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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 McCainCindy McCain planning 'intimate memoir' of life with John McCain Trump-McConnell rift divides GOP donors Arkansas state senator says he's leaving Republican Party MORE (R-Ariz.) proceeded Thursday, with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden offers support to union organizing efforts Senate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Kavanaugh dismays conservatives by dodging pro-Trump election lawsuits 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 CorkerIt's time for Biden's Cuba GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand MORE (Tenn.), John CornynJohn CornynSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees MORE (Texas), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' MORE (Ariz.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandPentagon launches civilian-led commission to address military sexual assault Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed Lobbying world MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Trump lawyers center defense around attacks on Democrats MORE (Hawaii), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Brown vows Democrats will 'find a way' to raise minimum wage MORE (W.Va.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyProgressives fume over Senate setbacks Ex-Capitol Police chief did not get FBI report warning of violence on Jan. 6 Democrats want businesses to help get LGBT bill across finish line 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 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 GrahamPortman on Trump's dominance of GOP: Republican Party's policies are 'even more popular' Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents MORE (R-S.C.), and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators press Treasury to prioritize Tubman redesign Can Palestine matter again? Senate signals broad support for more targeted coronavirus relief checks 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 PompeoFive takeaways from CPAC 2021 Pompeo: Release of Khashoggi report by Biden admin 'reckless' Trump wins CPAC straw poll with 55 percent 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 YoungSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Collins urges Biden to revisit order on US-Canada border limits MORE (R-Maine), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees MORE (D-Conn.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinLiberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Senate strikes deal, bypassing calling impeachment witnesses Senators, impeachment teams scramble to cut deal on witnesses MORE (D-Md.), Jack ReedJack ReedCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video Senate Armed Services chair expects 'some extension' of troops in Afghanistan MORE (D-R.I.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsPompeo: Release of Khashoggi report by Biden admin 'reckless' Senate Democrat: Saudi relationship being 'recalibrated' Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWarner: White House should 'keep open additional sanctions' against Saudi crown prince Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week MORE (D-Va.) and Cory BookerCory BookerObama says reparations 'justified' Congressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill 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 MattisRejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs The GOP senators likely to vote for Trump's conviction 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 TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress 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