Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland
Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, 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.
THE TOPLINE: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) markup is going strong in the Rayburn House Office Building.
The most controversial issues won’t be debated until later tonight, but lawmakers have already gotten into several spirited debates.
Previewing what’s likely to come, lawmakers have had several back-and-forth exchanges about the topline.
The bill, you’ll recall, would authorize $733 billion in defense spending, but Republicans want $750 billion.
In one particularly colorful exchange, seapower subcommittee ranking member Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph Wittman58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill Why block citizenship to immigrants who defend America? Virginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence MORE (R-Va.) quoted “A Tale of Two Cities,” saying he hopes members can make the bill a bipartisan “spring of hope” and avoid the late night “winter of despair.”
Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training | Key Republican pushes for billion defense boost | Trump planning to send more US troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training | Key Republican pushes for billion defense boost | Trump planning to send more US troops to Poland Key Republican pushes B defense funding bump for ‘core military needs’ MORE (D-Wash.) replied: “Well that certainly was more dramatic than the previous statements. Were you sensing that the room was getting a little, maybe, bored and thought you’d jazz it up a bit? I appreciate that.”
And there will definitely be more to come on the money debate. After Democrats indicated ranking member Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training | Key Republican pushes for billion defense boost | Trump planning to send more US troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training | Key Republican pushes for billion defense boost | Trump planning to send more US troops to Poland Key Republican pushes B defense funding bump for ‘core military needs’ MORE‘s (R-Texas) amendment to raise the topline to $750 billion may be ruled out of order, Thornberry’s spokesman emailed reporters this quote from him: “There will be a vote on it- one way or another.”
The Hill will be following the debate all night long, so check back at TheHill.com for updates. For now, here are some highlights from amendment votes.
Air Force One paint job: The committee voted 31-26 to require congressional approval for changes to the Air Force One presidential aircraft’s paint scheme and interior design that have been cheered by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump judicial nominee withdraws amid Republican opposition: report Trump judicial nominee withdraws amid Republican opposition: report Cummings offers to delay contempt vote for Wednesday deadline on subpoenaed census docs MORE.
Offered by Rep. Joe CourtneyJoseph (Joe) D. CourtneyViolence has no place in the workplace Dems offer smaller step toward ‘Medicare for all’ Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America’s 340B Hospitals — Powerful House committee turns to drug pricing | Utah governor defies voters on Medicaid expansion | Dems want answers on controversial new opioid MORE (D-Conn.), the chairman of the panel’s seapower subcommittee, the amendment would require the Trump administration to get Congress’ approval for any “work relating to aircraft paint scheme, interiors and livery” before it takes place.
Trump has said he hopes to change the paint job on new Air Force Ones, forgoing the blue-and-white scheme — designed by President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy — for a red, white and blue color scheme.
But Courtney warned that even seemingly small changes to the plane can quickly add up.
Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneGOP rep predicts impeaching Trump would hurt Democrats in 2020 GOP rep predicts impeaching Trump would hurt Democrats in 2020 GOP rep says there should be investigations into Russian election meddling MORE (R-Ala.) opposed the amendment, saying it “looks like an attempt to just poke at the president.”
Smith said the included amendment is “really not trying to poke the president” but “simply trying to exercise our oversight responsibilities to try to save the taxpayers money.”
“As I understand it these planes are not even going to be delivered until late 2024, 2025. This president is not going to fly on this plane under any circumstances,” Smith said.
Low-yield nukes: The debate on the strategic forces subcommittee’s portion of the bill grew heated quickly over its restriction on using funds to deploy the W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead.
Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTensions rise during GOP leadership meeting over dues Tensions rise during GOP leadership meeting over dues Overnight Defense: Officials approved sending Saudis nuclear technology after Khashoggi killing | Space Command pick warns of challenges ahead | Lawmakers clash over bill blocking low-yield nukes MORE (R-Wyo.) offered two amendments — one to strike the ban using funds to deploy the W76-2 on submarines and another to increase funding to the weapon — with the first taking up more than 45 minutes of debate.
The votes on the amendments haven’t happened yet, since the committee had to recess for House floor votes.
Cheney and her fellow Republican colleagues argued that in order to prevent Russia or other aggressive nations from using their own low-yield weapons, the United States needs a credible response of its own.
Rouge nations may not believe that the U.S. military would respond with a larger nuclear weapon if the enemy used a smaller nuclear warhead first. Having an equal strike option, a tit-for-tat, would deter weapons from ever being used is the argument.
Democrat lawmakers, however, argued that any use of a low-yield nuke by an enemy would trigger a nuclear war, regardless of what size weapons the United States puts on its submarines.
The debate grew heated, with Cheney claiming that Democratic lawmakers’ move to block deployment of the nuke would waste millions of dollars spent on development, and does not increase Russia’s likelihood of using nuclear weapons themselves.
Democrats, including Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiOvernight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon’s ability to transfer military construction dollars Unchain seniors from chained inflation index MORE (D-Calif.), fired back that deploying the weapons could undermine traditional nuclear deterrence strategy and that any occurrence where there would be a tit for tat nuclear exchange “is a God awful situation, we should never go there.”
HOUSE DEMS UNVEIL SAUDI ARMS RESOLUTIONS: House Democrats introduced several measures on Wednesday aimed at blocking Trump’s emergency arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies.
One measure, led by Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuKellyanne Conway blasts Watergate witness testimony: Democrats ‘picking their lawyers from TV now’ Kellyanne Conway blasts Watergate witness testimony: Democrats ‘picking their lawyers from TV now’ Democrats needle Trump with Watergate witness MORE (D-Calif.), would block all 22 arms sales the Trump administration recently approved, according to a House Foreign Affairs Committee press release.
Other measures introduced by Reps. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHouse kicks off antitrust probe into tech giants House kicks off antitrust probe into tech giants Judiciary Democrat: ‘I don’t have any difficulty’ with Pelosi ‘prison’ comment MORE (D-R.I.), Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerHouse Democrats pull legislation that would give lawmakers raise House Democrats pull legislation that would give lawmakers raise Democrat offers measure to prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices MORE (D-Va.) and Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiThe Hill’s Morning Report – Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? The Hill’s Morning Report – Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? Who are the House Democrats backing Trump impeachment? MORE (D-N.J.) specifically address the transfers of precision-guided bombs, according to the press release.
The press release refers to the resolutions as bipartisan. A congressional aide told The Hill that Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump, Biden headed to dueling Iowa rallies The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump, Biden headed to dueling Iowa rallies The Hill’s Morning Report – Warren’s moment: Policy plans and rising polls MORE (R-Mich.) is co-sponsoring Lieu’s resolution.
Context: The House effort comes after senators secured at least 51 votes on 22 resolutions to block the arms sales.
The Senate is expected to take up the 22 resolutions of disapproval as soon as next week.
Because lawmakers are challenging the sales under the same law, they need only a simple majority to send the resolutions to the president.
With all 47 members of the Democratic caucus expected to support the resolutions, they needed to win over at least four Senate Republicans to have the simple majority needed to send the resolution to the House, where Democrats have pledged to follow suit with blocking the sales.
Three GOP senators — Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenators take bipartisan step toward blocking Trump’s Saudi arms sales Senators take bipartisan step toward blocking Trump’s Saudi arms sales Overnight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 MORE (Ky.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamActing DHS chief testifies about situation at border Acting DHS chief testifies about situation at border Senate GOP to vote on Trump’s .5 billion border request next week MORE (S.C.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Inside the 3B House defense policy bill | Senators take new tack to challenge Saudi arms sales | Raytheon, United Technologies to merge Overnight Defense: Inside the 3B House defense policy bill | Senators take new tack to challenge Saudi arms sales | Raytheon, United Technologies to merge Bipartisan senators push new bill to improve foreign lobbying disclosures MORE (Ind.) — signed on as sponsors when the resolutions were rolled out last week. A spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHow Congress can take back control over tariffs How Congress can take back control over tariffs Overnight Energy: Trump allows use of ethanol gas in summer | Move to benefit farmers | Britain goes two weeks without using coal | EPA watchdog hands Pruitt probe findings to Congress MORE (R-Utah) has signed on as a co-sponsor, giving Democrats their crucial fourth vote.
Fiery hearing: The introduction of the House measures also comes after a testy hearing in which Democrats demanded answers from the State Department on its thinking behind invoking an emergency to push the arms sales through.
“There is no emergency,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTurkey slams ‘unfair’ House resolution amid tensions Turkey slams ‘unfair’ House resolution amid tensions House defense bill sets stage for contentious nuclear debate MORE (D-N.Y.) said at the hearing. “It’s phony. It’s made up. And it’s an abuse of the law. Once again, attempting to cut Congress out of the whole picture. This is not a dictatorship. We don’t rule this country by fiat.”
The Trump administration argues the emergency was justified because of an alleged heightened threat from Iran.
“It is this situation, this significant increase in both the intelligence of threat streams and clear, provocative and damaging actions taken by Iran’s government, that the secretary did determine it constituted an emergency,” R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Cooper also argued that the administration respected Congress’s role in the process, despite using the emergency to circumvent its hold on the sales.
“I value deeply Congress’ role in the review of the arms transfer process,” he said. “I do not view the secretary’s certification as setting aside this process. Indeed, by carving out a certain set of cases in the context of a statutory authority long granted by Congress, the secretary’s action is an affirmation of the value we place on our engagement with you on arms transfers and broader security assistance issues.”
That assertion infuriated Democrats.
“This is gaslighting,” Cicilline said. “You’re claiming that ignoring this provision is your way of affirming the role Congress plays. That’s an absurdity.”
US, POLAND INK DEFENSE DEAL: It’s not quite “Fort Trump,” but the United States and Poland have agreed on sending more troops to the Eastern European country.
Trump said Wednesday he is sending 1,000 additional troops to Poland in an effort to strengthen the U.S.’s alliance with the country.
Trump made the announcement during a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, saying Warsaw will pay for additional infrastructure “to support [the] military presence of about 1,000 American troops.”
“The Polish government will build these projects at no cost to the United States,” Trump said. “We thank President Duda and the people of Poland for their partnership in advancing our common security.”
And planes: The president also said Poland would purchase more than 30 F-35 stealth fighter jets from the U.S., marking the deal with a flyover of one of the jets over the White House as Trump, Duda and their wives looked on.
“Moments ago, we witnessed that impressive flyover of this cutting-edge F-35 as it flew over the White House and actually came pretty close to a halt over the White House,” Trump said at the press conference. “And it’s one of the few in the world that can do that, considered to be the greatest fighter jet in the world.”
Earlier: Trump mistakenly said earlier Wednesday during a meeting with Duda in the Oval Office that he would be sending close to 2,000 American troops to Poland from Germany and other European countries. The U.S. currently has around 4,000 military service members in Poland.
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INHOFE DISMISSES ‘PHONY’ SHANAHAN REPORT: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeKey Republican pushes B defense funding bump for ‘core military needs’ Key Republican pushes B defense funding bump for ‘core military needs’ Trump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation MORE (R-Okla.) on Wednesday dismissed a news report that said Trump was having second thoughts on naming Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training | Key Republican pushes for billion defense boost | Trump planning to send more US troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training | Key Republican pushes for billion defense boost | Trump planning to send more US troops to Poland Trump to announce US troop increase in Poland MORE as Defense secretary.
“It’s just a phony report that the president’s going soft on this. He’s not. I talked to him as recently as yesterday, and he’s still committed on Shanahan,” Inhofe said when asked about the status of the nomination.
Background: NBC News reported on Tuesday that Trump “appears to be having second thoughts” about naming Shanahan to lead the Pentagon. Four sources told the outlet that Trump had been asking about alternative candidates to Shanahan, who has been acting secretary since the beginning of the year.
The White House announced Trump’s intention to nominate Shanahan as Defense secretary in early May. His nomination has been in limbo since then as lawmakers wait for Trump to formally submit the nomination to the Senate.
Asked about Shanahan’s nomination, Trump said this week that he has “put it out officially” and the acting secretary, who served as deputy to former Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisKey Republican pushes B defense funding bump for ‘core military needs’ Key Republican pushes B defense funding bump for ‘core military needs’ Top Armed Services Republican plots push for 0B defense budget MORE, “has to go through the process.”
So what is the hold up?: Inhofe told reporters on Wednesday that the hold-up had to do with waiting for the FBI’s background check on Shanahan to wrap up and be submitted.
“They can’t do that until after the FBI report comes in,” Inhofe said, adding that it will probably be “another week” until the White House sends the nomination.
A staffer who was standing next to Inhofe said the nomination could come as early as this week, though it might slip into next week.
SENATORS SUPPORT NORTH MACEDONIA FOR NATO: Senators held a hearing Wednesday on allowing North Macedonia to join NATO, touting it as an important step to protect the region against expanding Russian influence, reports The Hill’s Josh Aaron Siegel.
Lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with officials from the State Department and the Department of Defense, voiced support for the Balkan nation joining the military alliance.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to get this done,” committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) said.
In his opening remarks, Risch said bringing the country into NATO would “solidify Western values in a country that Russia has been desperate to keep in its sphere of influence.”
Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, also cited Russia’s threats to regional security, describing Moscow as “the most immediate threat to transatlantic security.” He went on to say that the addition of North Macedonia to NATO would “enhance regional security and stability.”
Background: North Macedonia, previously known as the Republic of Macedonia, has sought to join NATO for decades but Greece blocked the nation from joining. Greece also has a province named Macedonia.
Earlier this year, after decades of diplomatic tensions, the two nations finalized approval of a historic deal to change the name from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia.
The deal opened the door for NATO to add its 30th member during the alliance’s 70th anniversary. The Senate must next vote to approve the country. Other NATO nations are taking similar measures to approve the new member.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on South Asia at 9:30 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2EY4EtH
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the role of women in peace processes at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2F6kUJf
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