President Barack Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly last week, giving his final speech to the Assembly. He also participated in the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees and the U.S.-Africa Business Forum events in New York City. The White House released a fact sheet last Wednesday on U.S.-Africa cooperation with respect to trade and investment during the Obama Administration. The President returned to Washington later on Wednesday and vetoed a bill on Friday afternoon that may result in Congress voting to override the veto, possibly this week.
Today, Washington will host the annual African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum. The Office of the U. S. Trade Representative will hold a public hearing this Friday in preparation of its annual report to Congress on Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations. Meanwhile, Congress is expected to work on advancing a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) this week in order to prevent a Federal Government shutdown at midnight on 30 September.
JASTA – Veto Override Vote Ahead
President Obama formally vetoed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA; S. 2040) last Friday, setting the stage this week for the Senate to possibly schedule a vote to override the veto. While Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Representative Peter King (R-New York) have assured the necessary two-thirds votes to override a veto exist in both chambers, the White House continues to advocate for Members of Congress to consider broader foreign policy and national security implications associated with the bill. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) sent House Republicans a letter last Friday saying:
“[A]s tempting as it may be to override President Obama’s veto for the first time, please take a moment to study the consequences of S. 2040, the ‘Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.’”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said on Friday that the Senate will remain in session until the veto override vote is done.
AGOA Summit – Africa On the Agenda
African heads of state and high-level delegations are expected to be in Washington to attend the AGOA Forum at the U.S. Department of State today (26 September). The Civil Society Forum was held 22-23 September, bringing together non-governmental and African diaspora organizations to reinforce collective AGOA-related efforts.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will host a Trade Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) meeting with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Tuesday.
Iran – House Acts on Bill, While Treasury Grants Boeing, Airbus Licenses to Sell Airplanes
Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act (H.R. 5931), a bill that would prohibit future cash payments from the United States to Iran for any reason. This Tuesday, 27 September, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade is scheduled to hold a markup of H.R. 3693, IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] Terrorist Sanctions Act of 2015.
The Treasury Department also granted licenses to Boeing and Airbus to export commercial planes to Iran last week, essentially approving a potential deal for Boeing to sell IranAir 80 commercial passenger aircraft with a total list price of $17.6 billion. Representatives Pete Roskam (R-Illinois) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) sent a letter last Thursday to Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, requesting more information about the security implications of the delivery of such aircraft to Iran.
Israel – A New Bill to Modify the Military Aid Package
Republican lawmakers introduced the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for the Defense of Israel, 2016 (S. 3363) last Tuesday. The bill would modify the $38 billion military aid agreement with Israel by providing more money and easing controls on how it is spent. U.S. and Israeli officials signed the agreement on 14 September and the aid package is the largest in U.S. history.
Syria – Ceasefire Stumbles
The United States and Russia failed to renew their agreement to impose a ceasefire in Syria last Friday, after a week of discussions at the U.N. General Assembly. Both countries originally agreed on 9 September to a deal aimed at putting Syria’s peace process back on track, but the agreement collapsed last week after a humanitarian aid convoy was attacked. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a revival of a ceasefire in Syria depends on all sides involved and not only on Russia’s unilateral concessions. The United States characterized Russia’s actions in Syria as “barbarism,” while Moscow’s U.N. representative said ending the war “is almost an impossible task now.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power added:
“It is time to say who is carrying out those air strikes and who is killing civilians. Russia holds a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, this is a privilege and it is a responsibility. Yet in Syria and in Aleppo, Russia is abusing this historic privilege.”
On Thursday, 29 September, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Regional Impact of the Syria Conflict: Syria, Turkey and Iraq.”
UNGA Recap – Leaders’ Refugee Summit
President Obama gave his final address to the U.N. General Assembly last Tuesday, recapping progress over the past eight years. He also addressed global leaders at the Refugee Summit later that afternoon, saying:
“[W]e are facing a crisis of epic proportions. More than 65 million people have been driven from their homes — which is more than any time since the Second World War. Among them are more than 21 million refugees who have fled their countries — everything and everyone they’ve ever known, fleeing with a suitcase or the clothes on their back.”
TPP – Window Narrows for Congressional Consideration
Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) encouraged Members of Congress to support passing the TPP deal this year. He said at an event last week:
“We’re in a difficult situation, and I hope that when we get to the lame-duck session I would hope that Members can still find a way, with a tweak here or there, to say ‘I can support [trade], particularly TPP.’”
In an interview last week, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said of a lame-duck prospect:
“It depends on whether the president is successful in that push to attract more Democrats to support TPP and whether his trade agency … can address Members’ concerns about the agreement.”
On Tuesday, 27 September, the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Effective Enforcement of U.S. Trade Laws.”
TTIP – EU Says No Deal Imminent
After an informal meeting last week of EU trade ministers in Bratislava, Slovakia, EU ministers indicated the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations will not be concluded before President Obama’s term ends in January.
- On Wednesday, 28 September, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Impact of U.S.-EU Dialogues on U.S. Insurance Markets.”
Cyber Security – Election Concerns
In a joint statement last week and after briefings they have received, the top Democrats of the Senate and House Intelligence Select Committees concluded that Russia is seeking to influence the U.S. elections. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-California) said:
“At the least, this effort [alleged hacking] is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election – we can see no other rationale for the behavior of the Russians.”
The Obama Administration has yet to publicly identify suspected perpetrators behind the hacking breaches of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reported earlier this summer.
- On Wednesday, 28 September, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Cybersecurity: Ensuring the Integrity of the Ballot Box.”
At a congressional hearing last week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter addressed rumors of an impending decision to elevate U.S. Cyber Command to an independent combatant command, saying:
“That’s not a decision we’ve taken yet, but I think that’s going to be a natural evolution for us and is going to be part of the natural evolution of our cyber force.”
EB-5 Visa Program – Provision Included in the Continuing Resolution
The short-term CR that Congress is expected to consider this week includes a provision to extend the EB-5 Regional Center Program through 9 December 2016. Some note the extension would provide additional time for Congress to consider new proposals to reform the program.
NDAA – Senate Bill Language Trips Up the JSTARS RFP Process
The U.S. Air Force is working with Congress over concerns that language in the yet-to-be-reconciled Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4909, S. 2943) would force the service to pursue a fixed-price contract to replace the aging Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) fleet. The Senate NDAA measure contains the fixed-price contract language, which would move the Air Force away from its current “hybrid” approach that uses both fixed-price and cost-plus elements. Notably, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) opposes cost-plus programs that have the government bearing the burden of cost overruns. Instead of releasing a final request for proposals (RFP), the Air Force has released another draft version. The final RFP could be delayed by three to six months.
Japan – State Department Approves $1.9B Arms Sale
The U.S. State Department has approved a potential $1.9 billion sale of KC-46A refueling tankers to Japan last Wednesday. The proposed deal includes four KC-46A aircraft, the associated Pratt & Whitney Model 4062 engines needed to power the plane, as well as one additional spare. As a part of the agreement, Japan would also receive training and support.
SASC Approves Hyten Nomination
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved by voice vote, as part of a package of 40 military nominations, the nomination of Air Force Gen. John Hyten to lead the U.S. Strategic Command (StratCom) last Thursday, advancing the nomination to the Senate floor. If confirmed, Gen. Hyten will take over StratCom from Adm. Cecil Haney.
Other Congressional Hearings This Week
- On Tuesday, 27 September, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Libya’s Terrorist Descent: Causes and Solutions.”
- On Tuesday, 27 September, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The U.S.-Republic of Korea-Japan Trilateral Relationship: Promoting Mutual Interests in Asia.”
- On Tuesday, 27 September, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Are We Losing the Space Race to China?”
- On Tuesday, 27 September, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “National Security Space: 21st Century Challenges, 20th Century Organization.”
- On Tuesday, 27 September, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “New Orleans: How the Crescent City Became a Sanctuary City.”
- On Tuesday, 27 September, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Fifteen Years After 9/11: Threats to the Homeland.”
- On Wednesday, 28 September, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Oversight of the Administration’s FY 2017 Refugee Resettlement Program.”
- On Wednesday, 28 September, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Department of Defense Laboratories: Innovation through Science and Engineering in Support of Military Operations.”
- On Wednesday, 28 September, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Persistent Threat of North Korea and Developing an Effective U.S. Response.”
- On Thursday, 29 September, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Advancing U.S. Interests in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:
- 26 September: African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum in Washington
- 30 September: Fiscal Year 2016 Concludes – U.S. Federal Government Funding Deadline
- 3-7 October: 15th Round of TTIP Negotiations in New York City
- By 15 October: ITC to publish a Federal Register notice related to MTB petitions
- 8 November: U.S. Elections
- 10 November: Squire Patton Boggs Hosts Post-Election Analysis Event
- 19-20 November: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Peru