Overnight Defense: Senate rebukes Trump with Yemen vote | Mattis, Pompeo briefing fails to quell Senate concerns with Saudis | Graham demands CIA briefing on Khashoggi | Pentagon identifies three troops killed in Afghanistan

Overnight Defense: Senate rebukes Trump with Yemen vote | Mattis, Pompeo briefing fails to quell Senate concerns with Saudis | Graham demands CIA briefing on Khashoggi | Pentagon identifies three troops killed in Afghanistan
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

THE TOPLINE: The Senate sent a clear signal Wednesday to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump marks 'very sad milestone' of 100K coronavirus deaths DOJ: George Floyd death investigation a 'top priority' Lifting our voices — and votes MORE that it is unhappy with his Saudi Arabia policy.

In a 63-37 vote, the Senate advanced a resolution that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen's civil war.

The resolution was sponsored by Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden will help close out Texas Democrats' virtual convention: report Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Gabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton MORE (I-Vt.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThis week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting White House withdraws ATF nominee after GOP pushback Hillicon Valley: Commerce announces new Huawei restrictions | Russian meddling report round five | Google's ad business in spotlight MORE (R-Utah) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Congress eyes changes to small business pandemic aid Top Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump's ability to fire IGs MORE (D-Conn.).

In addition to Lee, 13 Republicans broke rank to advance the bill: Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSoured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day McConnell gives two vulnerable senators a boost with vote on outdoor recreation bill MORE (Tenn.), Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act MORE (La.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former NIC Director Greg Treverton rips US response; WHO warns of 'immediate second peak' if countries reopen too quickly MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRomney is only GOP senator not on new White House coronavirus task force McConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' MORE (Tenn.), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesPelosi pulls vote on FISA bill after Trump veto threat FISA 'reform': Groundhog Day edition Hillicon Valley: House FISA bill in jeopardy | Democrats drop controversial surveillance measure | GOP working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections MORE (Mont.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane Flake'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? The Memo: Can the Never Trumpers succeed? Former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake says he will not vote for Trump MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas MORE (S.C.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMemorial Day during COVID-19: How to aid our country's veterans Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns MORE (Kansas), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Republicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries MORE (Alaska), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump urges GOP to vote against bill reauthorizing surveillance powers Sunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Congress headed toward unemployment showdown MORE (Ky.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSoured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet On The Money: McConnell: Talking about fifth coronavirus bill 'in next month or so' | Boosted unemployment benefits on the chopping block | Women suffering steeper job losses from COVID-19 Kudlow: 0-per-week boost to unemployment benefits won't 'survive the next round of talks' MORE (Ohio), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general MORE (Pa.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungHillicon Valley: House FISA bill in jeopardy | Democrats drop controversial surveillance measure | GOP working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Lawmakers introduce bill to invest 0 billion in science, tech research MORE (Ind.).

No Democrats voted against advancing the bill.

What now: The vote Wednesday was to discharge the bill from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That means it's now available for action on the Senate floor. But it's unclear how that action will unfold.

The Senate is expected to delay any additional votes related to the resolution until next week as the chamber works through a slate of previously scheduled nomination votes. And senators are privately discussing amending the resolution on the Senate floor, which would set up the sort of unpredictable outcome GOP leadership likes to avoid.

White House fails: The vote came after a full-court press from the Trump administration to stop momentum for the resolution.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoChinese lawmakers approve law allowing for stricter crackdown on Hong Kong The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Overnight Defense: Trump ends sanctions waivers for Iran nuclear projects | Top Dems says State working on new Saudi arms sale | 34-year-old Army reservist ID'd as third military COVID-19 death MORE and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Trump wants troops in Afghanistan back stateside by Election Day: report 'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? MORE came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning to try to persuade senators against voting for the resolution. The Pentagon and State Department released their closed-door opening statements ahead of the briefing. Pompeo spoke to reporters after the briefing. And the White House issued a statement of administration policy less than an hour before the vote threatening to veto the resolution.

They argued that the resolution would undercut efforts to improve Saudi targeting in Yemen and kick-start peace talks.

And few people in the administration carry as much bipartisan respect than Mattis.

But none of that was enough. Senators said they found the arguments unconvincing. They were also upset that CIA Director Gina Haspel did not attend to answer questions about the intelligence assessment on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Where's Haspel?: Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinFrustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight MORE (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said that Mattis and Pompeo told senators it was a White House decision not to send Haspel to the briefing.

"We asked why Gina Haspel wasn't there, and the two who were there said that was the decision of the White House," Durbin said.

But the CIA says that's not so.

"While Director Haspel did not attend today's Yemen policy briefing, the agency has already briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and congressional leadership on the totality of the compartmented, classified intelligence and will continue to provide updates on this important matter to policymakers and Congress," CIA Press Secretary Timothy Barrett said in a statement later Wednesday. "The notion that anyone told Director Haspel not to attend today's briefing is false."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was particularly unhappy at Haspel's absence, threatening to withhold his vote on "key" items until someone from the CIA briefs the full Senate, including a must-pass spending bill and judicial nominations.

Was it MBS?: The main things senators wanted to hear from Haspel was whether the CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman order Khashoggi's killing, as has been reported.

Pompeo told reporters that U.S. intelligence has no "direct reporting" showing that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.

"I do believe I have read every piece of intelligence, unless it's come in in the last few hours," Pompeo said. "There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to kill Khashoggi. And that's all I can say in an unclassified setting."

Mattis later added that there is no "smoking gun" showing the crown prince was involved.

Outside groups cheer vote: Groups that have been desperate for the U.S. to end its military support in Yemen cheered Wednesday's vote as historic.

"Today's victory is a testament to the power of grassroots activism across the country to bring about change," Diane Randall, the Friends Committee on National Legislation's executive secretary, said in a statement. "This vote sets a historic precedent for future action Congress can take to reclaim its constitutional authority over war and end American involvement in wars around the world."

"This result sends a strong message today: the US public does not want to be complicit in Yemen's humanitarian crisis any longer," Scott Paul, Oxfam's humanitarian policy lead, said in a statement. "The Trump administration has made it clear they will placate an ally and business partner that is causing wanton suffering rather than save millions of Yemenis from violence, starvation, and preventable disease. Oxfam is calling on Congress to back up their words with a significant change in policy to cancel President Trump's blank check to Saudi Arabia."

"Even though this is a procedural vote, and the fight's not over, make no mistake: this is historic," Elizabeth Beavers, associate policy director at Indivisible, said in statement. "This is the first time that Congress has successfully moved forward to end this cruel war."

 

CASUALTIES IDENTIFIED: The Pentagon has identified the two U.S. soldiers and one airman killed Tuesday by an improvised explosive device (IED) in eastern Afghanistan while supporting the U.S.-led combat mission there, Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

Army Capt. Andrew Ross, 29, of Lexington, Va., Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Emond, 39, of Brush Prairie, Wash., and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin, 25, of Hookstown, Pa., were killed Nov. 27 when their vehicle was struck by an IED in Andar, Ghazni Province, according to a Defense Department statement.

Ross and Emond had been assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), based in Fort Bragg, N.C., while Elchin was assigned to the 26th Special Tactics Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Trump's frustrations: President Trump in recent weeks has made clear his frustration with the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, with officials speculating he will seek to remove troops from the Middle East ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Trump floated such an idea on Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post. He said he was only keeping a military presence in Afghanistan because "experts" told him that U.S. forces were still needed there, and he cited the lower price of oil as a reason to withdraw.

"Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel," Trump said. "Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we're producing more oil now than we've ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don't have to stay there."

Rush for talks: With Trump again mulling a troop withdrawal, a report came Wedneday that his special envoy for Afghanistan is rushing to set up peace talks.

NBC News reported that U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is moving rapidly to reach out to as many top Taliban figures as possible in an attempt to start peace talks before the president orders a troop pullout without an end to the conflict.

Two foreign diplomats and three former U.S. officials told NBC News that Khalilzad has moved beyond the official Taliban office in Qatar to meet other members of the militant group, including meetings in the United Arab Emirates.

One Western diplomat described Khalilzad's method as "testing all channels."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a daylong "China's Power: Up for Debate" conference starting at 8:15 a.m. Scheduled speakers include Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 Markey says EPA administrator should apologize to minorities for coronavirus response MORE (D-Mass.) and Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. https://bit.ly/2rbEEnf

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the nominees to be assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs and principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2B2qISp

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on U.S. policy in Syria with testimony from the State Department's special representative for Syria engagement at 2 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2TUJ2nO

 

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