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 rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push 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 SandersIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge MORE (I-Vt.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity GOP senators split over antitrust remedies for big tech Fix the climate with smaller families MORE (R-Utah) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Trump officials say US efforts to deter Iran have worked Connecticut radio station rebrands itself 'Trump 103.3' MORE (D-Conn.).

In addition to Lee, 13 Republicans broke rank to advance the bill: Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderCollins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Senate chairman says bipartisan health care package coming Thursday It's time for Republicans to lead (again) on climate MORE (Tenn.), Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidySenate passes bill to undo tax increase on Gold Star military families Overnight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row | Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law | Ocasio-Cortez confronts CEO over K drug price tag Bipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills MORE (La.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Women's civil rights are not a state issue MORE (Maine), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' MORE (Tenn.), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesBullock: Running for Senate 'never really got me excited' Liberian immigrant among Dems planning challenges to GOP senator in Montana Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations MORE (Mont.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget Jeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump WANTED: A Republican with courage MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity Roger Stone considers suing to discover if he was spied on by FBI MORE (S.C.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls GOP senator calls for resolution of trade dispute: 'Farmers and ranchers are hurting' Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran MORE (Kansas), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCongress must press Interior secretary to act on climate change Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Women's civil rights are not a state issue MORE (Alaska), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending House Freedom Caucus votes to condemn Amash's impeachment comments Bolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran MORE (Ky.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget WANTED: A Republican with courage Companies warn Trump trade war is about to hit consumers MORE (Ohio), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight 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 WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (Pa.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungBipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills Pence, McConnell eulogize Sen. Richard Lugar On The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week 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 PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds MORE and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisPentagon reporters left in dark as Iran tensions escalate Trump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences 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 DurbinIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Muslim lawmakers host Ramadan iftar to break fast at Capitol Let's stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens 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 MarkeyGOP senator announces bill to block companies from tracking online activity Trump faces criticism for hosting Hungary's leader Bill Nye tees off on climate change skeptics: 'The planet is on f---ing fire!' 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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