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 TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address 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 MattisTrump insulted UK's May, called Germany's Merkel 'stupid' in calls: report Mattis urges people to wear masks in PSA about 'nasty little virus' Dozens of GOP ex-national security officials to form group to back Biden: report 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 SpeierProtests force military reckoning on race Air Force documents acknowledged 'persistent' racial bias in justice system HHS watchdog says actions should be free from political interference 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 NielsenThe Seila Law case: Liberty and political firing Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers 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 PelosiOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? Military bases should not be renamed, we must move forward in the spirit of reconciliation Pelosi: Trump 'himself is a hoax' 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 CollinsCongress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE (R-Maine) told reporters.

In addition to Collins, GOP Sens. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports The Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up MORE (Ark.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGOP senator calls reporting on Russia bounties 'absolutely inaccurate' after White House briefing New legislation required to secure US semiconductor leadership Sunday shows preview: With coronavirus cases surging, lawmakers and health officials weigh in MORE (Ark.), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesTrump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post Political establishment takes a hit as chaos reigns supreme Lincoln Project releases new pro-Biden ad in swing states MORE (Mont.) Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks MORE (Colo.), Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases Trump warns of defense bill veto over military base renaming amendment MORE (Mo.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Political establishment takes a hit as chaos reigns supreme MORE (Ariz.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranWatchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Mayor Quinton Lucas MORE (Kan.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCongress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help Trump administration eyes new strategy on COVID-19 tests ACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants MORE (Fla.) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Beijing: US 'oppressing Chinese companies' after Huawei, ZTE action Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties 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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