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 TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' 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 MattisOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Former Mattis staffer: Trump 'shooting himself in the foot' on foreign policy 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 SpeierMaloney wins vote for Oversight chairwoman Live coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Sondland testimony looms over impeachment hearings this week 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 NielsenWhite House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary 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 PelosiOvernight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul Five things to know about Tuesday's impeachment hearings McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' 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 Collins2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds MORE (R-Maine) told reporters.

In addition to Collins, GOP Sens. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid VA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal MORE (Ark.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia GOP senator introduces bill to limit flow of US data to China Tom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas MORE (Ark.), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesPerry replacement moves closer to confirmation despite questions on Ukraine Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks MORE (Mont.) Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Tariffs threaten 1.5M jobs: Study This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (Colo.), Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Senators demand info on tech firms' efforts to curb content depicting child exploitation MORE (Mo.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyProgressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' MORE (Ariz.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number MORE (Kan.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Senators voice support for Iran protesters but stop short of taking action McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters MORE (Fla.) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges Senators press NSA official over shuttered phone surveillance program 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

-- The Hill: Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions

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-- The Hill: Trump considering recognizing opposition leader as Venezuela's president: report

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

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