Overnight Defense: Senate sets Friday vote on Iran war authority measure | Trump heads to Japan for G-20 summit | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan

Overnight Defense: Senate sets Friday vote on Iran war authority measure | Trump heads to Japan for G-20 summit | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan
© Greg Nash

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: After days of jostling, the Senate has reached an agreement to vote on Iran war authorities.

The Senate will vote Friday on the measure that would block President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE from taking military action against Iran without congressional approval.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum No. 2 GOP leader eyes Wednesday of next week for possible votes on witnesses MORE (R-Ky.) announced that leadership had hashed out a deal to vote on the proposal from Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineIran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner House war powers sponsor expects to take up Senate version of resolution Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' 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.), and that they would hold the vote open to give 2020 presidential candidates the chance to return from Miami, where the first Democratic primary debates are being held.

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"We intend to stay in session this week to finish the NDAA bill and allow for a vote in relation to the Udall amendment. Senators should plan to vote on Friday on the Udall amendment," McConnell said from the Senate floor.

He added that "here's the good news, the vote will start first thing in the morning and be held open into the afternoon to accommodate as many senators as possible."

The amendment will need to get 60 votes to be added to the NDAA making it unlikely it will garner enough support. If every Democrat supports the measure, they would still need to win over 13 Republicans.

What it means for the NDAA: In a procedural twist, senators are going to pass the mammoth defense bill on Thursday. If the Kaine-Udall proposal gets enough support it will be added to the defense bill retroactively.

The fight over the Iran amendment had threatened to derail the NDAA, with Democrats threatening to block the defense bill unless they got a vote.

Democrats debated their strategy for more than an hour during a closed-door lunch on Tuesday.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Nadler gets under GOP's skin Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial MORE (D-Conn.), who is cosponsoring the Iran amendment, said there was a "strong belief" among several members of the caucus that NDAA is the right vehicle for holding the line about demanding a vote on Iran.

In the House: Prior to the Senate deal, two top House Democrats demanded the State Department's legal analysis of a potential military strike against Iran.

In a letter Wednesday to the State Department's acting legal adviser, Marik String, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelUS officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchUS officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  Bipartisan lawmakers condemn Iran, dispute State Department on number of protesters killed Bipartisan lawmakers introduce amendment affirming US commitment to military aid to Israel MORE (D-Fla.) asked for any and all documents on whether the 2001 or 2002 war authorizations are applicable to military action against Iran.

"Given the life-and-death stakes of the current situation between the United States and Iran, we can think of no issue where it is more imperative for the department to explain its rationale for, interpretation of, and limits upon the legal authorities that have been provided by the Congress, a co-equal branch of government that the Constitution vests with the sole power to declare war," wrote Engel and Deutch, who is the chairman of the committee's Middle East subcommittee.

The pair requested documents by 9 a.m. Friday, adding that if the department doesn't meet that deadline, "we will be forced to consider other measures to obtain them."

 

TRUMP OFF TO G-20: President Trump is en route to Japan to meet with other world leaders for the Group of 20 summit.

The confab comes at a time when Trump is juggling several foreign policy challenges, including Iran tensions, back-and-forth letters with North Korea's leader and trade negotiations with China.

The Hill's Brett Samuels broke down the five things to watch on Trump's overseas trip. Catch up here.

Trump is also slated to meet with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinA new era in Russia will allow America to rethink its policy US officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  No patriotic poll bump for Trump, but Soleimani strike may still help him politically MORE at the summit. When asked what they plan to talk about, Trump told a reporter that it's "none of your business."

Other travel: Meanwhile, newly installed acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper is already on his first trip abroad at a NATO ministerial in Brussels.

In a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Esper touted his experience with the alliance as a young Army officer.

"As some of you may know, I served in Italy for a number of years as a young officer, participated in a number of NATO exercises during that time and my unit was a member of what was, at that time, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps," Esper said. "So I understand the strategic importance of this alliance and our commitment to continue furthering it."

Stoltenberg similarly said he looks forward to working with Esper.

"I know that your background from the military, from Pentagon, from Congress, from industry will serve you well in your new position but will also be of great value for NATO and therefore I really look forward to working with you and to address the many different challenges we as alliance are facing," Stoltenberg said.

Esper also met with Turkey's defense minister. The NATO ally is expected to receive Russian defense system in July despite U.S. efforts to change its mind.

"Because of this long-standing relationship as allies, the two leaders had a frank and transparent discussion where Secretary Esper reiterated that Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system is incompatible with the F-35 program and that Turkey will not be permitted to have both systems," said a Pentagon statement on the meeting.

 

AFGHAN CASUALTIES: Two U.S. troops were killed overnight in Afghanistan, bringing this year's U.S. death toll in the country to nine.

A Resolute Support statement did not elaborate on what happened.

The Taliban has taken credit for the deaths, saying they happened in an ambush in Wardak Province.

Timing: The attack happened a day after Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Overnight Defense: Trump downplays troops' concussion injuries in Iran attack | Dems offer case against Trump on day two of trial | UN links Saudis to hack of Bezos' phone Pompeo willing to testify in impeachment trial if 'legally required' MORE visited Afghanistan.

While there, Pompeo touted progress in peace talks with the Taliban.

"We have made real progress and are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban's commitments to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists," Pompeo said. "In light of this progress, we've begun discussions with the Taliban regarding foreign military presence, which today remains conditions-based. And while we've made clear to the Taliban that we are prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear we have not yet agreed on a timeline to do so."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Defense One will host its annual Tech Summit at 7:30 a.m. Speakers include defense officials and lawmakers. https://bit.ly/2uPNFo2

The Atlantic Council and NATO Defense College Foundation will host "NATO at 70: Refocusing for Change?" at 2:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/2Ngh5I0

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump criticizes post-World War II military pact with Japan

-- The Hill: GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions

-- The Hill: Supreme leader: US offer of negotiations with Iran a 'deception'

-- The Hill: US, North Korea discussing third summit, South Korea says