Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador

Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador
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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, 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: It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights...

It's time for night two of the Democratic debates tonight!

Ok, not as exciting as the Muppets. But another ten Democratic candidates will face off in minutes in Detroit for night two of the debate.

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As with the first round of debates last month, foreign policy and defense questions on Tuesday night were minimal and left to the end. But they did yield a couple interesting exchanges.

Be sure to check back at TheHill.com for coverage of tonight's debate. For now, catch up on last night's coverage:

Buttigieg pledges Afghan withdrawal in a year: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegReuters poll finds Sanders cutting Biden national lead to single digits Biden says he'll adopt plans from Sanders, Warren Buttigieg guest-hosts for Jimmy Kimmel: 'I've got nothing else going on' MORE, a veteran of the Afghanistan War, vowed to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan during his first year in office if elected president.

"We will withdraw. We have to," Buttigieg said.

Pressed by CNN moderator Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperCNN's Jake Tapper spars with Trump on Twitter: 'Utter nonsense' Biden says he has not been tested for coronavirus: I've had 'no symptoms' Biden says Democratic convention should not be canceled amid pandemic MORE about whether he would do so in his first year, Buttigieg replied, "Yes."

"Look, around the world, we will do whatever it takes to keep America safe, but I thought I was one of the last troops leaving Afghanistan when I thought I was turning out the lights years ago," Buttigieg said.

Warren, Bullock spar over 'no first use': Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging MORE (D-Mass.) and Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockPolitics and the pandemic — Republicans are rightly worried The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden moves to unify party before general election Poll shows Daines, Bullock neck and neck in Montana Senate race MORE (D) sparred over her proposed "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons.

In defending the proposed policy, Warren argued for diplomatic and economic solutions to conflict, saying "we should not be asking our military to take on jobs that do not have a military solution."

But Bullock opposed that proposal, saying, "I don't want to turn around and say, 'Well, Detroit has to be gone before we would ever use that.'"

Warren is the lead sponsor of the Senate version of a bill that would make it U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first.

It has long been the policy of the United States that the country reserves the right to launch a preemptive nuclear strike.

 

ARMED SERVICES PANEL ADVANCES HYTEN: The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to advance the nomination of Gen. John Hyten, who has been accused of sexual assault by a subordinate officer, to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The committee voted to advance Hyten's nomination Wednesday, a day after his confirmation hearing, in a meeting off the Senate floor, committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Okla.) told reporters.

The panel voted 20-7 to approve Hyten, according to a news release.

Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser has accused Hyten of making several unwanted sexual advances in 2017 when she was one of his aides.

The advances escalated, she alleges, to an incident in her hotel room while they were at the Reagan National Defense Forum in which she claims that he pressed up against her while kissing her and ejaculated on her.

Hyten categorically denied the allegations during Tuesday's hearing.

The yeas: All but one Republican on the committee voted in a support of Hyten.

Inhofe said he was concerned about the message that would be sent by not confirming Hyten.

"What would happen with all these thousands of junior grade officers out there striving for the top, knowing the likelihood is not very great they get there, but if they do this could happen to them," Inhofe said. "If someone can accuse someone of sexual assault without any evidence, without any corroborative agreement, then anyone could do that. It could happen to anyone."

Several Democrats voted to advance Hyten, as well: Sens. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic Rand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate MORE (R.I.), the ranking member of the committee; Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? McConnell sets Friday night deadline for bipartisan deal on stimulus American citizen released from Lebanese prison, returning to US MORE (N.H.); Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineStudents with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Senate on cusp of coronavirus stimulus deal after agreements in key areas MORE (Va.); Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocrats call for pollution reduction requirements in any aid for airlines, cruises Coronavirus takes toll on Capitol Hill GOP chairman cancels Hunter Biden-related subpoena vote MORE (N.M.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhite House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Senate fails to advance coronavirus stimulus bill for second time in two days MORE (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.). Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenators offer bill to extend tax filing deadline Russia using coronavirus fears to spread misinformation in Western countries Hillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation MORE (Maine), who caucuses with Democrat, also supported Hyten.

Kaine said in a statement Wednesday that if "there had still been ambiguity over whether Gen. Hyten may have committed the heinous crimes described in the allegations, I would have voted against advancing his nomination."

"But the investigations conducted both by the military and the committee produced evidence that Gen. Hyten did not sexually assault Col. Spletstoser or engage in an unprofessional relationship with her," Kaine said. "I did not reach this conclusion lightly, but I believe we owe it to the women and men of the military and this nation to follow the facts wherever they lead."

The nays: The lone Republican to vote against Hyten was Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstCampaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Politics and the pandemic — Republicans are rightly worried Ernst calls for public presidential campaign funds to go to masks, protective equipment MORE (Iowa).

During Tuesday's hearing Ernst expressed concerns about his judgment, but not because of the assault allegations. Rather, she questioned his handling of a separate investigation into Spletstoser, which found the colonel had created a "toxic" work environment.

"You could not bring yourself to admit or recognize toxic leadership within your command," Ernst told Hyten. "You only did something about it when concerns were raised about your own leadership."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Wednesday he had questions about how Hyten will tackle sexual assault in the military as vice chairman.

"I have a number of unresolved questions about his judgment, and I am deeply dissatisfied with the answers that he gave me about what the military should do to combat sexual assault," Blumenthal said. "And there was no reason that this vote had to be today as opposed to a month from now."

The other "no" votes came from Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandLawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Progressive advocates propose T 'green stimulus' plan Juan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators ask IRS to extend tax filing deadline amid coronavirus outbreak Democratic senators ask prison operators for answers on coronavirus plans Overnight Energy: EPA revamps 'secret science' rule | Scientists warn rule still limits research | Trump calls for full funding for conservation program | 19 states sue over border wall funding MORE (Hawaii), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthIllinois governor endorses Biden one day before primary Trump weighs in on airport screening delays: 'We must get it right. Safety first!' Returning Americans face long screening lines at airports MORE (Ill.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Poll: Biden has small lead over Trump in Michigan Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on MORE (Mich.).

 

TRUMP SLAPS SANCTIONS ON ZARIF: The Trump administration has officially sanctioned Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, after first announcing its intention to do so last month.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that it imposed sanctions on Zarif because he "acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran." 

A senior administration official added on a call with reporters that Zarif "defends the regime's persecution of the Iranian people, and he recently endorsed the practice of executing gay people, as well as the regime's oppression of free speech."

The official maintained that the Iranian diplomat's office "functions as an extension" of the office of Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the U.S. has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

"While the United States has historically placed a high priority on preserving faith for diplomacy, there are limits to our patience when a regime so routinely flouts these protocols," the official said.

What about diplomacy?: Asked whether the new sanctions against Iran's top diplomat would hinder the administration's ability to negotiate with Tehran, a senior administration official indicated that Zarif was not a top choice for discussions.

"If we do have an official contact with Iran, we would want to have contact with someone who is a significant decision-maker," they said. "[Zarif] would not be the president's selected point of contact."

Zarif's response: Zarif quickly responded to the sanctions on Twitter, saying the move would have "no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran."

"The US' reason for designating me is that I am Iran's 'primary spokesperson around the world' Is the truth really that painful?" Zarif tweeted. "It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran. Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda."

 

SENATE CONFIRMS CRAFT: The Senate has approved Kelly Craft to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, giving President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE a Senate-confirmed envoy to the international body for the first time since December.

The Senate voted 56-34 on Wednesday to confirm Craft, who has served as U.S. ambassador to Canada since August 2017. She will fill a role that has been occupied in an acting capacity by Jonathan Cohen since Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyCoronavirus sets off industry scramble for aid from Washington Why Klobuchar should be Biden's vice presidential pick Overnight Defense: 'Tens of thousands' of National Guard troops could be activated for coronavirus response | Hospital ships could take week to deploy | Trump says military to help Americans stuck in Peru MORE resigned in December.

Support: Democratic Sens. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? Overnight Health Care: Trump triggers emergency powers in coronavirus fight | McConnell sets first stimulus vote for Sunday | Five sticking points for stimulus talks | Treasury delays tax filing deadline | Dems push insurers to cover virus tests Democrats press insurers to cover all coronavirus testing MORE (N.H.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill MORE (Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) voted in favor of Craft.

Republicans lined up behind Craft.

"During her tenure as ambassador to Canada, America's relationship with our northern neighbor was tested," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Louisiana Republican: People upset at 'spending porn on pet projects' in latest stimulus bill Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. McConnell reportedly recommended Craft, a fellow Kentuckian and prominent Republican donor, for the job.

"A number of challenging policy hurdles threatened to trip up progress on several important issues, including trade negotiations," McConnell continued, "but by all accounts, Ambassador Craft's involvement led to greater cooperation."

Opposition: Most Democrats opposed Craft over concerns about her past remarks on climate change, as well as accusations that she was absent from her post in Canada too often.

"First and foremost, she lacks the experience necessary to stand up for American values and promote our national security on the global stage," Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees MORE (D-N.J.) said. "Second, during her brief diplomatic tenure in Canada, she posted so many absences that I cannot describe it as anything less than a dereliction of duty."

Hours before Wednesday's vote, Menendez released a report that found Craft spent more than half of her time as the U.S. ambassador to Canada outside of the country. The findings had been circulated earlier among Foreign Relations Committee staff.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Gen. Koji Yamazaki, the chief of staff of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, will speak about "Japan's Current Security Environment and the Direction of Further Strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance" at 3 p.m. the Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://bit.ly/2Zovi76 

 

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