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Overnight Defense: Top Pentagon nominee advances after Harris casts tie-breaker | Air Force general charged with sexual assault first to face court-martial | House passes bill to limit Saudi arms sales

Overnight Defense: Top Pentagon nominee advances after Harris casts tie-breaker | Air Force general charged with sexual assault first to face court-martial | House passes bill to limit Saudi arms sales
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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: Vice President Harris on Wednesday cast a tie-breaking vote to advance President BidenJoe BidenSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote Shining a light on COINTELPRO's dangerous legacy MORE’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s policy chief.

The Senate, which has a 50-50 partisan divide, split entirely on party lines on discharging Colin Kahl’s nomination from committee, requiring Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote.

The procedural vote was needed because the Senate Armed Services Committee last month deadlocked on Kahl's nomination in a 13-13 tie along party lines.

Republicans unified against Kahl after criticizing him for tweets lambasting the Trump administration, as well as his support for the Iran nuclear deal.

What's next: Kahl still faces two more votes that Harris could also have to cast a tie-breaker on: another procedural vote and the actual confirmation vote.

In other nominee news: In stark contrast to the Kahl vote, earlier Wednesday the Senate easily confirmed a top admiral in a blink-and-you-missed-it vote, as is typical for uniformed military nominees.

By unanimous consent, the Senate approved Adm. John Aquilino to be the next chief of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indo-Pacom).

Aquilino, who has been the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet since May 2018, will take over command from Adm. Philip Davidson.

Aquilino will lead Indo-Pacom at a time when the region is becoming the U.S. military’s priority theater amid growing competition with China.

Even more nominee news: The White House also announced another slate of national security nominees.

For the Pentagon, President Biden will nominate Ely Ratner to be assistant secretary of Defense of Indo-Pacific security affairs, the White House said.

Ratner has already been working at the Pentagon since the start of the Biden administration as Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinWill deterrence work, when our foes wage war disguised as peace? Overnight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech White House posts visitor logs for first time since Obama MORE’s top adviser on China. He’s also leading the department’s China Task Force reviewing the military’s strategy toward Beijing.

 

IN FIRST, AIR FORCE GENERAL FACING COURT-MARTIAL 

An Air Force general will be court-martialed for the first time in the service’s history over a sexual assault charge.

The Air Force announced Wednesday that Maj. Gen. William Cooley, the former head of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, will face court-martial on the sexual assault charge.

“After a comprehensive review of all of the evidence from the investigation and the Article 32 preliminary hearing, I’ve informed Maj. Gen. Cooley of my decision to move his case to general court-martial,” Air Force Materiel Command head Gen. Arnold Bunch said in a statement. “I can assure you this was not a decision made lightly, but I believe it was the right decision.”

Background: Cooley was charged in November with one count of sexual assault following an Aug. 12, 2018, incident in which he “allegedly made unwanted sexual advances by kissing and touching a female victim,” according to an Air Force statement.

The incident took place when Cooley was off duty in Albuquerque, N.M., and involved a civilian woman who is not a military member or Defense Department employee.

Though the charge wasn’t brought until November, Cooley was relieved of his command at the Air Force Research Laboratory January 2020 as he was under investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

 

HOUSE PASSES BILL RESTRICTING SAUDI ARMS SALES

The House on Wednesday passed legislation restricting arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the gruesome killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. 

The legislation, called the “Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act of 2021," passed the House with a bipartisan majority, 350 to 71 vote. It is unclear if the Senate will take up the measure.

The bill passed the House with a two-thirds majority, required under a fast-track process for bills that receive widespread support.

It was authored by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who represents the district where Khashoggi lived while in the U.S.

What the bill does: The bill would halt the sale and export of certain defensive materials to Saudi Arabia unless the president can certify that the Kingdom is not engaged in repression and torture of dissidents and arbitrary detention of U.S. or international citizens.

The legislation serves to impose more costs on Saudi Arabia following the conclusion by the intelligence community that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically of the Saudi government.

Meanwhile, in Yemen: U.S. special envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking also gave his first public congressional testimony Wednesday since being appointed to lead the Biden’s administration efforts to end the Yemen civil war.

Lenderking testified before subcommittees from both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

At the House hearing, lawmakers repeatedly asked him for details on whether the U.S. military is still supporting Saudi-led operations against Houthi rebels, but Lenderking said he did not have those answers.

When asked by Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuDemocrats, activists blast Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Lawmakers praise Biden for expected recognition of Armenian Genocide Overnight Defense: Top Pentagon nominee advances after Harris casts tie-breaker | Air Force general charged with sexual assault first to face court-martial | House passes bill to limit Saudi arms sales MORE (D-Calif.) whether the United States was currently supporting Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, Lenderking said he was “not totally in that information loop.”

Pressed later in the hearing whether the United States is helping sustain the Saudi air force with spare parts and other logistics and maintenance, Lenderking said he had to defer to the Department of Defense (DOD) for answers.

The lack of clarity comes after Biden said in February he would end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s “offensive” operations in Yemen.

Lawmakers were left unsatisfied with Lenderking’s responses, saying he should know the answers.

“As the envoy, you’ve got to know whether DOD is providing the support that is absolutely necessary for the Saudi air force to be able to continue operations,” said Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiWashington's split with Turkey widens — but it is up to Turkey to heal the rift Democrats warn Waters censure move opens floodgates Overnight Defense: Top Pentagon nominee advances after Harris casts tie-breaker | Air Force general charged with sexual assault first to face court-martial | House passes bill to limit Saudi arms sales MORE (D-N.J.), a former State Department official. “It’s a critical part of your leverage in leading the diplomatic effort.”

“I would strongly urge you not to defer to DOD. You’re supposed to be leading the diplomatic effort,” Malinowski added.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the F-35 fighter jet program at 9:30 a.m.

Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, and Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will participate in a breakout session on climate security during the Leaders Summit on Climate at 2 p.m.

 

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