TPA Moves Separately, Senate Vote Sequencing Outlined

After the House Rules Committee approved a vote on a standalone Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill – unlinking it from the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill that previously failed in a vote – the House passed the measure last Thursday by a vote of 218 to 208. This action now sends TPA as a standalone measure back to the Senate for a separate vote.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) quickly outlined the Senate vote sequencing for this week for TPA, TAA and a trade preferences bill to reach President Barack Obama’s desk before 4 July, saying it will take trust on both sides to accomplish that goal. The Majority Leader confirmed the TAA vote would follow the TPA vote in the Senate, affirming there would be enough votes to pass TAA. The two bills will each need 60 votes in order to pass. Majority Leader McConnell filed two cloture motions last Thursday afternoon to limit debate on: (1) a trade preferences bill, which will be the vehicle for advancing TAA, and (2) the TPA measure passed by the House. If cloture is invoked this Tuesday, the final vote on TPA and the TAA-trade preferences measure would occur in the Senate on Wednesday, 24 June. If the Senate passes the TAA-trade preferences measure – which includes reauthorization of the Africa Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), as well as a Haiti preference program – the measure would return to the House for a vote.

Customs Measure – Conferencing Ahead

While the current approach is to pass TPA uncoupled from TAA, Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) have sought to reassure pro-TPA Democrats that TAA will make it to President Obama’s desk. This reassurance includes Majority Leader McConnell’s promise to incorporate changes to U.S. anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws in the TAA-trade preferences measure that have been sought by the U.S. steel industry. The Senate Majority Leader also said the House and Senate will conference on their respective customs bill as soon as possible, but first both chambers must pass a motion to enter into conference and appoint conferees. It remains unclear whether this will happen before Congress recesses at the end of this week in observance of the Fourth of July holiday.

Ex-Im Bank

With the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank’s charter due to expire at the end of the month and given this week’s push to complete votes on a series of trade measures before recessing for the Fourth of July holiday, Congress will likely not reauthorize the Bank in time. On 18 June, Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) said in an interview that it would be difficult for him to take another vote on TPA without “some path forward” for Ex-Im reauthorization, the customs bill and TAA. However, many expect lawmakers will seek to instead attach an Ex-Im reauthorization provision to a highway spending bill that must be passed by the end of July.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will be in Europe, with stops in Germany, Estonia and Belgium, this week to discuss Russian aggression with NATO allies, while also attending the NATO Defense Ministerial.  Last week, envoys of Ukraine, Russia, the pro-Russia separatists and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gathered in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss implementation of the Minsk agreements. The French Foreign Ministry reported a ministerial meeting between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany would be held in Paris on 23 June. Meanwhile, NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove acknowledged there is increased violence along the line of contact in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been recovering for several weeks following a broken leg, participated in last Tuesday’s daily State Department press briefing, providing readout of his recent call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Secretary Kerry said to Foreign Minister Lavrov, “that in the absence of a reduction in the hostilities, and in the absence of further progress of the implementation, Europe and the United States are going to be united in a rollover of the current level of sanctions, certainly, and whether or not more comes depends on what happens on the ground.” Last Wednesday, the EU Foreign Ministers agreed to extend the sanctions on Russia for an additional six-months. In light of the recent aggression and increased violence in eastern Ukraine, the United States and EU are also reported to be preparing additional sanctions to impose on Russia and the pro-Russia separatists.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last Monday that the Administration remains concerned about the reported flow of material and personnel from the Russian side of the border into Ukraine. The Press Secretary also alleged the Russian military continues to provide weapons and assistance to separatists in Eastern Ukraine and that Russian military personnel are actively involved in that effort. He added the Administration is considering placing military hardware in Eastern European NATO member countries as part of a U.S. reassurance strategy. If this option is approved, Earnest said it would be a message to the world, most directly to NATO allies, that the United States is serious about living up to its Article V NATO commitments. However, some have cautioned that such actions could lead Russia to build up its own military equipment along its border.

Last Thursday, while in the Czech Republic, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland sought to downplay Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he would add more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to Russia’s nuclear arsenal this year. The Assistant Secretary noted that Moscow is modernizing some existing missiles and said that it should stick to limits set in arms control agreements. She reiterated that the United States will be watching Russia’s ICBM modernization. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said no one wanted to see backsliding “to a kind of a Cold War status.”

  • On Tuesday, 23 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, And International Economic Energy, And Environmental Policy will hold a haring titled, “American Energy Exports: Opportunities For U.S. Allies and U.S. National Security.”
  • On Friday, 26 June, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces will hold a hearing titled, “Assuring National Security Space: Investing in American Industry to End Reliance on Russian Rocket Engines.”

Iran and Nuclear Deterrence

The deadline for concluding the P5+1 Talks with Iran and devising a comprehensive plan for addressing Iran’s nuclear program is fast approaching. Foreign Ministers and the chief negotiators will be in Vienna this week trying to clinch a deal with Iran. Iran’s parliament approved draft legislation on Sunday that would bar inspections of military sites as part of a final deal negotiated with the P5+1 countries. The United States will likely object to this perceived redline, keeping in mind that any final deal with Iran faces intense scrutiny by a skeptical U.S. Congress.

  • On Thursday, 25 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Evaluating Key Components of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action With Iran.”
  • On Wednesday, 24 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Lessons Learned From Past Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Negotiations.”
  • On Thursday, 25 June, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century”
  • On Thursday, 25 June, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing titled, “Update on Findings and Recommendations of the 2014 Department of Defense Nuclear Enterprise Review.”

Syria/Iraq

Despite the Syrian regime’s agreement to destroy the government’s chemical weapons in 2013, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has since found chlorine gas has been “systematically and repeatedly” used. The U.N. Security Council met on Friday to discuss the issue of accountability, as the government and opposition forces continue to deny responsibility for alleged recent uses of weaponized chlorine gas. More than 70 countries – including European countries and the United States – have signed a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding that the Syrian regime stop indiscriminate aerial attacks that use barrel bombs and have killed thousands of civilians. The letter also urges the UN Security Council to prevent the Syrian Air Force from future aerial attacks.

Testifying last Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey presented a dismal outlook on the situation in Iraq and discussed a possible US strategy in case the country’s borders dissolve. Recognizing there is a culture of unwillingness in Iraqi military forces to fight, Secretary Carter and General Dempsey discussed training Sunni tribal fighters as part of the decision announced last week to send 450 additional US forces to the country. General Dempsey said there are limits to what the United States can do to stabilize a country torn by sectarian strife and the advances of ISIL.

  • On Wednesday, 24 June, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats & Capabilities will hold a hearing titled, “The Counterterrorism Strategy Against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL): Are We on the Right Path?”

NDAA Update

Last Thursday, the Senate passed its FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 71-25. The Senate will now have to conference with the House to resolve differences in their respective versions before the measure can be sent to President Obama for signature.

Senate Democrats Block Defense Appropriations Measure

Senate Democrats joined with President Obama in objecting to the Republican budget plan by procedurally blocking consideration of an appropriations bill raised last Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tried to begin debate on the defense spending bill, which would have been the first of the twelve appropriations measures to be brought to the Senate floor.

Upcoming Presidential Visit to Africa

The White House announced on Friday that in late July, after President Obama stops in Kenya, he will then travel to Ethiopia. In Kenya, President Obama will hold bilateral meetings and participate in the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, an annual conference that connects entrepreneurs with business leaders, international organizations, and governments. The trip to Addis Abba will include bilateral meetings with the Government of Ethiopia and with the leadership of the African Union. While this will be the President’s fourth trip to Africa, it is his first to both of these countries and the first visit of a sitting U.S. President to the African Union headquarters, underscoring U.S. efforts to work with sub-Saharan Africa countries to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security.

Climate Change

In a 184-page papal letter, Pope Francis wrote last week that climate change is a global problem with far reaching environmental and social consequences, especially for the poor. He called on developing countries to limit the use of nonrenewable energy and for developed nations to assist poorer nations with sustainable development. In blunt language, the Pope said, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

President Obama welcomed His Holiness Pope Francis’ encyclical, saying he deeply admired the Pope’s decision to make the case – clearly, powerfully, and with the full moral authority of his position – for action on global climate change. The President said he looks forward to discussing climate change with Pope Francis when he visits the White House in September and called on nations around the world to be prepared to address points raised by the Pope at the U.N. Climate Change Conference later this year in Paris (30 November – 11 December).

Additional SFRC and HFAC Hearings

  • On Tuesday, 23 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will hold a confirmation hearing for the following individuals to be U.S. Ambassadors: Glyn Townsend Davies (Thailand); William Heidt (Cambodia); Atul Keshap (Sri Lanka and the Maldives); and Alaina Teplitz (Nepal).
  • On Wednesday, 24 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will hold a hearing titled, “Colombia: Peace with the FARC?”
  • On Thursday, 25 June, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) will markup two bills:  (1) R. ____, Department of State Operations and Embassy Security Authorization Act of 2015, and (2) R. 2037, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2015
  • On Thursday, 25 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights will hold a hearing titled, “Is Academic Freedom Threatened by China’s Influence on U.S. Universities?”

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 24-24 June: NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels
  • 30 June: U.S. Export-Import Bank charter expires
  • 30 June: P5+1 Talks with Iran deadline to reach a deal
  • 13 July: President Obama to host Conference on Aging
  • [TBD] July: President Obama to travel to Kenya attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit
  • 15 September: 70th Session of the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) opens in New York City
  • 24 September: Pope Francis to address Congress and meet with President Obama
  • 28 September: General debate of the UNGA begins
  • 30 Nov.-11 Dec.: U.N. Global Climate Conference in Paris