Today’s D Brief: New NDAA Veto Threat; OMB’s Unusual Budget Moves; ISIS-Defeat Chief Was Fired; No Significant Election Fraud, AG Barr Says; and a Bit More.
Outgoing Trump’s new veto threat. Donald John Trump tweeted Tuesday that he found a new reason to veto funding the U.S. military in what could be his last, big legislative move as the 45th president.
Why: Because the $740 billion defense policy bill for 2021 contains a provision ending “protections for internet companies that shield them from being held liable for material posted by their users,” the Associated Press reports.
It’s known as Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, and Politico calls it “a legal shield for social media companies.” AP explains that it “protects companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted — whether their complaint is legitimate or not.” Trump called Section 230 “very dangerous & unfair” and tweeted Tuesday evening that he wants it “completely terminated.”
Behind the tweet: “Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have looked to repeal Section 230 as a way of holding tech giants accountable for what they say is a failure to monitor harmful content online,” The Hill reports. “However, Trump and his allies have used the law as a cudgel to hit platforms like Facebook and Twitter for what they say is political bias against conservatives, a claim for which little evidence has been provided.”
Less extreme measures are under consideration on Capitol Hill, and those include “more modest changes to the liability provision,” as Politico reported Tuesday. Senate Republicans are also mulling “combin[ing] multiple bills aimed at reforming the law, including the bipartisan Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act and [Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker]’s Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act,” according to Axios.
FWIW, this is Trump’s second NDAA veto threat in two weeks. The first, reported by NBC News on Nov. 23, concerned Trump’s insistence on keeping Confederate officers’ names on 10 U.S. military bases in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Georgia.
So, what if he actually vetoes the NDAA? If “a new version isn’t passed and signed before the 116th Congress adjourns Jan. 3, the next Congress will have to start from scratch,” NBC reported from the last threat 10 days ago.
Trump is also apparently playing politics with the 2022 defense budget. White House officials are instructing Pentagon budgeteers to boost spending in various parts of the presidential budget request — even though lame-duck presidents generally leave that to their successors, report Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams and Marcus Weisgerber, who obtained a draft document laying out discussions between DOD officials and the White House’s Office of Management and the Budget.
Budget analysts called the document an obvious and unorthodox effort to box in President-elect Joe Biden. That’s because the last-minute plus-ups will set Trump up to “heckle the Biden administration from the sidelines for all of the inevitable reductions that will be made when we redo the budget in January [or] February, and in subsequent years,” one unnamed defense official said.
What’s getting boosted? Read on, here.
From Defense One
EXCLUSIVE: Details Revealed in Trump’s Lame-Duck Pentagon Budget Draft // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams: Some of the numbers are “fabricated,” says one official. But they shed light on GOP lines of attack awaiting Biden.
Combat Simulators Should Also Improve Acquisition, DOD Leader Says // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: The modeling and simulation tools that train troops and forces should also “revolutionize” design, acquisition, sustainment and test.
We Need a Backup for GPS. Actually, We Need Several of Them // Robert Cardillo: The key is incentivizing adoption of position-navigation-timing alternatives.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1971, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, and Umm al-Quwain joined to form the United Arab Emirates.
Today: Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley is scheduled to speak to the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon in an online event at 11 a.m. ET. Register for that, here.
Remember how the Pentagon said its ISIS Task Force director “resigned” on Monday? That’s how a Defense Department statement put it (CNN, The Hill). But Eric Schmitt and Adam Goldman of the New York Times reported Tuesday that Christopher Maier “was fired on Monday after a White House appointee told him the United States had won that war and that his office had been disbanded.”
FWIW: ISIS was believed to have some 10,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria as recently as August, according to a UN report at the time.
Also: The Pentagon’s acting chief warned lawmakers in September that ISIS retains the ability to resurge and regroup. Here’s Christopher Miller, then the director of the National Counterterrorism Center: “ISIS has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to rebound from severe losses over the past six years by relying on a dedicated cadre of veteran midlevel commanders, extensive clandestine networks, and downturns in [counterterrorism] pressure to persevere.” More at the Times, here.
There’s a bipartisan resolution before the Senate to stop $23 billion in arms sales to the Emiratis. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted an explanatory thread on the measure Tuesday evening. Murphy says he teamed up with GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky as well as New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who is the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Here are a few of Murphy’s highlights:
- “At the very least, we should receive clear, unbreakable assurances that the UAE’s conduct in Libya and Yemen will change. That hasn’t happened.”
- “[T]he UAE is unique – they have very close, active defense partnerships with both China and Russia. In the classified briefing, Trump officials could not detail how our most sensitive technology – on the Reapers and our F-35 jets – will not find its way to Russia/China.”
- “There is a level of arms transfer to UAE that could make sense. We SHOULD be a strategic ally of the Emirates. But rushing this sale through in a lame duck Administration is very dangerous. There are giant unanswered questions, and that’s why Congress should stop it.”
GOP picks next HASC ranking member. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, will replace outgoing Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, as his party’s top member of the House Armed Services Committee, Politico reports.
Rogers beat out Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, in an unusually close-run contest between “a prolific fundraiser with an affable Southern charm” and Turner, who has “a more aggressive style” and is “well-respected, but not necessarily liked.” Read more, here.
Meanwhile, Trump uber-loyalists continue to wage a narrative battle over Trump’s election loss, and on Tuesday they were joined on social media by recently-pardoned felon and retired three-star Army general Mike Flynn.
Flynn shared a manifesto on Twitter calling on Trump to invoke martial law, “temporarily suspend the Constitution,” and “silence the destructive media.”
Another former three-star doubled-down on an election-related conspiracy theory in an email exchange with Military Times published Tuesday. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who was assistant vice chief of staff during President Bill Clinton’s first term, insists “U.S. special operations forces died in an attack on a CIA computer facility in Germany that was hiding information about a massive, covert effort to flip votes from President Donald Trump to his opponent,” Military Times reports.
Why it matters: The lie “became so widely distributed on social media that numerous accounts on Twitter falsely claimed that five soldiers killed in a Sinai helicopter crash were really killed in the firefight with the CIA,” MT writes.
When asked directly about his false claims, McInerney told MT, “President Trump won in a landslide and the Dems left so many footprints that this TREASON must be stopped!!! This will be the last free election we have and I predicted it on 2 Nov on the Steve Bannon Show!”
A call for violence: And on Monday, Trump campaign attorney Joe diGenova said the country’s former election cybersecurity official — Chris Krebs, whom Trump fired after he lost the election — should be “Taken out at dawn and shot.” After attention began growing over his rhetoric, he said the following day, “it was obvious that my remarks were sarcastic and made in jest.” CNN has more, here.
“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language.” That was one of several earnest pleas Tuesday from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Voting System Implementation Manager Gabe Sterling. Staff at his office are receiving death threats because of diGenova’s rhetoric Monday.
“Death threats, physical threats, intimidation, it’s too much. It’s not right,” he continued. “Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some.” Read his full remarks, here; or read over NPR’s summary — including yet another false allegation of voting fraud from POTUS45 in his response to Sterling’s video — here.
Russia’s coercive tactics are (at least temporarily) easing, the New York Times reported Tuesday from the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. In short, “The iron-fisted tactics used against Georgia and Ukraine seem to have fallen out of favor, replaced by a more subtle blend of soft power and an implicit military threat,” Anton Troianovski and Carlotta Gall write.
In-person defense trade shows scheduled for 2021 are already being canceled as COVID-19 numbers soar across the U.S. The Association of the U.S. Army already canceled its annual March conference in Huntsville, Ala.; the event will instead be held virtually. And on Tuesday, the Air Force Association said it “continues to assess options for hosting” its annual February conference in Orlando, Fla. Follow Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber on Twitter for developments on that beat.
A Chinese robot is probing the moon right now, with a mission to collect about four and a half pounds of soil before returning to Earth in two weeks. Agence France-Presse created an infographic for the trip, here.
Finally today: Review five new and important bad ideas in national security policy, as compiled every year about this time by the folks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Logging on for this year’s “bad ideas” debate: Zack Cooper of AEI and the Alliance for Securing Democracy; CSIS’ Catrina Doxsee; Heritage Foundation’s Thomas Spoehr; Justin Joffrion, who directs the Air Force’s Office of Labor and Economic Analysis; and CSIS’ Mark Cancian.