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Democratic presidential candidates debate Afghanistan, military budgets

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With Jacqueline Feldscher, Connor O’Brien, Bryan Bender and Wesley Morgan

Editor’s Note: This edition of Morning Defense is published weekdays at 10 a.m. POLITICO Pro Defense subscribers hold exclusive early access to the newsletter each morning at 5:30 a.m. Learn more about POLITICO Pro’s comprehensive policy intelligence coverage, policy tools and services at politicopro.com.

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— Democrat presidential candidates debate leaving Afghanistan, authorizing force and military spending.

— It was a squeaker, but the Senate Appropriations Committee passes the fiscal 2020 defense spending bill on a party-line vote.

— A senator presses President Donald Trump’s Air Force secretary nominee on service members staying at Trump-owned resorts.

HAPPY FRIDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at dbrown@politico.com, and follow on Twitter @dave_brown24, @morningdefense and @politicopro.

DEBATING DEFENSE: Afghanistan and America’s commitments around the globe dominated the relatively brief national security portion of Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate. The highlights:

On Afghanistan, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she would pull U.S. troops out of the country even without a peace deal with the Taliban.

“We cannot ask our military to keep solving problems that cannot be solved militarily,” she said. “We’re not going to bomb our way to a solution in Afghanistan.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden noted that he opposed the surge in Afghanistan because the country “cannot be put together.”

“We can prevent the United States from being the victim of terror coming out of Afghanistan by providing for bases — insist the Pakistanis provide bases for us to airlift from and to move against what we know.”

Businessman Andrew Yang noted he’s signed a pledge to end the wars.

“We’ve been in a state of continuous armed conflict for 18 years, which is not what the American people want. We have to start owning what we can and can’t do. We’re not very good at rebuilding countries.”

On authorizing military force, Mayor Pete Buttigieg pledged to install a “three-year sunset” in any new authorization, and would require the president to seek authorization from Congress.

He also noted the controversy over airmen staying at Trump’s resort in Scotland.

“[W]e also have a president right now who seems to treat troops as props, or worse, tools for his own enrichment,” Buttigieg said.

On military spending, Sen. Bernie Sanders noted that he’s the “only person up here” to vote against Trump’s defense budgets.

“I don’t think we have to spend $750 billion a year on the military when we don’t even know who our enemy is,” he said.

LOOKS LIKE THEY MADE IT: It was ugly, but the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced the Defense Department’s $695 billion spending bill, our colleague Connor O’Brien writes.

The bill made it through on a 16-15 party-line vote after Democrats pressed to block Trump from diverting military construction funds toward the border. Republicans turned back an amendment to bar any further military funds for barrier construction.

The deets: “In all, the bill would provide $694.9 billion to the Pentagon. Within that total, $622.5 billion is allocated to the base budget and $70.7 billion would go toward the Pentagon’s war-related Overseas Contingency Operations account. Another $1.7 billion in emergency funding would go toward disaster recovery efforts on military bases.”

Softening on F-15EX: Senators voted to scale back new reporting requirements after the Air Force requested eight new Boeing F-15EX fighters in the budget, per O’Brien.

During markup, the panel approved an amendment from Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) removing a requirement that all four congressional defense committees approve of the service’s plans before it can access the bulk of funding for the planes.

Links: Draft bill text | committee report | manager’s amendments

I SEE A CR: “Congressional leaders are trying to nail down the terms of their tide-me-over spending bill this week, with just nine legislative workdays left until federal funding expires and a government shutdown results,” per POLITICO’s Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma.

“House appropriators have crafted a draft bill to extend funding past the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year and plan to file that measure as early as Friday. While an end date has not been finalized, it is widely assumed that funding would be dragged out until Nov. 21, at which time lawmakers would have to either pass spending bills or advance yet another stopgap.”

AIR FORCE QUESTIONS: Barbara Barrett, the nominee to be the next Air Force secretary, fielded questions on airmen staying at Trump resorts, the creation of the Space Force, nuclear missile funding, and Trump’s border wall when she appeared before senators for her confirmation hearing alongside Army secretary nominee Ryan McCarthy. Our own Jacqueline Feldscher has the details:

— On the resorts, Barrett initially declined to say she would prohibit the practice of service members staying at Trump properties, under questioning by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

She later said she would take a look at “generic rules and regulations that look at the best value” without singling out Trump’s hotels.

— On Space Force, Barrett made it clear that it’s a high priority. “If confirmed, standing up a Space Force would be a key imperative,” she said. “I believe we need the Space Force. In fact, in my opinion, a domain-specific service to organize, train and equip space forces is overdue.”

— On nuke spending, she agreed with Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) that the schedule to replace the service’s Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles can’t slip.

“Timeliness and moving forward on the modernization of nuclear capability is among the highest of priorities,” Barrett responded.

— On using military money to fund the border wall, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said airmen have to use duct tape to repair the ceilings at Holloman Air Force Base. “I do believe the priorities haven’t changed and that is something that would be looked to for funding and appropriate action. I would be attentive to that as secretary if confirmed,” Barrett said.

Barrett’s answers to advance policy questions are here; McCarthy’s are here.

Read the hearing transcript.

NEVER MIND: The White House has loosened its hold on $250 million in aid to Ukraine after freezing the funding, per POLITICO’s Emma, Wesley Morgan, O’Brien and Feldscher.

“A senior administration official confirmed on Thursday that the funds are now available. The official didn’t provide any information on the results of the administration’s review.”

CHINESE-OWNED FIRMS: A bipartisan group of senators led by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has urged Defense Secretary Mark Esper to publish a list of companies operating in the United States that are owned or controlled by the Chinese military, our colleague Doug Palmer writes.

Congress first directed the secretary of defense to make such a list in 1999. Two years later, it amended the provision to require the secretary to update the list on an ongoing basis and to notify Congress of any determinations that it makes. However, that power appears to “have lain dormant for years,” the senators said.

TODAY: Trump meets with Esper in the Oval Office at 3:30 p.m., per the White House schedule.

BOOK WATCH: Peter Bergen is writing a book about Trump’s relationship with the generals: Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly and Mike Flynn. It’s called “Trump and his Generals: The Cost of Chaos” and will come out Dec. 10. Details from Penguin Random House.

NUMBERS RELEASED: Crews have stayed at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland 40 times since 2015, according to a preliminary review by the Air Force, POLITICO’s Bryan Bender and Natasha Bertrand write.

“The figure does not indicate how many of the stays have occurred since Trump became president. But the Air Force has significantly ramped up its overnight stops in Scotland under Trump after signing a contract with the Prestwick Airport … in the waning months of the Obama administration.”

TURKEY TROUBLES: Ankara shouldn’t be under any illusions that it’s avoiding sanctions for purchasing a Russian air defense system, the State Department’s head of Political-Military Affairs said Thursday, per Morgan.

“They are not out of the woods on imposition of sanctions. That is still in play,” R. Clarke Cooper told reporters.

SALES TO MOROCCO: The State Department has approved the potential sale of F-16 ammunition worth $209 million and TOW missiles worth $776 million.

— Q&A: Derek Tournear, acting director of the Space Development Agency: POLITICO Pro

— Aerospace and defense hiring surged in 2018, industry report finds: POLITICO Pro

— Escorts deploy without USS Harry S. Truman as East Coast carrier shortage persists: USNI News

— House to vote again to block Trump‘s border emergency: POLITICO

— U.S. poised to send 150 troops to patrol Northeastern Syria: The New York Times

Taliban urge U.S. to resume talks after Bolton’s departure: The Wall Street Journal

— Fact-checking Trump’s statements on increased military strikes in Afghanistan: NYT





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