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 TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants 'one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany' Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey 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 CorkerEx-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' Pollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump 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 HeitkampFormer senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes Pro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA MORE (D-N.D.), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight 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 Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Hillicon Valley: Trump unveils initiatives to boost 5G | What to know about the Assange case | Pelosi warns tech of 'new era' in regulation | Dem eyes online hate speech bill MORE (D-Va.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Dem chairs to meet with progressives on drug pricing | Oregon judge says he will block Trump abortion rule | Trump vows to 'smash the grip' of drug addiction | US measles cases hit post-2000 record The Higher Education Act must protect free speech Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 MORE (R-Tenn.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzAnti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Lawmakers, tech set for clash over AI MORE (D-Hawaii), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying The Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents MORE (R-Wis.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDems accuse White House of caving to Trump's 'ego' on Russian meddling Two dozen Dem senators urge Trump to extend nuclear treaty with Russia Live coverage: Barr faces Senate panel as he prepares release of Mueller report MORE (D-Md.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Facebook expects up to B FTC fine | DHS face scanning at airports sparks alarm | New Twitter tool targets election misinformation | Lawmakers want answers on Google 'Sensorvault' Dems accuse White House of caving to Trump's 'ego' on Russian meddling Kushner saying immigration plan will be 'neutral' on legal admissions: report MORE (R-Utah), and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family 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 InhofeGOP Armed Services chair 'no longer concerned' about training for border troops Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief MORE (R-Okla.), who is managing the NDAA, in the absence of Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden's sloppy launch may cost him Cindy McCain weighs in on Biden report: 'No intention' of getting involved in race Why did Mueller allow his investigation to continue for two years? 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 Reed Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal Barr says 'spying' took place on Trump campaign 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 GrangerGOP, Dems balk at latest Trump foreign aid cuts On The Money: Trump issues first veto, warning of 'reckless' resolution | US hits Russia with new sanctions | Dems renew push for contractor back pay | Lawmakers seek probe into undocumented workers at Trump businesses House Dems renew push for government contractor back pay MORE's (R-Texas) district.

 

NATO MEETING: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisPentagon watchdog clears acting Defense chief in ethics probe New 2020 candidate Moulton on hypothetical Mars invasion: 'I would not build a wall' Trump learns to love acting officials 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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