Early last week, President Barack Obama hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders in California and announced he will travel in May to Vietnam and Laos.  Back in Washington on Wednesday, the President announced another trip in March to Cuba and Argentina.  Congress was in recess last week, in observance of the Presidents’ Day holiday.  Both chambers will reconvene in Washington this week, and a number of congressional hearings are scheduled to examine various Department and Agencies budgets, with Obama Administration officials testifying.

Secretary of State Heads to Capitol Hill

Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to testify before select Senate and House committees next week, where he will likely field questions from Members of Congress on Iran’s violations of U.N. Security Resolutions restricting intercontinental ballistic missile tests and the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  He is also expected to field questions related to other U.S. sanction programs, such as those related to Ukraine and North Korea.

  • On Tuesday, 23 February, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Review of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 State Department Budget Request.”
  • On Wednesday, 24 February, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Budget Hearing – Department of State and Foreign Assistance.”
  • On Wednesday, 24 February, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request and funding justification for the U.S. Department of State.”
  • On Thursday, 25 February, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Strengthening U.S. Leadership in a Turbulent World: The FY 2017 Foreign Affairs Budget.”

U.S.-ASEAN Summit

The ASEAN Leaders released a joint statement at the conclusion of the two-day Summit.  Before returning to Washington on Tuesday, President Obama held a press briefing, recapping some of the topics discussed at the Summit.  He announced his intention to travel to Vietnam and Laos in May and two new initiatives for the region:  (1) U.S.-ASEAN Connect, a network of hubs across the region to better coordinate economic engagement and to connect entrepreneurs, investors and businesses with each other; and (2) a new competition – an innovation challenge to encourage students across ASEAN to develop new solutions to boost agriculture.

Presidential Trip to Cuba and Argentina on the Horizon

In March, President Obama is scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro to build on the progress toward normalization of relations.  Preisident Obama also plans to engage with members of civil society, entrepreneurs and Cubans.  This historic visit will be the first by a sitting U.S. President in nearly 90 years.  After his trip to Cuba, the President will travel to Argentina to meet with the new President, Mauricio Macri, to discuss President Macri’s reform agenda.

Zika Virus – House Appropriators Favor Repurposing of Ebola Funds

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, top House Republican appropriators urged the Obama Administration last Thursday to release unobligated Ebola funds to meet immediate needs related to the Zika Virus.  Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced on Thursday that enhanced screening of travelers for Ebola has come to an end.

  • On Wednesday, 27 February, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Zika Virus: Addressing the Growing Public Health Threat.”

Syria

Secretary Kerry announced last week that the United States and Russia reached a “provisional agreement” for a ceasefire in Syria.  However, the Syrian regime and Russia continued their bombing campaign in northern Syria.  ISIL also carried out a series of bomb attacks in Syria that killed nearly 130 people on Sunday.

Russia/Ukraine – Reforms in Ukraine Praised

Vice President Joe Biden welcomed the passage by the Rada last week of anti-corruption legislation sought by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and EU, and he commended Ukraine President Poroshenko and the Government of Ukraine for the hard work that went into ensuring passage.  He further commended President Poroshenko’s decision to replace Prosecutor General Shokin, saying this paves the way for needed reform of the prosecutorial service.

Vice President Biden condemned the increasing violence in eastern Ukraine and “the continued failure by combined Russian-separatist forces to allow the OSCE full access to the areas under their de facto control.”  He reiterated full implementation of the Minsk agreements, by all sides, remains the best way forward for resolving the conflict.

  • On Wednesday, 24 February, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to hold a closed hearing titled, “United States European Command.”

North Korea Sanctions Bill – Signed into Law

President Obama signed into law the new North Korea sanctions bill (H.R. 757) last week.  Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the President’s action, noting the legislation “provides a robust set of tools for the U.S. to deter North Korea’s illicit behavior in a more effective manner and promote human rights for the North Korean people.”

TPP – Congressman Levin Says “No”

Michigan Representative Sander Levin, who is the top ranking Democratic on the House Ways and Means Committee, formally announced his opposition last Thursday to the TPP deal, saying:  “[T]he TPP as negotiated is short of an acceptable outcome, and I do not support it.”  He cited shortcomings on:  (1) worker rights, (2) automotive rules of origin, (3) currency manipulation, and (4) investor-state dispute settlement.  Congressman Levin’s opposition to the deal is expected to make it more difficult for the White House to secure congressional approval of TPP before President Obama leaves office.

TTIP Developments

The 12th round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will be held this week in Brussels.  U.S. TTIP Chief Negotiator Dan Mullaney will participate in a joint U.S.-EU press conference at the conclusion of the discussions on Friday.

Cybersecurity Updates

Last Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security published a Federal Register notice, announcing the availability of interim guidance documents in accordance with the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) of 2015.  CISA authorizes the voluntary sharing and receiving of cyber threat indicators and defensive measures for cybersecurity purposes, consistent with certain protections, including privacy and civil liberty protections.  The CISA guidance documents may be found online here.

Last Wednesday, President Obama appointed former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano as the Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the new Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, established under an Executive Order executed on 9 February.

Mexico High-Level Summit Ahead

Vice President Biden, accompanied by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, will travel to Mexico City for the third annual U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss issues related to borders, regulatory cooperation, energy, workforce development, partnership for regional and global leadership, and stakeholder engagement.

Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, 23 February:
    • The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Senate Armed Services Committee.”
    • The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Defense Health Care Reform.”
    • The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Department of Energy Atomic Energy Defense Activities and Programs.”
  • On Wednesday, 24 February:
    • Three House Foreign Affairs Subcommittees are scheduled to hold a joint hearing titled, “Establishing Accountability at the World Intellectual Property Organization: Illicit Technology Transfers, Whistleblowing, and Reform.”
    • The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Global Tax Environment in 2016 and Implications for International Tax Reform.”
    • The House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Challenge of Conventional and Hybrid Warfare in the Asia-Pacific Region: The Changing the Nature of the Security Environment and its Effect on Military Planning.”
    • The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a markup on three legislative measures.
    • 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. Army.”
    • The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Boko Haram: The Islamist Insurgency in West Africa.”
    • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2017 Science and Technology Programs: Defense Innovation to Create the Future Military Force.”
    • The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats is scheduled to hold a closed hearing titled, “Iran’s Intelligence and Unconventional Military Capabilities.”
    • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “U.S. Strategic Forces Posture.”
    • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Defense Health Agency: Budgeting and Structure.”
    • The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for: (1) Brad Carson, to be Under Secretary Of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; (2) Jennifer O’Connor, to be General Counsel of the Department Of Defense; and (3) Todd Weiler, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
  • On Thursday, 25 February:
    • The House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Full Spectrum Security Challenges in Europe and their Effects on Deterrence and Defense.”
    • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Budget Hearing – Department of Defense.”   Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is scheduled to testify.
    • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Department of the Navy 2017 Budget Request and Seapower and Projection Forces.”
  • On Friday, 26 February:
    • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Department of the Army 2017 Budget Request and Readiness Posture.”
    • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Ensuring Medical Readiness in the Future.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 22-26 February: 12th Round of TTIP Negotiations in Brussels
  • 10 March:  President Obama hosts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • 21-22 March: President Obama travels to Cuba
  • 23-24 March: President Obama travels to Argentina
  • 31 March – 1 April: Nuclear Security Summit in Washington
  • Late April: President Obama attends the Hannover Messe in Germany
  • [TBA] May: President Obama travels to Vietnam and Laos
  • 8-9 July: NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland