WITH TIME TO SPARE: In the end, last night’s bipartisan vote was a comfortable 69-28 as the Senate passed and sent to the president a continuing resolution that keeps the Pentagon and the rest of the federal government funded through Feb. 18 while averting a holiday season shutdown that almost no one wanted.
Earlier in the day, House Democrats passed the stopgap resolution 221-212 with the support of only one Republican, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
But what has become an annual exercise in down-to-the-wire brinkmanship was not without some drama, as Democrats beat back a push by Republicans to defund President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger businesses. The anti-vaccine amendment authored by Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Roger Marshall of Kansas was defeated on a narrow party-line 50-48 vote.
Traditionally the path to passing a CR is not to load it down with new policy measures, but there was bipartisan agreement to add $7 billion to aid Afghanistan evacuees.
SENATE SENDS BIDEN LEGISLATION FUNDING GOVERNMENT THROUGH FEB. 18 AFTER DEFEATING VACCINE MANDATE BAN
HALF A LOAF: While the Pentagon was relieved not to have to furlough so-called nonessential workers, the inability of Congress to pass the defense appropriation bill means that once again, the Defense Department will go almost halfway through the fiscal year without access to funds to let new contracts begin any new initiatives.
For example, House and Senate appropriations bills would provide $13 billion more in research and development to compete with China, which now ranks No. 2 in the world in R&D, according to the White House.
The temporary spending authority under the CR limits spending to last year's levels, so funds need to beef up cybersecurity, the White House argues. “Continuing current funding levels ... would not provide any funding for continued efforts to respond to the SolarWinds incident that occurred across government this year. The size and scale of the incident exceeds existing agency budgetary operations and creates an exigent risk for continuing to delay the deployment of capabilities for response and mitigation of those events.”
ANOTHER BUMPY ROAD: Meanwhile, the other half of the annual funding exercise, the authorization, is also tied up in debates over amendments. A vote on the National Defense Authorization Act continues to be blocked by Republicans who want their amendments to be considered.
The Senate Armed Services Committee postponed yesterday’s confirmation hearing for Adm. Christopher Grady to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs in order to free up senators for expected floor action on the bill.
The latest roadblock came late Wednesday night when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio failed to win consideration for his proposed amendment to ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where administration officials have accused the government of human rights abuses, according to the Hill. Rubio then blocked a deal that would have allowed votes on other amendments to proceed, which would have subsequently cleared the way for a final vote on the NDAA.
HURDLES REMAIN BEFORE ANNUAL DEFENSE FUNDING BILL GETS PASSED
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GOP SENATORS WARN AUSTIN AGAINST ‘WOKE HARASSMENT’: A dozen Republican senators have fired off a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressing concern that the Pentagon’s new effort to root out extremists in the rank will end up targeting members of the military who have legitimate reservations about controversial leftist political beliefs.
“We are deeply concerned that this latest effort by the Biden Administration will target service members who voice opposition to woke, leftist ideology under the guise of protecting our ‘national security interest,’” the senators write referring to the Pentagon’s Countering Extremism Working Group announced last April.
“Service members represent a cross-section of the country they faithfully serve, and hold beliefs and opinions as diverse as America itself,” the letter says. “Our military leaders should be honoring the diversity among our armed forces, not divide us by forcing false narratives that solely serve to alienate our fellow Americans based on the color of their skin.”
The letter was signed by Sens. Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Thom Tillis, Kevin Cramer, Mike Braun, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, John Boozman, Roger Marshall, Steve Daines, James Lankford, and Mike Lee.
BLINKEN, LAVROV FACE OFF IN STOCKHOLM: With Russian troops poised in what looks like to all the world as a prelude to a second invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sat down with Sergey Lavrov in Stockholm to try to convince his Russian counterpart that an invasion would be a mistake Moscow would regret.
The two met on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation ministerial in Stockholm, and they faced reporters beforehand, sitting side by side.
“The strong preference of the United States is for a stable, predictable relationship between our countries. It's in the best interests of both of us, of our people, and actually, the entire world. We have deep concerns about Russia's plans for renewed aggression against Ukraine. That would move us in exactly the opposite direction, and it's simply not in anyone's interest.” Blinken said.
“The best way to avert a crisis is through diplomacy,” he said. “The United States is willing to facilitate that, but — and again, in the spirit of being clear and candid, which is the best thing to do — if Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences.”
Lavrov, for his part, appeared unmoved. “I have no doubts that the only way out of today’s crisis, which is indeed quite tense, is actually to seek the balance of interests, and I hope this is what we are going to do today,” he said. “We, as President [Vladimir] Putin stated, do not want any conflicts, but if our NATO partners have stated that no one has a right to dictate to a country that would like to join NATO whether it can do or not, we can say that every country is able to define its own interests to guarantee their security.“
IS PUTIN BLUFFING? In the view of many observers, the question of whether Putin will act on his territorial ambitions in Ukraine or be deterred by the U.S. threat of “high-impact” sanctions is akin to a high-stakes poker game.
The prospect of tougher sanctions is not an empty threat, argues John Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “The things we're discussing — I think the Russians know this and certainly we've been doing real coordination with the EU, so they know this — would be, for example, going after major Russian banks, which are not affected right now. It could be going after a new sector of the Russian economy, such as minerals. It could also be going after Russia's secondary debt, which would have a major impact on Moscow's economy,” Herbst said in a CNN interview Thursday.
“The sanctions we have in place right now already cost the Russian economy 1% of GDP or more. These sanctions would, at a minimum, double that and perhaps more. So this is a serious disincentive for the Kremlin,” Herbst argues. “So the possibility of Russia striking large is there. I don't think, however, it will happen. I think it's a bluff ... If in fact they strike, there will be major American sanctions, which will do real damage to the — additional damage to the Russian economy as well as military support in the form of weapons for Ukraine.”
“At the end of the day, it's as John McCain used to say, Russia is only a big gas station. Its economy is a one-trick pony — oil and gas. I think you could move sanctions there, although complicated because of Nord Stream 2 coming online,” said former NATO Supreme Commander retired Adm. James Stravidis on CNN Wednesday. “Putin wants his athletes to go to the Olympics. That's an obvious one. So hopefully, Putin will not be as reckless as he's been on a couple occasions, but it's pretty hard to rule that out.”
McCAUL SAYS BIDEN PROJECTING WEAKNESS: Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says he believes Putin has been emboldened by Biden’s weak foreign policy, especially his mishandling of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which tarnished America’s reputation abroad.
“I would go back to Afghanistan and the showing of weakness by the unconditional surrender to the Taliban. This has provoked not only Mr. Putin but also President Xi and China, as they look at imperial China and Taiwan and the islands in the South China Sea,” McCaul said on Fox yesterday.
“My worry is an invasion, the size of which we hadn't seen since World War II. They are very determined, very serious about this. There are about 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukraine border as I speak, with many more on their way from Moscow,” McCaul told Fox’s Neil Cavuto yesterday.
“I think Putin wants the old Soviet empire. And Ukraine was the breadbasket of Russia. So this has been on their plate for quite some time. They have always wanted to take it back. And I think they're making a calculation that this president is exhibiting weakness and that he's not going to respond,” McCaul said. “So, I think it's important for the administration to show deterrence here and for our NATO allies to show, to demonstrate to Putin, this will come at a high price if you do this.”
A DIFFERENT TAKE ON TURKEY: The Foundation for Defense of Democracies is out with a new report this morning, “Collusion or Collision: Turkey-Russia Relations Under Erdogan and Putin,” that examines the complex relationship between Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and Putin’s Russia in the context of NATO.
As former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman writes in the forward, “Ankara’s drift from the West reflects a fundamental shift in Turkish foreign policy: Although Erdogan does not seek to exit NATO, he seeks to balance between East and West, making Erdogan’s Turkey unlikely to reprise its former role as a stalwart transatlantic ally. The foreign policies of both Moscow and Ankara have deep domestic roots, and both Washington and its allies will need to develop a coordinated strategy to deal with the consequences of the Turkish-Russian entente.”
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FRIDAY | DECEMBER 3
12:30 a.m. — ReutersNEXT three-day global conference wraps up a full day of events with a 4:30 p.m. interview with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on "Leading the Way in Challenging Times" https://reutersevents.com/events/next/register.php
9:30 a.m. — George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs virtual conference on "U.S.-China Hostility,” with Bo Sun, principal economist at the Federal Reserve Board's International Financial Stability Section. https://calendar.gwu.edu/us-china-hostility
10 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: “Empowering NATO's Technological Edge,” with John-Mikal Stordal, director of the NATO Science and Technology Organization's Collaboration Support Office https://www.csis.org/events/empowering-natos-technological-edge
10 a.m. — Brookings Institution virtual discussion: “How to address extremism among veterans,” with William Braniff, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism; Shawn Turner, senior adviser at the Veterans Affairs Department; Cynthia Miller-Idriss, professor at American University; Kathleen Belew, assistant professor at the University of Chicago https://www.brookings.edu/events/how-to-address-extremism-among-veterans
10 a.m. — United States Institute of Peace virtual discussion: “Averting a Fiscal and Humanitarian Disaster in Afghanistan,” with former Afghanistan Acting Finance Minister Khalid Payenda; Abdallah Al Dardari, resident representative in Afghanistan for the United Nations Development Program; Vicki Aken, Afghanistan country director at the International Rescue Committee; Kate Bateman, senior expert for Afghanistan at USIP; and Scott Warden, director for Afghanistan and Central Asia at USIP
12 p.m. — American Security Project virtual discussion: “Addressing a Revanchist Russia,” with Steven Pifer, research fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register
2:30 p.m. — Brookings Institution Foreign Policy virtual discussion: “U.S.-EU cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman; and European External Action Service Secretary General Stefano Sannino https://connect.brookings.edu/register-to-watch
SATURDAY | DECEMBER 4
5 p.m. EST Simi Valley, California — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivers keynote address on China at day one of the two-day Reagan National Defense Forum 2021 https://www.reaganfoundation.org/media
TUESDAY | DECEMBER 7
3:30 p.m. — Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance virtual discussion: “80 Years Later — Are We Ready to Defend the Pacific,” with Lt. Gen. Stephen Sklenka, deputy commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; retired Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, former deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Air Forces; retired Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, former director of operations, U.S. Pacific Command; retired Maj. Gen. Joaquin Malavet, former director for strategic planning and policy, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; Riki Ellison, MDAA chairman and founder; retired Rear Adm. Victorino Mercado, moderator, former director of maritime operations, U.S. Pacific Fleet Register: https://missiledefenseadvocacy.org/advocacy/events Livestream: https://www.youtube.com/watch
WEDNESDAY | DECEMBER 8
2 p.m. — Protect Democracy virtual conversation: “National Security Risks of Election Disinformation and Subversion,” with Javed Ali, former senior director for counterterrorism, National Security Council; Matt Masterson, former senior cybersecurity adviser Department of Homeland Security, and former chair of the Election Assistance Commission; and Olivia Troye, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register
FRIDAY | DECEMBER 10
8:30 a.m. — Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies virtual Spacepower Forum, with Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of the U.S. Space Command; and retired Gen. Kevin Chilton, explorer chair for space warfighting studies at Mitchell Institute's Spacepower Advantage Research Center https://mitchellaerospacepower.org/event
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I think Putin wants the old Soviet empire. And Ukraine was the breadbasket of Russia. So this has been on their plate for quite some time. They have always wanted to take it back. And I think they're making a calculation that this president is exhibiting weakness and that he's not going to respond.”
Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, speaking on Fox Thursday.