Overnight Defense: Senators plan 22 resolutions to block Saudi arms sale | Trump defends transgender military plan | Trump, lawmakers prep to mark D-Day anniversary

Overnight Defense: Senators plan 22 resolutions to block Saudi arms sale | Trump defends transgender military plan | Trump, lawmakers prep to mark D-Day anniversary
© Greg Nash

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: A bipartisan group of senators plans to flood the Senate with 22 separate resolutions to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies that the Trump administration hoped to muscle through, they announced Wednesday.

Among the senators joining together to introduce the resolutions of disapproval is Trump ally Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE (R-S.C.), who has split with the president over his support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored," Graham said in a Wednesday statement. "I am also very concerned about the precedent these arms sales would set by having the Administration go around legitimate concerns of the Congress. I expect and look forward to strong bipartisan support for these resolutions of disapproval."

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The others introducing resolutions are Sens. 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.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee; 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 (D-Conn.); 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.); Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE (D-Vt.); Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight 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 The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ind.); and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedTrump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

At issue: Under normal procedures outlined in the Arms Export Control Act, lawmakers have 30 days to review and potentially block an arms sale once the administration formally notifies Congress about it.

But last month, the Trump administration notified Congress it was invoking a provision of that law allowing arms sales to go through immediately without the review period.

In doing so, the administration cited an alleged heightened threat from Iran to sell $8.1 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with the UAE then transferring some to Jordan.

Stalled sale: The sales had been long stalled amid bipartisan opposition fueled by concern about civilian deaths caused by the Saudi-led coalition's operations in the Yemeni civil war. Opposition only grew after the Saudis killed U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their consulate in Istanbul.

Despite the administration using emergency powers, Congress can still block the sales until the weapons are delivered.

The law also makes resolutions of disapproval privileged, meaning the senators can force a vote on them.

Trump's argument: The administration has argued that using emergency powers on arms sales is not unprecedented. The emergency provision has been used four times before, with the Trump administration particularly highlighting President Reagan invoking it in 1984 during the Iran-Iraq War after Iran attacked Saudi oil tankers.

Lawmakers push back: But lawmakers opposed to the move argue that it is unprecedented to use the provision in the way the administration has, saying 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 is attempting to circumvent Congress.

"The Trump administration's effort to sell billions of U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is yet another example of an end-run around Congress and a disregard for human rights," Menendez said in a statement. "The best thing the secretary of State can do right now is withdraw his emergency certification, immediately submit these sales for the normal congressional review and engage with senators to address our concerns.

"Failing that, I am prepared to move forward with any and all options to nullify the licenses at issue for both Saudi Arabia and UAE and eliminate any ability for the administration to bypass Congress in future arms sales."

 

LEAKED AUDIO REVEALS US STRUGGLING TO KEEP MADURO OPPOSITION UNITED: In a closed-door meeting last week, 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 said the U.S. has struggled to keep the opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro unitedaccording to the Washington Post.

"Our conundrum, which is to keep the opposition united, has proven devilishly difficult," Pompeo said in audio obtained by the Post. "The moment Maduro leaves, everybody's going to raise their hands and [say], 'Take me, I'm the next president of Venezuela.' It would be forty-plus people who believe they're the rightful heir to Maduro."

The Secretary of State made the remarks last week during a meeting with Jewish leaders, according to the Post, at one point declining to answer a sensitive question because "someone's probably got a tape recorder on."

Pompeo added that while he still believed Maduro would inevitably be ousted, he "couldn't tell you the timing." The Secretary of State said the problems in uniting the opposition have been present since he first became director of the CIA in 2017, and that internal squabbles among Maduro's enemies were preventing a successful uprising.

A different message: In public, the administration has betrayed no such doubts about the forces opposing Maduro and was the first of nearly 60 countries to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the South American nation's interim president.

The sentiments Pompeo expresses in the recording are "a sober but accurate view," Shannon O'Neil, a Venezuela expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the newspaper.

A refresher: Venezuela is in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis as well as a power struggle between Maduro and Guaidó, who as head of the National Assembly claims to be the legitimate president of the country. He was declared interim president by the opposition in January and has so far been recognized as such by more than 50 countries, including the United States.

The White House hoped that uprising would be the turning point in toppling Maduro, one of the administration's top foreign policy goals.

Guaidó's effort, however, fizzled after he failed to gain support from senior leaders of the Venezuelan military.

 

TRUMP DEFENDS MILITARY TRANSGENDER BAN: British commentator and former "Celebrity Apprentice" winner Piers Morgan pressed President Trump in an interview about the president's public support of the LGBTQ community while issuing a ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Morgan, in an interview that aired Wednesday on "Good Morning Britain," asked Trump why he felt the "need to ban transgender people" from the military.

"This week, you tweeted your support for the LGBT community around the world where they're being persecuted or excluded," Morgan said. "If you feel that protective of the LGBT community, why did you feel the need to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military?"

Trump said it was because transgender people "take massive amounts of drugs."

"They have to ... and you're not allowed to take drugs," Trump said. "You're not allowed to take any drugs. You take an aspirin. And they have to after the operation. They have to. They have no choice. They have to."

Countering facts: Morgan pointed out to the commander in chief that the cost of medication for transgender troops is "minuscule" compared to the U.S. military's budget.

"The U.S. military spends a lot more money on, for example, giving Viagra to servicemen than it does actually on medical bills for transgender people," the host added.

Trump said he didn't know that statistic.

"So it just seems to me an unnecessary thing for a guy who wants to be supportive of the LGBT rights and the community around the world, that you've taken this action," Morgan told the president.

Trump responded, "It is what it is."

Trump's claims: The president then claimed that many service members were joining the military, requesting operations and then taking time off for recovery.

"You have to have a standard and you have to stick by that standard," Trump said in the interview. "We have a great military and I want to keep it that way. And maybe they would be phenomenal, I think they probably would be.

"But, again, you have very strict rules and regulations on drugs and prescription drugs and all of these different things. And they blow it out of the water," the president added.

The background: Transgender troops have been serving openly since the Obama administration lifted a previous ban in 2016.

But in July 2017, Trump tweeted he would "not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military."

Trump's controversial policy was met by a series of lawsuits from LGBTQ advocacy groups, but it took effect in April.

Under the new policy, outlined in a March memo, transgender service members currently serving or anyone who has already signed an enlistment contract can continue to serve openly and receive medical care.

But transgender individuals who join the military going forward will have to serve in the gender they were assigned at birth. Anyone diagnosed with gender dysphoria will not be allowed to enlist unless a doctor certifies they have been stable in their biological sex for 36 months.

Troops who receive a gender dysphoria diagnosis while currently serving in the military will fall under the new rules.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

All day: Congress and the Trump administration will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when in 1944 nearly 160,000 Allied troops landed on Normandy Beach and began the liberation of German-occupied France.

President Trump will participate in a commemoration of the anniversary at the Normandy American Cemetery in France.

Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage 2020 Democrat Bennet releases comprehensive government reform plan GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-Texas), and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion MORE (D-Del.) will speak on "Countering China's Security State: A Bipartisan Approach," at 9 a.m. in the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. 

Air Force Lt. Gen. Brad Shwedo, director for command, control, communications and computers/cyber, and CIO to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will speak on "Warfare in the Information Age," at 9:30 a.m. at the Air Force Association in Arlington, Va.

Former Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Senators plan 22 resolutions to block Saudi arms sale | Trump defends transgender military plan | Trump, lawmakers prep to mark D-Day anniversary The Hill's Morning Report - Mueller finally speaks. What now? Swalwell says he will convene a bipartisan 'blended cabinet' if elected president MORE will speak at following a National Archives film screening of "The True Glory," a record of the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy and the Allied landing in Europe, at 7 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump says there's 'a chance' US takes military action against Iran

-- The Hill: Trump says he would've been 'honored' to serve in military, thinks he's making up for it now

-- The Hill: Trump casts doubt on North Korea purge

-- The Hill: US reportedly pursuing $2 billion weapon sale with Taiwan

-- The Hill: Border apprehensions spike in May, topping 130,000 

-- The Hill: Trump attends D-Day anniversary ceremony in England

-- The Hill: Putin: Ties between Russia, China at 'unprecedented level'

-- The Hill: Opinion: The 'Trump card': Using the Insurrection Act at the border

-- The Hill: Opinion: Is China about to give America a 'bloody nose'?