Charlie Hebdo Terrorist Attack

After the horrific terrorist attack last Wednesday on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, President Barack Obama spoke with French President François Hollande,expressing condolences for the loss of twelve civilian lives and solidarity with France.

Countering Extremism

On Sunday, the White House announced it will host a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism on February 18th.  The Summit will “highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence, efforts made even more imperative in light of recent, tragic attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris.”

U.S.-U.K. Bilateral

President Obama will host United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron this Thursday and Friday. According to the White House the “two leaders will discuss a range of issues including economic growth, international trade, cybersecurity, Iran, ISIL, counterterrorism, Ebola, and Russia’s actions in Ukraine.”

State of the Union Themes Previewed

This week, President Obama will continue to preview more of the proposals he will outline in the 20 January State of the Union address – identity theft, electronic privacy and cybersecurity. Last week, the President focused on recovery of the U.S. auto industry and manufacturing while in Michigan; announced new steps to help improve accessibility to homeownership while in Arizona; and unveiled a community college proposal while in Tennessee.

Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA)

After retiring Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) blocked the reauthorization of TRIA in December – allowing the risk-sharing federal government-insurance industry program to expire on 31 December 2014 – 114th Republican leaders vowed to work swiftly to renew TRIA.  The Paris terrorist attacks and upcoming National Football League’s Super Bowl game provided impetus for Congress to act.  The House voted 416-5 last Wednesday to advance a TRIA bill (H.R. 26) to the Senate for consideration. The Senate followed suit on Thursday, passing the TRIA legislation by a vote of 94-3. Despite reservations over an included provision that would amend the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law, President Barack Obama is expected to sign the TRIA bill – the first sent to his desk in the new GOP-controlled Congress.

North Korea

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) has called for a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea. This week, Obama Administration officials will brief the House Foreign Affairs Committee on North Korea.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has invited the leaders of Russia, France and Germany to talks in Astana on 15 January in another attempt to restore peace; however, Germany and France have indicated such a meeting should not occur without further progress on the Minsk peace plan. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said last Thursday that Ukraine had reported “limited but positive signs” in its Eastern territory. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated last week that all elements of the September Minsk agreement between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists must be fully implemented before the EU would consider lifting sanctions against Russia.

Afghanistan

On 28 December, President Obama announced the end of the 13-year NATO combat mission in Afghanistan. Following Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s recent suggestion that President Obama review the U.S. troop drawdown plan, the Pentagon reaffirmed last Monday the plan remains unchanged. President Ghani is expected to travel to Washington early this year – at President Obama’s invitation – and will likely renew his petition for the United States to reconsider its drawdown plans.

Middle East Peace

In response to an inquiry on Palestinian efforts to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the State Department said last week this step is counter-productive.

U.S.-Mexico Bilateral

Last week, President Obama hosted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the White House for the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue. Vice President Biden hosted the second Cabinet-level meeting on advancing shared interests, strengthening bilateral economic and commercial ties, enhancing competitiveness, creating additional trade and economic opportunities, and promoting increased regional and global cooperation.

Trade

Upon being elected Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, “The renewal of bipartisan, job-creating Trade Promotion Authority [TPA] will jumpstart a strong trade agenda that can help put America back to work.” TPA is closely linked to concluding the near-finished Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Meanwhile, in a move to increase transparency on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) discussions, the European Commission published new TTIP documents last Wednesday.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 14-16 January: House and Senate Republican Conference in Pennsylvania
  • 14-15 January: Senate Democratic Retreat in Baltimore, Maryland
  • 20 January: President Obama to give the State of the Union Address
  • [TBD - 26] January: President Obama to travel to India, as the chief guest to the Republic Day parade
  • 26 January – 1 February: Informal round of TPP negotiations to be held in the United States
  • 29-30 January: House Democratic Retreat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1 February: NFL Super Bowl game
  • 2-6 February: 8th Round of TTIP discussions in Brussels
  • 18 February: White House to host Summit on Countering Violent Extremism