Overnight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid

Happy Tuesday 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: The House on Tuesday easily approved sanctions against Turkey over its offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish forces.

The measure passed 403-16 with 176 Republicans voting in support and just 15 opposing the bill.

What this means: The sanctions offer a rare bipartisan rebuke of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNumber of uninsured children rises for second year, tops 4 million Trump moment from White House Halloween trick-or-treat event goes viral White House official says transcript of Ukraine call omitted key phrases: report MORE‘s policies, while also underscoring the growing divide between Congress and a NATO ally.

Trump had hoped the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on his watch would stem the flow of criticism about his Syria policy but Congress remains deeply concerned about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s military offensive.

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“Rather than hold Turkey accountable for how they’ve conducted this bloody campaign, President Trump has given them a free pass,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump House votes to recognize Armenian genocide MORE (D-N.Y.) said. “When the head of ISIS was finally killed, President Trump unfortunately thanked the Turks, thanked the Turkish government. That just doesn’t sit right with me.”

Elsewhere…: Despite the bipartisan majority approving the bill in the House, the effort to slap new sanctions on Ankara appears stalled in the upper chamber after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Mark Mellman: Three questions for Republicans Menendez seeks probe into if Pompeo violated Hatch Act MORE (R-Ky.) warned against rushing to sanction a NATO ally.

Lawmakers in both parties and chambers introduced multiple bills to sanction Turkey after Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, paving the way for Ankara’s long-threatened invasion.

Trump himself placed sanctions on Turkey, though he lifted them after a five-day ceasefire brokered by Vice President Pence. Turkey agreed to the ceasefire in order to allow the Kurds to evacuate from a so-called safe zone.

Background: Lawmakers slammed Trump for abandoning the Kurds, who were U.S. allies in the battle against ISIS and did the bulk of the most dangerous ground fighting. They have also worried the chaos from the offensive could lead to an ISIS resurgence, including allowing ISIS prisoners to escape from Kurdish-guarded detention.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump Democrats want answers from Pentagon chief on withheld Ukraine aid MORE and special envoy James Jeffrey have said more than 100 ISIS fighters have escaped since the start of Turkey’s offensive.

“Even with the death of al-Baghdadi, ISIS remains a serious and resurgent threat,” House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Mark Mellman: Three questions for Republicans White House: Democrats’ resolution shows impeachment is ‘illegitimate sham’ MORE (D-Calif.) said. “The death of a top ISIS leader does not mean the death of ISIS. Scores of fighters remain under uncertain conditions in Syrian prisons and at risk of a jailbreak.”

In a previous rebuke to Trump, the House earlier this month overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing his decision to withdraw U.S. troops.

 

No apparent strategy: Trump got a brief reprieve from Republican criticism of his Syria policy after the successful raid over the weekend in northwest Syria that led to the death of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi.

But many lawmakers kept up their criticism, saying the evacuation of the Kurds is tantamount to ethnic cleansing and that Trump appears to be operating on the fly instead of having a strategy by first withdrawing 50 troops, then withdrawing all troops, then deciding a few hundred will stay to guard oil fields.

“Over a time, we’ve seen a pattern emerge. The president of the United States stokes a crisis and then steps in with some sort of half measure in a failed attempt to look like a great deal is happening,” Engel said. “You can’t be the arsonist and the fireman at the same time.” 

Engel added that Turkey’s offensive has been “ethnic cleansing at its worst.”

Read more here.

 

TRUMP ATTACKS ON WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL TESTIFYING SPARK BACKLASH: President Trump’s aggressive attacks on a White House official who testified about his concerns over Trump’s communications with Ukraine in the impeachment inquiry set off a furious backlash on Tuesday, with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWhite House official says transcript of Ukraine call omitted key phrases: report Biden uses National Cat Day to fundraise for putting a ‘pet back in White House’ Sondland emerges as key target after Vindman testimony MORE calling the president’s remarks “despicable.”

“Their patriotism, their love of country — we’re talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation, who put their lives on the line, and it is shameful to question their patriotism, their loving this nation, and we should not be involved in that process,” Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said at the House GOP leadership’s press conference.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid MSNBC’s Wallace calls out ‘chickens–t’ Trump allies for attacks on Vindman Trump attacks on Vindman trigger backlash MORE (R-Utah) called the attacks “absurd” and “disgusting.”

Trump’s tweets: Trump in a Tuesday tweet criticized Vindman as he prepared to testify before three congressional committees behind closed doors, suggesting the official was participating in a “witch hunt” against him.

“Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call ‘concerned’ today’s Never Trumper witness,” Trump tweeted. “Was he on the same call that I was? Can’t be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call. Witch Hunt!”

The attack was on-brand for Trump, who has a well-earned reputation as a counterpuncher when criticized. Just last week, Trump slammed Vietnam veteran and U.S. diplomat William Taylor, using the same “Never Trumper” insult after decrying such critics as “human scum.”

A key witness: Vindman on Tuesday provided damaging testimony about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Vindman, a firsthand witness to the phone call, told lawmakers that he was so concerned about Trump raising an investigation into Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine that he reported it to the National Security Council’s (NSC)  lawyer, according to a copy of his prepared remarks that leaked out Monday night.

 

SCHUMER ‘INCREASINGLY WORRIED’ TRUMP WILL SHUT DOWN GOVERNMENT OVER IMPEACHMENT: Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer Senate Democrats to vote this week to overturn Trump ObamaCare moves Man explains refusing to shake McConnell’s hand at Cummings memorial: ‘I couldn’t do it’ MORE (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday he was growing more worried that President Trump could force a government shutdown as soon as next month over the impeachment fight.

“I’m increasingly worried that President Trump may want to shut down the government again because of impeachment, an impeachment inquiry. He always likes to create diversions,” Schumer told reporters during a weekly press conference.

“I hope and pray he won’t want to cause another government shutdown because it might be a diversion away from impeachment. It’s very worrisome to me,” he added.

Timing: Schumer’s comments came as Trump on Tuesday lashed out at the impeachment inquiry ahead of key testimony from a White House official. Democrats in the House also unveiled a resolution Tuesday afternoon outlining the next phase of the inquiry.

The government is currently funded through Nov. 21, giving lawmakers and the White House weeks to agree on a plan to avoid a shutdown next month.

Congress needs to pass 12 appropriations bills, either individually or as a package, before the November deadline or agree to another short-term continuing resolution in order to avoid a shutdown.

So far, the House and Senate have reached an agreement on none of the 12 bills.

The House has passed 10 appropriations bills so far this year. The Senate is expected to pass a package of four spending bills this week, but Democrats are expected to block a separate mammoth defense spending bill on Wednesday.

Republicans’ stance: Republicans have so far insisted they will not let the government shut down next month, with several predicting another stopgap bill that could last at least until December and potentially into early next year.

But looming over the talks is the impeachment inquiry. The House is investigating Trump calling for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden and whether the president tied aid to the country opening a probe.

Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, demurred when pressed by reporters on Tuesday about whether he would guarantee there would not be a shutdown.

“In terms of a shutdown, obviously there are many weeks between now and Nov. 21, so we’ll take it each day as it comes,” he said. 

 

Pressed on whether the impeachment fight made it harder to fund the government, he added. “I’m hopeful that it doesn’t. I’m hopeful that Congress doesn’t get distracted from some of these core priorities that the president’s laid out and that people are interested in making progress on. But that’s really going to be up to Congress.”

And Dems want answers: Top Senate Democrats are demanding Defense Secretary Mark Esper provide information on what role the Pentagon played in the withholding of U.S. military aid to Ukraine earlier this year.

The decision to hold back the aid is now the center of the impeachment inquiry backed by House Democrats over whether Trump used the aid in late July to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

In a Tuesday letter, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Democrats want answers from Pentagon chief on withheld Ukraine aid Trump wall endangers must-pass defense bill MORE (R.I.), and Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee vice chairman Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Democrats want answers from Pentagon chief on withheld Ukraine aid Senate Democrats urge Trump not to back down from vaping flavor ban MORE (Ill.), sent Esper a list of questions about the actions that led to the holdup of $400 million in security assistance.

They specifically want to know about the $250 million in Pentagon funds that Congress had approved for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Defense officials in May notified Congress of its plans to send the aid to Ukraine, but in July the White House Office of Management and Budget ordered the Pentagon and State Department to withhold the money. The money was released until mid-September following congressional inquiries.

 

DEMS FUME OVER BEING KEPT IN DARK ON AL-BAGHDADI RAID: Democrats are furious they were not told ahead of time about the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and are now pressing for a full briefing on what happened.

Trump and his deputies have defended the decision not to notify Democrats, accusing them of leaking. And two of the president’s top Republican allies said Monday they too were not told in advance of the raid.

But Democrats say Trump’s failure to brief them ahead of the operation is part of a pattern evident since he announced he was withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria earlier this month.

“For almost a month now, we’ve been requesting an all-senators briefing from the administration on its Syria policy,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday. “And according to reports, the Trump administration gave Russia and Turkey some kind of advanced notice of the raid of al-Baghdadi but, seemingly by deliberate choice, neglected to notify the leaders of Congress as is custom in this case.”

A refresher: Trump announced Sunday that an overnight raid in the northwest Syrian town of Barisha ended after U.S. troops chased al-Baghdadi into a tunnel where he detonated his suicide vest, killing himself and three children.

The announcement gave Trump a boost as he battles the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and faces criticism over his decision to withdraw from northern Syria, allowing a Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces to proceed.

But Democrats, even as they celebrated the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist, quickly criticized Trump’s handling of the raid.

Who got a heads up, who didn’t: In his remarks Sunday, Trump confirmed he told the Russians that the U.S. would be in the area ahead of time but said he didn’t tell Moscow the reason. Russia and Syria control the airspace in Idlib province, where the raid took place, and the U.S. and Russia have operated a “deconfliction” phone line since 2015 to ensure the two superpowers don’t fire on each other in Syria.

Trump also said he didn’t tell all congressional leaders about the raid beforehand because “Washington is a leaking machine.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quickly slammed Trump for telling “the Russians but not top congressional leadership.”

“The House must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the Administration’s overall strategy in the region,” Pelosi said in a statement Sunday. “Our military and allies deserve strong, smart and strategic leadership from Washington.”

Briefing coming?: A Pelosi spokesman said Monday that a briefing has been requested, but “it has not been granted yet.”

Schumer similarly requested a briefing after Trump’s announcement.

“I look forward to receiving a briefing about this raid and the plan to deal with the escaped ISIS prisoners,” he said in a statement. In his floor remarks Monday, Schumer added Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Menendez seeks probe into if Pompeo violated Hatch Act House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump MORE and Defense Secretary Mark Esper need to brief Congress “this week.”

A Schumer spokesman said Monday he did not have an update on the scheduling.

The White House dismissed Democrats’ calls for a briefing, with spokesman Hogan Gidley saying, “Leave it to Democrats to make this all about themselves.”

The rules now: Statute requires the president to keep the congressional intelligence committees “fully and currently informed of all covert actions,” but not “traditional … military activities” under which the raid could arguably fall.

According to reports from 2011, former President Obama and other administration officials called congressional leaders in both parties immediately after the Osama bin Laden raid but before Obama’s public remarks.

Then-Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Democrats fume over being kept in dark on al-Baghdadi raid Former House Intel Committee Chair: ‘No way we could have’ killed ISIS leader without the Kurds MORE (R-Mich.), who was the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said at the time that the House and Senate Intelligence committees were briefed over the preceding few months on bin Laden’s whereabouts and that the Gang of Eight were briefed on plans for the raid, according to a 2011 Congressional Research Service report.

  

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Mark Mellman: Three questions for Republicans The Hill’s 12:30 Report: White House official testifies he warned about Trump pressure on Ukraine MORE (R-Iowa) will speak on a new report, “The 2020 Index of U.S. Military Strength,” at 9 a.m. at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford will speak about nuclear security at 10:30 a.m. at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. 

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a discussion on “The Implications of Deep Fakes,” with Jeanette Manfra, assistant director for cybersecurity in the Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Matt Turek, program manager of Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Information Innovation Office at 2 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

— The Hill: Trump announces death of al-Baghdadi successor

— The Hill: Pentagon official doesn’t know where Trump got details about al-Baghdadi raid

— The Hill: Turkey: Kurdish forces still in northeast Syria ahead of deadline for pullout

— The Hill: Senate chairman introduces ‘skinny’ defense policy bill

— The Hill: Pentagon announces $34 billion deal with Lockheed Martin for F-35 jets

— The Hill: Brennan responds to Trump tweet with advice for diplomats, intelligence agents and ‘other courageous patriots’

— The Hill: Key White House aide arrives to testify on Trump Ukraine dealings

— The Hill: Army officer to tell lawmakers he twice reported concerns about Trump’s Ukraine tactics

— The Hill: Opinion: Baghdadi’s good-bad news: He’s dead, but his ghost will haunt us

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