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 GrahamTwo-thirds of Republicans support 'red flag' gun laws: NPR poll Red flag laws won't stop mass shootings — ending gun-free zones will Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid 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) MenendezPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback MORE (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee; Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces White House eyes September action plan for gun proposals Trump phoned Democratic senator to talk gun control MORE (D-Conn.); Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.); Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (D-Vt.); Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sale GOP chairman yanks Saudi bill after Democrats muscle through tougher language MORE (R-Ind.); and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenators ask for committee vote on 'red flag' bills after shootings Senate Democrats demand Trump order review of White House security clearances Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador 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 TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems 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 PompeoCotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' Pompeo expresses concern over North Korea missile tests Pompeo acknowledges 'places where ISIS is more powerful today' 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 CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE (R-Texas), and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Biden faces scrutiny for his age from other Democrats Democrats press FBI for details on Kavanaugh investigation 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: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip Esper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China 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'?