Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: House to vote on military justice bill spurred by Vanessa Guillén death | Biden courts veterans after Trump’s military controversies

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: A bill aimed at overhauling the military justice system in the wake of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén’s slaying will get a vote in the House.

The bill, dubbed the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, was unveiled Wednesday by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) at a news conference outside the Capitol building alongside Guillén’s family and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) then announced she has committed to giving the measure a vote after a meeting with Guillén’s family. 

“Justice is needed for Vanessa, and for the many service members facing an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in our armed forces, too often in the shadows,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“I gave the family my commitment that this important first step to combatting sexual harassment and assault would come to the House Floor for a vote, but the Congress will not stop until we have finally, fully ended this epidemic – in the military, in the workplace and in all places,” she added.

What it does: The legislation would take the decision to prosecute sexual assault and harassment charges in the military away from commanders and give it to independent military prosecutors.

It would also make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, create a confidential system to report sexual harassment and require the Government Accountability Office to study how different military branches handle missing service members.

Military justice context: While Guillén’s death is the latest impetus for pushing to change how the military decides to prosecute sexual assault, some lawmakers in both parties and advocates have pushed for changes for years. They argue the current system discourages victims from coming forward and that commanders do not have the proper legal training to make prosecutorial decisions.

But the Pentagon and other bipartisan lawmakers have opposed taking the decision to prosecute outside the chain of command, arguing doing so would undermine the military justice system.

BIDEN COURTS VETERANS: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign is courting veterans and members of the military in key swing states amid the fallout from President Trump’s military-related controversy.

The Hill’s Julia Manchester took a look at how Biden is betting his personal connection to the armed forces and the fallout from reports of Trump’s disparaging remarks about fallen service members will dislodge at least a portion of the historically Republican-leaning bloc.

On Tuesday, Biden held a roundtable with veterans in the battleground state of Florida and over the weekend launched ads aimed at veteran voters in Pennsylvania, another must-win state for Democrats in November.

Biden slammed Trump’s reported remarks during his visit to Florida on Tuesday, saying Trump “has no idea about the ideas that animate women and men who sign up to serve.”

“Nowhere are his faults more glaring and offensive, to me at least, than when it comes to his denigration of our service members, veterans, wounded warriors, the fallen,” Biden said. “Quite frankly, it makes me very upset the way he gets in front of a camera and crows about how much he’s done for veterans, then turns around and insults our service members and fallen heroes when the camera’s off.”

Will it matter?: Widespread support for Biden among the military community — a bloc that supported Trump by wide margins in 2016 – would be a game changer ahead of November.

“In this election, in particular, military voters, including veterans and military families, are incredibly important voting blocs because of their overconcentration in key states — states like Florida, North Carolina and Arizona,” said Dan Caldwell, a Marine Corps veteran and senior adviser for the right-leaning group Concerned Veterans for America. “It’s no surprise that former Vice President Biden’s campaign is targeting them and Trump’s campaign is targeting them.”

A Monmouth University poll released on Tuesday found Trump with a narrow lead over Biden among military voters in Florida, 50 percent to 46 percent. 

Biden’s supporters say the narrowing gap between Trump and his Democratic rival is the result of not only his controversial remarks about military service members, but also their records and personal ties to the armed forces. 

In addition to working with the military in the Senate and as vice president, Biden and his family have a history of reaching out to other military families through initiatives like Joining Forces, which was launched by Jill Biden and former first lady Michelle Obama during the Obama administration. 

“Joe Biden is someone who has always been a champion for service members, veterans, and their families. It’s deeply personal to him as the father of an Iraq War veteran in Beau Biden, and he’s made a point throughout his time in the Senate and as vice president fighting to increase funding for MRAPs [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected] during some of the worst days of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Will Goodwin, director of government relations at the progressive group Vote Vets. “Contrast with Donald Trump, who at the time was hosting the Celebrity Apprentice and running around New York living his life.” 

Related: On Wednesday, the Military Officers Association of America released a questionnaire with answers on defense issues from Trump and Biden, as well as Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen.

The answers are similar to things Biden and Trump have said before: Trump touted that he has increased defense spending, while Biden talked about making “smart investments” in cyber, space, unmanned systems and artificial intelligence over legacy systems, for example.

But the questionnaire posed some topics that hadn’t been broached yet in the campaign, such as how they would promote military service. Take a look here

CONGRESS TO GET SOME IN-PERSON ELECTION SECURITY BRIEFINGS: Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe on Wednesday said that his office will provide in-person election briefings to some members of Congress, while emphasizing his position that the intelligence community (IC) will primarily provide congressional updates in the form of written finished intelligence products.

Ratcliffe in a statement argued that his position has not changed from last month and that the intelligence community is moving to largely use written intelligence products when updating Congress.

“In order to protect sources and methods, the IC will not provide all-member briefings, but we will work to provide appropriate updates primarily through written finished intelligence products,” Ratcliffe said.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) underscored that House members on his panel would continue to receive in-person briefings following Ratcliffe’s announcement, noting it came after “extensive public criticism.”

“This morning, after extensive public criticism, the Office of Director of National Intelligence committed to providing the cancelled in-person briefing to both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. We are now working to confirm a date and time with ODNI,” Schiff said in a statement.

Schiff emphasized, however, that “these briefings for the intelligence committees must not obviate the need to keep all Members and the American people appropriately and accurately informed about the active threats to the November election.”

Background: Ratcliffe faced fierce backlash after he initially announced in an Aug. 28 letter to congressional leaders that the intelligence community was primarily shifting to written intelligence products as updates, arguing that it would help protect sources and methods as well as prevent leaks.

Democrats alleged the move demonstrated a politicized effort by the Trump administration to withhold election-related information from Congress and the general public at a crucial time with the 2020 presidential election just weeks away.

For their part, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee have said that Ratcliffe has pledged since last month to continue holding in-person briefings with their panel about election security threats.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will give a virtual keynote speech at the National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction 2020 Symposium at 8 a.m. defense.gov/live

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the National Nuclear Security Administration with testimony from the agency and the Pentagon at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/32C9Pf6

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on countering China with testimony from State Department officials at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/32HoYfn

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence with testimony from commissioners at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/3hAnPu1

ICYMI

— The Hill: US general reassures German town of commitment to prevent COVID-19 spread after outbreak

— The Hill: Airman killed in accident at Kuwait base

— The Hill: South Korea warns of underwater missile test launch by North Korea

— Bloomberg: Call for US-bred war dogs grows to end ‘outsourced’ security

— Washington Post: As Pentagon chief shows some independence, Trump launches attacks but leaves him in office

— Reuters: Exclusive: U.S. pushes arms sales surge to Taiwan, needling China – sources

— Defense News: Defense industry worries Congress will punt budget deal into 2021

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Jackie Speier Joe Biden John Ratcliffe Michelle Obama Nancy Pelosi

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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