Daily on Defense: Ukraine losing ground, McConnell says Ukraine aid should be severed from border bill, Mayorkas still under impeachment threat

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DEPLETED, WEAKENED, STRUGGLING: After months of fierce fighting, Russian forces are on the verge of their most significant victory since they captured Bakhmut in May as Ukrainian troops, short of bodies and ammunition, struggle to hold off a determined assault on the besieged city of Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region.

"Russian and Ukrainian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka amid continued positional fighting in the area on February 6," the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest battlefield update. "The spokesperson for a Ukrainian brigade operating in Avdiivka both emphasized that the situation in the area is very difficult and that Russian forces are trying to capture the town for political and informational reasons before the Russian presidential elections in March 2024."

"They’re in a tough position," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a teleconference with reporters yesterday. "Soldiers on the battlefront are running low on certain types of ammunition. … We know for a fact that some of their battlefield commanders on the ground are making tough decisions about how many munitions they’re going to fire on a given day at a given target, how many do they have to keep back."

"They’re in dire straits right now defending themselves against the Russian onslaught, a brutal conquest," President Joe Biden said in a plea to congressional Republicans to "show a little courage, to show a little spine," and pass the bipartisan national security supplemental, which would allow the Pentagon to restart the resupply of Ukrainian forces. "The clock is ticking. Every week, every month that passes without new aid to Ukraine means fewer artillery shells, fewer defense air defense systems, fewer tools for Ukraine to defend itself against this Russian onslaught. Just what Putin wants."

"We can’t walk away now. That’s what Putin’s betting on. Supporting this bill is standing up to Putin. Opposing this bill is playing into his hands," Biden said.


McCONNELL LEAVES OPEN OPTION FOR UKRAINE FUNDING: Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) threw in the towel on the border compromise he sought and supported, effectively conceding that former President Donald Trump, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Trump's hard-right allies in the House had prevailed in their fight to block it.

"Most of our members feel that we’re not going to be able to make a law here, and if we’re not going to be able to make a law, they’re reluctant to go forward," McConnell said at a press availability. "I followed the instructions of my conference, who were insisting that we tackle this in October. I mean, it’s actually our side that wanted to tackle the border issue. We started it," he said, calling the failed compromise a "quality product" that even the Border Patrol union believed would make things better. "But things have changed over the last four months, and it’s been made perfectly clear by the speaker that he wouldn’t take it up even if we sent it to him."

McConnell said it's now up to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to restructure the supplemental bill to salvage the aid to Ukraine and other priorities. "There are other parts of this supplemental that are extremely important as well — Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan. We still, in my view, ought to tackle the rest of it because it’s important, not that the border isn’t important, but we can’t get an outcome."

"So that’s where I think we ought to head, and it’s up to Sen. Schumer to decide how to repackage this if in fact we don’t go onto it," he said.


A GRIM ASSESSMENT: The Pentagon has been privately briefing members of Congress on the impact the failure of Congress to pass the emergency supplemental appropriation has had on Ukraine as it enters its third year of war with Russia.

"I went to the Pentagon today with several colleagues for a briefing on Ukraine and what will happen if we fail to support its military. It was the most stark description of the stakes — for both Ukraine and US interests — should we fail to provide more military aid," Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, posted on X Monday.

"First, it's no secret that Ukraine is running short of critical ammunition — artillery shells to hold Russia's ground forces back, and air and missile defenses to knock down the missiles Russia uses to attack Ukrainian civilians," she wrote. "​​Russia could break through the current front lines and capture more territory, subjecting more of Ukraine's people to the same horrific crimes that took place at the start of the war. Ukrainian refugees, fleeing bombardment and the cruelty of Russian forces, would leave in massive numbers, creating new strains for our European allies."

"In short: We can pay now to help Ukraine, or we can pay much more later to counteract the strategic gains we would hand Vladimir Putin and Russia," Slotkin said. "Make no mistake, our adversaries and our friends are watching. China will take note that the US was unwilling to finish the job & use that in their calculus on Taiwan. … Historians may remember this as the moment when America gave up on defending democracy. When our political polarization got so bad that we abandoned the principles our grandparents fought for."


Good Wednesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre's Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Stacey Dec. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn't work, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre


HAPPENING TODAY: IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED: After an embarrassing failure to pass a bill of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, House Republicans are vowing to try again as soon as House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) returns from cancer treatment, which could be as early as today.

House Speaker Mike Johnson is working with the thinnest of majority and had called the vote for yesterday afternoon, when the Democrats would be down one member, Rep. Al Green (D-TX), who was undergoing surgery. There was no margin for error, as Johnson knew he would lose three votes from Reps. Ken Buck (R-CO), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Tom McClintock (R-CA).

But Democrats outmaneuvered Johnson, wheeling Green in from his hospital bed, who cast the vote that caused a tie 215-215 vote. Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT) then switched his vote to nay, to preserve the option to reconsider the impeachment resolution. 

Afterward, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) accused Democrats of treating the impeachment vote as a game of strategy and "hiding" their votes from Republicans, while Democrats mocked Johnson for bringing the vote without enough votes to pass.

"The No. 1 rule of being speaker is know how to count. Know how to count," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on MSNBC. "And the fact they would bring this up, something as potentially consequential as an impeachment of a Cabinet official, and not have counted their votes is really inexplicable.

House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green, MD (R-TN) released the following statement after the House of Representatives's vote on impeachment articles against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for high crimes and misdemeanors:

"While I'm disappointed in the outcome of today's vote, this is not the end of our efforts to hold Secretary Mayorkas accountable," said Rep. Mark Green (R-TN), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. "I look forward to Leader Scalise's return.”

"We will have another vote. Steve Scalise is expected back in town sometime around 11, 11:30. My guess is before noon tomorrow, we will have this vote. It will pass," Buck, one of the no votes, said last night on CNN. "We are setting new levels, low levels for these impeachments. And we’re going to see impeachments of presidents more often. We’re going to see impeachments of Cabinet members more often. It is not the way we should be going when we need to focus on solving the very difficult problems that we have in this country."


STAND-ALONE ISRAEL AID BILLS ALSO FAILS: Immediately after the Mayorkas impeachment went down in flames, Johnson called for a vote on his stand-alone bill to provide $17.6 billion in aid to Israel, which under suspension of the rules required a two-thirds vote for passage.

While a number of Democrats supported the measure, 14 Republicans joined the majority of Democrats to kill the bills on 250-180, far short of the needed two-thirds majority.

Democrats who support aid to Israel denounced the bill as a ploy to cut out Ukraine aid, which a growing number of House Republicans oppose. 

"I voted against the standalone supplemental bill for Israel today because I cannot support a national security supplemental that abandons Ukraine and fails to provide humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in Gaza," Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. "We are facing many national security threats across the globe. These challenges are increasingly interconnected, and we must advance a U.S. national security strategy that supports all these interests in lock step to be in the best position to succeed."


AUSTIN TO TESTIFY: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has apologized publicly and privately for his lapse of judgment in trying to keep his prostate cancer diagnosis secret, even from the president, but now he has agreed to appear before the House Armed Services Committee for tongue-lashing from irate Republicans, some calling for him to resign.

"Congress must understand what happened and who made decisions to prevent the disclosure of the whereabouts of a Cabinet secretary. Your unwillingness to provide candid and complete answers necessitates calling a full committee hearing," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) said last month in requesting Austin explain the "decisions made to withhold information from the President, Congress, and the American people."

Austin has agreed to testify on Feb. 29, according to Politico, which quoted committee spokeswoman Justine Tripathi.

"Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's casual dismissal of concerns over his abandonment of duty upon returning to work was both insulting and totally unacceptable," Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said after Austin submitted written answers to Congress last week. "His willful refusal to notify the president, the National Security Council, and the American people exposes not only a lack of serious judgment but a clear dereliction of duty and erosion of the American people's trust."



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8 a.m. 4301 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Virginia — Intelligence and National Security Alliance discussion: “Zero Trust with Zero Budget,” with Gurpreet Bhatia, principal director for cybersecurity at the Defense Department; Alexis Bonnell, chief information officer at the Air Force Research Laboratory; Neal Ziring, technical director of the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Directorate; Steve Orrin, chairman of Intel Corporation’s Cyber Council; and John Doyon, INSA executive vice president https://www.insaonline.org/detail-pages/event

9 a.m. 2212 Rayburn — House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee: "State of DoD Housing and Aging Infrastructure," with testimony from Brendan Owens, assistant secretary of defense for installations, energy, and environment; Rachel Jacobson, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and environment; Meredith Berger, assistant secretary of the Navy for installations, energy, and environment; and Ravi Chaudhary, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, energy, and environment https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings/readiness-subcommittee-state-dod-housing-and-aging-infrastructure

9 a.m. — ​​Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: “Gaza: The Human Toll,” focusing on the crisis surrounding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency operations in Gaza, with Michelle Strucke, director of the CSIS Humanitarian Agenda, and J. Stephen Morrison, director of the CSIS Global Health Policy Center https://www.csis.org/events/gaza-human-toll

10 a.m. — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace virtual discussion: “Political Violence in America,” with Mary McCord, former acting assistant attorney general for national security, and Aaron David Miller, CEIP senior fellow https://carnegieendowment.org/2024/02/07/political-violence-in-america

2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW — Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion: “Unifying Transatlantic Perspectives Amidst Divisive Challenges,” focusing on support to Ukraine, the contentious threat landscape in the Black Sea region, and Bulgaria-U.S. relations, with Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov https://www.csis.org/events/unifying-transatlantic-perspectives

2:45 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW — Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Program discussion: “Two years into the Russia-Ukraine war,” with Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide; Suzanne Maloney, vice president and director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution; and Fiona Hill, senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe https://www.brookings.edu/events/two-years-into-the-russia-ukraine-war

5 p.m. 1521 16th Street NW — Institute of World Politics discussion: “The Perspective of an American Advisor to Putin’s Transition Team,” with James Carter, senior fellow at the American First Policy Institute’s Center for American Prosperity https://www.iwp.edu/the-perspective-of-an-american-advisor-to-putins-transition-team

7 p.m. 610 Water St. SW — Politics and Prose Bookstore book discussion: “Countdown: The Blinding Future of Nuclear Weapons,” with author Sarah Scoles, contributing writer at Popular Science https://www.politics-prose.com/sarah-scoles


9:30 a.m — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: “What is Next for Taiwan?” with Randall Schriver, chairman of the board of the Project 2049 Institute; Sue Mi Terry, senior adviser at Macro Advisory Partners; Mark Lippert, CSIS Korea chairman; and Victor Cha, CSIS senior vice president for Asia https://www.csis.org/events/what-next-taiwan-capital-cable-87

10:30 a.m. — Atlantic Council virtual discussion: “Building U.S. Nuclear Energy Independence: The Russia Connection,” with Ukrainian Minister of Energy German Galushchenko; John Kotek, senior vice president of policy development and public affairs at the Nuclear Energy Initiative; Jennifer Gordon, director of the Atlantic Council’s Nuclear Energy Policy Initiative; and Debra Cagan, senior adviser at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/

11:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW — Center for Strategic and International Studies Project on Prosperity and Development discussion: “The Continued Need for Support to Ukraine,” with former Polish President Lech Walesa and Max Bergmann, director of the CSIS Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program and Stuart Center https://www.csis.org/events/continued-need-support-ukraine

12 p.m. 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies discussion: “U.S.-Korea Relations,” with Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) https://sais.jhu.edu/campus-events

12:30 p.m. 14th and F Sts. NW — Arab Center discussion: “Arab Public Opinion of the Gaza War and U.S. Policy,” with Shibley Telhami, professor at the University of Maryland; Sarah Yerkes, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Dana El Kurd, nonresident senior fellow at the Arab Center; Tamara Kharroub, deputy executive director of the Arab Center; and Yousef Munayyer, head of the Arab Center’s Palestine/Israel Program https://arabcenterdc.org/event/arab-public-opinion

1 p.m. Pentagon Briefing Room — Press conference with Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau; and Senior Enlisted Adviser Tony Whitehead, chief, the National Guard Bureau on National Guard priorities for 2024 https://www.defense.gov

1:30 p.m. — Foundation for Defense of Democracies fireside chat: "Victory and Defeat in Ukraine," with Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and Bradley Bowman, senior director, FDD Center on Military and Political Power https://www.fdd.org/events/2024/02/08/victory-and-defeat-in-ukraine

4 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW — American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research discussion: “Europe at War? A Conversation with the Secretary General of the European External Action Service,” with Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European External Action Service https://www.aei.org/events/europe-at-war-a-conversation

3 p.m. —  Rand Corporation virtual discussion: “Reforming DOD’s Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Process for a Competitive Future,” with former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall; Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante; Bob Hale, chairman of the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Reform Commission; Eric Fanning, commissioner of the PPBE Reform Commission; Lara Sayer, executive director for the PPBE Reform Commission; and Stephanie Young, director of the Rand Resource Management Program https://www.rand.org/events/2024/02/PPBE-reform.html


12 p.m. — Foundation for Defense of Democracies virtual discussion: "Israeli Security: The Northern Threat and Other Challenges Ahead," with retired Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, former international spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces and FDD senior fellow; Eyal Hulata, former Israeli national security adviser and FDD senior international fellow; Bradley Bowman, senior director, FDD Center on Military and Political Power; and Anna Schecter, senior producer, NBC News Investigations Unit. https://www.fdd.org/events/2024/02/09/israeli-security-the-northern-threat

1 p.m. 2401 M St., NW — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group "coffee conversation," with Gen. Bryan Fenton, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command. RSVP to Thom Shanker at [email protected]

3:30 p.m. 1030 15th Street NW — Atlantic Council discussion: “Air Force Acquisition Priorities 2024,” with Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics; Clementine Starling, director of the Atlantic Council’s Forward Defense and the Atlantic Council’s Center for Strategy and Security; and Steven Grundman, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Forward Defense and the Atlantic Council’s Center for Strategy and Security RSVP: [email protected]

"What this court did was basically say that Donald Trump is announcing that if he becomes president again, he wants the freedom to commit any crimes that advance his own interests, undeterred by the prospect that he is just Citizen Trump when he leaves office. He is basically announcing, as this court described it, announcing an intention not just to be a dictator but to be a criminal-in-chief."
Laurence Tribe, Harvard Law School professor and constitutional scholar, on the unanimous ruling by a federal appeals court that Trump is now a private citizen with no legitimate claim of immunity
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