OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House votes to keep troops in ISIS fight

THE TOPLINE: The House voted resoundingly Wednesday to keep troops stationed abroad fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) despite the absence of a formal congressional authorization for military action against the group.

In the first vote of its kind since the Obama administration began airstrikes ten months ago, the House defeated a resolution requiring the president to remove troops within the next six months. The vote was 139-288.

All but 19 Republicans voted against the measure, and 120 Democrats voted in favor. Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashKudlow acknowledges executive orders may end up in court: 'We're going to go ahead with our actions anyways' Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Peter Meijer wins GOP primary in Amash's Michigan district MORE (R-Mich.) voted "present."

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Rep. Jim McGovern's (D-Mass.) resolution would have required the removal of troops in Iraq and Syria within 30 days. But the deadline could have been pushed to the end of 2015 if the Obama administration determined it was not safe to withdraw in a shorter timeframe.

McGovern, who authored the measure with Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), said the United States shouldn't keep deploying troops into harm's way unless Congress formally authorizes war against ISIS.

"Either Congress needs to live up to its responsibilities and authorize this war, or by its continuing neglect and indifference our troops should be withdrawn and allowed to come home," McGovern said.

The Obama administration has been citing the 2001 and 2002 authorizations of military force (AUMF) in Afghanistan and Iraq as the legal basis for the military campaign against ISIS.  

But other Democrats, including Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said even as they supported a new AUMF, voting to withdraw troops amid the escalating violence would send the wrong message. 

"That's no way to defeat ISIS or to help the people of Iraq and Syria," Engel said. "I understand the frustration but this is like cutting off your nose to spite your face." 

The Obama administration began ordering troops to Iraq about a year ago, on June 16. It ordered 275 troops to provide security for the U.S. Embassy and personnel there. 

The number of troops grew to 3,550 after Obama authorized another 450 troops last week. The troops are being deployed to train and equip the Iraqi military against ISIS.

IRAQ TRAINING PROGRAM LAGGING: Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday that the U.S. plan to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has fallen far below expectations. 

Carter said the main problem has been a lack of Iraqi troops.

"Our training efforts in Iraq have thus far been slowed by a lack of trainees. We simply haven't received enough recruits," Carter told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. strategy to combat ISIS. 

Carter said the U.S. had planned to have more than three times as many Iraqi trainees as it has at this point. 

"Of the 24,000 Iraqi security forces we had originally envisioned training at our four sites by this fall, we've only received enough recruits to be able to train about 7,000, in addition to about 2,000 counterterrorism service personnel," he said. 

"We must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government," Carter added. 

Carter said the administration's recent decisions to establish a new base at Al Taqaddum in Anbar province and send an additional 450 troops to Iraq would help to "close that gap" and recruit more Sunni fighters.

Carter also said the U.S. program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels was going slowly. 

Defense officials announced last month that they had started training a first group of 90 rebels, but they have not released updated numbers since then. 

"Our train-and-equip mission in Syria has been challenging, but the requirement for a capable and motivated counter-ISIL ground force there also means we must persist in our efforts," Carter said, using an alternate name for ISIS. 

The lack of progress in the train-and-equip mission in both Iraq and Syria prompted skepticism from lawmakers over the U.S. strategy, which relies on training local forces to take on ISIS instead of sending U.S. forces into combat.  

"Hope is not a strategy," said committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). "I see little prospect in having a ground force that we train that can push back against ISIL in the near term."  

SENATE DEFENSE BILL CLEARS FINAL HURDLE. The Senate voted overwhelmingly to move its defense policy bill toward passage on Thursday.

Senators voted 84-14 to end debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' MORE (R-Ariz.) made a closing pitch for the bill ahead of Wednesday's votes, suggesting the legislation was a necessary "reform bill" for the Defense Department. 

Democratic leaders have criticized the NDAA because it includes an extra $38 billion in the Pentagon's war fund. But rank-and-file Democrats have backed the legislation on the procedural votes to date. 

McCain said that if senators voted against the bill because of the funding "then they have their priorities upside down." 

"I intend to tell the American people about it because I believe that we're not serving the men and women who are serving this country to the best of their ability," he added. 

BENGHAZI MEMO AUTHOR IDENTIFIED: The head of the Select Committee on Benghazi identified the person responsible for memos Sidney Blumenthal passed on to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' What Trump got wrong by pushing coal Trump is fighting the wrong war MORE while she was the nation's top diplomat.

Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySenate GOP set to ramp up Obama-era probes More than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets MORE (R-S.C.) said the author was Tyler Drumheller, a former CIA official.

"Not only was he providing unvetted, uncorroborated, unsubstantiated intelligence to our top diplomat, he was just simply forwarding on intelligence that somebody by the name of Tyler Drumheller was sending him," Gowdy said of Blumenthal Tuesday night during an interview on Fox News's The Kelly File.

Blumenthal "didn't know if the sources were legitimate; he didn't know whether or not the information had been corroborated. He was merely a conduit between somebody who may have had a financial interest in Libya and our nation's top diplomat," Gowdy added.

Reading from a prepared statement after his nine-hour interview on Tuesday, Blumenthal said he "testified about sending some reports written by a respected former high-ranking CIA official I thought might be informative to the secretary for her to use or not as she saw fit."

Gowdy said the select committee "might" call on the author of the memos to testify.

"We have a CIA. So why would you not rely on your own vetted source intelligence agency?" he asked.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-- White House may create Iran 'czar' to finish talks

-- McCain pushes for change in Pentagon's medical research budget

-- House Dem casts doubt on Obama's ISIS strategy

-- US envoy hints at further Iraq expansion

-- US envoy fires back at charge that Obama 'abandoned' Israel

 

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