Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales

Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales
© Greg Nash

Happy Tuesday 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: President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE said Tuesday the U.S. is "not going to need an exit strategy" if war broke out with Iran.

"You're not going to need an exit strategy," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, prompting laughter. "I don't need exit strategies."

"We would love to be able to negotiate a deal if they want to. If they don't want to, that's fine, too," Trump added. "But we would love to be able to, and frankly, they might as well do it soon."

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Timing: Trump's comments are the latest move to heighten tensions between the U.S. and Iran following Iran's downing of a U.S. drone last week.

Trump later ordered and then called off a decision to strike Iran in retaliation.

On Monday, the president announced additional sanctions against the country's supreme leader and other top officials.

And he told The Hill in an exclusive interview that he did not need congressional authorization to launch strikes on the country.

Iran's reaction: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted the "outrageous and idiotic" sanctions on Tuesday, saying the White House is "afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do."

"Obviously, the people of Iran are great people," Trump said Tuesday. "I know many of them. I lived in New York -- I haven't been there very much in the last two and a half years -- but I know many Iranians living in New York, and they're fantastic people."

He added: "I have many friends that are Iranian, and it's very sad what's happening to that country."

In the Senate: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely 'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he's willing to vote on a controversial amendment that would require Congress to approve any military action against Iran, but warned colleagues it could signal disunity in Washington to a foreign adversary.

McConnell said he's open to voting on a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators aim to limit Trump's ability to remove troops from Germany Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats MORE (D-Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 MORE (D-N.M.) that would block funding for military action against Iran without prior congressional approval.

The legislation also has support from Republican Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul's exchange with Fauci was exactly what America needed GOP Arizona lawmaker says Fauci and Birx 'undermine' Trump's coronavirus response Fauci: 'We are not going in the right direction' MORE (Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSunday shows preview: Lawmakers to address alarming spike in coronavirus cases Senate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections Senators offer bill to expand charitable giving tax break MORE (Utah).

Dem worries: Democrats feared that McConnell would try to bypass a debate on Iran by voting as soon as Wednesday to cut off debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would be the vehicle for the Iran amendment.

But McConnell put those anxieties to rest Tuesday.

"We're not opposed to having the vote and we're working on having that vote, passing NDAA and doing the supplemental [border spending bill], all this week," he said.

He urged colleagues, however, to vote against the Iran war authorization amendment.

"I don't think it's good for this country to see the Iranians observing us arguing over all this, either. So my hope is that it will be defeated. We'll find out by how much of a margin but we hope to defeat it," he said.

McConnell argued that a war authorization "is not required under this set of circumstances."

"Nobody is advocating going to war with Iran. Not the president, not the secretary of State, none of the generals. No one," he said.

In the House: On the other side of Capitol Hill, a bipartisan pair of congressmen, including a vocal ally of Trump, on Tuesday unveiled a measure to prevent the president from conducting a military strike against Iran without congressional approval.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendment, offered by Reps. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal It's time to eliminate land-based nuclear missiles Stronger patent rights would help promote US technological leadership MORE (D-Calif.) and Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzHouse panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November MORE (R-Fla.), would prohibit funding for U.S. military action against Iran unless Congress has declared war or enacted another specific statutory authorization.

"Last week, we watched President Trump come within minutes of striking Iran and involving the United States in yet another trillion-dollar war in the Middle East," Khanna said in a statement. "President Trump campaigned on ending costly wars overseas but given the advisors he chose and his recent risky actions, he is not living up to that promise."

Gaetz, who frequently backs the president, added that "Congress must resolve" to make sure any conflict with Iran is initiated within the constraints of the Constitution.

  

SENATE PANEL ADVANCES BILL TO RESTRICT EMERGENCY ARMS SALES: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would restrict the president's ability to approve emergency sales without a congressional review period.

The bill advanced by voice vote with some Republicans expressing opposition to the legislation.

The bill, dubbed the Saudi Arabia False Emergencies (SAFE) Act, comes as a response to President Trump's decision to use the emergency provision of the Arms Export Control Act in an attempt to muscle through 22 arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies without the typical congressional review period.

"This bipartisan bill directly addresses these abuses by restricting these emergency authorities to only our closest security treaty allies and security partner countries," said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers Democratic senator proposes sanctions against Putin over bounties GOP lawmakers voice support for Israeli plan to annex areas in West Bank MORE (D-N.J.), the committee's ranking member and sponsor of the bill.

"These changes do not affect the 22 sales, which we dealt with by the resolutions of disapproval last week. But it will hopefully prevent us being faced with future uses of this nature, regardless of whether a Republican or a Democrat is occupying the White House."

Uphill climb: Despite advancing out of the Foreign Relations Committee, the bill faces an uphill climb to get a floor vote without committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischRepublicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst Democrat Paulette Jordan to face incumbent Jim Risch in Idaho Senate race MORE (R-Idaho) and Republican leadership's support.

Under normal procedures, the arms sale law requires a 30-day congressional review period before a sale is finalized.

But citing threats from Iran, the administration invoked a provision of the law allowing sales to go through immediately in emergency cases for the 22 sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

What's happened so far: Still, last week, the Senate approved resolutions to the block the deals. A resolution that would block two sales passed 53-45, while another that would block the other 20 sales passed 51-45.

The House is expected to follow suit, but Trump is expected to veto the resolutions, and neither chamber is expected to have enough votes to overturn the veto.

As part of the deal to bring the arms sale resolutions to a vote, Risch agreed to hold the markup on the SAFE Act, as well as another markup on a separate piece of Saudi Arabia legislation expected after the July 4 break.

Who backed the bill: Menendez's bill, which was co-sponsored by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham Hillicon Valley: Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse | Trump administration awards tech group contract to build 'virtual' wall | Advocacy groups urge Congress to ban facial recognition technologies Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse MORE (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal MORE (D-Conn.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse Overnight Defense: Navy won't reinstate fired captain | Dems probe use of federal officers in DC | Air Force appoints woman as top noncommissioned officer Dems request watchdog probe use of federal law enforcement in DC during Floyd protests MORE (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), would specifically limit emergency arms sales to NATO allies and Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. 

Lawmakers in both parties oppose the arms sales to Saudi Arabia over its conduct in the Yemen civil war, where a Saudi-led coalition has been blamed for the majority of civilian deaths, and the Saudi regime's killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered last year in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

 

MEDAL OF HONOR AWARDED TO FIRST LIVING IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Trump on Tuesday awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, making him the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the recognition.

Bellavia received the nation's highest military honor for his actions on Nov. 10, 2004, when he cleared out a block of houses in Fallujah, laid down cover fire and engaged multiple insurgents, saving numerous fellow U.S. soldiers in the process.

Trump praised Bellavia's "exceptional courage" during what was one of the bloodiest operations of the Iraq War. The third day of the battle -- Nov. 10, 2004 -- was Bellavia's 29th birthday, Trump noted.

"America is blessed with the heroes and great people like Staff Sgt. Bellavia, whose intrepid spirit and unwavering resolve defeats our enemies, protects our freedoms and defends our great American flag," Trump said.

The details: Thirty-two service members who fought with Bellavia in Iraq, including 12 who were part of his unit in November 2004, also attended Tuesday's ceremony. Five Gold Star families whose children served with Bellavia and were killed were also recognized.

Five other servicemen have received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the Iraq War. Each was honored posthumously.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey speaks at the Association of the U.S. Army's Institute of Land Warfare breakfast at 6:30 a.m. at AUSA headquarters in Arlington, Va. 

Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownHouse panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday MORE (D-Md.), vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and retired Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, president and CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), will hold a discussion on congressional priorities going into this year's legislative cycle at 7:30 a.m. in Arlington, Va. 

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein will speak on "The United States Air Force Role in Nuclear Modernization and Sustainment," at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

Rep. Doug LambornDouglas (Doug) LambornHouse GOP urge Trump against supporting additional funding for state and local governments House GOP lawmakers urge Senate to confirm Vought Overnight Energy: Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel | GOP lawmakers push back on bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners | Green groups sue Trump over California fracking plans MORE (R-Colo.), co-chair of the Congressional Directed Energy Caucus; Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down Lawmakers introduce legislation to establish national cybersecurity director Overnight Defense: State Dept. watchdog was investigating emergency Saudi arms sales before ouster | Pompeo says he requested watchdog be fired for 'undermining' department | Pensacola naval base shooter had 'significant ties' to al Qaeda, Barr says MORE (D-R.I.), co-chair of the caucus; and Gary Woltering, deputy chief of the Air Combat Command's Advanced Weapons Systems Division, will speak at the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement's fourth annual Directed Energy Systems Summit, beginning at 8:50 a.m. in Arlington, Va. 

Senate Armed Services Committee member Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanUS security starts in the Arctic Senate confirms nation's first African American service chief GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas MORE (R-Alaska), will speak on "Defending the Arctic," focusing on the recent release of the June 2019 Defense Department Arctic strategy and Russian and Chinese influences, at 12 p.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: McConnell denies request to delay defense bill to after debates: 'Come on'

-- The Hill: TSA to send hundreds of workers to southern border to enforce immigration policies

-- The Hill: US targeted Iranian-backed militia group in cyberattack: report

-- The Hill: NATO: 'No indication' Russia intends to destroy new missil 

-- The Hill: Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions

-- The Hill: Senate investigation finds multiple federal agencies left sensitive data vulnerable to cyberattacks for past decade

-- The Hill: Bolton presses Iran to withdraw forces from Syria, areas of conflict

-- The Hill: Poll: More than a third would support pre-emptive nuclear strike on North Korea

-- The Hill: Japan: Trump committed to military treaty, despite report

-- The Hill: Bolton: Sanctions, other pressure will bring Iran to bargaining table 

-- The Hill: Iran: New US sanctions the 'permanent closure' of diplomacy