Overnight Defense: Austin nears decision on military sexual assault reform | Dems wage high-profile fight | Lawmakers push to replenish Iron Dome

Overnight Defense: Austin nears decision on military sexual assault reform | Dems wage high-profile fight | Lawmakers push to replenish Iron Dome
© Greg Nash

Happy Wednesday 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: Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinPentagon chief to restore advisory panels after purge of Trump loyalists Senators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war MORE is nearing a decision on whether he will recommend the Defense Department change how it prosecutes sexual assault crimes, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said Wednesday.

Austin since April has pondered initial recommendations from an independent commission, which suggested taking the decision to prosecute sex crimes away from commanders and instead giving it to independent military prosecutors in an effort to improve the response to sexual assault.

Getting feedback: The Pentagon chief has since heard from service leaders after they turned in their feedback last week. They also spoke with Austin for “a little bit more than an hour” on Tuesday,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

Kirby said Austin does not have “a hard and fast deadline,” for his decision, but “it’s now with him and he’s taking the time I think necessary to make his own decisions and make his own recommendations to the president.”

The spokesman wouldn’t rule out that Austin “might want to have additional conversations outside [the Pentagon] or maybe even additional conversations with [service leaders] as he comes to his own conclusions.”

The waiting game: Austin’s recommendations to President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense: Senate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget | House passes bill to streamline visa process for Afghans who helped US | Pentagon confirms 7 Colombians arrested in Haiti leader's killing had US training On The Money: Senate braces for nasty debt ceiling fight | Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan deal | Housing prices hit new high in June Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE have been highly anticipated since January when he stood up a 90-day independent commission to review the department’s sexual assault prevention and response policies.

The 12 members of the group gave Austin their first recommendations three months later, the biggest of which was that prosecutions should be handled by lawyers trained to handle such cases.

Meanwhile, in Congress: Lawmakers, most notably Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden Duckworth, Pressley introduce bill to provide paid family leave for those who experience miscarriage MORE (D-N.Y.), have also pressed for such changes. Gillibrand is currently publicly pushing for Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel Biden's belated filibuster decision: A pretense of principle at work MORE (D-N.Y.) to pick a side by giving her a vote on her bill, which, among other things, shifts the decision for prosecuting “serious crimes” including sexual assault, murder and manslaughter from the chain of command to independent military prosecutors. 

A growing shift: A move for change has been further buoyed by the Biden administration pledging to “end the scourge of sexual assault” in the ranks and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war Top general: Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism MORE recently dropping his objection to prosecuting sexual assaults outside the military's chain of command.

 

DEMS WAGE HIGH-PROFILE FIGHT OVER MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT

Democrats are in the midst of a high-profile fight over how to reform the military justice system. 

Though there’s growing support — both within the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill — for changing how sexual assault allegations are prosecuted, the question of how broad a reform bill should go is putting an increasingly public spotlight on divisions among top Senate Democrats. 

On one side is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has been a leading advocate in the Senate for years on the issue. On the other is Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedSenate panel votes to make women register for draft Senators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden MORE (D-R.I.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who has broad sway over military policy.

Gillibrand’s view: Gillibrand is publicly pushing for Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to pick a side by giving her a vote on her bill, which, among other things, shifts the decision for prosecuting “serious crimes” including sexual assault, murder and manslaughter from the chain of command to independent military prosecutors. 

“It is a hallmark bill, a generational bill of shifting how we address military justice, how we build the military justice system that's worthy of the sacrifice our men and women in the military make," Gillibrand said during an interview with CNN. 

Schumer has said he supports the bill, but hasn’t weighed in on the feud between his fellow New York Democrat and one of his committee chairs. 

A needed agreement: But Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstBiden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund GOP seeks to make Biden synonymous with inflation Overnight 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 MORE (R-Iowa), who has teamed up with Gillibrand, said that a snag to getting a quick vote is that the bill would likely eat up days, if not weeks, of Senate floor time because they don’t currently have a deal with Schumer and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellS.E. Cupp: 'The politicization of science and health safety has inarguably cost lives' Poll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat  Business groups urge lawmakers to stick with bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ky.) to speed things up. 

“The leaders have to have agreement,” Ernst said. “We want a time agreement to do it, but we haven’t been able to get that yet.” 

Behind the scenes battles: The effort to pressure Schumer comes after Gillibrand, following behind-the-scenes battles with Reed, went public with the divisions last week by going to the Senate floor to publicly try to set up a vote.  

But that effort ran into a roadblock in the form of Reed, a typically soft-spoken Army veteran, who rejected Gillibrand’s request four times on the Senate floor. 

Reed is instead planning to put a proposal into an initial draft of a mammoth defense policy, which will move through his committee. His version would focus more narrowly on how sexual assault cases are prosecuted. 

Read more here.

 

HOUSE LAWMAKERS PUSH DOD TO SUPPORT ISRAEL IRON DOME REPLENISHMENT

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is calling on the Pentagon to support the replenishment of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system following the 11-day conflict between the U.S. ally and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. 

The 55 lawmakers, led by Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerLawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections Democrats face daunting hurdles despite promising start MORE (D-N.J.), wrote in a Wednesday letter addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that the U.S. should “continue urgently engaging with Israel” on the administration's “ironclad commitment to Israel’s safety and security, including replenishing Israel’s stock of interceptors for the Iron Dome missile defense system and other important matters.” 

The argument: The letter, first reported by Punchbowl News, noted that while “lives were tragically lost” in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, “the Iron Dome was extremely effective overall,” intercepting “approximately 90 percent of the incoming rockets, saving countless civilians in Israel, as well as those in Gaza.” 

“We must ensure that the Iron Dome remains able to protect Israel without running the risk that its stockpile of interceptors becomes depleted,” they write. “Israel must always have the resources it needs to defend itself from incoming rockets when it is targeted again.” 

The Pentagon’s response: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was due to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday for his counterpart’s first in person visit at the Pentagon.

Asked on Wednesday whether the two would discuss the Iron Dome restock, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said he wouldn’t get ahead of discussions between Austin and Gantz.

“I’m certainly aware of press reporting out there about their desires for resupply,” Kirby said of Israel. “The only thing I’d add is . . . that we take very seriously our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge and our commitment to assisting the Israeli government in its self-defense of its citizens and its sovereign territory.”

Pushback: President Biden has already pledged to replenish Israel’s supply of Iron Dome rockets, though some Democrats have pushed for reevaluating U.S. military aid to Israel over human rights abuse allegations and Israel’s actions in the May fighting. 

The violence led to the deaths of 243 Palestinians, including 66 children, with a dozen Israelis, including two children, also killed.

Read the rest here.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Pentagon reviewing policy limiting flags displayed at military bases: report
 
-- The Hill: House Democrats press key GOP senator to release hold on aid to Palestinians
 
-- The Hill: Iran's largest warship catches fire, sinks
 
-- The Hill: Graham says Israel will request $1 billion from US after Gaza war
 
-- The Hill: US-Israel relations poised to enter new phase without Netanyahu

-- Defense News: Before US-Russia summit, measure demands any new missile treaties include China

-- CNN: US Army will not investigate Flynn's comments about a coup after he appeared to endorse one

-- Stars and Stripes: House lawmakers from states hard hit by floods, hurricanes and wildfires call for larger National Guard forces

-- Defense One: Austin Asks Top General For 'Options' to Evacuate Afghans