Overnight Defense: Top House Armed Services Republican opposes military funds for wall | Speculation swirls over whether Trump will declare national emergency | Pentagon gets new chief of staff

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: The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday said that he does not support using military funding to build President TrumpDonald John Trump2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate Senate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again MORE's proposed border wall.

"In short, I am opposed to using defense dollars for nondefense purposes," committee ranking member Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUS officials express optimism negotiations with Iran possible GOP rep: 'This story is not over' if Iran continues 'aggressive' and 'provocative' behavior Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One MORE (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday. "Seems to me we ought to fund border security needs on their own and not be taking it from other accounts."

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President Trump has floated declaring a national emergency in order to get funding to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval.

At issue: Wall funding has been at the heart of the partial government shutdown that is now in its 18th day. Trump is demanding $5 billion for the wall, but Democrats are not agreeing to that, having offered $1.3 billion for border security measures.

In the event of a national emergency, U.S. law allows for the use of unobligated military construction funding for projects that support the Armed Forces.

Lawmakers have said that law appears to give Trump the authority to use defense funding for the wall if he declares an emergency, but that the existence of an emergency would be challenged in court and taking Pentagon funding could harm the military.

Thornberry's reasons: Thornberry, who represents what some analysts have called the reddest congressional district in the country, said most of his constituents have told him during the shutdown to "build the wall."

But, Thornberry said, military construction was "devastated" during years of budget austerity and dipping into that account for the wall would "obviously be damaging."

"Last fall, I vividly remember touring a barracks with mold growing out of the ceiling where they had to evacuate the soldiers out of certain rooms," he said. "And as much as we've done the last two years, we have not made up for that deficit in military construction that does affect readiness, that does affect the quality of life and all sorts of things. 

"So to take some of that money and use it for something other than [military construction] will obviously be damaging, and I'm not for that."

While border security could arguably be part of defending the country, he elaborated, it is not the responsibility of the Defense Department.

Other options: Thornberry said he wants the shutdown to end with negotiators meeting in the middle on the amount of funding for the wall.

"If this were a 'normal' controversy, one side says 'zero,' another side says 'five,' you meet in the middle at two and a half," he said. "Those things get resolved that way every day around here."

If Trump were to declare a national emergency to use defense funding for the wall, Thornberry said it is his understanding that the only way to stop that would be to pass a new law overriding current law.

 

WILL TRUMP DECLARE A NATIONAL EMERGENCY? The White House is playing coy over whether President Trump will declare a national emergency in a primetime address to the nation Tuesday night that would allow construction of a wall on the Mexican border to move forward.

Trump previewed his remarks to a group of broadcast and cable-news anchors over a lunch of Caesar salad and chicken in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, but aides said he did not reveal any plans to take the controversial step of declaring a national emergency.

"He is not giving a likelihood. He is not saying yes or no. But he's made very clear to you and the public last week that he is considering it," White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth Conway'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Amash splits with Republicans, votes to authorize subpoena for Kellyanne Conway The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate MORE told reporters after the lunch ended.

Possible push for a return to the bargaining table: Conway, who said she has seen a draft of the speech, suggested Trump instead prefers to use his address to persuade Democrats, who vehemently oppose the wall, to return to the bargaining table to work out a budget deal that includes $5.7 billion in funding for the barrier.

"Why let Congress off the hook yet again?" she said.

The address comes at a pivotal moment for Trump, who is beginning to feel the effects of an 18-day partial government shutdown triggered by his demands for wall funding.

Lawmakers push back: If he declares a national emergency, it would allow Trump to redirect military construction funds from other projects toward building the wall.

Democrats have warned Trump, however, that declaring a national emergency won't encourage them to restart negotiations and it will likely trigger a legal challenge that could further delay wall construction.

"It is analogous to governments that we have seen all over the world declaring martial law, and justifying them in doing whatever they wanted to do to whomever they wanted to do it, whenever they wanted to do it," said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats already jockeying for House leadership posts House Democratic leaders work to secure votes for border bill Hoyer: House won't move forward on congressional pay bump MORE (D-Md.).

And in an appearance on ABC News on Sunday, new House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBipartisan House duo unveils amendment to block Iran strike without Congress's approval GOP moves to block provision banning use of Defense funds for border wall Texas Republican: Migrant conditions in his state the 'worst' he's seen MORE (D-Wash.) said that while Trump could theoretically do that, it'd be a "terrible" idea.

 

PENTAGON NAMES NEW CHIEF OF STAFF: Eric Chewning, the head of the Pentagon's industrial policy, has been named the Defense Department's next chief of staff, according to a Pentagon statement.

Chewning, 41, since Oct. 2017 has been the deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy, meant to help maintain the defense industry in support of national defense. He will now be the chief of staff to acting secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanTrump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry New Defense chief: Our 'priorities remain unchanged' The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck MORE, who took over on Jan. 1.

"Mr. Chewning brings an array of military and industry experience to the role," the Pentagon's acting chief spokesperson Charles Summers said in the release.

Chewning's background: According to the statement, Chewning was an investment banker at Morgan Stanley before leaving to enlist in the Army following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and was later commissioned as an Army intelligence officer.

He then returned to the private sector for a decade and was a partner at McKinsey immediately before joining DOD.

Switching roles: The Pentagon's former chief of staff, Rear Adm. Kevin Sweeney, resigned on Saturday, saying in a brief statement that he planned to return to the private sector.

Sweeney gave no reason for his exit, which comes just days after Secretary of Defense 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's Dec. 31 departure from the agency. 

Mattis announced his resignation earlier in December following President Trump's surprise announcement that the administration would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. 

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Another top Mattis ally, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White, also left after she announced her resignation at the end of December.

Retired general meant to resolve Qatar dispute also leaves: Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was picked by the Trump administration as a special envoy to resolve ongoing disputes in Qatar, also resigned this week.

Zinni resigned from his post at the State Department Monday due to the fact that he could not find a solution to the issues surrounding Qatar "because of the unwillingness of the regional leaders to agree to a viable mediation effort that we offered to conduct or assist in implementing," he told CBS News.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Turkey's Erdogan rips Bolton's comments on Kurds, refuses to meet

-- The Hill: Family says US Navy veteran has been held for months in Iranian prison

-- The Hill: Watchdog: Pentagon let nearly $28B in funds expire in 2018

-- The Hill: North Korea says Kim Jong Un traveling to China for talks with Xi

-- The Hill: Senators to reintroduce Mueller protection bill this week

-- The Hill: Opinion: Wall can't be the only answer: Uncontrolled, illegal immigration isn't just at the Southern border

-- The Hill: Opinion: Yes, Trump has authority to declare national emergency for border wall

-- The Hill: Opinion: New leaders and budget, old wars and foes, worry Pentagon in 2019