Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill

It's Tuesday, 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.

Lawmakers reached a compromise on Tuesday on the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), setting up a same-day vote for House passage.

We’ll have more on that, plus President BidenJoe BidenPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal MORE’s virtual meeting with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIran announces naval drills with Russia, China Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions Putin's options extend well beyond invasion MORE and his upcoming call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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

Let’s get to it.


Inside the compromise defense policy bill 

Women in the military

The House and Senate Armed Services committees released the text of a compromise on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after efforts to pass the bill in the Senate hit repeated snags. 

The compromise includes a $768.2 billion top line for discretionary funds, and addresses a wide range of issues from the United States' botched withdrawal from Afghanistan to military justice reform.

The new bill comes after efforts in the Senate to finally pass the sweeping defense policy bill were repeatedly stalled by disputes over which amendments would receive votes on the floor.

So, what now? Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress Manchin: Biden spending plan talks would start 'from scratch' Reps. Massie, Grijalva test positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.) said in a Dear Colleague letter that the House would “move to pass” the bill Tuesday evening.

Her office said that means the aim is to vote on final passage and send it along to the Senate.

Meanwhile, Senate leaders discussed tying the defense bill with other legislation that would raise the debt ceiling, but that idea received pushback from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse GOP leaders vow to end proxy voting despite widespread use among Republicans Jan. 6 committee asks Ivanka Trump to sit for interview How Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump MORE (R-Calif.) and Senate Republicans. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday that he was dropping the Senate’s version of the NDAA, which ran into several snags over amendments, in exchange for the compromise. 

“For this coming week, we anticipate processing nominations and a final conference agreement on NDAA. Due to the time it may take to process those items in the Senate without cooperation, Senators should prepare for potential weekend votes,” Schumer said. 

 

WHAT'S IN THE BILL?

The $768 billion top line includes:

  • $740 billion for Department of Defense programs
  • $27.8 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy
  • $378 million for defense-related activities

The NDAA is a policy bill and does not authorize spending, meaning an appropriations bill would still need to be passed.

The proposal also includes sweeping military justice reforms by removing the commander from decisions to prosecute some crimes like rape, sexual assault, murder, manslaughter and kidnapping.

The measure also criminalizes sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and requires all claims of sexual harassment to be investigated by an independent investigator outside of the chain of command.

The compromise also includes a measure that prohibits private funding from being used to fund any state’s National Guard deployment to another state, except for natural disasters.

The provision — which was originally included in the House version — came after South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemTrump by the numbers: 2024 isn't simple GOP governors press Biden administration for control of infrastructure implementation Noem releases ad touting transgender athlete ban in girls' sports MORE (R) used private funding from a Tennessee billionaire’s donation to subsidize deploying the National Guard to Texas 

WHAT'S OUT?

Notably absent from the compromise was language which would have required women to register for the draft. 

Both the Senate and House Armed Services committees had voted to include language expanding the draft to their respective chambers’ legislation. 

A source familiar with negotiations confirmed that the provision had been stripped, but didn’t respond to questions on why the measure was dropped. But according to Politico, which first reported the move, the provision was stripped so that Republicans could accept changes to the military justice system.

Also missing from the bill was legislation mandating cyber incident reporting for certain critical organizations — which was in the version of the NDAA passed by the House in September.

That provision established a new Cyber Incident Review Office at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) and would have required CISA to set requirements for reporting cyber incidents. 

However, a Senate aide separately told The Hill that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE (R-Ky.) blocked the provision from being included in the compromise. 

Read today’s coverage of the NDAA:

 

Biden's big call

President Biden held a video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday where he warned against invading Ukraine as Russia amasses tens of thousands of troops near its border. 

Biden and Putin connected just after 10 a.m. ET, and the call concluded at 12:08 p.m., the White House said. The meeting was closed to the press, but the Kremlin released photos and videos of the meeting.

During the call, Biden “voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the U.S. and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation,” the White House said in a readout of the call. 

National security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanWhite House says Russia could launch attack in Ukraine 'at any point' Blinken stresses 'unshakable' US commitment to Ukraine in call with Russian counterpart Texas hostage-taker was known to British security officials MORE later suggested that significant sanctions would be on the table, though he didn’t get into specifics.  

"I will look you in the eye and tell you as President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today, that things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now,” Sullivan said referring to when Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Biden's next major call: Biden is scheduled speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday in a follow up to his Tuesday video call with Putin.

Sullivan said Biden and Zelensky will likely talk about a potential diplomatic resolution with Russia. Zelensky spoke with Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions MORE on Monday to coordinate ahead of Biden and Putin’s call.


DOES PUTIN WANT TO INVADE?

CIA Director William BurnsWilliam BurnsCIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power US providing Ukraine with additional 0M in military aid amid tensions with Russia 'Havana syndrome' suspected in attacks on US diplomats in Switzerland, France: report MORE said at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit on Monday that U.S. intelligence has yet to decisively conclude whether Moscow will invade. 

“I would never underestimate President Putin’s risk appetite on Ukraine,” Burns said. 

“We don’t know that Putin has made up his mind to use force,” he continued. “But what we do know is that he’s putting the Russian military, Russian security services in a place where they could act in a very sweeping way.”

Something to watch: CNN reported on Tuesday that the Biden administration was considering how to potentially evacuate U.S. citizens from Ukraine if an invasion from Moscow prompted security concerns. 

The outlet reported that the Pentagon was leading the contingency planning. However, the administration currently doesn't see a reason for evacuations. 

Pentagon press secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyLawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine Overnight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia Russia sends troops to Belarus for war games MORE told CNN in a statement that the Pentagon is “a planning organization and must be ready for any manner of contingencies around the world.”

“We do a lot of thinking about a lot of scenarios,” he said. “But there is no demand signal for civilian evacuations in Ukraine, and it would be wrong to conclude that there is an active effort in the Pentagon to prepare for them.” 

 

Biden defends proposed Saudi weapons sale 

The Biden administration said Tuesday that it opposes a bipartisan push to block a proposed $650 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulI'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back Rand Paul cancels DirecTV subscription after it drops OAN Trump slams Biden, voices unsubstantiated election fraud claims at first rally of 2022 MORE (R-Ky.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary Juan Williams: The GOP is an anti-America party MORE (R-Utah) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Briahna Joy Gray: Last-minute push for voting legislation felt 'perfomative' Biden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service MORE (I-Vt.) introduced a joint resolution last month disapproving of the arms sale over the Middle Eastern country’s role in the Yemen Civil War. 

But in a statement on Tuesday, the White House said the deal is “fully consistent with the Administration’s pledge to lead with diplomacy to end conflict in Yemen and end U.S. support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, while also ensuring that Saudi Arabia has the means to defend itself from Iranian-backed Houthi air attacks.” 

The resolution would “undermine the President’s commitment to aid in our partner’s defenses at a time of increased missile and drone attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia,” the statement continued.

About the deal: The State Department approved the weapons sale in November, the first major arms sale to Saudi Arabia of the Biden administration. 

The deal included 280 air-to-air missiles, 596 LAU-128 Missile Rail Launchers, containers, support equipment, spare and repair parts and logistical support services. 

The resolution is not the first to be introduced seeking to block the weapons sale. Rep. Illhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced a similar joint resolution in November blocking the deal. 

President Biden ended U.S. support for Saudi-led operations in Yemen’s civil war. However, he has come under criticism for failing to impose more costs on the kingdom over human rights issues. 

What Paul says: The Senate is expected to hold a vote on the resolution Tuesday evening. In an op-ed published in The American Conservative published Tuesday, Paul said the resolution would almost certainly be vetoed. 

“We have a chance to tell the Crown Prince that American arms sales will end until he gives up his starvation campaign,” Paul said. “Should we fail to seize this opportunity, history will never let us forget that America, the last best hope for humanity, failed to protect defenseless civilians from the cruelty of a criminal regime.”

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ will begin the “Project on Nuclear Issues 2021 Winter Conference” at 9 a.m. 
  • The Senate Armed Service Committee will hold a nomination hearing on Adm. Christopher Gray to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at 10 a.m. 
  • The Brookings Institution will host a discussion on “Is the NATO-EU Divide an Obstacle to a European Foreign Policy?” at 10 a.m. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will host a Full Committee Hearing on “The Future of U.S. Policy on Taiwan” at 2:30 p.m.
  • The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will host a nomination hearing on Kurt D. DelBene to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Information and Technology” at 3 p.m.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on “Nuclear Weapons: The Growing Risk” at 4 p.m.

 

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 Wednesday.