Overnight Defense: Trump defends summit results | GOP chairman tries to clarify canceled war games | House panel advances $674.6B defense bill | Saudis begin Yemen offensive

Overnight Defense: Trump defends summit results | GOP chairman tries to clarify canceled war games | House panel advances $674.6B defense bill | Saudis begin Yemen offensive

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: Washington on Wednesday debated the outcome of President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In the morning, Trump took to his favorite medium, Twitter, to defend the summit.

In one tweet, Trump declared that North Korea is "no longer a nuclear threat," despite the fact that the joint statement he and Kim signed included no concrete steps to achieve North Korea's denuclearization.

"Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!" Trump wrote.

"Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer - sleep well tonight!" Trump said in a second tweet.

In a third tweet an hour or so later, Trump defended his decision to cancel joint military exercises with South Korea, again framing it as an issue of cost.

"We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith - which both sides are!" he tweeted.

About those war games: The administration has yet to clarify on the record what's getting canceled, but a top lawmaker offered reporters his "understanding" of what's going to happen.

"My understanding is we have two big joint military exercises with South Korea each year, roughly March and August," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Trump roils NATO on summit's first day | Trump, Merkel relationship sinks lower | House, Senate kick off defense bill talks | Senators symbolically rebuke Trump on national security tariffs Overnight Health Care: Pfizer delaying price hikes after Trump criticism | Dems focus on health care in Supreme Court fight | Feds won’t reunite all 102 detained children by deadline | VA nominee headed to Senate floor vote FDA approves freeze-dried blood plasma for troops in combat MORE (R-Texas) told reporters on Wednesday.

"I think the thing that would be suspended as long as the negotiations are making progress would be those big joint exercises, so the next one would be roughly August timeframe."

Thornberry added that he believes that the 28,500 U.S. troops based in South Korea would still engage in routine readiness training as the Trump administration engages in negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

"Obviously, you're always training people to do their job. That never ends," he said.

Pompeo in Seoul: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoRyan: 'The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally' Former CIA director Brennan urges Pompeo, Bolton, Kelly to resign following 'treasonous' Trump-Putin summit Mnuchin says US will consider Iran oil sanctions waivers: report MORE touched down Wednesday in Seoul, where he's set to meet South Korean and Japanese officials Thursday to brief them on the results of the summit.

Speaking to reporters after he arrived, Pompeo confirmed the administration is looking at getting North Korea to make major progress on denuclearization by the end of Trump's first term.

"We're hopeful that we can achieve that in, what was it, the next two and a half years," Pompeo said Wednesday. "We're hopeful we can get it done. There's a lot of work left to do."

He also took issue with reporters questioning why the words "verifiable" and "irreversible" were not in Trump and Kim's statement, a seeming reversal from the administration's demands for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. Pompeo argued the word "complete," which is in the document, encompasses verifiable and irreversible.

"I suppose we could argue semantics, but let me assure you it's in the document," Pompeo told reporters. "I am confident that they understand what we're prepared to do, the handful of things that we're likely not prepared to do."

"I am equally confident that they understand there will be in-depth verification," Pompeo added.

View from North Korea: We also got our first look overnight at how North Korea is selling the summit results.

Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling party, had three pages of photos of Trump and Kim at the summit shaking hands, walking down corridors, negotiating and signing the joint statement.

KCNA also reported that Trump and Kim agreed to a "step-by-step" approach to denuclearization, that Kim accepted Trump's invitation to the White House and that Trump agreed to lift sanctions.

 

DEFENSE SPENDING BILL WATCH: The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday easily advanced its $674.6 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2019.

The committee voted 48-4 to approve the bill, which would provide $606.5 billion in base discretionary funding and $68.1 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

"We recognize that it is the men and women of our Armed Forces -- all volunteers -- and their families who form that foundation of our national security, and this legislation funds them as fully as we can," committee Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter Frelinghuysen'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House MORE (R-N.J.) said.

No repeat on war authorization: The committee rejected on party lines Wednesday an amendment to the defense spending bill that would have ended the 2001 war authorization, a year after the amendment surprisingly passed.

The committee voted 22-30 against the amendment, from Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeDems struggle with unity amid leadership tensions Fifth-ranking House Dem doubles down, says it’s time to overhaul leadership Ex-Sanders campaign organizer touts Barbara Lee as possible Pelosi replacement MORE (D-Calif.), to sunset the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), which is still used as legal justification for military operations against terrorist groups.

"In the last 17 years, it has become increasingly clear that the AUMF has essentially provided the president, any president, the authority to wage war against any nation anywhere at time," said Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF when it was passed in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

When Lee offered an identical amendment during last year's markup of the defense appropriations bill, lawmakers applauded when it surprisingly passed by voice vote. The provision was stripped from the bill by House leadership before it came to the floor.

 

DEFENSE POLICY BILL WATCH: Will the annual defense bill be derailed by efforts to impose penalties on a Chinese telecommunications company?

The White House on Wednesday pushed back on efforts to reverse President Trump's deal with China that eases penalties on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE and helps revive the company.

A provision to reverse the deal was inserted into the Senate's version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). ZTE had admitted to violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley defended the administration's agreement to impose lessened penalties on the company, maintaining that the punishment was still "massive" and "historic."

"This will ensure ZTE pays for its violations and gives our government complete oversight of their future activity without undue harm to American suppliers and their workers," Gidley said in a statement.

"The Administration will work with Congress to ensure the final NDAA conference report respects the separation of powers," he added.

Still in there: After the White House statement, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) tried unsuccessfully to remove the ZTE provision.

Perdue asked for unanimous consent to strip that section of the NDAA, but Democratic Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Dems rip Trump after Putin news conference Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites MORE (Md.) objected to Perdue's request, paving the way for the provision blocking Trump's ZTE deal to remain in the defense bill.

The current Senate bill "would trample on the separation of powers and undercut the Trump administration's authority to impose these penalties," Perdue said. "We should not tie the hands of the administration to enact penalties as they see fit, particularly in these times of aggressive actions by foreign players."

Van Hollen: "Removing that provision would send a bad signal to anybody around the world watching that you can violate U.S. sanctions law with impunity and we shouldn't be doing that."

In the House: Meanwhile, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is hopeful of a speedy conference to reconcile differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill.

He told reporters he thinks it will be wrapped up by the end of July since one of the major issues that's caused conference to drag on in the past -- what the topline dollar amount will be -- was settled with the two-year budget agreement.

 

YEMEN OFFENSIVE STARTS DESPITE WARNINGS: A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched an offensive Wednesday on a key port in Yemen held by rebels, despite international warnings such an assault could be catastrophic.

In the United States, which has supported the coalition, lawmakers in both parties issued stern warnings ahead of the offensive on Hodeida.

A bipartisan quartet of senators, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Flake to introduce resolution countering Trump's Russia summit rhetoric Corker: Trump made US look 'like a pushover' MORE (R-Tenn) and ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezCNN anchors break into laughter over comedian's alleged prank call to Trump Comedian claims he tricked Trump while impersonating Dem senator Schumer: Obama 'very amenable' to helping Senate Dems in midterms MORE (D-N.J.), sent a letter to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet Mattis doesn't mention Russia by name at meeting with Balkan officials: report Trump references ‘legitimate media and fake-news media’ at meeting with NATO leader MORE and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the eve of the offensive expressing "grave alarm."

"We are concerned that pending military operations by the United Arab Emirates and its Yemeni partners will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis by interrupting delivery of humanitarian aid and damaging critical infrastructure," the senators wrote. "We are also deeply concerned that these operations jeopardize prospects for a near-term political resolution to the conflict."

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers also sent a letter they had been circulating earlier in the week that asked Mattis to "use all available means to avert a catastrophic military assault." The letter garnered 34 signatures, according to the copy publicly released Wednesday.

The issue: Hodeida is controlled by Houthi rebels who are fighting the Saudi-led coalition, and the coalition believes the port has been key to the rebels smuggling in arms.

But humanitarian groups and experts have warned that an offensive on Hodeida, through which 80 percent of Yemen's aid comes, could devastate the already war-ravaged country. The United Nations said Friday the worst-case scenario is 250,000 civilians killed in the assault.

Where the administration stands: The Trump administration tried to dissuade the coalition from launching the offensive, with Pompeo saying in a statement Monday that he "made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports."

Having failed to stop the UAE from acting, the U.S. military has helped Gulf allies develop a list of targets that should be off-limits, according to several reports citing unnamed U.S. officials.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the nominees to be ambassador to South Korea, assistant secretary of State for African affairs and assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2yextBo

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on policy and infrastructure issues with Navy and Air Force depots at 9 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2212. https://bit.ly/2y6LG2U

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on "Democracy Promotion in a Challenging World" with testimony from outside experts at 10 a.m. at Rayburn 2172. https://bit.ly/2t7uvIK

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump brushes off Kim's human rights record, saying others have done 'bad things'

-- The Hill: Graham jokes about Corker: GOP would have to be organized to be a cult

-- The Hill: Pence on Trump-Kim summit: 'It takes courage to make peace'

-- The Hill: Dem senators move to halt potential US troop withdrawal from S. Korea

-- The Hill: Trump: No discussion of troop drawdown during North Korea summit

-- The Hill: Former Pentagon official: Trump ending war games a 'pretty substantial concession'

-- The Hill: Poll: Half of Americans approve of Trump's handling of North Korea after summit

-- The Hill: Opinion: After the Singapore summit pageantry, work still required

-- The Hill: Opinion: Trump gave summit serious effort and now North Korea must decide

-- The Hill: Opinion: The Trump-Kim summit advances a unique rapprochement

-- The Hill: Opinion: US national security is not dependent on the outcome of the summit