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: President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE is ratcheting up his rhetoric on Syria, as the world awaits his response to an apparent chemical weapons attack in the country.
On Wednesday morning, President Trump taunted Russia with a threat that U.S. missiles will be coming to Syria.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!" Trump tweeted.
Mattis pumps the breaks: Despite Trump's tweet, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump's 'Enemies List' — end of year edition The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE said Wednesday the United States is still assessing whether the Syrian regime is behind the alleged chemical attack and still working on options to respond.
"We're still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies. We're still working on this," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon prior to meeting with defense officials from the Netherlands.
When asked if the U.S. military was ready to conduct retaliatory strikes against Syria, Mattis replied that officials "stand ready to provide military options if they're appropriate as the president determines."
And White House says no decision: Later in the afternoon, the White House said "all options are on the table" despite Trump's tweets threatening to send missiles.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a final decision has yet to be made on the U.S. response following Trump's early morning tweet warning.
"We have a number of options and all of those options are still on the table," Sanders told reporters. "The president has a number of options at his disposal and a number remain on the table."
When asked if Trump's tweets represent a national security risk, Sanders said, "Not at all."
She defended the tweet, claiming that it didn't give any plans away. She added that the president is still deciding on a timetable and repeating that he's leaving a number of options on the table.
Takeaway: Military action appears all but inevitable at this point -- with the outstanding questions being when it will happen, how extensive that action will be and in what capacity U.S. allies will participate.
CALIFORNIA ACCEPTS FUNDING FOR MORE GUARD TROOPS: Ending days of speculation over whether California would contribute guardsmen to the new southern border mission, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said Wednesday he would accept federal funding to increase the California Guard's numbers.
Brown wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenUS to restart 'Remain in Mexico' program following court order Far-left bullies resort to harassing, shaming Kyrsten Sinema — it won't work Ex-Trump official: 'No. 1 national security threat I've ever seen' is GOP MORE that the California National Guard would accept federal funding to add "approximately 400 Guard members statewide to supplement the staffing of its ongoing program to combat transnational crime."
What this means: Unlike President Trump's request, not all of California's new guardsmen will go to the border.
Instead, Brown said, the troops would join an existing program to combat transnational crime at the border, the coast and elsewhere in the state. The program already has 250 California Guard troops, including 55 at the border.
Brown made clear the troops would not help Trump's immigration agenda.
"But let's be crystal clear on the scope of this mission," Brown wrote. "This will not be a mission to build a new wall. It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws."
By the numbers: California's 400 guardsmen will join the 1,600 already pledged by the Republican governors of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Mattis's memo last week authorized up to 4,000 Guard troops.
COAST GUARD WEIGHS IN ON WALL: The Coast Guard's top admiral said Wednesday it would be "shortsighted" to think building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will stem illegal immigration on its own.
"I think we'd be shortsighted to think that if we build a wall that will end all the drivers for illegal migration," Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, said at an event in Washington when asked if he's expecting an increase of illegal immigration via the ocean.
"If you can't come across a terrestrial border between Mexico and the United States, then go around it," he continued. "We keep a very close eye on what those trends are. Hasn't happened, but that would probably be several years [away]."
Zukunft, who has announced his retirement for June, was speaking to the Defense Writers Group.
RYAN ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT: While the big story in defense remains Syria, the biggest story on Capitol Hill Wednesday was House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection Former Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 MORE (R-Wis.) announcing his retirement at the end of this Congress.
One of the accomplishments Ryan touted in his announcement was bulking up military spending.
Defense hawks had kind words for the speaker Wednesday.
"One of Speaker Ryan's most important legacies will be his central role in beginning to rebuild our military and repair that damage that has been inflicted on it in recent years," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions Unnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world MORE (R-Texas) said in a statement. "There is more work to do in that regard this year, and I know that Paul will continue his unwavering support for the men and women who serve our nation in the armed services."
THIRD NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER LEAVES WHITE HOUSE: Deputy national security adviser Nadia Schadlow has resigned, as new national security adviser John Bolton seeks to reshape his team. Schadlow is the third high-ranking national security official to exit or be pushed out of the White House since Bolton took over on Monday. National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton and homeland security adviser Tom Bossert are the other two officials who have left following Bolton's start.
Expect more staff changes from Bolton in the coming days.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Mike PompeoMike PompeoRussia suggests military deployments to Cuba, Venezuela an option The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Winter is here for Democrats Overnight Defense & National Security — Nuclear states say no winners in global war MORE to be secretary of State at 9:30 a.m. at the Senate Dirksen Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2qgKvaZ
Army Secretary Mark Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. at Dirksen G-50. https://bit.ly/2I6zfVh
Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford will testify before the House Armed Services Committee at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. https://bit.ly/2GRrGBD
The House Appropriations defense subcommittee will hold a hearing on the fiscal year 2019 budget request for the National Guard and the reserves. https://bit.ly/2qkkqrn
A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on the fiscal 2019 budget request for combat aviation programs at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2212. https://bit.ly/2v4Dm2c
Another House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on having the right capabilities in a 355-ship Navy at 3:30 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. https://bit.ly/2qlhpXR
-- The Hill: Pentagon stops accepting F-35 deliveries from Lockheed: report
-- The Hill: Third top national security aide to leave White House
-- The Hill: Trump nominates new commanders for military operations in Asia-Pacific, North America
-- The Hill: Opinion: In Syria, President Trump must strike and stay
-- The Hill: Opinion: The Haspel nomination: The delicate balance of the process
-- Associated Press: Yemeni rebel missiles, drones target Saudi capital, south
-- Military Times: Vets groups and lawmakers say they're against it -- but what does 'privatization' of Veterans Affairs really mean?