Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Former Sen. John Warner dies at 94 | Sanders drops bid to block Israel arms sale | Japan-based carrier reportedly heading to Mideast for Afghanistan withdrawal

Former Sen. John Warner
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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: Former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), an influential figure in defense policy, has died at 94.

Warner died Tuesday of heart failure at home in Alexandria, Va., with his wife and daughter at his side, his longtime chief of staff, Susan A. Magill, told The Associated Press.

Defense record: Warner’s defense bona fides included time as Senate Armed Service Committee chairman, as well as a stint as Navy secretary.

Warner, a World War II and Korean War veteran, was respected on both sides of the aisle for his independent streak.

During debate on Democrats’ push to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2007, Warner led Republicans in opposing the move, saying at the time, “What we have on the line is the credibility of the United States of America.” 

Just one year later, however, he criticized the George W. Bush administration’s proposed “surge” in troops in Iraq, saying, “The reason I’m into this situation so deeply is that I feel that the American citizens have given so generously with their sons and daughters.”

“Have we not fulfilled our commitment to the Iraqi people?” he questioned. 

Warner also joined fellow Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) in co-sponsoring legislation banning the torture of suspected terrorists and opposing provisions to military commissions that were used to try war criminal suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Defense tributes: Tributes to Warner poured in Wednesday from across Washington and beyond, defense circles included.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Warner “set an enduring example of principled leadership.”

“Today, on behalf of the Department of Defense, we mourn the loss of Senator John Warner and celebrate his life of extraordinary service to our country,” Austin said in a statement. “Throughout his long public career, Senator Warner stood up for our men and women in uniform and made lasting contributions to our national security.”

The current leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), remembered Warner as a “patriot, a gentleman, an independent-minded leader and a friend.”

“As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John was resolute and far-sighted in guiding our national security decisions,” Reed and Inhofe said in a joint statement. “He was a tireless advocate for our troops, and always put country before party.  We are both fortunate to have served alongside him and had the opportunity to learn from his example.”

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker hailed Warner’s “greatest legacy” of his “work for peace,” highlighting Warner successfully negotiating an agreement with the Soviet Union aimed at reducing the risk of incidents at sea “that continues to protect the lives of our personnel and the freedom of the seas to this day.”

“The only Secretary of the Navy to have served in both the Navy and Marine Corps, Senator Warner brought a level of understanding and experience to the office that has never been paralleled, and he used his time here to make life better for all Sailors and Marines as well as their families,” Harker said in a statement.

“From his time as an enlisted Sailor in World War II, to his service as a Marine Officer during the Korean War, to his service as Secretary of the Navy and United States Senator through the thick of the Cold War, Senator Warner was a proven warrior who understood the need for strength and readiness in our Fleet and Force,” Harker added in a statement.


Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) effort to block a $735 million arms sale to Israel proved to be short-lived.

Just under a week after Sanders introduced the resolution to the block sale, an aide confirmed he won’t try to force a vote on it after being informed the export license for the sale was granted last week.

Reminder: The effort had been seen as a long-shot since Sanders lacked the votes needed to pass the measure, and it was unclear if he would have been able to force the vote since the congressional review period for the sale ended last week.

No holds: Sanders has also dropped a hold on State Department nominees that he had placed late last week after speaking with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who discussed steps the administration is “preparing to take to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and across the Palestinian Territories.”

Sanders, according to an aide, told Sherman that “returning to the pre-war status quo was insufficient” and that he and other lawmakers were going to “push for greater debate to make sure that US arms sales do not support human rights abuses.”

“Secretary Sherman committed to a continuing dialogue on these issues. As a result of this conversation, Senator Sanders has lifted his hold on State Department nominees,” the aide added.


The Pentagon will reportedly send the Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to the Middle East to help provide cover during the Afghanistan withdrawal.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier is doing that job right now, but is slated to head to Virginia in July. So, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, the Pentagon is planning to tap the Navy’s forward-deployed carrier to take over.

Why it matters: The deployment would be the first time the Reagan leaves the Pacific since 2015 and underscores strains on the carrier fleet as the Navy meets the demands of U.S. commanders around the world.

The Eisenhower, for example, had back-to-back deployments within a year. The reason it can’t stay in the region past July is because it needs to return for maintenance.

No comment: Asked Wednesday afternoon about the Reagan’s reported deployment, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to comment.

“We don’t talk about potential future operations. We certainly don’t talk about potential ship movements in advance,” Kirby told reporters at a press briefing, adding that in general Austin wants to ensure the U.S. commander in Afghanistan “has the right options at his disposal to make sure that the withdrawal from Afghanistan is done in a safe, orderly, and deliberate way.”


The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Christopher Maier to be assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict; Deborah Rosenblum to be assistant secretary of Defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs; Frank Rose to be principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration; and Jill Hruby to be under secretary of Energy for nuclear security and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3vpAeJd

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the crisis in Ethiopia with testimony from State Department officials at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3bYGQGJ

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will testify before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/34hMKOW

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on autocracy and kleptocracy in Russia with testimony from outside experts at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/3fPzs1u

A House Armed Service Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the Army’s Tactical Wheeled Vehicle program with testimony from defense officials at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/2RPj4G3


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Tags Bernie Sanders Jack Reed Jim Inhofe John McCain Lindsey Graham Lloyd Austin Mark Milley

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