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Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Army secretary after snafu | Afghanistan withdrawal 'slightly' ahead of schedule

Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Army secretary after snafu | Afghanistan withdrawal 'slightly' ahead of schedule
© getty: Christine Wormuth

Happy Thursday 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: The Senate on Thursday confirmed President BidenJoe BidenFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building Saudis picked up drugs in Cairo used to kill Khashoggi: report Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting MORE's nominee to be Army secretary, making her the first woman in the job a day after a procedural mix-up stalled her historic appointment.

The Senate approved Christine Wormuth’s nomination to lead the Army by unanimous consent on Thursday morning after confirming and then un-confirming her the night before.

One small hiccup: On Wednesday night, the Senate appeared to approve Wormuth’s nomination to be Army secretary when Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate Democrats threaten to block 2026 World Cup funds unless women's soccer team get equal pay Senate confirms Biden's top scientist Senate chaos: Johnson delays exit as votes pushed to Friday MORE (D-Wash.) took to the floor and got unanimous consent to confirm Wormuth, as well as a batch of military nominations.

But a couple hours later, Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIn Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas America needs a stable Israeli government MORE (D-N.Y.) got unanimous consent to “vitiate” the earlier action on Wormuth, rescinding her confirmation.

Schumer did not explain the reason for the reversal on the Senate floor, and his office said only that it was a "clerical mix-up."

The hold that caused it: Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told reporters Thursday afternoon the snafu the night before was because he hadn't yet lifted his hold on the nomination. Cramer said at Wormuth's confirmation hearing he would block her confirmation until an issue with a constituent soldier's pay was resolved.

Cramer lifted the hold Thursday after Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks assured him the issue would be fixed, he said.

About Wormuth: Wormuth worked in the Pentagon during the Obama administration and most recently has served as the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation.

Wormuth also served as the head of Biden’s Pentagon transition team, a role she took over after Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks stepped aside to focus on her own confirmation process.

 

PENTAGON CHIEF: AFGHANISTAN WITHDRAWAL 'SLIGHTLY' AHEAD OF SCHEDULE 

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is “slightly” ahead of schedule, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday.

“I can report to you today that the retrograde is proceeding on pace, indeed slightly ahead of it,” Austin told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense in his opening statement.

He offered no further details of the pace, and lawmakers did not ask for elaboration during questioning at the hearing meant to focus on the $715 billion Pentagon budget being released Friday.

How far they’ve made it: President Biden has ordered all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked America’s longest war. But several reports have indicated the withdrawal could be completed as soon as July.

In its most recent update on the withdrawal Tuesday, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said the process is about 16 to 25 percent complete.

Centcom is only giving ranges for completion of the withdrawal and not specifying the number of troops that have left Afghanistan over what it says are concerns about service members’ safety.

The withdrawal has included flying about 160 C-17 cargo planes’ worth of material out of Afghanistan and giving more than 10,000 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction, Centcom said.

Additionally, the United States has handed over control of five bases to the Afghan government, according to Centcom.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Vice President Harris will deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy’s class of 2021 graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Md., at 10 a.m. 

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: Dozens of Afghan military bases, outposts surrendered to Taliban this month: report

– The Hill: Ex-official who went public with UFO reports claims government trying to discredit him

– The Hill: Former DHS secretaries call on Senate to approve Jan. 6 commission

– The Hill: 3 GOP senators come out against Biden intelligence nominee over Huawei ties

– The Hill: State Department voices concern over renewed violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan

– The Hill: UN Human Rights Council votes to investigate alleged crimes in conflict between Israel, Hamas

– The Hill: Opinion: Extraordinary explanations for UFOs look increasingly plausible

– The Hill: Opinion: The Space Force needs deterrence and war-winning capabilities

– Defense News: Pentagon budget will shake up ‘legacy’ systems. Lawmakers are shaking back.

– The Associated Press: Defense chief: US pullout from Afghanistan ‘slightly’ ahead