McCain Will Hold Gitmo Closure Hearings; F-35 Tester Disputes Safety Assertions

SASC chairman blasts Guantanamo closure plan, but will hold hearings; F-35 tester questions program manager’s claim that ejection seat problems have been fixed.

Exclusive: F-35 Tester At Odds With Program Manager. The director of Pentagon weapons testing is questioning claims by the general in charge of the F-35 fighter jet program that potentially deadly flaws in the plane’s ejection seats have been largely fixed.

The testing official, Michael Gilmore, also confirmed the accuracy of CQ reports last fall disclosing that the F-35’s flawed ejection seat poses a serious risk not just to the lightest weight F-35 pilots, as some Defense Department officials have suggested, but also to pilots weighing up to 200 pounds. CQ Senior Defense Reporter John M. Donnelly has the story.

More on Donnelly’s continuing coverage of the F-35 program is here.

POTUS v. GOP: Gitmo Edition. President Barack Obama on Tuesday released his long-awaited plan to shutter the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and he was met with the expected response from Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail. That is to say, forceful opposition. CQ’s Megan Scully and Ryan Lucas have a rundown on the reaction plus a history of the back and forth.

McCain is Unimpressed, but … Armed Services Chairman John McCain is perhaps the most well-known Republican supporter of closing the prison, yet he was less than impressed with what he described as “a vague menu of options, not a credible plan for closing Guantanamo.”

Nonetheless, the Arizona senator said his committee would hold hearings to examine the proposal.

Location, Location, Location. McCain’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, called the Obama proposal “more press release than a plan” because it didn’t recommend a single location. The Pentagon said the fiscal 2016 NDAA (PL 114-92) that required the closure plan also prohibited the department from conducting detailed analysis for a new site.

To Cuba! Republican Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado will be leading a delegation to visit the prison facility next week, a Moran aide told Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski on Tuesday.

Not on Our Watch. Other Republican lawmakers as well as the party’s leading presidential candidates said they simply didn’t want to consider moving the detainees. Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said “enemy combatants should remain outside the United States” to avoid putting Americans at risk.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he “profoundly disagrees” with the plan to transfer the “worst of the worst” to the United States, while Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said, “we are not going to close Guantanamo,” and repeated his earlier statement that if elected president he would continue to send new prisoners there. Rubio also said he is co-sponsoring legislation that would outlaw turning over Gitmo’s sovereignty back to Cuba. Obama’s adviser Ben Rhodes has said such a transfer is not in the cards.

Team Gitmo Closure. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said shutting the prison would “strengthen national security.” Presidential candidate Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., said Gitmo “must be closed as quickly as possible,” and pointed out that rival Hillary Clinton, who as a senator in 2007, had voted to keep the prison open (More from CNN). The former secretary of State has now said she supports closing the facility, though she was noticeably silent Tuesday.

Welcome to CQ on Defense. Follow us on Twitter @CQnow for the latest national security developments on and off the Hill. And as always, send any tips, questions or feedback to National Security Editor Jennifer Koons (@jenkoons) at jenniferkoons@cqrollcall.com or to Domestic Threats Reporter Gopal Ratnam (@g_ratnam) at gopalratnam@cqrollcall.com.

Should Apple Hack Its iPhone? A new voice piped up on the issue Tuesday. Apple rival and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said instead of a flat-out refusal to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, the company and government must strike a balance. Gates told CNN that the FBI’s request was specific to unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone and not a broad demand.

Two lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that will help address where privacy ends and security begins in the digital era.  House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss details of their proposal today to create a national commission that will examine the question.

Today’s Budget Hearings:

  • House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee holds a hearing on the Homeland Security Department budget, 10 a.m., Rayburn B-318
  • House Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee holds a hearing on the State Department budget, 10 a.m., Rayburn 2359
  • Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee holds a hearing on the Army budget, 10:30 a.m., Dirksen 192
  • Senate Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee holds a hearing on the State Department budget, 2 p.m., Dirksen 124
  • Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee holds a hearing on the Homeland Security Department budget, 2:30 p.m., Dirksen 192
  • Full Coverage: Obama’s Budget

Kerry Says Russia Is Key to Stability in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry told senators that despite Russia’s dangerous provocations in the Middle East and Europe, the U.S. needed to work with Moscow to stabilize Syria. Read that story here.

Who’s Where Today? 

  • Obama meets Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House. Abdullah was in Washington in January to meet Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Kerry. He had been unable to meet with Obama, who was prepping for the State of the Union.
  • Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will hold a meeting with Kyiv’s mayor, Vitaliy Klychko. Later in the day, Biden will host President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador, President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala, and President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras. In the evening, the vice president will travel to Mexico City.
  •   The Secretary of State will testify before the House and Senate appropriations panels on his department’s 2017 budget request.

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