Today's D Brief: Auctioning off Wall materials; India’s moon landing; More kids killed by guns; S. Korea’s air-raid drill; And a bit more.
Republican senators are threatening to block a confirmation hearing for the Pentagon’s No. 3 civilian post, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, which opened this summer when Colin Kahl stepped down after two years on the job. State Department veteran Derek Chollet has been nominated by the president to fill that position; but it’s now unclear when that might happen.
The GOP senatorial block is led by Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who rallied with his Republican colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday in protest of the reported sale of about $260 million worth of unused construction materials acquired under the Trump administration in order to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Those unused materials are costing the U.S. government $130,000 a day to store, according to financial news website The Daily Upside, which reported the apparent auctioning of those materials on August 11; that auction was expected to begin August 23, which is today.
Wicker and other Republicans inserted a bill into the senate’s annual defense policy bill this summer that “would force the [Biden] administration to allow the materials to be used to complete sections of the southern border wall,” Wicker said in a statement Tuesday. Similar language was included in the Republican-led House’s version of the defense policy bill. But lawmakers still have to hammer out their differences between the two chambers’ bills before it will be sent to the president’s desk. Such an outcome isn’t expected for several months.
Wicker and SASC Republicans sent a letter to Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin on Tuesday demanding answers for the alleged sale of those materials, which appear to largely consist of quarter-inch “Thick Wall Tubes,” according to the auction webpages. About 12,000 of these items are up for sale, according to The Daily Upside.
Wicker, et al, want the sales halted, and they demand a “full account of the Department’s disposal of border wall construction materials thus far,” according to their letter to Austin. They also want “the total amount that the Department has paid for storage, the precise locations where they were stored and/or are still being stored, and a full list of individuals and entities that received payment to store the materials.” Those demands should be met within two weeks, which is Sept. 5, according to the letter.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, told conservative news outlet Fox: “Leaving the border open to terrorists while selling border security materials at a loss is Bidenomics in a nutshell.”
Said election-denier Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., to Fox: “Our borders continue to be overrun by an unprecedented number of illegal immigrants, turning every district into a border district and compromising our national security.”
Worth noting: “Undocumented immigrants [are] far less likely to commit crimes in U.S. than citizens,” as illustrated by a 2020 study from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Additionally, “for every dollar the Texas state government spends on public services for undocumented immigrants,  research indicates, the state collects $1.21 in revenue,” according to a separate study from Rice University.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. On this day in 1784, a portion of western North Carolina known as Franklin (in modern-day east Tennessee) seceded from the state in the hopes of becoming the nation's 14th state. The plan lasted just over four years before it was eventually abandoned.
Congratulations to India’s space program, which just accomplished what Russia’s space program failed to achieve over the weekend: landing a spacecraft on the south pole of the moon.
The country’s spacecraft Vikram landed carrying a rover India calls Pragyan. And that makes India just the fourth nation to reach the moon, behind the U.S., Soviet Union, and China.
Rewind: “The Indian mission launched in July, taking a slower, fuel-conscious route toward the moon” than Russia did over the past two weeks, the New York Times reports. “That India managed to outdo a nation that put the first satellite, man and woman in space is a measure of the country’s long embrace of the science and technology needed to support a space program,” the Times notes.
“This success belongs to all of humanity and it will help moon missions by other countries in the future,” India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after the landing. “I'm confident that all countries in the world, including those from the global south, are capable of capturing success. We can all aspire to the moon and beyond.” Read more at Space.com, Reuters, or the Associated Press.
Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers is still upset that his state was passed over as Space Command headquarters, so the Republican House Armed Services Committee chairman has invited Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, Gen. James Dickinson of Space Command, and Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman to testify before the HASC at an unspecified future date, Rogers said Tuesday.
The Biden White House announced its decision to keep Space Command where it is in Colorado just over three weeks ago, which reversed a Trump administration decision to move the command to Alabama. Colorado has been home to Space Command since the Trump administration turned the headquarters into a combatant command in August 2019. The state is also home to several Space Force bases used to control satellites flying high above the Earth.
According to the Pentagon, “Locating Headquarters U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs ultimately ensures peak readiness in the space domain for our nation during a critical period,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement in late July.
Rogers called the Biden administration’s decision “politically motivated” and a “political manipulation of the selection process,” in his statement Tuesday evening. (Recall that Rogers was among the 147 Republicans who voted to block the certification of President Biden’s 2020 election.)
Meanwhile: Rogers’ fellow Republican, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, is still blocking promotions of more than 100 Air Force, Space Force officers in protest of a Pentagon policy to fund travel and paid time off for service members and their dependents seeking an abortion. Pentagon officials have been increasingly vocal about the effects of the hold, which they say is reducing the U.S. military’s readiness in the Pacific.
Currently, about 300 general and flag officer nominations are in limbo across the military. “If the holds don’t lift by the end of the year, nearly 650 of the more than 850 general and flag officer nominations will be affected,” an Air Force spokesperson said in late July. That uncertainty harms more than 70 Department of the Air Force families, the spokesperson said; if the families must wait to move to a new duty station, children won’t be able to start at a new school when the school year begins, and spouses can’t start new jobs.
Related reading: “Military families dragged into Senate battle over abortion politics,” via Politico, reporting Saturday.
The number of U.S. children killed by guns hit a record high in 2021, according to a new study published in a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Among the findings (emphasis added):
- “From 2018 to 2021, there was a 41.6% increase in the firearm death rate” for U.S. children, 82.6% of whom were between the ages of 15 to 19 years;
- “Black children accounted for 67.3% of firearm homicides,” while “White children accounted for 78.4% of firearm suicides”;
- “Geographically, there were worsening clusters of firearm death rates in Southern states and increasing rates in Midwestern states from 2018 to 2021”;
- And across the nation, “higher poverty levels correlated with higher firearm death rates,” the researchers found.
What’s more: “Spikes in firearm purchasing during the pandemic were substantial, resulting in roughly 30 million children living in households with firearms,” according to the study. (Gun violence has been the leading cause of death for children since 2020.)
Among the open questions raised by this study: Is the pandemic to blame, or is this a “new normal” in American life? Read more at the journal Pediatrics, here.
And lastly: South Korea held its first air raid drills in six years, but most folks seemed to ignore the calls, Reuters reported Wednesday afternoon from Seoul.
The sirens, which started at 2 p.m. local, were part of U.S.-South Korean military exercises taking place this week in the country. “I didn't know about the drill. And people don't seem to care about it much. I don't believe there will be an actual war either,” one resident told Reuters.
Said another woman in Seoul, who had gathered at a basement parking lot at the behest of officials with megaphones: “If there's a bombing, this kind of shelter is useless, though it is still useful to know where those shelters are through the drill.”
President Yoon Suk Yeol even visited a bunker during the Wednesday drill. That particular location, known as Command Post Tango, “is known to be strong enough to survive a tactical nuclear attack,” Yonhap news agency reports. It also “serves as the primary command and control center for South Korean and U.S. forces in the event of an armed conflict.” South Korea reportedly has 17,000 different shelters for a country of 52 million people. Continue reading at Reuters, here.