Overnight Defense: Dems block defense spending bill over Trump wall | Impeachment latest – Both sides seize on testimony of White House Russia expert | Bolton won't testify voluntarily

Overnight Defense: Dems block defense spending bill over Trump wall | Impeachment latest – Both sides seize on testimony of White House Russia expert | Bolton won't testify voluntarily
© Greg Nash

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.


THE TOPLINE: Senate Democrats blocked a defense spending bill for the second time on Thursday, underscoring the hurdles ahead of next month's government funding deadline.

Senators voted 51-41 on whether to advance a spending package that was expected to include the defense funding. The bill needed 60 votes to advance.

Democrats warned ahead of time that they would oppose taking up the bill until lawmakers get a deal on top-line spending figures known as 302(b)s. They previously blocked the defense spending bill in September. 


"The Republican leader has been accusing Democrats of threatening to block military funding. Now, that is an absurd statement if there ever was one. We're simply trying to stop Republicans from stealing money from our military and putting it into the wall," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerJacobin editor: Primarying Schumer would force him to fight Trump's SCOTUS nominee CNN's Toobin: Democrats are 'wimps' who won't 'have the guts' to add Supreme Court seats Republican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' MORE (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the vote. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerWhite House opposes House energy bill as Democrats promise climate action This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda House Democrats postpone vote on marijuana decriminalization bill MORE (D-Md.) sent a letter this week to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS fight MORE (R-Ky.) asking that they "take a meaningful step forward and work together with us to reach bipartisan agreement on 302(b) allocations for all twelve appropriations bills."

"Such an agreement is necessary for appropriators and all of our Members to do their jobs and fund our national priorities," he wrote.

The reaction: The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its defense spending bill along party lines after Republicans rejected an amendment that would have prevented President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE from redirecting money toward the border wall without congressional signoff. 

Republicans blasted Democrats for blocking the defense bill, noting that it comes even as they've recently criticized Trump's Syria strategy. 

"The same Democrats who recently rediscovered hawkish sounding positions on Syria and the Middle East are really going to filibuster a $755 million for the counter ISIS train and equip fund for Iraq and Syria? And filibuster all the other broader funding of our armed services? Really?" McConnell asked.

He added that the "core message here is hard to miss. Our Democratic colleagues have a priority list, picking fights with the White House is priority No. 1."

A deadline: The stalemate comes roughly an hour after the Senate approved its first four fiscal 2020 bills, each of which passed out of the Appropriations Committee with bipartisan support.

Lawmakers have until Nov. 21 to pass the 12 fiscal year appropriations bills or another continuing resolution.

Both Shelby and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTop House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo's Jerusalem speech With Biden, advocates sense momentum for lifting abortion funding ban Progressives look to flex their muscle in next Congress after primary wins MORE (D-N.Y.) have said another continuing resolution will be necessary. The stopgap bill could last until February or March. 

"That's what's going to happen," Lowey said about the timeline on Thursday 

There are several hurdles to avoiding a government shutdown next month. 

The issues: In addition to defense spending, lawmakers need to work out the 302(b)s and come to an agreement on whether to backfill $3.6 billion Trump shifted from military construction projects toward the wall as part of an emergency declaration. The House military construction and veterans affairs bill does not include the replenished funding. Senators haven't unveiled their bill, which is expected to include the funding. 

They also need to come to an agreement on border funding. Democrats believe Senate Republicans have padded the Department of Homeland Security with extra wall money. 

"Democrats will not vote to proceed to a bill that steals money from our troops and their families. Republicans know it's a nonstarter. ... There is nowhere close to the necessary votes in the Senate for President Trump's border wall and, of course, there is not in the House. So this is just a show vote," Schumer added on Thursday. 

Trump has requested $8.6 billion for the wall as part of his 2020 budget request -- a figure that cannot pass both chambers of Congress.


TODAY'S IMPEACHMENT UPDATE: Tim Morrison, the outgoing top White House Russia expert, testified behind closed doors that he doesn't believe anything illegal was discussed during President Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

"I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed," Morrison said in the remarks.

What the GOP thinks: Trump's GOP allies in Congress quickly framed Morrison's testimony as evidence that there was no quid pro quo surrounding Trump's interactions with Ukrainian leaders, while Democrats argued that his testimony only underscored their concerns about the call.

"I don't think you'll get any opening statements leaked from the Democrats today," said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsSouthwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid Airline CEOs plead with Washington as layoffs loom Trump reacts to Ginsburg's death: 'An amazing woman who led an amazing life' MORE (R-N.C.), who characterized Morrison's remarks as "very damaging to the Democrats' narrative."

The Dems' concerns: Democrats maintained that Morrison, by corroborating key elements of previous testimony heard by investigators, only further validated the initial allegations that Trump pressured a foreign government to provide a "favor" that could benefit him politically at home.

"I guess they have to try to put a spin on it," said Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiDCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - First lady casts Trump as fighter for the 'forgotten' Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers introduce resolution condemning QAnon | US Cyber Command leader vows to 'defend forward' in protecting nation from cyberattacks MORE (D-N.J.), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. "But a while ago they were saying, 'There's nothing here because there's no quid pro quo.' Take a look at the opening statement. It's crystal clear. ... It's overwhelming."

The background: Scrutiny of Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president has been largely focused on whether Trump did something improper by asking Kiev to launch investigations involving former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJoe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally Special counsel investigating DeVos for potential Hatch Act violation: report MORE, a political rival, and the 2016 election.

House Democrats are investigating, among other things, whether the Trump administration linked military aid to Ukraine to the country's pursuit of investigations sought by Trump. The president has insisted his call was "perfect" and that there was no quid pro quo, though prior testimony has conflicted with his claims.

Several witnesses have testified that they were concerned about Trump's demands, including Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who this week said he didn't think it was right for the president to pressure Ukraine under those circumstances. Vindman and other witnesses also worried that this would undermine bipartisan support for Ukraine.

The only possible criminal allegation that has come up is a possible campaign finance violation, but the Justice Department dismissed the possibility and declined to investigate further.

More from Morrison: Morrison, who replaced Fiona Hill as the senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council (NSC), also said Thursday that he wasn't concerned about the accuracy of a partial readout of the phone call released earlier this year by the White House.

"To the best of my recollection, the MemCon [memorandum of conversation] accurately and completely reflects the substance of the call," said Morrison, a conservative political appointee and former counsel to Republicans on the Armed Services Committee.

Morrison, who was recruited by national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonDiplomacy with China is good for America The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep DOJ launches probe into Bolton book for possible classified information disclosures MORE, laid out several concerns he feared would result if the readout leaked, including how it would be received in "Washington's polarized environment" and how it would affect the U.S. relationship with Ukraine -- both in Congress as well as the perceptions of it.

Morrison also said he "can confirm that the substance" of a statement Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, made to House investigators "is accurate" in terms of conversations the two had together, but that his view of events differ on two details including a conversation with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

Taylor testified earlier this month that in a phone conversation on Sept. 7, Morrison described a "sinking feeling" that resulted from Trump telling Sondland there was no "quid pro quo," all while continuing to insist that Zelensky should publicly announce that he is "opening investigations of Biden and the 2016 election interference, and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself." 

Bolton won't testify voluntarily: Former national security adviser John Bolton will not appear voluntarily to testify in connection with the House impeachment inquiry into Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

Bolton's attorney Chuck Cooper told The Hill in an email late Wednesday that Bolton would not appear voluntarily and would need to be subpoenaed.


NEW NORTH KOREA MISSILE LAUNCHES: North Korea launched two missiles into the Sea of Japan Thursday, in its 12th test since May.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles were short-ranged projectiles and launched north of Pyongyang, reaching 55 miles in height and flying 230 miles into the sea, according to a statement.

"This type of act from North Korea does not help efforts to alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and we urge North Korea to stop immediately," the statement reads.

Japan's Defense Ministry noted the first projectile appeared to be a ballistic missile but did not land in territorial waters or an exclusive economic zone, according to the Post.

Timing: The missiles were launched as tensions in North Korea's relationship with both South Korea and the U.S. have intensified in the past month. Talks on potential denuclearization between the countries fell apart in early October, after North Korea called the talks "sickening."

North Korea set a deadline for the end of the year for the U.S. to approach it with a plan for denuclearization. The country condemned the U.S. sanctions against them Sunday, calling them "crafty and vicious," according to the Post. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnSatellite images indicate North Korea preparing for massive military parade South Korea warns of underwater missile test launch by North Korea Trump says he didn't share classified information following Woodward book MORE released photos of him riding a white horse earlier this month, saying he was planning a "great operation." He also demanded this week that South Korean hotels and tourist locations be demolished.

"Now the situation on the Korean Peninsula is at a critical crossroads of either moving toward a durable peace along with the trend of detente or facing again a touch-and-go crisis," leading North Korea official Choe Ryong Hae said in a speech Tuesday reported by North Korean state media.


A DOG IN THE WHITE HOUSE?: President Trump on Thursday indicated that the dog injured in the raid that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will visit the White House next week.

Trump quote-tweeted a photoshopped image he'd shared earlier in the day that originated on the conservative Daily Wire website that depicted the dog being given the Medal of Honor.

"Very cute recreation, but the 'live' version of Conan will be leaving the Middle East for the White House sometime next week!" Trump tweeted.

The dog's name had previously been classified, though Trump released a photo of it last week. The animal has become an internet sensation since it was revealed that it was injured in last weekend's raid.

Trump has a complicated history with dogs, as he's deployed the term as an insult repeatedly against his critics. In describing al-Baghdadi's final moments, Trump said he "died like a dog."

Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, gave a briefing on Wednesday in which he shared additional details about Conan.

"This dog is a four-year veteran of [the Special Operations Command] canine program and has been a member of approximately 50 combat missions," McKenzie said.

The dog was injured by exposed live electrical cables in the tunnel after al-Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest but has since been returned to duty, he said.



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