Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions

Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions
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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 TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE privately indicated multiple times in 2018 that he wanted the U.S. to withdraw from the NATO alliance, The New York Times reported late Monday.

Senior administration officials told the newspaper that Trump suggested he did not understand the benefits of NATO and that he believed it was sapping the U.S.

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The president reportedly made the comments around last July's summit, where he roiled allies by criticizing Germany directly and questioning why other members did not spend more on defense. Trump said later that a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin went better than the NATO summit.

Administration officials tried to keep Trump's request quiet: Then-Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisNew 2020 candidate Moulton on hypothetical Mars invasion: 'I would not build a wall' Trump learns to love acting officials Shanahan says he's 'never favored' Boeing as acting Defense chief MORE and national security adviser John Bolton worked to maintain the current U.S. strategy regarding NATO, the Times reported, but did not mention that withdrawing from NATO would benefit Russia and weaken American influence in Europe. 

White House blasts report: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders blasted the story as "meaningless."

"This story was meaningless when it was written 6 months ago and even more so now," she said in a statement. "The President has made clear our Allies must fulfill their commitments and share the burden for a strong defense. As the President has said, 'The United States' commitment to NATO is very strong' and 'I believe in NATO. I think NATO is very important.'" 

But Trump is no fan of NATO: The president has been openly critical of NATO, arguing that the U.S. contributes a disproportionate amount to fund the group and protects other countries that pay less. Members do not pay into NATO, but rather contribute toward defense spending in their respective budgets.

NATO member nations agreed in 2014 to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense by 2024. But only four of the alliance's 29 countries have already met that target. NATO has said 15 are on pace to reach the goal.

Multiple reports following July's NATO summit indicated that Trump threatened to withdraw from the alliance if other countries did not commit to a spending hike. The president did not deny those reports at the time, saying he was "very firm" with allies.

Dem calls withdrawal impeachable offense: Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierLawmakers offer bipartisan resolution highlighting sexual assault prevention Democrats put harassment allegations against Trump on back burner Speaker in waiting? Rapid rise of Hakeem Jeffries fuels talk MORE (D-Calif.) told CNN's "New Day" that Congress or the president's advisers would be forced to take "profound" action to prevent Trump from exiting the decades-old military alliance, formed following World War II.

"It had better be an idle threat from the president, because I think that act would be so destructive to our country and to our ability to protect the national security of every American that it would be a ground for some profound effort by our part, whether it is impeachment or the 25th Amendment," Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN.

"He can't do that to this country," she added. "And I don't believe he can do it without Senate ratification."

 

SHUTDOWN DAY 25 – COAST GUARD COMMANDANT CONFIRMS MISSED PAY CHECKS: The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard said that service members will not receive their regular paycheck on Tuesday due to the ongoing partial government shutdown.

Adm. Karl Schultz said in a letter to the Coast Guard's 42,000 members that the lapse in pay marks the first time to his knowledge that U.S. Armed Forces service members have not been paid because of a shutdown. 

"The strength of our Service has, and always will be, our people," Schultz wrote. "You have proven time and again the ability to rise above adversity. Stay the course, stand the watch, and serve with pride. You are not, and will not, be forgotten."

Service groups to help: Schultz said that the Coast Guard is "working closely" with service groups to assist military and civilian workers in need. The United Services Automobile Association (USAA), for example, has donated $15 million to the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance program, he said. The money will be distributed via the American Red Cross.

The background: Coast Guard members were last paid on Dec. 31 after an agreement was reached between the Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Other military branches fall under the Department of Defense, which is not affected by the shutdown.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenNielsen was warned not to talk to Trump about new Russian election interference: report DHS head: Separating migrant families 'not on the table' Trump moves to crack down on visa overstays MORE said on Tuesday that she was working with the White House to pass legislation that would fund the Coast Guard.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay in recent weeks as roughly 25 percent of the government remains shuttered over President Trump's demand for funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

And Dems turn down WH visit for talks: No Democrats attended a lunch on Tuesday with President Trump designed to reach an agreement to end the government shutdown and fund a border wall, as the president's attempt to force leaders back to the negotiating table fell flat.

Trump invited several moderate House Democrats to the White House in an effort to undermine Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrevor Noah on lack of Pelosi nickname from Trump: 'There is a reverence for her' Trump says he would challenge impeachment in Supreme Court The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? MORE (D-Calif.), who has refused to grant Trump his demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding. But the group turned down the invitation.

After the meeting ended, Republicans lambasted Democrats for refusing to attend in an attempt to pin blame on them for the shutdown.

The event was the latest sign that no end remains in sight for the partial shutdown, which on Tuesday entered its record-setting 25th day.

 

SENATE ADVANCES MEASURE BUCKING TRUMP ON RUSSIA SANCTIONS: The Senate voted to advance legislation blocking President Trump’s plan to lift sanctions against three Russian companies despite an eleventh-hour effort by the administration to kill the bill.

Senators voted 57-42 to begin debating the resolution, with only a simple majority needed to get over the initial hurdle.

Though only a procedural vote, it’s the latest foreign policy break between the Trump administration and Senate Republicans, who have been wary of his warmer rhetoric toward Moscow.

The Republican votes: “I do disapprove of the easing of the sanctions because I think it sends the wrong message to Russia and to the oligarch and close ally of Mr. Putin, Oleg Deripaska, who will in my judgement continue to maintain considerable [ownership] under the Treasury’s plan,” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell pledges to be 'Grim Reaper' for progressive policies Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump MORE (R-Maine) told reporters.

In addition to Collins, GOP Sens. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanDemocrats, making a difference is better than making a point GOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (Ark.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal GOP senators introduce bill to reduce legal immigration  MORE (Ark.), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David Daines Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Main Street businesses need permanent tax relief to grow Overnight Energy: Bernhardt confirmed as Interior chief | Dems probing if EPA officials broke ethics rules | Senators offer bipartisan carbon capture bill MORE (Mont.) Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDem super PAC campaign urges Republicans to back impeachment On The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle McConnell pledges to be 'Grim Reaper' for progressive policies MORE (Colo.), Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Mueller report coming Thursday | YouTube adds 9/11 info to Notre Dame fire video | New details on case against Assange | Thousands sign petition to ban Trump on social media | Conservatives side with big tech in GOP fight Conservative groups defend tech from GOP crackdown Pelosi puts tech on notice with warning of 'new era' in regulation MORE (Mo.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing MORE (Ariz.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranLive coverage: Barr faces Senate panel as he prepares release of Mueller report Hillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — House panel approves bill restoring net neutrality | FTC asks for more help to police tech | Senate panel advances bill targeting illegal robocalls Senate panel advances bill penalizing illegal robocalls MORE (Kan.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDems plot aggressive post-Mueller moves, beginning with McGahn Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Cuban negotiator says Trump's efforts to destabilize Cuba's government will fail MORE (Fla.) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAfrica's women can change a continent: Will Ivanka give them her full support? Senate needs to stand up to Trump's Nixonian view of the Fed GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback MORE (Neb.) voted to proceed to the resolution on Tuesday.

Background: The setback for the administration comes after it announced plans late last month to relax sanctions on the three businesses — Rusal, EN+ and EuroSibEnerg — connected to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 

PENTAGON EXTENDING SOUTHERN BORDER MISSION: The Pentagon is updating and extending the mission of troops stationed the southern border, shifting from a mandate to "harden" ports of entry to surveilling the border and laying down wire.

"[The Department of Defense] is transitioning its support at the southwestern border from hardening ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection, as well as concertina wire emplacement between ports of entry," the Pentagon said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

What they'll do: The troops will reportedly operate security cameras, lay down wire and fly aircraft in order to support Customs and Border Protection. 

The Department of Homeland Security earlier this month requested an additional deployment of U.S. troops to the border to install concertina wire atop existing border fencing, which is likely to add months to the military's deployment.

Uncertainty over numbers: Pentagon officials told the AP they are unsure how many additional troops they will request.

U.S. troops will likely be deployed at the border until September, officials told the AP. 

The 2,350 active-duty troops at the border were deployed at the beginning of November for a mission that was originally supposed to end on Dec. 15. It was extended until Jan. 31, and the latest expansion will mean the troops will remain there until the fall, according to the AP.

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The background: Trump before the midterm elections in 2018 stoked fears over an approaching group of Central American migrants heading toward the southern border, which he referred to as an "invasion." He requested the deployment of thousands of troops to the border in a support mission just before Nov. 6.  

Some lawmakers have accused Trump of wasting resources and manpower on the mission, as reports emerged that the troops felt restless and underutilized.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) Institute of Land Warfare at 6:30 a.m. in Arlington, Va. ausa.org

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal speaks at AUSA Institute of Land Warfare at 5:30 p.m. in Arlington, Va. 

 

ICYMI

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-- The Hill: Trump letter hand delivered to Kim: report

-- The Hill: Opinion: Time running out to stop China's new cold-war aggressions