Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be ‘end of Iran’ | Graham tells Trump to ‘stand firm’ | Budget talks begin

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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: Tensions with Iran remain high as the new week starts.

The House and Senate will finally get full briefings from administration officials on Tuesday, after events over the weekend ensured the Persian Gulf region remains a top U.S. concern.

The briefings from Trump’s top security officials — including acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford — will provide the first opportunity for many lawmakers worried about the threat of war to evaluate the intelligence the Trump administration says justifies its recent moves in the region.

Graham gets his: One of the most prominent calls for a briefing came from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally. On Monday, Graham said he had been briefed by national security adviser John Bolton and encouraged Trump to stay the course.{mosads}

“It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq,” Graham tweeted.

“If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response,” Graham added in a second tweet. “Stand firm Mr. President.”

Over the weekend: On Sunday, President Trump tweeted that “if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”

“Never threaten the United States again!” he added.

Trump did not specify what prompted his tweet, but it came shortly after a rocket landed less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. U.S. Central Command said no U.S. or coalition personnel were harmed and that Iraqi security forces are investigating.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the rocket attack, but the Iraqi military has said it appears to have been fired from east Baghdad, an area home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.

In the Navy: Also Sunday, the Navy announced the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group (the one that was redirected to the Gulf region) conducted an exercise in the Arabian Sea with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, on which the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is serving.

The exercises were “aimed towards increasing our lethality and agility to respond to threats, and deterring destabilizing actions in this important region,” Rear Adm. John Wade, commander of the carrier strike group, said in a statement.

In Iran: Meanwhile, on Monday, Iranian officials announced they have increased their capacity to produce enriched uranium.

The spokesman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, made the announcement in remarks carried by official Iranian news agencies.

By increasing production capacity, Iran will soon have stockpiled more uranium than the international nuclear deal allows. But Kamalvandi stressed that Iran would still be enriching to the 3.76 percent limit set by the deal, meaning the uranium could not be used for a nuclear weapon.

Further reading: The Hill took a look at the Iran tensions from several different angles over the weekend. If you need to catch up:

— Trump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran

— Pentagon reporters left in dark as Iran tensions escalate

— Bolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran


BUDGET TALKS SET TO BEGIN: Tuesday is shaping up to be a busy day; in addition to the Iran briefings, talks to hammer out a two-year budget deal are scheduled at the White House.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

White House staffers have been negotiating with McConnell and Pelosi aides in recent weeks after McConnell announced last month that they had agreed to start staff-level talks aimed at getting a two-year deal.

The decision to kick it up to the principles comes as lawmakers have been sounding the alarm about the need to keep the government open, with current funding set to expire at the end of September.

Defense connection: Without a budget deal, draconian cuts known as sequestration would take effect.

For defense, that means neither the $750 billion the administration and Republicans want for fiscal 2020 nor the $733 billion Democrats are planning for could happen.

The Budget Control Act would cap base defense spending at $576 billion in fiscal 2020.

The administration proposed putting a sizeable chunk of defense funding in a war account not subject to caps in order to avoid having to reach a reach a budget deal. But members of both parties reject that as a gimmick.


SPENDING BILL WATCH: Another item on Tuesday’s agenda: House markups for the fiscal 2020 defense spending bill, as well as the energy and water spending bill.

On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee released the reports accompanying the bill.

While we already had the draft bill text last week, the reports provide some more interesting details.

For example, on the decision to allocate just $15 million to continue studying Space Force, rather than $72 million to set it up, the defense report says: “While the Committee appreciates the intent of the proposal, the plan leaves many unanswered questions and lacks important details and supporting analysis to justify the proposed size, scope, cost, roles, and authorities for the new military service. Further, the Committee notes that it is fully within the Department’s current authority to make space a higher priority without creating a new military service and is not persuaded that the specific plan proposed justifies the additional overhead cost and disruption across the Department.”

Both reports also showed that Democrats would not fund several of the Trump administration’s nuclear priorities.

The committee would not give the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) $10 million for a so-called low yield nuclear warhead, nor would it give the Pentagon $19.6 million to support the warhead, dubbed that W76-2.

While the NNSA is expected to finish production of the warheads this fiscal year — meaning the $10 million cut won’t matter much — the Pentagon needs money to field the warhead.

The committee would also zero out research and development funds for systems that would violate the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty, which Trump is in the process of withdrawing from.

Read the full defense report here, and the energy and water report (where the NNSA funding is) here.



The Senate Armed Services Committee will have four markups of the National Defense Authorization:

— Closed-door markup for the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity at 9:30 a.m.

— Closed-door markup for the Subcommittee on Seapower at 11 a.m.

— Open markup for the Subcommittee on Personnel at 2:15 p.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2VHUB1C

— Closed-door markup for Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. At 4:30 p.m.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will host a hearing on “Undermining Democracy: Kremlin Tools of Malign Political Influence” at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2HM8B5c

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz and other officials will testify before the House Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation at 10 a.m. at Rayburn 2167. https://bit.ly/2JT60sU

The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the fiscal 2020 energy and water and defense spending bills at 10:30 a.m. at Rayburn 2359. https://bit.ly/2JQUU7T

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the nominees to be U.S. representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, U.S. executive director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and U.S. executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank at 11 a.m. at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2VTVg4X

The House Veterans Affairs Committee and a House Armed Services subcommittee will co-host a hearing on military and veteran suicide at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. https://bit.ly/2WWI0c7



— The Hill: Sailors on Navy sub created sexually explicit lists of female crewmates: report

— The Hill: Trump: ‘I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons’

— The Hill: Opinion: Don’t recycle another myth to justify a war with Iran

— The Hill: Opinion: A crisis with Iran need not lead to a war

— Reuters: U.S. warship sails in disputed South China Sea amid trade tensions

— The Washington Post: The U.S. put nuclear waste under a dome on a Pacific island. Now it’s cracking open.

Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump John Bolton Kevin McCarthy Lindsey Graham Mick Mulvaney Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Patrick Shanahan Steven Mnuchin

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