Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command

Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command
© Greg Nash

Happy Friday 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: Senators blocked an effort on Friday to restrict President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE's ability to go to war with Iran, handing a victory to Republicans and the White House.  

Senators voted 50-40 on the proposal from Democratic Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallBureau of Land Management staff face relocation or resignation as agency moves west Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Hillicon Valley: Twitter to refuse all political ads | Trump camp blasts 'very dumb' decision | Ocasio-Cortez hails move | Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook's ad policies | GOP senator blocks sweeping election reform bill MORE (N.M.) to block the president from using funding to carry out military action without congressional authorization. 

Sixty yes votes would have been required to get the amendment added to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In a round of unusual procedural maneuvering, senators passed the mammoth defense bill on Thursday, but agreed to add the Kaine-Udall proposal retroactively if they could secure the votes. 

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Republicans, however, had appeared confident that they would be able to block it from getting added to the bill. If every Democrat supported the amendment they would still need to pick up 13 GOP senators, a heavy lift with the opposition from leadership. GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (Maine), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Senators introduce bipartisan bill restricting police use of facial recognition tech MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number Overnight Defense: Top diplomat changes testimony to indicate quid pro quo | Dem offers measure on Turkish human rights abuses in Syria | Warren offers plan to address veteran suicide rates MORE (Kan.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Trump: 'Everybody knows who the whistleblower is' Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (Ky.) broke ranks and supported the amendment. 

McConnell's argument: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera MORE (R-Ky.) argued that Democrats were playing politics because of their opposition to Trump's administration, and predicted it would be defeated.  

"None of our Democratic friends would be supporting this if there was a Democratic president," McConnell said. "This is clearly within the bounds of measured response that have not been micromanaged by Congress in the past." 

He added that he "would love to have some Democratic support, but I think this is an example of the affliction with Trump derangement syndrome."

Timing: The vote comes amid growing tensions between the United States and Iran. Trump warned earlier this week that if Iran attacked "anything American" that he would respond with "great and overwhelming force," including "in some areas ... obliteration." 

Trump's tweet comes days after he acknowledged that he called off strikes late last week because he believed they were "not proportionate" to Iran's downing of a U.S. surveillance drone. 

The volatile situation sparked new red flags from Democrats who worry that Trump will get into a war with Iran, without a clear strategy or endgame. 

"It's just so important that everybody be on the record on this, and we could not let the NDAA go by, when we were 10 minutes away from a war, without having the discussion or the troops and the public would have said 'what the hell were you guys doing?' " Kaine said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-N.Y.) touted the vote, saying it showed a majority believe Trump "should come to Congress before bogging the country down in an endless war."

Over in the House: Despite the Senate's defeat of the measure, it's likely to crop back up when the House and Senate have to reconcile their competing defense bills. House Democrats are offering an amendment to their NDAA that would prohibit funding for U.S. military action against Iran unless Congress has declared war or enacted another specific authorization. It's expected to be adopted into their bill.

A record breaking vote: The Senate's Friday vote set a new record for the longest vote in modern history.

The Senate is normally out of town on Friday, but stuck around to give 2020 Democratic candidates a chance to vote on the amendment.

The vote clocked in at 10 hours when it wrapped up just after 3 p.m.

In an effort to balance the 2020 demands and senators who had already planned trips, the Senate came into session at 5 a.m., several hours earlier than a normal week day. 

The previous record for the longest vote in modern history was in December, when senators kept a vote open for more than five hours as they made a failed attempt to avoid a partial government shutdown. 

 

STATE: WAR AUTHORIZATIONS DON'T APPLY TO IRAN (WITH SOME EXCEPTIONS): The State Department told lawmakers Friday that, with few exceptions, the Trump administration does not believe the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations apply to Iran.

"The administration has not, to date, interpreted either AUMF [authorization for the use of military force] as authorization for military force against Iran, except as may be necessary to defend U.S. or partner forces engaged in counterterrorism operations or operations to establish a stable, democratic Iraq," Mary Elizabeth Taylor, assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs, wrote in a letter Friday.

Friday's State Department response, released by the Foreign Affairs Committee, is a three-paragraph letter insisting the goal of the administration's so-called maximum pressure campaign is to bring Iran to the negotiating table.

"As Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo has noted, the administration's goal is to find a diplomatic solution to Iran's activities, not to engage in conflict with Iran," Taylor wrote. "President Trump has expressed the U.S. willingness to negotiate with Iran. No one should be uncertain about the United States' desire for peace or a readiness to normalize relations in the event the United States and Iran reach a comprehensive deal."

Why the letter: Taylor's letter is in response to one sent Wednesday by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation House Democrats pull subpoena for ex-Trump national security official MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchEthics sends memo to lawmakers on SCIF etiquette Pelosi signs bill making animal cruelty a federal crime Ethics panel extends probe into Tlaib, says she likely misused campaign funds MORE (D-Fla.), the chairman of the subcommittee with oversight of the Middle East.

Engel and Deutch demanded the State Department's legal adviser provide by Friday the department's legal analysis on whether the 2001 or 2002 AUMF are applicable to military action against Iran.

The response: In a statement Friday, Engel and Deutch pledged to push for more information, saying the exception laid out in the letter is "a loophole wide enough to drive a tank through."

"The administration claims that the president could use these authorizations to attack Iran in defense of any third party he designates as a partner," they said. "These war authorizations have already been stretched farther than Congress ever intended, and we reject this attempt to stretch them further."

"To repeat what we said in our letter, Congress has not authorized the use of force against Iran under any legal theory," they added. "We are also concerned that the administration opened the door to reinterpreting its position in the future."

The background: U.S.-Iran tensions have skyrocketed in recent weeks to the point where President Trump was on the verge of striking Iran last week after it shot down a U.S. drone. Trump said he called the strike off at the last minute because the estimated 150-person death toll was not proportional.

The 2001 AUMF was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to authorize military action against al Qaeda and other perpetrators of the attacks. An AUMF was also passed in 2002 to authorize the Iraq War.

Publicly and, lawmakers say, privately, administration officials have asserted a link between Iran and al Qaeda. As such, Democrats fear the Trump administration is building a case to use the 2001 AUMF for military action against Iran.

Trump told The Hill on Monday he does not believe he needs congressional authorization to strike Iran.

 

NATIONAL SECURITY TALK AT DEBATE: Talk of international conflicts and foreign policy was more muted in the second night of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate.

Late in the evening, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren 'fully committed' to 'Medicare for All' New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out MORE said the U.S. relationship with "the entire world" will need to change following President Trump's tenure.

"We have no idea which of our most important allies he will have pissed off worst between now and then," Buttigieg quipped Thursday. "What we know is that our relationship with the entire world needs to change. It starts by modeling American values at home."

Buttigieg was responding to a question posed to all 10 candidates on stage about which U.S. relationship they would repair first if elected, one of the few foreign policy questions in the two-hour debate.

A focus on NATO: Several candidates on Thursday cited NATO as the issue they would focus on first, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Biden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP MORE, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisIf we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellTrump attacks Pence aide who called Ukraine call 'inappropriate' Top Pence aide told lawmakers Trump's Ukraine call was 'inappropriate' in closed-door testimony New witness claims firsthand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes MORE (D-Calif.).

"We know NATO will fall apart if [Trump is] elected four more years," Biden said. 

Other responses: Author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting Williamson announces poverty plan with support for universal basic income, minimum wage Yang seeks donations for 2020 rival Marianne Williamson: 'She has much more to say' MORE said she would call up European leaders and tell them, "We're back."
Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting Biden, Buttigieg condemn rocket attacks on Israel MORE (D-Colo.) also said he would repair relationships with European allies, as well as Latin American countries "willing to have a conversation about how to deal with the refugee crisis."

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee She Should Run launches initiative to expand number of women in political process MORE (D-N.Y.) highlighted Iran, saying Trump is "hell-bent" on starting a war there and that she would make sure "we do not start an unwanted, never-ending war."

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Democrats seize on report of FedEx's Bernie Sanders tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan If we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat MORE (I-Vt.) said he would "rebuild trust in the entire United Nations."

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperKrystal Ball dismisses Rahm Emanuel's 'Medicare for All' criticism as a 'corporatist mantra' Trump says remark about Colorado border wall was made 'kiddingly' Colorado governor mocks Trump for saying he's building wall there MORE and tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Saagar Enjeti: Yang's plan to regulate big tech misses the mark MORE both said China, with Yang adding Beijing will be important to work with on climate change, artificial intelligence and North Korea.

Biden defends Iraq War vote: In one of the other few foreign policy questions, Biden also defended his record of voting for the Iraq War, highlighting that the Obama administration withdrew troops from Iraq.

President Obama finished withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, but had to send the U.S. military back a few years later with the rise of ISIS.

Biden also said it is "long overdue" to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan and that he would make sure the 2001 war authorization that's still in use "is only used for what its intent was, and that is to go after terrorists."

Sanders stepped in to tout his own record, retorting that he "helped lead the opposition" to the Iraq War and highlighted his recent efforts to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen's civil war.

"I will do everything I can to prevent a war with Iran, which would be far worse than disastrous war with Iraq," Sanders added.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Senate confirms chief of new Space Command

-- The Hill: Joint Chiefs chairman confirmation hearing set for July 11

-- The Hill: US envoy ready for 'constructive' talks with North Korea

-- The Hill: Iran, nuclear pact partners to meet as tensions rise in Persian Gulf

-- The Hill: Trump poses next to Saudi crown prince in G-20 group photo

-- The Hill: Mother of ISIS hostage praises Trump for making American captor return a 'priority'