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Overnight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves $1.8B Taiwan arms sales

Overnight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves $1.8B Taiwan arms sales
© Greg Nash

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: Top defense and foreign policy Democrats on Wednesday laid out some markers for a Democratic government should the party sweep the elections in November.

In the House, Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHouse Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races US national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names MORE (D-Wash.) elaborated on his view of what the defense budget would be like if Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE wins the presidency and Democrats win control of the Senate.

In a conference call with reporters, Smith predicted a relatively flat defense budget of $720 billion to $740 billion. The lower end of that range would be a $20 billion cut from this year, far less than the 10 to 20 percent cut progressive Democrats are pushing.

Smith said he remains “unconvinced” by arguments for slashing the defense budget, but said he is open to a debate about how to adjust U.S. national security strategy to support further cuts.

In that vein, Smith said he had a “productive” conversation with progressive group Win Without War on Tuesday where they talked about adjusting national security strategy to enable defense cuts.

“I do agree with the idea that we can have a national security policy that has a lower defense budget than we currently have,” Smith said. “It's just you got to get there in a rational, responsible way.”

In a statement to The Hill, Win Without War similarly described the conversation as "productive."

"We had a productive conversation with Chairman Smith, wherein we reiterated our hope for a long-overdue rethinking of runaway spending at the Pentagon," said Stephen Miles, the organization's executive director. "As our, and the world's, experience these past several months with COVID have devastatingly shown, the true security challenges of the 21st century require reinvesting in real human needs, not more battleships and bombs."

In the Senate: Meanwhile, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a report Wednesday of what he said was the damage to the United States from President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE’s “America First” foreign policy. 

The 80-page report is a blistering attack on Trump’s first term, but it also previews how the top Democrat, who is in line to be chairman if Democrats take the Senate, would prepare to hold Biden to account if he were elected president.

Menendez's report criticizes Trump over Ukraine, the country at the center of the president's impeachment by the House last year. 

"The clearest example of President Trump’s use of U.S. foreign policy for his own gain was his withholding of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine unless the country launched an investigation into former Vice President Biden, at the time, a potential campaign opponent," states the report by Democratic staff, titled “The Cost of Trump’s Foreign Policy: Damage and Consequences for U.S. and Global Security.”

Menendez also talked to reporters about how he thinks Biden should handle the Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from.

Menendez said he would support a potential Biden administration rejoining the nuclear deal with Iran if the deal corrected shortfalls of the Obama-era agreement.

“I'm sure that Vice President Biden, should he become president, will want to deal with the totality of all of those issues, and that to me, suggests a JCPOA-plus,” Menendez said, referring to the Obama-era deal, named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

Menendez said that the realities of Iran today require a JCPOA-like agreement with the U.S., but he underscored the need for one that goes further in restricting Iran’s military and nuclear capabilities. 

“Anyone who believes that just going back to the JCPOA, including some of my strongest colleagues who supported the JCPOA, recognize that more has to be done than just the JCPOA,” he said.

MORE SMITH: Smith also addressed questions about potential military involvement in the election.

The chairman, who said he has spoken with Pentagon leadership about the issue, said he trusts the department will refuse any unlawful order if asked to become involved.

“I trust the Pentagon to follow the law and to not basically follow unlawful orders, and to respect the Constitution,” Smith told reporters on the conference call.

“And I think both Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley have been clear on that, that their loyalty is to the law, their loyalty is to the Constitution, their loyalty is not to any one person,” Smith added, referring to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition Brennan takes final shot at Trump: 'I leave his fate to our judicial system, his infamy to history, & his legacy to a trash heap' MORE and Gen. Mark MilleyMark Milley Top Pentagon official tests positive for COVID-19 Khamenei adviser says US could spark 'full-fledged war' with strike Biden faces mounting hurdles on path to rejoin Iran deal MORE, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Smith also said while he trusts the Pentagon, he thinks it is important for his panel to keep pressing the issue.

“I think it's really important that our committee exercise oversight to drive home that point,” he said. “I want to particularly thank Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillOvernight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves .8B Taiwan arms sales Democratic House chairman trusts Pentagon won't follow 'unlawful orders' on election involvement Overnight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides MORE on our committee, who I know has been very focused on this issue and has been putting pressure on the Pentagon to make sure that they do just. I think it’s important that we drive home that point given how erratic this president can be, and we’ll continue to do so.”

On the NDAA: Formal conference negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the annual defense policy bill had to wait until after the election this year, but Smith is hoping for some movement soon.

Smith told reporters the so-called Big Four -- him, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (R-Okla.), House Armed Services ranking member Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses Defense bill moves to formal negotiations with Confederate name fight looming Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (R-Texas) and Senate Armed Services ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE (D-R.I.) -- are tentatively looking to talk Monday.

“We haven't moved forward as aggressively as I would have liked in terms of having more Big Four conversations,” Smith said. “Sen. Inhofe has a campaign; he’s focused on that. We are tentatively scheduling a first meeting on that level. But we are having discussions and moving forward. Like I said, not as quickly as I would like. I think it's a risk to leave as much of it as has been left to after the election. But we're moving forward with plans to at least get the bill done by the early part of December.”

$1.8B TAIWAN ARMS SALES ADVANCES: The Trump administration has approved selling Taiwan $1.8 billion in weapons, including air-to-ground missiles, according to notices to Congress on Wednesday.

The formal notification of approval for the three arms sales comes a little more than a week after the administration informally notified Congress.

The package includes 135 Boeing-made air-to-ground cruise missiles called Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response missiles and related equipment, with an estimated value of $1.008 billion, according to a notice from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The administration also approved selling Taiwan 11 Lockheed Martin-made truck-mounted rocket launchers called High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and related equipment, as well as six MS-110 reconnaissance pods that can be attached to Taiwan’s fighter jets.

The rocket launcher package is estimated to cost $436.1 million, while the sensor pod package is valued at $367.2 million, according to the notices.

“This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” all three notices said. “The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, economic and progress in the region.”

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond and other senior officials will speak at day three of the virtual Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office Advanced Manufacturing Olympics starting at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/35AWLaj

The Stimson Center will host a webinar on multilateralism and armed drones at 8:30 a.m. The panel includes Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, and William Malzahn, senior policy advisor in the State Department’s Office of Conventional Arms Threat Reduction. https://bit.ly/2FNYQGO

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