Overnight Defense: Senators offer bill to curb Trump's tariff power | Bill could get vote in defense bill debate | House panel unveils $674.6B Pentagon spending bill | Mattis says tariffs won't hurt NATO ties

Overnight Defense: Senators offer bill to curb Trump's tariff power | Bill could get vote in defense bill debate | House panel unveils $674.6B Pentagon spending bill | Mattis says tariffs won't hurt NATO ties
© Greg Nash

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.

 

THE TOPLINE: Bucking President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE's opposition, a bipartisan group of senators moved forward Wednesday with a proposal to limit his power to levy tariffs on national security grounds.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump seeks to quell Russia furor MORE (R-Tenn.) is leading the effort.

"If the president truly believes invoking Section 232 is necessary to protect the United States from a genuine threat, he should make the case to Congress and to the American people and do the hard work necessary to secure congressional approval," Corker said in a statement announcing the bill.

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Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Bipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate Fed chief lays out risks of trade war MORE (D-N.D.), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Overnight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Hillicon Valley: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | Sparks fly at hearing on social media | First House Republican backs net neutrality bill | Meet the DNC's cyber guru | Sinclair defiant after merger setback MORE (D-Va.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix Supreme Court vacancy throws Senate battle into chaos Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion groups see chance to overturn Roe v. Wade with Kennedy retirement | HHS watchdog to probe detention center conditions | VA pick vows to oppose privatization MORE (R-Tenn.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDems rip Trump DOJ nominee who represented Russian bank The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Expensive and brutal: Inside the Supreme Court fight ahead Dem senator: No argument will 'lay bare' GOP's hypocrisy on Supreme Court MORE (D-Hawaii), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins GOP senator: Harley-Davidson is right to move some production overseas GOP senator: Trump’s policies doing 'permanent damage' MORE (R-Wis.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act MORE (D-Md.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Utah), and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Flake to Trump: 'Fake news' didn't side with Putin, you did MORE (R-Ariz.) are also supporting the bill.

What the bill does: The bill would require Trump to submit tariffs implemented under Section 232 of the trade law for approval to Congress. Any approval legislation would then have a 60-day window to be fast-tracked through both chambers.

The requirement would apply to all future Section 232 action, as well as retroactively for the past two years.

Earlier: Corker filed the bill despite a call from Trump earlier in the day asking him not to do so.

"I talked at length with the president about it today. He's obviously not pleased with this effort," Corker told reporters.

Corker said that the two had a "fairly lengthy" conversation about the forthcoming legislation. Asked if Trump was objecting to the legislation, Corker added: "Oh yeah."

Pressed if the talk with the president was "tense," Corker demurred, saying that they had a "heartfelt conversation."

Will it be in the defense bill?: Corker has pointed to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as one potential vehicle for his tariff legislation. But getting the bill brought up as an amendment to the defense policy bill would require the consent of every senator.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeNew EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs Senate moves to start negotiations on defense policy bill MORE (R-Okla.), who is managing the NDAA, in the absence of Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPence, Pompeo urged Trump to clarify Russia remarks: report GOP lawmaker renews call for Trump to release tax returns after Putin summit House conservatives criticize media, not Trump, for Putin furor MORE (R-Ariz.), said he thought Corker would ultimately be able to get a vote.

"I think it will. In fact, I told Corker that I would not object to it," Inhofe said, while noting he would vote against the amendment.

Asked if he thought Corker's bill should get a vote as part of the NDAA, Cornyn said the Senate should have an "open amendment process."

"It's the source of a lot of frustration here among members when people are denied an opportunity to vote. Back in the good old days ... we used to have [a] much more open amendment process," he said.

But the process for setting up roll call votes on amendments to the NDAA has ground to a halt in recent years as senators object to a vote on any amendment unless they can also get a vote on their own proposals.

Cornyn noted on Wednesday that there are already objections to amendments as lawmakers jockey for leverage, which could complicate Corker's quest to add his tariff legislation to the defense policy bill.

 

DEFENSE BILL WATCH: The Senate Wednesday slowly but surely turned toward its NDAA. But again, don't expect a vote until at least next week.

Just in time for the floor debate, the full bill text was released Wednesday morning. You can dig into all 1,140 pages here.

Here's a few interesting aspects in the meantime:

Spying on Russians: The bill would authorize the Pentagon to conduct surveillance on individuals conducting hacking or disinformation campaigns on behalf of the Russian government – a clear reference to Moscow's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The bill's contents reflect a growing interest by committee lawmakers in codifying and expanding the Pentagon's authorities and operations in cyberspace, at a time when digital threats from nation states and other malicious actors abound.

The Russia-related provisions also demonstrate an effort by lawmakers to involve the military in responding in various ways to cyberattacks from Moscow – including those that aim to meddle in U.S. political affairs.

Russia, China in general: The bill addresses "China's militarization in the South China Sea and deterring Russia's military aggression and cyber attacks," Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said on the Senate floor as the full chamber began consideration of the bill.

Inhofe has taken over as head of the Armed Services panel while Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is at home receiving treatment for brain cancer.

Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Senate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one Schumer: Trump should cancel meeting with Putin MORE (D-R.I.) said the bill "reflects that strategic shift towards prioritizing the strategic competition with Russia and China."

"It supports the president's budget request for resources to deter, and if necessary, defend against aggression from near-peer competitors," Reed said.

 

DEFENSE SPENDING WATCH: While the defense policy bill works its way through the upper chamber, the lower chamber is making progress on the defense spending bill.

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday unveiled its $674.6 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2019.

The bill would provide $606.5 billion in base discretionary funding, which is about $900 million less than the Trump administration requested but $17.1 billion more than this year's spending level.

The bill would also provide $68.1 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

Troops, equipment: The money would pay for a boost of 15,600 troops across the military and a 2.6 percent pay raise for service members, both matching what was requested by the administration.

The bill would also provide $145.7 billion for equipment purchases and upgrades. That's split $133 billion for base requirements -- or $2.5 billion more than requested -- and $12.7 billion in OCO.

The procurement money includes $22.7 billion for 12 new Navy ships, two more ships than the administration requested. The two extra ships are littoral combat ships, which Congress continues to support buying -- despite the Navy's plan to transition away from the ship -- so that shipyards keep working and will be able to keep pace on future orders.

The bill would also fund a slew of aircraft, including $9.4 billion for 93 F-35 fighter jets and $1.9 billion for 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft.

About those planes: Ninety-three F-35s are 16 more than the administration requested.

It's also more than House and Senate authorizers thought necessary. The House NDAA followed the administration's request for 77 F-35s, while the Senate NDAA has 75 of the jets.

The F-35 is built by Lockheed Martin in defense appropriations subcommittee Chairwoman Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerGOP senators visited Moscow on July 4, warned Russia against meddling in 2018 election: report GOP lawmakers plan official visit to Russia later this week House panel rejects war authorization sunset it passed last year MORE's (R-Texas) district.

 

NATO MEETING: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Mattis open to meeting with Russian defense chief: report Overnight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet MORE is en route to a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, where he's expected to push allies to bulk up military readiness.

On his way there, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters he does not believe European and Canadian anger over U.S. tariffs will hurt military relations within NATO, The Associated Press reported.

"Right now, I don't see that," Mattis said.

Asked whether he thinks the tariffs will hurt security ties with NATO partners, including Canada, Mattis also said he thinks it's premature to call the tariffs a trade war.

View from Brussels: Ahead of the meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he expects allies to agree to the U.S. plan to boost readiness even as he cautioned about "serious disagreements" among members over President Trump's tariffs, withdrawal from the Iran deal and exit from the Paris climate accord.

"These are serious difference between NATO allies," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a new conference in Brussels. "At the same time, we have to remember that we have seen differences before, all the way back to the 1950s where NATO allies disagreed on the Suez crisis or when France decided to leave the command structure in the 1960s or the Iraq War in 2003.

"So it's nothing new that there are difference between NATO allies, and what we have seen again and again is that we have been able to unite around NATO's core task to protect and defend each other despite those difference."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee will mark up the fiscal 2019 defense spending bill behind closed doors at noon. https://bit.ly/2kRAxcY

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on U.S. business investment and trade in the Americas with testimony from outside experts at 2 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2kTuftv

Another House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on human rights in Vietnam with testimony from outside experts at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2200. https://bit.ly/2sBdhnY

 

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