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 TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis 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 KaineDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Federal guidance identifying 'go back to where you came from' as discrimination goes viral after Trump comments Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing MORE (Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule 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 CollinsHillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (Maine), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeFirst responder calls senators blocking 9/11 victim funding 'a--holes' Jon Stewart rips into Rand Paul after he blocks 9/11 victim compensation fund: 'An abomination' Senate approves long-delayed tax treaties in win for business MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranEpstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse Bottom Line Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (Kan.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFirst responder calls senators blocking 9/11 victim funding 'a--holes' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Jon Stewart rips into Rand Paul after he blocks 9/11 victim compensation fund: 'An abomination' MORE (Ky.) broke ranks and supported the amendment. 

McConnell's argument: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime 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 SchumerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US 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 EngelMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchBipartisan group of lawmakers invites colleagues to tour DC's Holocaust museum GOP senator presses Instagram, Facebook over alleged bias in content recommendations Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command 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 ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP 2020 Democrats adapt to changing social media landscape Trump blasts 2020 Dems during campaign rally 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 Biden2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Can Biden's canceled cancer initiative be salvaged? Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time MORE, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi Harris2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Moulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage MORE (D-Calif.).

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

Other responses: Author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson2020 Democrats adapt to changing social media landscape Bullock makes CNN debate stage Williamson defends her views on vaccines MORE said she would call up European leaders and tell them, "We're back."
Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetNew CDC overdose estimates are nothing to celebrate Bullock makes CNN debate stage Sanders draws line as 2020 health care battle heats up 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 Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally First responder calls senators blocking 9/11 victim funding 'a--holes' Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations 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 Sanders2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Cardi B posts message of support for Ilhan Omar #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'send her back' MORE (I-Vt.) said he would "rebuild trust in the entire United Nations."

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn Wright HickenlooperMoulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage Sanders draws line as 2020 health care battle heats up MORE and tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew Yang2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally 2020 Democrats adapt to changing social media landscape Bullock makes CNN debate stage 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'