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Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Republican leaders are quietly bunkering down for a fight over Russia sanctions. Defense Secretary James Mattis has asked the House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry to put a provision into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would let the administration waive sanctions for U.S. partners, like India and Vietnam, who buy weapons from Russia. And Thornberry has agreed to do so.

Why this matters: In this political environment, anything Russia-related can be explosive. Republicans involved in the conversations tell me they worry that Democrats will use the issue to bash them as appeasing Putin.

  • A senior Democratic aide emailed me: "Yes, we are concerned that R [Republican] efforts to chip away at the integrity of Russian sanctions that were passed with the overwhelming majority of support from Congress last summer indeed shows that they are more concerned about appeasing Trump and supporting his efforts to appease Putin."
  • Behind the scenes: The aide told me Democrats are still formulating their strategy on the Russia sanctions. Senate Democrats like Bob Menendez and Republican Russia hawks, particularly in the Senate, may oppose the waiver.

What we're hearing: I spoke to Thornberry this morning. He told me he plans to include in his "chairman's mark" of the NDAA on Wednesday "a very limited waiver for the Secretary of Defense, if he believes that a country that is trying to move in our direction still needs to get some sustainment and logistical support for the Russian equipment that they already have."

  • Thornberry told me that "part of the problem" with the sanctions bill Congress passed last fall is that "if the Indian military has Russian helicopters and they need to keep them flying they have to do business with the Russian military."
  • A source with direct knowledge told me the NDAA will include new sanctions targeting Russia’s arms industry.

Mattis' spokeswoman Dana White told me the Secretary appreciates Thornberry’s support and "wants to avoid any legislation that inadvertently punishes nations with which we are working to expand our defense cooperation." (Meaning India.)

What's next: Unless Mattis and Co. sell Democrats and hawkish Republicans on the waiver, you'll see a brawl.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: Former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

5 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.