Overnight Defense: White House threatens to veto Senate defense bill

THE TOPLINE: The Senate pressed forward Tuesday with debating the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes defense spending and policy.

Lawmakers voted on two amendments and approved 15 others by a voice vote. 

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Before the vote, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump walks tightrope on gun control State Department's top arms control official leaving Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first MORE (R-Texas), who gave his first floor speech since he ended his run for the presidency, said he would vote 'no' on the defense bill over provisions that would require women to register for the military draft.

McCain dismissed his argument, noting that Cruz's military background was "not extensive." 

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenLewandowski: House testimony shows I'd be 'a fighter' in the Senate Cruz endorses GOP candidate for Senate in New Hampshire Meghan McCain: Lewandowski Senate run would be 'an absolutely ridiculous crap show' MORE (D-N.H.) also spoke in favor of her amendment that would authorize 4,000 more special immigration visas for Afghan interpreters who assisted U.S. troops and officials during the war. The move is opposed by the Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump walks tightrope on gun control Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Trump: 'Great to see' Pelosi plan to lower drug prices MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Democrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' MORE (R-Ala.). 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Election meddling has become the new normal of US diplomacy DC statehood push faces long odds despite record support MORE (R-Ky.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately MORE (D-Ill.) also debated closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and bringing remaining detainees to the U.S. 

McConnell argued against bringing "terrorists" to the U.S., while Durbin said U.S super maximum security facilities are adequate for keeping Americans safe. 

The Senate will vote on several Guantanamo-related amendments in the coming days. 

The first recorded vote on an amendment, introduced by Durbin (D-Ill.), would allow about $1 billion in medical research to be funded through the defense bill. 

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAmerica's newest comedy troupe: House GOP Michelle Malkin knocks Cokie Roberts shortly after her death: 'One of the first guilty culprits of fake news' Arizona Democratic Party will hold vote to censure Sinema MORE put up an impassioned argument against the amendment, arguing that while the research was for a good cause, it did not belong in the defense bill. 

Durbin disagreed, arguing that the money funded research of maladies that affected service members, such as a higher rate of breast cancer for female troops than other women in their age groups. 

Durbin's amendment passed, 66-32. 

The second amendment, introduced by Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran MORE (R-Okla.) and Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiLobbying World Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar MORE (D-Md.), would prevent the privatization of commissaries, where military families buy groceries at lower prices. 

The amendment called for the Pentagon to fully assess and evaluate the effects and costs of commissary privatization before allowing any further steps to privatize them.

"With 80 percent of our active duty personnel using the commissary, and with military families and veterans achieving roughly 30 percent savings in their household purchases, Congress needs to pause and let DOD finish its efforts at studying and reforming this benefit," Inhofe said right before the vote. 

"With this bipartisan amendment, we will keep commissary doors open to provide low-cost, healthy food to our service members and their families until we're certain there's a better alternative," added Mikulski. 

The amendment passed 70-28. 

The Senate also passed about 15 non-controversial amendments by voice vote. 

Mitch McConnell says he wants to have the defense bill passed this week, even if it requires a rare Friday session.

AS EXPECTED... WHITE HOUSE ISSUES VETO THREAT: The White House issued a veto threat of the Senate NDAA Tuesday afternoon. 

The administration said it has numerous objections to the measure, including its imposition of sweeping organizational changes on the Pentagon, its restrictions on closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and its cap on the size of the National Security Council.

The administration also threatened to veto the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act. In that case, the chief objection is the way the defense spending would be divvied up between the base budget and a war account, leaving the war account dry by April 2017.

In Tuesday's veto threat, the administration commended the Senate for not "relying on budgetary gimmicks that risk the safety of our service members and undercut stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars."

But the statement slammed other aspects of the bill, such as its organizational changes to the Defense Department.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has more. 

DEFENSE BILL SPARKS ISIS WAR FIGHT: The defense bill is also sparking a fight over authorizing the war against ISIS. 

Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Missouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers Sen. Kaine: No reason for US to 'engage in military action to protect Saudi oil' MORE (D-Va.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (R-Ariz.) filed an amendment to the bill on Tuesday that would give the administration authority for three years to fight ISIS. 

The bipartisan proposal would limit the president's ability to use "significant U.S. ground troops" to fight ISIS unless they are protecting the lives of U.S. citizens from an "imminent threat," according to a breakdown of the amendment from Kaine's office.

The proposal would also repeal the 2002 authorization used for the Iraq War and limit the White House to only using the Kaine-Flake proposal to legally justify military activity against ISIS. 

Kaine also filed a separate amendment to require the president to offer legislation refining a 2001 authorization of military force by Sept. 20, 2017 and allow Congress to fast-track debate on the legislation. 

Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOn The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight MORE (R-Ky.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' Hillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill MORE (R-Utah) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyWhite House officials, Giuliani come to Trump's defense on Ukraine allegations Sunday shows - Trump's Ukraine call, Iran dominate Toomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' MORE (D-Conn.) also introduced a separate amendment.

Their proposal would also find that neither the 2001 force authorization nor a 2002 authorization -- both of which have been cited by the Obama administration -- apply to the current fight against ISIS.

Their dueling proposals come as the debate over an authorization specifically for the ISIS war has largely stalled in Congress. 

The Hill's Jordain Carney has more here. 

LACK OF INTEL SLOWING DOWN ISIS WAR: A shortage of intelligence assets is slowing down the air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to the commander of the air campaign.

With most U.S. forces far away from the fight in the Middle East, commanders are relying heavily on surveillance drones to develop targets before sending aircraft out on bombing runs, a process the military calls "deliberate targeting."

Drones are also helping with "dynamic targeting" -- when pilots see opportunities to strike midflight -- especially with targets where there may be a risk of civilian casualties.

"If there's one piece that I know that the Combined Joint Task Force and the ground component ask for is more ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance]," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown at a recent press briefing.

"Because what it helps me to do is develop targets so we can strike at the same time as we develop those targets. The more ISR I have, I can minimize the risk to civilian casualties and continue the precision air campaign that we have," he said at the May 27 briefing. 

Military officials say intelligence is especially important as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces push into Fallujah, where the U.S. estimates about 50,000 civilians are holed up. 

The Hill's Kristina Wong has the story here. 

ICYMI: 

-- The Hill: Iran denies visas to GOP lawmakers

-- The Hill: Report finds sweeping flaws with visa partners

-- The Hill: McConnell warns of Friday work over defense bill

-- Reuters: Iraqi PM sacks security chief, six state bank executives

-- Washington Post: Assad pledges more bloodshed in Syria

 

Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com 

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