Overnight Defense: US reportedly easing demands over North Korean nukes | Trump optimistic for deal | Dems rip plan to use military funds for wall | Pentagon urges India, Pakistan to calm tensions

Overnight Defense: US reportedly easing demands over North Korean nukes | Trump optimistic for deal | Dems rip plan to use military funds for wall | Pentagon urges India, Pakistan to calm tensions
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Happy Wednesday 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: As President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE begins his second day of meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, news broke that U.S. officials negotiating North Korea's denuclearization are no longer demanding a full accounting of the hermit nation's nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals.

NBC News reported that the reversal suggests U.S. officials believe fully denuclearizing North Korea is increasingly out of their grasp, a reality the intelligence community has suggested in recent weeks is increasingly likely. North Korea's refusal to provide a full disclosure of its weapons tanked nuclear negotiations a decade ago.

What negotiators want now: U.S. negotiators are hoping that North Korea will accept their demands this week to shutter its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which many consider to be the nuclear program's crown jewel. However, Kim and other officials are demanding sanctions relief before any action is taken, a move the White House says will only take place following full denuclearization. 

Trump stays on message: Trump, meanwhile, has expressed optimism that a deal can be reached and touted North Korea's economic potential should harsh sanctions resulting from its nuclear program be lifted when he sat down with Kim Jong Un on Wednesday to kick off the summit.

"I think we'll be very successful," Trump said, adding he and Kim have a "great relationship."

The president expressed a positive and upbeat attitude, saying he "thought the first summit was a great success" and adding he hopes "this one is equal or greater."

Asked whether he has walked back his vow to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Trump responded, "No."

A special relationship: Trump also said Wednesday he has a "very special relationship" with Kim as the two sat down for dinner on the first night of their summit in Vietnam.

"We're going to have a very busy day tomorrow, and we'll probably have a pretty quick dinner, and a lot of things are going be to solved I hope, and I think it'll lead to really a wonderful situation long term," Trump said. "And our relationship is a very special relationship."

The comment was the latest from Trump appearing cozy with the North Korean leader, who has been accused of grave human rights violations.

Trump and Kim were dining at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, after a roughly 20-minute one-on-one meeting to start their second summit.

What happened at the one-on-one? Kim said he and Trump exchanged "very interesting dialogue" in their one-on-one meeting, according to a translator.

"Boy if you could have heard that dialogue, what you would pay for that dialogue," Trump added.

And The Hill's Rebecca Kheel and Jordan Fabian have more here on Trump meeting Kim under the looming Cohen testimony. And for more on the Cohen testimony, which riveted Washington on Wednesday, click here for our live blog of the day's events, and here for our wrap-up on a dramatic day.


DEMS SLAM TRUMP PLAN TO MOVE MILITARY CONSTRUCTION FUNDS FOR BORDER WALL: House Democrats on Wednesday hammered Pentagon officials over President Trump's plan to move Defense Department military construction (MILCON) dollars to build his proposed southern border wall after declaring a national emergency.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon offered few new details on Trump's plans to take $3.6 billion in MILCON funds for his project, effectively sidestepping Congress.

The lack of more information angered Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Five things to watch at the Democratic National Convention Michelle Obama wishes Barack a happy birthday: 'My favorite guy' MORE (D-Fla.), who heads the Appropriations Committee's sub-panel on military construction.

"I'm not sure what kind of chumps you think my colleagues and I are," she told McMahon during a particularly testy exchange.

Delayed not canceled: While McMahon assured lawmakers that no military construction projects already authorized by Congress will be canceled, he allowed that "some current military construction projects may be deferred," and the president's fiscal year 2020 budget request "will include a request for funds to replenish funding for these projects."

He also offered that to protect military readiness, the Pentagon will look to delay projects that "pose no or minimal operational readiness risks if deferred," those scheduled to be awarded in the last half of the fiscal year, and recapitalization projects on existing facilities that could be put off for several months.

McMahon also said that no money would be taken away from housing for soldiers and their families.

A testy exchange: Wasserman Schultz appeared particularly unsatisfied with an explanation from McMahon as to how the Pentagon would move funds between accounts without Congressional oversight.

"What I think we're doing is executing the president's, as commander-in-chief, direction to us to be able to fund a portion of the border wall in fiscal year 2019," McMahon told Wasserman Schultz.

"Mr. Secretary you're fooling no one, really," she shot back. "I'm not sure what kind of chumps you think my colleagues and I are, but canceling, deferring, coming back in FY-20 to replace, all leads to the same thing, you are taking money from vital projects that the military previously said were essential, and spending that money on a wall, and then asking that money to be backfilled later in the next fiscal year, when we already had that debate, and the president's proposal was rejected."

Republicans agree: The subpanel appeared unanimous in their opposition to using military funds to build Trump's wall, including ranking member Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterDonna Imam wins Democratic runoff to face Rep. John Carter House panel advances bill banning construction on bases with Confederate names Democrats see victory in Trump culture war MORE (R- Texas), whose district butts up against Fort Hood Military Base.

"I share the president's commitment to securing the border ... Yet while I stand with the president on this important national security issue, I will not do so at the expense of the soldiers and the families of Fort Hood," Carter said in his opening remarks.

Democrats and some Republicans worry that Trump's declaration would undermine military readiness in their districts and beyond. 


PENTAGON URGES PAKISTAN AND INDIA TO DE-ESCALATE TENSIONS: The Pentagon is urging India and Pakistan to back off future military attacks following the first Indian airstrike into Pakistan since 1971.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanHouse Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Boeing pleads for bailout under weight of coronavirus, 737 fallout Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January MORE is focused "on de-escalating tensions and urging both of the nations to avoid further military action," according to a Defense Department statement released Wednesday.

The Pentagon adds that Shanahan has been in contact with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHouse panel halts contempt proceedings against Pompeo after documents turned over Outgoing ambassador to China slams Beijing over coronavirus: 'Could have been contained in Wuhan' Hillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers MORE, national security adviser John Bolton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. Philip Davidson, and U.S. Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel "regarding India-Pakistan tensions."

The violence increases: India on Tuesday ordered an airstrike over the disputed Kashmir region targeting the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) fighter group. The strike, which India claimed killed "a very large number of ... terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis," was the first major state-sanctioned military action in Kashmir by either side since 1999.

The airstrike was in retaliation for a Feb. 14 suicide car bombing allegedly conducted by JeM that killed at least 40 Indian officials, according to the foreign secretary's statement. 

Earlier Wednesday, Pakistan and India both said they had shot down each other's warplanes over Indian-controlled Kashmir.

A complicated relationship: The U.S. military, which sells weapons to India and views the nation as a strategic partner in the region, has taken a hard line on Pakistan under the Trump administration. 


Last year Trump announced a suspension of aid to Pakistan -- including $300 million from the Pentagon -- over its perceived unwillingness to take firm action against militants in the country. 

Trump in his first tweet of 2018, said Pakistan was rewarding the U.S. for its aid with "nothing but lies & deceit." 

The administration has attempted to reset its tense relationship with Islamabad, however, with Pompeo in September meeting with the country's new prime minister, Imran Khan.



Reps. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherHillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations Lawmakers introduce bill designating billion to secure state and local IT systems Congress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity MORE (R-Wis.), and Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaOn The Money: McConnell previews GOP coronavirus bill | Senate panel advances Trump Fed nominee who recently supported gold standard | Economists warn about scaled-back unemployment benefits Bipartisan bill introduced to provide tax credit to food and beverage distributors Overnight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze MORE (D-Calif.), will speak on "Congress and the National Defense Strategy: A bipartisan conversation with congressional national security leaders," at 8:30 a.m. at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from former defense and security officials on U.S. nuclear policy and posture at 9:30 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room SD-G50.



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