Overnight Defense: Dunford expected to finish Joint Chiefs term | House lawmakers pushing for Yemen vote | Pentagon says a few hundred troops leaving border

Happy Monday 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: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'Haven't thought about' pardons for Mueller target Pence: Rocket attack 'proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace' Conservation remains a core conservative principle MORE may have already announced his pick to be the nation's next top military officer, but the current one isn't planning to go anywhere anytime soon.

The Pentagon said Monday that Gen. Joseph Dunford is expected to serve out his full term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"At this point, all indications are that Gen. Dunford will serve his full term," Army Col. Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.

Dunford's term ends September 2019.

Why there were questions: Trump announced on Saturday he will nominate Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to succeed Dunford.

Milley is well-respected and garnered bipartisan praise. But the timing of the announcement raised eyebrows.

Critics say they worry announcing Dunford's replacement 10 months ahead of his planned departure makes him a lame duck, diminishing the four-star general's role in providing input on U.S. strategy in the Middle East, and on Russian and Chinese aggression.

There was also the matter of a Trump tweet. In a tweeting thanking Milley and Dunford for their service, Trump added that the "date of transition [is] to be determined," seemingly suggesting Dunford may leave ahead of schedule.

Manning said there is "no concern" that Trump's announcement would make Dunford a "lame duck" chairman.

More on Milley: Milley is known as a gruff-speaking soldier's soldier with degrees from Princeton University and Columbia University.

Having served several tough tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he often notes how many soldiers have died under his command since 2001 -- 242, including some who died "within arm's reach" of him, as he said in August.

Among his recent headline-grabbing quotes, Milley told Congress in 2017 that it was committing "professional malpractice" by not passing a defense budget on time.

In October, speaking about threats from Russia and China, he warned that "the faint clouds of a coming storm are visible on the horizon."

This year, he also contradicted the Trump administration's transgender troops ban, telling senators that he's received "precisely zero" reports of problems with unit cohesion, discipline and morale since transgender troops have been allowed to serve openly.

 

SAUDI FIGHT PRIMED FOR NEXT YEAR: The Senate may be set to vote this week on a resolution targeting U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen's civil war, but all indications are that the fight will drag into the year ahead.

Over the weekend, The Hill's Jordain Carney took a look at senators preparing for a prolonged battle.

With only days left before lawmakers wrap up their work for the year, some senators are already turning their attention to reviving the fight in the new year.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyFather of Sandy Hook victim dies in apparent suicide Sanders: 'We must follow New Zealand's lead' and ban assault weapons The fear of colorectal cancer as a springboard for change MORE (D-Conn.) said that holding a vote this week is "a strong enough signal to the Saudis and a signal that we're going to come back and finish it off next year."

"The underlying resolution would still have privilege next year, and so if it passes this year it will likely pass again next year," he added.

In addition to the Yemen resolution, senators are expecting a wide-ranging bill from Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange William Barr is right man for the times MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungTrump UN pick donated to GOP members on Senate Foreign Relations panel Overnight Defense: Senate breaks with Trump on Yemen war | Shanahan hit with ethics complaint over Boeing ties | Pentagon rolls out order to implement transgender ban | Dem chair throws cold water on Space Force budget Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi-led war in Yemen MORE (R-Ind.) to spill over into 2019. That measure would require sanctions within 30 days on anyone involved in Khashoggi's death, including "any official of the government of Saudi Arabia or member of the royal family" determined to be involved.

Because the Senate is expected to vote to limit amendments during on the Yemen resolution, the Menendez-Young bill, as well as a separate resolution condemning Khashoggi's killing, are unlikely to be brought up as part of the floor debate.

But supporters of those two bills argue they could use the remaining weeks of the year to create a solid starting point for 2019.

And in the House: A bipartisan pair of congressmen is trying again to force a vote on U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen's civil war before the end of the year, as the Senate is poised for its action.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse Oversight Dem wants Trump to release taxes and 'get it over with' Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Clinton and Ocasio-Cortez joke about Kushner's alleged use of WhatsApp MORE (D-Calif.) recently reintroduced a War Powers resolution that would remove U.S. forces from hostilities in Yemen except to fight terrorism as allowed by the 2001 war authorization.

A Democratic aide said Khanna and Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieThe 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Trump: I told Republicans to vote for 'transparency' in releasing Mueller report House votes for Mueller report to be made public MORE (R-Ky.), the lead Republican co-sponsor, "will be pushing for floor action by the end of the year" with Massie helping to whip Republican support.

A spokeswoman for Massie said the congressman is gathering signatures on a letter to send to House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Dem candidate says he faced cultural barriers on the campaign trail because he is working-class Former House candidate and ex-ironworker says there is 'buyer's remorse' for Trump in Midwest Head of top hedge fund association to step down MORE (R-Wis.) requesting a "clean vote" on the resolution.

"We ask you to uphold the Constitution and the War Powers Act by allowing H. Con. Res. 142 to receive an up-or-down vote," a draft of the letter says.

The Democratic House aide said that if the resolution passes the Senate and "a lot of Republicans get on board," then "we expect the House to follow suit."

The House is also scheduled to receive a briefing on Saudi Arabia and Yemen on Thursday morning, which could drive support in the chamber. Senators emerged livid from similar briefing hours before they voted to advance their resolution.

 

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: A few hundred of the U.S. troops deployed to the southern border are expected to be home before Christmas.

The Pentagon said Monday it will soon begin withdrawing some active duty service members at the U.S.-Mexico border, with 400 to 500 to be home before the holiday.

"Some units have completed their mission and they have already started to partially redeploy. Other units have been identified to rotate home and will be returning home over the next several weeks," Army Col. Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.

How many total?: Manning would not say how soon the service members will return home.

Nor would he say how many will stay through Jan. 31, the extended date of the deployment that Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis16 times Trump said ISIS was defeated, or soon would be Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths Pentagon watchdog probing whether acting chief boosted Boeing MORE signed off on last week.

But the Associated Press on Monday reported that about 2,200 of the active duty service members will be pulled from the border before the holidays, leaving 3,000 service members to assist border patrol agents.

Some of the military police and helicopter crews will remain to quickly respond if needed by border agents, officials told the AP.

Numbers now: Manning said that 5,200 service members currently remain at the southern border, down from its peak of about 5,900 service members.

Of the remaining forces, about 2,200 service members are in Texas, 1,650 in California and 1,350 in Arizona.

Top Dem wants all troops home: On Friday, after the deployment order was extended, the man poised to be chairman of the House Armed Services Committee next year called for the mission to end entirely.

"This continued expansion of the use of Department of Defense resources and personnel to fulfill the misguided immigration agenda of this administration, which is not part of the mission of the Department of Defense, must come to an end," Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump waiting on watchdog findings for Pentagon head: report 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths MORE (D-Wash.) said to conclude a four-paragraph statement.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Armed Services Committee will have closed briefing on "Recent Chinese and Russian Naval Activities" at 2:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/2QskIvL

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on artificial intelligence with testimony from Pentagon officials at 3:30 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. https://bit.ly/2SFeB3E

Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) will speak about national security at 4:30 p.m. at the Heritage Foundation. https://herit.ag/2KYlD0V

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: The Year Ahead: Dems look to check Trump on defense

-- The Hill: Russia becomes world's second-largest arms producer: analysis

-- The Hill: Trump, in reversal, calls for Pentagon to raise budget request to $750B: reports

-- The Hill: US-Saudi relationship enters uncharted territory

-- The Hill: Opinion: What's at stake in Yemen affects us all

-- The New York Times: Mattis erupts over Niger inquiry and Army revisits who is to blame

-- The Washington Post: Trump administration: It's 'extraordinary' judges won't let military restrict transgender troops

-- Associated Press: Yemen's warring sides negotiating truce for key port Hodeida