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.
Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate came to its expected conclusion Wednesday, capping off the months-long drama over Trump’s dealing with Ukraine.
Senators voted 48-52 on the abuse of office article of impeachment and 47-53 on the obstruction of Congress article, falling well short of the two-thirds requirement for convicting and removing him from office.
Refuting months of GOP predictions, no Democratic senators voted to acquit Trump. Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — all seen as potential swing votes — announced earlier Wednesday that they would vote to convict.
One last surprise: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) delivered an 11th hour shock as he became the only Republican to vote to convict Trump, describing the president’s action as an “appalling abuse of public trust.”
Romney voted “guilty” on the abuse of office charge, but “not guilty” on the obstruction of Congress charge.
Still, in doing so, he became the first senator in U.S. history to vote to convict a president of his own political party.
“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did,” Romney said in remarks on the Senate floor less than two hours before the vote.
Not a single GOP senator was in attendance for Romney’s somber remarks on the floor and only a few Democrats were on hand in the chamber.
Romney, his party’s presidential nominee in 2012, argued that Trump delayed funding for Ukraine, an American ally at war with Russia, for his own “personal” and “political” benefit.
Victory lap Thursday: Trump will give a speech from the White House on Thursday to take a victory lap on his acquittal from two articles of impeachment.
“I will be making a public statement tomorrow at 12:00pm from the @WhiteHouse to discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!” Trump tweeted shortly after his acquittal in the Senate.
Trump’s remarks will be highly anticipated as it will likely mark the first time he publicly addresses the impeachment trial since its conclusion.
His tone is likely to be jovial, and White House aides have hinted in recent days that he would plan to declare vindication in the aftermath of the Senate trial despite being just one of three U.S. presidents to be impeached.
As far as foreign policy and defense were concerned, Trump mostly played the hits, touting his equipment buildup and pledging to bring troops home from the Middle East.
Here are a couple highlights if you still need to catch up:
Surprise homecoming: Trump surprised the family of an Army soldier who had been deployed to Afghanistan by bringing him out at the end of his speech.
Trump announced Sgt. First Class Townsend Williams’ return as he called for the end of the nearly 19-year-long Afghanistan War.
“War places a heavy burden on our nation’s extraordinary military families,” Trump said as he addressed Amy Williams, of Fort Bragg, N.C., and the couple’s two children, who sat beside first lady Melania Trump in the audience.
“Amy works full time, and volunteers countless hours helping other military families. For the past seven months, she has done it all while her husband … is in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment to the Middle East. … Your family’s sacrifice makes it possible for all of our families to live in safety and peace, we thank you.”
Trump then added, “there is one more thing tonight we have a very special surprise, I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment, he is here with us tonight and we couldn’t keep him waiting any longer.”
Williams then walked down the stairs in the gallery and embraced his family, as multiple lawmakers began to chant “USA!”
Defending the Soleimani strike: Trump questioned whether Iranian leaders are “too proud or too foolish” to negotiate with the United States for sanctions relief, saying it is up to them to come to the table.
“In recent months, we have seen proud Iranians raise their voices against their oppressive rulers,” Trump said during his third State of the Union address. “The Iranian regime must abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop spreading terror, death and destruction and start working for the good of its own people.”
“Because of our powerful sanctions, the Iranian economy is doing very, very poorly,” he added. “We can help them make a very good and short time recovery. It can all go very quickly, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help. We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It is totally up to them.”
Trump made the comments while defending his Iran policy, which critics have blasted as reckless while Washington and Tehran teetered on the brink of war in January.
The confrontation between Washington and Tehran came to a head in early January when Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds Force.
No North Korea: One noticeable omission was that Trump made no mention of North Korea in his speech.
In last year’s State of the Union, Trump announced the dates of his Hanoi summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The year before, Trump warned North Korea could soon be able to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon.
Negotiations with North Korea have stalled since last year’s Hanoi summit ended without an agreement, and Pyongyang started 2020 by announcing it no longer felt bound by its self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests.
ICBM TEST: The U.S. military test-launched an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) early Wednesday, Air Force Global Strike Command said in a news release.
The Minuteman III, which the Air Force said was fitted with a test re-entry vehicle, was launched at 12:33 a.m. Pacific Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
The re-entry vehicle traveled about 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the release said.
“The Minuteman III is aging, and modernization programs such as this are essential in ensuring that our nation has a reliable nuclear deterrent through the rest of its lifespan and beyond,” Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron Commander, said in a statement. “Most importantly, this visible indicator of our national security capabilities serves to assure our partners and dissuade potential aggressors.”
Calendar coincidence: The Air Force stressed that missile tests are planned six months to a year in advance, with the launch calendars built three to five years in advance — meaning tests are not meant to respond to world events.
But some arms control advocates noted Wednesday’s test coincided with a one-year deadline for the New START Treaty’s expiration.
The treaty caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads the United States and Russia are allowed to have, as well as delivery systems for the warheads such as ICBMs. It is set to expire Feb. 5, 2021, but can be extended for another five years, a step arms control advocates are urging the Trump administration to take.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The House Appropriations Committee defense subpanel will have a closed hearing with U.S. Strategic Command commander Gen. Charles Richard at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/2Sseb2i
— The Hill: Pentagon officials were confused, concerned by delay in Ukraine aid, emails show: report
— The Hill: Opinion: Iran’s US victims need more than just applause
— The Hill: Opinion: Support for the military requires more than a fine speech
— Military Times: VA secretary insists surprise firing of top official isn’t a sign of leadership turmoil
— Associated Press: Iraqi officials say Baghdad wants to minimize reliance on US
— Reuters: Russia alarmed by U.S. deployment of low-yield nuclear missiles