Overnight Defense: Tillerson out in Trump shakeup | Trump reportedly considering firing VA chief | Trump floats creating 'space force' | Mattis finds some Taliban open to talks

The Hill Politics 6 months ago

THE TOPLINE: Tuesday brought a major shakeup with President Trump firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Hill's Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger have the story on what many believe could be the first round of high-profile changes within the administration:

White House officials were not sorry to see Tillerson go, viewing him as an ineffective leader who was rarely on the same page as Trump.

In a sign of the bitterness between the White House and Tillerson's circle, officials joked about fighting for the right to fire one of Tillerson's top spokesmen, Steven Goldstein, who had issued a statement that differed from the White House account of the secretary's exit.

Tillerson did not thank the president in his farewell speech and barely mentioned him, underscoring the bad blood.

In his own remarks, Trump said he and Tillerson were never on the same "wavelength" while heaping praise on CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whom he nominated as the next secretary of State.

Trump signaled that more changes could be on the way.

"I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want," he said.

Read more here and here.

Here are more stories from Tuesday's administration shakeup:

-- Timeline: Tillerson's rocky relationship with Trump. President Trump's removal of Rex Tillerson as secretary of State ends an often-rocky tenure for the nation's top diplomat, who might be remembered best for reportedly referring to his boss as a "moron."

-- Tillerson doesn't thank Trump in post-firing speech. Tillerson praised State Department officials and Defense Department staff for their work during his tenure, while also thanking members of the military and the American people. But Tillerson did not mention Trump by name, only referring once to the president.

-- McCain: Trump's CIA pick was involved in 'one of the darkest chapters in American history'. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday condemned President Trump's decision to nominate Gina Haspel to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), saying she was involved in "one of darkest chapters in American history" and calling on her to explain her stance on torture.

--Senate panel to hold Pompeo nomination hearing next month. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on Tuesday that his panel is planning to hold a hearing next month for CIA Director Mike Pompeo's nomination to lead the State Department.

 --Snowden rips Trump's CIA pick over torture program. Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blasted the Trump administration on Tuesday for the selection of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA over Haspel's former management of a "black site" prison.

 

IS VA CHIEF NEXT?: President Trump is considering replacing Veterans Affairs chief David Shulkin with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Two sources close to the White House told The New York Times that Trump is mulling firing Shulkin, who has been under scrutiny over ethics concerns, including his use of a personal security detail to run errands.

Trump has not formally offered Perry the job, and it's unclear if he would accept it, The Times reported. Perry served in the Air Force prior to his career in politics.

Shulkin has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks following an internal report that found he spent most of a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe sightseeing, had the government cover the cost of his wife's airfare and improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets.

He has also gone on record to say he's rooting out "subversion" in his own department, where he claims other staffers are attempting to undermine him.

Read the rest here.

 

TRUMP FLOATS IDEA OF CREATING A 'SPACE FORCE': President Trump on Tuesday said his new national security strategy recognizes space as a war-fighting domain and may pave the way for the creation of a "space force."

"We have the Air Force, we'll have the Space Force," Trump said during a speech to military personnel in San Diego, Calif., after surveying border wall prototypes during his trip.

"You know I was saying it the other day – because we're doing a tremendous amount of work in space – I said, 'Maybe we need a new force, we'll call it the Space Force.' And I was not really serious, and then I said what a great idea, maybe we'll have to do that. That could happen," he said.

"From the very beginning many of our astronauts have been soldiers and sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines, and our service members will be vital to ensuring America continues to lead the way in to the stars."

Trump added that the U.S. is "way, way behind" on advances in space, "but we're catching up fast."

Read the rest here. 

 

MATTIS: SOME TALIBAN INTERESTED IN TALKS TO END AFGHAN WAR: The United States has seen signs that some elements of the Taliban are interested in talking about ending the 16-year war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side even going before the Kabul conference," Mattis said, referring to an international conference last month in which Afghanistan's president offered the Taliban talks without preconditions.

"We've had some groups of Taliban, small groups, who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking," he added later.

Mattis was speaking to reporters before landing in Kabul for an unannounced visit there during an international trip.

Read more from the Hill's Rebecca Kheel.

 

DEMS WORRY ABOUT LACK OF AMBASSADORS AS SYRIA WAR RAGES: Senate Democrats on Tuesday questioned the Trump administration's failure to appoint ambassadors to numerous countries in the Middle East amid concern over escalating violence in Syria.

"In terms of diplomacy ... isn't the lack of ambassadors in the area, the lack of sufficient diplomatic capacity in this State Department, an obstacle to really effectively using diplomacy?" Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked U.S. Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel during a hearing.

The question came as Votel, speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, addressed concerns over the ongoing conflict in Syria, where President Bashar Assad's forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have killed nearly 1,200 people in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18.

The three countries say they are targeting "terrorist" groups attacking the capital city of Damascus.

Votel said the best way to hold the Russians accountable for their actions in the region is through political and diplomatic channels, but said that so far "it does not appear" that the country is responding to such efforts.

Read the rest here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, head of Air Force Materiel Command, will speak on current acquisition challenges and opportunities at an Air Force Association breakfast at 8 a.m. in Arlington, Va. http://conta.cc/2If7WZB

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) will speak on present and future dangers ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's reelection at an event at 9 a.m. at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. http://bit.ly/2Fs58dG

Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith (D-Wash.), will speak on the future of base realignment and closure at 9 a.m. at the Cato Institute in Washington. http://bit.ly/2tvRQr3

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee will hear from Air Force Secretary Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on the fiscal 2019 Air Force budget at 10 a.m. on the House side of the Capitol Building, room 140. http://bit.ly/2oXZVjE

A Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee will hold a hearing on Somalia's current security and stability status at 10 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. http://bit.ly/2IfaZ41

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on space warfighting readiness policies, authorities and capabilities at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. http://bit.ly/2Fv0Cau

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hear from outside experts on modernizing export controls at 10 a.m. in Rayburn 2172. http://bit.ly/2Hk3oji

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hear from Air Force officials on the service's fiscal 2019 budget request for sea power and projection forces staff at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2212. http://bit.ly/2FBtGk1

A Senate Armed Services subpanel will hear from Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration officials on atomic energy defense activities at 2:30 p.m.in Russell 232-A. http://bit.ly/2IceHeN

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Steve Walker will speak at a House Armed Services subcommittee on the fiscal 2019 budget request for Department of Defense science and technology programs at 3:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2118. http://bit.ly/2Fx1mM7

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Top officials: U.S. must shift to more aggressive cyber approach

-- The Hill: Trump to UK prime minister: Russia must answer for chemical attack

-- The Hill: Graham after 'unnerving' visit to Middle East: 'Iran is winning'

-- The Hill: Opinion: Firing Rex Tillerson is welcome change for our national security

-- The Hill: Opinion: The unlikely North Korea summit: Trump just might pull it off

-- Defense News: US Air Force orders freeze on public outreach

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com, and Ellen Mitchell, emitchell@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill, @Rebecca_H_K, @EllenMitchell23

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