BORDER SECURITY DISPUTE: President Trump has comforted his political opponents while confounding his conservative compatriots by making deals with the Democrats, and a disputed report of another one last night that involved the proposed border wall with Mexico roiled Washington and lit up Twitter. Minority leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, (a.k.a. “Chuck and Nancy”), emerged from a dinner meeting with the president and issued a statement that they had reached an agreement in principle to shore up border security along the southern border in return for extending protections for so-called “Dreamers” covered under the Obama-era policy known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides,” Schumer and Pelosi said in their statement.
But the president hopped on Twitter first thing this morning to deny any quid pro quo. “No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote,” Trump tweeted shortly after 6 a.m. “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.”
MILITARY DREAMERS: At the same time, Trump made clear he has no stomach for deporting DACA kids, especially those serving in the military, and in second series of tweets seemed to indicate he agreed with Schumer and Pelosi about legalizing their status.“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!...,” he tweeted. “...They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own - brought in by parents at young age.”
Last night, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders also tweeted a denial of any deal to exclude funding for the wall in return for an agreement on DACA. “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.” Schumer’s spokesman Matt House tweeted back, “The President made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement.”
Reports of the deal sent shockwaves through the Trump’s base where bipartisan outreach was largely seen as an inexcusable instance of presidential perfidy. The website Breitbart dubbed Trump “Amnesty Don,” and after reading an account by The Associated Press, Rep. Steve King tweeted, “If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”
NDAA AT IMPASSE: Meanwhile last night, after hours of anticipation about upcoming Senate debate of the National Defense Authorization Act, Sen. John McCain appeared on the chamber floor to say the defense policy bill was being held up due to a disagreement over four proposed amendments. If the Senate cannot reach agreement today on what amendments get a floor vote, McCain said that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will file a cloture motion, which will delay the bill and scuttle debate on all other proposed amendments. “The bad news is that not every senator is able to be heard and to be able to file amendments … they are going to be shutout by the cloture procedure. That’s not right,” the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said.
THE FOUR: The divisive amendments were filed by Sen. Tom Cotton to end threats of sequestration cuts to the federal budget; Sen. Mike Lee to prohibit indefinite detention of terrorist suspects; Sen. Tammy Baldwin to protect the defense supply chain from foreign goods; and Sen. Dick Durbin to preserve defense medical research programs.
Hundreds of proposed amendments have been filed by senators since July, including proposals to close excess military facilities, stop Trump from banning transgender military service, and add more littoral combat ships to the 2018 NDAA bill. "I hope overnight my colleagues on both sides will sit down and figure out, as we have a number of amendments, a way that we can reach a point where we have up-or-down votes on these amendments that are important to the nation," McCain said. Sen. Jack Reed, the top Armed Services Democrat, urged fellow senators to “think seriously about how we proceed forward with this legislation” and remember that amendment debate and votes were typical for the NDAA in past years. “We are still considering the possibility of such votes and I hope that we could reach an appropriate conclusion to have votes and debates,” Reed said.
SENATE REJECTS AUMF AMENDMENT: While Sen. Rand Paul did manage to push his war authorization amendment onto the Senate floor for a rare debate and vote, in the end it was soundly rejected 61-36. Paul had hoped legislation sunsetting the 9/11-era authorizations passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002 after six months would force a wider debate on the global war against terrorism. “If you are going to say that we are going to fight to the end of time, that we are going to have a perpetual war to the end of time and we are going to kill every radical Islamist in the world … if that is your goal and your purpose, step forward and let’s have a debate,” he told fellow senators. Only two other Republicans, Sens. Mike Lee and Dean Heller, were willing to back Paul while 13 Democrats sided with the GOP majority in the vote to table, effectively killing, his proposed amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
Many Democrats such as Sen. Chris Murphy share Paul’s opinion that the Senate needs to force an update on the 16-year-old authorizations for the use of military force, or AUMFs. “It is far too easy and convenient for this Congress to allow for an executive, whether it be a Republican or a Democrat executive, to define the parameters of war and to name new enemies that have not been before this body for debate,” Murphy said. But Republicans and the Democrats who opposed the amendment were leery of the Senate imposing a six-month deadline without a new proposed AUMF in hand. McCain said passing the amendment with no replacement could jeopardize the legal justification for overseas U.S. operations and put tens of thousands of troops at risk. “It is also important to recognize that adopting this amendment would embolden our enemies, it would send a signal to the members of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere that Congress and the American public no longer support their mission and their sacrifice,” he said. “I cannot send that message because it’s not true.”
Good Thursday 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.
HAPPENING TODAY: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is at U.S. Strategic Command today, the second leg of his three-day trip. And speaking of legs, Mattis has removed any doubt about where he stands on rebuilding all three legs of America’s nuclear triad. Mattis was at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota yesterday inspecting the land-based missile leg of the triad, and told reporters traveling with him that he has considered — and rejected — the argument that intercontinental ballistic missiles could be phased out.
The AP’s Bob Burns is one of six print reporters accompanying Mattis. In his dispatch from Minot he writes that en route to the base, Mattis said “I cannot solve the deterrent problem reducing it from a triad. If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad in its framework is the right way to go.”
Critics have argued that missiles that can be launched within minutes of orders, and cannot be recalled, hold the biggest risk of miscalculation. But Mattis says he is convinced that the hundreds of missiles in underground silos send a powerful message that no first strike against the U.S. could ever succeed. “I cannot solve the deterrent problem reducing it from a triad. If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad in its framework is the right way to go,” Mattis said.
The six-person media contingent traveling with Mattis does not include any TV or radio pool reporters, so we may not see much in the way of imagery of Mattis inspecting a nuclear warhead that could be juxtaposed with the one of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The decision seems aimed at avoiding further fueling a propaganda war with Pyongyang, instead sending a message of quiet resolve to any potential adversary. “What is most important is, in a deterrent, you can leave no doubt at all that — don't try it, because it won't work, you can't take us out,” Mattis said.
Today, Mattis is in Omaha, Neb., for meetings with the leadership at Strategic Command. “At STRATCOM, I’ll be talking to them about the broader aspects of the Nuclear Posture Review,” Mattis said, “[and getting] their view of how it's going, their ability to get input to it, just to make sure that what I'm getting is a real well-informed review.”
NUKES TO SOUTH KOREA: Mattis, citing U.S. policy to never confirm or deny the location of nuclear weapons, would not say if the U.S. was considering redeploying nukes to South Korea as a deterrent to the North. “I won't talk about where we keep nuclear weapons, where we station them or anything like that. It's simply a longstanding policy so the enemy, the – our adversaries never know where they're at. It's part of the deterrent that they cannot target them all. There's always a great big question mark.” President George H.W. Bush withdrew U.S. nuclear weapons from South Korea in the early 1990s
Meanwhile, CNN reports this morning that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has decided against bringing nukes back, warning it could "lead to a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia."
"I do not agree that South Korea needs to develop our own nuclear weapons or relocate tactical nuclear weapons in the face of North Korea's nuclear threat," Moon told CNN in his first televised interview since North Korea's sixth nuclear test.
AIR FORCE ONE: The good news about the next Air Force One, you may recall, is that the Air Force was able to pick up two brand-spanking-new Boeing 747s, at fire sale prices, because the planes had been sold to a Russian airline that went belly-up without ever taking delivery of the planes. The price tag for the jets is face down, because Boeing insists it would be bad for business if other commercial customers saw the deal. But Boeing will make it up on the other end. The Air Force awarded Boeing a $600 million contract yesterday to draw up the plans needed to convert the jets from their commercial configurations to something more befitting a president, including adding an executive suite, medical facilities, secure communications, chaff dispensers and other self-defense measures.
The additional $600 million is just for the design of the upgrades. When the work actually begins on the planes sometime next summer, it will require another multi-million dollar contract. At this point no one can say what the final aggregate cost will be for the two planes, or whether beginning with planes from Boeing commercial inventory will actually result in anywhere near the $1 billion savings the president has promised to deliver. One cost saving: the jetliners will not be retrofitted with the capability to refuel in the air, something that the Air Force routinely does for the defense secretary’s aging 747, but no one recalls that ever being used on a presidential aircraft. In a doomsday scenario, the new Air Force One would eventually have to find a safe place to land.
HUEY PITCH: Boeing says its bid to replace the Air Force’s UH-1 Huey helicopters could save as much as $1 billion in costs. According to a release yesterday, Boeing submitted its bid to sell up to 84 MH-139 helicopters to replace the Hueys. The MH-139 is based on the AW139 built by the Italian firm Leonardo. Sikorsky has said it plans to offer its HH-60U for the program. Contract award is expected next year.
MARINES BADLY BURNED IN TRAINING ACCIDENT: Five U.S. Marines suffered life-threatening burns, and 11 others were hospitalized with lesser, but still serious injuries after an accident at Camp Pendleton, Calif. yesterday. A Marine Corps statement said an amphibious assault vehicle caught fire in a land-based training exercise that was part of a combat readiness evaluation. The Marines were from the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, and 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion.
VOUCHING FOR TRUMP’S VIGILANCE: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats says it's "troubling" many former intelligence officials have been critical of the intelligence community and its "capabilities with the president." Coats joins CIA Director Mike Pompeo is disputing the media narrative that Trump has a turbulent relationship with his spymasters. "I find it troubling that many outside the current arena, including former officials, criticize the [intelligence community's] recent record and expressed concern about [its] capabilities with the president," Coats said Wednesday during a keynote address at the Billington CyberSecurity Summit, according to The Hill.
FLYNN IN TROUBLE, AGAIN: House Democrats are accusing former national security adviser Mike Flynn of illegally concealing several contacts with foreign officials and overseas trips while he was renewing his security clearances. Reps. Elijah Cummings and Eliot Engel said members of Flynn's own team have provided information that confirmed Flynn visited the Middle East to meet with officials to promote a business deal to build nuclear reactors there.
"Based on your responses, it appears that General Flynn violated federal law by omitting this trip and these foreign contacts from his security clearance renewal application in 2016 and concealing them from security clearance investigators who interviewed him as part of the background check process," the Democrats wrote in a letter they released Wednesday morning. Cummings is the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Engel is the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
AND HIS SON IS, TOO: Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, is reportedly now the subject of the Justice Department's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors are looking into the younger Flynn’s work with the his father's lobbying firm, called the Flynn Intel Group, sources told NBC News.
Michael G. Flynn served his father’s chief of staff at the group. He participated in meetings with Mike Flynn and talked with potential clients, a former business associate of the elder Flynn told NBC News. The father-son duo traveled to Moscow together in December 2015, where Mike Flynn gave a speech at a gala for RT, the state-sponsored television network. The younger Flynn was spotted in a video from the event, and Mike Flynn sat at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
FEAR THE GEAR: Dozens of groups are urging Congress to suspend a program that allows the transfer of surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. In a letter to both House and Senate leaders, the groups said they are "disturbed" by the decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to lift the Obama-era ban on some parts of the Defense Department's program.
"We have numerous questions and concerns about the future of military-grade weapons in our communities, on our streets, and in our schools," the letter said. "We urge you to use your leadership […] to call for a moratorium on the U.S. Department of Defense's 1033 program — the largest and most prominent federal program providing police departments with military equipment — until Congress holds hearings to provide the public with important assurances and to consider various legislative proposals about this issue."
TM TO THE TIMES: Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a reporter whose two tours as a Marine infantryman to Afghanistan has given him a finely-tuned B.S. detector, is moving from the Washington Post to the New York Times to continue covering the Pentagon. Gibbons-Neff, who goes by T.M., has been at the Post for the past two years and has earned a reputation for sharp questions and incisive reporting. He served with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, from 2007 to 2011, and attended Georgetown University on the G.I. bill graduating in 2015, according to the announcement from the Times.
AP: US set to extend Iran sanctions relief under nuclear deal
BuzzFeed: Putin spokesman confirms Russia offered a reset with Trump
BBC: Kaspersky: Russia responds to US ban on software
New York Times: North Korea resumes work at nuclear test site, analysts say
USNI News: DSEI: Royal navy wants to pitch Type-31e frigate design to U.S., export market
War on the Rocks: Facts about the Vietnam War, part III: Peace marchers didn’t turn U.S. policy around
Defense One: It’s time to move U.S. forces back to Europe
Navy Times: If Russia started World War III, here’s how it would go down
Wall Street Journal: Myanmar conflict puts rebel group at center of crisis
Reuters: Trump administration orders purge of Kaspersky products from U.S. government
Foreign Policy: Who will rule Raqqa after the Islamic State?
Defense News: U.S. clears record total for arms sales in FY17
AP: Attacked in bed, safe a few feet away: Cuba mystery deepens
THURSDAY | SEPT. 14
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Cyber warfare in the maritime domain with Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare. csis.org
10 a.m. 419 Dirksen. U.S. policy options to support democracy in Venezuela with Marshall Billingslea, assistant treasury secretary for terrorist financing. foreign.senate.gov
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The USS Baltimore incident of 1891 and how history informs present problems. Csis.org
11 a.m. Pentagon briefing room. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve briefs live from Baghdad on the ongoing counter-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria.
12 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Exposing and countering Iran. atlanticcouncil.org
5 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Global threats, global perspectives and America’s role in the world. atlanticcouncil.org
FRIDAY | SEPT. 15
9:15 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Europe and the U.S.: The old order faces a new world with Victoria Nuland, former assistant secretary of state. brookings.edu
9:30 a.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Voices from Japan and visions for Japan’s future defense posture. stimson.org
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A united front? U.S.-Japan relations at a time of uncertainty. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | SEPT. 18
1:30 p.m 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. “Inside the Battle of Algiers” book discussion about the memories of Algeria's freedom struggle. wilsoncenter.org
2 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. The impact of the Trump administration on U.S.-Taiwan relations. stimson.org
3 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. U.S. policy toward Lebanon and what comes next. heritage.org
4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Mobilizing the Russian nation: Patriotism and citizenship during World War I with historian Melissa K. Stockdale. wilsoncenter.org
4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. China's Arctic and Antarctic ambitions. wilsoncenter.org
TUESDAY | SEPT. 19
8 a.m. 2401 M St. NW. Defense Writers Group breakfast with Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau. defensewriters.gwu.edu
2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. U.S.-Canadian defense industrial cooperation with Frank Kendall, former under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and Martin Zablocki, CEO of Canadian Commercial Corporation. csis.org
3 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The roller coaster of Turkey-Russia relations. brookings.edu
WEDNESDAY | SEPT. 20
6:30 a.m. 1800 Jefferson Davis Hwy. Special topic breakfast with Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director of Navy surface warfare. navyleague.org
4:45 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. A conversation with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, prime minister of Pakistan. cfr.org
THURSDAY | SEPT. 21
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Lessons from developing Afghanistan’s security forces with John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. csis.org
3:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Book talk on “Melting the Ice Curtain: The Extraordinary Story of Citizen Diplomacy on the Russia-Alaska Frontier” with author David Ramseur. wilsoncenter.org