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 TrumpJoint Chiefs chairman denies report that US is planning to keep 1K troops in Syria Kansas Department of Transportation calls Trump 'delusional communist' on Twitter Trump has privately voiced skepticism about driverless cars: report 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 UdallThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Dems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Overnight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election MORE (N.M.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Senate Dems seek to turn tables on GOP in climate change fight Senate Dems introduce bill demanding report on Khashoggi killing MORE (N.M.).

Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisO'Rourke faces pressure from left on 'Medicare for all' O'Rourke says he won't use 'f-word' on campaign trail O'Rourke not planning, but not ruling out big fundraisers MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerO'Rourke faces pressure from left on 'Medicare for all' O'Rourke says he won't use 'f-word' on campaign trail O'Rourke not planning, but not ruling out big fundraisers 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 ReedOvernight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget Warren confronts acting Pentagon chief over 4B war fund request Shanahan grilled on Pentagon's border wall funding 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 CoatsResearchers: Chinese influence operations seek to elevate China's image, not sow discord Congress should support efforts to further protect pipelines from cyber threats Kim says he wouldn't be at summit with Trump if he were not ready to denuclearize 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 Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP House passes series of measures hitting Russia, Putin The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight 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