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Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war

Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war

Happy Thursday 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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: The series of remembrances for Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump: 'You know what I am? I'm a nationalist' Graham on Saudi Arabia: 'I feel completely betrayed' Meghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family MORE (R-Ariz.) proceeded Thursday, with former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenTrump: 'You know what I am? I'm a nationalist' Biden jokes about Obama memes: 'Barack did the first friendship bracelet, not me' 'Broad City' stars urge Clinton not to run again MORE (D) paying tribute to his longtime friend and international travel companion at an emotional memorial service in Arizona.

Biden spoke with passion and urgency as he recounted a brotherly friendship with McCain that spanned decades and withstood the pressures of the country's increasingly fractured political system. 

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The former Delaware senator, wiping away tears at times, said the country is wounded by McCain's death because he "made it easier for them to have confidence and faith in America."

"His faith in the core values of this nation made them somehow feel it more genuinely themselves," Biden said. "His conviction, that we as a country would never walk away from the sacrifices generations of Americans have made to defend liberty and freedom and human dignity around the world ... it made average Americans proud of themselves and their country."

 

The service: Hundreds of people attending the service at North Phoenix Baptist Church, including 24 sitting U.S. senators and four former senators: GOP Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia GOP-affiliated voters outperforming Democrats in key states’ early voting: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says he is cutting foreign aid over caravan | Lawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince | DNC chair downplays 'blue wave' talk MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown MORE (Texas), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Flake says he and his family got death threats 'from the right' Trump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona MORE (Ariz.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Booker bill would create federally funded savings account for every child Affordable housing set for spotlight of next presidential campaign MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoKavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight Chris Cuomo: Presumption of innocence didn't apply to Kavanaugh because it wasn't a court case Lindsey Graham hits Dem senator: 'The Hirono standard is horrific' MORE (Hawaii), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Early ballots pouring in with 15 days to the midterms Manchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia MORE (W.Va.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Graham: Saudi’s findings on slain journalist not 'credible' MORE (Ore.).

The two-hour memorial service emphasized McCain's appreciation for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, party affiliation, or gender.

Arizona Cardinals player Larry Fitzgerald Jr. said McCain evaluated other people "on the merits of their character and the contents of their hearts."

The ceremony ended with remarks written by Meghan McCain and read by the Rev. Joe GarciaJose (Joe) Antonio GarciaOvernight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service Mueller indictments: Congressional candidate asked Russian operatives for info on opponent MORE.

Frank Sinatra's "My Way" played as McCain's casket, draped in an American flag, was carried out of the church.

 

On to Washington: McCain will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol until a memorial service on Friday. A memorial service will also be held at the Washington National Cathedral the following day. His funeral will be held on Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

 

And Pence praises McCain in speech: Vice President Pence on Thursday praised the legacy of McCain in a speech to the American Legion, just days after the veterans group knocked President Trump for the White House's response to McCain's death.

The Washington Post reported that Pence spoke to a national conference of the American Legion in Minneapolis, where he highlighted McCain's service.

"He came from a long line of service in uniform," Pence said. "He served in the Vietnam War. He spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war, and he did not yield."

 

US CONSIDERS GUANTANAMO, IRAQ FOR ISIS FIGHTERS: The Trump administration is considering sending hundreds of captured ISIS fighters held in Syria to an Iraqi prison or the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, NBC News reported Monday.

Five U.S. officials told NBC that several of the highest-value fighters could possibly go to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Those detainees include Alexandar Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two Islamic State fighters who took part in killing Americans, including journalists James Foley Steven Sotloff, and other Western hostages.

 

The rundown: A group of about 600 ISIS fighters are currently being held by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in a rebel-controlled area of Syria, the U.S. officials confirmed.

The SDF, a majority Kurdish militia, do not have the resources to detain, prosecute or protect the detainees as it continues its fight against ISIS.

Complicating matters is the fact that many of the prisoners are foreign-born and there has been difficulty in convincing their home countries to repatriate them.

The administration's proposal would send most detainees to Iraq to be held in Iraqi prisons with Iraqi guards. The U.S. might keep the right to prosecute them if their home countries won't take them.

 

Lawmakers push back: The plan -- specifically sending new detainees to Guantanamo -- has drawn criticism from U.S. lawmakers, including Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia's myopia is the cause of the Khashoggi blunder Graham on Saudi Arabia: 'I feel completely betrayed' MORE (R-S.C.), and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen MORE (D-N.H.). In July, both visited the prison where the SDF is holding the fighters.

Shaheen, along with other congressional Democrats and human rights groups, says ISIS fighters suspected of murdering Americans should be tried in federal court instead of held indefinitely without charges.

Graham, meanwhile, said the two high-value ISIS prisoners should be sent to Guantanamo only as a temporary move before a possible trial in a civilian court in the U.S.

 

 SENATORS PRESS TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ON YEMEN: A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Trump administration to adhere to a recently signed law requiring certification that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are meeting certain humanitarian criteria or else cut off some U.S. military assistance.

The letter -- addressed to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoWarren wants probe into whether former U.S. soldiers worked as assassins for UAE Slain Saudi columnist upends 'Davos in the Desert' Koreas, UN Command pulling weapons, guard posts inside DMZ MORE -- is in response to the ongoing civil war in Yemen, which the senators say has led to a "humanitarian crisis" that will threaten U.S. interests as it continues.

 

Who signed it: The letter was organized by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungMnuchin pulls out of Saudi conference 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 Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (R-Maine), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGOP lawmaker demands ‘immediate recall’ of acting US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Conn.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dem senator: Trump accepts Saudi denials because he is 'enamored' with dictators Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Md.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedLawmakers press Trump to keep Mattis Overnight Defense: Trump asks Turkey for evidence on missing journalist | Key Dem calls for international probe | Five things to know about 'MBS' | Air Force struggles to determine cost of hurricane damage to F-22 jets Trump administration doesn't have ambassadors in Saudi Arabia or Turkey MORE (D-R.I.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineAmerica’s ball cap industry is in trouble Overnight 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 Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE (D-Va.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOn The Money: Trump to seek new round of tax cuts after midterms | Mnuchin meets with Saudi crown prince | Trump threatens to cut foreign aid over caravan Booker bill would create federally funded savings account for every child Big Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches MORE (D-N.J.).

 

What's at issue: A provision in the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires the administration to certify within 30 days that Saudi and UAE ARE helping to end Yemen's civil war, alleviate the humanitarian crisis and protect civilians.

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition in Yemen's civil war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels that began in 2015. The United States supports the coalition with intelligence sharing, logistics such as air refueling and billions of dollars in arms sales.

Under the NDAA, if the administration cannot make the certification, it must stop refueling coalition aircraft.

U.S. lawmakers' patience with the Saudi coalition has been wearing increasingly thin as the civilian death toll mounts. The deaths have largely been blamed on coalition airstrikes.

 

What the Pentagon says: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon insists Mattis, Trump 'completely aligned' on leaving arms treaty | Trump 'not satisfied' with Saudi explanation on Khashoggi | Kushner says US still 'fact-finding' A solid budget requires tradeoffs Pentagon: Trump, Mattis 'completely aligned' on Russia arms treaty withdrawal MORE told reporters earlier this week that he is "constantly reviewing" support to the coalition, but did not indicate it will stop any time soon.

"The reality is that that battlefield is a humanitarian field, and we recognize the tragedy there," Mattis said at a Pentagon briefing.

"But we did review the support for the Arab coalition when we came into office. As you know, it was started before we arrived here. We reviewed it, we determined that it was the right thing to do to support them in the defense of their own countries, but also to restore the rightful government there."

 

LAWMAKERS NEAR FINISH LINE ON DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS: The Senate and the House in September will attempt to merge competing defense appropriations bills once the House returns from its August recess after Labor Day.

It's an effort to get the Pentagon funded before the start of the fiscal year for the first time in years.

 

The background: The House passed its version of the $675 billion Pentagon spending bill in June, while the Senate followed in August.

But the Senate's bill was combined with the spending bill for the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services, potentially complicating bicameral negotiations since the Senate wants to keep the two bills married.

This year, Congress made strides in getting the Pentagon funded on time by passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the start of the fiscal year for the first time in 20 years. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE signed the bill into law earlier this month, marking the earliest the bill has become law in 40 years.

But the NDAA is a policy bill, not a spending bill, meaning the dollar numbers it authorizes can't become reality until Congress passes the finalized appropriations bill.

 

A time crunch: Congress, though, is facing a legislative time crunch, as it only has until Sept. 30 to pass legislation to avoid a government shutdown, which would be the third of the year.

Another complicating factor is Trump's threat last month to shut down the government if he does not get funding for his proposed wall on the southern border.

We've got more on what to watch for on defense this fall

 

ICMYI

-- The Hill: McMaster: McCain's legacy should 'bring Americans together'

-- The Hill: Convicted leaker Reality Winner: I can't thank Trump enough for tweet

-- The Hill: Pompeo, Russian counterpart mull meeting at UN: report

-- The Hill: UN watchdog: Iran is complying with nuclear deal

-- The Hill: Opinion: America needs to face ongoing Russian assault on democracy

-- Defense News: Former NATO leaders call for new headquarters to be named after Sen. John McCain