Daily on Defense: Vote set for ‘culture war’ NDAA, US says Ukraine could get F-16s by summer, Austin says Russian offensive stalled, no word on Patriots

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HOUSE GOP GOING ALONE ON NDAA: Every year, after vigorous debate, the National Defense Authorization Act, which provides policy guidance for the Pentagon, is passed by a comfortable margin, with lawmakers patting themselves on the back while touting the ability of Democrats and Republicans to come together when it comes to national security. 

Not this year.

The House version of the must-pass NDAA, which this year has been named the "Servicemember Quality of Life Improvement and National Defense Authorization Act," sailed out of the Armed Services Committee on a 57-1 bipartisan vote. But when the bill hit the floor, the amendment process produced a wish list of hard-right priorities aimed at dismantling Pentagon policies on abortion travel, transgender care, diversity, and climate change.

Now key Democrats are urging members to vote "no" when the bill is expected to come to the floor for a vote today, citing what they say are highly partisan "poison pills" they can't support. If Democrats remain united, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) will have to rely on his slim 218-213 majority to get the bill over the finish line. The outcome could hinge on attendance for the Friday session. Most of the controversial amendments adopted yesterday passed with just 213 or 214 Republican votes, while Democrats were only able to muster 207 votes at most.

WHO'S POLITICIZING DEFENSE: Democrats accuse House Republicans of politicizing the traditionally bipartisan policy bill by making it a vehicle for the culture wars now dividing the country. Republicans insist it's the Democrats and President Joe Biden's "woke" policies undercutting the unusual comity.

"The question that must be asked is whether having people who identify as trans makes the United States a more lethal force and whether it helps recruit the best and most effective talent. The answer is a clear and resounding no," said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT), sponsor of an amendment that would bar the Pentagon from paying for or providing gender transition surgeries or hormone treatments transgender troops. "This does nothing to help our troops continue to be the most effective fighting force on earth and is nothing but a distraction and a waste of valuable taxpayer dollars."

A provision to restrict "critical race theory" at military academies made it into the bill, along with a ban on "unauthorized flags" on military bases, which would prohibit the flying of rainbow flags to support gay pride events.

"Our military should be teaching servicemen and women to win wars, not pushing the Left's woke agenda," said Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), whose amendment freezes diversity, equity, and inclusion hiring at the Pentagon. "Americans’ tax dollars should not be used to divide our military heroes based on race and gender. We should be uniting our service members behind a common goal: defending the greatest nation in the history of the world." 

Another amendment by Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX) would force an end to the Biden Pentagon's policy of granting leave and reimbursing travel expenses to obtain an abortion, something Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) waged an unsuccessful one-man battle against by blocking military promotions for months. 

SEE YOU IN THE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE: Last year, the most controversial "culture war" provisions were stripped from the final bill by House and Senate negotiators in the conference committee that reconciles the different versions of the bill that are passed from each chamber.

In a statement that seemed to anticipate House passage today, eight Democrats, led by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, decried the "poison pill amendments" as "demeaning service members and degrading our national defense," and they vowed to take the fight to the conference committee later this year.

"We look forward to working with our Democratic colleagues in conference to ensure the military remains open to those willing to serve and that all those who serve get the respect and resources they need and deserve," they said.


Good Friday 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: The Senate Armed Services Committee meets behind closed doors to wrap up its version of the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, which could go to the floor next month. Bipartisan staff members of the committee have scheduled a background briefing for reporters at 11 a.m.

RUSSIAN ADVANCE SLOWED: In a news conference following a meeting of the roughly 50 donor nations providing military aid to Ukraine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. shared the assessment that Russia's attempt to break through Ukraine’s defenses in the northern Kharkiv region has largely stalled.

"What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front," Austin told reporters at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. "A couple of weeks ago, there was concern that we would see a significant breakthrough on the part of the Russians. I don’t think we’ll see that going forward."

Austin credited President Joe Biden's decision to allow Ukraine to use U.S. weaponry, in particular the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system, to strike targets across the border inside Russia. "The intent of allowing them to conduct counterfire was to help them address the issue of the Russians conducting staging, or building staging areas, just on the other side of the border and attacking from those staging areas."

"The situation is somewhat more stabilized now than it was over the past several weeks," said Brown. "One of the things that the Ukrainians have been focused on over the past several months, going into ’24, is building out their defensive lines. And they’ve been fairly effective in building those defensive lines, which has created a bit of stability."

ANXIOUSLY AWAITING THOSE F-16s: Following the signing ceremony last night in Italy, in which Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a 10-year security agreement between the two countries, Zelensky made a point of the notion the agreement called for the U.S. to provide fighter squadrons to Ukraine.

"That’s right, plural squadrons," Zelensky said for emphasis, "including, but not limited to, F-16s. We have worked for a long time for this." But for all the talk of getting F-16s to Ukraine and several countries promising the fighter jets and pilot training, Ukraine is still waiting.”

"We’re working diligently to make sure that the Ukrainians have what they need, and the goal is to get them those F-16s this summer," Brown told reporters in Brussels. "It’s not just the pilots," he said, citing his experience as an F-16 pilot himself. "Maintenance is also a key part of that and training the maintainers."

NO WORD ON US PATRIOTS: Despite all the buzz about the United States providing a second Patriot air defense system to Ukraine, neither Austin nor Biden yesterday confirmed the reports, although Austin disputed the suggestion the Patriot system would be pulled from neighboring Poland.

"I’ve seen some of their press reporting," Austin said. "What I will tell you is that there will be no change in our Patriot coverage in Poland."

While Austin said he didn't have "any announcements" on Patriot batteries, he insisted the U.S. is doing everything possible to "make sure that they have the capability that they need and that we get it there as quickly as we can."

At his news conference in Italy, Biden said the U.S. is pressing allies with Patriot systems to send them to Ukraine, and so far, five have committed to do so. He's also put countries on notice that replacement systems from the U.S. will be on hold for a while.

"We let it be known to those countries that are expecting from us air defense systems in the future that they’re going to have to wait," Biden said. "Everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met, and then we will make good on the commitments we made to other countries." 

Austin has another briefing with reporters scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Eastern time from NATO Headquarters in Brussels, where the meeting of allied defense ministers has just ended.



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11 a.m. — Wilson Center virtual discussion: "What to Expect from the Washington Summit: A Conversation with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg," with Mark Green, Wilson Center president and CEO, and Philip Reeker, chairman, Global Europe Program, Albright Stonebridge Group https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/what-expect-washington-summit

3 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Hudson Institute virtual discussion: "Deterring China through Nonmilitary Costs," with Hudson Senior Fellows Thomas Duesterberg, Aaron MacLean, and John Lee https://www.hudson.org/events/deterring-china-through-nonmilitary-costs


8 a.m. — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Zoom discussion of the Congressional report: "Preventing, Countering, and Responding to Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism: Nuclear Threats," with Stephen Flynn, chairman, WMD Nuclear Terrorism Committee; and Michael Janicke, senior staff director RSVP: Thom Shanker at [email protected]. https://nationalsecuritymedia.gwu.edu

10 a.m. 192 Dirksen — Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing: “A Review of the President’s FY2025 Budget Request for the National Guard and Reserves,” with testimony from Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, chief of the Army Reserve; Vice Adm. John Mustin, chief of the Navy Reserve; Lt. Gen. Leonard Anderson, commander of the Marine Corps Reserve; and Lt. Gen. John Healy, chief of the Air Force Reserve http://appropriations.senate.gov

10 a.m. 253 Russell — Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee markup of S. 4207, the “Spectrum and National Security Act of 2024" http://commerce.senate.gov

10 a.m. 342 Dirksen — Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing: “Origins of COVID-19: An Examination of Available Evidence" http://www.hsgac.senate.gov

2 p.m. 342 Dirksen — Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Investigations Subcommittee hearing: "Boeing’s broken safety culture,” with testimony from Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun http://www.hsgac.senate.gov

2:30 p.m. 419 Dirksen — Senate Foreign Relations Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism Subcommittee hearing: "FY2025 Budget Request for the Middle East and North Africa,” with testimony from Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, and Jeanne Pryor, deputy assistant administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for the Middle East http://foreign.senate.gov

"It is possible to be both the victim of an unfair, selective prosecution and also be guilty. But the idea that Biden has weaponized the entire Justice Department against Republicans and Conservatives gives him too much credit. It is a plain conspiracy theory."
Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, in a post on X on Thursday
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