Recap of Last Week’s House Action on Trade Legislation

Last Friday, President Barack Obama made a last-minute trip to Capitol Hill in the morning to encourage support among Democrats for the bill containing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), acknowledging to the press that the vote situation remained fluid. That afternoon, the House conducted three major trade program votes: (1) TAA, which failed; (2) TPA, which was approved; and (3) a separate customs bill, which passed.

House leaders structured Friday’s vote to allow for separate questions on TPA and TAA, allowing members to split their vote while still moving the two measures as one package. In a stunning upset, the House roundly defeated the TAA measure by a vote of 126 to 302. Despite previous instructions from House Leaders that no further votes would occur, the House proceeded to a vote on TPA, narrowly passing the measure by a vote of 219 to 211.

Next steps remain unclear. Since the TPA and TAA measures were contained in the same piece of legislation in the Senate, the bill cannot yet be sent to the President for his signature. However, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) filed a motion to reconsider the TAA vote, which means the House could conduct a second round of votes on that specific question as early as next week. A Democratic staffer has also raised the possibility that House Republicans could pass a new rule that would allow TPA to return to the Senate on its own, without TAA. President Obama released a statement Friday afternoon, welcoming passage of TPA and urging the House “to pass TAA as soon as possible, so I can sign them both.”

In a floor speech prior to the TAA vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said she would not vote for TAA. Her rationale, which failed, was a no vote would block the vote on TPA.

Following the TAA and TPA votes, the House turned to the customs measure, passing it by a vote of 240 to 190. The House customs measure contains differences from the Senate-passed measure, and the two chambers are expected to begin conference negotiations to reconcile the two drafts.

Last Thursday, the House passed a bill renewing several trade preference programs (AGOA/GSP/Haiti program). The Senate is expected to quickly reconcile the differences in the House-passed bill in order to get the bill to the President for signature.

Also last week, the House passed a bill to repeal country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements for beef, pork, and chicken deemed discriminatory by the World Trade Organization. The Senate has yet to similarly act on COOL repeal legislation.

  • On Tuesday, 16 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy will hold a hearing titled, “Strategic Implications of Trade Promotion and Capacity-Building in the Asia-Pacific Region.”

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries are waiting to hold their next ministerial meeting until TPA has been passed and sent to President Obama for signature. Given the preparations needed for such a meeting, it is expected the next meeting may be in mid- to late-July. Chief negotiators will likely meet prior to the ministerial meeting.

Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership

Last Tuesday, the European Parliament returned a resolution to the International Trade (INTA) Committee to provide more time for negotiations on the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) language. The resolution would outline the European Parliament’s expectations on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Ex-Im Bank Update

After more than 60 Senators voted last Wednesday to not end the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) suggested Thursday that the trade preferences bill could be amended in the Senate to renew the Bank’s charter. It remains unclear which legislative vehicle may be used in the Senate to attempt to reauthorize Ex-Im before the charter expires at the end of this month.

Senate NDAA Debate Continues

The Senate continues its debate this week of its FY 2016 NDAA measure, with additional votes on amendments expected Tuesday. Democrats blocked an attempt last week to add pending cybersecurity legislation as an amendment to the NDAA. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) said the Senate will vote on at least two amendments on Tuesday: (1) a proposal from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) to take the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases away from military commanders, and (2) a proposal from Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to allow U.S. assistance to flow directly to the Kurds in Iraq. Both will be subject to a 60-vote threshold. Other amendments could be considered on Tuesday, along with packages of non-controversial amendments. Over 400 amendments have been offered to the Senate NDAA measure so far. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) filed a procedural motion on Thursday to limit further debate on the NDAA.

Summary of Last Week’s G-7 Summit

The G-7 Summit in Germany concluded last Monday with the release of a Leaders’ Declaration and Annex.  The White House also released a fact sheet on the U.S. perspective of the Summit. Apart from a focus on security issues, the G-7 agenda included discussions on the global economy, financial market regulation, tax, trade, climate change, global health, marine liter, women’s entrepreneurship, and food security, among other topics. With respect to trade, the Leaders called for a focus in 2015 to be on the entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The Leaders also called for swift agreement by July of a WTO post-Bali work program that secures a prompt conclusion and balanced outcome of the Doha Round. Acknowledging that strengthening the multilateral trading system remains a priority, the Leaders also welcomed ongoing efforts to conclude ambitious and high-standard new bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs) and look forward to swift progress in plurilateral negotiations, including the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA). The Leaders also welcomed progress on major ongoing trade negotiations, including on TPP, TTIP and the EU-Japan FTA/Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

Fighting reportedly flared in the Donetsk vicinity, with Ukraine reporting on Saturday that six of its soldiers have been killed and another 14 wounded. If confirmed, this would be one of the highest casualty tolls reported in a single day since the oft violated ceasefire was called more than three months ago.

Vice President Joe Biden met last Wednesday with Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House to discuss Ukraine’s reform agenda and implementation of the Minsk agreements. The Vice President underscored the resolve of the United States and its G-7 partners to continue pressing Russia to fully implement the Minsk agreements, including return of the Ukrainian side of the international border to Ukraine control and withdrawal of all Russian soldiers and weapons from Ukraine. Vice President Biden reiterated the United States and its G-7 allies stand ready to impose significant additional sanctions if necessary to respond to Russia’s actions.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis urged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to commit himself to a “sincere and great effort” to achieve peace in Ukraine. A statement issued after the two met said both agreed on the need to recreate a climate of dialogue and to implement the Minsk agreement, a peace deal struck earlier this year. The tone of the Vatican statement after Wednesday’s meeting also suggested the Pope had been blunt with Putin behind closed doors. Prior to the meeting, the United States urged the Vatican to more forcefully criticize Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine.

In Kyiv last Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke before a large audience of Ukrainians outside of October Palace. She said that, “the message of the United States throughout this Moscow-manufactured conflict – and the message you heard from President Obama and other world leaders at last week’s meeting of the G-7 – has never wavered: if Russia continues to disregard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine; and if Russia continues to violate the rules upon which international peace and security rest – then the United States will continue to raise the costs on Russia.”

European Reassurance

Over the weekend, the media reported the United States plans to store heavy military equipment in the Baltics and Eastern European nations. This is part of the U.S. strategy to reassure allies made uneasy by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and to deter further aggression.

  • On Tuesday, 16 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia will hold a hearing titled, “Reviewing the Administration’s FY 2016 Budget Request for Europe and Eurasia.”

Iran

The G-7 Leaders affirmed the political understanding on the key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of action reached by the P5+1 and Iran in early April. The G-7 governments also called on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency to address all outstanding issues, including those relating to the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. After a Russian Internet security firm, Kaspersky Lab, reported last week that it had uncovered a virus dubbed Duqu 2.0 that was targeting hotels that hosted the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Swiss and Austrian officials reported they are investigating claims of potential espionage during recent P5+1 Talks with Iran.

  • On Monday, 15 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will receive a closed briefing on the practical implications of lifting sanctions on Iran.
  • On Wednesday, 17 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East will hold a hearing titled, “The Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act: State Department’s Non-Compliance.”

Syria/Iraq Crisis

On the margins of the G-7 Summit, President Barack Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to discuss the ongoing fight against ISIL and the need to stem foreign fighters into the conflict. President Obama said the United States would deploy up to 450 additional U.S. service members to Iraq to help train Iraqi military forces to combat ISIL and provide additional assistance. This decision comes on the heels of ISIL gains, including the capture of the city of Ramadi.

  • On Wednesday, 17 June, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing to examine the U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey are expected to testify.
  • On Wednesday, 17 June, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Assad’s Abhorrent Chemical Weapons Attacks.”

State-Foreign Operations and Defense Appropriations

Last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee marked up its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 State-Foreign Operations spending measure. While eleven amendments were offered, only one, offered by State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas), was approved. The bill, as amended, was unanimously approved by voice vote.

The Senate Appropriations Committee similarly considered and approved its defense spending measure this week. The Senate is expected to begin debate on its defense appropriations bill shortly after it completes consideration of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House also passed its defense appropriations bill on Thursday.

Africa

On Sunday, the State Department issued a statement on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s travel to South Africa for the African Union summit.  The United States reminded that President Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide, and called on the Government of South Africa to support the international community’s efforts to provide justice for the victims of these heinous crimes.

Foreign Authorization Act

Last Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) advanced a bill to reauthorize certain State Department functions, but chose not to consider the issue of a military authorization to target ISIL. Congress last passed a foreign authorization measure in 2002. SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) said he intends to offer the legislation as an amendment to the FY 2016 NDAA bill.

Asia Pacific

Last Friday morning, the White House released readout of a call between President Obama and Korean President Park Geun-Hye. The President expressed his understanding of President Park’s decision to postpone her planned 16 June visit to the White House. The visit is expected to be rescheduled.

  • On Wednesday, 17 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing titled, “China’s Rise: The Strategic Impact of Its Economic and Military Growth.”
  • On Wednesday, 17 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights will hold a hearing titled, “Human Rights Abuses by Vietnamese Authorities.”

Defense Hearings

  • On Wednesday, 17 June, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Capacity of U.S. Navy to Project Power with Large Surface Combatants.”
  • On Thursday, 18 June, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Optimized Fleet Response Plan.”

Cuba

  • On Thursday, 18 June, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will hold a hearing titled, “The Future of Property Rights in Cuba.”

Nominations

  • On Wednesday, 17 June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Ms. Gayle Smith to be the next Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

United Nations

  • On Tuesday, 16 June, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing titled, “Advancing United States’ Interests at the United Nations.”

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 24-24 June: NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels
  • 30 June: US 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 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