Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: Top defense and foreign policy Democrats on Wednesday laid out some markers for a Democratic government should the party sweep the elections in November.
In the House, Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBlue Origin takes one small step toward being a competitor to SpaceX Overnight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump’s Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy Watchdog to audit Pentagon’s use of COVID-19 funds on defense contractors MORE (D-Wash.) elaborated on his view of what the defense budget would be like if Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE wins the presidency and Democrats win control of the Senate.
In a conference call with reporters, Smith predicted a relatively flat defense budget of $720 billion to $740 billion. The lower end of that range would be a $20 billion cut from this year, far less than the 10 to 20 percent cut progressive Democrats are pushing.
Smith said he remains “unconvinced” by arguments for slashing the defense budget, but said he is open to a debate about how to adjust U.S. national security strategy to support further cuts.
In that vein, Smith said he had a “productive” conversation with progressive group Win Without War on Tuesday where they talked about adjusting national security strategy to enable defense cuts.
“I do agree with the idea that we can have a national security policy that has a lower defense budget than we currently have,” Smith said. “It’s just you got to get there in a rational, responsible way.”
In a statement to The Hill, Win Without War similarly described the conversation as “productive.”
“We had a productive conversation with Chairman Smith, wherein we reiterated our hope for a long-overdue rethinking of runaway spending at the Pentagon,” said Stephen Miles, the organization’s executive director. “As our, and the world’s, experience these past several months with COVID have devastatingly shown, the true security challenges of the 21st century require reinvesting in real human needs, not more battleships and bombs.”
In the Senate: Meanwhile, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a report Wednesday of what he said was the damage to the United States from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE’s “America First” foreign policy.
The 80-page report is a blistering attack on Trump’s first term, but it also previews how the top Democrat, who is in line to be chairman if Democrats take the Senate, would prepare to hold Biden to account if he were elected president.
Menendez’s report criticizes Trump over Ukraine, the country at the center of the president’s impeachment by the House last year.
“The clearest example of President Trump’s use of U.S. foreign policy for his own gain was his withholding of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine unless the country launched an investigation into former Vice President Biden, at the time, a potential campaign opponent,” states the report by Democratic staff, titled “The Cost of Trump’s Foreign Policy: Damage and Consequences for U.S. and Global Security.”
Menendez also talked to reporters about how he thinks Biden should handle the Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from.
Menendez said he would support a potential Biden administration rejoining the nuclear deal with Iran if the deal corrected shortfalls of the Obama-era agreement.
“I’m sure that Vice President Biden, should he become president, will want to deal with the totality of all of those issues, and that to me, suggests a JCPOA-plus,” Menendez said, referring to the Obama-era deal, named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Menendez said that the realities of Iran today require a JCPOA-like agreement with the U.S., but he underscored the need for one that goes further in restricting Iran’s military and nuclear capabilities.
“Anyone who believes that just going back to the JCPOA, including some of my strongest colleagues who supported the JCPOA, recognize that more has to be done than just the JCPOA,” he said.
MORE SMITH: Smith also addressed questions about potential military involvement in the election.
The chairman, who said he has spoken with Pentagon leadership about the issue, said he trusts the department will refuse any unlawful order if asked to become involved.
“I trust the Pentagon to follow the law and to not basically follow unlawful orders, and to respect the Constitution,” Smith told reporters on the conference call.
“And I think both Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley have been clear on that, that their loyalty is to the law, their loyalty is to the Constitution, their loyalty is not to any one person,” Smith added, referring to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTop military officers cleared to return to Pentagon after quarantine Indonesia rebuffed US proposal for refueling spy planes: report Overnight Defense: Supreme Court to hear case on diversion of Pentagon funds to border wall | Biden campaign cutting retired general from ad after objection | Trump’s arms control talks with Russia hit wall MORE and Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyTop military officers cleared to return to Pentagon after quarantine Overnight Defense: Supreme Court to hear case on diversion of Pentagon funds to border wall | Biden campaign cutting retired general from ad after objection | Trump’s arms control talks with Russia hit wall Biden campaign removing retired general from ad after his complaint MORE, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Smith also said while he trusts the Pentagon, he thinks it is important for his panel to keep pressing the issue.
“I think it’s really important that our committee exercise oversight to drive home that point,” he said. “I want to particularly thank Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillOvernight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Esper ducks questions on military involvement in election Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll MORE on our committee, who I know has been very focused on this issue and has been putting pressure on the Pentagon to make sure that they do just. I think it’s important that we drive home that point given how erratic this president can be, and we’ll continue to do so.”
On the NDAA: Formal conference negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the annual defense policy bill had to wait until after the election this year, but Smith is hoping for some movement soon.
Smith told reporters the so-called Big Four — him, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump’s Germany withdrawal EPA gives Oklahoma authority over many tribal environmental issues GOP lawmakers gloomy, back on defense after debate fiasco MORE (R-Okla.), House Armed Services ranking member Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryChamber of Commerce endorses former White House physician Ronny Jackson for Congress Overnight Defense: Senate passes stopgap spending bill hours before shutdown deadline | Brief military mentions in chaotic first Trump, Biden debate | Lawmakers grills Pentagon officials over Germany drawdown Lawmakers grill Pentagon over Trump’s Germany drawdown MORE (R-Texas) and Senate Armed Services ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Famed Navy SEAL calls Trump out | Yemen’s Houthi rebels free two Americans | Marines fire commander after deadly training accident Trump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes Dems to focus on issues, not character, at Barrett hearings MORE (D-R.I.) — are tentatively looking to talk Monday.
“We haven’t moved forward as aggressively as I would have liked in terms of having more Big Four conversations,” Smith said. “Sen. Inhofe has a campaign; he’s focused on that. We are tentatively scheduling a first meeting on that level. But we are having discussions and moving forward. Like I said, not as quickly as I would like. I think it’s a risk to leave as much of it as has been left to after the election. But we’re moving forward with plans to at least get the bill done by the early part of December.”
$1.8B TAIWAN ARMS SALES ADVANCES: The Trump administration has approved selling Taiwan $1.8 billion in weapons, including air-to-ground missiles, according to notices to Congress on Wednesday.
The formal notification of approval for the three arms sales comes a little more than a week after the administration informally notified Congress.
The package includes 135 Boeing-made air-to-ground cruise missiles called Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response missiles and related equipment, with an estimated value of $1.008 billion, according to a notice from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
The administration also approved selling Taiwan 11 Lockheed Martin-made truck-mounted rocket launchers called High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and related equipment, as well as six MS-110 reconnaissance pods that can be attached to Taiwan’s fighter jets.
The rocket launcher package is estimated to cost $436.1 million, while the sensor pod package is valued at $367.2 million, according to the notices.
“This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” all three notices said. “The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, economic and progress in the region.”
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond and other senior officials will speak at day three of the virtual Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office Advanced Manufacturing Olympics starting at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/35AWLaj
The Stimson Center will host a webinar on multilateralism and armed drones at 8:30 a.m. The panel includes Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, and William Malzahn, senior policy advisor in the State Department’s Office of Conventional Arms Threat Reduction. https://bit.ly/2FNYQGO
— The Hill: Fort Bragg deletes Twitter account after attributing explicit tweets to hacker
— The Hill: Military intelligence budget gets $23B for fiscal 2020
— The Hill: Army says Vanessa Guillen’s death was ‘in the line of duty,’ entitling family to full military benefits
— The Hill: Pelosi: Trump bank account in China a ‘national security issue’
— The Hill: Opinion: Congress holds the key to outpacing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities
— The Hill: Opinion: Securing our supply chains requires ‘big picture’ thinking
— Associated Press: US urges countries to withdraw from UN nuke ban treaty
— Washington Post: Senators urge Pentagon to suspend implementation of Army’s new fitness test
— Task and Purpose: The admiral in charge of America’s nukes says he has pictures of the world’s worst dictators with ‘not today’ on his office wall