U.S. President Barack Obama hosted Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House last Thursday, while U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal that day in New Zealand.  Some Republican Members warned that despite the U.S. signature the congressional process may take some time.  Last Tuesday, after missing an EU deadline of Sunday, the United States and EU reached an agreement on a new data-transfer framework.  Meanwhile, the caucuses in Iowa helped to narrow down the list of U.S. presidential contenders.

This week, President Obama will host Italian President Sergio Mattarella today at the White House and release his Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Budget Request on Tuesday.  Congress is expected to start holding oversight hearings related to the Budget Request, starting this week.  The Senate is also expected to debate and vote on a North Korea sanctions measure, as well as take up the conferenced Customs Bill report.  The House of Representatives (“the House”) is scheduled to hold some hearings that focus on Iran, Russia, ISIL, and the EB-5 Visa Program.  Meanwhile, Washington will also be watching New Hampshire’s presidential primaries on Tuesday.

President to Release FY 2017 Budget Request

President Obama is scheduled to release his FY 2017 Budget Request at 11:00 am (EST) on Tuesday, 9 February.  At a Friday press conference on the U.S. economy, the President defended a plan to impose a $10-per-barrel tax on exported U.S. oil to fund a clean transportation system as part of his Budget Request.  Republicans and the oil industry have responded negatively to the proposed tax, with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) saying it is “dead on arrival.”

North Korea – Sanctions Legislation on the Senate Floor

The White House condemned North Korea’s weekend launch that used ballistic missile technology, saying it represents yet another destabilizing and provocative action and is a flagrant violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The Senate is expected to take up the North Korea sanctions legislation (H.R. 757) on Wednesday, 10 February.  Up to seven hours has been allotted for debate, after which the Senate will vote on the measure.

Iran – Congressional Oversight Continues

The House continues to focus on Iran.  Last Tuesday, the House narrowly passed H.R. 3662, The Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act, by a vote of 246-181, almost entirely along party lines.  House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) sent a letter last Wednesday to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting information about the Administration’s handling of negotiations to resolve a longstanding dispute with Iran at The Hague.  He highlighted the Administration’s announcement of a $1.7 billion payment to Iran to resolve this dispute the same day that Iran released four American prisoners.

  • Chairman Royce is scheduled to convene an Iran Nuclear Deal oversight hearing on Thursday, 11 February, to examine further the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, its implementation and consequences.
  • On Wednesday, 10 February, the House Homeland Security Committee is scheduled to hold hearing titled, “National Security and Law Enforcement: Breaking the New Visa Waiver Law to Appease Iran.”

Syrian Peace Talks Collapse

The Syrian opposition and regime met last week in Geneva with other international parties to discuss a path forward; however, talks were suspended with the opposition objecting to a Syrian regime offensive in Aleppo. Meanwhile, the United States pledged nearly $1 billion in assistance to help deal with the refugee crisis from the war in Syria.

Russia/Ukraine – New Magnitsky Designations Announced

Last Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland) welcomed the Obama Administration’s third annual report to Congress that summarizes the U.S. Government actions with respect to implementing The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.  The Treasury Department added five individuals (four Russians, one Ukrainian) last Monday to the Specially Designated Nationals List.  Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Wednesday, 10 February, titled, “Understanding and Deterring Russia: U.S. Policies and Strategies.”

Zika Virus – CDC Issues Interim Guidance

For travelers headed to Zika virus-affected countries, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an interim guidance on Friday that seeks to prevent the sexual transmission of the virus.  That same day, CDC Director Tom Frieden said the U.S. federal response should include investments in controlling the mosquito population and in developing a better diagnostic test, rather than in a finding a cure for the disease.

  • On Wednesday, 10 February, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health and the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere are schedule to hold a joint hearing to examine the global Zika epidemic emerging in the Western Hemisphere.

TPP – Agreement Signed, Warnings of a Slow Congressional Process

After the Thursday signing ceremony in Auckland, New Zealand, Ambassador Froman said the United States is developing a “full implementation plan” to make sure developing countries, such as Vietnam, uphold their obligations.

After a meeting last week with President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) reiterated a congressional vote on the TPP deal should not happen until after the November elections at the earliest.  In a lengthy floor speech last Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) further cautioned:

“No one should be under any illusions that, because the TPP is being signed [on 4 February], an up or down vote on the agreement is imminent or that our oversight responsibilities are at an end.  …If history has taught us anything, it’s that this process can, and often does, take a very long time to complete.  In fact, it’s not an exaggeration – or even all that remarkable – to say that it can take years to get an agreement through Congress AFTER it is signed.”

Senate Finance Committee Member Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who previously served as the U.S. Trade Representative during the George W. Bush Administration, said last Thursday that he opposes the TPP deal “in its current form.”  The Senator cited concerns related to currency manipulation, rules of origin for automobiles, and protections for biologic drugs.

Customs Bill – Senate Action Expected

Sources report the Senate may vote this week on the conference report of the Customs and Enforcement Bill, possibly on Thursday.   If approved, it will then head to President Obama’s desk for signature into law.

U.S.-EU Data Privacy Agreement Reached

Last Tuesday, the United States and EU announced a new data-transfer agreement (The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield) had been reached.  That same day, the U.S. Department of Commerce circulated a fact sheet about Privacy Shield that lays out some of the provisions in greater detail.

Electrify Africa Bill Heads to President Obama’s Desk

Last Monday, the House passed the Electrify Africa bill (S. 2152), sending the measure forward to President Obama for signature into law.  Over 600 million people – 70% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) – lack access to electricity, stifling social and economic development in the region.  Once signed into law, Electrify Africa is desgned to encourage U.S. and international development organizations to prioritize loans, assistance, and technical support to spark private investment in projects that increase electricity access and reliability, and emphasize regulatory reform and commercial viabiliity.

TTIP Developments

President Obama will host Italian President Mattarella at the White House today.  TTIP is one topic on the agenda, as well as countering ISIL addressing the global refugee crisis.

U.S. Deputy Trade Representative Michael Punke and European Commission Director-General for Trade Jean-Luc Demarty met in Brussels last Thursday to prepare for the 12th round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, which will be held in Brussels the week of 22 February.

Other Congressional Hearings This Week:

  • On Tuesday, 9 February, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Worldwide Threats.”
  • On Tuesday, 9 February, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Department of Defense Nuclear Acquisition Programs and the Nuclear Doctrine.”
  • On Tuesday, 9 February, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to receive a closed briefing from the Administration on the way forward in Syria and Iraq.
  • On Wednesday, 10 February, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “From Iraq and Syria to Libya and Beyond: The Evolving ISIL Threat.”
  • On Wednesday, 10 February, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request and funding justification for the U.S. Air Force.”
  • On Wednesday, 10 February, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Seeking Justice for Atrocities: How the International Criminal Court Could Advance Accountability in Iraq and Syria.”
  • On Wednesday, 10 February, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “U.S. Policy in Central Africa: The Imperative of Good Governance.”
  • On Wednesday, 10 February, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “After San Bernardino: The Future of ISIS-Inspired Attacks.”
  • On Thursday, 11 February, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “National Commission on the Future of the United States Army.”
  • On Thursday, 11 February, the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Proposal.” U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew is scheduled to testify.
  • On Thursday, 11 February, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Oversight Hearing – United States Engagement in Central America.”
  • On Thursday, 11 February, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Is the Investor VISA Program an Underperforming Asset?”
  • On Thursday, 11 February, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Bahrain: Repression and the Consequences for Reconciliation.”
  • On Thursday, 11 February, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Future of U.S.-Taiwan Relations.”
  • On Thursday, 11 February, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Jordan: A Key U.S. Partner.”
  • On Thursday, 11 February, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Resolving Issues with Confiscated Property in Cuba, Havana Club Rum, and other Property.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 8 February: President Obama hosts Italian President Sergio Mattarella
  • 9 February: President Obama releases the FY 2017 Budget Request
  • 15-16 February: President Obama hosts the ASEAN leaders in California
  • Week of 22 February: 12th Round of TTIP Negotiations in Brussels
  • 10 March: President Obama hosts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • 31 March – 1 April: United States hosts the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington
  • Late April: President Obama attends the Hannover Messe in Germany
  • 8-9 July: NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland