Overnight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts

Happy Wednesday 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 Senate on Wednesday moved toward voting to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Senators voted 60-39 to formally begin debate on the resolution, which would require President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE to withdraw troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda.

If senators approve the resolution it would mark a significant rebuke of Trump, who told Reuters this week that he was standing by the Saudi government and believed it had been a "very good ally."

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Senators had been expected to hold a final vote on the bill on Wednesday, but as of Wednesday evening they were still haggling over potential amendment votes. The delay isn't expected to impact final passage of the vote, which is now expected to take place on Thursday.

Because supporters are bringing up the Yemen resolution under the War Powers Act they only need a simple majority to get it through the Senate. Eleven Republican sided with all 49 Democrats to start debate on the measure on Wednesday.

To prevent a lengthy, unwieldy fight on the Senate floor senators also voted 96-3 agreed to require that any amendments to the resolution be on topic. Under Senate rules lawmakers can debate the resolution for up to 10 hours before a final vote.

How we got here: The Senate votes comes as frustration is mounting on Capitol Hill over the U.S.-Saudi relationship with a growing number of senators convinced that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered the slaying of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Most Republicans are expected to oppose the Yemen resolution, which they worry is a misuse of the War Powers Act.

McConnell urged senators to oppose vote on bill: Earlier in the day, Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump faces crucial decisions on economy, guns Are Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' MORE (R-Ky.) said the Senate should reject the measure and instead back a resolution to name Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "responsible" for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's slaying.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, said members have "legitimate concerns" about Yemen and share "grave concerns" about Khashoggi's death.

"[But] we also want to preserve the 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region," McConnell said.

 

OVER IN THE HOUSE: House Republicans have officially blocked lawmakers from forcing a vote on all resolutions for the remainder of the year that attempt to use the War Powers Act to cut off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

The move came during a vote on a rule for floor debate of the farm bill. The rule passed on a largely party-line 206-203 vote.

Five Democrats voted with Republicans to approve the rule, while 18 Republicans voted against the rule.

Tucked into the bottom of the rule is provision that says privilege "shall not apply during the remainder of the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress to a concurrent resolution introduced pursuant to ... the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544) with respect to Yemen."

What this means: Privilege is what allows lawmakers to force votes, meaning the rule effectively dooms any chances of the House voting on the issue at all this year.

Also in the House: House leaders also received a CIA briefing on the Khashoggi killing earlier Wednesday. The full House is expected to receive a broader briefing on Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

 

Here are more stories on Saudi Arabia and Yemen from The Hill:

-- House narrowly advances farm bill amid fight over Yemen war vote

-- Dem lawmaker pledges hearings after CIA briefing on Khashoggi

-- McConnell urges opposition to bill ending US support for Saudi war

-- House Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress

-- Trump stands by Saudi crown prince amid Senate pressure

 

ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN BOUGHT, DROPPED DEFENSE STOCK: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDemocrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (R-Okla.) bought and then dumped stock in the defense contractor Raytheon this week, saying he was unaware a financial advisor made the purchase until Wednesday.

The Daily Beast first reported that a financial disclosure form dated 10:29 a.m. Wednesday showed Inhofe bought between $50,001 and $100,000 in stock of Raytheon.

In a statement, Inhofe spokeswoman Leacy Burke said all of the senator's financial transactions are handled by a third-party advisor and so he was unaware of transaction until Wednesday.

"The senator has had no involvement in and has not been consulted about his stock transactions," Burke said in a statement provided to The Hill. "As such, the Senator was not aware of this stock purchase until it came through the system very early this morning."

After he became aware, Burke said, he reversed the transaction.

An amending filing dated 4:38 p.m. no longer includes the Raytheon purchase.

 

TRANSGENDER TROOP BAN WILL LIKELY LEFT TO THE COURTS: The Democrat poised to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in the next Congress said Wednesday that President Trump's ban on transgender troops will likely have to be dealt with in the courts.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWarren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow Young Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path MORE (D-Wash.), the committee's current ranking member, told the Defense Writers Group that he wants to make equality in the military one of his top priorities.

Ideally, Smith said he'd like to pass legislation in the vein of the 2010 repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" that allowed gay, lesbian and bisexual troops to serve openly. But he said such legislation would likely stall in the Republican-controlled Senate.

"It's primarily an issue for the courts," said Smith, who is expected to wield the gavel when Democrats control the House in January. "The legislative remedy would be clear, except this is an area where the Senate, I think, there's no way they would agree with us... I am realistic about our ability to do that, so I think it does play out in the courts at this point."

What's happened so far: Trump announced over Twitter in July 2017 that he intended to ban all transgender people from serving in the military.

Four lawsuits have been filed against the ban, and courts in all four cases have blocked the policy from taking effect as the suits work their way through the legal system.

The Trump administration has appealed, arguing a March 2018 implementation plan from Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOnly Donald Trump has a policy for Afghanistan New Pentagon report blames Trump troop withdrawal for ISIS surge in Iraq and Syria Mattis returns to board of General Dynamics MORE does not categorically ban all transgender people since it would allow them to serve if they do so in their biological sex.

The administration has also asked the Supreme Court to immediately intervene before lower courts rule on the ban.

What's likely to come: While legislation to kill the ban is unlikely, Smith said equality in the military will be one of his focuses as chairman.

"One of my priorities is going to be equality in the military, that we do not discriminate against people based on sexual preference, race, gender, religion," Smith said. "So I'm going to try to combat discrimination within the military."

Smith framed the issue as a matter of capabilities, arguing not allowing transgender people to serve limits the available pool of recruits.

 

TRUMP THROWS UNCERTAINTY INTO PENTAGON BUDGET: President Trump is sowing confusion over the Department of Defense (DOD) budget for next year.

Trump's most recent directive reportedly ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to submit a $750 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2020. It is only the latest in a series of conflicting signals about the top-line numbers, injecting uncertainty into the process and sending Republican lawmakers and military officials scrambling.

"Given how much President Trump has flip-flopped on the defense budget issue just in the past few weeks, this is far from settled," cautioned Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The background: The president first startled defense hawks in October when he announced that he would require all federal agencies to cut 5 percent from their spending bills for fiscal 2020. 

He said the Defense Department would be exempt from such reductions, but that he still wanted a $700 billion Pentagon budget -- a major drop from the $733 billion military planners had been expecting.

But at a meeting last week with the president, Mattis and the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryPentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe U.S. and U.K. divide increases on Iran Republican lawmakers issue dueling letters over Pentagon 'war cloud' contract MORE (R-Texas) and Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDemocrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (R-Okla.), respectively, reportedly secured the new $750 billion figure, a stark about-face for Trump.

Lawmakers try to win over president: Thornberry and Inhofe met with Trump at the White House in an attempt to sway the commander in chief against making the dramatic cuts. In a tweet just a day before, Trump appeared to call the Pentagon's current budget of $716 billion "crazy."

The president's actions have rattled defense hawks, who hope they can sway Trump to stick with a higher number. They have been publicly pushing to keep the top line in the president's mind.

A group of 70 House lawmakers last week sent a letter to Trump warning of "disastrous consequences" for the military if he does not keep the Pentagon budget at $733 billion.

Lawmakers have also argued that after two years of increases, a cut to the defense budget would reverse progress made to address a so-called readiness crisis.

But Dems hold the House: Democrats, who will control the House starting in January, have made it known they want a trimmer defense figure. The presumptive incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), has called this year's $716 billion figure "too high" and has said finding cuts would be a priority for him as chairman.

Democrats and Republicans have regularly clashed over the military budget. But Republicans are now dealing with a wild card in their own president.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan and Under Secretary Michael Griffin will speak at the National Defense Industrial Association's Hypersonics Senior Executive Series at 8:30 a.m. in Arlington, Va. 

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction Financial aid fraud is wrong — but overcorrection could hurt more students Democrats denounce Trump's attack on Cummings: 'These are not the words of a patriot' MORE (D-Md.) will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on "Targeted Sanctions on Human Rights Abusers and Kleptocracies" at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

National Security Advisor John Bolton will unveil the Trump administration's Africa strategy at 9:30 a.m. at the Heritage Center in Washington, D.C. 

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sale GOP chairman yanks Saudi bill after Democrats muscle through tougher language MORE (R-Ind.) will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the humanitarian and national security crisis in Yemen at 2:30 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

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