Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall

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: The last Democratic presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses was Tuesday night, and it arguably featured the most foreign policy talk of the debates to date.

The first half hour or so was dedicated to questions on the Iran crisis, the candidates' qualifications to be commander in chief, how they view presidential warmaking authorities, the U.S. troop presence in the Middle East and North Korea.

If you need to catch up, here's a quick recap: 

Iraq War: The debate kicked off with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tangling over the 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq War.

Sanders hammered Biden for voting to authorize military action in 2002 and describing it as "the worst foreign policy blunder in U.S. history."

"Joe and I listened to what Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld said, and I thought they were lying," Sanders said. "I did what I could to end that war, but Joe saw it differently."

Biden has characterized voting for the Iraq War as a mistake but argued that the Bush administration lied about its intent and said that when he became former President Obama's top deputy, he did what he could to bring troops home quickly. 

"It was a mistake and I acknowledged that, but the man who argued against the war, Barack Obama, picked me to be vice president ... and turned to me and asked me to end the war," Biden said.

Iran intelligence: Biden accused President Trump of "flat-out" lying about the justification for killing Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, an action that brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war.

"Quite frankly, I think he's flat-out lied about saying, the reason he made the strike was because our embassies were about to be bombed," Biden said.

Biden further criticized the president as alienating the U.S. from its allies in his so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

"We have lost our standing in the region, we have lost the support of our allies. The next president has to be able to pull those folks back together, reestablish our alliances and insist Iran go back into the agreement," Biden said, referring to the nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.

Middle East troops: The candidates clashed on whether to leave U.S. troops in the Middle East.

Biden defended the need to keep special forces in places such as Iraq, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also said she would leave U.S. troops in the region. 

Other candidates pledged to withdraw "combat troops" -- though their plans to do so and their definition of combat troops were not spelled out.

"We should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. "Our keeping combat troops there is not helping."

AUMF: Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the current authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) "needs to be replaced" and said he would advocate for any AUMF he seeks to have a three-year sunset.

The AUMF that is relied on for counterterrorism operations around the world was passed in 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Biden noted that "we tried to" replace it. The Obama administration asked Congress for a new AUMF, but lawmakers never passed one amid partisan debates over its parameters. 

Nuclear weapons: While answering a question about the possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons, Buttigieg slipped in a call to extend the New START Treaty with Russia.

"Despite this president's coziness with Vladimir Putin, we actually seem to be further away from being able to work with Russia on things like the renewal of START," he said. "We've got to move toward less, not more nuclear danger, whether it is from states, from stateless potential terrorist actors, or anywhere else around the world." 

The New START Treaty caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads the United States and Russia can have, and is up for renewal in 2021.

North Korea: Biden said he would not meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions.

"We gave him everything he's looking for: legitimacy," Biden said of Trump's meetings with Kim.

"Absent preconditions, I would not meet with the, quote 'Supreme Leader,' who said Joe Biden is a rabid dog, he should be beaten to death with a stick," Biden said.

In a moment of levity, Sanders interjected: "Other than that, you like him?"

"Other than that, I like him," Biden replied, as the audience laughed.

 

IMPEACHMENT LATEST: Nearly a month after impeaching Trump, House Democrats voted Wednesday to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate, a move that launches a trial in the upper chamber.

The vote cut virtually across party lines, with 227 Democrats supporting the resolution and 192 Republicans opposing it.

The final vote tally, however, was 228-193 with Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who voted against the impeachment articles, being the only Democrat to buck the party line and vote against the resolution. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who switched from Republican to Independent last year, voted in favor of the resolution.

Aside from transmitting the articles, the resolution also provides funding for the impeachment process and officially appoints the seven Democrats who will serve as impeachment managers, whom Pelosi named shortly before Wednesday's vote. 

These members will act essentially as prosecutors, making their case before the GOP-controlled Senate that Trump should be removed from office. The articles focus on two separate charges -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress -- related to Trump's pressure campaign on Ukrainian leaders to find dirt on his domestic political rivals.

Meet the managers: Pelosi tapped seven impeachment managers Wednesday.

Some of the newly named managers were considered shoo-ins, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), whom Pelosi named as lead manager, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). Both lawmakers had leading roles during the months-long impeachment inquiry last fall into Trump's contacts with Ukraine.

Others picked for the high-profile role were also widely considered to be leading candidates, including Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus; Val Demings (Fla.), a member of both the Judiciary and Intelligence panels; and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), a senior member of the Judiciary panel and the only member of Congress to have participated in both the Nixon and Clinton impeachments.

The final two picks -- Reps. Sylvia Garcia (Texas), and Jason Crow (Colo.) -- were something of a surprise. Both are freshmen, and Crow, a former Army Ranger, does not sit on any of the six committees with jurisdiction over impeachment.

In making the announcement, Pelosi touted the legal bona fides of her picks, saying their experience before entering Congress was an outsize factor in her decisionmaking. 

"The emphasis is on litigators; the emphasis is on comfort level in the courtroom," Pelosi said during the press conference. "The emphasis is on making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution."

Walking over to the Senate: Later on Wednesday evening, House Democrats formally delivered the articles to the upper chamber, effectively launching Trump's impeachment trial.

In a ceremonial procession, the seven House impeachment managers silently marched the two articles across the Capitol - a short promenade through the old House chamber, beneath the soaring Rotunda, past the legendary Ohio Clock and on to the Senate.

Accompanying the lawmakers were Paul Irving, the House Sergeant at Arms, and Cheryl Johnson, the House Clerk. Lining the way were an army of reporters and photographers grappling for a glimpse of history behind red velvet-covered stanchions.

Click here for more on the impeachment schedule ahead.

And here for more on the Senate's impeachment trial preparations.

 

ANOTHER YEAR OF BORDER WALL DRAMA: Senate Democrats vowed Wednesday to force a third vote aimed at ending Trump's national emergency declaration amid reports that the White House is shifting more money from the Pentagon to the border wall.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as well as Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) released a statement saying they "strongly oppose" Trump's decision, calling it a "continued cannibalization" of the Pentagon's accounts.

"We will continue to oppose the transfer of counterdrug funding for the wall, and will force yet another vote to terminate the President's sham national emergency declaration and return these much-needed military construction funds back to our military," the Democrats said.

Democrats added on Wednesday that the decision was a "slap in the face" to the military.

"Bipartisan majorities in Congress have repeatedly rejected diverting money from critical military construction projects to build a single additional mile of border wall. Robbing the Defense Department of these much-needed funds in order to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build is an insult to the sacrifices made by our service members," they said.

The issue: The Washington Post reported this week that Trump is planning to tap $3.5 billion from the Pentagon's counter-drug programs and $3.7 billion from military construction funding to use to build the border wall. 

The additional $7.2 billion Trump plans to use for the wall is on top of the $2.5 billion in Pentagon counter-drug funds and $3.6 billion in military construction funds he tapped last year.

In the House: House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Wednesday he "absolutely" wants this year's defense policy bill to address Trump's reported plan to take another $7.2 billion from the Pentagon for his southern border wall, but acknowledged the difficulty of doing so.

Referencing the two-year budget agreement that said restrictions on transferring money have to be agreed to by the White House, Smith told reporters that "at the moment, it seems like we're blocked by that reality."

"But there's bipartisan opposition to this, so we'll explore that bipartisan opposition and see where we're at," he added.

Smith slammed using Pentagon funds for the wall as "really damaging."

"No. 1, it is not the best use of that money, not given all the other threats we face in the world," he said. "No. 2, it sort of undermines DOD's [the Department of Defense's] argument that they need more money. If you can just grab $7 billion out of your budget, then I think we need to take a closer look at your budget and how to cut it."

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW 

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the nominees to be under secretary of the Army and assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment at 9 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2ToPHZL

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: House war powers sponsor expects to take up Senate version of resolution

-- The Hill: Trump signs first phase of US-China trade deal

-- The Hill: Opinion: Is America on the wrong side in the Middle East?

-- Associated Press: Putin engineers shake-up that could keep him in power longer

-- Reuters: Iran rejects idea of a new 'Trump deal' in nuclear row

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