Overnight Defense: GOP grumbles after Trump delays military projects for wall | House panel hints at subpoena for Afghanistan envoy | Kabul bombing raises doubts about Taliban talks

Overnight Defense: GOP grumbles after Trump delays military projects for wall | House panel hints at subpoena for Afghanistan envoy | Kabul bombing raises doubts about Taliban talks
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Happy Thursday 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.

 

TOPLINE: GOP lawmakers are grumbling over President Trump's redirection of funds from military construction projects in their states and districts to his promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Their uneasiness stems from this week's announcement by Secretary of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperSenate Democrats demand to see copies of Trump's intelligence briefings on Russian bounties Overnight Defense: Top general says military must take 'hard look' at Confederate symbols on installations | Milley vows to 'get to bottom' of Russia bounty intel | Woman to join Green Berets for first time Top general vows to 'get to the bottom' of Russia bounty intel MORE that $3.6 billion will be stripped from 127 projects at U.S. bases, including some in states where GOP senators are up for reelection.

Congressional Republicans now face the fraught task of assuring their constituents that the projects won't be canceled while also working with the Defense Department and Democrats to craft legislation that will replenish or "backfill" the funding -- all while not coming across as publicly rebuking President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE.

What Republicans are saying: Many GOP lawmakers are upset that Trump issued an emergency declaration in February to carry out the cash shift.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMore Republicans should support crisis aid for the Postal Service GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report MORE (R-Maine), who is up for reelection, said she doesn't believe the president has the constitutional authority to divert the money.

"Each of these projects was recommended by the administration, passed in Congress, signed into law by the president, and while there is some discretion that he has to move money around, I think that his executive order exceeds his discretion," she said during an event Wednesday in Maine.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers to address alarming spike in coronavirus cases MORE (R-Utah) added to that sentiment by saying, "Congress has been ceding far too much powers to the executive branch for decades and it is far past time for Congress to restore the proper balance of power between the three branches."

But others have been more muted in their criticism. "We continue to face a very real crisis at the southern border," House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide House panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year MORE (R-Texas) said in a statement Wednesday. "I regret that the president has been forced to divert funding for our troops to address the crisis."

Democrats pounce: Democrats, meanwhile, have blamed the GOP for failing to stand up to Trump on the emergency declaration. 

Democrat MJ Hegar, who is seeking to unseat Sen. John Cornyn (R) in 2020, said in a statement Thursday that the Texas senator "should be ashamed that he enabled his political allies to steal $38.5 million from projects to improve the conditions at Fort Bliss and Joint Base San Antonio for our men and women in uniform."

What's next? Democrats are likely to prolong the political headache for Republicans leading up to Election Day 2020. Under the National Emergencies Act, Democrats can force votes on resolutions of disapproval every sixth months, with the next vote as soon as mid-September.

The House and Senate will soon face the challenge of coming together to figure out a solution in the annual defense policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act.

The GOP-controlled Senate already agreed to fund the deferred military projects in its bill, but the Democratic-led House said it won't agree to do the same.

  

TALIBAN BOMBING LEAVES 10 DEAD, DOUBTS OVER NEGOTIATIONS: The Taliban claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed 10 near Kabul on Thursday, heightening doubts among Afghan officials over a pending peace agreement between the United States and the insurgent group, The Washington Post reported.

The car bombing near Afghan security offices in the center of Kabul left an additional 40 injured.

The Taliban said in a statement that it had targeted a convoy of foreigners, according to the Post.

Timing: The attack comes days after the U.S. and the Taliban met for a ninth round of negotiations in Qatar.

That meeting resulted in a draft agreement shown to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani by special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.

What the deal entails: Under the agreement, the U.S. would reportedly withdraw nearly 5,000 troops from five bases in return for the Taliban not allowing militants to use Afghanistan to plan attacks on the U.S. or its allies.

Any deal would require approval from President Trump before being finalized.

The hitch: The Afghan government has not been included in peace talks with the Taliban, and on Wednesday, Ghani's spokesperson Sediq Seddiqi said the Afghan government fears that the deal could have dangerous consequences.

"The Afghan government is also concerned and we, therefore, would like further clarity on this document to completely analyze its dangers and negative consequences and avoid the dangers," he said.

Intra-Afghan talks are supposed to follow any peace deal between Washington and the Taliban, but there are already disputes over negotiations.

NATO members killed: A U.S. service member and a Romanian soldier were killed on Thursday in the blast in Afghanistan.

The news release from the NATO-led mission in the country, known as Operation Resolute Support, provided no details of the incident, noting only that both "were killed in action" in Kabul.

The identity of the U.S. service member is being withheld until 24 hours after next of kin is notified, in line with Defense Department policy.

The U.S. service member's death brings this year's total number of American combat deaths in Afghanistan to 16. The death rate hit a five-year high earlier this month after two service members were killed by small-arms fire.

And House calls for negotiator to testify: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelChina must be held accountable for its egregious actions against Hong Kong Voice of America not extending foreign journalists' visas: report New York candidates left on hold as primary results trickle in MORE (D-N.Y.) on Thursday called on President Trump's special envoy to Afghanistan to testify this month on the proposed peace plan with the Taliban.

Engel asked Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation who has served as a top negotiator with the Taliban, to appear before his committee in September. It follows two previous requests earlier this year that Engel said didn't receive responses.

Engel first asked Khalilzad to appear before the committee in February in a joint invitation with Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulGOP lawmakers raise questions about WHO's coronavirus timeline China must be held accountable for its egregious actions against Hong Kong Trump's WHO decision raises bipartisan concerns in House MORE (Texas), the panel's ranking Republican, as well as in a letter with all committee Democrats in April.

Why he was called: Engel signaled that his patience is running thin and suggested the next step could be a subpoena if Khalilzad doesn't respond.

"I am calling this hearing so that Congress and the American people will have the long-overdue opportunity to understand the contours of your negotiations with the Taliban and the potential risks and opportunities that may result," Engel wrote in a letter to Khalilzad.

"After nearly two decades of war, we all want to see the fighting in Afghanistan come to an end. But we want to make sure we are negotiating a peace and not simply a withdrawal," Engel added.

Engel's demand for Khalilzad's appearance comes after the special envoy said earlier this week that the U.S. and the Taliban have reached an agreement "in principle."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of Air Forces Central Command, and Air Force Lt. Gen. J.T. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems will speak at the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies "Space Power to the Warfighter" seminar on "Secure Communications," at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

Former defense secretary Jim Mattis will speak about his newly released book "Call Sign Chaos," at 7:30 p.m. at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Two sisters become generals in first for Army

-- The Hill: US offered millions to Iranian tanker captain to hand over ship

-- The Hill: Trump's envoy for Middle East, architect of peace plan set to leave post

-- The Hill: Iran plans new centrifuges for enriching uranium