The U.S. Congress is in recess until after the 8 November elections.
JASTA – Congress Overturns the Veto. Both chambers of Congress voted last week to override President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA; S. 2040), marking the first time lawmakers have successfully overridden a veto during his eight years in office. President Obama called the override a “mistake” in an interview following the vote, while White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called it the “single most embarrassing thing the Senate has done” in over 30 years.
In advance of the vote, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and 27 other bipartisan Senators signed a letter to JASTA’s Senate sponsors, Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Charles Schumer (D-New York), expressing their continued concerns with the bill as drafted and emphasizing a hope that they can work together “in a constructive manner to appropriately mitigate those unintended consequences.” The Senate voted 97-1 on Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto; Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was the only Senator to vote for upholding the veto after he received a letter from President Obama outlining unintended consequences. The House of Representatives quickly followed suit, voting 348-77 to override the veto that same afternoon.
One day after the House vote, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) said:
I would like to think there’s a way we can fix [JASTA] so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas while still protecting the rights of the 9/11 victims.”
However, any efforts to further amend U.S. law in response to JASTA will have to wait until lawmakers return to Washington for the “lame-duck” congressional session beginning after the November elections.
TPP – National Security Argument Raised and Rebutted. A group of Democratic Senators wrote a letter to President Obama last week prioritizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism as a key issue of concern. The letter, signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (Ohio) Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania), Jeff Merkley (Oregon) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), argues Congress to should not consider the TPP deal in its current form and instead calls for the agreement to be renegotiated. With respect to arguments that the TPP agreement is important for U.S. national security, the Senators countered:
We fear that the agreement would further erode American manufacturing and our defense industrial base. Empowering multinational corporations, who have allegiance to no country, through ISDS will actually weaken the ability of our TPP partners to govern. Meaningful government engagement and relationship-building with our allies will advance U.S. national security interests in the Asia Pacific far more effectively than a trade agreement that promotes the interests of corporations at the expense of citizens.”
After a Tuesday meeting with Ambassador Froman to discuss the TPP deal, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Brady issued a statement:
During our conversation, we told Ambassador Froman that we want to find a path forward. However, the White House must quickly address existing concerns of Members who serve both on and off our Committee. Without these substantive changes, the House will not have the votes to approve TPP, and American workers will continue to lose customers to other countries.”
Meanwhile, Speaker Ryan reiterated last week that there are not enough votes to pass the TPP deal in the lame-duck session, adding:
The last thing that I want to do, just for the sake of our allies’ relationships, is bring up an agreement only to see it fail. … And so this agreement needs to be improved and fixed, and that’s not going to happen in the next couple of months as far as I can tell.”
Trade Enforcement – CBP Scrutinized. At a House Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee hearing last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske testified that his agency is “well on its way” to completing the reports and regulations required by the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 by the end of this year. He acknowledged, however, that CBP has failed to meet some deadlines.