Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill

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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: Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary who led the Pentagon when the U.S. launched wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, has died at the age of 88, his family announced Wednesday.

Rumsfeld, who ran the Pentagon for former President George W. Bush and lost his job a day after Republicans lost the House majority in 2006, died surrounded by his family in New Mexico, according to a statement.

“It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather,” his family said.

“At 88, he was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico. History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country,” his family added.

Defense secretary highlights: Rumsfeld was first Defense secretary during the Ford administration and was the youngest person in the country’s history to hold that job.

He came back to the job in 2001, this time as the oldest person to have held the position, his legacy shaped by his handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Appearing in the Pentagon briefing room frequently to discuss the wars, Rumsfeld also became known for acerbic and, at times, nonsensical quotes.

“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know,” he said in 2002 to suggest Iraq was giving terrorists weapons of mass destruction despite no evidence that was happening.

Rumsfeld’s tenure was marked by several controversies at the Pentagon, including the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. Rumsfeld, who offered to resign twice in 2004 amid the scandal, later called Abu Ghraib his “darkest hour.”

As the United States got bogged down in twin wars and Democrats took control of Congress on a wave of antiwar sentiment, Bush replaced Rumsfeld with Robert Gates in 2006.

Tributes: In a statement Wednesday, Bush called his first Defense secretary “a man of intelligence, integrity and almost inexhaustible energy.”

“On the morning of September 11, 2021, Donald Rumsfeld ran to the fire at the Pentagon to assist the wounded and ensure the safety of survivors,” Bush recalled. “For the next five years, he was in steady service as a wartime secretary of defense — a duty he carried out with strength, skill and honor.”

“We are so sorry to learn that the world has lost Don Rumsfeld, but sorry most of all for the great empty space we know his passing has left in the lives of his family,” former Vice President Cheney and his wife, Lynne, said in their own statement. “During some of our nation’s most serious challenges, he was entrusted by presidents to help guide America through turbulent times. He did so with strength and resolve that came to embody who he was as a person.

Several lawmakers also put out statements mourning Rumsfeld.

“Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was an exceptional leader who dedicated decades of his life in public service to this nation,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said in a statement. “I also appreciate his help to lay some of the early groundwork for Space Force.” 

“My relationship with Secretary Rumsfeld seems almost old-fashioned in today’s political environment – we agreed on much, while disagreeing often through thoughtful debate and mutual respect,” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in his own statement. “Kay and I are keeping Joyce and his entire family in our prayers as we join in their grief and honor a devoted patriot and public servant.”



The former president is still going after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, this time calling for his resignation.

“Gen. Mark Milley’s greatest fear is upsetting the woke mob,” Former President Trump said in a statement Wednesday released through his Save America super PAC.

“Gen. Milley ought to resign, and be replaced with someone who is actually willing to defend our Military from the Leftist Radicals who hate our Country and our Flag,” Trump added.

Reminder: Trump is the one who appointed Milley to the job of Joint Chief’s chairman.

In doing so, Trump passed over then-Defense Secretary James Mattis’ pick of then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, reportedly in part because Trump was not a fan of the F-16 fighter jet Goldfein used to fly.

Context: The attacks against Milley, which started last week after he defended the idea of studying critical race theory in the military, have come amid a broader GOP campaign seeking to make critical race theory an electoral issue.

More to come?: In his statement, Trump, who issued an order restricting diversity training that President Biden reversed in January, called on Congress to “defund this racist indoctrination.”

The statement could add fuel to expected plans from some Republicans to use debate over the annual defense policy bill as a battleground for critical race theory.



A House Appropriations Committee subpanel has advanced a $706 billion Pentagon spending bill.

The Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense approved the fiscal 2022 spending bill by voice vote in a closed-door session Wednesday, sending it to the full committee for consideration next month.

Fight just starting: The full committee markup is when the fight over the defense budget should really heat up.

As mentioned in this newsletter Tuesday, when combined with a separate military construction spending bill, the committee’s bill closely follows President Biden’s request for a $715 billion Defense Department budget next year.

Biden’s request was panned by Republicans and progressive Democrats for opposite reasons. Republicans held the request was too small amid growing threats from China, while progressives argued it is too large in the face of pressing domestic needs and nonmilitary threats such as pandemics.

But other Democratic leaders are backing Biden’s dollar figure.

“In my opinion, we have landed on a responsible number that maintains a strong security posture today — while making important investments that will make us even stronger in the years to come,” House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chair Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) said at Wednesday’s markup, according to a copy of her remarks released by the panel.



Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, will provide a keynote address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast to present the 2021 Ryozo Kato Award for Service to the U.S.-Japan Alliance at 8 a.m. https://bit.ly/363RWqu

The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the fiscal 2022 State Department spending bill at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/3hjI557

A House Veterans Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ fiscal 2022 information technology budget at 10:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3h47QYi

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) will discuss “Critical Race Theory in the Military” at a virtual Heritage Foundation event at 11 a.m. https://herit.ag/3qAKywl

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown will speak at a virtual Atlantic Council event at 3:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/3AfDSIs



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Tags Betty McCollum Donald Trump James Mattis Joe Biden Mark Milley Mike Rogers Tom Cotton

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