With Connor O’Brien, Lara Seligman and Sarah Cammarata
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— A bipartisan group of lawmakers is launching a last-ditch effort to save the Pentagon’s chief management officer post.
— The Joint Chiefs chair urges the troops to vote, while a recently retired admiral says the White House conducted an “insurgency” against the Constitution.
— Army says Trump order will not impact diversity training as it unveils a new plan to make the service more inclusive.
HAPPY FRIDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we share without comment this terrific piece of wisdom from Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I fighter ace who was awarded the medal of honor for his exploits on this day in 1918 over France: “I believe that if you think about disaster, you will get it. Brood about death and you will hasten your demise. Think positively and masterfully with confidence and faith, and life becomes more secure, more fraught with action, richer in achievement and experience. This is the sure way to win victories over inner defeat. It is the way a humble person meets life or death.” Send tips to [email protected], and follow on Twitter @bryandbender, @morningdefense and @politicopro.
FIRST LOOK — ‘A FIGHTING CHANCE’: More than a dozen members of the House and Senate from both parties are urging leaders of the Armed Services Committees to abandon efforts to eliminate the Pentagon’s chief management officer position in a final version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
They argue in a letter to leaders of both committees that the position held by Lisa Hershman “has broad bipartisan and bicameral support,” even as some top lawmakers have called the post ineffective in driving savings and business reforms. Instead, they called on Congress to address “a lack of authority and resources” for the position.
“As Members of Congress we all have a responsibility to the American taxpayers to work to achieve the objectives of the NDS as efficiently as possible, and the CMO position is essential to accomplishing that goal,” the lawmakers write. “Let us at least give Ms. Hershman a fighting chance, and come together to adopt the changes needed to make this position work. The U.S. taxpayers that we represent deserve that.”
But proponents of maintaining the CMO have their work cut out to stop the change, which is included in both versions of the NDAA. The House would eliminate the post a month after the bill becomes law, while the Senate version would permit the Pentagon to close down the position as late as Sept. 30, 2022.
Also: An exit interview with Rep. Mac Thornberry, via The Ripon Forum
‘SHIRKED ITS DUTIES’: Forty progressive and government watchdog groups called on Congress on Thursday to punish the Pentagon for spending $1 billion of coronavirus aid on aircraft parts and other unrelated equipment by making it cover for the expenses.
“We would also ask that the Select Subcommittee consider recommending a rescission of DoD’s budget authority for this $1 billion fund in order to ensure Congress’s constitutional spending authority is not being violated,” the groups wrote to Rep. Jim Clyburn, who chairs the Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and the panel’s top Repuican, Rep. Steve Scalise.
“It’s unconscionable that the Department would prioritize defense contractor wishlists over the health and safety of the American people,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight. “Congress was clear that it wanted the Department to use its powers to address [personal protective equipment] shortages that continue to this day, and the Department shirked its duties.”
‘IT FEELS VERY NATURAL’: The Army said Thursday it’s not concerned about President Donald Trump’s new order that restricts the use of diversity training programs, saying it is already avoiding the type of education that blames societal structures and institutions for encouraging racism that the White House has dubbed “anti-American.”
“It feels very natural that we would go down the road we’re going, which is culture and cohesion and not an approach that might be advocated under one of the critical theories,” Casey Wardynski, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, told reporters.
But Wardynski argued that ”critical race theory” is at odds with the Constitution because it puts “one group ahead of another group.”
The Army on Thursday also released a five-year plan to improve diversity and inclusion.
Related: Pentagon pushes ahead on diversity as new Trump executive order halts bias training, via McClatchy.
MILLEY’S ORDERS: One day after Trump sidestepped a question about whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the November election, his top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, urged service members to “stay apolitical” — but to get out there and vote.
“We are right now in the midst of a general election,” Milley said during a virtual town hall on Thursday. “Each of you have earned your right to vote. So I would strongly encourage you to vote when the time comes and use the right that has been granted to you in the Constitution.”
The White House press secretary said later in the day that the president would “accept the results of a free and fair election.” But Trump has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and even urged Americans to vote twice, which is illegal.
Responding to questions from POLITICO, Milley’s spokesperson reiterated on Thursday that the chair believes the Department of Defense, and particularly the U.S. military, plays no role in the transition of power after an election. Milley told lawmakers this year that “the Constitution and laws of the U.S. and the states establish procedures for carrying out elections, and for resolving disputes over the outcome of elections.”
Related: Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Dunford joins call to ensure all troops’ votes are counted, via Military.com.
AN ‘INSURGENCY’ AGAINST THE CONSTITUTION: Of the nearly 500 retired generals and admiral and national security veterans who endorsed Joe Biden for president on Thursday, a few stood out: former members of Trump’s own top brass.
“I’ve seen an insurgency, if you will, on our constitutional rights and more power being centralized at the executive level that has really divided our nation,” retired Adm. Paul Zukunft, who stepped down as commandant of the Coast Guard in June 2018, told our colleague Lara Seligman. “I am concerned that our constitutional rights are being infringed upon from within.”
Zukunft also said he was compelled to speak out by the 2019 government shutdown sparked by a fight over funding for Trump’s border wall, which left the Coast Guard’s active-duty force of more than 40,000 working without pay for several months.
He said he is also concerned by Trump’s dismissal of science when it comes to both climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Also signing the letter were retired Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, who served as vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second-highest ranking officer, until August 2019, and retired Vice Adm. Gardner Howe, who retired from the Navy SEALs last year.
— The Pentagon is eying a 500-ship Navy, documents reveal: Defense News
— Senate skeptical of F-35 sale to UAE: Breaking Defense
— 1st Kosovar Albanian arrested on war crimes charges: The Associated Press
— North Korea kills South Korean official found in its waters: The Wall Street Journal