Overnight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess
Overnight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents
Happy Thursday 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.
THE TOPLINE: A funding bill to keep the government open is on the verge of passing after President Trump said he'd sign it -- and then declare a national emergency to get his border wall.
The Senate passed the bill in a 83-16 vote Thursday afternoon. The House is expected to pass the bill later Thursday, sending it to Trump's desk.
The Senate vote came after hours of drama and speculation over whether Trump would in fact sign the bill.
The bill, which funds about 25 percent of the government, includes $1.375 billion for border barriers, well below the $5.7 billion Trump had demanded.
But a little after 3 p.m. Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that Trump would sign the bill and follow it with an emergency declaration.
"I had an opportunity to speak with President Trump and he, I would say to all my colleagues, has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill. He also [will] be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time. I indicated I'm going to support the national emergency declaration," McConnell said on the Senate floor.
The White House minutes later affirmed the plan.
"President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action - including a national emergency - to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
What a national emergency means for defense: Declaring a national emergency could allow Trump to take money from military construction funding or Army Corps of Engineers funding for civil works projects including disaster relief.
Congressional estimates place the amount of unobligated military construction (MilCon) funding Trump could potentially tap at about $21 billion.
Defense hawks have said they would not support Trump using military construction funding for the wall because taking Pentagon money would harm readiness.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters earlier this week that he has told Trump that if he must declare a national emergency he should "leave MilCon alone."
Inhofe voted against the spending bill Thursday because it "falls short" of securing the border, he said in a statement after the vote.
But he said he supports Trump's national emergency declaration.
"We need to secure the border and Democrats refuse to acknowledge an ongoing crisis, so I believe the president was left with no choice but to declare a national emergency," he said. "I want to make sure this declaration has minimal, if any, impact on our military and reimburse all the necessary accounts affected by the decision."
The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), said Thursday that Trump should not "divert significant" Pentagon funding for the wall.
"Doing so would have detrimental consequences for our troops as military infrastructure was one of the accounts most deprived during the Obama-era defense cuts," he said in a statement. "And it would undercut one of the most significant accomplishments of the last two years - beginning to repair and rebuild our military. I hope that the president will pursue other options."
What's next: An emergency declaration will almost certainly invite a lawsuit.
Protect Democracy and the Niskanen Center said Thursday they have prepared a lawsuit to file if Trump goes through with the declaration.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to say if Democrats would launch a legal challenge, though one has been expected after Trump spent weeks floating such a declaration.
"We will review our options, and I'm not prepared to give any preference to any one of them right now," she said Thursday.
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested Wednesday that Democrats would, indeed, challenge the move in court.
"We think the president would be on very weak legal ground to proceed on this, and I'm sure that if he chose to do that, that we would test it in the courts," Hoyer said. "And you've heard a lot of Republicans express a similar sentiment."
SHANAHAN'S NATO DEBUT: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday wrapped up his debut on the international stage after the second day of the NATO defense ministerial.
Shanahan faced a tall order of reassuring allies who were nervous about support for the alliance after the departure of former Defense Secretary James Mattis.
"As President Trump said just last month, we're going to be with NATO 100 percent," Shanahan said at a news conference at the ministerial.
Allies also have several other concerns, including the withdrawal from Syria, the potential drawdown in the Afghanistan and the impending U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
On Afghanistan, Shanahan pledged the United States would not pull troops out without consulting allies.
"There will be no unilateral troop reduction," Shanahan told reporters in Brussels after meeting with NATO defense chiefs. "That was one of the messages of the meeting today. We'll be coordinated. We're together."
Shanahan, who visited Iraq and Afghanistan earlier this week, has stressed that the White House has issued no official order to draw down troops.
He also noted that if Washington makes troop cuts, it will first consult with NATO.
"We talked about no division, alliance and unity, and that's how we walked out of the room," Shanahan said.
He and NATO defense chiefs also discussed how to increase support for Afghan national defense and security forces while putting "even more pressure on the Taliban."
SENATORS PEN POMPEO ON KHASHOGGI: The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday demanded the State Department provide him any documents it has related to the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey last year.
The demand comes after the Trump administration did not adhere, as required by law, to Congress's request for a determination on who is responsible for Khashoggi's slaying and whether they should be sanctioned.
"Despite foreign and international officials investigating this matter who have concluded that senior Saudi officials bear responsibility for Mr. Khashoggi's murder, this administration has been conspicuously reticent to hold senior officials and senior members of the Royal Family accountable," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote Thursday in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"Now, despite a mountain of credible evidence, this administration seeks to avoid not only the spirit but the very letter of the law. This is wholly unacceptable for a nation built on the rule of law and committed to the protection of human rights."
Republican letter: Later, Republican members of the committee led by Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) sent Pompeo a letter about the sanctions determination as well.
The Republican letter noted Pompeo sent a letter Friday "stating that the president has determined that indeed seventeen Saudi nationals were responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi."
Still, they asked for a classified briefing on the investigation into the killing "in a timely manner."
"We ask that you update Congress, as requested in the committee letter dated October 10, 2018 and required by the Global Magnitsky Act, on the president's determination with respect to any foreign person responsible for the Khashoggi murder, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the government of Saudi Arabia," they added.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Cato Institute will host an expert panel on North and South Korea at 1 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2075. https://bit.ly/2V1sri5
-- The Hill: State Department eyeing cuts to embassy staff in Afghan capital: report
-- The Hill: Rule change sharpens Dem investigations into Trump
-- The Hill: Pence presses EU to leave Iran nuclear pact, says Tehran wants 'another Holocaust'
-- The Hill: Opinion: Does 'limited war' mean limited risks for aggressors?
-- New York Times: Trump's Syria withdrawal order forces allies to weigh return of ISIS detainees
-- Washington Post: Russia, Turkey and Iran agree to coordinate on Syria amid potential U.S. vacuum