Overnight Defense: Pentagon curtails more exercises over coronavirus | House passes Iran war powers measure | Rocket attack hits Iraqi base with US troops

Overnight Defense: Pentagon curtails more exercises over coronavirus | House passes Iran war powers measure | Rocket attack hits Iraqi base with US troops
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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: More U.S. military exercises are being curtailed as coronavirus fears mount.

Wednesday afternoon saw an announcement that the United States is cutting the number of troops at the Defender-Europe 20 exercise.

The training, in which 20,000 U.S. troops and their NATO counterparts were to participate, was billed as the largest-scale exercise in Europe in 25 years.

"The health protection of our force, and that of our allies and partners, is a top concern," U.S. European Command (Eucom) said in a statement. "We take the coronavirus outbreak seriously and are confident that by making this important decision we'll continue to do our part to prevent the further spread of the virus, while still maximizing our efforts to advance our alliances and partnerships and enhancing our comprehensive readiness to address any crisis or contingency."

Arctic exercise cut short: Earlier in the day, Eucom said Norwegian authorities have canceled the rest of a multinational military exercise led by the U.S. military over concerns about the virus.

"After careful consideration and discussion with Allied and partner participants, Norwegian authorities have made the decision to cancel the remainder of Exercise Cold Response 20," Eucom said in a statement. "The decision is a precautionary measure in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of all participants and local population."

The exercise, which involves more than 15,000 service members from 10 countries, started March 2 in Norway and was scheduled to wrap up on March 18, but ended a week early.

Eucom added that it is working with the Norwegians to "manage the safe and orderly transition of our personnel."

"The health of our force continues to be a top priority, and we are committed to maintaining mission readiness," Eucom said.

Officially a pandemic: The World Health Organization (WHO) is officially calling the coronavirus a pandemic.

"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"We have therefore made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterized as a pandemic," he added.

Tedros said that in the past two weeks, the number of cases of coronavirus outside of China, where it originated, has increased 13-fold and the number of countries with cases has tripled.

There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have died, the WHO said.

Trump to deliver statement: President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE will deliver a statement on Wednesday night regarding the coronavirus as the administration mulls how to address the fast-growing health crisis. Trump tweeted that he would deliver remarks from the Oval Office at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Check back at TheHill.com tonight for the latest.

 

HOUSE SENDS IRAN WAR POWERS RESOLUTION TO TRUMP: The House has passed a resolution aimed at constraining President Trump's ability to take military action against Iran, sending it to the president's desk for his expected veto.

In a largely party-line, 227-186 vote, the House approved the resolution that would direct the president to "terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against" Iran unless Congress specifically authorizes it. 

The passage of the resolution comes after tensions with Iran spiked earlier this year to the point where Washington and Iran appeared to be on the brink of war. 

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelNYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney Democrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department MORE (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that while lawmakers are "all relieved that tensions have ratcheted down," it is "not an accurate reading of the law" to say the resolution is unnecessary or wouldn't have an effect because the United States and Iran aren't in a shooting war.

"Congress doesn't have to wait until the president alone decides to use military force again," Engel said ahead of the vote. "Indeed, it's our responsibility to do something. Because we know that tensions could flare up again at a moment's notice, Iran has not been deterred as the administration promised."

Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory Afghan evacuees to be housed at Virginia base Passport backlog threatens to upend travel plans for millions of Americans MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday the resolution is "based on a false promise."

"It orders the president to terminate hostilities against Iran. The problem is, for the other side, we are not engaged in hostilities in Iran," McCaul said.

The dissenters: Six Republicans and six Democrats crossed party lines in the vote.

The six Republican yes votes came from Reps. Ken BuckKenneth (Ken) Robert BuckGOP lawmakers demand answers on withheld restitution following Nassar revelation Hillicon Valley: Biden: Social media platforms 'killing people' | Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push | Top House antitrust Republican forms 'Freedom from Big Tech Caucus' Top House antitrust Republican forms 'Freedom from Big Tech Caucus' MORE (Colo.), Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieBiden asks Pentagon to examine 'how and when' to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for troops House at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate Tempers flare as some in GOP ignore new House mask mandate MORE (Ky.), Morgan GriffithHoward (Morgan) Morgan GriffithGOP lawmakers press social media giants for data on impacts on children's mental health Lawmakers press federal agencies on scope of SolarWinds attack House Republicans urge Democrats to call hearing with tech CEOs MORE (Va.), Tom ReedTom ReedThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel Lawmakers brace for battles with colleagues as redistricting kicks off Hundreds of businesses sign on to support LGBTQ rights legislation MORE (N.Y.), David SchweikertDavid SchweikertLawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection We must address the declining rate of startup business launches Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' MORE (Ariz.) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonEquilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — West Coast wildfires drive East Coast air quality alerts OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Western wildfires prompt evacuations in California, Oregon| House passes bill requiring EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Granholm announces new building energy codes House passes bill requiring EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water MORE (Mich.).

The six Democratic no votes came from Reps. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyLawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals Select committee member thanks officers who responded Jan. 6: 'You were our last line of defense' House erupts in anger over Jan. 6 and Trump's role MORE (Fla.), Ben McAdams (Utah), Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaOvernight Defense: Watchdog blasts government's handling of Afghanistan conflict | Biden asks Pentagon to look into mandatory vaccines | Congress passes new Capitol security bill Overnight Defense: House Armed Services starts defense bill markups | Two Navy sailors die of COVID-19 | Pentagon reimposes mask mandate in some places Misled condemnation of the Lebanese Armed Forces will help Hezbollah MORE (Va.), Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornWhy does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it What should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? MORE (Okla.), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.) and Max RoseMax Rose'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Austin sworn in as nation's first Black Pentagon chief MORE (N.Y.).

Meanwhile, in Iraq: Just before the House started voting, the U.S. military confirmed that more than 15 rockets hit Camp Taji in Iraq north of Baghdad.

Several reports said two U.S. troops and a British service member were killed in the attack.

"The Coalition @CJTFOIR confirms more than 15 small rockets impacted Iraq's Camp Taji base hosting Coalition troops, March 11 at 7:35 p.m. (Iraq Time)," tweeted Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. "Assessment and investigation ongoing, follow @OIRSpox & @SecMedCell for updates."

U.S. officials have not placed blame for the attack, but observers' suspicions fell on the Iran-backed militias that operate in Iraq. In the past, U.S. officials have attributed Katyusha rocket attacks to such militias.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/33bDx9B

The House Armed Services Committee has two hearings scheduled:

-- A subcommittee hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness at 9 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. https://bit.ly/2THc9wP

-- A subcommittee hearing on missile defense programs at 9:30 a.m. at Rayburn 2212. https://bit.ly/2W2J3cO

The House Appropriations Committee has two defense-related hearings scheduled:

-- The military construction subcommittee will hold a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps installations and quality of life at 9 a.m. at Rayburn 2362-A. https://bit.ly/3381MW6

-- The defense subcommittee will hold "Member Day" at the House, room 140. https://bit.ly/2W0sQ8a

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: House passes key surveillance bill with deadline looming

-- The Hill: Paul, Lee urging Trump to kill House FISA deal

-- The Hill: G-7 foreign minister meeting to be held via teleconference

-- Stars and Stripes: VA up to at least 11 patients who tested positive for coronavirus