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 TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border 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 KaineBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Air Force nominee: Setting up Space Force would be 'key imperative' MORE (Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver | Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback | Trump officials finalize rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance MORE (Maine), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill Antitrust enforcers in turf war over Big Tech Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranPompeo pressed on possible Senate run by Kansas media Jerry Moran: 'I wouldn't be surprised' if Pompeo ran for Senate in Kansas Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Olympic athletes in response to abuse scandals MORE (Kan.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRepublicans wary of US action on Iran EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns Rand Paul: Almost every mass shooter 'is sending off signals' MORE (Ky.) broke ranks and supported the amendment. 

McConnell's argument: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Democrats press for action on election security Hillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill 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 SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall 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: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine House chairman subpoenas Trump's Afghanistan negotiator Giuliani tears into Democrats after House opens probe into whether he pressured Ukraine to target Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation Gun debate to shape 2020 races 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 ButtigiegKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? 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 BidenJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? Biden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate 5 takeaways from fiery Democratic debate MORE (D-Calif.).

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

Other responses: Author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Five top 2020 Democrats haven't committed to MSNBC climate forum Williamson urges followers to contact Senate, House over possible Bolton replacement MORE said she would call up European leaders and tell them, "We're back."
Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Gabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate Bennet launches first TV ads in Iowa 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 GillibrandDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions 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 SandersJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE (I-Vt.) said he would "rebuild trust in the entire United Nations."

Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperLeft off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa Yang says he would not run as a third-party candidate The Hill's Morning Report - Hurricane Dorian devastates the Bahamas, creeps along Florida coast MORE and tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangBiden leads in new national poll, Warren close behind in second place California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? 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'