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 ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegO'Rourke responds to Buttigieg's gun criticism: 'That calculation and fear is what got us here in the first place' Buttigieg: Biden gave 'bad' debate answer on slavery's legacy O'Rourke's debate moment reignites gun debate on Sunday shows 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 TapperO'Rourke responds to Buttigieg's gun criticism: 'That calculation and fear is what got us here in the first place' O'Rourke's debate moment reignites gun debate on Sunday shows Cicilline: O'Rourke's AR-15 comment 'doesn't help' 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 Ann WarrenGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Mass.) and Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate The Hill's 12:30 Report: House panel approves impeachment powers Left off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa 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 InhofeIs the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall Gun debate to shape 2020 races 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 ReedIs the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? Trump moving forward to divert .6B from military projects for border wall GOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped MORE (R.I.), the ranking member of the committee; Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Defense spending bill advances over Democratic wall objections Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA MORE (N.H.); 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.); Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (N.M.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) Manchin The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Trump, lawmakers consider app that would conduct background checks: report Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks MORE (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.). Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year 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 Ernst'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections 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 GillibrandAt debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions Klobuchar, Buttigieg find themselves accidentally flying to debate together MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator Democratic senator on possibility of Trump standing up to the NRA: 'That's just such BS' MORE (Hawaii), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDemocrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall Lawmakers mark anniversary of Martin Luther King 'I have a dream' speech MORE (Ill.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Google to promote original reporting | Senators demand answers from Amazon on worker treatment | Lawmakers weigh response to ransomware attacks Lawmakers weigh responses to rash of ransomware attacks Dem senator calls for Pentagon watchdog to probe Air Force's Trump resort stay 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 TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy 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) HaleyCan Carl DeMaio save the California GOP? Treasury: US deficit tops trillion in 11 months South Carolina GOP appears to violate own rules in canceling primary for Trump MORE resigned in December.

Support: Democratic Sens. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOvernight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Lawmakers weigh responses to rash of ransomware attacks Hillicon Valley: Google to pay 0M to settle child privacy charges against YouTube | Tech giants huddle with intel officials on election security | Top IT official names China main cyber threat MORE (N.H.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Trump, lawmakers consider app that would conduct background checks: report Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure 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 McConnellO'Rourke responds to Buttigieg's gun criticism: 'That calculation and fear is what got us here in the first place' Cicilline on Trump investigations versus legislation: 'We have to do both' The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation 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) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid 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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