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Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland

Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland

Happy Wednesday 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: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) markup is going strong in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The most controversial issues won't be debated until later tonight, but lawmakers have already gotten into several spirited debates.

Previewing what's likely to come, lawmakers have had several back-and-forth exchanges about the topline.

The bill, you'll recall, would authorize $733 billion in defense spending, but Republicans want $750 billion.

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In one particularly colorful exchange, seapower subcommittee ranking member Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanTrade groups make lobbying push to be included in small business loan program Overnight Defense: 32 dead in ISIS-claimed attack in Kabul | Trump says Taliban could 'possibly' overrun Afghan government when US leaves | House poised for Iran war powers vote next week Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel MORE (R-Va.) quoted "A Tale of Two Cities," saying he hopes members can make the bill a bipartisan "spring of hope" and avoid the late night "winter of despair."

Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithA long overdue discussion on Pentagon spending Overnight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves .8B Taiwan arms sales Democratic House chairman trusts Pentagon won't follow 'unlawful orders' on election involvement MORE (D-Wash.) replied: "Well that certainly was more dramatic than the previous statements. Were you sensing that the room was getting a little, maybe, bored and thought you'd jazz it up a bit? I appreciate that."

And there will definitely be more to come on the money debate. After Democrats indicated ranking member Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves .8B Taiwan arms sales Chamber of Commerce endorses former White House physician Ronny Jackson for Congress Overnight Defense: Senate passes stopgap spending bill hours before shutdown deadline | Brief military mentions in chaotic first Trump, Biden debate | Lawmakers grills Pentagon officials over Germany drawdown MORE's (R-Texas) amendment to raise the topline to $750 billion may be ruled out of order, Thornberry's spokesman emailed reporters this quote from him: "There will be a vote on it- one way or another."

The Hill will be following the debate all night long, so check back at TheHill.com for updates. For now, here are some highlights from amendment votes.

Air Force One paint job: The committee voted 31-26 to require congressional approval for changes to the Air Force One presidential aircraft's paint scheme and interior design that have been cheered by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE.

Offered by Rep. Joe CourtneyJoseph (Joe) D. CourtneyConnecticut Republican drops out of congressional race on primary day after arrest Navy recommends reinstating Crozier as captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt: report Overnight Defense: Aircraft carrier captain removed from duty after pleading for help with outbreak | Trump to expand use of defense law to build ventilators | Hospital ships receiving few patients MORE (D-Conn.), the chairman of the panel's seapower subcommittee, the amendment would require the Trump administration to get Congress' approval for any "work relating to aircraft paint scheme, interiors and livery" before it takes place.

Trump has said he hopes to change the paint job on new Air Force Ones, forgoing the blue-and-white scheme -- designed by President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy -- for a red, white and blue color scheme.

But Courtney warned that even seemingly small changes to the plane can quickly add up.

Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneLawmakers grill Pentagon over Trump's Germany drawdown Bottom line Jerry Carl wins GOP Alabama runoff to replace Rep. Bradley Byrne MORE (R-Ala.) opposed the amendment, saying it "looks like an attempt to just poke at the president."

Smith said the included amendment is "really not trying to poke the president" but "simply trying to exercise our oversight responsibilities to try to save the taxpayers money."

"As I understand it these planes are not even going to be delivered until late 2024, 2025. This president is not going to fly on this plane under any circumstances," Smith said.

Low-yield nukes: The debate on the strategic forces subcommittee's portion of the bill grew heated quickly over its restriction on using funds to deploy the W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead.

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Steve King defends past comments on white supremacy, blasts NYT and GOP leaders in fiery floor speech GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power MORE (R-Wyo.) offered two amendments -- one to strike the ban using funds to deploy the W76-2 on submarines and another to increase funding to the weapon -- with the first taking up more than 45 minutes of debate.

The votes on the amendments haven't happened yet, since the committee had to recess for House floor votes.

Cheney and her fellow Republican colleagues argued that in order to prevent Russia or other aggressive nations from using their own low-yield weapons, the United States needs a credible response of its own.

Rouge nations may not believe that the U.S. military would respond with a larger nuclear weapon if the enemy used a smaller nuclear warhead first. Having an equal strike option, a tit-for-tat, would deter weapons from ever being used is the argument.

Democrat lawmakers, however, argued that any use of a low-yield nuke by an enemy would trigger a nuclear war, regardless of what size weapons the United States puts on its submarines.  

The debate grew heated, with Cheney claiming that Democratic lawmakers' move to block deployment of the nuke would waste millions of dollars spent on development, and does not increase Russia's likelihood of using nuclear weapons themselves.

Democrats, including Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiWuhan is the final straw: The world needs to divest from China GOP seizes on 'defund the police' to galvanize base Peace Corps faces uncertain future with no volunteers in field MORE (D-Calif.), fired back that deploying the weapons could undermine traditional nuclear deterrence strategy and that any occurrence where there would be a tit for tat nuclear exchange "is a God awful situation, we should never go there."

 

HOUSE DEMS UNVEIL SAUDI ARMS RESOLUTIONS: House Democrats introduced several measures on Wednesday aimed at blocking Trump's emergency arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies.

One measure, led by Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuPelosi suggests Trump setting 'dangerous' example with quick return to White House The spin on Woodward's tapes reveals the hypocrisy of Democrats Larry Kudlow defends response to coronavirus: Trump 'led wisely' MORE (D-Calif.), would block all 22 arms sales the Trump administration recently approved, according to a House Foreign Affairs Committee press release.

Other measures introduced by Reps. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineJustice Department charges Google with illegally maintaining search monopoly Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL MORE (D-R.I.), Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerDuring pandemic, 'telehealth' emerging as important lifeline to connect patients with caregivers Chamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Spanberger's GOP challenger raises over .8 million in third quarter MORE (D-Va.) and Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiPhil Murphy says no coronavirus outbreaks in New Jersey linked to Trump fundraiser Marjorie Taylor Greene spars with GOP lawmaker over QAnon, antifa Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones MORE (D-N.J.) specifically address the transfers of precision-guided bombs, according to the press release.

The press release refers to the resolutions as bipartisan. A congressional aide told The Hill that Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashEnergized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory Ocasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones MORE (R-Mich.) is co-sponsoring Lieu's resolution.

Context: The House effort comes after senators secured at least 51 votes on 22 resolutions to block the arms sales.

The Senate is expected to take up the 22 resolutions of disapproval as soon as next week.

Because lawmakers are challenging the sales under the same law, they need only a simple majority to send the resolutions to the president.

With all 47 members of the Democratic caucus expected to support the resolutions, they needed to win over at least four Senate Republicans to have the simple majority needed to send the resolution to the House, where Democrats have pledged to follow suit with blocking the sales.

Three GOP senators -- Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTwo Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 Michigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (Ky.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? Trump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report MORE (S.C.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRepublicans: Supreme Court won't toss ObamaCare Vulnerable Republicans break with Trump on ObamaCare lawsuit Senate GOP eyes early exit MORE (Ind.) -- signed on as sponsors when the resolutions were rolled out last week. A spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeePence adviser Marty Obst tests positive for COVID-19 Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 End the American military presence in Somalia MORE (R-Utah) has signed on as a co-sponsor, giving Democrats their crucial fourth vote.

Fiery hearing: The introduction of the House measures also comes after a testy hearing in which Democrats demanded answers from the State Department on its thinking behind invoking an emergency to push the arms sales through.

"There is no emergency," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Trump, Biden set to meet in final debate | Explicit Fort Bragg tweets were sent by account administrator | China threatens retaliation over Taiwan arms sale Is Trump a better choice for Jewish voters than Biden? Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches MORE (D-N.Y.) said at the hearing. "It's phony. It's made up. And it's an abuse of the law. Once again, attempting to cut Congress out of the whole picture. This is not a dictatorship. We don't rule this country by fiat."

The Trump administration argues the emergency was justified because of an alleged heightened threat from Iran.

"It is this situation, this significant increase in both the intelligence of threat streams and clear, provocative and damaging actions taken by Iran's government, that the secretary did determine it constituted an emergency," R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Cooper also argued that the administration respected Congress's role in the process, despite using the emergency to circumvent its hold on the sales.

"I value deeply Congress' role in the review of the arms transfer process," he said. "I do not view the secretary's certification as setting aside this process. Indeed, by carving out a certain set of cases in the context of a statutory authority long granted by Congress, the secretary's action is an affirmation of the value we place on our engagement with you on arms transfers and broader security assistance issues."

That assertion infuriated Democrats.

"This is gaslighting," Cicilline said. "You're claiming that ignoring this provision is your way of affirming the role Congress plays. That's an absurdity."

 

US, POLAND INK DEFENSE DEAL: It's not quite "Fort Trump," but the United States and Poland have agreed on sending more troops to the Eastern European country.

Trump said Wednesday he is sending 1,000 additional troops to Poland in an effort to strengthen the U.S.'s alliance with the country.

Trump made the announcement during a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, saying Warsaw will pay for additional infrastructure "to support [the] military presence of about 1,000 American troops."

"The Polish government will build these projects at no cost to the United States," Trump said. "We thank President Duda and the people of Poland for their partnership in advancing our common security."

And planes: The president also said Poland would purchase more than 30 F-35 stealth fighter jets from the U.S., marking the deal with a flyover of one of the jets over the White House as Trump, Duda and their wives looked on.

"Moments ago, we witnessed that impressive flyover of this cutting-edge F-35 as it flew over the White House and actually came pretty close to a halt over the White House," Trump said at the press conference. "And it's one of the few in the world that can do that, considered to be the greatest fighter jet in the world."

Earlier: Trump mistakenly said earlier Wednesday during a meeting with Duda in the Oval Office that he would be sending close to 2,000 American troops to Poland from Germany and other European countries. The U.S. currently has around 4,000 military service members in Poland.

 

INHOFE DISMISSES 'PHONY' SHANAHAN REPORT: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSexual assault case against Air Force general can proceed, judge rules House Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump's Germany withdrawal EPA gives Oklahoma authority over many tribal environmental issues MORE (R-Okla.) on Wednesday dismissed a news report that said Trump was having second thoughts on naming Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanHouse Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Boeing pleads for bailout under weight of coronavirus, 737 fallout Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January MORE as Defense secretary.

"It's just a phony report that the president's going soft on this. He's not. I talked to him as recently as yesterday, and he's still committed on Shanahan," Inhofe said when asked about the status of the nomination.

Background: NBC News reported on Tuesday that Trump "appears to be having second thoughts" about naming Shanahan to lead the Pentagon. Four sources told the outlet that Trump had been asking about alternative candidates to Shanahan, who has been acting secretary since the beginning of the year.

The White House announced Trump's intention to nominate Shanahan as Defense secretary in early May. His nomination has been in limbo since then as lawmakers wait for Trump to formally submit the nomination to the Senate.

Asked about Shanahan's nomination, Trump said this week that he has "put it out officially" and the acting secretary, who served as deputy to former Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisNearly 300 more former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter John Kelly called Trump 'the most flawed person' he's ever met: report Biden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies MORE, "has to go through the process."

So what is the hold up?: Inhofe told reporters on Wednesday that the hold-up had to do with waiting for the FBI's background check on Shanahan to wrap up and be submitted.

"They can't do that until after the FBI report comes in," Inhofe said, adding that it will probably be "another week" until the White House sends the nomination.

A staffer who was standing next to Inhofe said the nomination could come as early as this week, though it might slip into next week.

 

SENATORS SUPPORT NORTH MACEDONIA FOR NATO: Senators held a hearing Wednesday on allowing North Macedonia to join NATO, touting it as an important step to protect the region against expanding Russian influence, reports The Hill's Josh Aaron Siegel.

Lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with officials from the State Department and the Department of Defense, voiced support for the Balkan nation joining the military alliance.

"It's in everyone's best interest to get this done," committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) said.

In his opening remarks, Risch said bringing the country into NATO would "solidify Western values in a country that Russia has been desperate to keep in its sphere of influence."

Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, also cited Russia's threats to regional security, describing Moscow as "the most immediate threat to transatlantic security." He went on to say that the addition of North Macedonia to NATO would "enhance regional security and stability."  

Background: North Macedonia, previously known as the Republic of Macedonia, has sought to join NATO for decades but Greece blocked the nation from joining. Greece also has a province named Macedonia.

Earlier this year, after decades of diplomatic tensions, the two nations finalized approval of a historic deal to change the name from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia.

The deal opened the door for NATO to add its 30th member during the alliance's 70th anniversary. The Senate must next vote to approve the country. Other NATO nations are taking similar measures to approve the new member.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on South Asia at 9:30 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2172. https://bit.ly/2EY4EtH

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the role of women in peace processes at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2F6kUJf

 

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