Overnight 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 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
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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: NATO's summit got off to a rocky start Wednesday, with President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE using a breakfast meeting with the secretary-general to slam Germany.

Trump attacked Germany over a gas pipeline deal with Russia, saying it makes Berlin a "captive" to Moscow.

"I have to say, I think it's very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, where you're supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia," Trump said during the meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

"If you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia because they supply," he continued. "They got rid of their coal plants. They got rid of their nuclear. They're getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia. I think it's something that NATO has to look at. I think it's very inappropriate."

And later: Trump kept up the criticism as the day wore on, tweeting that NATO allies need to increase their defense spending now instead of when they agreed to do so by.

"What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe's protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025," he tweeted.

NATO allies agreed in 2014 to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. This year, eight allies are meeting or are expected to meet the goal.

More than 2 percent?: Behind closed doors, Trump also urged allies to increase their target to spending 4 percent of their GDP on defense.

"During the President's remarks today at the NATO summit he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defense spending, but that they increase it to 4%. The President raised this same issue when he was at NATO last year," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

"President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations," she added.

The U.S. currently spends 3.5 percent of its GDP on defense, according to NATO, which bases its current calculations off the 2010 dollar.

At the breakfast meeting, Trump asserted that the U.S. is really paying 4.2 percent of its GDP based on "actual numbers" that more accurately reflect U.S. spending.

In Congress: The House passed by voice vote Wednesday a resolution that expresses support for NATO.

The House added the NATO resolution to its schedule this week. The measure was not initially included on floor guidance sent out at the beginning of the week or early Wednesday morning.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNew Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders House Dem: Party's aging leaders is 'a problem' Rand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders MORE (R-Wis.) called the long-standing alliance "indispensable."

"I subscribe to the view that we should not be criticizing our president while he's overseas," Ryan began when asked about Trump's harsh remarks that NATO allies are "delinquent" in paying for defense.

"NATO is indispensable. It is as important today as it ever has been," Ryan continued.

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSentencing reform deal heats up, pitting Trump against reliable allies Dem lawmaker calls Trump racist in response to 'dog' comment PETA calls out Trump for attacking Omarosa as a 'dog' MORE (Utah), the most senior Republican in the Senate, called out Trump for his harsh criticisms of Germany.

"I don't agree with that," Hatch said in reaction to Trump's declaration that Germany is "totally controlled by Russia" because it imports so much natural gas from Russia.

Hatch called Germany of the U.S.'s "strongest allies" and praised Germans as "a very strong people."

Hatch also praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel and said she made a very good impression on him during a meeting last week in Berlin.

"I have really the highest opinion of her and those who are with her," he said. "I think sometimes you can be a little too critical of the other counterparts. I don't think we should be critical. She's really good."

 

TRUMP AND MERKEL: President Trump's relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemingly couldn't get any colder.

The two have been at odds since before his presidency began.

Trump ripped Merkel during the campaign and didn't shake her hand the first time she visited Washington after his inauguration.

Merkel, who enjoyed a strong relationship with President Obama, has responded in kind. Her office released a now-famous photo after the G-7 summit in Canada earlier this year that appeared to depict her staring down Trump. For many, the photo highlighted Trump's isolation among western leaders.

On policies, the two are far apart. And on Wednesday their relationship sank even lower.

 

DEFENSE BILL WATCH: The House-Senate conference committee for the annual defense policy bill held its first official meeting Wednesday.

Speaking with reporters ahead of the "pass the gavel" meeting, leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committee affirmed they're aiming to wrap up negotiations by July 27, when the House leaves for August recess.

As usual, they said little of what they expected to debate about the bill.

"There are going to be a couple area where we have a little bit of debate," Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofePence announces first steps in establishing 'Space Force' EPA chief: Obama car rule rollback would save consumers 0B EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing MORE (R-Okla.) said.

Asked specifically about the ZTE issue, Inhofe said, "let's waits and let the conference work that out." The Senate bill has a provision "strongly" opposed by the White House that would block President Trump's plan to save the Chinese telecommunications giant.

McCain-shaped hole: Mostly lawmakers used the pre-meeting press conference to praise absent Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report Senate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Rand Paul’s Russia visit displays advancement of peace through diplomacy MORE (R-Ariz.), who is at home battling brain cancer.

The Senate version of the bill is named in honor of McCain.

"I never want to predict the outcome of a conference provision, but I think it's a pretty good bet that the House will recede on the title of the bill, so that it can be honored appropriately on behalf of Sen. McCain," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Trump signs 7B defense policy bill into law | Rips McCain hours after signing bill named after him | Green Beret killed in Afghanistan blast Overnight Defense: 7B defense policy bill speeding toward finish line | Trump threatens Turkey with sanctions over American pastor | Senators offer bills to defend NATO ties House easily passes 7B annual defense policy bill MORE (R-Texas) said.

Inhofe also said McCain will continue to participate in the conference through his staff.

SENATE SCOLDS TRUMP ON TARIFFS: The Senate on Wednesday took a symbolic shot at President Trump's trade policy amid anxiety on Capitol Hill over his tariff strategy.

Senators voted 88-11 to instruct lawmakers hashing out a deal on a government funding bill to include language "providing a role for Congress" on tariffs implemented for national security reasons, known as Section 232 of the trade laws.

The vote is nonbinding, meaning lawmakers don't have to add trade language into the funding bill. But the vote margin, with more senators supporting it than the amount needed to override a veto, underscores the depth of concern on Capitol Hill.

"I think it's significant that, as many of us have discussed with the president and his Cabinet, that there's some anxiety about ... tariffs," Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances Sentencing reform deal heats up, pitting Trump against reliable allies Rand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill. "I think it's just a way to make that point."

The issue: The president used Section 232 to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, including slapping the financial penalties on key trading allies like the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The section allows a president to impose tariffs based on national security grounds.

That's drawn backlash from lawmakers and the allies on whom that tariffs who levied.

But Republicans have been wary of using legislation to push back against Trump months before the midterm elections.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances White House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding Rand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders MORE (R-Tenn.) tried to attach legislation requiring congressional approval for tariffs applied for national security reasons to both a defense policy bill and the farm bill, but was blocked both times.

Trying again: Corker said after Wednesday's vote that he would keep pressing for the Senate to pass stand-alone legislation on Trump's tariff authority.

"I believe support for our legislation will only grow. We will continue to push for a binding vote and are hopeful one will be scheduled in the near future," Corker said in a statement.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Voters will punish Congress for ignoring duty on war and peace GOP Senate candidate truncates Trump tweet in campaign mailer MORE (R-Ariz.) -- who was opposing Trump's appeals court judges over the tariff fight -- added that Congress has "to rein in abuse of presidential authority and restore Congress' constitutional authority in this regard."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said he will bring up tariff legislation in the committee. Some GOP senators on the panel have voiced support for narrowing Section 232 of the trade law.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on tariffs with testimony from the assistant secretary of State for economic and business affairs at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2L1Br5g

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on Nicaragua at 2 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2KXAVSy

Another House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on combating tuberculosis in Southern Africa at 3 p.m. at Rayburn 2255. https://bit.ly/2Jk0KuI

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Schumer, Pelosi: Trump's Germany comments an 'embarrassment'

-- The Hill: US officials preparing to review Afghanistan strategy: report

-- The Hill: State Dept: No answers in sonic attacks in Cuba, China

-- The Hill: US signs deal with ZTE, moves closer to lifting ban on Chinese firm

-- Reuters: Britain to almost double troops in Afghanistan after U.S. request

-- Associated Press: Bigger is better? NATO opens up to Macedonia as rifts linger