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Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a ‘third-rate politician’ | Trump, Graham trade jabs

Happy Wednesday 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 Wednesday approved a resolution formally rebuking President Trump over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.

The measure passed in a 354-60 vote, with four lawmakers voting present. All 60 votes against the resolution came from Republicans, with the present votes coming from three GOP lawmakers and Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.). The top three House Republicans supported the motion in a rare split from the president. 

What the resolution does: The resolution — which was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), “opposes the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria.”

The measure also calls on Turkey to end its military action, calls on the United States to protect the Kurds and calls on the White House “to present a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

“The measure we’re considering today will send an unambiguous bipartisan, hopefully bicameral rejection of Trump’s policy in Syria,” Engel said ahead of the vote.

The background: Trump has ordered all U.S. troops in northern Syria to pull back, paving the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces that were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against the ISIS.

The decision was swiftly condemned by lawmakers in both parties as abandoning the Kurds, signaling to future partners the United States is untrustworthy and enabling ISIS to resurge in the chaos.

The House’s resolution came to the floor under suspension of the rules, meaning it needed two-thirds approval to pass. The measure garnered support from all Democrats and 129 Republicans.

While the resolution breaks with Trump’s decision, Trump is named just once in the measure when it notes he spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Oct. 6.

 

 

More action coming: The vote on the House resolution comes as lawmakers are crafting sanctions legislation against Turkey. Engel and McCaul have said they plan to introduce a bill to sanction Turkey, and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday unveiled the text of her Turkey sanctions bill with more than 90 Republican co-sponsors.

In the Senate, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) are expected to introduce sanctions legislation on Thursday.

The push for sanctions comes even after Trump levied sanctions on top Turkish officials, including the defense minister, interior minister and energy minister. Lawmakers have said Trump’s sanctions did not go far enough to convince Turkey to change course.

Trump’s reasoning: Trump said Wednesday that Turkey’s offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria has “has nothing to do with us,” defending his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region amid criticism.

“It’s not our land,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

“If Turkey goes into Syria that’s between Turkey and Syria,” he added. “That’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe.”

Trump reiterated his plan to withdraw the United States from “endless wars.”

“Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be, as two countries fight over land,” Trump told reporters. “That has nothing to do with us.”

Trump also downplayed the U.S. alliance with the Kurds, calling them “no angels” and saying the U.S. “paid a lot of money” for the Syrian Kurdish forces to fight alongside U.S. troops against ISIS.

More criticism from Graham: Graham said Wednesday that Trump appears “hell-bent” on repeating former President Obama’s mistakes in Iraq after Trump said Graham should focus on investigating the 2016 election rather than the Middle East. 

President Trump is being told EXACTLY what President Obama was told before he withdrew from Iraq. He appears to be hell-bent on making the same mistakes in Syria as President Obama made in Iraq,” Graham tweeted.

“The worst thing any Commander in Chief can do is to give land back to the enemy that was taken through blood and sacrifice. I fear those are the consequences of the actions being taken right now,” he added. 

 

TRUMP URGED TURKISH PRESIDENT TO MAKE A DEAL ON SYRIA IN LETTER: Trump sent a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urging him to make a deal with the U.S. on Syria, according to a letter obtained by Fox Business. 

In the letter, sent ahead of the U.S. delegation meeting with Erdoğan on Thursday, Trump warned the Turkish president that “you don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy–and I will.” 

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are on their way to Turkey to convince Erdoğan to call a cease-fire in his country’s offensive against the Kurds in Syria. Trump announced the removal of U.S. troops from Syria last week, prompting Turkey’s action.

“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump’s letter reads. 

A meeting gone awry: The letter was released following a meeting between Trump and Democratic and Republican leaders at the White House to discuss Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria.

During the meeting, Trump called his former Defense secretary, Jim Mattis, “the world’s most overrated general,” after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) read a quote from Mattis’s appearance Sunday on “Meet the Press,” where he warned that “ISIS will resurge” if the U.S. does not keep the pressure on in that region.

Trump cut Schumer off, according to two Democratic aides, and said that Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general.”

“You know why? He wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said, according to the aides. “I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in 1 month.”

A ‘meltdown‘: The meeting ended in conflict after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump had a “meltdown.” Democrats claimed that the president disparaged Pelosi as a “third-rate politician,” and the party’s leaders walked out soon after.

The meeting was intended to focus on the response to Turkey as it carries out an offensive in northern Syria that has led to the bloodshed and uncertainty in the region. Trump has dug in on his decision earlier this month to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, even as lawmakers in both parties have warned him against the consequences of the move.

Read about what the members of the Democratic primary field think about Trump’s Syria decision here and here.

 

And here are Five unintended consequences of Trump’s Syria withdrawal

 

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SENATE CONFIRMS TRUMP’S AIR FORCE SECRETARY PICK: The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Trump’s nominee to be the top civilian leading the Air Force.

The Senate voted 85-7 to approve Barbara Barrett to be Air Force secretary.

“Ms. Barrett will serve as the civilian head at the Air Force at a pivotal time for our military,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement after the vote. “We need to modernize and innovate if we want to keep up with China and Russia, and this is especially important if we want to maintain air and space supremacy. At her nomination hearing, Ms. Barrett demonstrated she shares these priorities, understands the challenges we face and is prepared to tackle these issues head-on.”

The opposing votes all came from Democrats: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tina Smith (Minn.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

 

Months without leader: The Air Force has been without a Senate-confirmed secretary since the end of May when former Secretary Heather Wilson stepped down to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Wilson’s relationship with Trump soured over his Space Force proposal. At her confirmation hearing, Barrett pledged to prioritize setting up a Space Force, a separate military branch for space that first must get congressional approval.

About Barrett: Barrett’s resume includes past stints as chairwoman of the Aerospace Corporation, deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and ambassador to Finland.

Barrett’s nomination slowed after being advanced out of the Senate Armed Services Committee last month after Blumenthal placed a hold on her. Though she had her confirmation hearing and was advanced out of committee alongside Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had to file a motion to invoke cloture on Barrett’s nomination rather than her being voice-voted like McCarthy.

Blumenthal has said he opposes Barrett because she would not commit to issuing a service-wide policy banning stays at Trump properties.

 

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ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord will speak at the IDEEA Inc. ComDef Conference on “Partnering for Rapid Change,” at 8 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley during a classified hearing on “The Situation in Syria and the Wider Region,” at 9:30 a.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center Rm. SVC-217.

Principal Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific Affairs David Helvey will speak “The Korean Peninsula Issues and United States National Security,” at 1 p.m. at the Institute for Corean-American Studies symposium in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

— The Hill: Trump adviser lays out plans to slash national security staff

— The Hill: Senate Democrat demands details of Trump call with Erdoğan

— The Hill: US envoy insists Syria pullout doesn’t affect Iran strategy

— The Hill: Poll: 57 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s Syria withdrawal

— The Hill: Graham warns Trump Syria pullout could be ‘complete and utter national security disaster’

— The Hill: Trump adviser heads to Turkey ahead of Pence to urge cease-fire

— The Hill: US hit Iran with cyberattack after strikes on Saudi oil facilities: report

— The Hill: Opinion: US withdrawal from Syria makes countering ISIS more difficult

— The Hill: Opinion: America adrift: Trump has ended the ‘post-World War II era’

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