Overnight Defense: Trump suffers setback in Korea talks | Trump gets praise for walking from talks | Backlash for defending Kim over Otto Warmbier | Senators offer resolution to block emergency declaration

Overnight Defense: Trump suffers setback in Korea talks | Trump gets praise for walking from talks | Backlash for defending Kim over Otto Warmbier | Senators offer resolution to block emergency declaration
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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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: Washington woke up Thursday to the news that President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE did not reach a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their summit in Vietnam.

For Trump, it was a disappointing setback at a time when he was aiming for a win in foreign policy as controversy stirred back home.

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Specifically, the Trump-Kim summit competed for attention with Wednesday's riveting testimony on Capitol Hill by Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

A success with Kim would have allowed Trump to change the narrative after a difficult day. Instead, he had to deal with Cohen fallout that was now coupled with disappointment in Vietnam.

What happened: Trump said the sticking point was sanctions, claiming North Korea wanted all sanctions before taking the denuclearization steps the United States was asking for.

"Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times," Trump said at a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam.

"It was about the sanctions," Trump added later. "Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that. They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas we wanted, but we couldn't give up all of the sanctions for that."

Asked later if he wants all nuclear weapons to be given up before sanctions are lifted, Trump said, "we want a lot to be given up."

North Korea's rebuttal: In their own rare news conference, North Korean officials refuted Trump's characterization of why the summit collapsed, saying they only asked for sanctions to be partially lifted.

Speaking in Vietnam, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho claimed his country asked for partial sanctions relief in exchange for shuttering the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

But, in Ri's telling, the United States then demanded further steps besides dismantling Yongbyon. At that point, "it became crystal clear that the U.S. was not ready to accept our proposal," Ri said through an interpreter.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, meanwhile, said Kim "may have lost the will" to negotiate with Trump after the latest round of talks.

For the best?: Trump got praise from across the political spectrum for walking away from a bad deal after many worried he would accept unfavorable terms for the sake of claiming victory.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE (D-N.Y.), for example, said in a floor speech Thursday that Trump "did the right thing by walking away and not cutting a poor deal for the sake of a photo op."

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Warren turns up heat in battle with Facebook | Instagram unveils new data privacy feature | Advocacy group seeks funding to write about Big Tech TikTok adds former lawmakers to help develop content moderation policies This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington MORE (R-Fla.) tweeted that "no deal is better than a bad deal."

But there remain critics who slammed Trump for going through with the pageantry of a summit without a deal finalized.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHouse to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Senators ask Treasury to probe Brazilian meatpacker with major US footprint MORE (N.J.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, mocked Trump's effort as "reality-TV diplomacy."

"What we saw in Hanoi was amateur hour with nuclear weapons at stake and the limits of reality-TV diplomacy," Menendez said in a CNN interview.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Democratic debate starts with immediate question on Trump impeachment White House, Pentagon, Giuliani reject House subpoenas MORE (D-Calif.) said Trump empowered the North Korean leader at the expense of America's global standing.

"He was the big winner, Kim Jong Un, in getting to sit face-to-face with the most powerful person in the world, the president of the United States," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "And really it's good that the president did not give him anything for the little that [Kim] was proposing."

Believing Kim: All the nuclear issues, though, threatened to be overshadowed by Trump saying he believes Kim's denial of involvement in the death of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier.

"He tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word," Trump said.

Warmbier, a 22-year-old student, died in 2017 after being returned to the United States in a coma after being held hostage in North Korea.

Trump's acceptance of Kim's denial sparked bipartisan outrage.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats see John Bolton as potential star witness Top State Department official arrives for testimony in impeachment probe The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Turkey controversy MORE (D-Calif.), one of the president's sharpest critics in the House, called Trump's defense of Kim "detestable."

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong 10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl MORE (R-Ohio), Warmbier's home-state senator, warned the Trump administration not to be naive about the "brutal nature" of Kim's government.

"I want to make clear that we can never forget about Otto. His treatment at the hands of his captors was unforgiveable and it tells us a lot about the nature of the regime," Portman said on the Senate floor.

"We can't be naive about what they did to Otto, about the brutal nature of the regime that would do this to an American citizen," he said.

 

FIGHT OVER BORDER EMERGENCY MOVES TO SENATE: Senators unveiled a resolution Thursday to block Trump's emergency declaration to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallGreen groups line up behind Markey ahead of looming Kennedy fight Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group Overnight Energy: Top Interior lawyer accused of lying to Congress confirmed | Senate set to deny funding for BLM move | EPA threatens to cut California highway funds MORE (D-N.M.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Susan Collins raises .1 million in third quarter Poll: 50 percent of Maine voters disapprove of Susan Collins's job performance MORE (R-Maine) introduced the resolution on the Senate floor, where it's expected to be taken up within a matter of weeks.

The two senators, in back-to-back speeches, stressed that the Senate's vote wasn't about whether a senator supported the U.S.-Mexico border wall or Trump but about maintaining a separation of power between the executive and legislative branches on funding the government.

"I support, strongly support, protecting the institutional prerogatives of the United States Senate and the system of checks and balances that is central to the structure of our government," Collins said.

Other backers: The Senate resolution is also being co-sponsored by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest| Democrats inch closer to issuing subpoenas for Interior, EPA records| Trump's plan to boost ethanol miffs corn groups and the fossil fuel industry Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest Democrats can lose Trump impeachment battle and still win electoral war MORE (R-Alaska) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Energy: Advisory panel pushes park service to privatize campgrounds | Dems urge Perry to keep lightbulb efficiency rules | Marshall Islands declares national climate crisis Democrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood charges into 2020 | PhRMA CEO warns against Pelosi drug pricing bill | Medicaid work requirements costing states millions MORE (D-N.H.).

All Democrats are expected to back the resolution once it comes to the Senate floor. They'll need four Republican senators to get it to Trump's desk, where he's said he will veto it.

So far, three Republican senators have said they will vote for the resolution: Collins, Murkowski and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTillis says impeachment is 'a waste of resources' GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren, Sanders overtake Biden in third-quarter fundraising MORE (N.C.).

Several other Republicans have voiced concerns about Trump's emergency declaration.

 

REPORT SAYS FIVE-YEAR TIMELINE FOR AFGHANISTAN WITHDRAWAL: As U.S. and Taliban negotiators are in Qatar trying to nail down a peace agreement, news has emerged of a Pentagon proposal for a drawdown that takes up to five years.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the Pentagon is floating a plan as part of the talks that would see all U.S. troops leave Afghanistan within the next three to five years,

Officials are discussing the plan with European allies, the Times reported, and would cut the roughly 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by half within the next few months. Under the plan, the 8,600 European and Australian troops stationed in the country would be tasked with training Afghan troops, shifting U.S. forces' focus to counterterrorism operations, according to the Times.

'All options': A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Koné Faulkner, told the Times that no plans have been finalized yet, and that the Trump administration is "considering all options of force numbers and disposition" in Afghanistan.

 

SENATORS WEIGH NUCLEAR ARMS POLICY: A trio of former officials testified about nuclear policy Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, recommending the United States stay in the New START Treaty with Russia, The Hill's Margie Cullen reports.

The hearing comes after Trump last month suspended a separate pact with Russia known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over accusation of Russian violations.

The INF decision has raised questions about the fate of New START, which caps the number of nuclear warheads the U.S. and Russia can deploy. It expires in 2021, but there is an option to extend it.

Madelyn Creedon, former principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration; Franklin Miller, a former senior director on the National Security Council; and retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler, former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, urged lawmakers to extend New START for another 5 years to give the administration more time to negotiate a new treaty with Russia.

Creedon also said there were questions about the INF treaty, but expressed concern about the decision to withdraw the U.S.

"There are a lot of arguments that this treaty has outlived its usefulness, but whether that's true or not that is the sort of thing that should have been discussed. I think the unilateral decision to pull out of this treaty was a mistake," she said.

The witnesses also urged lawmakers to adopt a more robust nuclear policy to keep up with Russia and China.

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"The United States faces a revanchist Russia and an expansionist China, both are modernizing their conventional armed forces and expanding their nuclear capabilities," Miller said.

Miller said Russia and China have been modernizing and building up their nuclear arsenal, while the U.S. has not been producing new weapons.

"There is an arms race," Miller said, "But the U.S. is not in it."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Hudson Institute will host a panel on the U.S. drawdown in Syria at 11:45 a.m. https://bit.ly/2UkP3tG

New American will host a panel on the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban at 12:15 p.m. https://bit.ly/2T9sjk7

 

ICYMI

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-- The Hill: Pakistan to return captured Indian pilot as US attempts to defuse conflict

-- The Hill: Opinion: Trump checks Kim Jong Un's Hanoi peace ploy -- for now

-- The Hill: Opinion: Better late than never: US comes to its senses on India-Pakistan conflict

-- Stars and Stripes: Pentagon plans scaled-back spring training exercise in South Korea as Trump-Kim negotiations falter