Overnight Defense: Trump, Dem leaders fight before cameras over border wall | GOP skeptical of having military build wall | US spars with Russia, Venezuela over bomber deployment

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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE on Tuesday engaged in an extraordinary argument with Democratic congressional leaders over government funding, threatening a partial shutdown if his demands for border wall money are not met.  

"I am proud to shut down the government for border security," Trump told House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Lawmakers 'failed us' says ICE chief Pelosi, Democratic leaders seek to quell liberal revolt over border bill MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' MORE (D-N.Y.) during a contentious, 17-minute exchange inside the Oval Office.

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"I will take the mantle," the president added. "I will be the one to shut it down, I'm not going to blame you for it." 

A contentious exchange: Trump's vehemence left Pelosi and Schumer exasperated, with both leaders pleading with the president not to debate the funding request in front of the news media.

"Unfortunately, this has spiraled downward," Pelosi said, after arguing with the president over the need for a border wall and whether Republicans have the votes to pass wall funding through the House. 

"It's not bad, Nancy. It's called transparency," Trump shot back after one objection from Pelosi, who appeared to anger the president when she accused him of wanting a "Trump shutdown" over the wall.

New doubts: The combative exchanged raised fresh doubts about whether Trump and Congress can avert a partial government shutdown by the Dec. 21 funding deadline, as both sides appeared unwilling to give ground on their border-security positions.

Tuesday also marked the first time Trump huddled with Schumer and Pelosi since the midterm elections. The spat provided a glimpse of what divided government could be like for the president when Democrats take control of the House next year.

Trump sought to heighten the drama surrounding the funding dispute. The meeting was scheduled to be closed to the press but the White House unexpectedly opened it to reporters just as Pelosi and Schumer were arriving at the White House.

After the meeting concluded, Schumer said Trump will shoulder all the blame if the government does shut down. 

Having the military build the wall? Trump began the day by making his case on Twitter for why a wall is needed. But he also dialed back his demand for full funding suggesting the military could build parts of it.

Democrats said Trump does not have the legal authority to use the military to build the border wall.

To the extent that he could do so at all, it would be reckless and irresponsible to waste national security resources on a border wall that is nothing more than in-kind contribution to his re-election campaign," said Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyCongress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break House Dems at odds with Senate in .5 billion border bill House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill MORE (D-N.Y.), who is expected to claim the gavel of the House Appropriations Committee next year.

Senate Democrats have noted that earlier this year, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisNew Defense chief: Our 'priorities remain unchanged' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE testified he did not have the authority to provide funds for a wall.

Republicans are skepticalRepublican lawmakers themselves are skeptical of Trump's plan to have the military build the wall or repurpose defense funds to pay for it. 

Trump had previously floated in private conversations with GOP lawmakers the idea of repurposing defense funding to help build the wall, but the idea was greeted with skepticism, according to Senate GOP sources.

"There was a discussion of it, but on the question of how to work it there are a lot of closed doors," said a GOP lawmaker familiar with internal discussions about repurposing defense funding to build the wall. 

GOP lawmakers worry that agreeing with Trump's plan would cede significant spending authority to the executive branch and set a bad precedent. They are also concerned about how it might impact defense spending priorities. 

"What would [the Defense Department] give up to pay for that?" said the GOP lawmaker. "That's the question."

Here are more stories on the border wall debate from The Hill:

-- Trump: Border wall needed to stop 'tremendous medical problem' coming into US

-- Pelosi mocks Trump on wall: 'It's like a manhood thing for him'

-- Trump makes border wall pitch ahead of key meeting with Democratic leaders

-- Pressure builds as Pelosi, Schumer, Trump meet over border wall demands

-- CBP chief defends use of tear gas at border during 'difficult situation'

 

RUSSIA, VENEZUELA LASH OUT AFTER US CRITICIZES BOMBER DEPLOYMENT: Moscow and Caracas on Tuesday derided U.S. criticisms of Russia sending two nuclear capable bombers to Venezuela, which has been in crisis as its economy implodes.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Monday announced that it had sent two Tu-160 supersonic bombers to the Maiquetia airport outside Caracas, along with a heavy-lift An-124 Ruslan cargo plane and an Il-62 passenger plane.

First time since 2013: The deployment, the first time Russian bombers deployed to the country since 2013, came after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro held talks with Russian President President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this month.

The Tu-160 is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional missiles with ranges of up to 3,410 miles, and can fly more than 7,500 miles without refueling.

Trump administration lashes out: On Monday night, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need Congress to approve Iran strikes in interview with The Hill | New sanctions hit Iran's supreme leader | Schumer seeks to delay defense bill amid Iran tensions | Esper's first day as acting Pentagon chief Pompeo meets with Saudi crown prince amid tensions with Iran Poll: 24 percent of voters want military action against Iran MORE blasted the deployment on Twitter, calling it an example of "two corrupt governments."

"#Russia's government has sent bombers halfway around the world to #Venezuela. The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer," he wrote.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, drew a contrast between its response to the crisis -- sending a Navy hospital ship known as the USNS Comfort -- and Russia's deployment.

The Comfort deployed to Central and South America for 11 weeks starting Oct. 11 to help relieve medical systems in countries where Venezuelans are migrating to amid the crisis.

"Contrast this with Russia, whose approach to the man-made disaster in Venezuela is to send bomber aircraft instead of humanitarian assistance," Col. Rob Manning told reporters Monday.

Venezuela shoots back: On Tuesday, Venezuela's foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, shot back at Pompeo, saying his reaction to the deployment was "not only disrespectful but also cynical" because of the number of U.S. military bases abroad.

"It's outrageous that the US gov't questions our sovereign right to defense and security cooperation with other countries when @realDonaldTrump has threatened us publicly with a military intervention. If you want to cooperate, lift your sanctions against Venezuela," Arreaza tweeted.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithGOP moves to block provision banning use of Defense funds for border wall Texas Republican: Migrant conditions in his state the 'worst' he's seen Trump: Border deal with Democrats 'probably won't happen' MORE will speak with reporters at the Defense Writers Group Breakfast at 8 a.m. in Washington, D.C.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, and Vice Chief Of Naval Operations Vice Adm. Bill Moran will speak at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness at 9:30 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50.

Another Senate Armed Services subpanel will hold a hearing on "Implications of China's Presence and Investment in Africa" at 9:30 a.m. in Russell Senate Office Building, room 232A. 

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on "Development, Diplomacy, and Defense: Promoting U.S. Interests in Africa" at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. 

Garry Reid, Director for Defense Intelligence; Dan Payne, Director of Defense Security Service; and Charles Phalen, Director of the National Background Investigations Bureau, will speak at a House Armed Services subpanel hearing on "Implications of China's Presence and Investment in Africa" at 3:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2118. 

 

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