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 TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet 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 McConnellTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims GOP confident of win on witnesses Collins Senate bid threatens to spark GOP rift in Georgia 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: White House threatens to veto House Iran bills | Dems 'frustrated' after Iran briefing | Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision White House Correspondents' Association blasts State for 'punitive action' against NPR Senate Democrat demands State Department reinstate NPR reporter on Pompeo trip MORE (D-Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallIt is time for companies and governments to holistically tackle single-use plastics Citizens United decision weathers 10 years of controversy Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall 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 PaulTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims Overnight Defense: White House threatens to veto House Iran bills | Dems 'frustrated' after Iran briefing | Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision Foreign Relations Democrats 'deeply frustrated' after Iran briefing MORE (Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe self-fulfilling Iran prophecy No patriotic poll bump for Trump, but Soleimani strike may still help him politically Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it 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) KhannaOvernight Defense: White House threatens to veto House Iran bills | Dems 'frustrated' after Iran briefing | Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision White House threatens veto of House Iran bills The DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo MORE (D-Calif.) and Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGaetz in Twitter battle with Florida House Republican Apple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Conservatives slam Warren's call to put transgender women in women's prisons 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) MenendezMedia's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle Dem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers 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 RischOvernight Defense: White House threatens to veto House Iran bills | Dems 'frustrated' after Iran briefing | Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision GOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Foreign Relations Democrats 'deeply frustrated' after Iran briefing 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 GrahamGOP confident of win on witnesses GOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight MORE (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision Democratic senator on proposal to read Bolton manuscript in classified setting: 'Total bulls---t' Republicans show little enthusiasm for impeachment witness swap MORE (D-Conn.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Senators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Lawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent 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 BrownBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Overnight Defense: Dems raise pressure on Esper to block border wall funds | Trump impeachment trial begins in Senate | Day one dominated by fight over rules House Dems express 'deepening concern' over plans to take .2B from Pentagon for border wall 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) LambornOvernight 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 Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel Overnight Energy: Democrats grill BLM chief over plans to move headquarters | EPA moves to end its use of animal testing | Top NOAA official defends Trump over Alabama forecast MORE (R-Colo.), co-chair of the Congressional Directed Energy Caucus; Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Hillicon Valley: DHS warns of Iranian cyber threats | YouTube updates child content policy | California privacy law takes effect | Tech, cyber issues to watch in 2020 Lawmakers close to finalizing federal strategy to defend against cyberattacks 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 SullivanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Ten days to Iowa Impeachment trial forces senators to scrap fundraisers Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill 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