Overnight Defense: Shanahan vows military won’t be ‘politicized’ amid USS McCain controversy | House panel to start work on defense bill | Pentagon hits one year since last on-camera briefing
Happy Friday 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: President TrumpDonald John TrumpMexican president on Trump immigration tariffs: ‘America First is a fallacy’ Bennet warns against ‘race to judgment’ on Trump impeachment Grassley slams Trump tariffs on Mexico: ‘A misuse of presidential tariff authority’ MORE has faced criticism since the early days of his presidency that he is politicizing the military.
This week’s controversy over the USS John S. McCain is only fueling the debate.
On Friday, though, acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanTrump claims USS McCain report was ‘an exaggeration, or even Fake News’ Overnight Defense: Latest on USS McCain controversy | Trump says order was ‘well-meaning’ | Shanahan asks chief to investigate | Democrat demands answers from Navy | Trump touts military strength in Air Force Academy speech Democratic Armed Services member demands answers from Navy on reported USS McCain order MORE insisted the military will not “become politicized.”
“Our business is to run military operations and not to become politicized,” Shanahan replied. “I’ll wait until I get a full explanation of the facts before I’ll pass judgment on the situation, but our job is to run the military. And I would not have moved the ship. I would not have given that direction.”
Context: The McCain controversy emerged as Shanahan awaits a confirmation hearing to be Defense secretary full-time — in fact, his paperwork still hasn’t officially been sent to the Senate.
Those questions and ones about politicizing the military are only expected to increase after the McCain incident.
Latest on investigation: Shanahan also reiterated Friday that he asked his chief of staff to “look into” the incident but noted “that’s different than saying launch a formal investigation.”
Shanahan said his chief of staff has already done a “quick” and “not exhaustive” search of emails sent to the Pentagon’s executive office and found that “we received none” related to the order.
Shanahan said he also asked his chief of staff to talk to the 7th Fleet, the chief of Naval operations and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
“As soon as he comes back and says ‘here are some facts regarding the situation’ — and I would expect, given this has been going on for 36 hours, I’ll give you an update, and it’ll probably be tomorrow or something,” Shanahan said.
STAY TUNED: Next week is poised to be a big one for defense watchers — the House Armed Services Committee is starting its work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The fun starts Monday. Reporters will get to hear about each subcommittee’s portion of bill at background briefings, followed shortly thereafter by the public release of the text from each subcommittee.
Then on Tuesday, five of the subcommittees will mark up their portion of the bill. Tuesday’s schedule is:
— 11 a.m.: Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities
— Noon: Subcommittee on Military Personnel
— 1 p.m.: Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces
— 2:30 p.m.: Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces
— 3:30 p.m.: Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
Wednesday will see the last subpanel, the Subcommittee on Readiness, mark up its portion at 9 a.m.
The subcommittee markups are usually just a few minutes long each, as the most controversial topics are typically left out of the subcommittee portions. The real exciting action will come the following week when the full committee marks up the chairman’s portion of the bill June 12.
In the Senate: The Senate Armed Services Committee, as you know, has already finished work on its version of the NDAA.
But there’s something else of interest on its agenda next week.
The committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for the nominee to be commander of U.S. Space Command, Gen. John Raymond.
The establishment of Space Command is part of the administration’s reorganization of how the military handles space, an effort that also includes creating Space Force.
Despite its initial skepticism, Senate Armed Services Committee signed off on creating Space Force in its NDAA.
ONE YEAR, NO BRIEFINGS: The Defense Department on Friday hit the one-year mark of not offering an on-camera briefing by a top spokesperson, adding to friction between the Pentagon press corps and defense officials.
The lack of on-camera briefings, a practice that used to be routine, comes at a time of mounting national security concerns as the Trump administration deploys more military personnel and assets to the Middle East to counter Iran.
The tensions with Iran prompted the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bomber task force and 900 additional U.S. troops, but no official has gone on camera in the briefing room to explain the decision or to take questions.
Two top Pentagon officials briefed reporters on the deployments on-the-record last Friday but did so off camera.
Journalists and other proponents of on-cameras briefings argue it is important for spokespeople and military officials to go on camera in order to be held accountable by the American people.
Critics of President Trump have suggested the on-camera briefings were curtailed to avoid provoking the ire of the president, who is an avid TV watcher, if they say something that contradicts him.
Pentagon’s defense: As the anniversary of the last on-camera briefing came Friday, the Pentagon defended its record of engagement with the press.
“The Department of Defense is committed to transparency to the media and the public,” Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson said in a statement. “Since January, the department has facilitated numerous on- and off-camera press engagements on a variety of topics, in addition to written press statements, social media posts, and other products made available on defense.gov.”
Crosson cited the fact that reporters accompany acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan during overseas trips, where he has “provided multiple on the record and on-camera briefings to the traveling press corps.”
“The Pentagon remains one of the only government facilities that allows nearly unrestricted access to the building for hundreds of credentialed journalists,” Crosson added. “Journalists also have 24-7 access to a team of press officers to assist with their defense-related questions.”
It’s like rain on your wedding day: The Pentagon announced Thursday that the briefing room will be closed for a week to replace the carpets and do other maintenance work.
ON TAP FOR MONDAY
— The Hill: Car bomb injures four US service members, kills several Afghan civilians
— The Washington Post: Leaked Navy emails show top officers struggling with how to handle a former governor ensnared in scandal