Overnight Defense: Drama over $733B House defense bill | Democratic tensions threaten to snag legislation | White House threatens veto | US, Taliban talks end with 'roadmap for peace'

Overnight Defense: Drama over $733B House defense bill | Democratic tensions threaten to snag legislation | White House threatens veto | US, Taliban talks end with 'roadmap for peace'
© Greg Nash

Happy Tuesday 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: The House on Tuesday afternoon began the process of finishing up the annual defense policy bill, with the Rules Committee meeting to sift through nearly 700 amendments for consideration by the full chamber.

The House Rules Committee met at 5 p.m. to comb through the amendments for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), filed by lawmakers for the floor debate on the bill, set for later this week.

Major differences remain between the House and Senate versions of the NDAA, the biggest of which is the top line. The House wants $733 billion while the Senate is looking at $750 billion.

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What will come up: Republicans have submitted numerous amendments to shore up the House and Senate versions of the bill including one from Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerFive takeaways from ex-ambassador's dramatic testimony Six memorable moments from Ex-Ukraine ambassador Yovanovitch's public testimony Live coverage: Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies in public impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ohio), which would pull a provision that prohibits using Pentagon dollars to put low-yield ballistic missile warheads on submarines.

Another Republican-backed amendment would strike a provision that prevents the use of Defense Department funds to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Yet another amendment, backed by both Democrats and Republicans, would pull the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), requiring a new AUMF for future counterterrorism conflicts.

 

But hold on... the defense bill is surrounded by drama...

 

DEM TENSIONS SNAG DEFENSE BILL: Lingering animosity among House progressives over a controversial border bill's passage is threatening to trip up a sweeping defense policy bill that typically passes with large bipartisan majorities.

Progressives are balking at the $733 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which touches on everything from the type of hardware the Pentagon can buy to a pay raise for service members to setting up a new military service for space.

The expensive bill could be a tough sell for some liberals under any circumstances, but the tensions over immigration have made matters worse.

Why Dems are divided: Progressives are returning to Washington unhappy with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLouisiana governor wins re-election Dynamic scoring: Forward-thinking budgeting practices to grow our economy Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE's (D-Calif.) decision late last month to move a $4.6 billion border-aid bill that had already passed the Senate.

The Speaker added more fuel to the fire by dismissing criticisms in a high-profile interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd from four liberal darlings who call themselves "The Squad": Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLouisiana governor wins re-election White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations Ocasio-Cortez voices support for Taylor Swift in artist's battle to perform her songs MORE (D-N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Omar renews claim Stephen Miller is a 'white nationalist' amid calls for him to step down MORE (D-Minn.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibAyanna Pressley introduces extensive criminal justice reform resolution Ethics panel extends probe into Tlaib, says she likely misused campaign funds Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field MORE (D-Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyAyanna Pressley introduces extensive criminal justice reform resolution Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Justice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability MORE (D-Mass.).

Now the Democrats are being asked to back the defense bill. One senior Democratic source tracking the issue described it this way: "NDAA is turning into a s---storm."

The danger: With Republicans threatening to withhold GOP votes from the legislation, which the White House threatened to veto on Tuesday evening (more on that below), there is concern in the Democratic caucus that leaders could fall short of the 218 votes needed to pass the Pentagon bill. If all Republicans vote against the bill, 18 Democratic "no" votes could sink it.

What to watch next: Wednesday's Democratic caucus meeting, the first gathering since the weeklong Fourth of July recess, could be a contentious one.

 

And over at the White House...

 

WHITE HOUSE THREATENS TO VETO HOUSE DEFENSE BILL: The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a massive defense policy bill being considered by the House this week.

The top concern cited by the White House in a statement was the bill's $733 billion value, which is $17 billion less than the White House requested for fiscal year 2020.

If the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) "were presented to the president in its current form, his advisors would recommend that he veto it," the statement of administration policy said.

"While the administration appreciates the House Armed Services Committee's (Committee) investments in key national security priorities and its support for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families, H.R. 2500 includes a number of provisions that raise deep concerns," the statement added.

Leverage for Republicans: The veto threat of a bill filled with Democratic priorities is unsurprising, but it could bolster Republicans' hands as they push for changes in the House version of the legislation and when the measure is negotiated in the GOP-led Senate.

 

TALKS WITH TALIBAN END AFTER AGREEMENT ON 'ROADMAP FOR PEACE': The seventh round of talks between the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan and the Taliban ended Tuesday after signs of progress.

Reuters reported that U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban officials a day after a delegation of Afghan citizens and the militant group agreed to a "roadmap for peace."

The agreement reportedly includes a joint call to end civilian casualties in the 18-year-old war.

"Khalilzad will now brief his bosses and they will make an announcement. The seventh round has ended," a senior official told Reuters.

Nearing a deal: Both sides are nearing a deal revolving around a U.S. promise to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise to not let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism, officials told the outlet.

Khalilzad said last week that the most recent round of talks, which began June 28, was the "most productive" since the effort began last year.

The background: The Trump administration in December planned to begin withdrawing forces from the country over the next few months, but the proposal was met with resistance from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The Senate voted in January for a "sense of the Senate" resolution warning against the "precipitous withdrawal" of U.S. troops from the region.

Trump temporarily backed off his plan to withdraw U.S. forces after hearing feedback from senior military leaders, giving more time for negotiations and a deal to come to fruition.

 

CLINTON SLAMS TRUMP ADMIN AFTER IRAN EXCEEDS ENRICHMENT LIMITS: Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy 'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter Resistance or unhinged behavior? Partisan hatred reaches Trump's family MORE slammed the Trump administration in a series of tweets Tuesday over Iran's enrichment of uranium.

"When the Trump administration threatened to pull out of the Iran deal and impose more sanctions last year, it was clear that we'd lose our leverage and Iran would be free to do what it wanted," the former 2016 presidential candidate tweeted. "Predictably, Iran is now exceeding enrichment limits the deal once imposed."

She added that the Iran deal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration, along with the U.K., Germany, France, China and Russia, in order to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, had blocked the country from getting a bomb but that the Trump administration had chosen a more "dangerous path."

"As I said after the Iran deal was reached, it was not perfect but it achieved its fundamental mission of blocking every pathway for Iran to get a bomb," she wrote. "So far, the administration has consciously chosen a dangerous path leading to a riskier future. But diplomacy is still the only way for the administration to climb out of the hole they've dug."

Context: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which measures Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, said Monday that the foreign country had exceeded limits set by the deal on its permitted uranium enrichment

"Director General Yukiya Amano has informed the IAEA Board of Governors that Agency inspectors on 8 July verified that Iran is enriching uranium above 3.67% U-235," the IAEA said in a statement Monday, although it didn't say to what purity level the country was enriching its uranium. 

An Iranian atomic energy agency spokesperson told the semi-official ISNA news agency that the country had "surpassed the 4.5 percent" enrichment level.

  

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will hold a discussion on "Nuclear Arms Control and Deterrent Futures: An Assessment," with Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Klot, the former Energy undersecretary for nuclear security, at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

Former military officials and defense experts will speak at a Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion on "Military Advice and the 'Forever War' in Afghanistan," at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

A House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Economic Well-being of Women Veterans," at 10 a.m. in the Capitol Building, room HVC-210. 

 

ICYMI

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-- The Hill: DHS officials set for grilling over facial recognition tech

-- The Hill: Opinion: Afghanistan is sick of waking up bombings and ambushes

-- The Hill: Opinion: Eight questions to ask before considering war with Iran

-- The Hill: Opinion: ICBM replacement is necessary and affordable

-- Reuters: U.S. wants military coalition to safeguard waters off Iran, Yemen

-- Defense News: To develop hypersonic missile launcher, Pentagon seeks funding transfer