Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers

Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers
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Happy Wednesday 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: Tensions with Iran appear to be easing for now after the crisis seemed to reach a fever pitch Tuesday night.

Tuesday's missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops did not kill or injure any Americans, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made clear the attack would be the extent of Iran's retaliation for the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani if the United States didn't fire back.

So Trump, addressing the nation Wednesday morning, took the off-ramp.

In his prepared remarks Trump claimed Tehran is "standing down."

He said the administration would impose additional economic sanctions on Tehran, called on European allies to play a larger role in ensuring stability in the region and appealed to Iranian leaders to work with the U.S. on "shared priorities."

"The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it," Trump said.

The big picture: Trump’s tone on Wednesday was a welcome development for his allies on Capitol Hill. His words appeased hawkish Republicans who had celebrated the strike against Soleimani, while not further risking a break with his “America First” campaign rhetoric of ending U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts.

More from The Hill's Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant on how Trump found an off-ramp in the Iran crisis.

Congress gets briefed: Later Wednesday, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDefense industrial base workers belong at home during this public health crisis An insecure America and an assertive China Overnight Defense: Pentagon grapples with coronavirus outbreak | Aircraft carrier docks in Guam after more sailors test positive | Army hospitals to reach NY on Friday MORE, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCoronavirus response reveals deep fractures in global partnerships Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike COVID-19 intensifies the case for blacklisting Khalifa Haftar  MORE, CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelFormer CIA chief: Not 'right' for Haspel to applaud at State of the Union Schiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  Senate Democrat says he is concerned intelligence community is 'bending' Soleimani presentations MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley descended on Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on the Soleimani strike.

After the briefings, Democrats said the Trump administration failed to present evidence supporting the claim that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Senate on cusp of coronavirus stimulus deal after agreements in key areas Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on MORE (D-Va.) said the evidence represented a "far cry" from an imminent attack, while Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyOPM chief abruptly resigns The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the APTA - Biden looks for Super Tuesday surge; coronavirus fears heighten 'Liberated' Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base MORE (D-Va.) called the briefing "sophomoric."

"I was utterly unpersuaded about any evidence about the imminence of a threat that was new or compelling," Connolly said.

Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees MORE (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration did not provide clarity on a potential attack and questioned why they were withholding information from Congress.

"I walk away unsatisfied in the key questions that I went into this briefing with, and it just makes me concerned that we cannot have clarity on those key questions -- imminency, target, all of those things," Menendez said.

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus Blame game heats up as Senate motion fails MORE (D-Md.) said the administration "did not establish in any way" that "an imminent threat was posed." Asked whether she was convinced, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging Democratic senators call on FDA to drop restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men MORE (D-Mass.) said flatly "no."

Republicans disagree: Republicans have backed up the Trump administration's assessment of Soleimani's threat and walked away from Wednesday briefing saying the evidence was clear.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischTensions boil over on Senate floor amid coronavirus debate  Overnight Defense: Pentagon confirms Iran behind recent rocket attack | Esper says 'all options on the table' | Military restricts service member travel over coronavirus Graham warns of 'aggressive' response to Iran-backed rocket attack that killed US troops MORE (R-Okla.) said the evidence was "crystal clear," adding that Democrats used the briefing to "question these people's judgment on something that really shouldn't have been questioned."

"One of the things that came out of all of this is the tremendous hate and vitriol against this president, which is really coloring a lot of these people's judgement on the defense of this country," he added.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting MORE (R-Mo.) said the administration did not give many details at the briefing on the plot itself, but described a timing "that would have made it imminent."

Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryCongressionally created commission recommends requiring that women register for draft Bottom line Former White House physician heading to runoff in Texas congressional race MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said he was "persuaded that we had strong intelligence that meant we had to take action."

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senators clinch deal on T stimulus package White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package The Hill's 12:30 Report: Lawmakers near deal on stimulus MORE (R-N.C.) said the briefing showed Soleimani was a "clear and present danger."

Lee, Paul rip briefing: GOP Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeTrump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Paul defends actions before coronavirus diagnosis, calls for more testing MORE (Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCoronavirus in Congress: Lawmakers who have tested positive Pennsylvania congressman tests positive for coronavirus South Carolina congressman tests positive for coronavirus MORE (Ky.) ripped the administration over the briefing, announcing they will now support a resolution reining in Trump's military powers.

Lee characterized it as "the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue."

Lee said the officials warned that Congress would "embolden" Iran if lawmakers debated Trump's war powers.

"I find this insulting and demeaning ... to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold. I find it insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States," Lee said.

Lee did not say which briefer made the assertion but specified that no administration representative contradicted them. He added that he was going to have a "conversation" with Trump about the remarks.

"I find that absolutely insane. I think that's unacceptable," Lee added.

Paul added that he found the briefing "less than satisfying" and knocked the administration for using the 2002 war authorization as the basis for last week's airstrike against an Iranian general.

House to vote on war powers: The House will vote Thursday on a resolution to limit Trump's ability to take future military action against Iran without congressional authorization, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Attacking the Affordable Care Act in the time of COVID-19 DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill MORE (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday afternoon after the briefing.

The resolution directs the president to end the use of U.S. armed forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran unless Congress has formally authorized it or if there is an "imminent armed attack upon the United States." It was introduced on Wednesday by freshman Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinStates see surge of scams, price-gouging tied to pandemic Juan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal Sanders looks to regain momentum in must-win Michigan MORE (D-Mich.), a former CIA analyst who served three tours in Iraq and represents a competitive district.

"Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the Administration's decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward. Our concerns were not addressed by the President's insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the Administration's briefing today," Pelosi said.

 

IMPEACHMENT LATEST: Democratic senators are growing impatient over the delayed start of Trump's impeachment trial and some say it's time for Pelosi to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Democratic lawmakers in the upper chamber say Pelosi has achieved her goal of putting a spotlight on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Struggling states warn coronavirus stimulus falls short Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike MORE's (R-Ky.) opposition to witness testimony and they're ready to start hearing House impeachment managers and Trump's defense team make their arguments.

"Time plays an unknown role in all of this, and the longer it goes on, the less the urgency becomes. So if it's serious and urgent, it should come over. If it isn't, don't send it over," said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinLobbying frenzy connected to stimulus sparks backlash House bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress Loeffler under fire for stock trades amid coronavirus outbreak MORE (Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Asked if colleagues are starting to get impatient, Feinstein said, "If it's going to happen, yes," referring to the likelihood of a trial actually taking place.

"I'm not a big fan of impeachment but I think there's enough to take a good look, and we should," she said.

Feinstein said she doesn't have "any sense" when the trial may start and neither do her colleagues.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSome Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Democrats fume over GOP coronavirus bill: 'Totally inadequate' Hillicon Valley: Twitter targets coronavirus misinformation | Facebook bans sanitizer, virus test ads to prevent price gouging | DHS defines critical jobs during outbreak | Remote working apps surge MORE (D-Mont.) said he's ready to get the trial started.

"As far as I'm concerned, she can send them over at any time. I'm fine with that," he said.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonPressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill Hoyer says House expects to pass coronavirus bill on Friday MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill MORE (D-Conn.) will speak at an Atlantic Council event on U.S.-Iran tensions at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/2FxUiAB

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump rips Obama's Iran policy in address to nation

-- The Hill: NATO agrees to up contribution in 'fight against international terrorism' after Iran missile attacks

-- The Hill: Senators see off-ramp from Iran tensions after Trump remarks

-- The Hill: Army warning of fake texts telling people they've been drafted

-- The Hill: FBI, DHS issue bulletin warning of potential Iranian cyberattacks

-- The Hill: Opinion: Withdrawal from Iraq would dangerously undermine American national security

-- The Hill: Opinion: Trump's strike will not save Iran's hardliners