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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 McCainMeghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Arizona AG Mark Brnovich launches Senate challenge to Mark Kelly Arizona Democrats launch voter outreach effort ahead of key Senate race MORE (R-Ariz.) proceeded Thursday, with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president 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 CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynBipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal McConnell: 'Good chance' for infrastructure deal after talks unravel MORE (Texas), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Trump looms large over fractured Arizona GOP Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump MORE (Ariz.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Top general: Military justice overhaul proposed by Gillibrand 'requires some detailed study' Cher apologizes for confusing Sinema, Gillibrand MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoWhite House gets back to pre-COVID-19 normality Biden signs anti-Asian hate crimes bill into law House sends anti-Asian hate bill to Biden's desk MORE (Hawaii), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy the Democrats need Joe Manchin Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives MORE (W.Va.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyChicago police officer arrested for role in Capitol riot Democrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' EPA chief emphasizes staffing, environmental justice in Appropriations testimony 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 GarciaJoe Antonio GarciaFormer Florida congressman fined 6K in campaign finance scheme 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 Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service 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 GrahamGOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Lindsey Graham: Dismissal of Wuhan lab leak theory cost Trump 2020 election Tim Scott: Could be 'very hard' to reach police reform deal by June deadline MORE (R-S.C.), and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US White House briefed on bipartisan infrastructure deal but says questions remain 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 PompeoMike Pompeo Sunday shows preview: Infrastructure expected to dominate as talks continue to drag The triumph and tragedy of 1989: Why Tiananmen still matters Pence slams Biden agenda in New Hampshire speech 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 YoungBipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Senate passes long-delayed China bill Five key parts of the Senate's sweeping China competitiveness bill MORE (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWhy the Democrats need Joe Manchin White House briefed on bipartisan infrastructure deal but says questions remain Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal MORE (R-Maine), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyAntsy Democrats warn of infrastructure time crunch 'The era of bipartisanship is over': Senate hits rough patch Senate gun background check talks hit wall MORE (D-Conn.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinAntsy Democrats warn of infrastructure time crunch 'SECURE 2.0' will modernize retirement security for the post-COVID American workforce Bipartisan group of senators introduces surface transportation bill MORE (D-Md.), Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Biden taps tech CEO, former destroyer commander to lead Navy Top general: Military justice overhaul proposed by Gillibrand 'requires some detailed study' MORE (D-R.I.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Bipartisan senators introduce bill to protect small businesses from cyberattacks China conducts amphibious landing drill near Taiwan after senators' visit MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military Democrats try to pin down Manchin on voting rights MORE (D-Va.) and Cory BookerCory BookerTeen who filmed Floyd murder awarded honorary Pulitzer Senate confirms first Muslim American federal judge Police reform negotiations enter crucial stretch 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 MattisBiden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs 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 TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president 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

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-- 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