Pentagon ‘reluctance’ to deploy National Guard in first hearing on Capitol attack | Watchdog report finds Pentagon didn’t fully evaluate border deployment requests | Biden’s UN ambassador confirmed
Happy Tuesday 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: Tuesday marked the first public testimony from officials in charge of Capitol security since the Jan. 6 attacks, and they pointed a finger squarely at the Pentagon.
The hearing before a pair of Senate committees included testimony from former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenge, who all resigned in the wake of the attack. Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee also testified.
During the hearing, both Contee and Sund said Pentagon officials dragged their feet in deploying the National Guard after the Capitol was breached, describing a conference call that afternoon in which director of the Army Staff Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt said he would recommend against deploying the Guard out of concern about optics.
“I was surprised at the reluctance to immediately send the National Guard to the Capitol grounds,” Contee told senators on the Rules and Homeland Security committees.
Intelligence failures: In addition to blaming the Pentagon for a slow response during the attack, Sund blamed the intelligence community for failures leading up to the attack.
Sund said his department was not able to properly prepare for the attack due to a lack of intelligence shared with the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP).
“None of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred. … No entity, including the FBI, provided any new intelligence regarding Jan. 6,” Sund later told lawmakers on the Senate Rules and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees.
“We properly planned for mass demonstration with possible violence. What we got was a military style coordinated assault on my officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol Building,” he said.
Streamlining requests: Sund also told lawmakers significant reforms are needed to grant future police chiefs the authority to directly request aid from the National Guard when there is an imminent threat to the Capitol.
“I think in exigent circumstances there needs to be a streamlined process for the Capitol Police chief, for Capitol Police, to have authority,” Sund told senators at a hearing looking into the security failures of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Under the current chain of command structure, the police chief must first ask the Capitol Police Board — comprised of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol — to declare an emergency and then approve a formal request for the National Guard.
Sund testified Tuesday he went to the two sergeants-at-arms on Jan. 4, two days before the insurrection, and requested assistance from the National Guard but was rebuffed.
Pentagon will get its turn: Pentagon officials have previously defended their response to the attack, but none were at Tuesday’s hearing to rebut the critical testimony.
Pentagon officials are expected to be invited to testify at a second hearing next week.
PENTAGON DIDN’T FULLY EVALUATE BORDER DEPLOYMENT, WATCHDOG FINDS
The Pentagon’s evaluation before it approved deploying troops to the U.S.-Mexico border during the Trump administration was lacking, a watchdog report said Tuesday.
Specifically, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the Pentagon did not fully evaluate potential costs and effects on readiness before approving the requests for assistance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The report also said internal Pentagon data shows the department has obligated at least $841 million on the mission from 2018 to 2020.
Cost, readiness issues: In deciding whether to approve the deployment, the Pentagon “developed rough cost estimates that were not reliable” and “did not fully evaluate the effect on military readiness of providing support,” the report said.
The GAO specifically looked at the Pentagon’s cost estimate for deploying troops to the border in fiscal 2019 and found it only “minimally” met the criteria for a reliable projection.
On readiness, the GAO found that some potential unit-level effects were not reported to the Defense secretary before approving the requests for assistance.
For example, a battalion of UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters from an active duty Army Combat Aviation Brigade missed a large-scale training opportunity at the National Training Center because of the deployment, and pilots also had trouble fulfilling individual training requirements such as night flying, military personnel told the GAO. But those issues were not identified in the collection of information used to decide whether to approve the request, according to the report.
Background: The Trump administration deployed thousands of troops to the southern border, at its height reaching more than 2,500 National Guardsmen and more than 5,800 active-duty troops, part of what former President Trump believed would strengthen national security and prevent illegal immigration.
While the National Guard has been deployed to the border in the past, the deployment of active-duty troops broke norms and only happened after Trump declared a national emergency in 2019 to acquire funding to build a border wall.
Lawmakers at the time expressed concerns the deployments would drain resources from the budget and negatively affect troop readiness.
President Biden has since ended the national emergency, but the Pentagon has said it has no plans right now to end the deployment of the 3,600 troops, mostly National Guardsmen, before the approved end date in September.
Pentagon’s response: The Pentagon did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the GAO report. But in a response dated in December included in the report, the department disagreed with all but one of the GAO’s six recommendations.
The cost estimates the Pentagon used to approve the requests were meant to be “a rough order of magnitude cost estimate that informs senior-leader decision making,” the department said in its response. The department is also “confident that the process used to assess readiness prior to approving support is appropriate,” it added.
The Pentagon also disagreed its comptroller needs to clarify guidance to ensure all associated costs are tracked, but agreed it should “provide reports to cognizant congressional committees on time,” blaming the delay of sending a report to Congress on a belated congressional extension of the deadline and the COVID-19 pandemic.
UN AMBASSADOR CONFIRMED
The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Biden’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The Senate voted 78-20 to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a more than three-decade veteran of the State Department and a diplomat with vast experience in Africa.
“She’s exceptionally qualified, and that was reflected in the bipartisan support she received from the Foreign Relations committee,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Monday, in remarks ahead of her confirmation vote.
“She will have no time to waste in rebuilding America’s reputation and reasserting the first instrument of American power, diplomacy,” he added.
Thomas-Greenfield’s mission: Her appointment comes as the Biden administration has already taken steps to reassert the U.S. position within the United Nations by reversing policy decisions under the Trump administration that either terminated or abandoned American participation in specific programs.
Thomas-Greenfield heads to the United Nations as the U.S. is also rallying allies to push back against the military coup in Myanmar and amid the Biden administration’s renewed push for diplomacy to resolve the civil war in Yemen which has become a devastating humanitarian crisis.
Her biggest task will be asserting American leadership and uniting allies to confront China’s influence and ambitions at the global body that experts say is aimed at rewriting the international rules in favor of Beijing’s worldview.
GOP opposition: Republican senators opposed to her nomination, including Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), criticized Thomas-Greenfield as naive to threats posed by China.
Cruz has centered his criticism against Thomas-Greenfield over a 2019 speech she delivered to Savannah State University that was sponsored by the Beijing-backed Confucius Institute, a Chinese language and cultural institute designated as a foreign mission by the Trump administration.
Thomas-Greenfield has expressed regret over associating herself with the Confucius Institute and gained support from top Republicans, including the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho).
Filing out the Cabinet: Thomas-Greenfield’s confirmation also makes progress on filling out the Biden’s Cabinet more than one month into office.
Thomas-Greenfield is the eighth official confirmed to join Biden’s Cabinet, putting in place a key envoy as part of the president’s push to bring the U.S. back to the world stage and multilateral institutions.
Schumer has also teed up procedural votes this week for Jennifer Granholm to be Energy secretary and Miguel Cardona to be secretary of Education.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The House Appropriations Committee defense subpanel will hold a hearing on future defense spending with testimony from outside experts at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3utpKbF
The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for William Burns to be CIA director at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/37Ci9h5
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown will speak at the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3pIaILq
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on COVID-19 vaccinations for veterans with testimony from Department of Veterans Affairs officials at 4 p.m. https://bit.ly/3r1fZiR
— The Hill: House GOP warns Biden against lifting sanctions on Iran
— The Hill: Senate to get briefing on Capitol security measures
— The Hill: Opinion: The Iran deal is fragile — here’s what the Biden administration can do
— Stars and Stripes: VA secretary orders review of policies to root out barriers for LGBTQ veterans
— Bloomberg: Progressives face tough road in bid to cut Biden defense budget
— New York Times: Afghan civilian casualties soared after peace talks’ start