Overnight Defense: Iran takes credit for rocket attack on US base | Trump briefed | Trump puts talk of Iraq withdrawal on hold | Progressives push to block funding for Iran war | Trump backs off threat to hit Iranian cultural sites

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 TrumpWayfair refutes QAnon-like conspiracy theory that it's trafficking children Stone rails against US justice system in first TV interview since Trump commuted his sentence Federal appeals court rules Trump admin can't withhold federal grants from California sanctuary cities MORE was briefed Tuesday evening after Iran claimed responsibility for firing missiles at an Iraqi military base housing U.S. troops, a marked escalation in the conflict between the two countries following the U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force.

"We are aware of the reports of attacks on US facilities in Iraq," White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamMelania Trump posts video of herself wearing mask during stop at women's center Melania Trump's spokeswoman slams 'inappropriate and insensitive comments' about Barron Trump Melania Trump is 'behind-the-scenes' but 'unbelievably influential': book MORE said in a statement. "The President has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team."

The Pentagon said Iran had "launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq," in a separate statement. "It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases holding U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil," the Pentagon added.

Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman said in the statement that the bases had been on high alert since the killing of Soleimani.

Iran takes responsibility: "The fierce revenge by the Revolutionary Guards has begun," Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement Tuesday on the IRCG Telegram channel, according to The New York Times.

The Associated Press also reported that Iranian state TV had claimed credit for the attack on Ain Assad air base.

Escalating tensions: Tehran had vowed to retaliate for Soleimani, who was killed Friday in a drone strike in Baghdad. Trump responded that if Iran retaliated, the U.S. would target sites of cultural significance to Iran before appearing to walk back that threat Tuesday.

The killing has also put new stress on U.S.-Iraqi ties, with that country's parliament taking a nonbinding vote to expel U.S. troops. Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperWhite House CTO chosen to serve as acting Pentagon tech chief Congress pulls punches on Russian bounties firestorm Senate Democrats demand to see copies of Trump's intelligence briefings on Russian bounties MORE was forced to deny Monday that the U.S. was withdrawing from Iraq after a letter suggested otherwise.

On Capitol Hill: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi70 progressive groups call for next Foreign Affairs chair to reflect 'progressive realism' House to vote next week on ridding Capitol of Confederate statues Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending MORE's (D-Calif.) team said Tuesday evening that they had been briefed on the matter, not long after Pelosi met in the Capitol basement with the other members of the Gang of Eight for a briefing on the decision to launch the drone strike that killed Soleimani.

Click here for the latest on the attack and check back at TheHill.com for updates.

 

The rocket attack capped a dramatic day in Washington dominated by Iran and impeachment....

 

TRUMP PUTS IRAQ EXIT ON HOLD: President Trump on Tuesday followed up on remarks from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, telling reporters that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was not imminent.

"Eventually we want to be able to let Iraq run its own affairs, and that's very important. So at some point we want to get out. But this isn't the right point," Trump told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with the Greek prime minister.

Trump said an impending U.S. withdrawal would be "the worst thing that could happen to Iraq," reasoning it would give Iran even more influence in the region. But he made clear he hoped the U.S. would not remain there indefinitely.

"Eventually they have to be able to defend themselves and take care of themselves, and it's something ultimately that I want to see," he added. "We don't want to be there forever. We want to be able to get out."

The remarks were Trump's first lengthy comments about the turmoil in the Middle East.

Key takeaway: Trump's commitment to keeping troops in Iraq for at least the short-term was a moment of clarity amid uncertainty about how the administration might proceed in the face of retaliatory action from Tehran. More on the context of Trump's remarks here from The Hill's Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant. Trump along with Esper and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze Pompeo formally rejects Beijing's claims in South China Sea Wells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones MORE on Tuesday all addressed the strike on Soleimani on Tuesday.

From the Pentagon: Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday said that the United States is not looking to start a war with Iran but is "prepared to finish one."

"The United States is not seeking a war with Iran, but we are prepared to finish one. We are seeking a diplomatic solution, but first this will require Iran to de-escalate. It will require the regime to come to the table with the goal of preventing further bloodshed," Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. 

"We are open to having this discussion with them, but we are just as prepared to deliver a forceful response to defend our interests," he added. "The architects of terror should know that we will not tolerate attacks against America's people and interests and will exercise our right to self-defense should that become necessary once again.

Timing: Trump administration officials have said the strike on Soleimani was meant to prevent an "imminent" attack in the region but have provided no evidence.

Esper would not give details of such intelligence to reporters and would say only that an attack from Soleimani was assessed at being "days away."

"He was a legitimate target, and his time was due," Esper said.

No withdrawal from Iraq: The Pentagon chief also said U.S. forces would not withdraw from Iraq.

"To the best of my knowledge, I haven't seen any communication from [the Iraqi prime minister] or the Iraqi government about the legislation or about an order or a request to withdraw U.S. forces," Esper said.

He said that since the strike on Soleimani, he has spoken with commanders on the ground in the region "to ensure they have the resources they need to protect their people and prepare for any contingencies. As a result we've increased our force protection postures across the region and will continue to reposition and bolster our forces as necessary." 

 

SENATE REPUBLICAN BLOCKS RESOLUTION AGAINST TARGETING CULTURAL SITES: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan MORE (R-Okla.) blocked passage of a resolution on Tuesday that classified attacks on cultural sites as "war crimes." 

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE (D-Mass.) tried to get consent to pass the resolution, arguing that the Senate should go on record amid Trump's threats to target Iranian cultural sites. 

"The president would compound the mistake which he has made and turn it into something that could be catastrophic for that region, for our country, for the world," Markey said from the Senate floor. 

He added that Trump's threat to target cultural sites is a "betrayal of American values. It is wrong. It is a needless escalation which ignores international law." 

What the resolution said: The page-long resolution states that "attacks on cultural sites are war crimes."

It also notes Defense Secretary Mark Esper's comments from Monday, where he told reporters that the United States would not target Iranian culture sites and "will follow the laws of armed conflict."

Why it was blocked: Under the Senate's rules, any one senator can request for a resolution to be passed by unanimous consent, but any one senator can object and block their request. 

Inhofe said he appreciated "the spirit" of Markey's resolution but that it needed to be more specific. 

"Since our votes carry the force of law, we need to be more specific in our resolutions, and it's simply not true that attacking cultural sites is always a war crime, because there are many instances in which cultural sites have been used as staging grounds for hostilities," Inhofe said. 

He added that he hoped Markey would amend his resolution "to acknowledge an exception for when cultural sites are used for staging military attacks or other improper purposes." 

Trump's latest comments: Trump appeared to back down on Tuesday from his threat to target Iranian cultural sites if Tehran retaliates over the strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Trump told reporters that he wants to obey the law when asked whether he would target Iranian cultural sites, which legal experts have said would likely amount to a violation of international law.

"If that's what the law is, I like to obey the law. But think of it. They kill our people. They blow up our people and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I'm OK with it. It's OK with me," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. 

But Democrats are skeptical: Markey appeared skeptical that Trump wouldn't attack cultural sites, reading the president's previous tweets from the Senate floor. 

"If he says that he's going to target the most valuable cultural sits inside of Iran, we should believe him. He does what he says he's going to do," Markey said.

Esper 'fully confident': Esper on Tuesday said he was "fully confident" that President Trump would not give the Pentagon an illegal order to target any Iranian cultural centers.

"I am fully confident that the president, the commander in chief, will not give us an illegal order," Esper told reporters when asked if he would resign rather than violate international law if Trump ordered a strike on Iranian cultural sites.

"As I said, the United States military will, as it always has, obey the laws of armed conflict," Esper added.

 

PROGRESSIVES PUSH FOR VOTES TO BLOCK FUNDING FOR WAR AGAINST IRAN: House progressives on Tuesday called for votes both on legislation to block funding for military action against Iran and on repealing the 2002 authorization of military force that would go beyond an expected vote this week to limit President Trump's actions in the country.

Freshman Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinOvernight Defense: US formally rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims | House set to consider defense policy bill next week | 57 injured as firefighters battle warship blaze House Democrat warns about 'inaccurate' polls: Trump voters 'fundamentally undercounted' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Justices rule Manhattan prosecutor, but not Congress, can have Trump tax records MORE (D-Mich.), a former CIA and Pentagon analyst who served multiple tours in Iraq and represents a competitive district, is expected to lead a still-unreleased resolution stating that the Trump administration's military hostilities with Iran must cease within 30 days if no further congressional action is taken.

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are expected to back that resolution, but are also pushing for votes on additional bills to restrict the Trump administration's actions against Iran.

Other measures: Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus called for "immediate floor action" on two other measures.

One from Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSome in Congress want to keep sending our troops to Afghanistan House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal It's time to eliminate land-based nuclear missiles MORE (D-Calif.) would prohibit funds for offensive military force in or against Iran without prior authorization from Congress.

The other bill, previously introduced by Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeHouse to vote next week on ridding Capitol of Confederate statues State legislatures consider US Capitol's Confederate statues House eyes votes to remove symbols of Confederates from Capitol MORE (D-Calif.) last year, would repeal the 2002 authorization of military force against Iraq, which the administration used as legal justification for the Soleimani strike.

"In addition to the War Powers Resolution, we believe it is imperative to simultaneously pursue all avenues to prevent a disastrous war with Iran," Lee and the Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 Steyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary Celebrities fundraise for Markey ahead of Massachusetts Senate primary MORE (D-Wis.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down MORE (D-Wash.), said in a joint statement.

"Given the lack of any coherent strategy by the White House to de-escalate tensions and protect U.S. troops, regional partners, and innocent civilians, Congress must act swiftly to prevent another endless war," they added.

Earlier: The House passed an annual defense authorization bill last summer that included the proposals from Khanna and Lee. But both of their measures were ultimately left out of the final version that Trump signed into law last month.

Expectations this week: The War Powers resolution to be unveiled by Slotkin and Democratic leaders this week to limit the Trump administration's actions against Iran is expected to pass easily with widespread support from Democrats.

"As Members of Congress, our first responsibility is to keep the American people safe. 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," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to colleagues on Sunday.

A House vote on the resolution has not yet been scheduled but is expected later in the week.

Over in the upper chamber: It's unlikely, though, that Senate Republicans, who have largely backed Trump for ordering the strike that killed Soleimani, will support the measure to restrict his powers.

Congress did pass a resolution last year to force the Trump administration to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, but Trump vetoed it. An attempt to override Trump's veto in the Senate fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

 

IMPEACHMENT LATEST: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell in talks with Mnuchin on next phase of coronavirus relief Pelosi: 'We shouldn't even be thinking' about reopening schools without federal aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - All eyes on Florida as daily COVID-19 cases hit 15K MORE (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that "we have the votes" to pass an organizing resolution to start President Trump's impeachment trial without requiring witness testimony.

"We have the votes, once the impeachment trial has begun, to pass a resolution essentially the same, very similar to the 100 to nothing vote in the Clinton trial which sets up, as you may recall, what could best be described maybe as a Phase One," McConnell said.

McConnell told Republican senators he had the votes during a closed-door caucus lunch before he spoke publicly.

Getting the votes: The Hill reported Monday night that McConnell had the votes after two GOP swing votes, Sens. 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 (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools MORE (Alaska), said they would back McConnell's position that the Senate should follow the precedent of the 1999 impeachment trial of former President Clinton and defer until later in the process the question of calling additional witnesses.

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Republican rift opens up over qualified immunity for police MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters that the GOP leader confirmed he has the votes, but that "shouldn't be a surprise." 

"The leader has the votes to make it clear that the Clinton impeachment rules would be adopted by the Senate," Rounds said. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - All eyes on Florida as daily COVID-19 cases hit 15K Democrats see immigration reform as topping Biden agenda Graham says he will call Mueller to testify before Senate panel about Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) confirmed McConnell's comments during the closed-door GOP lunch, and said he is circulating his own resolution urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to send over the articles.

"He has 51 [votes] for sure to set the impeachment trial using the Clinton model," Graham said of McConnell. "I think most Republicans believe this is a political stunt." 

The first phase: McConnell said on Tuesday the first phase of the Trump trial would include both House impeachment managers and Trump's team presenting their opening arguments and questions from senators. 

"At that point during the Clinton trial, the issue of the appropriateness of calling witnesses was addressed; obviously that is the most contentious part of these proceedings. And that will be addressed at that time and not before the trial begins," McConnell said.  

The GOP leader declined to explain just how "similar" the organizing resolution for Trump's trial will be to the resolution passed at the start of former President Clinton's trial.

"We're going to have a similar resolution. It may not be word-for-word exactly the same," McConnell said. "We'll be glad to show it to you when we unveil it."

  

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump risks nuclear crisis in Iran

-- The Hill: Veterans group says Trump administration ignoring Russian disinformation targeting troops, vets

-- The Hill: Iran moving drones, missile batteries as US forces placed on alert: report

-- The Hill: Canada moving some of its military from Iraq

-- The Hill: Poll: Chinese students arrested on charges of photographing US military base

-- The Hill: Pompeo limits US diplomats' contact with Iranian opposition groups

-- The Hill: Iraq calls on UN Security Council to condemn US strike that killed Soleimani

-- The Hill: Iran approves bill labeling US military, Pentagon terrorist organizations

-- The Hill: Trump administration officials begin drafting potential Iraq sanctions after Trump threat: report

-- The Hill: Pentagon chief says US will 'follow the laws of armed conflict' after Trump's Iran threats

-- The Hill: Opinion: Averting war in 2020

-- The Hill: Opinion: The Achilles heel of American foreign policy: Disunity