Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert $7.2B from Pentagon to border wall

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: Senate Democrats hoping to rein in President Trump's ability to wage war against Iran secured majority support Tuesday for Sen. Tim Kaine's (D-Va.) war powers resolution, but the timing of the measure is now in flux.

In a procedural snafu, Democrats won't be able to force a vote on the measure until Tuesday at the earliest -- the same day the Senate is expected to start Trump's impeachment trial.

A milestone: Senators are now working out the timing of when the resolution will be taken up, but Democrats were celebrating reaching the majority milestone Tuesday.

"The good news from my standpoint is I now have 51 declared votes, with more considering getting on board, so it may be more than 51," Kaine said.

Who signed on: The resolution was pushed over the top after Republican Sens. Todd Young (Ind.) and Susan Collins (Maine) said Tuesday they would support the measure following changes Kaine made in an effort to win GOP support.

"So I will be supporting shall we call it Kaine 2.0, the newer Kaine language," Young said. "I just believe that prospectively Congress needs to stand up and take seriously for the first time in a long time our Article One responsibilities to authorize military force as things move forward."

In her own statement, Collins said she would co-sponsor the revised resolution because Congress "cannot be sidelined on these important decisions."

Young and Collins joined Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah), who said they would support Kaine's resolution last week after being infuriated by the Trump administration's closed-door briefing on Iran.

With every Democrat expected to support the resolution, four Republicans provide the simple majority it needed to pass.

The background: The Senate is barreling toward a vote to check Trump's war-making authority amid continued questions about the administration's justification for a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The administration has offered shifting explanations for why they carried out the strike, from citing Soleimani's past attacks to claiming without evidence that he was plotting "imminent" attacks.

On Monday, Trump argued on Twitter it "doesn't really matter" if Soleimani was planning imminent attacks because of his "horrible past."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to get another closed-door briefing Wednesday from State Department officials on authorities for the use of force against Iran.

The House approved a war powers resolution last week in a largely party-line vote. The type of resolution Democrats used does not require Trump's signature but may also not be legally binding.

Originally...: Senate Democrats were originally expected to force a vote on Kaine's resolution this week.

But Young and Collins said they wouldn't support an initial procedural vote on Kaine's original resolution, quashing a plan to get the resolution to the floor this week and then amend it on the floor.

In his bid to win Republican support, Kaine eliminated direct references to Trump from the findings section of the measure over concerns it was too political. He also changed the wording to say the administration must "terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities" against Iran, rather than "removing," amid concerns that would signal a pullback of U.S. troops from the region.

"I'm not likely to force a vote on Kaine one because I've got the votes on Kaine two and not on Kaine one," Kaine said. "And I do think there's something virtuous about bringing up the bipartisan version."

A collision course: Kaine introduced the second version as its own resolution Thursday, meaning the earliest Democrats can force a vote is Jan. 21.

That puts the resolution on a collision course with the Senate's impeachment trial, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he expects to start Jan. 21 and which is expected to halt all legislative work.

Kaine said McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are "talking through" the timing of taking up his resolution, but he expressed hope the Senate would be able to take up the measure and conduct the trial simultaneously.

"It's widely understood that we will be doing other stuff during impeachment," Kaine said. "The nice thing is leader McConnell and [Sen. John] Cornyn [R-Texas] and Schumer have all said we're going to be taking up the Kaine war powers resolution soon."

Schumer added that senators "have to figure out how it intersects with impeachment."

Any other Republicans? Though four Republicans now support Kaine's measure, it's unclear if he can win over any other Republicans.

McConnell warned Tuesday the resolution "risks jeopardizing what we have gained" in establishing deterrence after the Soleimani strike by telling "Iran we have no stomach for this."

"America can hardly be defeated on the battlefield," McConnell said. "But we can be defeated at home on the political front. We can allow ourselves to become divided and play into the hands of our adversaries. Our divisions at home are significant. Let us not allow them to pollute our judgment on foreign affairs. Let's not make our adversaries' lives easier by tying our military's hands."

A similar resolution from Kaine and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) over the summer got four Republican votes: Paul, Young, Collins and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

 

TRUMP PLANS TO DIVERT $7.2B FROM PENTAGON FOR BORDER WALL: President Trump plans to divert $7.2 billion from the Pentagon to go toward border wall construction this year, an amount five times greater than what Congress authorized in the budget, The Washington Post reported

This would be the second year in a row that money is redirected to the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border from military construction projects and counternarcotics funding. 

The administration will take $3.5 billion from counterdrug programs and $3.7 billion from military construction funding, according to internal planning figures obtained by the Post, compared to $2.5 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively, last year. 

The Defense Department told The Hill that it deferred to the White House to comment. The White House did not immediately return a request for comment. 

By the numbers: A total of $18.4 billion in federal funds has gone to the border wall during Trump's presidency. The plans indicate that this new boost of funding would allow the administration to build about 885 miles of new fencing by spring of 2022, more than the 509 miles planned for the border, according to the Post.

So far, the administration has finished 101 miles of new barriers as the end of 2020 deadline by which the president promised 450 miles of new border wall approaches.

The legal issues: Legal controversy has surrounded the president's campaign promise, with a federal district court in El Paso, Texas, freezing the $3.6 billion for new barriers because Congress designated it for something else. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, reversed that ruling last week.

Administration officials told the Post that the New Orleans ruling influenced the president and his administration to redirect money again this year.

Several dozen military construction projects have been delayed or suspended from last year because of the redirection of funds, according to the Post.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a statement in response to the Post's reporting.

"Multiple courts have already ruled that President Trump has no authority to take billions from service members for his xenophobic wall," said Dror Ladin, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. "The ACLU won't rest until the president's illegal power grab is blocked once and for all."

 

ON TAP:

The Defense Writers Group will hear from Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy at 8 a.m. in Washington D.C.  

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on "DOD's Role in Competing with China," with Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy at 10 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office building, room 2118. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing "U.S. Lessons Learned in Afghanistan," with John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction at 10 a.m. in Rayburn 2172. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Warren, Van Hollen demand probe into report that Trump gave Mar-a-Lago guests 'advance knowledge' of Soleimani strike

-- The Hill: Lawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa

-- The Hill: Kaine says he has 51 votes for Iran war powers resolution

-- The Hill: Trudeau: Escalating 'tensions' with Iran to blame for downed jet

-- The Hill: Turkish soldiers detained over ties to US cleric

-- The Hill: UK, Germany, France move to sanction Iran over nuclear steps

-- The Hill: Senate Democrat says he is concerned intelligence community is 'bending' Soleimani presentations

-- The Hill: Iranian president: Downing of Ukrainian jet an 'unforgivable' mistake

-- The Hill: Opinion: Killing Soleimani: The only language that terrorists understand, and it should put others on notice

-- The Hill: Opinion: Make no mistake: Iran remains a powerful threat to the US

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