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Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab

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It’s Friday, welcome to Overnight Defense, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Friday’s first in-person “Quad” meeting has China on the mind, President Biden made his most extensive comments yet on the influx of Haitian migrants at the southern border and lawmakers are gearing up for next week’s big Afghanistan hearings.

For The Hill, we’re Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Kheel. Write to us with tips: emitchell@thehill.com and rkheel@thehill.com

Let’s get to it.

Quad goals

President Biden listens during a Quad Leaders Summit at the White House 

President Biden and his counterparts from Australia, Japan and India — otherwise known as the Quad — met at the White House on Friday for the informal alliance’s first in-person summit.

The meeting comes as the White House doubles down on its foreign policy efforts to compete with China in the Indo-Pacific.

“At the outset of the admin the president indicated he wanted to take this institution that’s an informal gathering of leading democracies in the Indo-Pacific and basically lift it both to the leader level, and ensure we are working together to build better lines of communication and strengthening cooperation and habits of cooperation amongst us,” a senior administration official told reporters on a call previewing Friday’s summit.

The official described the Quad as part of a “larger fabric of engagement” that reflects the Biden administration’s foreign policy in the region. Biden has spoken frequently about the need for democracies to band together as autocracies in China and elsewhere seek greater influence.

On the agenda: The leaders were expected to discuss climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain and cybersecurity initiatives.

In addition to the multilateral meeting, Biden also met one-on-one Friday with both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Biden already had a one-on-one meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the sidelines of the United Nations on Tuesday.


Biden calls treatment of Haitians ’embarrassing’ 

President Biden addresses the situation with Haitian migrants at the southern border

President Biden on Friday decried the scene of border agents chasing Haitian migrants at the southern border as un-American and vowed to punish those responsible.

“To see people treated like they did, horses barely running them over and people being strapped. It was outrageous. I promise those people will pay,” Biden said after a reporter asked if he took responsibility for the situation at the border, answering that he does.

He noted that the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the situation and emphasized “there will be consequences.”

“It’s an embarrassment. It’s beyond an embarrassment. It’s dangerous, it’s wrong, it sends the wrong message around the world or sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are,” Biden continued.

The remarks, which Biden made at the White House after concluding a speech on the administration’s coronavirus response, represented his most extensive comments on the influx of Haitian migrants at the southern border to date. Biden has been almost entirely silent on the topic this week, but the White House has denounced the images of Customs and Border Protection agents chasing migrants as horrifying.

Camp cleared: Later Thursday, the administration said the camp of migrants living under a bridge connecting Mexico with Del Rio, Texas, had been cleared.

“As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants in the camp underneath the Del Rio International Bridge,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters at a White House briefing.

The complete clearing of the camp means the Department of Homeland Security has processed an estimated 15,000 Haitian migrants who had gathered there.  Just one day earlier, on Thursday, DHS officials told reporters there were some 4,000 migrants remaining under the bridge.

Many have been returned to Haiti through controversial repatriation flights, completing 17 flights to Haiti with roughly 2,000 Haitians.

Several Democrats have asked the Biden administration to suspend the flights, noting that Haitians present in the U.S. prior to July were given permission to remain due to conditions in Haiti following a devastating earthquake.

Mayorkas’s defense: The secretary also defended the Biden administration’s policies on immigration as moral at the tense White House briefing, arguing its deportations of Haitians and others found to have illegally crossed the border are neither immoral nor unethical.

“We do not conduct ourselves in an immoral way,” Mayorkas said when asked about the morality of using a Trump-era law known as Title 42 to return Haitians to a nation recovering from an earthquake and plagued by political instability.

The U.S. has expelled some 2,000 migrants from Haiti under Title 42, which allows swift expulsion of migrants with no opportunity to claim asylum during a public health crisis.

“We do not conduct ourselves in an unethical way. In fact, we are restoring people by reason of the immorality of the past administration. We are reuniting families that were separated,” he said.


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You’d be forgiven if you weren’t spending your Thursday night watching the House floor. So we’re here to tell you that a little after 9 p.m., after about seven hours of amendment votes, the House easily passed its $778 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

As usual, it was a bipartisan blowout, passing 316-113. The “no” votes came from 38 Democrats and 75 Republicans.

Funding fight: Perhaps the most watched amendment fights on the floor were a pair of progressive amendments aimed at slashing the defense budget.

Neither had been expected to pass, given the slim Democratic majority and the fact that more than a dozen Democrats sided with a budget increase in the House Armed Services Committee. But they still provided insight into where Democrats are standing on the defense budget.

The amendment from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) to slash the defense budget by 10 percent failed 86-332, with 126 Democrats voting against it.

An amendment from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to revert back to President Biden’s defense budget request of $753 billion fared better. It still failed, 142-286, but a majority of Democrats supported it, including House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

What else is in there? Here’s a quick rundown of some key provisions in the House-passed NDAA:

  • Establishes special victims prosecutor offices in each of the military services to handle sexual assault and related crimes

  • Requires women to register for the draft

  • Several requirements for reports and briefings on Afghanistan, including establishing an independent commission to examine lessons learned from the whole war

  • National Guard reforms, including banning private funding from paying for deployments and giving the D.C. mayor authority over the district’s Guard

  • Authorizes a Global War on Terrorism monument to be built on the National Mall

  • Raises the cooling off period for recently retired generals to lead the Pentagon from seven years to 10 years

  • Creates a Space National Guard

  • Supports a 2.7 percent pay raise for troops


What to watch next week: Afghanistan hearings 

Next week is poised to be a big one for Afghanistan oversight: Both the House and Senate Armed Services committees are set to hold their first public hearings on the withdrawal since it ended.

First up is the Senate panel on Tuesday, which will also be the first time Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie testify before Congress since the withdrawal went awry.

The trio of defense officials will return to Capitol Hill the next day for the House Armed Services hearing.

GOP sets tone: Ahead of the hearings, top Republicans are making clear what questions they still want answered.

On Thursday, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) sent a letter to Austin with more than a dozen questions and requests for documents, including information on any investigation into the Kabul airport attack that killed 13 U.S. troops, a “complete accounting” of Pentagon support to the mission to evacuate civilians, an accounting of all U.S. military equipment left in Afghanistan and a summary of Pentagon outreach to countries in the region about future counterterrorism efforts.

“Ahead of Secretary Austin, Gen. Milley and Gen. McKenzie appearing before the committee next week, I want to lay out the information I believe the committee needs to conduct robust, methodical oversight of the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Inhofe said in a statement. “We need a full accounting of every factor and decision that led us to where we are today and a real plan for defending America moving forward. I’ve heard all of my colleagues on the committee ask for this information, and Congress, our service members, and the American people deserve to see these responses.” 

In his own statement when the House hearing was announced, House Armed Services ranking member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said “the American people need answers on how this withdrawal went so horribly wrong and what risks to our national security this debacle has created.”

“We intend to finally get those answers from the Biden administration at our hearing next week,” Rogers added. “This whole situation could have been avoided. It’s up to Congress to finally get answers from the Biden administration and HASC Republicans intend to do just that.” 


House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) also continues to press for more information.

In a letter released Friday, McCaul asked the Biden administration to declassify and release its intelligence on Afghanistan after arguing they were caught off guard by the rapid fall of Kabul.

Multiple members of the administration have said their intelligence did not predict that the Taliban would complete their takeover of the country so quickly as the U.S. drew down its forces.

“It is imperative that Congress be given access to any and all reports and underlying intelligence products that led to the assessments so we may better understand how the situation deteriorated so quickly and why the Administration made the decisions they did regarding the disastrous evacuation,” McCaul wrote in the letter to the State Department, Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Pentagon response: Asked about both McCaul’s letter and Inhofe’s on Friday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed the department’s received the letters and that the department will reply “appropriately.”

Kirby also added that Austin is “looking forward to that opportunity” of next week’s hearings “to talk about operations in Afghanistan, to include the retrograde and the evacuation and to be able to answer some of those very questions.”

IG probe: Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s inspector general has announced it will investigate the Aug. 29 U.S. drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians.

A memo from the inspector general’s office said the probe will focus on whether the strike was “conducted in accordance with DoD policies and procedures,” including reviewing “ the pre-strike targeting process; the damage assessment and civilian casualty review and reporting process; and the post-strike reporting of information.”

That’s on top of the Austin-ordered review of the strike that’s being led by the Air Force inspector general.


  • Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), deputy assistant secretary of Defense for African affairs Chidi Blyden and U.S. Agency for International Development Africa Bureau deputy assistant administrator Travis Adkins will speak about Africa’s security challenges at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/3kD8b5R



AM General has a strong legacy of designing, manufacturing and supporting iconic, high-quality military, commercial, and consumer vehicles. We offer versatile vehicles, innovative product solutions, and end-to-end support that keeps pace with the changing world.



That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. We’ll see you Monday.

Tags Adam Smith Alejandro Mayorkas Anthony Brown Barbara Lee Biden Joe Biden John Kirby Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Mark Pocan Michael McCaul Mike Rogers

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