Trade Promotion Authority

On Tuesday, 12 May, the Senate failed, on a largely party line vote, to pass a motion to proceed to H.R. 1314, which includes Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). After the failed vote, negotiations between Republicans and Democrats continued in earnest to chart a way forward for the TPA-TAA bill and other pending trade legislation. On Thursday, 14 May, the Senate voted on the motion once again and passed it (65-33). Senators immediately began filing amendments for the impending floor debate.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) would like to pass the bill by the end of this week – when Congress is expected to recess for one week in observance of the Memorial Day holiday – Democrats are pushing for enough time to vote on amendments to the legislation. Majority Leader McConnell has affirmed that debate will include an open amendment process, which could stretch Senate floor debate until after the Memorial Day recess.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on two amendments this afternoon:

  1. Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) amendment to increase annual funding for the TAA program from $450 million to $575 million, and
  2. Senator James Lankford’s (R-Oklahoma) amendment that would make it an overall trade negotiating objective of the United States “to take into account conditions relating to religious freedom of any party to negotiations for a trade agreement with the United States.”

Both of these amendments will require 60 votes in order to be adopted.

The House of Representative’s floor schedule for this week does not include consideration of any trade measures. The House is expected instead to begin its consideration of TPA and other trade measures after the Memorial Day recess.

On Tuesday, 19 May, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Trade will hold a hearing titled, “Trade Promotion Agencies and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Senior leaders from the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation are scheduled to testify.

AGOA/GSP/Haiti

As part of the negotiated compromise, the Senate first voted 97-1 last Thursday to pass a measure that includes reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), extension of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, and renewal of a Haiti trade preference program. This sets up a clear path for the bill to pass in the House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

Customs Measure

The Senate also passed H.R. 644, a customs measure, by a vote of 78-20. The fate of that bill, which contains provisions to address currency manipulation that are opposed by the Administration, remains unclear at this time. Some Senators are seeking to have H.R. 644 included as an amendment to the TPA-TAA bill to ensure its passage, particularly since the House Leadership has indicated it may not be inclined to consider the measure as passed by the Senate.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

Congress’ delayed start on the TPA debate has correspondingly slowed the momentum of concluding a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal by the end of May. Nevertheless, TPP negotiators are in Guam to continue negotiations to narrow differences on the more controversial chapters – intellectual property (IP), state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and the environment. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), TPP negotiators will meet from 15-25 May.

National Defense Authorization Act

On Thursday, 14 May, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved its Senate’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That same day, the House began debate of its FY 2016 NDAA (H.R. 1735) and consideration of 135 amendments previously approved by the House Rules Committee. The House concluded its debate early Friday, passing its amended NDAA measure by a vote of 269-151.

Iran

Last Thursday, the House passed The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (H.R. 1191) by a vote of 400-25. The Iran measure now heads to President Obama for signature. If he signs the measure, which he has indicated he will do, the bill will deny the Administration the authority to waive or suspend sanctions if at least two-thirds of lawmakers from both chambers reject the terms of the final deal negotiated between the P5+1 nations and Iran.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

In a potential sign of progress in US-Russia relations, Secretary of State John Kerry held two separate, four-hour long meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia last week. Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov participated in a joint press availability following their meeting, where the two strongly affirmed that the conflict in Ukraine will only be resolved through comprehensive and full implementation of the Minsk Agreements by all the responsible parties. Secretary Kerry added that “[i]f and when Minsk is fully implemented, it is clear the U.S. and EU sanctions can begin to be rolled back.”

The White House and State Department spokespeople each said last Wednesday that Secretary Kerry used his Tuesday trip to Sochi to deliver a direct and strong message regarding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The State Department also noted that Secretary John Kerry told his NATO Foreign Minister colleagues at a meeting in Turkey that the United States considers this a critical moment for Russia and the separatists in eastern Ukraine to live up to their respective commitments under the Minsk Agreements.

After accompanying Secretary Kerry to Sochi and Turkey, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland visited Kyiv, Ukraine. She met with senior Ukrainian Government officials to discuss various bilateral and regional issues from 14-16 May.

Syria/Iraq

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter reported a U.S. Special Operations mission inside Syria had resulted in a key ISIL commander being killed during a daring raid in eastern Syria overnight Friday to Saturday

Last Thursday, reports emerged that ISIL has advanced to the gates of ancient Palmyra, raising fears the Syrian world heritage site could face destruction. This advance comes as an international conference was under way in Cairo to address the destruction already wreaked by ISIL on the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq. By the weekend, it appears Palmyra was spared. Meanwhile, ISIL gained ground in Iraq, seizing control of the city of Ramadi.

On Tuesday, 19 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a hearing titled, “The Rising Tide of Extremism in the Middle East.”

Nepal

Six U.S. Marines died in a helicopter crash while supporting earthquake relief efforts in Nepal last Tuesday.

On Wednesday, 20 May, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing titled, “Everest Trembled: Lessons Learned from the Nepal Earthquake Response.”

Cuba

On Wednesday, 20 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing to explore the way forward with the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

Senate Confirmation Hearing

On Wednesday, 20 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for the following individuals to be U.S. Ambassadors: Gregory Delawie (Kosova); Ian Kelly (Georgia); Nancy Bikoff Pettit (Latvia); and Azita Raji (Sweden).

GCC Summit

After a day-long summit last week between Gulf Cooperative Countries (GCC) and President Barack Obama, the United States said in a joint statement that it will continue to deter and confront external aggression against its allies and partners, as done during the Gulf War. The United States also affirmed it would work with the GCC countries to determine an appropriate response in the face of such aggression, including the potential use of military force.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 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
  • 30 June: P5+1 Talks with Iran deadline to reach a deal
  • [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