President Donald Trump focused last week on the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, also known as Obamacare. After the House of Representatives failed to advance the American Health Care Act (AHCA), President Trump indicated a next priority for the administration is tax reform.
On Wednesday, President Trump called Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom to offer his condolences on the terror attack in London that killed four, including the attacker, and wounded 20. The President also pledged the full cooperation and support of the U.S. Government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice.
President Trump will welcome Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark to the White House this Thursday (30 March). According to the White House, “the President and Prime Minister will discuss [the] strong bilateral relationship and how [to] progress on our shared priorities, including deepening already robust economic ties, defeating ISIS, and strengthening [the] defense and security relationship, both bilaterally and through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO].”
The White House announced last Tuesday that President Trump will travel to Brussels, Belgium, for the 25 May meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government. According to the White House: “The President looks forward to meeting with his NATO counterparts to reaffirm our strong commitment to NATO, and to discuss issues critical to the alliance, especially allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism” In addition to the President’s participation in the NATO Leaders Meeting, the President will also welcome NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the White House on 12 April, where it is expected the two will discuss how to strengthen the Alliance to cope with challenges to national and international security.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Ankara, Turkey, on 30 March to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other senior Turkish government officials. The Secretary of State will visit NATO in Brussels, Belgium, on 31 March.
Last Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had returned from a “very successful” trip to Europe, where he stopped in the United Kingdom for a bilateral with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and later met with 18 of his counterparts during the G20 Ministerial in Baden-Baden. According to the Press Secretary: “This trip gave the Secretary an opportunity to outline the administration’s priorities on a number of issues, including macroeconomic policy, financial regulation, international tax, and illicit finance. During the meetings, the Secretary and his counterparts presented a platform that will strengthen our collective work on steps to promote global growth and financial stability.”
Also on Monday, President Trump announced his intention to nominate David Glawe to be Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis. Mr. Glawe is a career member of the Senior Executive Service, currently serving as the Assistant Commissioner at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Intelligence Office.
Congress was in session last week. The House Intelligence Committee held a hearing on Monday to consider Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. elections. FBI Director James Comey testified that his agency has been actively investigating possible coordination between Trump campaign officials and associates and Russia since July 2016. Congress will be in session again this week.
North Korea – Remains a Challenge
White House Press Secretary Spicer said last Tuesday: “The United States, in coordination with our allies, is exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures in response to the grave and escalating threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” On Monday, President Trump had a meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson, who had just returned from a trip to the Asia-Pacific region. White House Press Secretary Spicer reiterated: “He [Tillerson] made it clear that America is committed to our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea, and that we expect China to increase its role in persuading North Korea to move away from nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development and toward steps to create a better future for the North Korean people.” The Press Secretary also said the trip set the stage for future leader-level engagement between the U.S. and China.
Iran – New Designations and Legislative Measures Introduced
On Friday, the Trump Administration imposed sanctions on 30 foreign entities and individuals for transferring sensitive technology to Iran’s missile program or for violating export restrictions on the Islamic Republic, North Korea, and Syria. The State Department announced in a statement on Friday “a group of eleven entities and individuals from China and North Korea were sanctioned for transfer of sensitive items for Iran’s ballistic missile program.” Nineteen entities or individuals were sanctioned for other violations under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
Also last week, House and Senate lawmakers unveiled two new Iran sanctions bills. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and 12 bipartisan cosponsors introduced the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (S. 722). The Senate bill would enact several new mandatory and discretionary sanctions measures targeting Iran’s ballistic missiles program, support for acts of international terrorism, violations of human rights, and acquisition of certain arms. It would require the President to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – currently subject to U.S. sanctions under several sanctions authorities but none related to terrorism – under an additional terrorism-related sanctions authority. It would also codify certain sanctions currently imposed related to Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) introduced the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 1698). The House bill would enact several new mandatory sanctions provisions targeting Iran’s ballistic missiles program, including sanctions on foreign entities that knowingly finance or facilitate Iran’s ballistic missiles development. The House bill is cosponsored by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who is responsible for setting the chamber’s legislative agenda, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), the second-highest ranking Democrat in the chamber.
Combatting ISIS – AUMF Urged; Secretary of State Hosted a Coalition Ministers Meeting
House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-New York) reintroduced the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act last week. The House of Representatives passed this Syria sanctions measure in 2016, but it did not advance in the Senate before the end of the 114th Congress.
On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told Senators he supports a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS). The Secretary also said that Congress should debate a new AUMF, which he said would show U.S. resolve in the campaign against ISIS. The Secretary added that he does not support time or geographic limits on any war authorization, which some lawmakers have endorsed. When asked specifically about U.S. troops deploying to Syria to fight ISIS without a specific authorization, Secretary Mattis argued the terrorist group had “removed the border” between Syria and Iraq and the U.S. should “play the ball where it lies.” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford added a new AUMF would be a signal to service members that Congress is “fully supportive” of their mission. While lawmakers from both parties have said a new authorization should be approved, no proposal has managed to garner broad support so far. Secretary Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dunford were on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers support a $30 billion supplemental budget request for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.
Secretary of State Tillerson hosted the ministers from the counter-ISIS Global Coalition in Washington last Wednesday. The Secretary noted that in the run-up to the meeting, the Coalition members identified over $2 billion in humanitarian, stabilization, and de-mining needs for liberated areas in Iraq and Syria for 2017. He was pleased to announce that the amount needed was surpassed in pledges. Secretary Tillerson said: “efforts in Iraq and Syria will enter a new phase defined by transition from major military operations to stabilization. In this transition to the stabilization phase, our Coalition will continue to clear land mines and return water and electricity – the basic elements that permit people to return to their homes. We will pursue regional diplomatic solutions for the underlying political and sectarian disputes that helped ISIS to flourish. The Coalition and future partners will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities as necessary.” The Ministers of the Global Coalition issued a statement, available here. A list of the meeting participants is available here.
Israel-U.S. Consultations – Readout
The White House released a joint statement on U.S.-Israel Consultations that occurred 20-23 March, noting the discussions had a “particular focus on concrete, near-term measures to improve the overall climate in order to advance the prospects for a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” The U.S. delegation was led by Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations, and included representatives of the National Security Council staff and the Department of State. The Israeli delegation was led by the Chief of Staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yoav Horowitz, and included Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and representatives of the Israeli National Security Council and office of the Prime Minister.
According to the joint statement, “a principal focus of the discussions was specific measures that could have a meaningful impact on the economic environment in the West Bank and Gaza, allowing the Palestinians to more fully realize their economic potential.” The discussions also included the necessity of all parties to the 2014 Gaza Reconstruction Conference in Cairo fulfilling their pledges to bring humanitarian relief and economic development to Gaza in ways that benefit the population without further empowering Hamas or other terrorist organizations. Israeli settlement construction was also discussed, with the statement noting that while President Trump had concerns about this activity, “the Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”
Keystone XL Pipeline – Approved
The President announced the official approval of a Presidential permit for the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline. White House Press Secretary Spicer noted at the daily press briefing: “President Trump is moving this project forward in just eight weeks. And just as he promised, it’s an even better deal for the American people than before he took office. This project will directly generate an estimated 16,100 jobs, according to the State Department – all without spending a dime of taxpayer money.” He added: “In many ways, this project represented everything that was wrong with the infrastructure permitting of the United States.”
Honduran President Meets with Vice President Pence
Vice President Mike Pence participated in a bilateral meeting with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández on 23 March. White House readout of the meeting noted: “The Vice President recognized the important progress that Honduras has made over the past two years in fighting violent crime and corruption and strengthening citizen security, including through its police reform efforts. President Hernandez emphasized that Honduras is focused on improving the economy and creating jobs through its Alliance for Prosperity Plan, which will address the root causes that drive illegal immigration.”
Montenegro – EUCOM Chief Advocates for NATO Membership
During a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing, U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Curtis Scaparrotti called it “absolutely critical” that Montenegro be brought into NATO, warning that failure to do so could set back membership talks for other candidate nations.
Montenegro’s NATO accession has wide support in the Senate, but a vote has been stalled due to Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Kentucky) opposition. Gen. Scaparrotti, however, expressed his confidence that the accession treaty would eventually pass, adding that the Russian government “knows it’s going to happen.”
Ukraine – EUCOM Chief Supports Sending Defensive Weapons
Gen. Scaparrotti also testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supports sending defensive weapons to Ukraine amid clashes with Russian-backed separatists. “In terms of lethal support, the Ukrainians are in a very tough fight,” Gen. Scaparrotti said. He added that “we need to reinforce the Ukrainian military as much as we can and provide them the best opportunity to fight what is a very lethal Russian proxy at this point.”
The move has been backed by various defense officials and previous versions of the National Defense Authorization Act have authorized assistance to Ukraine, but the Obama Administration opted to only send non-lethal assistance. Retired Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who previously served as NATO Commander from 2013 to 2016, also called for lethal aid to the Ukrainian government to defend against Russian-backed separatists, telling a Senate panel that such enhanced military support for Kyiv could pay dividends across NATO’s front with Russia.
Gen. Scaparrotti also urged that EUCOM’s forces should be bolstered to deter Russia and in order to perform its other missions, specifically highlighting a need for more ships and munitions, stating that “it is not ideally what I’d like to have to deter Russia, assure our allies, build their capacity, work with them on the basis that we need to work with them.” Earlier in his testimony, the Gen. Scaparrotti also voiced his concern with increasing and upgrading the command’s stockpile of munitions, emphasizing the potential for high-end war and advances by nations like Russia, China, and North Korea.
Pentagon – Global Defense Review Underway
Defense Secretary Mattis is in the midst of a global defense review that will focus on transregional challenges for the Trump Administration, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein shared at the New America’s Future of War conference on 21 March.
With the joint chiefs, service chiefs and combatant commanders reviewing challenges for Secretary Mattis, Gen. Goldfein pointed to Russia as the strategic challenge that cuts across the military sectors, explaining “We don’t live within the confines of a combatant command map.” Gen. Goldfein also mentioned that Secretary Mattis has provided the acting service secretaries with full authority to manage their branches and praised President Trump as “very thoughtful” and a “good listener.”
Russia-China Military Cooperation Noted
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission issued a new report last week, which details increasing military cooperation between Russia and China. The commission’s staff report notes that despite tension between Russia and China, “the two countries’ militaries and defense establishments have steadily worked to minimize and overcome these differences and are now experiencing arguably the highest period of cooperation.”
The report assesses trends in the two nations’ military ties in the areas of defense industrial cooperation, military exercises and high-level contacts. The report concludes the two nations will likely continue to deepen their military cooperation, stating that “As Beijing and Moscow increasingly share overlapping interests and maintain a shared resistance to U.S. leadership in the Asia Pacific, the two countries appear likely to further deepen defense relations in the coming years.” The report also states that analysts and policymakers will need to “closely watch this trend, especially as the Asia-Pacific experiences rapid change and China continues to pursue its military modernization goals.”
Alleged Wiretapping – Chairman Nunes’ Statement
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) issued a statement last week on the surveillance collected on individuals associated with the President:
“I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in the intelligence community reporting. And third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. And fourth and finally, I want to be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or [of] the Trump team.”
White House Press Secretary Spicer indicated Chairman Nunes would brief the White House on this development.
Foreign Policy-Related Congressional Hearings This Week
- On Tuesday, 28 March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The Budget, Diplomacy, and Development.”
- On Tuesday, 28 March, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Venezuela’s Tragic Meltdown.”
- On Tuesday, 28 March, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “East Africa’s Quiet Famine.”
- On Tuesday, 28 March, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The View from Congress: U.S. Policy on Iran.”
- On Tuesday, 28 March, the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing to examine the United States’ increasing dependence on foreign sources of minerals and opportunities to rebuild and improve the supply chain in the United States.
- On Wednesday, 29 March, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Testing the Limits: Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program, Sanctions, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
- On Wednesday, 29 March, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The U.S.-Mexico Relationship: Advancing Security and Prosperity on Both Sides of the Border.”
- On Wednesday, 29 March, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “American Leadership in the Asia-Pacific, Part 1: Security Issues.”
- On Wednesday, 29 March, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Civil Society Perspectives on Russia.”
- On Wednesday, 29 March, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Terrorism in North Africa: An Examination of the Threat.”
- On Wednesday, 29 March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a mark-up hearing to consider the following measures:
- Res. 54 – Reaffirming the United States-Argentina partnership and recognizing Argentina’s economic reforms;
- Res. 92 – Condemning North Korea’s development of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles, and for other purposes;
- R. 390 – To provide for emergency relief to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Iraq and Syria, to provide accountability for perpetrators of these crimes, and for other purposes;
- R. 479 – To require a report on the designation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, and for other purposes;
- R. 672 – To require continued and enhanced annual reporting to Congress in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, the safety and security of European Jewish communities, and the efforts of the United States to partner with European governments, the European Union, and civil society groups, to combat anti-Semitism, and for other purposes; and
- R. 1644 – To enhance sanctions with respect to transactions relating to North Korea, and for other purposes.
- On Thursday, 30 March, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces are scheduled to hold a joint hearing titled “Consequences and Context for Russia’s Violations of the INF Treaty.”
- On Thursday, 30 March, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The Road Ahead: U.S. Interests, Values, and the American People.”
- On Thursday, 30 March, the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold an open hearing on “Disinformation: A Primer in Russian Active Measures and Influence Campaigns.”
Defense-Related Congressional Hearings This Week
- On Tuesday, 28 March, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Military Assessment of Russian Activities and Security Challenges in Europe.”
- On Tuesday, 28 March, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a closed hearing titled “Department of Defense Worldwide Policy and Strategy and the Fiscal Year 2017 Defense Supplemental Budget Request.”
- On Wednesday, 29 March, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Military Assessment of the Security Challenges in the Greater Middle East.”
- On Wednesday, 29 March, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Public Witnesses Hearing.”
Cyber-Related Congressional Hearing This Week
- On Tuesday, 28 March, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The Current State of DHS’ Efforts to Secure Federal Networks.”
Washington is expected to focus on the following events:
- 30 March: President Trump welcomes Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen
- March/April: Trump Administration expected to formally notify Congress of intent to renegotiate NAFTA
- 12 April: President Trump welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
- 21-23 April: World Bank/International Monetary Fund Spring Meeting in Washington
- 28 April: Federal Government funding expires
- 25 May: President Trump to attend the NATO Leaders Meeting in Belgium