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Overnight Defense: Capitol security bill includes $521M to reimburse National Guard | Turner to lead House push against military sexual assault | Pentagon drops mask mandate

 Overnight Defense: Capitol security bill includes $521M to reimburse National Guard | Turner to lead House push against military sexual assault | Pentagon drops mask mandate
© Greg Nash

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, 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: A $1.9 billion spending bill to bulk up Capitol security following the Jan. 6 insurrection includes nearly $521 million to reimburse the cost of the National Guard’s deployment in the wake of the attack.

The amount in the bill, which House Democrats unveiled Friday, matches what National Guard officials have projected will be the cost of deploying thousands of service members through May 23.

A long deployment: Thousands of Guardsmen have been shoring up security at the Capitol since supporters of former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE stormed the building while lawmakers were certifying President BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE’s victory in the November election.

At the height of the deployment, about 26,000 troops from every state, three territories and Washington, D.C., were deployed to the nation’s capital to patrol the Capitol complex.

The deployment was originally meant to bulk up security during Biden’s inauguration, but has been extended twice. About 2,300 Guardsmen remain at the Capitol, with the end of the deployment set at May 23 as of now.

What the funding covers: The funding for the deployment in the security bill would include $231 million for Army National Guard personnel costs and $218.5 million for its operations and maintenance costs. The Air National Guard would get $28.9 million for personnel costs and $42.5 million for operation and maintenance costs.

In addition to the funding to reimburse the Guard’s deployment, the bill would provide $200 million to establish a standing quick reaction force within the D.C. National Guard dedicated to responding to crises in the district.

Read the rest here.

 

TURNER TO LEAD HOUSE PUSH TO ADDRESS MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT

Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerJ.D. Vance emerges as wild card in Ohio GOP Senate primary Senate Armed Services chair throws support behind changing roles of military commanders in sexual assault prosecutions Gillibrand: 'I definitely want to run for president again' MORE (R-Ohio) will lead a House effort to revamp how the military handles sexual assault in the ranks, he announced Friday.

Turner, a senior member on the House Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce the legislation along with a Democratic co-sponsor. The bill will be a companion measure to the bipartisan Senate bill known as the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA).

The bill would remove decisions about whether to prosecute sexual assault and several other serious crimes from the hands of military commanders, giving them instead to specially trained military prosecutors.

Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Top general: Military justice overhaul proposed by Gillibrand 'requires some detailed study' Cher apologizes for confusing Sinema, Gillibrand MORE (D-N.Y.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US MORE (R-Iowa) co-sponsored the bill, which also features several prevention efforts, including better training for commanders and military prosecutors and increased physical security measures.

A change of heart: Turner, a co-chairman of the House sexual assault prevention caucus, has previously opposed several past versions of the bill. But his support for this iteration is likely to compel other House Republicans to back the measure and advance the legislation after years of resistance.

"When we ask our men and women in uniform to put their lives on the line for our country, they shouldn’t also fear becoming a victim of sexual assault. We owe them more,” Turner said in a statement. “What Senator Gillibrand has accomplished is unusual in Washington — true bipartisan, bicameral legislation ... [which] would take a pivotal step in the long fight for military justice reform.”

A long time coming: The Defense Department has grappled with a high number of sexual assault reports across the military, despite years of efforts and programs to address the problem. In 2020 — despite a worldwide pandemic that limited troop movement and interaction — sexual assault reports rose by about 1 percent compared to 2019. 

Gillibrand has tried for eight years to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether to send sexual assault cases to trial, but Pentagon officials routinely pushed back, arguing it would cause a breakdown in unit cohesion.

But with 61 Republican and Democratic senators now backing her bill as of Thursday, plus Turner’s support in the House, it appears she may finally see her efforts pay off.

Other House efforts: Turner’s announcement comes a day after Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDemocrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department House lawmakers unveil bill to end ban on Postal Service shipments of alcohol Push to combat sexual assault in military reaches turning point MORE (D-Calif.) reintroduced a similar bill in the House, known as the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, named in honor of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who was killed by another soldier at Fort Hood, Texas.

Read more here.

  

PENTAGON LIFTS MASK MANDATE FOR VACCINATED PERSONNEL

The Defense Department (DOD) is dropping its mask mandate for fully vaccinated personnel, a policy in line with recently updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.

In a memo released Friday, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said that DOD personnel who are two weeks out from their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine “are no longer required to wear a mask indoors or outdoors at DoD facilities.”

The memo comes a day after the CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, except where required by law or other rules and regulations, such as on airplanes.

More on the memo: Hicks’s memo said that Defense Department personnel should continue following CDC guidance on when masks still need to be worn, such as in airports.

She also said that personnel who are not fully vaccinated “should continue to follow applicable DoD mask guidance, including continuing to wear masks indoors.”

Commanders and supervisors are also allowed to make exceptions to the memo “as necessary to ensure a safe workforce,” it said.

Enforcement unclear: It’s unclear how the department will enforce its new policy. Hicks’s memo said commanders and supervisors “should not ask about an employee’s vaccination status,” nor should they use information about someone’s vaccination status to “make decisions about how and when employees will report to a workplace instead of teleworking.”

In its own news release Friday on the new Defense Department policy, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said personnel affiliated with the command “are encouraged to carry vaccination cards or equivalent documentation for the purpose of contact tracing.”

The latest numbers: As of Wednesday, 614,330 service members and 258,476 Defense Department civilians were fully vaccinated, according to the latest department data.

Another 257,666 service members and 90,575 have been partially vaccinated, according to the data.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Lifted COVID-19 restrictions provide opportunities for domestic extremists, DHS warns
 
-- The Hill: Lawmakers introduce bill to protect critical infrastructure against cyberattacks
 
-- The Hill: Israeli forces hit Hamas tunnel system in Gaza, deny reports of ground assault

-- Stars and Stripes: 15 military families at Joint Base Lewis-McChord file lawsuit over poor housing conditions

-- The New York Times: Spy Agencies Seek New Afghan Allies as U.S. Withdraws