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 EsperOvernight Defense: Top general says military must take 'hard look' at Confederate symbols on installations | Milley vows to 'get to bottom' of Russia bounty intel | Woman to join Green Berets for first time Top general vows to 'get to the bottom' of Russia bounty intel Top general: US military needs to take 'hard look' at Confederate symbols MORE, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIn Russian bounty debate, once again this administration lacks intelligence Trump administration sanctions Chinese officials over human rights abuses WHO sets up independent panel to assess global coronavirus response MORE, CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Top intelligence officials to brief Gang of Eight on Thursday 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 KaineFinger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police MORE (D-Va.) said the evidence represented a "far cry" from an imminent attack, while Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyBlack Caucus rallies behind Meeks for Foreign Affairs gavel Ousted watchdog says he told top State aides about Pompeo probe House committee chair requests immediate briefing on Secret Service's involvement in clearing protesters 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) MenendezKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Thomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski Trump administration moves to formally withdraw US from WHO 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 HollenMaryland GOP governor who's criticized Trump says he's considering 2024 presidential run Communist China won't change — until its people and the West demand it Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law 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 WarrenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Progressive activist Ady Barkan endorses Biden, urges him to pick Warren as VP Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits 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 RischProgressive group backs Democratic challenger to Sen. Risch Republicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst 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 BluntSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Clash looms over next coronavirus relief bill 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 ThornberryRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide House panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year 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 Facebook - Miami pauses reopenings as COVID-19 infections rise, schools nationally plot return Overnight Health Care: Trump downplaying of COVID-19 sparks new criticism of response Trump downplaying sparks new criticism of COVID-19 response 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 LeeKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers to address alarming spike in coronavirus cases MORE (Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle 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 PelosiSupreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress Pelosi on Baltimore's Columbus statue: 'If the community doesn't want the statue, the statue shouldn't be there' Pelosi says House won't cave to Senate on worker COVID-19 protections 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 SlotkinWill Congress finally address toxic 'forever chemicals?' Overnight Defense: Trump's move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd's death 'a national tragedy' Democrats blast Trump's use of military against protests 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 McConnellHouse chairman asks CDC director to testify on reopening schools during pandemic Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Pelosi says House won't cave to Senate on worker COVID-19 protections 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 FeinsteinData shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Bottom line Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats 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) TesterInternal poll shows tight battle in Montana House race Bipartisan Senate group offers bill to strengthen watchdog law after Trump firings Senate confirms Trump's watchdog for coronavirus funds 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 MoultonHouse panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Democrats expect Russian bounties to be addressed in defense bill MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal 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