Combating ISIL

On Sunday, in his third address to the nation from the Oval Office, President Barack Obama spoke of the terrorist attack last week in San Bernardino, California, where 14 Americans were killed.  He sought to address the broader threat of terrorism and how to ensure the homeland is safe from threats such as ISIL.

President Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris last Monday to discuss the situation in Syria and the need to focus on combatting ISIL.  Both discussed the ongoing negotiations in Vienna for a diplomatic solution for Syria.  President Obama reiterated his belief that it will be necessary for Bashar al-Assad to leave power as a part of the transition and stressed the importance of focusing military efforts against ISIL, rather than targeting moderate opposition

Last Tuesday in Paris, President Obama met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.  They discussed the situation in Syria, combatting ISIL and how Turkey and Russia can work to deescalate tensions.

President Obama welcomed the British vote last week to join Coalition partners striking ISIL targets in Syria.  He also welcomed Germany’s decision to commit up to 1,200 German troops to support Coalition efforts to fight ISIL.

  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “U.S. Strategy to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and U.S. Policy Toward Iraq and Syria.”
  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Fulfilling the Humanitarian Imperative: Assisting Victims of ISIS Violence.”

Visa Waiver Program Under Scrutiny

After the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, the Obama Administration and Congress are scrutinizing the U.S. visa programs in general.  In light of concerns related to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the White House released a fact sheet last Monday that outlines a series of steps taken by the Obama Administration to enhance the significant security measures in the VWP.  The Administration is also working with Congress to provide statutory authority for many of these key security enhancements to VWP.

A House bill (H.R. 158) that will tighten VWP security requirements is on track for passage early this week with broad, bipartisan support.  The bill will be brought up under suspension of the rules; there will therefore be no amendments accepted and a two-thirds vote will be required for passage.  House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) told reporters there is the possibility the VWP bill may be offered as a provision to the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus spending bill, if that looks to be the fastest way to advance the bill into law.

The Senate has yet to schedule a vote on a similar measure (S. 2337) introduced last week by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona).  Meanwhile, David O’Sullivan, the European Union’s Ambassador to the United States, reportedly criticized congressional efforts to revamp the VWP, suggesting the legislation under consideration could complicate EU-U.S. relations.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

President Obama also reiterated to President Putin last Monday the importance of working towards a diplomatic solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine through full implementation of Russia’s obligations under the Minsk agreements.  He reminded that if Minsk is fully implemented, sanctions can be rolled back.

Vice President Joe Biden departed Washington this Sunday for another trip to Ukraine.  The Vice President will participate in a long working lunch and bilateral session with President Petro Poroshenko today.  This evening, the Vice President will sit down for a long bilateral with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.  On Tuesday, the Vice President will address the Rada.

Ex-Im Bank Reauthorized

Last Thursday, the House passed a priority measure – a reconciled, five-year transportation infrastructure bill (H.R. 22) that includes a provision reauthorizing the lapsed U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank.  President Barack Obama quickly signed the bill into law on Friday, 4 December.  Information on the Bank’s post-reauthorization transition can be found on its website.

TTIP Developments

On the margins of the EU Agricultural Outlook Conference in Brussels earlier last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned, along with his EU counterpart Phil Hogan, that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will not get sufficient support from their respective farm lobbies if it fails to resolve the differences over geographical indications and poultry and meat sensitivities.  This week, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will travel to the United Kingdom and Belgium for meetings on the TTIP.

COP21

President Obama traveled to Paris and attended the U.N. Global Climate Conference (COP21) early last week.  President Obama met Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  He met later that day with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  President Obama’s Tuesday agenda focused on island nations that are at risk from the threat of rising sea levels.  He held a press conference before returning to Washington.  Meanwhile, negotiators continue to work toward possibly achieving a comprehensive global agreement to address climate change concerns; releasing a draft text late on Friday.

USAID – Administrator Confirmed

Last week, the Senate confirmed Gayle Smith as the next Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 6-8 December: Vice President Biden travels to Kyiv, Ukraine
  • 9 December: President Obama hosts Israeli President Reuven Rivlin
  • 11 December: FY 2016 federal government funding deadline
  • 15-18 December: 10th WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Nairobi, Kenya
  • 8-9 July 2016: NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

  • On Tuesday, 8 December, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Improving the Pentagon’s Development of Policy, Strategy, and Plans.”
  • On Tuesday, 8 December, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Millennium Challenge Corporation: Lessons Learned after a Decade and Outlook for the Future.”
  • On Tuesday, 8 December, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Nonproliferation is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Civil Nuclear Cooperation with Pakistan: Prospects and Consequences.”
  • On Tuesday, 8 December, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Prompt Global Strike: American and Foreign Developments.”
  • On Tuesday, 8 December, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health is scheduled to hold a briefing titled, “Drug Resistant Tuberculosis: The Next Global Health Crisis?”
  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “United Nations Peacekeeping and Opportunities for Reform.”
  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to markup three bills: (1) H.R. 1654, to authorize the direct provision of defense articles, defense services, and related training to the Kurdistan Regional Government, and for other purposes; (2) H.R. 3654, Combat Terrorist Use of Social Media Act of 2015; and (3) H.R. 4154, Taiwan Naval Support Act.
  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to review the following nominations: Honorable Marcel Lettre II to be Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; Gabriel Camarillo to be Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs; John Sparks to be a Judge on the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces; and Vice Admiral Kurt Tidd, USN to be Admiral and Commander, United States Southern Command.
  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Concurrent Receipt of Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).”
  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Year in Review: U.S. Policy Toward a Changing Western Hemisphere.”
  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Political and Security Crisis in Burundi.”
  • On Wednesday, 9 December, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Game Changing Innovations and the Future of Surface Warfare.”
  • On Thursday, 10 December, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Increasing Effectiveness of Military Operations.”
  • On Thursday, 10 December, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Independent South Sudan: A Failure of Leadership.”