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Overnight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes

Overnight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes
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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. If you don't get our newsletter, CLICK HERE to subscribe.

 

THE TOPLINE: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' Joint Chiefs chairman to meet with Saudi counterpart Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' despite 'Democrat' remark MORE on Tuesday brushed off reports that he might leave the Trump administration later this year.

"I wouldn't take it seriously at all," Mattis told reporters, advising them to "keep a sense of humor about it."

"How many times have been through this, now, just since I've been here?" Mattis said. "It will die down soon, and the people who started the rumor will be allowed to write the next rumor, too."

"Just the way the town is," he added.

The backstory: Mattis's comments came days after The New York Times reported that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE was mulling replacing Mattis after the November midterm elections with someone who was most vocally supportive of his policies.

The report, which cited multiple current and former officials, noted that Mattis and Trump have butted heads over a number of issues, including barring transgender Americans from serving in the military and ceasing military exercises in South Korea.

Speculation grew that tensions between the two were worsening after an excerpt from journalist Bob Woodward's book emerged earlier this month, quoting Mattis likening Trump's grasp of the situation on the Korean peninsula to that of a "fifth or sixth grader."

But Mattis insists he's here to stay: Mattis categorically denied having made the statement, calling Woodward's reporting on him "fiction." Trump later praised Mattis's response and also dismissed the book as fictional.

When asked Tuesday if he ever thought about leaving his position, Mattis responded, "Of course I don't think about leaving, I love it here."

"I'm thinking about retiring here, getting a little place down on the Potomac," he quipped.

 

POLISH PRESIDENT FLOATS 'FORT TRUMP': The president of Poland on Tuesday floated naming a proposed U.S. military base in his country "Fort Trump."

"I said that I would very much like for us to set up permanent American bases in Poland, which we would call Fort Trump," Polish President Andrzej Duda said through a translator during a joint press conference with Trump on Tuesday.

Poland has offered to pay $2 billion for a permanent U.S. military base in its country as a buttress against a resurgent Russia.

Why it matters: Right now, U.S. troops have a rotational presence in Poland. Supporters of having a permanent presence argue it would send a stronger message to Russia than the rotational troops.

The annual defense policy bill signed into law last month requires the Pentagon to assess the feasibility and advisability of a permanent military base in Poland.

Trump's stance: Trump said he is "very seriously" considering Poland's proposal.

"We're looking at it very seriously," Trump said ahead of his meeting with Duda. "I know Poland likes the idea very much. And it's something that we are considering, yes."

In the joint press conference with Duda, Trump added that he shares Duda's view on Russian aggression.

"I think it's a very aggressive situation. I think Russia has acted aggressively," Trump said. "I am with the president. I feel that he is right, and I feel that, look you look at the history of Poland and Russia, that's a long and very complicated history, so [he] certainly has a right to feel that way."

 

DEMS SEEK TO BAN LOW-YIELD NUKES: A group of House Democrats and a Senate Democrat introduced a bill Tuesday that would ban the Trump administration's plans for a so-called low-yield nuclear weapon.

"We should not fund President Trump's request for new low-yield nuclear weapons," House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHillicon Valley: Russia-linked hackers hit Eastern European companies | Twitter shares data on influence campaigns | Dems blast Trump over China interference claims | Saudi crisis tests Silicon Valley | Apple to let customers download their data Dems blast Trump for 'conflating' Chinese, Russian election interference claims On The Money: McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' | Trump calls Fed his 'biggest threat' | US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

"His proposal dangerously lowers the threshold to nuclear use and siphons money away from genuine military readiness needs."

Who's behind the bill: Smith introduced the bill in the House alongside Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu (Calif.), John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security MORE (Calif.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda Marijuana and the midterms MORE (Ore.). Democratic Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyElection Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda MORE (Mass.) introduced the Senate version of the bill.

What the Trump administration wants: The administration's Nuclear Posture Review called for the development of a low-yield nuclear warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The administration argues it needs such a weapon for deterrence purposes, as adversaries might think the United States would never use its current arsenal.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law last month authorizes the development of a low-yield warhead. The Energy Department spending bill passed last week would allocate $65 million for the project.

What the Democratic bill would do: The bill introduced Tuesday would repeal the section of the NDAA authorizing the warhead and instead ban any funding from being used for "the research and development, production or deployment of the Trident D5 low-yield nuclear warhead."

Opponents of the plan, including Democratic lawmakers and arms control groups, argue it is too costly, could spark a new nuclear arms race and could lead to a greater willingness to use nuclear weapons if officials believe "low-yield" is less destructive.

Stay tuned?: The legislation is unlikely to get a vote in a Republican-controlled Congress. Smith, though, has said curbing Trump's nuclear weapons plans would be one of his priorities if Democrats take back control of the House in the midterm elections and he becomes Armed Services Committee chairman. 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette will speak at the Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare Breakfast Series at 7 a.m. at the AUSA headquarters in Arlington, Va.

Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan and other defense leaders will speak at the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. 

 

ICYMI

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-- The Hill: South Korean president arrives in Pyongyang for meeting with Kim Jong Un

-- The Hill: Opinion: With North Korea at a crossroads, Kim hosts another summit

-- The Hill: Win the trade war with China to deter a real war

-- Defense News: New Space Force price tag fuels Capitol Hill skeptics

-- Reuters: Syria's Idlib spared attack, Turkey to send in more troops