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 denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir 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 KaineKaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Senate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner MORE (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 (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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 CollinsDemocrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Impeachment manager dismisses concerns Schiff alienated key Republican votes: 'This isn't about any one person' Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court MORE (Maine), 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), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSchiff closes Dems' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses McConnell keeps press in check as impeachment trial starts MORE (Kan.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Marsha Blackburn shares what book she's reading during Trump Senate trial Sekulow indicates Trump should not attend impeachment trial MORE (Ky.) broke ranks and supported the amendment. 

McConnell's argument: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Bolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT 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 SchumerBolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Impeachment has been a dud for Democrats 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 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.), 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 ButtigiegPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Buttigieg on polarization: 'We don't have to choose between being bold and being unified' Buttigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death 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 BidenTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Harris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Enes Kanter sees political stardom — after NBA and WWE Swalwell pens op-ed comparing Trump impeachment to XYZ Affair MORE (D-Calif.).

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

Other responses: Author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson says she supports Yang in Iowa caucuses Patrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' Marianne Williamson drops out of 2020 race MORE said she would call up European leaders and tell them, "We're back."
Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators 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 GillibrandGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial 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 SandersPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Poll: Biden leads in Iowa ahead of caucuses The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint MORE (I-Vt.) said he would "rebuild trust in the entire United Nations."

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperFor a healthy aging workforce policy, look to Colorado Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 MORE and tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangButtigieg: America 'united in mourning' Kobe Bryant's death 'The worst news': Political world mourns loss of Kobe Bryant Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to Trump tweet, Senate trial witnesses 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'