November 13, 2013

Ike Skelton dies - Obama weighs ban on allies leaders - NDAA on Senate agenda

Featuring Erin Conaton

Source: Politico

Journalists Kate Brannen, Jonathan Topaz, Juana Summers, Tony Romm

IKE SKELTON DIES AT 81. The former House Armed Services Committee chairman from Missouri checked into a hospital a week ago, complaining of “a bad cough,” The Associated Press reports, and died yesterday in Arlington, Va., “surrounded by his wife, his sons and their families as well as longtime colleague Russell Orban, who confirmed the death.”

 A GIANT AMONG DEFENSE GIANTS: During his 34 years in the House, Skelton became one of the leading experts on defense, wielding huge influence over the military and its budget. He played a key role in the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which made lasting changes to how DoD operates. Skelton often used his power to protect the military bases in his state. He convinced the Air Force to place its B-2 Bomber fleet at Whiteman Air Force Base, and he helped locate the Army’s Engineer, Chemical and Military Police Schools at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, more than quadrupling the number of soldiers training there.

The plain-speaking, professorial Skelton had to leave office when he was among those Democrats unseated in 2010 by the wave of tea party newcomers that have since made their mark on Capitol Hill. Skelton’s loss, along with the departure of other old-school Democratic hawks such as South Carolina’s John Spratt or Mississippi’s Gene Taylor, marked the beginning of the end for the old ways of doing defense business in the House.

— OBAMA: ‘IKE WAS A DEVOTED ADVOCATE FOR OUR MEN AND WOMEN IN UNIFORM:“To many in Congress and across Missouri, Ike was a mentor and a friend, and he will be missed. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife Patty, his family and loved ones,” President Barack Obama said.

— HAGEL: DOD HAS 'LOST A LIFELONG FRIEND:' “He will always be remembered for his commitment to bi-partisanship, his work to get our troops what they needed to succeed in battle and his belief in the importance of professional military education,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

 HE WILL BE MISSED, FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES SAY: Today’s HASC hearing will open with a moment of silence in honor of Skelton, said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who replaced Skelton as chairman of the committee.

“America has lost one of her greatest sons,” McKeon said. “Ike Skelton was a thoughtful legislator who took the care and time to make sure all views were heard and all concerns addressed. As the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee during a particularly contentious time, he never let partisanship get ahead of his primary responsibility; our troops and their families.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, committee's ranking Democrat, said, “As a friend and mentor, he was a compassionate individual who truly cared about the wellbeing of others.The passing of Ike Skelton is a terrible loss for our nation. Ike was giant in the lives of those who knew him, but he also affected the lives of so many who never had the opportunity to meet him.”

Before going to work at the Pentagon and eventually becoming the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Erin Conaton worked for Skelton, serving as his staff director from 2005 to 2010.

She told Morning D: “The readiness and exceptional quality of our troops was his first consideration in every decision affecting national defense. And his ability to build bipartisan consensus in support of American national security is his legacy. Many members of Congress have learned from him. And it has been the sincere privilege of many of us to serve as part of his personal and committee staffs. He will be deeply missed for his leadership, his passion for our troops, and his tremendous friendship.”

If you have a favorite Ike Skelton story or memory, please send it in to Morning Defense and we’ll share it later in the week.

OBAMA MAY BAN SPYING ON FRIENDLY LEADERS, via The New York Times’ Mark Landler and David E. Sanger: “President Obama is poised to order the National Security Agency to stop eavesdropping on the leaders of American allies, administration and congressional officials said Monday, responding to a deepening diplomatic crisis over reports that the agency had for years targeted the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.”

HAGEL SKIRTS NSA QUESTIONS: Hats off to CNN’s Barbara Starr for trying to get the defense secretary to comment yesterday on the latest revelations about U.S. spying practices.

At a joint press conference with New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman, Starr asked, “So what did you know about the collection of intelligence from world leaders' communications, whether it was metadata or whatever it was? What did you know about it? When did you know about it? Have you discussed it with the president? Do you feel it's appropriate? Why is it appropriate?”

Hagel’s response boiled down to, “I don't comment on intelligence matters, and that's all I've got to say about it.”

 SPYING ON NEW ZEALAND … ZZZZZZ: Starr also asked Coleman whether he was concerned the U.S. was intercepting his communications.

His response: “Look, quite frankly, there'd be nothing that anyone could hear in our private conversations that we wouldn't be prepared to share publicly. And a cartoon in our local paper in our capital, Wellington, showed an analyst potentially listening to the communiques from New Zealand and a big stream of "ZZZs" coming out. So, you know, I don't think New Zealand's got anything to worry about, and we have high trust in our relationships with the U.S.”

Here’s another New Zealand take on the news about U.S. spying:

BUSY INTEL DAY ON CAPITOL HILL: You’ve got the Senate Intelligence Committee marking up its surveillance reform bill during a 2:30 p.m. closed session. Meanwhile, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander is set to testify with other national security officials before the House Intelligence Committee at 1:30 p.m in an open hearing.

Finally, we could see the introduction today of competing surveillance reform legislation from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy.(D-Vt.). Their legislation is expected to end bulk collection and make other changes to FISA, congressional sources say.

REID SAYS NDAA ON THE AGENDA: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday he expects action on the annual defense authorization bill before Thanksgiving.

“We’re going to take up the defense authorization bill, which supports our troops and ensures this nation does everything in our power to keep America safe from those who would do us harm,” the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor, outlining the agenda ahead for the next four weeks.

IT’S TUESDAY. Thank you as always for starting your day with Morning Defense. Your MD correspondent last talked to Skelton when HASC professional staffer Doug Roach died earlier this year. Skelton was kind and thoughtful as he remembered his friend of many years. Please send your latest defense news, tips and feedback to Don't forget to follow on Twitter at @k8brannen, @morningdefense and @PoliticoPro for the latest.

HOUSE MOVED ON MEDAL OF HONOR AND VETERANS LEGISLATION: Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation, 404-1, calling for a multiagency task force to review the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) voted nay.

Earlier in the day, the House passed a bill without dissent authorizing the president to award the Medal of Honor to several veterans who were previously recommended for the medal.

OFFICIALS TO MAKE CASE FOR $8 BILLION B61 NUCLEAR BOMB PROJECT: This afternoon the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee will be hearing testimony from DoD and the National Nuclear Security Administration officials about why Congress should support the budget request for refurbishing the aging stockpile of B61 bombs.

POLITICO’s Leigh Munsil gives us a sneak preview of the arguments for and against the program.

INDUSTRY BETS ON FRELINGHUYSEN, via POLITICO’s Austin Wright: “Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, expected to succeed the late Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) as head of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, reported $96,450 in campaign contributions last quarter. His donors included the PACs for a number of defense companies, including Textron, Honeywell and L-3 Communications, which each gave $2,500.”

To learn more about the latest in defense lobbying, check out the third edition of POLITICO Pro’s Defense Influence:

BENGHAZI IS NOT OVER FOR GRAHAM: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday he’ll hold up “every appointment” in the Senate until more questions are answered on Benghazi.

“I’m tired of hearing from people on TV and reading about stuff in books,” Graham said on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends. On Sunday, CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired a new report on Benghazi.

BOOK REPORT — ‘YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN’ OUT TODAY: Lately, we’ve only been hearing bad news about JPAC — the military’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command — but released today is a new book from The Boston Globe’s Bryan Bender that could renew your faith in the military’s mission to find missing veterans.

It’s the story of a disillusioned veteran of the Iraq War and his search for the remains of “a dashing young Marine aviator assigned to the USS Nassau, who was shot down over the jungles of Papua, New Guinea in 1944.”

The Washington Times’ Ken Allard called it a “masterwork of war and remembrance.”


— The U.S. is quietly intensifying its fight for African warlord Joseph Kony. The Washington Post.

— The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has only visited 21 of Syria’s 23 chemical weapons sites, missing a Sunday deadline. AP:

— The Afghanistan special inspector general said yesterday the portion of the country safe for oversight personnel is rapidly shrinking. Defense News:

— Officials say a U.S. strike killed two senior al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. AP:


  • Erin Conaton