Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Impeachment inquiry overshadows Trump at UN | Veterans push VA to follow through on reforms | Iranian leader open to changes in nuke deal

Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Impeachment inquiry overshadows Trump at UN | Veterans push VA to follow through on reforms | Iranian leader open to changes in nuke deal
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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: President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE met with world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday, but the controversy over his conversations with Ukraine's president and mounting calls for Democrats for his impeachment overshadowed the event.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Democrats open door to repealing ObamaCare tax in spending talks Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump over his alleged political pressure on Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Trump: Giuliani to deliver report on Ukraine trip to Congress, Barr MORE's son, Hunter Biden, during a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

That call has come under increasing scrutiny over the past several days following the revelation that a whistleblower raised concerns about the discussion between the two leaders.

The numbers: More than two-thirds of House Democrats publicly support an impeachment probe. Pelosi has not been among those backing an inquiry.

On Tuesday alone, more than a dozen lawmakers -- including close Pelosi ally Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelUS must lead the charge on global reproductive rights — not stand in the way Charlize Theron: We didn't want the politics to overshadow 'Bombshell' Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort MORE (D-Fla.) -- came out in support of an impeachment inquiry in the aftermath of reports about the phone call with Zelensky.

What Trump said: Earlier Tuesday, Trump acknowledged he had withheld about $400 million in U.S. military aid for Ukraine just days ahead of the July 25 phone call.

Trump said that he raised the issues of Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, and corruption on the call but denied that he pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden or that there was a quid pro quo involved in the conversation.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump said he has authorized the release of a transcript of the conversation with Zelensky and insisted it would prove he did nothing wrong.

"You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo! This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!" Trump tweeted.

Senate passes measure: The Senate passed a resolution on Tuesday urging the administration to hand over a whistleblower complaint reportedly tied to the president.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) asked for unanimous consent to pass the non-binding resolution.

The resolution urges the administration to hand over the complaint and states that the Senate and House Intelligence committees "should be allowed to evaluate the complaint in a deliberate and bipartisan manner consistent with applicable statutes and processes in order to safeguard classified and sensitive information."

The administration has so far refused to hand over the whistleblower complaint, which has led to mounting scrutiny of the president.

The complaint is said to be tied to Trump's conversations with a foreign leader and is reportedly related to Ukraine.

Trump takes aim at China in address: Trump on Tuesday accused China of engaging in unfair trade practices and offered up a robust defense of his trade war with Beijing during an address at the United Nations General Assembly.

Trump argued that China's admittance to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 had backfired and that the country has chosen not to adopt reforms while engaging in currency manipulation and intellectual property theft at the expense of the United States and other countries.

"Not only has China declined to adopt promised reforms, it has embraced an economic model dependent on massive market barriers, heavy state subsidies, currency manipulation, product dumping, forced technology transfers and the theft of intellectual property -- and also trade secrets -- on a grand scale," Trump said.

Trump said the WTO needs "massive change" and accused past leaders of ignoring China's behavior as a result of "globalism" -- echoing a theme of his overall remarks in which he promoted the benefits of patriotism and isolationism. 

Trump's remarks come as his administration approaches a new round of high-level trade negotiations with China.

Also in the speech: Separately, Trump in his speech also railed against Venezuela, taking aim at its socialist economic system

Other meetings Tuesday: Trump's day at the UN also included him meeting with the president of Iraq and the prime ministers of India and the United Kingdom.

 

 

IRANIAN PRESIDENT OPEN TO CHANGES IN IRAN DEAL IF SANCTIONS LIFTED: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday reportedly said that he would consider small changes to a 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other countries if the Trump administration lifts sanctions on his country. 

Rouhani expressed being open to "small changes, additions or amendments" to the agreement if the U.S. lifted sanctions on the country, according to Reuters

No give from US: Trump in a Tuesday speech at the United Nations General Assembly, however, did not appear amenable to removing the economic penalties. 

"All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidies Iran's bloodlust," Trump said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. "As long as Iran's menacing behavior continues sanctions will not be lifted, they will be tightened."

And mixed signals from Iran: According to Reuters, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, unlike Rouhani, said that Tehran would not change the nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

"No changes to the JCPOA," he said.

The background: The U.S. last week slapped additional sanctions on Iran's central bank in response to attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have blamed the attacks, which were claimed by Houthi rebels in Yemen, on Iran. Tehran has denied involvement. 

Rouhani said that the new sanctions show "America's complete desperation" on Monday. 

Tensions between the two countries have escalated since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear agreement last year. 

 

NAVY CONFIRMS 3 SUICIDE DEATHS OF CARRIER SAILORS IN A WEEK: Three U.S. Navy sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush have died by suicide in the last week, the service confirmed.

The deaths are the "third, fourth, and fifth crew member suicides in the last two years," the ship's commanding officer Capt. Sean Bailey wrote in a Facebook announcement on Monday.

"It is with a heavy heart that I can confirm the loss of three Sailors last week in separate, unrelated incidents from apparent suicide. My heart is broken," Bailey wrote. "Now is the time to come together as a crew and as a family to grieve, to support each other, and to care for those in need."

Local and federal authorities are now investigating the three suicide deaths -- two of which happened on the same day -- as well as an incident when another sailor from the carrier took his own life in July, the Navy Times reported.

Navy says no connection: Navy officials insist that though the sailors all served on the same carrier, "the sailors did not serve in the same departments, and there does not appear to be a connection between their deaths," Naval Air Forces Atlantic spokeswoman Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg told the Navy Times in a statement.

She added that no enlisted or commissioned leaders have been relieved or reassigned following the suicides, and none of the deaths occurred on the carrier.

The details: Machinist's Mate 3rd Class Robert John Bartulewicz III, who killed himself on July 16, was the first suicide of a Bush crew member since 2017.

That was followed by the Sept. 14 death of Chief Electronics Technician (Nuclear) James Harold Shelton, and the Sept. 19 deaths of Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Vincent Michael Forline and Airman Ethan Thomas Lee Stuart.

September is the Navy's Suicide Awareness Month, and Bailey in his statement urged "All Hands to engage by bringing forward your suggestions and ideas for how we can work together to prevent another suicide."

 

VETERANS GROUPS PUSH VA TO FOLLOW THROUGH ON REFORMS: Veterans groups and Democrats say they have lingering questions and concerns months after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched rules seeking to expand veterans' ability to go to private doctors.

"A lot of what our members are saying is ...  they don't know what the new benefits are, they don't know how to access them, it's just kind of a lack of communication from their standpoint," said Tom Porter, vice president of government affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

The new rules are part of President Trump's much-touted VA Mission Act, which he usually refers to it by the name of the program it replaced, Choice.

Congress passed the VA Mission Act in 2018 to replace the Veterans Choice Program, established in 2014 after the VA wait-time scandal where administrators were found to be doctoring appointment schedules to cover up problems in providing veterans with health care.

The Choice program faced numerous issues over the years, ranging from complaints it wasn't being used enough to repeatedly running out of money.

A new beginning?: The $55 billion Mission Act sought to address those issues by overhauling and consolidating the network of private health care providers where veterans can use their benefits. The law passed with large bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The bill had a one-year implementation period before the new community cares rules would go into effect, a deadline that came in June.

"The changes not only improve our ability to provide the health care veterans need, but also when and where they need it," VA Secretary Robert WilkieRobert Leon WilkieThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says Dems shouldn't hold public hearings Overnight Defense: Pentagon says Syrian oil revenue going to Kurdish forces | GOP chair accuses Dems of using Space Force as leverage in wall fight | Dems drop plans to seek Bolton testimony Overnight Defense: Top general briefs GOP senators on Syria plan | Senators 'encouraged' by briefing | Pence huddles with Republican allies on Syria | Trump nominee sidesteps questions on arms treaties MORE said in a statement at the time. "It will also put veterans at the center of their care and offer options, including expanded telehealth and urgent care, so they can find the balance in the system that is right for them."

Frustrations from veterans: But since that time, Porter said, veterans have been frustrated with a lack of communication, with little information on new Mission Act reforms, programs and processes.

"When they go see the VA, and they go talk to their provider, they're not told about these things. That's the main thing that we're hearing from them," Porter said of IAVA members, of which there are 425,000. "I know that the VA is doing a lot of communication about this, it's just that when I talk to veterans, they don't seem to be on the receiving end of that."

The details: Under the old rules, veterans could use their VA benefits to see private doctors if they lived 40 miles away from a VA medical facility or had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment.

But under the new rules, veterans can see a private doctor for primary care or mental health if they live at least 30 minutes away or have to wait more than 20 days for an appointment.

For specialty care, the eligibility threshold is increased to 60 minutes of drive time or a 28-day wait for an appointment.

Veterans can also seek private care if the service they need is not available at a VA facility or they live in a state  without a full-service VA facility, among other new eligibility criteria.

Privatization, transparency concerns: The changes, though, have brought controversy. Opponents of the new rules argue that they appear to be the first step toward privatizing the VA.

In March, 57 Democrats wrote to the VA to express concerns that the then-proposed rules would "ultimately degrade" the agency "for those veterans who prefer and rely on its health care services to lead more meaningful, healthy lives."

The Democrats -- who included Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee ranking member Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterGOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Former rancher says failure to restore meat labeling law is costing rural America 'billions' Tester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden MORE (D-Mont.) and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) --also blasted the department for what they described as a lack of transparency in how the rules were developed, saying that raises concerns the new rules "are just as arbitrary" as the old ones.

More recently, Democrats have alleged the VA is blocking their ability to do oversight over the new community care rules.

 

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ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), former White House national security adviser Susan Rice, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffPence's office questions Schiff's request to declassify more material from official's testimony: report Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing Trump denies report that he still uses personal cell phone for calls MORE (D-Calif.), and House Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsThe House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage Doug Collins on potential 2020 Senate run: I'm not 'ruling it out' MORE (R-Ga.) will speak at Day 2 of the Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C. https://www.theatlanticfestival.com/agenda

 

ICYMI

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-- The Hill: Marine unit cancels planned Mar-a-Lago event

-- The Hill: Murphy blasts GOP on whistleblower response: 'We're watching this country turn into a banana republic'

-- The Hill: UK, France and Germany blame Iran for Saudi oil facility attacks

-- The Hill: Opinion: How drone attacks reveal fixable flaws with American air defenses