Overnight Defense: Lawmakers worry over Syria strategy | Trump's base critical of strikes | Flake undecided on Pompeo | Coast Guard plans to keep allowing transgender members | GOP chair wants to cut $25B from Pentagon agencies

Overnight Defense: Lawmakers worry over Syria strategy | Trump's base critical of strikes | Flake undecided on Pompeo | Coast Guard plans to keep allowing transgender members | GOP chair wants to cut $25B from Pentagon agencies
© Greg Nash

THE TOPLINE: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' Joint Chiefs chairman to meet with Saudi counterpart Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' despite 'Democrat' remark MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford were on Capitol Hill Tuesday for classified House and Senate briefings on last week's air strikes on Syria.

The pair, who spoke to lawmakers along with Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Russia-linked hackers hit Eastern European companies | Twitter shares data on influence campaigns | Dems blast Trump over China interference claims | Saudi crisis tests Silicon Valley | Apple to let customers download their data Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Lawmakers seeking intel on alleged Saudi plot against journalist MORE, sought to answer questions on the current U.S. role in Syria and the legal authority for the strikes.

But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed concern that the Trump administration has no clear outline for a larger U.S. strategy in Syria should Washington be drawn further into the warn-torn country.


The issue: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE and his defense officials have repeatedly stressed that defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria within the war-torn nation remains the goal and focus of the administration.

But the United States, along with allies the United Kingdom and France, launched 105 missiles Friday night at three targets related to Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical weapons program.

The strike was in response to a chemical attack launched by the Assad regime that killed at least 70 civilians in Duma, a suburb of the capitol Damascus, and was designed specifically to avoid further escalation that would drag the United States into the Syrian civil war, according to the administration.

Just days before the chemical attack, however, Trump was pushing his military advisors to withdraw from Syria, where U.S. troops are fighting ISIS, as soon as possible.


Lawmakers reaction: Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Five things to know about 'MBS,' Saudi Arabia's crown prince MORE (R-S.C.), emerged from the classified session telling reporters "everything" in the briefing made him "more worried, not less." Graham had advocated for Trump to destroy Assad's air force or even target Assad himself.

Rather, he said, the briefing confirmed for him that Trump is intent on withdrawing from Syria as soon as possible and that "there is no military strategy on the table" to deal with the influence of Russia and Iran inside Syria.


Key quote: "It seems to me that the president is going to pull out of Syria as soon as he can, and I believe that ISIS can never be destroyed unless there is a credible holding force, and some Americans need to be part of that holding force or else we learn nothing from Iraq," Graham said. "If you leave without an adequate holding force, they come back."


TRUMP DRAWS CRITICISM FROM BASE ON SYRIA: President Trump has drawn criticism from some of his most vociferous conservative supporters over his decision to again intervene militarily in Syria, highlighting the pressure on the president to retain a non-interventionist, "fortress America"-style foreign policy.

Conservatives wary of U.S. involvement overseas who liked Trump's criticism of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were deeply disappointed with his decision to launch missile strikes for a second time on Syria.


The big question: Is the public criticism indicative of a deeper schism?


POMPEO WATCH: CIA Director Mike Pompeo's nomination to lead the State Department is still on shaky grounds as of Tuesday.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said that he is undecided on Pompeo and that he is still waiting for some information from him.


Who has already said no: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he will not vote for Pompeo, as has Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms MORE (D-Va.), who announced his opposition Sunday.

In addition, Pompeo is facing opposition from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). 


Why it matters: Republicans hold a fragile 51-seat majority in the Senate. With Paul's opposition and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) absent, they are already one vote shy of the 50 they need to let Vice President Pence break a tie.

If Flake, who supported Pompeo's nomination to be CIA director, ultimately votes against him, that would require that Pompeo pick up at least two Democratic votes in order to be confirmed.


TRANSGENDER BAN UPDATE: The head of the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday said it will continue allowing transgender members to serve in the military branch until a policy officially bans transgender troops.

Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told lawmakers that the Coast Guard is "certainly committed" to transgender individuals' continued service in the branch.

Zukunft said that of the United States Coast Guard's more than 40,000 active-duty members, there are 17 known individuals who have identified as transgender or have transitioned into another sex -- one happens to serve on Zukunft's personal staff.

"I work with the chairman. I work with the other service chiefs as we look at the policy going forward. We will make sure that there is one policy for all service members," he said, adding that the issue still needs to be "reconciled" between all military branches.


Ban still on hold: Trump declared on Twitter last July that the Pentagon would "not accept or allow" transgender people to serve "in any capacity," but the policy is still facing several legal challenges, including several court orders to halt the ban.


federal judge ruled late Friday that the injunctions put in place to halt Trump's ban should remain in place.


HOUSE CHAIRMAN WANTS DEFENSE CUTS: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) on Tuesday unveiled a new set of reforms aimed at slashing the Pentagon's defense agencies budget by more than $25 billion by 2021. 

A group, which includes 28 agencies, field activities and military media outlets not directly under military services, makes up at least $100 billion of defense spending per year, according to Thornberry.

The House bill would look to impose a mandatory 25 percent spending cut for that group and in the process eliminate seven of the agencies: the Defense Technical Information Center, Defense Test Resource Management Center, Office of Economic Adjustment, Defense Technology Security Administration, Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Human Resources Activity and Washington Headquarters Services.

Should the 25 percent savings not be met by the January 2021 deadline, it would trigger an automatic 25 percent across-the-board cut.


Who is exempt: Thornberry noted that some combat support agencies are exempt from the cuts, and the Defense Health Agency, also in that group, would largely be untouched. 



The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on "Oversight and Reform of the Department of Defense '4th Estate'" at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on U.S. policy toward a turbulent Middle East at 10 a.m. at Rayburn 2172. 

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on "the Dayton Legacy and the Future of Bosnia and the Western Balkans," at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2200. 

Another House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Libya Fractured: The Struggle for Unity," at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2172. 

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on the fiscal 2019 budget for energy, installations and environment at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2212. 

A Senate Armed Services subpanel will hear from with Michael Griffin, Defense undersecretary for research and engineering, on accelerating new technologies to meet emerging threats at 2:30 p.m. at the Senate Russell Office Building, 232-A. 

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on the ground force modernization budget for 2019 at 3 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. 

A Senate Armed Service subpanel will hear from defense officials on Air Force modernization at 3:30 p.m. at Russell 222.  



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