Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum

Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum
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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: Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it China moves quickly to replace America in Afghanistan Harris to travel to Vietnam, Singapore in August MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Watchdog warns US will repeat mistakes of Afghanistan Adaptability remains a constant — even as the 'character of war' changes MORE appeared before lawmakers Wednesday for the fourth and final time of this budget season.

As usual, the topics at the hearing were wide-ranging.

But the moment that garnered the most headlines was Milley’s impassioned defense of the military studying critical race theory, the decades-old educational movement that had been mainly studied as a graduate school concept until Republicans began widely opposing it.

A pair of Florida Republicans -- Reps. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzPhotos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Gaetz, Greene and Gohmert turned away from jail to visit Jan. 6 defendants MORE and Michael WaltzMichael WaltzHouse lawmakers push for diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics Overnight Defense: US to evacuate Afghan allies at end of July | Biden meets with final top US commander in Afghanistan | Weapons buyer nominee withdraws amid IG probe US to evacuate Afghans who assisted US military MORE -- had pressed Austin on the issue. Milley tried to chime in during Gaetz’s questioning, but he cut the general off.

Later in the hearing, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) asked Milley if he wanted to say what he tried to earlier.

“I want to understand white rage, and I'm white,” Milley said.

“What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that?” Milley continued, referencing the Jan. 6 insurrection by supporters of former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE.

“I've read Mao Zedong. I've read Karl Marx. I've read Lenin," Miley added. "That doesn't make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?"

“And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our non-commissioned officers of being ‘woke’ or something else because we're studying some theories that are out there,” he added.

Read more here.

 

Here are some of the other highlights of the hearing:

On Afghanistan: Milley downplayed recent battlefield successes by the Taliban in Afghanistan, stressing that most of the district centers controlled by the insurgents were seized before the U.S. military began withdrawing and that no provincial capitals have fallen.

“There's 81 district centers that are currently, we think, are underneath Taliban control. That's out of 419 district centers,” he said. “There's no provincial capital that is underneath Taliban control, and there’s 34 of those.

“It is true that the Taliban are sniping at and picking off outposts, etc., and they have seized some district centers,” he continued. “Sixty percent of the 81 were seized last year, and the others since the last two months or so. So, yes, we're concerned, we're watching it, but there's a 300,000, plus or minus, military force, Afghanistan army and police force, and it is their job to defend their country.”

On the AUMF: Milley also told lawmakers that repealing the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War would not negatively affect any ongoing U.S. military operations.

“My military assessment is no, it won't have any negative effect on current operations,” he said. “It's the 2001 AUMF that's the critical one for us to continue operations.”

Milley’s assessment comes after the House last week voted to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that greenlit the Iraq War, with the Senate expected to vote on repeal later this year.

On nukes: Milley was also pressed on the idea of a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons, which some Democrats have been pushing President BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE to adopt.

Milley suggested he’d advise against such a policy, saying, “The president of the United States should always have as many options as possible, and that's my position.”

On budget priorities: Every budget cycle, the military services give Congress so-called unfunded priorities lists of items they would buy if their budgets were bigger, with this year’s lists totaling $25 billion.

The lists are often used as political fodder for those who argue the military is underfunded, while those who say the military is overfunded argue they contribute to bloat since lawmakers often grant some of the items on the wishlists.

On Wednesday, Milley made clear he does not consider anything on those lists to be must-have.

“If they were critical, then they need to be higher on the priority list and in the base budget,” he said.

 

MORE MOMENTUM TOWARD MILITARY JUSTICE REFORM

If you missed it Tuesday night, there was some big news on the efforts at military justice reform to combat sexual assault: Lloyd Austin threw his support behind taking the decision to prosecute sex crimes outside the chain of command.

In a statement, Austin said the Biden administration will “work with Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice, removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command.”

Austin is the first Defense secretary to support that change.

House bill: On Wednesday morning, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act.

The bill mirrors language in a bipartisan Senate bill championed by Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTreat broadband as infrastructure and we have a chance to get it right House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors To make energy green, remove red tape MORE (D-N.Y.) that would take the decision to prosecute all serious crimes away from military commanders and give it to independent military prosecutors.

The House and Senate bills go further than Austin endorsed in his statement; in addition to sex crimes, the bills would affect other felony-level crimes such as murder.

Where do we go from here: With Austin’s backing and momentum in both chambers of Congress, the question at this point seems to be less whether there will be a change to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and more how far it will go.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithAngst grips America's most liberal city China is rapidly expanding its nuclear force: Should the US be concerned? House panel wants probe of F-35 breathing issues MORE (D-Wash.) made that point in a statement on the introduction of the House bill.

“This bipartisan and bicameral consensus means the question before us is not whether to update the UCMJ, but how to update the UCMJ,” he said.

“Two solutions have been proposed: removing all felony-like crimes from the chain of command, or removing all crimes relating to sexual assault from the chain of command,” he added. “There will be much debate about this differentiation, and I welcome that debate so that we can identify the best possible policy solution for our service members, but the bottom line remains the same: Significant action is required and the time to act is now.”

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Energy Secretary Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmEnergy chief touts electric vehicle funding in Senate plan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Western wildfires prompt evacuations in California, Oregon| House passes bill requiring EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Granholm announces new building energy codes Granholm announces new building energy codes MORE and acting National Nuclear Security Administration chief Charles Verdon will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/35KDbIY

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on NATO’s plans for the future with testimony from former officials at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3gZokzx

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Marines Commandant Gen. David Berger will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3dqMn9R

Pentagon comptroller Michael McCord and Vice Adm. Ronald Boxall of the Joint Staff will testify before the House Budget Committee at 10:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3qtFGck

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting to consider legislation and nominations at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3h187di

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on LGBT rights abroad with testimony from a State Department officials and outside experts at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/3vRelSg

 

ICYMI

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-- Wall Street Journal: Afghan says he spied for CIA. Now that he wants to flee to US, he can’t prove it.