Upcoming Head of State Visit

This week, President Obama will host his eighth Head of State visit, welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the White House. Previous visits include: India (November 2009); Mexico (May 2010); China (January 2011); Germany (June 2011); Korea (October 2011); the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland (March 2012); and France (February 2014).

Iran

Last week, Republicans began filing pro-Israel amendments to The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – authored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Corker (R-Tennessee) – in advance of this week’s Senate floor debate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) announced Thursday that there will be a robust amendment process in consideration of the measure, which he hopes is strengthened. Republican critics contend the bill does not contain effective mechanisms to stop President Obama from lifting congressionally-mandated sanctions.

NDAA

Last week, the House Armed Services Subcommittees held markups of their respective sections of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). All subcommittee bills advanced to the full committee, which will meet this Wednesday to debate and mark-up the measure. The Senate Armed Services Committee (“SASC”) held a vote last week on whether to open its subcommittee markup to the public; ultimately deciding to maintain a closed process.

Trade Developments

Last Wednesday evening and into the night, the Senate Finance Committee marked-up its bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority (“TPA”) measure. Earlier in the day, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) used a procedural maneuver to delay the meeting, causing Senate Majority Leader McConnell to recess the Senate to allow it to proceed. Thursday’s House Ways & Means Committee markup of the TPA bill included robust debate on three currency amendments sponsored by Democrats; all of which were defeated largely along party lines.

Both Committees also advanced a measure to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Generalized System of Preferences, and a Haiti preferential duty treatment program (“AGOA/GSP/Haiti bill”) by voice vote out of committee. The Senate AGOA/GSP/Haiti bill included amendments, while the House version did not. Similarly, both Committees also advanced respective Trade Adjustment Assistance bills.

After Wednesday’s markup, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that the addition of both a currency-related countervailing duty amendment offered by Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) and an amendment reforming the process for creating a Miscellaneous Tariff Bill in the Senate’s trade facilitation and customs bill would complicate the necessary conference with the House. Expectation is high that most of the trade measures will be debated (and presumably passed) by the full Senate and House in May. However, the trade facilitation and customs bill may move at a later date.

Largely overshadowed by Congress’ actions on four trade measures, the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (“TTIP”) negotiators discreetly met in New York last week. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”) also released a report on TTIP and opportunities for U.S. small- and medium-sized enterprises. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman expressed disappointment last Wednesday with a proposal by the European Commission to amend genetically-engineered (“GE”) food and feed approval process legislation. The process would allow EU countries to ignore science-based safety and environmental determinations made by the European Union and opt out of imports of GE food and feed.

Senator Heidi Heitcamp (D-North Dakota) said at the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank’s annual conference last Friday that she believes there is support for reauthorizing the Bank, whose charter expires on 30 June 2015. Senators Mark Kirk (R) and Heitcamp, along with six other Senators, have negotiated a bipartisan measure (S. 819) to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank until 30 September 2019. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said last week he does not support reauthorization of Ex-Im, saying the governments’ export credit agency provides “corporate welfare” and is a waste of U.S. taxpayer dollars. While Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) has supported the Ex-Im Bank, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who is critical of the Bank, said last week that he plans to hold hearings on Ex-Im in late May or June.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

Echoing statements by the U.S. State Department last Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that Russia has substantially stepped up supplies to the separatists, as well as provided them with advanced training and equipment like drones. Secretary-General Stoltenberg noted these alleged actions undermine the ceasefire and violate the Minsk Agreements. He added that more than 1,000 pieces of Russian military equipment have been moved over the past month, including tanks, artillery and air defense units, and expressed great concern that Russia-backed separatists could launch an offensive with little notice.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last Thursday to remove Russian forces from eastern Ukraine and to press Russia-backed separatists into observing the ceasefire. He also spoke of the need to ensure international monitors can access areas under separatist control.

This Wednesday, 29 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights is scheduled to hold a hearing entitled, “The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.”

Europe

On Wednesday, 29 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe is scheduled to hold a hearing entitled, “Progress and Challenges in the Western Balkans.”

Syria/Iraq Crises

National Security Advisor Susan Rice met last Tuesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss concrete ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation against ISIL and foreign fighters. They also reviewed the ongoing program to train and equip vetted members of the moderate Syrian opposition.

This Wednesday, 29 April, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism is scheduled to hold a hearing entitled, “ISIS: Defining the Enemy.” On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East is scheduled to hold a hearing entitled, “The Regional Impact of U.S. Policy Towards Iraq and Syria.”

Yemen

Last Wednesday, the Obama Administration welcomed a decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners to conclude Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said that the U.S. looks forward to the rapid, unconditional resumption of all-party negotiations that allow Yemen to resume an inclusive political transition process as envisioned in the Golf Cooperation Council Initiative, the National Dialogue outcomes, and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

United Arab Emirates

Last Monday, President Obama met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. They discussed the conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and the United Arab Emirates’ need for military equipment. The Crown Prince also met with Congressional leaders and senior Administration officials during his two-day visit to Washington.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

Last Thursday, the White House issued a statement of sorrow regarding a U.S. Government counterterrorism operation in January that killed two hostages held by al-Qa’ida near the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American held by al-Qa’ida since 2011; and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national held hostage by al-Qa’ida since 2012, both died in that drone strike.

Trafficking in Persons

Last Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act(S.178). The measure was sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and will boost support for and protection of victims of human trafficking by increasing law enforcement resources, enhancing victims’ services, and increasing penalties against perpetrators. SFRC Chairman Corker  said passage of this legislation is an important step in the fight against human trafficking, adding he remains committed to also pursuing efforts to help end modern slavery worldwide.

Chairman Corker has separately introduced legislation, The End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015 (S. 553), that would seek to create a collaborative effort with the private sector and foreign governments to eliminate modern slavery around the world. This measure advanced out of the SFRC in February.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 27-28 April: President Obama will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
  • 21 May: President Obama will host Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi
  • 7-8 June: G-7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany
  • 30 June: US Export-Import Bank charter expires
  • 15 September: 70th Session of the UN 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