Overnight Defense: Dems aim to block use of defense funds for wall | Watchdog issues new warning on Syria withdrawal | Trump wants to 'watch Iran' from Iraq

Overnight Defense: Dems aim to block use of defense funds for wall | Watchdog issues new warning on Syria withdrawal | Trump wants to 'watch Iran' from Iraq
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Happy Monday 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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE has left open several defense-related questions ahead of his State of the Union address Tuesday night — chief among them whether he will declare a national emergency to build his proposed border wall.

On Monday, one day before the speech, a group of 15 Democratic senators introduced a bill to block Trump from using military construction or disaster relief funding for the wall.

Dubbed the Restrictions Against Illegitimate Declarations for Emergency Re-appropriations Act, or RAIDERS Act, it would prevent the use of military construction or Army Corps of Engineers civil works funding "for the construction of barriers, land acquisition, or any other associated activities on the southern border without specific statutory authorization from Congress" if Trump were to declare a national emergency.

The Democrats estimated that about $35 billion in military construction and Army Corps civil works dollars from the fiscal 2018 funding cycle is "subject to raiding."

Notable backers: The lead sponsors for the legislation are Democratic Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Democrats push EPA to collect 4K in 'excessive' Pruitt travel expenses | Greens angered over new rules for rocket fuel chemical | Inslee to join youth climate strikers in Las Vegas Democrats push EPA to collect 4K from Pruitt for 'excessive airfare expenses' Overnight Defense: Details on Senate's 0B defense bill | Bill rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps | Backfills money for border wall | Defense chief says more troops could head to Mideast MORE (N.M.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' MORE (N.M.).

Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSan Francisco police chief apologizes for raid on journalist's home Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign Senate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE (D-N.J.), who are both running for the party's 2020 nomination, are also co-sponsors.

Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate panel advances Trump's Space Force Senate panel rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps, advances defense bill that backfills wall money Overnight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info MORE (D-R.I.) is also a co-sponsor.

Stay tuned: Trump has teased that he will address whether he's declaring a national emergency during the State of the Union.

Last week, he told reporters to "listen closely" to the speech.

"I think there's a good chance we'll have to do that," Trump told reporters last week about the emergency declaration.

Meanwhile, on the border: On Sunday, the Pentagon confirmed how many more U.S. troops are headed to the border.

The latest deployment will see about 3,750 service members head to the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing the total number of U.S. troops there to about 4,350.

Their duties will include mobile surveillance and putting up 150 more miles of concertina wire.

The additional units are being deployed for 90 days. The Pentagon said it will "continue to evaluate the force composition required to meet the mission to protect and secure the southern border."

 

NEW WARNING ON SYRIA WITHDRAWAL: The lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve was out with its quarterly report Monday, and with it came the latest warning on the pitfalls of withdrawing from Syria.

The report included an unclassified answer that U.S. Central Command (Centcom) gave the inspector general in response to a question about the effects of a U.S. withdrawal.

Centcom warned of ISIS declaring victory and retaking territory.

Full Centcom quote: "ISIS may conduct opportunistic attacks on U.S. personnel as they withdraw but will leverage the event as a 'victory' in its media. ISIS remains an active insurgent group in both Iraq and Syria. If Sunni socio-economic, political, and sectarian grievances are not adequately addressed by the national and local governments of Iraq and Syria it is very likely that ISIS will have the opportunity to set conditions for future resurgence and territorial control. Currently, ISIS is regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria, but absent sustained [counterterrorism] pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory in the [Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV)]."

Déjà vu?: The warning is similar to the one the intelligence community gave Congress last week that caused a dust-up between Trump and his intelligence chiefs.

Last week's intelligence assessment, released in conjunction with Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats Hillicon Valley: Facebook co-founder calls for breaking up company | Facebook pushes back | Experts study 2020 candidates to offset 'deepfake' threat | FCC votes to block China Mobile | Groups, lawmakers accuse Amazon of violating children's privacy MORE and CIA Director Gina Haspel's Senate testimony, warned that ISIS "will exploit any reduction in [counterterrorism] pressure to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities, such as media production and external operations," read last week's intelligence report, which was released in conjunction with a Senate hearing.

Trump first responded to the assessment by pushing back and insisting the "caliphate will soon be destroyed."

Trump later claimed the intelligence chiefs told him their testimony was mischaracterized by the media.

Get deeper: Speaking of the intel clash, The Hill's Jacqueline Thomsen took a look over the weekend at Trump's battered relationship with the intelligence community, while The Hill's Olivia Beavers looked at how Democrats are looking to seize on the divide.

Catch up on those articles here and here.

 

AFGHAN PEACE BID FACES SKEPTICISM: Another war Trump is looking to get out of is the Afghanistan war.

To that end, administration officials have been touting an initial framework for peace with the Taliban. But the efforts are facing some skepticism on Capitol Hill and from the foreign policy establishment, with many warning there is a long way to go before a final deal.

There are also worries the administration is rushing into a deal to justify a withdrawal .

The Hill's Ellen Mitchell took a look at some of the skepticism over the weekend. Read up on that here.

 

TRUMP WANTS TO 'WATCH IRAN' FROM IRAQ: Trump's pre-Super Bowl interview with CBS had plenty of defense news.

In the interview, Trump said U.S. military action in Venezuela is an "option."

He also said he wants to keep U.S. troops in Iraq to monitor Iran.

"All I want to do is be able to watch," Trump said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up."

"And this is what a lot of people don't understand," he continued. "We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do."

In making the comment, Trump was pushing back on the idea that his desire to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan amounts to a retreat from the region.

Iraq says no thanks: On Monday, Iraq's president said Trump hasn't asked for permission to keep U.S. troops there for the purpose of monitoring Iran.

U.S. troops are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government for the purpose of fighting terrorism.

Speaking at a forum in Baghdad, Iraqi President Barham Salih rejected Trumps idea to "watch" Iran from its neighbor.

"Don't overburden Iraq with your own issues," Salih said. "The U.S. is a major power... but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Central Command commander Gen. Joseph Votel will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. at the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. https://bit.ly/2SptBq0

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi fires back in feud with Trump Tillerson told lawmakers Putin was more prepared than Trump for meeting: report Tillerson meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee MORE (D-N.Y.) will speak at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at 2:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/2t68avO

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Russia: US nuclear pact withdrawal does not mean 'development of a Cold War'

-- The Hill: Putin says Russia will follow US in abandoning nuclear arms pact

-- The Hill: Nielsen to testify before House Homeland Security panel next month

-- The Hill: Opinion: Women should register with Selective Service, for equality and national security

-- The Hill: Opinion: Welcome to the new nuclear arms race

-- Stars and Stripes: Lawmakers demand answers in wake of Navy linguist's death in Syria

-- The Washington Post: After bloody insurgent wars, Pentagon launches effort to prevent civilian deaths

-- Associated Press: US calls for repatriation of foreign fighters held in Syria