Overnight Defense: Senators offer bill to curb Trump's tariff power | Bill could get vote in defense bill debate | House panel unveils $674.6B Pentagon spending bill | Mattis says tariffs won't hurt NATO ties

Overnight Defense: Senators offer bill to curb Trump's tariff power | Bill could get vote in defense bill debate | House panel unveils $674.6B Pentagon spending bill | Mattis says tariffs won't hurt NATO ties
© Greg Nash

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: Bucking President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE's opposition, a bipartisan group of senators moved forward Wednesday with a proposal to limit his power to levy tariffs on national security grounds.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.) is leading the effort.

"If the president truly believes invoking Section 232 is necessary to protect the United States from a genuine threat, he should make the case to Congress and to the American people and do the hard work necessary to secure congressional approval," Corker said in a statement announcing the bill.

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Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments McConnell's Democratic challenger says she likely would have voted for Kavanaugh MORE (D-N.D.), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand On The Money: Fed chief warns of 'unthinkable' harm if debt ceiling breached | Powell basks in bipartisan praise amid Trump attacks | Federal deficit jumps to 7 billion Fed chief basks in bipartisan praise as lawmakers dismiss Trump attacks MORE (D-Va.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Republicans make U-turn on health care Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid MORE (R-Tenn.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzBottom Line Harris, Schatz have highest percentage of non-white staff among Senate Democrats Democrats celebrate announcement on citizenship census question MORE (D-Hawaii), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonEx-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker takes job as president of conservative group, won't seek office soon Democratic Senate hopes hinge on Trump tide GOP senator presses Instagram, Facebook over alleged bias in content recommendations MORE (R-Wis.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment Republicans say they're satisfied with 2020 election security after classified briefings MORE (D-Md.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeLiberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act exposes Silicon Valley's hollow diversity slogans Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command MORE (R-Utah), and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE (R-Ariz.) are also supporting the bill.

What the bill does: The bill would require Trump to submit tariffs implemented under Section 232 of the trade law for approval to Congress. Any approval legislation would then have a 60-day window to be fast-tracked through both chambers.

The requirement would apply to all future Section 232 action, as well as retroactively for the past two years.

Earlier: Corker filed the bill despite a call from Trump earlier in the day asking him not to do so.

"I talked at length with the president about it today. He's obviously not pleased with this effort," Corker told reporters.

Corker said that the two had a "fairly lengthy" conversation about the forthcoming legislation. Asked if Trump was objecting to the legislation, Corker added: "Oh yeah."

Pressed if the talk with the president was "tense," Corker demurred, saying that they had a "heartfelt conversation."

Will it be in the defense bill?: Corker has pointed to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as one potential vehicle for his tariff legislation. But getting the bill brought up as an amendment to the defense policy bill would require the consent of every senator.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThis week: House Democrats voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt House and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran MORE (R-Okla.), who is managing the NDAA, in the absence of Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Lindsey Graham: 'Graham wants to bring back 1950s McCarthyism' Meghan McCain knocks Lindsey Graham for defending Trump's tweets: 'This is not the person I used to know' MORE (R-Ariz.), said he thought Corker would ultimately be able to get a vote.

"I think it will. In fact, I told Corker that I would not object to it," Inhofe said, while noting he would vote against the amendment.

Asked if he thought Corker's bill should get a vote as part of the NDAA, Cornyn said the Senate should have an "open amendment process."

"It's the source of a lot of frustration here among members when people are denied an opportunity to vote. Back in the good old days ... we used to have [a] much more open amendment process," he said.

But the process for setting up roll call votes on amendments to the NDAA has ground to a halt in recent years as senators object to a vote on any amendment unless they can also get a vote on their own proposals.

Cornyn noted on Wednesday that there are already objections to amendments as lawmakers jockey for leverage, which could complicate Corker's quest to add his tariff legislation to the defense policy bill.

 

DEFENSE BILL WATCH: The Senate Wednesday slowly but surely turned toward its NDAA. But again, don't expect a vote until at least next week.

Just in time for the floor debate, the full bill text was released Wednesday morning. You can dig into all 1,140 pages here.

Here's a few interesting aspects in the meantime:

Spying on Russians: The bill would authorize the Pentagon to conduct surveillance on individuals conducting hacking or disinformation campaigns on behalf of the Russian government – a clear reference to Moscow's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The bill's contents reflect a growing interest by committee lawmakers in codifying and expanding the Pentagon's authorities and operations in cyberspace, at a time when digital threats from nation states and other malicious actors abound.

The Russia-related provisions also demonstrate an effort by lawmakers to involve the military in responding in various ways to cyberattacks from Moscow – including those that aim to meddle in U.S. political affairs.

Russia, China in general: The bill addresses "China's militarization in the South China Sea and deterring Russia's military aggression and cyber attacks," Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said on the Senate floor as the full chamber began consideration of the bill.

Inhofe has taken over as head of the Armed Services panel while Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is at home receiving treatment for brain cancer.

Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedPentagon chief nominee: 'We need to get back on the diplomatic channel' with Iran Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment MORE (D-R.I.) said the bill "reflects that strategic shift towards prioritizing the strategic competition with Russia and China."

"It supports the president's budget request for resources to deter, and if necessary, defend against aggression from near-peer competitors," Reed said.

 

DEFENSE SPENDING WATCH: While the defense policy bill works its way through the upper chamber, the lower chamber is making progress on the defense spending bill.

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday unveiled its $674.6 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2019.

The bill would provide $606.5 billion in base discretionary funding, which is about $900 million less than the Trump administration requested but $17.1 billion more than this year's spending level.

The bill would also provide $68.1 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

Troops, equipment: The money would pay for a boost of 15,600 troops across the military and a 2.6 percent pay raise for service members, both matching what was requested by the administration.

The bill would also provide $145.7 billion for equipment purchases and upgrades. That's split $133 billion for base requirements -- or $2.5 billion more than requested -- and $12.7 billion in OCO.

The procurement money includes $22.7 billion for 12 new Navy ships, two more ships than the administration requested. The two extra ships are littoral combat ships, which Congress continues to support buying -- despite the Navy's plan to transition away from the ship -- so that shipyards keep working and will be able to keep pace on future orders.

The bill would also fund a slew of aircraft, including $9.4 billion for 93 F-35 fighter jets and $1.9 billion for 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft.

About those planes: Ninety-three F-35s are 16 more than the administration requested.

It's also more than House and Senate authorizers thought necessary. The House NDAA followed the administration's request for 77 F-35s, while the Senate NDAA has 75 of the jets.

The F-35 is built by Lockheed Martin in defense appropriations subcommittee Chairwoman Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerLobbying world House approves bill increasing federal worker pay House approves 3 billion spending package MORE's (R-Texas) district.

 

NATO MEETING: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Five things to watch for at Defense nominee's confirmation hearing MORE is en route to a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, where he's expected to push allies to bulk up military readiness.

On his way there, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters he does not believe European and Canadian anger over U.S. tariffs will hurt military relations within NATO, The Associated Press reported.

"Right now, I don't see that," Mattis said.

Asked whether he thinks the tariffs will hurt security ties with NATO partners, including Canada, Mattis also said he thinks it's premature to call the tariffs a trade war.

View from Brussels: Ahead of the meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he expects allies to agree to the U.S. plan to boost readiness even as he cautioned about "serious disagreements" among members over President Trump's tariffs, withdrawal from the Iran deal and exit from the Paris climate accord.

"These are serious difference between NATO allies," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a new conference in Brussels. "At the same time, we have to remember that we have seen differences before, all the way back to the 1950s where NATO allies disagreed on the Suez crisis or when France decided to leave the command structure in the 1960s or the Iraq War in 2003.

"So it's nothing new that there are difference between NATO allies, and what we have seen again and again is that we have been able to unite around NATO's core task to protect and defend each other despite those difference."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee will mark up the fiscal 2019 defense spending bill behind closed doors at noon. https://bit.ly/2kRAxcY

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on U.S. business investment and trade in the Americas with testimony from outside experts at 2 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2kTuftv

Another House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on human rights in Vietnam with testimony from outside experts at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2200. https://bit.ly/2sBdhnY

 

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