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Politics Overnight Defense: White House open to reforming war powers | Army base might house migrant children | Fauci scolds military on vaccine

01:30  06 march  2021
01:30  06 march  2021 Source:   thehill.com

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Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

Jen Psaki looking at the camera: Biden press secretary Jen Psaki answers reporters' questions at the White House © Getty Images Biden press secretary Jen Psaki answers reporters' questions at the White House

THE TOPLINE: White House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push

The White House on Friday signaled a willingness to work with Congress on developing a narrow framework for the authorizations of use of military force after President Biden's strikes in Syria last week sparked a fresh war powers debate.

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Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a bill in the Senate this week that would repeal two military authorizations, effectively curbing the president's war powers.

What was said: White House press secretary Jen Psaki called Kaine "a leader on questions of war powers throughout his time in the Senate," and indicated the executive branch would be open to changes.

"We are committed to working with Congress to ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars," Psaki said in a statement Friday.

Kaine and Young's bill: The bill from Kaine and Young would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs), which both deal with Iraq. Senators sought to rein in the president's war powers during the Trump administration, but failed to muster enough votes.

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What prompted the legislation: Biden's decision to launch airstrikes in Syria last week reignited the debate, with lawmakers in both parties expressing frustration over a lack of consultation with Congress before military action was taken. The administration didn't cite either the 1991 or 2002 authorization for the military strikes, the first known to be carried out since Biden took office.

The war powers debate will have repercussions beyond just Syria, but senators say it underscores that while the administration has changed since the last time the issue was in the spotlight, the need for action from Congress hasn't.

ADMINISTRATION EYES ARMY BASE TO HOUSE MIGRANT CHILDREN:

The Biden administration is considering a Virginia military base as a possible location to house unaccompanied migrant children, the Pentagon confirmed on Friday.

"Upon request from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Army coordinated a site assessment at Fort Lee, Virginia for HHS personnel to determine if certain facilities at Fort Lee may be suitable for providing temporary housing for unaccompanied children," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said in a statement to The Hill.

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Mitchell noted that the Defense Department has not yet received a formal request for assistance from HHS to use the Army facility, which is about 30 miles south of Richmond.

The background: Reuters first reported on the base being identified as possible housing for unaccompanied minors, who have increased in number at the southwestern border in recent months.

HHS-run shelters typically house the children before they are released to parents or other sponsors in the United States, but the rising number of migrants coming across the border has put a strain on the department's facilities.

Border agents have apprehended thousands of migrants in Biden's first six weeks in office, many of whom are unaccompanied minors.

Solutions needed: The surge has already prompted the administration to plan to convert two family detention centers in Texas that were used briefly by the Trump administration, and there are reportedly plans to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency involved to up resources near the border.

HHS said it must "aggressively" find solutions for what to do with the children, according to a notice from the department seen by Reuters.

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A precedent: The United States previously used military bases to house unaccompanied children during the Obama administration in 2014. Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; Naval Base Ventura County, Calif.; and Fort Sill, Okla., housed roughly 7,500 unaccompanied minors from Central America. Those shelters closed after four months.

And the Trump administration in 2019 asked the Pentagon to find space to house up to 5,000 immigrant children.

FAUCI WORRIES OVER MILITARY PERSONNEL OPTING OUT OF VACCINE:

Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, on Thursday, told U.S. military members that those of them who decide not to get the coronavirus vaccine are inadvertently "part of the problem" of prolonging the pandemic.

While speaking in a town hall with Blue Star Families, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving military personnel and their families, Fauci told service members that they are "part of the solution to this outbreak."

"Because by getting infected, even though you may not know it, you may be inadvertently transmitting the infection to someone else, even though you have no symptoms," Fauci said during the event, according to CNBC.

Fauci's comments: "In reality, like it or not, you're propagating this outbreak," the White House's chief medical adviser added. "So instead of being part of the solution, you are innocently and inadvertently being part of the problem by not getting vaccinated."

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Fauci went on to say that while military members must "think of your own health," they must also "think about your societal obligation, including people close to you personally as well as other members of families of other individuals."

A third: The remarks come after the Department of Defense last month revealed that a third of service members had decided to opt out of getting the coronavirus vaccine.

Maj. Gen Jeff Taliaferro, vice director for operations at the Pentagon, said during a House hearing on the armed forces' response to COVID-19 that despite the refusal among some service members to get the vaccine, they were still deployable and that "services and commands" that have been set up over the past year have allowed the armed forces to operate in a "COVID environment."

Maj. Gen. Steven Nordhaus also revealed in the hearing that vaccinations were voluntary for military members.

Pentagon presses safety: A week after the hearing, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin released a video promoting the safety of the coronavirus vaccine and encouraging military personnel to seek out credible information on the inoculation from agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Air Force delays fitness tests for fifth time due to COVID-19

-- The Hill: Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food

-- The Hill: China increases defense budget 6.8 percent amid pandemic

-- The Hill: YouTube removes channels run by Myanmar military

-- The Hill: Pope Francis lands in Iraq for historic papal visit

-- Stars and Stripes: Miller becomes longest-serving commander of Afghan War as US mulls its next move

-- Defense News: Ripping F-35 costs, House Armed Services chairman looks to 'cut our losses'

-- The Associated Press: Capitol Police chief appeals for National Guard to stay

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