Overnight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon
Happy Thursday 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: Congressional leaders received a classified briefing on the administration’s plans and strategies for Iran on Thursday, but that’s unlikely to quiet the worries about the situation.
The congressional leaders emerged tight-lipped amid concerns about new tensions escalating to war.
House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOn The Money: Mnuchin signals officials won’t release Trump tax returns | Trump to hold off on auto tariffs | WH nears deal with Mexico, Canada on metal tariffs | GOP fears trade war fallout for farmers | Warren, regulator spar over Wells Fargo Budget chairs pick former Bush official to head CBO Barr jokes with Pelosi: ‘Did you bring your handcuffs?’ MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters only that she “asked for a classified briefing for all members, but we’ve been asking for that for two weeks.”
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact Trump Jr. reaches deal to testify with Senate Intelligence McConnell: No one tells Burr how to run Intelligence panel MORE (Va.), meanwhile, said that while sensitive information needs to be safeguarded, “more members need to hear the story.”
But on questions such whether they were satisfied with the briefing or whether alleged threats from Iran are credible, Pelosi, Warner and the briefing’s other attendees either declined to comment or did not respond to reporters at all.
Who was at the briefing: Thursday’s briefing was given to the so-called Gang of Eight:
Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyBush economics director says psychiatrists labeled Trump ‘total narcissist’ GOP launches anti-BDS discharge petition The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition – After GOP infighting, Trump Jr. agrees to testify again MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop Republican says Senate unlikely to vote on any election security bills Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips Pence, McConnell eulogize Sen. Richard Lugar MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerInfrastructure deal must include child care funds China promised to stop fentanyl traffickers, Congress must hold them to it Schumer urging Pompeo to warn Putin of consequences if Russia interferes in election MORE (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Intel to probe whether lawyers for Trump family interfered in investigation Judge signals swift ruling in Trump lawsuit over Cummings subpoena Twitter launches tool to combat vaccine misinformation MORE (D-Calf.), House Intelligence ranking member Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHouse Intel panel subpoenas Barr for full Mueller report, evidence House Intel panel threatens ‘compulsory’ action to force DOJ to produce Mueller files Overnight Health Care: House Dems hold first hearing on ‘Medicare for All’ | Trump urges Dem senator to revive ObamaCare talks | Booming cannabis market puts pressure on FDA MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Alabama abortion bill revives national debate The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition – After GOP infighting, Trump Jr. agrees to testify again Trump Jr. reaches deal to testify with Senate Intelligence MORE (R-N.C.) and Warner.
Plans for next week: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischFrustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran Overnight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military Graham: Trump officials not adequately briefing on Iran threat MORE (R-Okla.) said Thursday the full Senate is scheduled to be briefed on the issue Tuesday.
A spokesman for Pelosi later confirmed the House will also get an all-members briefing Tuesday afternoon.
The background: On Wednesday, the State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, with visa services suspended at both locations.
Details on the decision were murky and officials have not elaborated on the nature of the threat that prompted the evacuation.
That occurred following the administration’s decision to deploy more military assets to the Middle East, citing unspecified threats to U.S. personnel from Iran and its proxy forces.
Who else has been demanding info: Top members of a Senate panel with oversight of the State Department are requesting Pompeo also brief senators on the decision to pull nonemergency personnel from Iraq.
Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFormer Kasich adviser registers to lobby against sanctions on Russia Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order to protect US networks from Chinese tech | Huawei downplays order | Trump declines to join effort against online extremism | Facebook restricts livestreaming | FCC proposes new tool against robocalls Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran MORE (R-S.C.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military Graham: Trump officials not adequately briefing on Iran threat Pence, McConnell eulogize Sen. Richard Lugar MORE (D-Vt.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, said in the letter to Pompeo that they read about the State Department’s decision “with great concern.”
“We ask that you provide a briefing to the Senate as soon as possible on the details of the ordered departure, the specific threat reporting that led to this decision and any potential security requirements that may be necessary for addressing the department’s concerns,” they wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill.
TRUMP ADDRESSES WAR FEARS: Asked Thursday about whether the United States is going to war with Iran, President TrumpDonald John TrumpNapolitano claims Trump violated separation of powers 3 times in last week Work on surprise medical bills goes into overdrive Trump pardons media tycoon, former GOP leader of California State Assembly MORE said “I hope not.”
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump told acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanNapolitano claims Trump violated separation of powers 3 times in last week Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran Air Force No. 2 civilian to take over as acting secretary MORE explicitly that he does not want to go to war with Iran.
Pelosi’s warning: The House speaker also sounded a warning to those in the Trump administration taking aggressive military steps toward confronting Iran: You can’t go to war without Congress.
“The responsibility in the Constitution is for Congress to declare war,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. “So I hope that the president’s advisers recognize they have no authorization to go forward in any way.”
Pelosi specifically argued the current authorization for use of military force (AUMF), which was passed to fight terrorists in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, would not extend to a confrontation with Iran.
“They cannot call the authorization, AUMF, the authorization for the use of military force that was passed in 2001, as any authorization to go forward in the Middle East now,” she said.
KEY REPUBLICAN ‘CONVINCED’ IRAN THREATS ARE CREDIBLE: The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee says he is “convinced” there is cause for concern around Iran’s activities following a pair of briefings on the Gulf nation.
“I am convinced that the information and warnings that we have collected are of greater concern than the normal Iranian harassment activity that we’ve seen in the Persian Gulf and the surrounding area,” Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Trump seeks 7M for Pentagon in .5B border funding request | US general says focus in Venezuela is on intel | Biden backs ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen Top Republican asks why more contractors haven’t been used at border in place of troops Overnight Defense: Air Force general tapped for Pentagon No. 2 | Dem presses Trump officials on Yemen strike | Pentagon details 4M border deployment cost MORE (R-Texas) told reporters Thursday.
“I don’t think it’s business as usual. It is cause for greater concern. … and a great part of that concern relates to Americans being targeted.
More on the briefings: Thornberry said the briefings he attended – one by U.S. Central Command officials and the other from Joint Chiefs of Staff officials, meetings open to all members of the committee – have left him confident the administration is making the right moves.
“There had to be a strong signal sent to Iran that we would defend ourselves if we are attacked,” he said. “I hope everybody can rally around that. Showing that we are willing to stand up and defend Americans was an important thing to do.”
He added that the number of planes and ships that the U.S. sends to the region is a decision “best left to the military. But the hope for me and pretty much everyone is that Iran decides it’s not worth attacking us … and that can be a deterrent.”
Concern over rhetoric? Asked whether he was concerned that recent comments by President Trump and national security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonOvernight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military Trump dismisses reports of infighting over Iran policy Former Pentagon official calls Bolton’s approach to intel community ‘counterproductive’ MORE may escalate tensions with Iran unnecessarily, Thornberry said his sense is that “Iran is not hanging on every word that’s tweeted or said by Bolton or anybody else.”
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“What they do watch is what we do. So I do think showing that we are willing to stand up and defend Americans was an important thing to do and hopefully deter any sort of attacks from happening.”
He added: “If we’re attacked, I expect our military forces will be in a position to respond. I hope that’s not what happens. … It shouldn’t happen. I hope that the tensions start to diminish.”
WARREN PLAN TARGETS CORRUPTION AT PENTAGON: Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders the latest to voice support for breaking up Facebook Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order to protect US networks from Chinese tech | Huawei downplays order | Trump declines to join effort against online extremism | Facebook restricts livestreaming | FCC proposes new tool against robocalls On The Money: Mnuchin signals officials won’t release Trump tax returns | Trump to hold off on auto tariffs | WH nears deal with Mexico, Canada on metal tariffs | GOP fears trade war fallout for farmers | Warren, regulator spar over Wells Fargo MORE (D-Mass.) introduced a plan Thursday she says would drastically reduce the influence of corporate lobbyists at the Pentagon.
Warren’s plan, called the Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act, would ban defense contractors from hiring Pentagon officials and general and flag officers for four years after they leave the Department of Defense (DoD) and force corporations to identify the former DoD officials who work for them.
The policy also prohibits a former employee or executive of a defense contractor who joins the government from working on anything that could “influence their former bosses.”
“[T]oday, the coziness between defense lobbyists, Congress, and the Pentagon – what former President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex – tilts countless decisions, big and small, away from legitimate national security interests, and toward the desires of giant corporations that thrive off taxpayer dollars,” Warren said in a Medium post.
The proposal: The proposal goes on to recommend banning senior DoD officials from owning or trading any stock of giant defense contractors, prohibiting former senior national security officials from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments and requiring defense contractors to disclose the scope of their activities, including who they meet with at the Pentagon, what they’re lobbying about and what unclassified information is shared.
Warren touted the plan as an effective way to cut a mushrooming Pentagon budget, saying it would identify programs that “merely line the pockets of defense contractors ” and “make some cuts.”
A refresher: The plan comes amid Democrats’ concerns regarding acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who is President Trump’s nominee to lead the Pentagon on a permanent basis.
“I opposed Shanahan’s prior nomination to work as Trump’s #2 at DOD because of his lack of foreign policy experience and my concerns about his ability to separate himself from Boeing’s financial interests after a lifetime spent working for the company,” Warren wrote. “The truth is that our existing laws are far too weak to effectively limit the undue influence of giant military contractors at the Department of Defense. The response of Congress shouldn’t be to confirm Shanahan. It should be to change the rules.”
The Massachusetts Democrat has stagnated near the middle of the crowded primary pack, at times reaching into the upper tier of some national and statewide polls.
She has sought to differentiate herself by introducing a slew of detailed policy platforms on education, climate change, Puerto Rico’s debt and more.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Army Secretary Mark Esper will speak on “The Future of the Army in Great-Power Competition,” at 11 a.m. at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulBipartisan lawmakers urge Trump to reconsider Central America aid cuts Lawmakers join musical stars to celebrate Grammys on the Hill DCCC opens Texas office to protect House pickups, target vulnerable GOP seats MORE (R-Texas), will speak on “Strengthening U.S. Leadership in an Era of Global Competition,” at 12 p.m. at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
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