Overnight Defense: Washington returns to Iran crisis | Defense chief denies US troops leaving Iraq | House sets vote on Iran war powers | Bolton willing to testify in impeachment trial

Overnight Defense: Washington returns to Iran crisis | Defense chief denies US troops leaving Iraq | House sets vote on Iran war powers | Bolton willing to testify in impeachment trial
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Happy Monday 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: The holiday break is over, and lawmakers and officials are returning to town with a new Iran crisis unfolding.

To recap: In December, the United States blamed a rocket attack in Iraq that killed a U.S. contractor on an Iran-backed militia and responded with strikes on the militia. Supporters of the militia then stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Days later, the U.S. military killed Iranian Quds Forces leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike at the Baghdad International Airport, and Iran and the United States are now trading escalating threats of retaliation.

With the possibility of Iranian retaliation high, the House is set to vote this week on a war powers resolution aimed at limiting Trump's military actions toward Iran.

"As Members of Congress, our first responsibility is to keep the American people safe," House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCongress exits with no deal, leaving economists flabbergasted Trump says he'll sign USPS funding if Democrats make concessions Pelosi calls Trump attacks on mail-in voting a 'domestic assault on our Constitution' MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter announcing the resolution. "For this reason, we are concerned that the Administration took this action without the consultation of Congress and without respect for Congress's war powers granted to it by the Constitution."

In the upper chamber: Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIn the next relief package Congress must fund universal COVID testing Ocasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech New poll shows Markey with wide lead over Kennedy in Massachusetts MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday the chamber will have to vote on a resolution limiting Trump's ability to take military action against Iran.

Schumer, speaking from the Senate floor, noted Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump goes birther again; no deal on COVID-19 package Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance MORE (D-Va.) had introduced a war powers resolution that would require Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from hostilities against Iran within 30 days without congressional signoff.

"That resolution will be privileged, so it will have to come to the floor," Schumer said. "My colleagues, we're going to vote on it."

Kaine can force a vote on the Senate floor 10 days after his resolution was introduced. Both the House and the Senate resolution need a simple majority to make it to Trump's desk, where they would likely face a veto.

In Iraq: Confusion was the watchword in Iraq on Monday, as a letter circulated online suggesting U.S. troops would withdraw, followed by denials from the Pentagon.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters the letter -- which said U.S. troops were preparing for "onward movement" -- was a draft that should not have been released.

"That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released," Milley told reporters in an off-camera briefing. "Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That's not what's happening."

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOne hundred days later, Esper still must explain landmine policy reversal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Overnight Defense: Trump reportedly considering replacing Esper after election | FBI, Air Force investigating after helicopter shot at in Virginia | Watchdog says UK envoy made inappropriate comments on religion, race, sex MORE also denied U.S. troops would withdraw from Iraq.

On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament approved a resolution to terminate the agreement that allows for U.S. troops in the country.

The resolution was nonbinding and subject to approval from the Iraqi government. But outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had urged his country's parliament to end the foreign troop presence in his country.

And in nuclear news: Iran announced Sunday it would no longer adhere to limits on uranium enrichment set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

Still, Iran left open the possibility of returning to compliance with the deal if it gets sanctions relief. And it did not kick out international nuclear inspectors.

Trump responded to the news Monday by tweeting "IRAN WILL NEVER HAVE A NUCLEAR WEAPON!"

Backlash on cultural sites: Trump's threat to target cultural sites in Iran has sparked outrage, with legal experts arguing the president would likely be violating international law if he took such a step.

Top aides have tiptoed around the president's statements, saying the administration would act lawfully and that Trump wasn't definitively saying that he would target Iranian cultural sites if Tehran escalates the current situation. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senator draws fire from all sides on Biden, Obama-era probes Has Congress captured Russia policy? Graham on Harris: 'No issue' as to whether 'she is an American citizen' MORE (R-S.C.), a top ally of Trump on Capitol Hill, said Monday he raised concerns with Trump about the remarks on a phone call.

"Cultural sites, religious sites are not lawful targets under the law of war unless they've been weaponized by the enemy," Graham told reporters. "Putting cultural sites on the table as a military target, I think, undercuts what we're trying to do."

On Monday, White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayTrump hurls insults at Harris, Ocasio-Cortez and other women Trump and allies grapple with how to target Harris Conway: Harris is going to have to answer for marijuana prosecutions in California MORE also told reporters that Iran has "many" strategic military sites that could also be considered cultural sites.

"The president has identified those sites and has said that it may happen if Iran retaliates in a certain way," Conway said. "You have the president on the record. You have to read the entire thing."

 

IMPEACHMENT LATEST: Lawmakers also return to town with Trump's impeachment still an ongoing concern.

In the latest twist, former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement Ex-Trump adviser, impeachment witness Fiona Hill gets book deal Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon MORE said Monday he would testify in a Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed.

"The House has concluded its Constitutional responsibility by adopting Articles of Impeachment related to the Ukraine matter. It now falls to the Senate to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to try impeachments, and it does not appear possible that a final judicial resolution of the still-unanswered Constitutional questions can be obtained before the Senate acts," Bolton, who was ousted by Trump last September, said in a statement.

"I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify," Bolton said.

Bolton had previously said that he needed a judge to resolve whether a senior Trump adviser could be compelled to testify before Congress, and as a result did not appear before the House, as requested, in connection with the impeachment inquiry.

His former deputy, Charles Kupperman, had filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to decide whether he should obey a congressional subpoena for his testimony, but the case was declared moot at the end of last month.

Schumer's response: Schumer quickly seized on Bolton's decision to testify if subpoenaed, arguing on Monday that it puts new pressure on Republicans to support calling witnesses.

"Momentum for uncovering the truth in a Senate trial continues. John Bolton correctly acknowledged that he needs to comply with a Senate subpoena to compel his testimony, if issued. It is now up to four Senate Republicans to support bringing in Mr. Bolton, and the other three witnesses, as well as the key documents we have requested to ensure all the evidence is presented at the onset of a Senate trial," Schumer said in a statement.

"Given that Mr. Bolton's lawyers have stated he has new relevant information to share, if any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we have requested they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover up," Schumer added.

Bolton is one of four witnesses that Senate Democrats want to call as part of Trump's impeachment trial.

Romney wants to hear from Bolton: Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney breaks with Trump's criticism of mail-in voting GOP senator draws fire from all sides on Biden, Obama-era probes Why the US should rely more on strategy, not sanctions MORE (R-Utah) said Monday he wants to hear from Bolton, becoming the first GOP senator to specifically say so after Bolton's morning statement.

Romney told reporters at the Capitol that he wants to hear from Bolton and find out "what he knows" about Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

"I would like to be able to hear from John Bolton. What the process is to make that happen, I don't have an answer for you," he added.

Romney did not indicate if he thinks there needs to be a deal on hearing from Bolton at the outset of the trial, saying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcGrath reshuffles campaign in home stretch to Senate election GOP senator draws fire from all sides on Biden, Obama-era probes Chris Wallace rips both parties for coronavirus package impasse: 'Pox on both their houses' MORE (R-Ky.) and Schumer are still working on trying to get a deal on the rules.

Bolton is one of four witnesses that Senate Democrats want to call as part of Trump's trial. They'll need four Republicans to support their efforts if they are going to successfully subpoena him.

Pelosi's response: Pelosi said in a tweet that Trump and McConnell have "run out of excuses" and that the Republican-controlled Senate must seek Bolton's testimony about the Trump administration's contacts with Ukraine.

"They must allow key witnesses to testify, and produce the documents Trump has blocked, so Americans can see the facts for themselves. The Senate cannot be complicit in the President's cover-up," the Speaker added using the hashtag "#DefendOurDemocracy."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Atlantic Council will host a conversation with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at 10:15 a.m. https://bit.ly/39JsOWH

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US Africa Command identifies soldier killed in al-Shabaab attack in Kenya

-- The Hill: Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January

-- The Hill: Poll: 43 percent approve of Trump strike on Soleimani

-- The Hill: Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyMartin Luther King III endorses Kennedy in Senate primary Markey riffs on JFK quote in new ad touting progressive bona fides Democrats struggle to harness enthusiasm of Gen Z voters MORE presses for war authorization repeal vote following Soleimani strike

-- The Hill: Opinion: Killing Soleimani: How Trump united Iran against America

-- The Hill: Opinion: Trump disrupts, but may not have halted, Iran's planned 'Year of Iran'