Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: House passes bills to rein in Trump on Iran | Pentagon seeks Iraq’s permission to deploy missile defenses | Roberts refuses to read Paul question on whistleblower during impeachment trial

Happy Thursday 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 House passed a pair of bills Thursday aimed at limiting President Trump’s war authorities, the latest legislative maneuver after the spike in U.S.-Iran tensions.

One bill would repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), while the other would block funding for military action against Iran.

The House approved the bill to repeal the Iraq War authorization in a largely party-line vote of 236-166. The other bill was also passed in a mostly partisan vote of 228-175.

Here’s more on each one:

AUMF repeal: The Trump administration has cited the 2002 AUMF in its legal justification for the strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, which took place on Iraqi soil and came after the administration blamed an Iranian-backed militia for a rocket attack in Iraq that killed a U.S. contractor and an attempt to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The 2002 AUMF, which was passed to authorize the Iraq War, allows military action to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” The authorization has been used to some extent by successive presidents to justify military action against terrorist threats, though administrations more prominently use the post-9/11 AUMF for operations against terrorists. 

The bill to repeal the 2002 AUMF was offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a longtime anti-war voice.

“I stand here once again urging Congress to do its job, this time by repealing the long outdated and unnecessary 2002 AUMF,” Lee, who voted against both the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, said Thursday ahead of the vote. “Not only is it not needed for any current counterterrorism operations, but repealing it would have absolutely no impact on the administration’s ongoing military operations.”

By contrast, Lee continued, leaving the AUMF on the books would “allow any administration to use it for military action that Congress never intended to authorize.”

Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Warren Davidson (Ohio), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Michael Cloud (Texas), Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Alex Mooney (W.Va.), Jamie Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Chip Roy (Texas), David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Fred Upton (Mich.) broke with their party to support Lee’s bill.

Funding block: The other bill, offered by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), would prohibit federal funding from being used for military action against Iran except in cases of self-defense or if Congress has specifically authorized the action.

“The reality is that Congress needs to exercise the power of the purse,” Khanna told reporters ahead of the vote. “We need to make it very clear that Congress is not going to authorize a dime for an offensive war in Iran.”

Khanna’s bill had support from four Republicans: Gaetz, Massie, Davidson and Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (Ind.).

GOP argues over process: Most Republicans fumed about the procedure Democrats used to bring the bills to the floor.

The House voted on Khanna’s and Lee’s measures as amendments to an unrelated commemorative coin bill. That prevented Republicans from offering what’s known as a motion to recommit, which is the last opportunity to amend a bill in the House.

Motions to recommit are used often by the minority and usually fail. But Republicans successfully used them several times last year to force centrist Democrats into tough votes and split with the party.

“Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats are so unsure of their own substantive case that they are hiding behind House rules to make sure that Republicans can’t even bring any amendment to this legislation,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican.

The procedural move prompted some Republicans who previously voted for both bills in July to vote against them on Thursday, with Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) saying he switched his vote because the debate was now a “sham.”

At the Pentagon: As the House was getting ready to vote on the bills, Pentagon officials spoke to reporters on the latest fallout after the Soleimani strike.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters the United States is working to get the Iraqi government’s permission to put Patriot missile defense systems in the country to protect U.S. forces there from possible Iranian attacks.

“One of the things we need to do is make sure we have permission from the host government, and that’s one of the matters we have to work on and work through,” Esper told reporters at a Pentagon press conference. “We need the permission of the Iraqis.”

The U.S. military did not have Patriots deployed at al-Asad airbase in Iraq, which houses American troops, during a Jan. 8 missile attack from Iran that was retaliation for the Soleimani strike.

Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley also spoke about the traumatic brain injuries U.S. troops suffered in the missile attack.

Milley said the service members suffering from TBIs have all been diagnosed with mild cases.

Asked about Trump’s comments that the injuries were “headaches” and not “very serious,” Esper said he’s spoken with the president and that he “is very concerned about the health and welfare of all our service members, particularly those who were involved in the operations in Iraq, and he understands the nature of these injuries.”


IMPEACHMENT TRIAL, DAY 9: Thursday saw the second day of senators question both House impeachment managers and the defense team in Trump’s impeachment trial.

The Hill is maintaining a liveblog of the question and answer session, which is ongoing. Follow along here.

Roberts won’t read Paul’s question: The question the got perhaps the most attention Thursday was one that wasn’t asked.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts refused to read a question submitted by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that was expected to be about the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Because the question is thought to name the whistleblower and Roberts is responsible for reading the questions aloud, that would put him in the position of publicly outing the person on the floor of the Senate.

A Senate page brought the question from Paul to Roberts, who appeared to pause to read it. 

“The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said. 

Roberts then sat the slip of paper with Paul’s query aside and the Senate moved on to the next question. 

Paul argued during a brief press conference after the floor drama that his question “made no reference to any whistleblower” and that Roberts’s decision was an “incorrect finding.” 

“I think this is an important question, one that deserves to be asked. It makes no reference to anybody who may or may not be a whistleblower,” Paul said. 

Paul then read his question, which names both a staff member for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the individual who has been reported in conservative media as the possible whistleblower, and asks about their contacts.

End in sight?: Senate Republicans are planning for four hours of closing arguments in Trump’s impeachment trial starting Friday afternoon.

The arguments, presented by both the House managers and the Trump’s defense team, would be followed by a vote on whether to call additional witnesses and then a final up-or-down vote on the two articles of impeachment.

Republicans are aiming to wrap up the trial proceedings late Friday evening or early Saturday morning, depending on how long Democrats drag out the final vote by offering amendments to the motion to move to a final vote, said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.).

“My understanding is essentially the closing arguments are going to be two hours for each side tomorrow afternoon, probably starting at one o’clock, until we’re finished with that. Then the vote would occur on the issue of witnesses,” Barrasso said at a brief press conference Thursday during a 20-minute break in the trial.

“If we are able to say, ‘No, we want to go right now to final judgment,’ then we would move in that direction and stay here until that work is decided and completed Friday evening,” he added.



— The Hill: Here are the lawmakers who defected on Iran legislation

— The Hill: Trump administration to propose keeping Ukraine funding unchanged in new budget

— The Hill: US extends waivers for Iran nuclear program, announces new sanctions

— The Hill: Trump administration to roll back restrictions on landmine use: report

— The Hill: Opinion: Washington needs to anticipate Iran’s next provocation

— The Hill: Opinion: The US needs Israel-style air defense to stop Iran

— Associated Press: US military chief in Africa argues for vital US presence

— Federation of American Scientists: US deploys new low-yield nuclear submarine warhead

— The Washington Post: As impeachment vote looms, Pompeo’s Ukraine trip is a high-risk, high-reward venture 

Tags Adam Schiff Alex Mooney Barbara Lee Chip Roy David Schweikert Donald Trump Fred Upton John Barrasso Liz Cheney Mark Esper Matt Gaetz Mike Gallagher Rand Paul Ro Khanna Thomas Massie Tom Reed Trey Hollingsworth Warren Davidson

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