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Overnight Defense: Questions mount over Trump's Iran tweet | House, Senate unveil compromise defense bill | Bill includes Russia sanctions waivers, limits on Turkey's access to F-35 | Endangered species measures dropped

Overnight Defense: Questions mount over Trump's Iran tweet | House, Senate unveil compromise defense bill | Bill includes Russia sanctions waivers, limits on Turkey's access to F-35 | Endangered species measures dropped
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Happy Monday 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: Another Monday, another scramble to interpret a Trump foreign policy tweet.

This time, it was President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE's late Sunday threat to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

"To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE," Trump tweeted in caps. "WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!"

Why the threat?: The tweet appeared to be in response to a statement Rouhani made earlier Sunday while talking to a group of diplomats in Tehran.

Americans, he said, "should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars."

Rouhani made the comments while talking about Iran's right to the Strait of Hormuz, according to state-run news agency IRNA.

Iran has long threatened to close the strait, through which about a third of all oil traded by sea passes. Recently, it has stepped up its threats in response to the Trump administration's plans to reimpose oil sanctions on the country lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal.

Bolton backs up boss: National security adviser John Bolton reinforced Trump's threats against Iran, warning that the country would "pay a price" if it acts negatively toward the United States.

"I spoke to the President over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before," Bolton said in a statement Monday morning.

Iran scoffs: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif replied with his own tweet mimicking the format of Trump's.

"COLOR US UNIMPRESSED: The world heard even harsher bluster a few months ago. And Iranians have heard them --albeit more civilized ones--for 40 yrs," Zarif tweeted. "We've been around for millennia & seen fall of empires, incl our own, which lasted more than the life of some countries. BE CAUTIOUS!"

Why now?: We're just two weeks away from when some sanctions lifted as part of the nuclear deal are set to be reimposed.

In May, Trump announced he was withdrawing from the Obama-era accord between the U.S., Iran, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

A first wave of U.S. sanctions are set to be re-imposed Aug. 6, while the rest are set to come back into force Nov. 4.

 

DEFENSE POLICY BILL NEGOTIATIONS WRAP UP: The House and Senate Armed Services committees have wrapped up negotiations on the annual defense policy bill and began unveiling details Monday afternoon.

The Senate committee's summary is here, while the House committee's is here.

Here's a few notable details:

Russia sanctions: The bill would set criteria for waiving sanctions on countries that have bought Russian weapons but now want to turn to U.S. arms.

A version of the provision was originally included in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) at the request of Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump shifts tone on Saudis | New pressure from lawmakers | Trump: 'Certainly looks' like Khashoggi dead | Pompeo gives Saudis days to wrap up investigation | Trump threatens military action on border to stop migrants Pentagon: We have not been asked to move troops to the border Mexico will ask UN for help handling refugee applications MORE, but it came under scrutiny last week after President Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In announcing the outcome of House and Senate negotiations, senior staffers for each chamber's Armed Services Committee stressed that they are not reducing sanctions on Russia.

"There is absolutely nothing in this conference report that reduces current sanctions on the government of Russia, a company, an entity or a person," a staffer told reporters Monday at a background briefing. "This has all been about, the Russian government has figured out a way to go in like the mafia and at very low cost, stranglehold some countries that we think -- from a diplomatic and interoperability perspective -- that we should have closer relationships with."

Relations with Turkey: Congress is looking to hold sales of F-35 joint strike fighters to Turkey until a new assessment on U.S.–Turkey relations, going against the wishes of Mattis.

The Pentagon would be required to submit a report to lawmakers on the "overall strategic relationship with Turkey," all foreign weapons sales to Ankara and Turkey's intended buy of the Russian-made S-400 long-range air-defense system, House Armed Services Committee senior aides told reporters Monday.

The report would be due within 90 days of the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), during which the Lockheed Martin-made jets would be held from the nation.

Mattis earlier this month asked lawmakers to not block the F-35 sale, warning that it could start a "supply chain disruption" that could push the price of the aircraft higher.

Sage grouse: The bill won't include proposed polices that would restrict Endangered Species Act protections for certain animals.

Lawmakers negotiating between House and Senate defense authorization bills decided not to include any of the endangered species provisions the House had put in its version of the legislation in the final version of the bill.

The House wanted to block potential endangered species protections for the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken for 10 years, and to permanently block protections for the American burying beetle.

A House Armed Services Committee GOP aide told reporters Monday that none of the endangered species protections were included in the final National Defense Authorization Act that both chambers will vote on.

Yemen civil war: The bill would put conditions on the U.S. refueling of Saudi Arabian and Emirati planes bombing Yemen.

The compromise NDAA retained and modified a provision from the Senate-passed version that would require the Saudi-led coalition to meet certain criteria before the U.S. military can refuel its planes.

"Yemen remains an area of intense interest and concern for our members, and we have aggressive oversight in the conference report," a senior staffer told reporters at a background briefing.

A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015. The United States has been supporting the Saudi campaign with billions of dollars in arms sales, intelligence sharing and logistics like air refueling.

ZTE: We already knew before Monday that the final bill would not include the Senate's language to block Trump's deal to revive Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE but would keep the House language blocking government contracting with the company.

On Monday, committee staffers provided a little explanation on why that is.

First, a staffer pushed back strongly against Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference MORE's (R-Fla.) assertion that the Senate's language was taken out to get a deal on a separate provision involving the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

"I will flat out say that that is inaccurate," the staffer said. "The conversations that occurred on every muscle movement in this conference report were handled on the merits of the individual case, and there was no cross dealing at all."

Asked further what reason the reason was then, the staffer said: "What we focused on is what was in the purview of the defense committees, which is we're clear that U.S. government should not be buying technology or equipment from Huawei, ZTE and there's two other countries. ...

"The other part of the conversation, the policy conversation -- and I'm really uninterested in getting into that here -- gets into a lot of trade issues that are outside the scope of what we do in this conference. But beyond that I would opining, and that would be unhelpful."

 

WILKIE GETS CONFIRMED: The Senate easily cleared President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday.

Senators voted 86-9 on Robert Wilkie's nomination to be the VA secretary.

Wilkie's confirmation gives the VA its first Senate-confirmed secretary since Trump fired David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinOvernight 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 Former VA chief Shulkin: 'Chaos' probably a 'pretty accurate term' to describe Trump White House Veterans group sues to block advisers known as ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ from influencing VA MORE in March amid months of controversy over allegations of misusing taypayer funds.

"I am confident that Robert Wilkie is the right leader because he has the expertise, the judgement and the character to take on the challenges that lie ahead and will bring stability and leadership to the VA. I look forward to working with him to help transform the VA into a department worthy of our veterans," Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally House conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week MORE (R-Ga.) said after the vote.

Notable noes: The nine "no" votes make Wilkie the first VA secretary to have senators vote against their nomination since the post was elevated to a cabinet-level position in 1989.

Democratic Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Biden: ‘Totally legitimate’ to question age if he runs in 2020 MORE (N.J.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein would 'absolutely' reopen Kavanaugh investigation if Dems win Senate Feinstein’s Dem challenger: 'It’s time that we stop biding our time and biting our tongue' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAffordable housing set for spotlight of next presidential campaign 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 Pentagon watchdog knocks top admiral for handling of sexual harassment case MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Booker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds Harris rolls out bill to create new middle class tax credit MORE (Calif.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyElection 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 Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Poll: Dem incumbent holds 5-point lead in Oregon governor's race Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE (Ore.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Booker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds MORE (Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (Ore.) and Independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBooker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds The Democratic Donald Trump is coming Biden: Trump administration 'coddles autocrats and dictators' MORE (Vt.) voted against the nomination.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

A House Homeland Security Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the deployment of the National Guard to the southern border at 2 p.m. at the House Capitol Visitor Center, room 210. https://bit.ly/2OdVZ9t

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on security, human rights and reform in Egypt with testimony from outside experts at 2 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2uK2GYU

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on China and economic coercion with testimony from outside experts at 2:30 p.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2uRRokl

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US commander: Challenge with North Korea is making progress despite lack of trust

-- The Hill: Pentagon put in bind after Trump-Putin summit

-- The Hill: Opinion: Time to acknowledge that sonic weapons are likely attacking US diplomats

-- Stars and Stripes: USS Fitzgerald junior officer enters no plea in arraignment for court-martial

-- Associated Press: After delays, former Iraqi translator will be US citizen

-- USA Today: Sexual assault study by base must be released by Pentagon, senators say