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 TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could 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 CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy 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 HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction 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 WarnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears Steel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs Drama hits Senate Intel panel’s Russia inquiry MORE (D-Va.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderCongress must move forward on measure dealing with fentanyl GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees Key doctors group faces political risks on guns MORE (R-Tenn.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzOvernight Health Care: Push for cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill | Court lets Dems defend ObamaCare | Flu season not as severe as last year, CDC says Dems unveil bill to let VA doctors prescribe medical marijuana David Hogg: GOP's plan to deal with climate change is 'thoughts and prayers' MORE (D-Hawaii), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate USCIS child marriage report: Laws that do not value girls are baked into our system MORE (R-Wis.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Senate buzz grows for Abrams after speech electrifies Dems Abrams offers progressive counterpoint to Trump in Dem response MORE (D-Md.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Push for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 New act can help us grapple with portion of exploding national debt MORE (R-Utah), and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger 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 InhofeOn The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency Foreign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' MORE (R-Okla.), who is managing the NDAA, in the absence of Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona 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 ReedWhy Democrats are pushing for a new nuclear policy GOP chairman: US military may have to intervene in Venezuela if Russia does Trump gears up to meet North Korean leader amid low expectations 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 GrangerWinners and losers in the border security deal House passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency On The Money: Lawmakers race to pass border deal | Trump rips 'stingy' Democrats, but says shutdown would be 'terrible' | Battle over contractor back pay | Banking panel kicks off data security talks MORE's (R-Texas) district.

 

NATO MEETING: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents Does ‘limited war’ mean limited risks for aggressors? US-led coalition says it struck Syrian mosque used by ISIS 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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