Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense & National Security — Quick vote on defense bill blocked again

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

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blocked a deal for a quick vote on the National Defense Authorization Act. 

We'll have more on that today, plus Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's comments on China's hypersonic weapons pursuit and Secretary of State Antony Blinken's meetings with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts  

For The Hill, I'm Jordan Williams. Write me with tips at jwilliams@thehill.com 

Let's get to it.

 

Rubio blocks defense bill amendments deal

 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) blocked a deal Wednesday night on votes on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), marking the latest setback for passing the legislation this week.  

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tried to get consent to set up votes on 24 amendments to the legislation, which would have started Thursday morning.  

After the votes, the Senate would have then been on track to vote on passing the bill. 

Rubio's proposal: Rubio's proposal would ban imports from China's Xinjiang region, where administration officials have accused the government of carrying out genocide against the Uyghur ethnic minority.

The amendment was included in a list sent out to Senate offices on Wednesday of the amendments that would get voted on.

But Rubio faced a snag over how the deal was structured, so that even if senators voted for his amendment, it would've been stripped out before a final vote on the bill. 

Democrats warned that the amendment would kill the legislation in the House since it violates Article 1, Section 7, Clause 1 of the Constitution, which stipulates that bills that raise revenue have to originate in the lower chamber. 

The latest setback: Wednesday night's snag was just the latest roadblock for the defense authorization bill. 

Before Thanksgiving recess, Senate leadership tried to set up votes on 18 amendments, but several GOP senators objected because their amendments were not included. 

Leadership then floated a deal Tuesday night that would have set up votes on 21 amendments, but Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Wednesday morning that at least three Republicans - and likely more - were objecting.

Read the full story here

 

China's hypersonic pursuit leading to tension

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin lambasted China on Thursday over its pursuit of hypersonic weapons, which he says "increases tensions in the region." 

"We have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC [People's Republic of China] continues to pursue, and the pursuit of those capabilities increases tensions in the region," Austin told reporters after security talks with South Korea. 

"We'll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and to our allies," he added.  

China's hypersonics outpacing Washington: Austin's comments are the latest as officials sound the alarm that the U.S. is falling behind China on hypersonics.  

The Pentagon confirmed earlier this month that China conducted a hypersonic weapons test earlier this month. China has denied that it tested hypersonic weapons, saying in October that it was actually testing a reusable space vehicle. 

But U.S. officials have recently said that China's hypersonic weapons tests have outpaced similar efforts by Russia and the U.S.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten said last month that the country's military capabilities are developing at a "stunning" pace. 

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told Reuters on Wednesday that the U.S. was in an "arms race" with China over hypersonic weapons. 

"It's an arms race that has been going on for quite some time," Kendall said "The Chinese have been at it very aggressively." 

Read the full story here.

Blinken threatens sanctions against Russia 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia faces coordinated, global sanctions he declared that Russia is the aggressor against Ukraine.  

Blinken made his remarks after he met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, which was followed by a face-to-face meeting iwth Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference.

"Ukraine is in no way posing a threat to Russia, or seeking a confrontation that would justify a Russian military intervention. The only threat is that of renewed Russian aggression toward Ukraine," Blinken told reporters in Stockholm. 

Blinken met with Ukrainian and Russian diplomats: Blinken said he and Lavrov had a "very direct, very candid, non-polemical exchange of views," adding that he expected that President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin would speak directly in the near future in an escalate to de-escalate tensions between Moscow and Kyiv.  

Meanwhile, Blinken told Kuleba that the United States' commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity is "unwavering."  

"The unwavering commitment of the United States to Ukraine's territorial integrity, sovereignty, its independence ... that is a view that not only the United States holds but all of our NATO allies hold as well," Blinken said. 

Russia's side: As the US and NATO express fears of another Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has said Ukraine has been provocative.  

As Blinken was meeting with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the "probability of hostilities in Ukraine still remains high," The Associated Press reported. 

Peskov said "the Ukrainian authorities' aggressive and increasingly intensive provocative action on the line of contact" was contributing to fears about hostilities increasing. He further said that it seemed like "the Ukrainian leadership doesn't exclude a forceful scenario." 

Read our stories on today's developments

 

92 percent of active-duty Marines vaccinated

The Marine Corps said that 92 percent of its active duty service members are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of Wednesday as the deadline to be inoculated passes.

Where things stand:  Active-duty members of the Marine Corps had until Nov. 28 to be fully vaccinated. Late last month, the branch was on track to be the lowest vaccination rate among all military branches. 

Ninety-five percent of its roughly 179,000 active-duty servicemen were at least partially vaccinated, the Corps said in a press release emailed Thursday.

In addition, 79 percent of Marine Corps reserve component service members are at least partially vaccinated, while 72 percent are fully inoculated. 

Further, the Marine Corps said that it has approved 362 requests for temporary medical exemptions, and 15 permanent medical exemptions. It also approved 476 temporary administrative positions.

The branch has received 2,470 requests for religious accommodations over the mandate. The branch has processed 2,009 of those requests, none of which have been approved. 

Other deadlines that have passed: When Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated vaccinations for the military in late August, he left it up to each branch to set deadlines. 

The first deadline - for active-duty Air Force and Space Command servicemembers - was Nov. 2. Meanwhile, Air National Guard and reserve personnel had until Thursday to be inoculated. 

Like the Marine Corps, the Navy also set a Nov. 28 deadline for active-duty servicemen to be vaccinated. Meanwhile, Navy reservists whave until Dec. 28 to be inoculated. 

The Army gave active-duty troops until Dec. 15 to be vaccinated, while National Guardsmen and Reservists have until June 30. 

Read the full story here

 

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WHAT WE'RE READING

 

That's it for today! Check out The Hill's defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow.

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