Today's D Brief: Senate's border reform, Ukraine bill stymied; Houthi drone boats downed near Yemen; Army to double 155mm shell production; And a bit more.

U.S. forces in the Middle East hit two Houthi drone boats rigged with explosives on Monday after determining that they “presented an imminent threat” to ships and vessels in the region, officials at Central Command announced afterward without sharing an approximate location where the incident occurred. 

Despite continued U.S. and UK strikes on the Houthis, attacks on ships in the region have persisted. Two more ships were attacked again recently near Yemen, British maritime authorities said Tuesday. The Pentagon said Monday that observers and sailors in the region should probably expect additional attacks in the days ahead.

“It would not be surprising to anyone if they attempt to conduct attacks in the future,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Monday during a press conference at the Pentagon. The messaging around the U.S. strikes thus far has focused on degrading Houthi capabilities, and Ryder stressed that message again on Monday. 

However, the Iran-backed group has “a finite amount of capability,” Ryder said. “The question is how much of that capability they want to sacrifice to a doomed cause? Because again, we’ll continue to diminish and disrupt that capability.” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more, here

Also Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rang his Saudi counterpart “to discuss U.S. military action against Iran-aligned militant groups in Iraq and Syria in response to the attack in Jordan that killed three U.S. soldiers, as well as the U.S. and UK-led coalition strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen,” according to a DOD readout

Extra reading: Former U.S. Defense Secretary James “Mattis secretly advised Arab monarch on Yemen war, records show,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1862, the U.S. military notched its first victory of the Civil War with the Battle of Fort Henry in Tennessee.

Ukraine is losing more ground to Russia’s ongoing invasion, and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. are declining more help—evidently hoping to score political points in an election year that features far-right former President Donald Trump seeking a return to the White House. President Joe Biden is expected to speak on the matter later this morning, shortly before noon ET.  

The latest notable Russian gains are eroding Ukrainian control of the eastern city of Avdiivka, which Ukrainians have been fiercely defending for several months. Troops there say they’ve been attacked so often they’re physically and mentally exhausted because they can’t be rotated out at recommended rates—every three days, for example, instead of the 10-day wait some at Avdiivka are experiencing, according to the Washington Post

One Ukrainian journalist says Russia has dropped more than 600 aerial bombs on Avdiivka over the past four weeks alone. That’s almost two dozen every day for a month, and Ukrainian forces cannot come anywhere close to matching that frequency. Indeed, as Yaroslav Trofimov of the Wall Street Journal warned Sunday evening, “Russian advances in Avdiivka, which increasingly looks likely to become the first Ukrainian city to fall since the capture of Bakhmut last May, are the direct result of acute ammunition shortage—caused by the U.S. Congress withholding further military aid to Ukraine.” 

A second opinion: “People will die, today, because of the cynical game played by the American Republican party,” historian Anne Applebaum wrote on social media. “Their irresponsibility is breathtaking,” she added. 

Rewind: For months, Republicans have insisted on major changes to border security and asylum policies before considering more Ukraine aid. But now that uncharacteristically strict new immigration legislation is under consideration in the Senate this week, Trump and House Republicans, in particular, appear to have calculated they may lose their top complaint against the White House should the bill advance to Biden’s desk ahead of November. 

“This bill is a great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party,” the twice-impeached former president Trump wrote on social media Monday. 

It’s increasingly clear that House Republicans’ “goal isn’t to fix the issue but to fixate on it for the 2024 election,” Molly Jong-Fast of Vanity Fair reported Monday. The strategy is largely the work of what she says are “Today’s burn-it-all-down GOP caucus,” which—like far-right American terrorists of the 1980s and 90s—has what Jong-Fast says is “a vested interest in the federal government failing because it proves its thesis that government is bad.” 

“Some Republicans have rejected the bill on partial or misleading information,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford told the Wall Street Journal Monday. “Republicans have been pounding away to be able to say we need to secure the border for years. And then to suddenly run away from it when we have the opportunity to do something? It is not a great look for us,” he told the conservative paper. 

Similarly, Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas warned Sunday on social media, “Unfortunately there’s a lot of emotion about this border deal and no analysis of the facts by people who should know better.” He also emphasized that he campaigned on border security, and won’t write off the Senate legislation just because far-right Republicans insist on it. Read the rest from Crenshaw, here. The Hill has more on the broader issues imperiling action in the House, here.  

See also:McConnell and Border Patrol union back embattled Senate border deal,” via Politico reporting Monday.

New arms for Europe: The State Department just cleared the sale of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles to the Dutch for a little less than a billion dollars. The deal involves 120 AGM-158B/B-2 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles with Extended Range, and a variety of related components. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency has more details, here

The U.S. also cleared the sale of $150 million worth of Hellfire missiles to the Dutch last week. DSCA has more on that deal, which primarily involves Lockheed Martin, here

And the U.S. Army is planning to double production of 155mm artillery shells by October, Defense One’s Sam Skove reports. U.S. production should rise from 28,00 last October to about 60,000 this October—and then the Army hopes to rapidly increase production in 2025 as well, to produce 100,000 in October of next year. Read on, here.