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: 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
© Getty Images

Happy Friday 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.

 

Programming note: Overnight Defense will be on hiatus Monday in observance of Memorial Day. We will return Tuesday.

 

THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE on Friday announced that the U.S. will send roughly 1,500 troops to the Middle East in order to counter Iran's influence in the region.

Trump emphasized that the new deployment will provide force protection for existing troops in the area amid heightened tensions with Tehran.

The president approved the additional forces on Thursday following a meeting with acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions Trump says he intends to nominate Esper to lead Pentagon MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford at the White House.

"We want to have protection," Trump told reporters at the White House.

ADVERTISEMENT

The specifics: Director of the Joint Staff Rear Adm. Michael Gilday later told reporters at the Pentagon that fewer than 1,000 new U.S. troops will actually be deploying to the Middle East, while roughly 600 soldiers already in the region will have their deployment extended.

The new soldiers sent are part of a Patriot antimissile battalion being deployed to defend against missile threats.

In addition to troops and the Patriot battalion, the Pentagon will also send additional intelligence and reconnaissance aircraft, engineers, as well as a fighter aircraft squadron "to provide additional deterrence and depth to our aviation response options."

Shanahan said that the request for more forces and equipment came from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and that he had informed Congress of the deployment, saying it was meant to "improve our force protection and safeguard U.S. forces given the ongoing threat posed by Iranian forces, including the IRGC [Iran's Revolutionary Guard] and its proxies."

The move "is a prudent defensive measure and intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities," the Pentagon chief said in a statement. "I remain committed to ensuring U.S. personnel have the force protection resources they need and deserve."

Reaction: Lawmakers gave mixed reaction to news of the deployment on Friday.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Washington braces for Trump's next move on Iran Overnight Defense: Latest on Iran after Trump halts planed strike | Dems call Trump's approach 'erratic' | Key Republican urges Trump to retaliate | Esper reportedly getting Defense secretary nomination MORE (R-Ky.) wrote on Twitter that he "strongly" urges Trump to reconsider more troops to the Middle East.

"This escalation doesn't get us out of our decades long, seemingly endless wars Mr. President. Trust your instincts and follow what you ran on, not the neocons around who want to repeat past mistakes," he wrote.

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUS officials express optimism negotiations with Iran possible GOP rep: 'This story is not over' if Iran continues 'aggressive' and 'provocative' behavior Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One MORE (R-Texas), however, said it was a "prudent step to protect our forces and deter Iran."

"The information and warnings we have collected on Iran are not 'business as usual.' It is important that we make clear to Iran, in words and actions, that they cannot attack us with impunity," he said in a statement.

"The forces being deployed are in response to a request from CENTCOM. I understand that there is a temptation to view everything through a political lens, but a request from a commander on the ground for additional force protection should never be subject to a partisan debate," Thornberry added.

Democrats voiced concerns over the move, with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTexas Republican: Migrant conditions in his state the 'worst' he's seen Trump: Border deal with Democrats 'probably won't happen' Armed Services committee chair: Democrats don't trust Trump to implement 'humane' immigration policy MORE (D-Wash.) calling the decision "unsettling."

"While requests from CENTCOM should always be taken seriously, our posture in the region should be scrutinized if it does not fit into a broader strategy," Smith said in a statement.

"Without a clearly articulated strategy, adding more personnel and mission systems seems unwise, and appears to be a blatant and heavy-handed move to further escalate tensions with Iran. Leaders from both sides of the aisle have called for de-escalation. At first blush, this move does not fit the bill."

 

TRUMP PUSHING THROUGH SAUDI SALE: The Trump administration has invoked an emergency provision of the law governing arms sales to immediately sell Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies weapons without congressional approval, senators said Friday.

The senators indicated the Trump administration used the Iran tensions as justification for the emergency sale.

State Department spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the arms sale.

The details: The package Congress was notified of Friday is composed of more than 20 separate deals and is valued at $8.1 billion, a Senate staffer told The Hill. The weapons include precision guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition, and aircraft maintenance support, the staffer said.

The arms are being sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with the UAE then transferring some to Jordan, the staffer added.

The State Department informed relevant Senate and House committees and offices of the decision in a call and also sent the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the determination from Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump calls on foreign countries to protect their own oil tankers Trump to travel to South Korea The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck MORE that an emergency exists requiring the sale in U.S. national security interests, the staffer added.

Background: Democrats had warned earlier this week the administration was on the verge of using what they described as an "obscure loophole" in the Arms Export Control Act to finalize a long-stalled arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Arms Export Control Act gives lawmakers 30 days to vote to block an arms sale once Congress is formally notified about it.

But the law also says the president can waive the review period and have the sale go through immediately if "an emergency exists which requires the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States."

Reaction: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale Trump's UN pick faces Senate grilling MORE (R-Idaho) said he received the notification and is reviewing the legal justification.

"I have received formal notification of the administration's intent to move forward with a number of arms sales," he said in a statement. "I am reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications."

In a four-paragraph statement, Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.) slammed the administration as failing "to even identify which legal mechanism it thinks it is using," adding the notification "described years of malign Iranian behavior but failed to identify what actually constitutes an emergency today."

"As I repeatedly warned the Trump administration in the lead up to this ill-informed decision, I will fight any effort to further erode congressional review and oversight of arm sales," Menendez said.

"I am in discussion with several Democratic and Republican colleagues, and I hope the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Foreign Affairs Committees will soon be able to expeditiously address this latest attack on our constitutional responsibilities," he added. "The lives of millions of people depend on it."

In a separate statement, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale Trump faces skepticism about Iran war authority from both parties MORE (Conn.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations subpanel with oversight of the Middle East, said the administration is setting an "incredibly dangerous precedent."

"We have the constitutional duty to declare war and the responsibility to oversee arm sales that contravene our national security interests," Murphy said. "If we don't stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to. I'm currently working on legislation to restrict arm sales so we can get back in this business of helping set critical foreign policy."

CONFIRMATIONS BEFORE RECESS: The Senate has voted to confirm the officers nominated to be chiefs of the Army and Navy.

As part of a batch of dozens of military nominees, the Senate confirmed Adm. Bill Moran to be chief of naval operations and Gen. James McConville to be Army chief of staff by unanimous consent on Thursday night.

The Senate also confirmed replacements for Moran and McConville, who have been serving as the vice chiefs of their respective services. The new vice chiefs are Adm. Robert Burke for the Navy and Gen. Joseph Martin for the Army.

Moran will take over for Adm. John Richardson, who is expected to retire after the change of command.

McConville will take command from Gen. Mark Milley, who Trump has nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

ICYMI

-- The HIll: Conservative blocks House passage of disaster relief bill

-- The HIll: Trump to get respite from Washington woes in Japan

-- The Hill: Shanahan challenges Naval Academy graduates to 'set standard' on stopping sexual assault

-- The Hill: North Korea: Nuclear talks with US won't resume without new approach

-- The Hill: Sanders refuses to apologize for opposing war with Iran

-- Army Times: Army denies soldier's request to grow beard in observance of Flying Spaghetti Monster religion

-- Associated Press: Liberal groups want 2020 Dems to back Pentagon spending cuts