Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight
© Greg Nash
House and Senate lawmakers will formally start trying to reconcile their mammoth defense policy bills on Thursday with a fight on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE's border wall looming. 
 
Members of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference committee are set to meet Thursday morning, marking the formal start to negotiations. 
 
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The Senate voted 87-7 on Wednesday evening to go to conference with the House to work out the differences on their defense bills. 
 
Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Harris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? MORE (D-Calif.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Twitter tells facial-recognition app maker to stop collecting its data MORE (D-Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Environmentalists, Oregon senators oppose DOT increasing transport of natural gas by rail Senate Democrat says he is concerned intelligence community is 'bending' Soleimani presentations MORE (D-Ore.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Marsha Blackburn shares what book she's reading during Trump Senate trial Sekulow indicates Trump should not attend impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Poll: Biden leads in Iowa ahead of caucuses The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint MORE (D-Mass.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTax season could bring more refund confusion Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Wyden vows push to force release of Khashoggi assessment MORE (D-Ore.) voted no. 
 
The House had already voted to start the conference committee. Though Thursday will mark the first formal meeting, staffers and key lawmakers have been talking behind the scenes for months. 
 
Lawmakers face a looming fight over whether or not to green light an effort to replace the $3.6 billion in military construction funding that the administration shifted toward the border wall as part of Trump's emergency declaration. 
 
The Senate defense bill "back fills" the funding, while the House bill does not. Democrats are fuming over Trump's decision to leapfrog Congress and shift the military funds toward the wall. 
 
"The House already voted this down. Democrats, myself, Speaker Pelosi, Chairwoman Lowey, and Ranking Member Leahy, have been crystal clear: we are not going to bless the president stealing money from the military by backfilling it later. This would render the Congress toothless, and the appropriations process meaningless," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Impeachment has been a dud for Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday. 
 
Republicans made an 11th-hour effort to get it in the House bill before voting to go to conference but their "motion to instruct" negotiators to support backfilling the money failed largely along party lines. 

Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown GOP senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Those are just statements' MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, argued the motion would “ensure that, as we continue to argue about border security and a whole variety of other issues, that our troops do not suffer as a result of that argument.”

Negotiators will also need to cut deals on other controversial issues including ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and a provision in the House bill that would block military action against Iran.