Overnight Defense: Dems divided on length of stopgap spending measure | Afghan envoy agrees to testify before House panel

Happy Monday 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.



Chuck Schumer wearing a suit and tie: Overnight Defense: Dems divided on length of stopgap spending measure | Afghan envoy agrees to testify before House panel | Trump leans into foreign policy in campaign's final stretch


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Overnight Defense: Dems divided on length of stopgap spending measure | Afghan envoy agrees to testify before House panel | Trump leans into foreign policy in campaign’s final stretch

THE TOPLINE: The House is back in session this week, joining the Senate, and funding the government before money runs out in a couple weeks is a top to-do item.

Congress is expected to pass a stopgap spending measure. But over the weekend, The Hill’s Jordain Carney looked at how Democrats are divided over how long the continuing resolution (CR) should last.

The November election is complicating the Democratic strategy in the looming government shutdown fight.

Feeling momentum as they aim to win back the Senate and the White House, Democrats are divided over whether to agree to the GOP-favored stopgap bill that lasts into December or push for a longer deal to fund the government into early 2021.

A shorter bill, supporters hope, would force Congress to reach a larger funding deal before the end of the year. But a bill that lasts into next year would take a lame duck shutdown fight off the table and give Democrats more leverage if Democratic nominee Joe Biden is elected president.

“We’ve gone back and forth, it’s a split decision in the caucus. If you can tell us what happens Nov. 3 it is a lot easier. … The uncertainty about the presidential election is an element,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said when asked about the length of a bill.

Neither Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) have publicly endorsed a timeline. A House Democratic aide noted that behind-the-scenes negotiations about what the strategy should be are ongoing.

Why it matters to defense: The Pentagon is no fan of CRs or shutdowns, warning that readiness is harmed by unpredictable funding.

Defense officials also often warn that the longer CRs go on the more damage is done to the military because the stopgap measures generally prohibit starting new programs or adjusting existing ones.

You’ll recall we reported last week that the administration asked for several exceptions to that rule, including flexibility to fund the Space Force, new submarines and a new nuclear warhead.

AFGHANISTAN DEVELOPMENTS: Much-delayed talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban started this weekend in Doha, Qatar, a historic development that is raising hope, however little, of ending two decades of war.

Back in the United States, a House panel said Monday it has secured an agreement for the Trump administration’s envoy to Afghan peace talks to testify before the committee after it issued a subpoena threat.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, will testify before the House Oversight and Reform National Security Subcommittee when he returns from his trip to Qatar, the

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POLITICO Playbook PM: Dems to the White House: Oh, my!

HEY, THIS IS NEW … THE WHITE HOUSE has invited some senior Democrats to the signing of the Abraham Accords — as the administration is referring to the Israel-UAE, Israel-Bahrain normalization deals — on Tuesday. We don’t have the guest logs — nor does anyone — but this would appear to be the first Democrat-mingling this administration has done in some time.

… THAT SAID: The HOUSE PROBLEM SOLVERS CAUCUS — no, still no problems solved quite yet! — is working on the finishing touches of their Covid relief plan. It’s going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion and could have north of $500 billion in new state and local aid. MARK MEADOWS has been read into the plan, and has tacitly encouraged the bipartisan work — as has the Dem leadership. Treasury Secretary STEVEN MNUCHIN mentioned it earlier today — although he said the plan is coming out today, and it isn’t. The reasons we’re giving this ink: It’s the only Covid relief action at the moment, it’s caught the White House’s eye and a handful of lawmakers are talking about it. We don’t expect much here.

!!! … “President Donald Trump’s former top economic adviser said Monday he had not yet decided who he will vote for in November’s presidential election. ‘You know, I honestly haven’t made up my mind,’ Gary Cohn told CNBC in an interview. ‘I’m really eager to see an economic debate between the two of them. I actually vote on issues.’” POLITICO

GARY, MY MAN … You worked for the president. You know what he’s for. You know what he believes in.

TRUMP SPEAKS TO ADELSON’S PAPER … THE PRESIDENT gave an interview to the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, which is owned by casino magnate SHELDON ADELSON: “In exclusive interview, Trump slams Sisolak, defends indoor rally”: “Trump said in his interview with the Review-Journal that he is not afraid of getting the coronavirus from speaking at the indoor rally. ‘I’m on a stage and it’s very far away,’ Trump said. ‘And so I’m not at all concerned.’ ‘I’m more concerned about how close you are, to be honest,’ Trump told a Review-Journal reporter who thought she was socially distanced.” (Steve Sisolak is Nevada’s Democratic governor.)

WOODWARD PUTS A FINER POINT ON IT … “Woodward: ‘The president of the U.S. possessed specific knowledge that could have saved lives,’” by NBC’s Rebecca Shabad: “In an interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s ‘TODAY’ show, Woodward said he found out about a briefing the president received from his national security advisers on Jan. 28 about the pandemic coming to the United States and, only a few days later, Trump didn’t share that information in his State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 4, which 40 million people watched.” The interview

SCOOP … DAN DIAMOND: “Democratic lawmakers to investigate Trump officials’ meddling with CDC reports”: “House Democrats are launching

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Dems claim POW/MIA flag’s move from atop White House to on-site memorial dishonors troops

President Trump is under fire this week from Democrats who claim he’s disrespected veterans by moving a POW/MIA flag from atop the White House to an on-site memorial.

At issue is the implementation of S.693 — the National POW/MIA Flag Act — which was signed into law in November and increases the frequency and locations the POW/MIA flag is flown on federal properties.

Bill sponsor Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other colleagues signed a letter framing the move as a sign of disrespect toward the military community.

“This decision to abruptly move the POW/MIA Flag from atop the White House to an area that is apparently not visible to the public may violate federal law and does not appropriately honor the service and sacrifices of American prisoners of war, missing servicemembers, and their families,” the letter read, Reuters reported Friday.

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a co-sponsor of the bill, also lambasted the decision.

“It’s part of a pattern of disrespect by President Trump toward those who honorably served our nation,” the Democrat said.

Their protest comes in the wake of an Atlantic article in which an anonymous source claimed Mr. Trump called fallen military personnel “losers” and “suckers.”

The president has denied the claims.

Multiple witnesses to the alleged conversation — including former national security adviser John Bolton — have publicly rejected the story.

“President Trump dedicated a POW/MIA memorial site earlier this year on the White House grounds to forever remember our heroic service members who were prisoners of war or missing in action,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told Reuters. “The president selected a site on the Southwest corner of the South Lawn for this prominent and sacred memorial, which is visible to all those who visit the White House, that features the POW/MIA flag.”

Mr. Trump also proclaimed Sept. 20 to be National POW/MIA Recognition Day last year.

“My Administration is dedicated to locating and identifying the more than 81,000 American service members unaccounted for — many of whom were former prisoners of war — to help alleviate the grieving and prolonged uncertainty of their families,” he wrote. “We vow to pursue the fullest possible accounting of these gallant patriots.”

“I call upon the people of the United States to join me in saluting all American POWs and those missing in action who valiantly served our country,” he continued. “I call upon Federal, State, and local government officials and private organizations to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

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