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 ButtigiegButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field 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 TapperRepublicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' Saagar Enjeti: Harris campaign 'is failing because she doesn't stand for anything' 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 WarrenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Following school shooting, Biden speaks out: 'We have to protect these kids' MORE (D-Mass.) and Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBiden, Buttigieg condemn rocket attacks on Israel Press: Another billionaire need not apply Obama's former chief economist advising Buttigieg 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 InhofeOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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 ReedIt's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number America's avengers deserve an advocate Democrats unifying against Joe Kennedy Senate bid MORE (R.I.), the ranking member of the committee; Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOn The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Overnight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring MORE (N.H.); Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (Va.); Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars MORE (N.M.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.). Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing 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 ErnstOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Turkish media paints White House visit as Erdoğan triumph over Trump Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House 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 GillibrandMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee She Should Run launches initiative to expand number of women in political process MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Perry replacement moves closer to confirmation despite questions on Ukraine Hirono memoir due in 2021 MORE (Hawaii), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDuckworth celebrates Veterans Day with deported veterans in Mexico Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect military families from deportation Nuclear command nominee sidesteps questions on arms control treaties MORE (Ill.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersAdvocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight Senators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS 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 TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation 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) HaleyNikki Haley fires the first shot in the GOP's post-Trump war Sanford: 'It carries real weight' to speak against Trump 'while in office' Haley seeks to quell talk she could replace Pence MORE resigned in December.

Support: Democratic Sens. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanHillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars Senate passes legislation to combat 'deepfake' videos Hillicon Valley: Senators seek national security review of TikTok | TikTok denies claims of Chinese government influence | CNN chief rips Facebook policy on political ads | Dem questions DHS' handling of personal data MORE (N.H.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward Senate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer 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 McConnellKavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings 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) MenendezGraham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward 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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