Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief expects Turkey to drop purchase of Russian missile system | Dems counter Trump's proposed cuts with $51B spending boost | Lawmakers press Perry on nuke work with Saudis

Happy Tuesday 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: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April MORE on Tuesday indicated that he expects Turkey to abandon its plans to buy a Russian air defense system, a day after Washington halted all deliveries of F-35 fighter aircraft equipment to the NATO ally over the purchase.

Shanahan said he was "very confident" that Turkey would choose to buy the American-made Patriot anti-missile system over Russia's S-400 long-range air defense system. 

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"I expect we'll solve the problem so that they have the right defense equipment in terms of Patriots and F-35s," Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon.

The background: The United States has been pressuring Ankara for years to give up its plans to buy the S-400, which defense officials have said will be used to gather closely guarded information on the F-35. U.S. officials have instead offered Turkey the Patriot system at a discounted rate.

Turkish officials, however, have repeatedly said they will not back out on their deal with the Russians, prompting Washington on Monday to freeze delivery of F-35 equipment to Turkey. 

"The United States has been clear that Turkey's acquisition of the S-400 is unacceptable ... We very much regret the current situation facing our F-35 partnership with Turkey, and the DoD is taking prudent steps to protect the shared investments made in our critical technology," chief Pentagon spokesman Charles Summers said in a statement at the time.

Earlier on Tuesday...: There is wide consensus from top U.S. military leaders that Turkey should not get the F-35 if it follows through with buying the S-400. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Gen. Tod Wolters -- the nominee to take command of NATO forces and U.S. forces in Europe -- told lawmakers that the American and Russian systems "are not compatible."

"If Turkey proceeds down a path to procure and operate the S-400, they should not get the F-35," Wolters told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing. Wolters currently serves as commander of U.S. air forces in Europe and Africa.

But Shanahan is confident: But Shanahan said he has "had a number of conversations with [Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar] and I really think we'll resolve this situation with our strategic partners."

He added that he expects Washington will eventually deliver F-35s currently at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., to Turkey.

Ankara received its first two F-35s last year as part of an official ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, but the aircraft are not expected to be delivered until the end of 2019, when its pilots are trained to fly it. That training is still ongoing at Luke Air Force Base.

 

DEMS COUNTER TRUMP'S CUTS WITH PROPOSED $51B SPENDING INCREASE: House Democrats on Tuesday introduced a plan to raise spending caps by $51 billion, a counter to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDC board rejects Trump Hotel effort to dismiss complaint seeking removal of liquor license on basis of Trump's 'character' DC board rejects Trump Hotel effort to dismiss complaint seeking removal of liquor license on basis of Trump's 'character' Mexico's immigration chief resigns amid US pressure over migrants MORE's plan to cut $125 billion from the caps and sneak $96 billion into a special defense spending account.

House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthWho are the House Democrats backing Trump impeachment? Who are the House Democrats backing Trump impeachment? Overnight Health Care: Biden infuriates abortion-rights groups with stance on Hyde Amendment | Trump tightens restrictions on fetal tissue research | Democrats plan event to scrutinize Trump's mental health MORE (D-Ky.) introduced legislation that would increase the nondefense cap to $631 billion in 2020, a $34 billion increase, and the defense cap to $664 billion, a $17 billion increase. In 2020, the caps would rise to $646 for nondefense and $680 for defense.

"Congress owes the American people a government -- and a budget -- that works," Yarmuth said. "By moving this bill forward, we will bring responsible governing back to the budget process, avoid uncertainty and the unrelenting threats of a government shutdown, and meet our obligations to the American people," he added.

Fighting among Dems: The legislation comes amid intense infighting within the Democratic caucus, which scuttled plans to introduce a budget resolution this week. 

Despite the fact that the increase in domestic spending doubled relative to nondefense, some progressives in the party objected to further raising defense funds, and were seeking to bring the defense and nondefense parties closer to parity.

Just an hour before the 2 p.m. deadline to release the legislation ahead of a scheduled Wednesday markup, questions remained as to whether Democrats would be able to muster the votes to advance the bill in committee and on the House floor.

The position against Trump: The legislation lays down the Democratic position against Trump and congressional Republicans. The GOP-controlled Senate Budget Committee passed a budget resolution last week that would adhere to the caps laid out by law in the 2011 Budget Control Act. 

If left in place, the 2020 caps of $543 billion for nondefense and $576 billion for defense would mark a 10 percent cut from current spending levels.

The GOP resolution, however, excluded Trump's proposed $96 billion increase in defense spending for the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

 

SENATORS PRESS PERRY ON NUCLEAR WORK WITH SAUDI ARABIA: A bipartisan pair of senators is pressing for more information on the Trump administration's approval for companies to share certain nuclear energy technology with Saudi Arabia. 

Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThere is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Ending the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' MORE (R-Fla.), also a committee member, wrote to Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Defense: Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy | Trump, Macron downplay rift on Iran | Trump mourns West Point cadet's death in accident | Pentagon closes review of deadly Niger ambush Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy: 'You are the pride of our nation' Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy: 'You are the pride of our nation' MORE on Tuesday asking for answers by April 10 on his approval of what's known as Part 810 authorizations.

"The kingdom has engaged in many deeply troubling actions and statements that have provoked alarm in Congress and led lawmakers to begin the process of reevaluating the U.S.-Saudi relationship and our long-term stability and interests in the region," the senators wrote. "We therefore believe the United States should not be providing nuclear technology or information to them at this time."

A refresher: The Daily Beast first reported last week that Perry had approved six Part 810 authorizations allowing U.S. firms to share sensitive nuclear information with Saudi Arabia.

A day later, Perry confirmed the approvals to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Casting the approvals as "something that goes on every day," Perry said the Saudi-related ones were among 37 authorizations granted since 2017, including two for Jordan.

He also said information on the approvals was not shared publicly because the companies involved determined doing so would divulge proprietary information.

A broader deal: The approval comes amid the Trump administration's negotiations for a broader nuclear energy deal with Saudi Arabia known as a 123 agreement.

The 123 agreement negotiations have come under scrutiny from lawmakers in both parties because of Riyadh's demands that any agreement not include prohibitions on enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel to produce plutonium, essential steps in producing nuclear weapons.

Lawmakers have also targeted the negotiations amid a broader reevaluation of the U.S.-Saudi relationship after the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul six months ago.

Menendez and Rubio had previously asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Trump administration's nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on fiscal 2020 priorities for national security space programs at 1:45 p.m. at Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. 

Another House Armed Services subpanel will hear from defense officials on strategy, programs and policy for countering weapons of mass destruction at 2:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2212. 

A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps aviation programs at 2:30 p.m. in Russell Senate Office Building, room 232A. 

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, U.S. Northern Command head Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, and U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command leader Lt. Gen. James Dickinson will speak before a Senate Armed Services subpanel on missile defense policies and programs at 2:30 p.m. in Russell 222. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump shifts on border shutdown threat

-- The Hill: McConnell warns closing the border would have 'potentially catastrophic economic impact'

-- The Hill: DHS reassigns analysts in unit focused on domestic terror: report

-- The Hill: Opinion: Nuclear issues sharpen focus on US-Saudi relations

-- The Hill: Opinion: Can Kim Jong Un really denuclearize?

-- Defense News: House Dems offer $733B for defense in 2020 in two-year budget caps deal

-- Associated Press: US-backed Kurdish fighters clash with ISIS