Overnight Defense: Trump tells veterans he will 'stand up for America' | McConnell, Ryan say Putin not welcome on Capitol Hill | Mattis tries to explain Trump's Iran tweet

Overnight Defense: Trump tells veterans he will 'stand up for America' | McConnell, Ryan say Putin not welcome on Capitol Hill | Mattis tries to explain Trump's Iran tweet
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Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.


THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE on Tuesday addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, pledging to "stand up for America" as he faces criticism for appearing too deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We don't apologize for America anymore. We stand up for America. We stand up for the patriots who defend America," Trump told military veterans inside a roughly half-full Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City.

Trump spoke for nearly an hour in remarks that began with a focus on the military and veterans, but occasionally hewed closer to his more heated rhetoric at campaign rallies. 

All over the place: As the event progressed, the president touted his protectionist trade policies, hit Democrats for their criticism of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and took a jab at the press in attendance.

After running through a list of military equipment upgrades covered in the latest spending bills, Trump ratcheted up his rhetoric against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), labeling the terrorist organization a group of "blood-thirsty killers."

Trump touted other initiatives including reforms of the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs (VA) administration. He praised newly minted VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who was in attendance one day after being confirmed by the Senate.

Trump said a new VA whistleblower law allows the government to more easily get rid of employees accused of misconduct.

"We can look them in the eye and say you're fired. Get out!" the president said to a round of applause.

On his Iran tweet…: Trump briefly acknowledged his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, but did not address his all-caps tweet on Sunday in which he warned that Iran could face extreme consequences for threatening the U.S.

That 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."

No mention of Russia: Trump during his speech also made no mention of his efforts to make peace with Moscow. Upon landing in Kansas City, the president had sent a tweet saying he's "concerned" that Russia may interfere in this year's midterms in an effort to help Democrats. 

Trump has spent the past week enduring criticism for his meeting with Putin, where the U.S. president cast doubt on the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

He has since attempted to clarify those remarks and express confidence in his intelligence officials, but undermined those efforts when he said others could have meddled as well, and labeled Russian interference "a big hoax."

Bragged of progress with North Korea: Trump also touted his efforts to strike a nuclear agreement with North Korea, saying footage has emerged showing that Pyongyang has dismantled a key missile site.

The president added that remains of U.S. service members, another key point of negotiations with the country, would be coming home "very soon." Trump has in the past suggested that process had already begun.


MATTIS TRIES TO DECIPHER TRUMP: Trump's unexpected threat against Iran earlier this week was meant to make clear to Tehran "that they're on the wrong track," Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE said Tuesday.

"I think what we have to look at is the destabilizing influence that Iran has consistently displayed and demonstrated throughout the region," Mattis said at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif.

The background: Trump late Sunday surprised many when he issued an all-caps tweet directed at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.


Mattis' explanation: Mattis said he believes "the president was making very clear that they're on the wrong track." 

"The only reason that the murderer [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is still in power -- the primary reason -- is because Iran has stuck by him, reinforced him, funded him," said Mattis, who was in California to meet with Australian officials along with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHaley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris MORE.

"We see the same kind of malfeasance down in Yemen where they're fomenting more violence down there. We've seen their disruptive capabilities demonstrated from Bahrain to the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], and it's time for Iran to shape up and show responsibility as a responsible nation."

Mattis added: "[Iran] cannot continue to show irresponsibility as some revolutionary organization that is intent on exporting terrorism, exporting disruption across the region."

Closer to conflict? Neither Mattis nor Pentagon spokespeople have said whether the military would be adjusting its forces in the region to deal with any fallout from Trump's tweet, including bolstering protections.

Pentagon spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarich told The Hill Monday that U.S. forces "are more than capable at defending themselves should the need arise."

And no change toward Russian military Syria: Mattis also said Tuesday that the U.S. military has not changed its stance on Russian forces in Syria since the Helsinki summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mattis added that the Defense Department will not be doing anything different until Pompeo and Trump "have further figured out at what point we're going to start working alongside our allies with Russia in the future."

"That has not happened yet and it would be premature for me to go into any more detail at this point."


PUTIN NOT WELCOME ON CAPITOL HILL: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Schumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda Hoyer says Dec. 15 is drop-dead deadline to hike debt ceiling MORE (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be invited to the U.S. Capitol, as the White House is working to set up a second meeting between Trump and Putin in Washington, D.C.

"I can only speak for the Congress. The speaker and I have made it clear that Putin will not be welcome up here, at the Capitol," McConnell told reporters, asked about the White House's plan to invite Putin to the United States.

Ryan seconds that: House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Wis.) said separately on Tuesday that "we will certainly not be giving him an invitation to do a joint session."

Congressional leadership has previously extended invitations for foreign leaders traveling to Washington to visit Capitol Hill. French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, delivered an address before Congress during his trip to D.C. in April.

But the vocal opposition from GOP leadership to Putin visiting the Capitol marks another break between congressional Republicans and the White House when it comes to Russia.

Latest from Trump on Russia: Trump sparked widespread bipartisan backlash last week when he refused to condemn Russia's meddling in the 2016 election during a press conference with Putin in Helsinki.

"I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," he told reporters during the press conference. "I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia.

Trump tried to walk back his comments from the White House, saying he meant to say didn't see a reason it "wouldn't" be Russia. He added that he accepted the intelligence community's findings that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election.

But he appeared to reverse course over the weekend, calling Russia's election meddling a "big hoax." He added on Tuesday that Russia could meddle in the 2018 election but "will be pushing very hard for the Democrats."

And Dems ask for briefing on private Trump-Putin meeting: A trio of top Democrats is requesting administration officials brief their committees by noon Thursday on what happened in Trump's private meeting with Putin.

The ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees on Tuesday made the request in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsAn independent commission should review our National Defense Strategy Overnight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race MORE.

Reps. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell NYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney MORE (D-N.Y.), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithSenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo On steel and aluminum trade, Trumpism still rules Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon vows more airstrike transparency MORE (D-Wash.) and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth Jan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back MORE (D-Calif.),"have profound concerns over what was said privately and would appreciate the opportunity to discuss with each of you the national security matters that were discussed, including Russia; its illegal occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea; ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine; ongoing sanctions policy towards Russia; Syria; the U.S. commitment to NATO and Article 5; counterterrorism cooperation; strategic stability and arms control; and China."



The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hold an open hearing on the nominations of retired Vice Adm. Joseph Maguire to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center and Ellen McCarthy to be assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research at the State Department at 9:30 a.m. at the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. 

A House Homeland Security Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the state of federal cybersecurity risk determination at 10:30 a.m. at the House Capitol Visitor Center, room 210. 

Two House Oversight subcommittees will hold a hearing to review cybersecurity challenge areas highlighted by the Government Accountability Office at 2 p.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2154.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on American diplomacy to advance our national security strategy at 2:30 p.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. 



-- The Hill: Keeping Reagan alive in Trump's D.C.

-- The Hill: Two American citizens accused of fighting for ISIS transferred back to US

-- The Hill: Cyber warfare policy included in final version of annual defense policy bill

-- The Hill: Cornyn: Trump should put second Putin meeting on 'back burner'

-- The Hill: Graham, Menendez crafting bill to crack down on Russia

-- The Hill: Senate unveils series of hearings on Russia 

-- The Hill: Iran warns of 'equal countermeasures' if US blocks oil exports

-- The Hill: Images suggest North Korea dismantling launch site

-- GQ: The Untold Story of Otto Warmbier, American Hostage

-- Stars and Stripes: French general: At least 2 to 3 months of fighting remains in Syria to end ISIS caliphate

-- Defense News: Tactical nuclear weapon launches into development with Pentagon policy bill