With Connor O’Brien
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— President-elect Joe Biden plans to redirect the Pentagon beginning on day one, but the presidential transition remains on hold.
— Mark Esper is expected to stay on as Pentagon chief, but the head of the nuclear weapons agency was pushed out over clashes with the energy secretary.
— Crafting a final defense policy bill is on the agenda as the Senate returns for the lame duck session starting today.
IT’S MONDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, on the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” when more than 1,400 Jewish synagogues were destroyed, thousands of businesses smashed and looted, and hundreds were killed by paramilitaries and civilians across Nazi Germany, in what is widely considered the beginning of the Holocaust. We will be lighting a candle tonight as part of the Let There Be Light campaign to drown out antisemitism, racism, intolerance, and hatred. Never means never. We’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at [email protected], and follow on Twitter @bryandbender, @morningdefense and @politicopro.
THE LAME DUCK LIST: The Senate returns today as lawmakers look to chip away at a long list of unfinished business during the lame duck period, including defense policy and spending legislation and another round of coronavirus relief.
The National Defense Authorization Act is near the top of lawmakers’ list. Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services are expected to soon launch negotiations to finalize their competing two bills by early December.
House Democrats and Senate Republicans admit they aren’t as divided as last year, but some contentious provisions still need to be ironed out. For one, President Donald Trump has threatened to veto a bill that renames Army installations that honor Confederate leaders, which is included in both versions. The White House has also threatened to veto the House bill over bipartisan provisions to hinder Trump from reducing troops in Germany and Afghanistan.
Lawmakers also have until Dec. 11 to avert a government shutdown. Federal agencies, including the Pentagon, have been funded under a temporary continuing resolution since Oct. 1. It’s unclear whether congressional leaders will have enough time in the lame duck session to work out a government spending package for the rest of the fiscal year or just kick the can for another few months.
A coronavirus stimulus deal is also on the table in the lame duck session. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say they want another relief bill before the end of the year, though Democrats and Republicans still have numerous differences to bridge.
Both the House and Senate have proposed emergency funding for the military to cope with the virus in competing relief packages, though more money from the Pentagon is far from a lock in a new stimulus.
DEM BUDGET HOPES DIM: Even with Joe Biden in the White House come January, Democrats’ plans to enact their agenda using procedural budget tools are fading fast with slim hopes of capturing the Senate, POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma reports.
“If Democrats ultimately pull off a majority in the upper chamber, they’ll still have internal party squabbles to overcome as they hammer out spending deals and other major fiscal legislation,” she writes. “The party’s progressive wing is eager to make a forceful push for military funding cuts and other ambitious policy plans that set more moderate members on edge. But such a scenario might be far more navigable than the partisan brinkmanship that awaits if the GOP holds the Senate.”
Control of the Senate will come down to Georgia, as POLITICO’s Elena Schneider reports.
INNOVATION UPDATE: The chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board, Mark Sirangelo, headlines an event “Roadmap to Modernization” hosted by Nextgov and Defense One, beginning at 10 a.m.
Also today, the conservative American Enterprise Institute holds a webinar to release a new report on the defense capabilities of U.S. allies at 12:30 p.m.
Several top Pentagon and military officials have public events this week:
On Tuesday, Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, will deliver pre-recorded remarks on 5G to the Open Generation Consortium sponsored by the MITRE Engenuity Foundation at 8 a.m.
On Wednesday, to coincide with Veterans Day the National Museum of the U.S. Army, located at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, will hold its virtual opening ceremony at 2 p.m.
On Friday, Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler, director of naval intelligence, speaks at the Maritime Security Dialog hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Naval Institute at 10 a.m.
A BIDEN PENTAGON: It’s official, even if Trump is still holding out dimming hopes of a legal challenge: Biden has been declared the winner of the presidential race. And once he takes office in January, he’s expected to quickly get to work reversing several Trump-era military policies, including the ban on transgender personnel, and set in motion a range of reviews that could recast Pentagon spending priorities, troop deployments and arms control pacts.
We put together a rundown of the policy changes that Biden can implement using his executive authority, along with a number of longer-term goals that will require working with Republicans in Congress and in some cases fending off the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
The money is on Flournoy: Virtually everyone is predicting that Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, will be Biden’s choice for secretary of defense. But Arnold Punaro, the former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, advises that if history is any guide, we should also be prepared for a surprise pick.
Defense News’ Aaron Mehta has a new deep dive on Flournoy, who would be the first woman to run the Pentagon, and where she would be likely to take the Defense Department.
The defense industry, for its part, seems just fine with the outcome of the election. Leaders have expressed confidence in recent days that Biden will continue to be an ally even if they don’t experience the kind of military buildup that took place under Trump, as The Washington Post laid out.
“Obviously there is a concern that defense spending will go way down if there is a Biden administration, but frankly I think that’s ridiculous,” Raytheon Technologies CEO Gregory Hayes told CNBC’s Jim Cramer shortly before the election.
More: Meet the contenders for Biden’s Cabinet, via reporters and editors from across POLITICO.
WAITING ON THE GSA: “Former Republican White House officials and veterans of past presidential transitions are calling for the government to begin the formal transfer of power from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden,” POLITICO’s Alex Thompson reports.
“While there will be legal disputes requiring adjudication, the outcome is sufficiently clear that the transition process must now begin,” the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition wrote in a letter first reported by POLITICO on Sunday.
The letter was signed by Democratic and Republican veterans of presidential transitions, including former White House chiefs of staff from both parties.
“We urge the Trump administration to immediately begin the post-election transition process and the Biden team to take full advantage of the resources available under the Presidential Transition Act,” they wrote.
That means the General Services Administration must affirm Biden’s election for transition funds to be released or for the president-elect’s team to communicate with federal agencies. So far GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has held off.
“An ascertainment has not yet been made. GSA and its Administrator will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law,” the agency said in a statement on Saturday.
THE BIG RE-ENGAGEMENT: The contrast between the Trump administration and a Biden presidency could not be more stark. And that includes how America will engage with the rest of the world, according to a series of new commentaries from the Atlantic Council on topics ranging from the state of America’s traditional alliances to relations with China and climate change.
“Under a Biden presidency, the United States will shift from a ‘with or without us’ approach to a policy that fundamentally believes the United States can achieve more when we work together with partner nations,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.
But don’t expect Trump’s “America First” bent to be abandoned by the Republican Party, especially given the president’s stronger-than-expected showing on Election Day, said Emma Ashford, a senior fellow in the New American Engagement Initiative at the think tank’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.
The “post-Trump Republican party is likely to continue to be apathetic about the value of international institutions, and skeptical of the utility of multilateral agreements on topics like climate change and arms control,” she said.
Related: What Biden means for Europe, via POLITICO Europe’s Matthew Karnitschnig.
And: Trump promised to end America’s wars. Biden might actually do it, via Foreign Policy.
ESPER STAYS, FOR NOW: “President Donald Trump is not expected to fire Defense Secretary Mark Esper in the weeks leading up to the inauguration in January, two administration officials told POLITICO on Saturday moments after news organizations called the presidential race for Joe Biden,” POLITICO’s Lara Seligman and Daniel Lippman report.
Multiple news reports in recent days had indicated that Esper, who has been at loggerheads with Trump for months, would quit or be fired right after the election. But in recent days, Senate leaders have urged the White House to keep Esper in place, said one of the administration officials.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Jim Inhofe, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, have pressured the White House “to not shake things up,” said one knowledgable person. “McConnell and Inhofe have made clear their views.”
But the president is fickle and could easily change his mind and dump Esper, his fourth Pentagon chief.
NUCLEAR CHIEF PUSHED OUT: One top Trump national security official who is out is Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the quasi-independent arm of the Energy Department that manages the nuclear weapons complex.
Gordon-Hagerty, the first woman to run the agency, clashed with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette over the NNSA’s budget and successfully gained support for her view at the White House.
In a rare rebuke of the Trump administration, Inhofe on Friday said the fact that Brouillette “effectively demanded her resignation during this time of uncertainty demonstrates he doesn’t know what he’s doing in national security matters and shows a complete lack of respect for the semi-autonomous nature of NNSA.”
NNSA said in a statement that William Bookless, who has been serving as the agency’s principal deputy administrator, is now acting NNSA administrator. “He brings more than 35 years of experience in the Nuclear Security Enterprise to this leadership role, including more than three decades as a senior physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” the agency said.
The news of Gordon-Hagerty’s departure was first reported by Defense News.
— Trump raises vague questions about military ballots in Georgia: The Washington Post
— Iran’s leader calls on Biden to return to nuclear deal: The Associated Press
— A year after leader’s death, ISIS is alive and growing: Military.com
— Lockheed to build mid-range missile prototype for U.S. Army: Defense News