Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince ‘responsible’ for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force

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Happy Thursday 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: In a historic vote, the Senate approved Thursday a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The vote is mostly symbolic since the House effectively blocked similar action for the rest of the year and the White House threatened to veto the resolution it did make it President Trump’s deal.

But the vote still deals a significant blow to Trump amid heightened tensions over the death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Senators voted 56-41 on the resolution, which would require the president to withdraw any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda.

All 49 Democrats supported the resolution and were joined by seven Republicans: resolution co-sponsor Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) and Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Steve Daines (Mont.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Jerry Morean (Kansas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Todd Young (Ind.).

Why it’s historic: The resolution was brought to the floor using the War Powers Act, which was passed in 1973 as Congress worked to reassert its authority over the decision to go to war amid Vietnam.

But in all those years since, the War Powers Act was never successfully invoked.

Thursday’s vote changed that.

MBS ‘responsible’: Shortly after the Yemen vote wrapped up, the Senate also easily approved a resolution naming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “responsible” for Khashoggi’s slaying.

The measure, which was introduced earlier Thursday, passed the Senate by voice vote. It will now go to the House.

The resolution, spearheaded by outgoing Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), is nonbinding, but it puts the Senate on the record about the crown prince amid growing frustration on Capitol Hill over the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

“Unanimously, the United States Senate has said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is a strong statement. I think it speaks to the values that we hold dear. … I’m glad the Senate is speaking with once voice unanimously toward this end,” Corker said shortly after the vote.

In the House: The House does not appear headed toward action any time soon even after a briefing by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — the same briefing that infuriated senators into action.

House leadership from both parties emerged Thursday from the briefing without committing to take legislative action.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) cited an “ongoing investigation” into Khashoggi’s death when asked whether leadership would support a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for the killing.

Asked about moving something this year on the Yemeni civil war, where the United States supports a Saudi-led military coalition, he said the briefing “maybe addresses some of the questions” that were driving lawmaker concern about the war.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is expected to be Speaker in the next Congress, noted there was enough bipartisan support to act on Yemen this year, but added “we’ll see how events proceed” when asked whether she will bring it up for a vote next year.

Pelosi did say she’d support sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but said the investigation into Khashoggi’s death needs to conclude first.

“Our decisions are evidenced based,” she said.

Pay up: Meanwhile, the Pentagon is now seeking reimbursement for $331 million from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates it never collected for the years of refueling their aircraft in the Yemen war.

Earlier, the Pentagon told Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that it didn’t collect the money from the Saudis and Emiratis because of “errors in accounting.”

On Thursday, Reed said in a statement the Pentagon has now told him it will recoup the money.

“This is good news for U.S. taxpayers and underscores the need for strong oversight of the Department of Defense,” Reed said in a statement. “While the accounting error is being corrected, the larger issue remains that the Trump administration and international community must capitalize on the progress that has been made during the Yemen peace talks in Sweden.”

About Sweden: Speaking of the peace talks, there appeared to be a breakthrough Thursday.

The warring parties have agreed to a ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah, the United Nations announced Thursday, prompting cautious optimism about progress in ending the long-running war.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in Sweden that Saudi-backed Yemeni fighters and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had agreed to the ceasefire in the city and around the port, which serves as a gateway for 70 percent of humanitarian aid entering the country.

“The UN will play a leading role in the port,” Guterres said. “This will facilitate the humanitarian access and the flow of goods to the civilian population. It will improve the living conditions for millions of Yemenis.”

TROUBLE FOR SPACE FORCE: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is unconvinced that President Trump’s proposed Space Force is necessary, leaving it out of his top priorities for next year’s defense policy bill.

With Inhofe’s soon-to-be House counterpart opposed to the idea for a new military branch, the senator’s wavering spells trouble for a plan Trump wants done by 2020.

Inhofe, a staunch Trump supporter, has been briefing reporters one-on-one on his priorities for his committee next year, laying out them in bullet points in a two-page document. Space Force is not mentioned in the document.

In a recent interview with The Hill, Inhofe said he didn’t include one of Trump’s top priorities in his list because he still thinks Space Force is unnecessary until the Pentagon proves otherwise.

“It wasn’t on my list because I don’t think we need it,” he said Wednesday morning. “I have time and time again, ever since this subject came up, I’ve said there are two things you have to answer. One is, is it going to do a better job than we’re doing today? And then two, it’s going to cost more — how much more money is it going to cost?”

Still, Inhofe did not rule out the possibility that the Space Force could be in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if he gets the answers he’s looking for.

“Until I hear those questions, I will be opposing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Common ground: Inhofe also said space is an area where he might be able to find agreement with Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who is poised be House Armed Services Committee chairman come January.

“We’re two different backgrounds,” Inhofe said of him and Smith. “I think this is a good example of something that we agree on, for different reasons.”

Inhofe, who warns Russia and China is jumping ahead of the U.S. military in certain areas, said he is unconvinced space is one of those areas.

Smith, meanwhile, thinks the military can do better in space, but does not believe Space Force is the answer.

In a recent breakfast with reporters, Smith reaffirmed his opposition, saying “creating a whole new bureaucracy” is not the solution to the problem.

“It costs more money than it nets,” Smith told the Defense Writers Group. “So we will have a conversation within our committee about the best way to place a greater emphasis on space. I think there is bipartisan concern about creating a separate branch of the military for space.”

COMMITTEE SHUFFLE: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced next year’s committee assignments Thursday, including the three senators who will fill the holes left the three Senate Armed Services Committee Democrats who lost their re-election bids in the midterms.

The new Democrats on the committee next year will be Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Doug Jones (Ala.).

Manchin is actually returning to the committee after leaving it two years ago to take a slot on the Appropriations Committee. For the next Congress, he is giving up his spot on the Intelligence Committee to come back to Armed Services.

Duckworth, who lost both her legs serving in Iraq, brings her combat experience to the panel.

“My buddies in Iraq refused to leave me behind, and I want to make sure that they don’t ever regret those sacrifices that gave me a second chance at life,” she said in a statement Thursday. “That’s why ever since I woke up at Walter Reed, I’ve made serving our nation’s service members and veterans my life’s mission. I’m proud to be able to continue that mission as a member of the Armed Services committee.”

Jones fills the Alabama-shaped hole the committee has had since former Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) left. Prior to this year, the committee had not been without an Alabama senator for 20 years.

“Alabama and its citizens have long played a significant role in our national defense, from building or maintaining ships and other vehicles to leading cutting-edge research and development to volunteering to serve in our armed forces,” Jones said in a statement Thursday. “It is vital that we have a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, a role that I am honored to be able to fill in the next Congress. I am committed to serving as Alabama’s advocate for a strong national defense, which also means a strong and prosperous economy in our state.”


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Tags Adam Smith Bob Corker Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Jack Reed James Mattis Jeff Flake Joe Manchin Luther Strange Mike Lee Mike Pompeo Nancy Pelosi Rand Paul Steve Daines Steve Scalise Susan Collins Tammy Duckworth Todd Young

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