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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 McCainJuan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE (R-Ariz.) proceeded Thursday, with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' 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 CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (Texas), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeProfiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers McSally concedes Arizona Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare front and center; transition standoff continues MORE (Ariz.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Social media responds to Harris making history: 'I feel like our ancestors are rejoicing' Ocasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (Hawaii), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Voters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (W.Va.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySupreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising Trump supporters demonstrate across the country following Biden-Harris win Merkley wins reelection in Oregon Senate race 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 GrahamClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Spokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome MORE (R-S.C.), and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: How members of the Armed Services committees fared in Tuesday's elections | Military ballots among those uncounted in too-close-to-call presidential race | Ninth US service member killed by COVID-19 Biden wins New Hampshire 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 PompeoO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Israeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report Biden's State Department picks are a diplomatic slam dunk 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 YoungShelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences Grassley quarantining after exposure to coronavirus Rick Scott to quarantine after contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (R-Maine), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE (D-Conn.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.), Jack ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE (D-R.I.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Biden rolls out national security team Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus MORE (D-Va.) and Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' 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 MattisProgressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper Talk grows of Trump firings at Pentagon, CIA 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 TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit 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'

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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