LOGJAM AT THE TOP: Frustrated by the slow pace of the Senate, which is currently tied up in knots by the debate over repealing and replacing Obamacare, Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain took to the Senate floor for one of his famous rants. "Tomorrow, the current deputy secretary of defense, Bob Work, will leave his office – tomorrow. There simply is no more time to delay," McCain said. He tried twice Thursday to get a floor vote set for President Trump's pick to be deputy defense secretary, Pat Shanahan, only to be blocked each time by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“You can choose to vote ‘no,’ you can choose to vote ‘yes,’ but let’s just vote,” McCain said. “The obstruction has gone on long enough – and it has to stop … This is a time for us to put aside all of that, for the sake of our national security.” But Schumer was unmoved, objecting McCain’s motions to rush a vote immediately or on Monday. "We'd be happy to consider the nominee in regular order and maybe once things change a little bit in healthcare we can, with the consent of my friends on this side of the aisle, move a lot of things quickly," Schumer said. For the record, while Work does have a retirement ceremony scheduled, he has indicated he will stick around until Shanahan shows up to take over the number 2 job at the Pentagon.
This prompted McCain to issue another statement, dripping with sarcasm. “In its zeal for hard work, the Senate has completed another laborious week by passing a whopping total of three nominations,” it began. “The Senate will now adjourn and senators will head home for a long weekend in our respective states, leaving Washington with no timetable for authorizing funding for our troops, no consensus on how to fund the government, no path forward on regular appropriations bills, and no plan to address the debt limit,” McCain lamented. “This is not what the American people expect of us, and it’s not what they deserve.”
Over on the House side, McCain’s counterpart, Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, took to the floor to decry an an amendment that would ties defense spending on to non-defense spending. Thornberry argued national security should not be linked to a domestic political agenda on the EPA, the IRS, education, transportation. ”All of those things need to stand on their own merits and defense needs to stand on its own merits. Support for our military needs to stand on its own merits,” Thornberry said. “Having planes that fly and ships that sail and adequate funding for our troops and their families stand on their own merits. It cannot be conditional upon whether or not this Congress or this president agrees on other spending items.”
SPENCER WINS COMMITTEE APPROVAL: Trump's pick to be Navy secretary is headed toward a confirmation vote on the Senate floor following his approval by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The nomination of Richard V. Spencer, a financier and former Marine aviator, was rushed to a committee vote by the chairman McCain, and then immediately sent to the chamber floor after being approved in a voice vote.
The committee has ramped up its pace on nominees. Four more Pentagon picks are awaiting a committee vote and four set for a hearing Tuesday: Matthew Donovan to be Air Force undersecretary; Lucian Niemeyer to be assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment; Ellen Lord to be defense under secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics; and John H. Gibson II to be deputy chief management officer of the Defense Department.
SOLAR BORDER WALL, NO JOKE: In a free-wheeling, off-the-record discussion with reporters on Air Force One, (which President Trump said he thought was on-the-record and the White House later did put some excerpts on the record) the president was asked if he was joking about the equipping the Mexico border wall with solar panels. “No, not joking, no. There is a chance that we can do a solar wall,” Trump said. “We have major companies looking at that. Look, there's no better place for solar than the Mexico border — the southern border. And there is a very good chance we can do a solar wall, which would actually look good.”
Earlier this week week, the House Appropriations Committee released a draft of its homeland security bill that which includes funding for wall, which drew immediate fire from Democrats. In remarks on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the wall “unnecessary, ineffective, and expensive,” and said it would be paid for by American taxpayers, breaking the president's promise that Mexico would pay for it. “Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the aisle have rightfully come out against this proposal. Not a single border state Republican supports the idea. The Senate should reject it outright.”
THE NEED FOR TRANSPARENCY: The president also drew some mocking on social media for his comments to reporters that the Mexico border wall must be see-through, a design feature law enforcement experts agree is essential for effective border control. “You have to see what's on the other side of the wall,” Trump explained, and then gave an example. “As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don't see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It's over, as crazy as that sounds.”
TRAVEL BAN LOOSENED: You would be forgiven if you thought the Supreme Court settled the travel ban issue last month, when it ruled the president’s executive order could go into effect temporarily barring the entry to the U.S. of foreign nationals from six countries associated with terrorism. However, the high court exempted visa applicants with a “bona fide” relationship with a U.S. citizen or entity. The Trump administration defined that as someone with parent, spouse, fiance, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling already here in the U.S.
A federal judge in Hawaii has now interpreted that “bona fide” relationship standard as including grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of people in the United States. Judge Derrick Watson was given authority by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to interpret the Supreme Court’s decision and block any violation of it.
Good Friday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
NDAA ON THE FLOOR: House lawmakers spent Thursday afternoon debating amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act. The big annual, must-pass bill setting defense policy and priorities is barreling toward expected passage today. This afternoon House Republicans including GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Armed Services Committee Chairman Thornberry will discuss the NDAA developments to date. Here’s a recap of the action so far:
SPACE CORPS STILL STAYIN’ ALIVE: Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, had hoped to scuttle the House’s increasingly controversial plan to force a new Space Corps military service on the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Air Force leaders and the White House all oppose the corps, which would handle space operations. But the House appeared ready on Thursday to push ahead with the legislation after Republicans nixed a vote on Turner’s amendment. Passage would be a major win for Rep. Mike Rogers, who spearheaded Space Corps as a needed solution to deep structural and management issues with space operations, but is far from a guarantee it will survive final NDAA negotiations with the Senate later this year.
In an opinion piece today, the American Enterprise Institute’s Mackenzie Eaglen argues the time is not right to establish a new service. “Congress’ urge to get serious about space warfare is noble, but proposing a neutered Space Corps does not align with those aims,” Eaglen writes. “Lawmakers should adjust their objectives and instead double down on the new United States Space Command.”
TRANSGENDER TROOP CARE: Rep. Vicky Hartzler tried unsuccessfully to bar the military from providing gender transition surgeries and hormone treatments to troops, saying it is a financial and readiness burden. “This is about addressing Korea, Russia, ISIS. We need every defense dollar to meeting those threats, not anything else,” Hartzler said. Transgender service opponent Rep. Duncan Hunter offered another blunt assessment. “If you are going to take the big step of serving in the U.S. military, figure out whether you are a man or a woman before you join up,” he said. The proposal died in a 209-214 vote courtesy of universal Democrat pushback and two dozen Republicans.
BRAC IS NOT BACK: The House rejected 175-248 an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock that could have allowed the military to begin closing billions of dollars worth of unused facilities across the country. Lawmakers voted 175-248 against stripping a section of the NDAA that prohibits any funding to be spent in 2018 to begin shuttering bases under the Base Realignment and Closure program, or BRAC. The White House opposed the bill's BRAC prohibition this week and the military said closing excess facilities would save about $2 billion annually.
FREEZE-PROOF SHIPYARDS: The House also moved to protect the military's shipyards and maintenance depots from any future hiring freezes ordered by President Trump. The facilities would be exempt under a measure among a block of NDAA amendments quickly passed by a voice vote. Trump called a 90-day halt to federal hiring as one of his first acts in office, causing a scramble by the military to issue individual hiring exemptions to allow needed work on ships and hardware to continue. The freeze also rankled lawmakers who said it was holding up the shipyards and depots at a time when the military is overstretched and struggling to maintain aging equipment.
SYRIA CEASE-FIRE: President Trump said in Paris yesterday that the U.S, may sign up to another one of Russia’s declared “de-escalation zones” in Syria, essentially areas where Russian-backed Syrian government forces have defeated opposition rebels. The zones were agreed to by Russia and Turkey in Syria talks in May in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
Despite the fact the zones were established without American input, before Trump’s meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and the U.S. has no military role in enforcing them, Trump called the initiative “one of the great things that came out of that meeting.” Trump said that because of the cease-fire in one zone in the southwest part of the Syria “a lot of lives have been saved, a lot of people were not killed. No shots have been fired in a very, very dangerous part of the world, and this is one of the most dangerous parts of Syria itself.”
“And frankly, we're working on a second cease-fire in a very rough part of Syria,” Trump said. “And if we get that, and a few more, all of a sudden you're going to have no bullets being fired in Syria. And that would be a wonderful thing.”
Over at the State Department yesterday, Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk explained it this way. “What we are trying to do is make sure that in areas in which we are operating, and which forces we are working with, we have deconfliction arrangements in place so that the territory, there's a clear delineation of territory so we don't have incidents like happened a few weeks ago where we shot down a Syrian plane,” McGurk said. “So, we are working very hard with the Russians and those type of arrangements. And we're actually fairly encouraged by what's happening there.”
THANK YOU AMERICA: It was an unusual Pentagon briefing yesterday, where a trio of Iraqi generals sat at a table in the briefing room and gave thanks for the help from the United States and its coalition partners in making the liberation of Mosul possible. “They really helped us when it comes to sharing intelligence information and the aerial imagery that they shared with us,” said Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman. “The continuous aerial coverage that they gave our forces on top of the equipping, training, and support that we received from our partners, with the latest and the most modern weaponry,” Rasool said was what “we needed, quite frankly, in this battle.”
The generals, all serving as spokesmen, represented the Iraqi Security Forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga militias, and the Iraqi interior ministry. “Yes, it is a historical days that we managed to achieve our victory with your help, with the help of our friends for the coalition forces, and also the American friends,” said Brig. Gen. Halgurd Hikmat, a spokesman for the Peshmerga fighters.
ANOTHER $500 MILLION DOWN THE DRAIN: Sens. John McCain and Jack Reed, of the Armed Services Committee are praising the Air Force for cutting its losses by killing a contract to modernize the Air and Space Operations Center (AOC) 10.2. The senators said it was just another example of a Pentagon’s acquisition run amok. “This program is only one example of the Department’s troubling record on software-intensive systems,” a joint statement said.
While the statement called the Air Force decision “an important demonstration of what accountability in the acquisition process can and should look like,” at the same time McCain and Reed lamented the waste of taxpayer dollars on another flawed program. “It is unfortunate that the Air Force had already spent more than half a billion dollars over the last 10 years on the AOC 10.2 upgrade, and yet the program has not delivered any meaningful capability.”
OVER THERE: In a historic first, nearly 200 American service members led the military parade on this Bastille Day along the famous Champs-Elysées in Paris in commemoration of the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917. Some of the American soldiers were dressed as doughboys to mark the anniversary. President Trump looked on as the guest of honor, as U.S. Air Force F-22s conducted a flyover with French Mirage jets.
Washington Post: U.S. to certify Iran as compliant with nuclear agreement
Reuters: U.S. House may be near deal on stalled Russia sanctions bill
New York Times: Qatar feud defies efforts by Tillerson to unite Gulf
Reuters: UAE says it is headed for 'long estrangement' with Qatar
Defense Tech: Air Force general welcomes debate over ‘Space Corps’
CNN: NK missile launch ceremony taunts US
AP: North Korea's Kim: Dictator? Reformer? Shrewd Negotiator?
Defense News: A 355-ship Navy? We’ll see, says Trump’s Navy secretary pick
Daily Sabah: Turkey agrees to pay Russia $2.5B for S-400 missile systems, official says
Washington Post: It could take more than a decade to clear Mosul of explosives, U.S. officials say
Wall Street Journal: China defends trade with sanctions-hit North Korea
New York Times: Alaska looks at a nuclear threat, and shrugs it off
Fox News: Could North Korea attack America’s electrical grid?
Daily Beast: GOP operative who sought Hillary Clinton emails from Russian hackers killed himself
Foreign Policy: China’s seen globally as gaining ground on United State
FRIDAY | JULY 14
12 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Lost in translation? U.S. defense innovation and Northeast Asia. stimson.org
2 p.m. Studio A, the Capitol. Republican House members hold a press conference on the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry will be joined by other Republican members of the House.
MONDAY | JULY 17
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Russia challenge in Europe with Sen. Tom Cotton. csis.org
3:30 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Cyber risk Monday: The darkening Web. atlanticcouncil.org
5 p.m. Dirksen 419. Review of the State Department reauthorization bill for 2018 and reorganization plans with Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. foreign.senate.gov
6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. A conversation with Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. cfr.org
TUESDAY | JULY 18
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference: Renewing American leadership in the Asia-Pacific with Sen. Cory Gardner. csis.org
9:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. A discussion with Iraqi Speaker of Parliament H.E. Salim al-Jabouri. atlanticcouncil.org
10:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Central Asia and U.S. foreign policy at a great power crossroads. atlanticcouncil.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen G-50. Nominations of Matthew Donovan to be Air Force undersecretary; Lucian Niemeyer to be assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment; Ellen Lord to be defense under secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics; and John H. Gibson II to be deputy chief management officer of the Defense Department. armed-services.senate.gov
2:30 p.m. Russell 222. Options and considerations for achieving a 355-ship Navy from former Reagan administration officials including John Lehman, Jr., former Navy secretary. armed-services.senate.gov
WEDNESDAY | JULY 19
1800 Jefferson Davis Hwy. Special topic breakfast series with Joel Szabat, executive director of the U.S. Maritime Administration.
12:15 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. South Asia’s evolving strategic doctrines. stimson.org
FRIDAY | JULY 21
8:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Venezuela on the edge and the time for new international action. atlanticcouncil.org
9:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Examining the geopolitical impact of the 4th Estate. csis.org