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 GrahamWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Barr to attend Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday GOP lawmaker makes unannounced trip to northeastern Syria 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."


The others introducing resolutions are Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMenendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee; Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyKerry responds to Trump accusation he violated Logan Act: 'Another presidential lie' Overnight Health Care: Senate panel to hold hearing on US coronavirus response | Dems demand Trump withdraw religious provider rule | Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan backlash Democratic senators urge Trump administration to request emergency funding for coronavirus response MORE (D-Conn.); Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Pelosi names first-ever House whistleblower ombudsman director The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Ky.); Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Pentagon transferring .8 billion to border wall MORE (D-Vt.); Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRepublican Senate campaign arm hauled in over million in January The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' MORE (R-Ind.); and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Pavlich: The Senate defends its integrity Five Senate Democrats make impeachment case in Spanish 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 TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration 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 PompeoLimbaugh: Democrats who set up George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq now organizing 'silent coup' against Trump Overnight Defense: Seven day 'reduction in violence' starts in Afghanistan | US, Taliban plan to sign peace deal Feb. 29 | Trump says top intel job has four candidates Former US ambassador Yovanovitch lands a book deal: report 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.



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 CruzPompeo to speak to influential conservative group in Iowa Top National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role Ted Cruz takes aim at Alabama vasectomy bill: 'Yikes' MORE (R-Texas), and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Graham warned Pentagon chief about consequences of Africa policy: report Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump 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 HagelAlmost 100 former officials, members of Congress urge Senate action on election security GOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel White House aide moves to lobbying firm 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. 



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