Presidential Trip

G-20 Summit. Over the weekend, President Barack Obama participated in the G-20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane, Australia. While the Summit agenda focused on the global economy, the global banking system and closing tax loopholes for multinational corporations, Western leaders also met and discussed the situation in Ukraine. On Sunday, the White House released a fact sheet on the Brisbane Action Plan of individual country commitments and collective actions that could increase the G-20’s combined output by 2.1 percent or more over the next five years. The G-20′s Leaders’ Communiqué is available here. President Obama returned to Washington late Sunday evening.

Climate Change. Essentially bypassing Congress – exercising his executive authority – President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced a climate change agreement last Wednesday in Beijing. The agreement calls for the United States to cut its carbon emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025; effectively placing the U.S. obligation on the President’s successor. On Friday, the President announced the intention of the United States to contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), reflecting the U.S. commitment to reduce carbon pollution and strengthen resilience in developing countries.

Burma. Last Friday, the White House announced the United States, together with the Governments of Burma, Japan, and Denmark, and the International Labor Organization (ILO), launched the Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labor Rights and Practices in Myanmar. The Initiative will help modernize Burma’s labor code, improve compliance with international labor standards, and foster a dialogue between the government, business, labor and civil society. On Thursday, President Obama announced in Naypyitaw that the U.S. Peace Corps will open a program in Burma.

Russia/Ukraine Crisis

Ukraine accused Russia last Thursday of sending soldiers and weapons to help pro-Russian separatist in eastern Ukraine. White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Friday that President Obama delivered a message to Russian Vladimir Putin during informal conversations in Beijing, calling on Russia to honor the September Minsk ceasefire agreement. At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council last Wednesday, Ukraine’s ambassador said Kyiv’s restraint was the only reason all-out war has not erupted. Meanwhile, EU and U.S. officials met in Brussels last Thursday to discuss additional sanctions against Russia and the pro-Russian separatists.

Speaking to reporters at the end of the G-20 Summit, President Obama said about Russia’s latest activities in Ukraine:

“We would prefer a Russia that is fully integrated with the global economy … [b]ut we’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles.  And one of those principles is, is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.”

President Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Brisbane, warning Russia again to change course in Ukraine or face continued isolation. It remains unclear whether new sanctions may be imposed by Western countries.

Iran

Representatives of the P5+1 and Iran are set to meet in Vienna on Tuesday to try and finalize a permanent agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Last Thursday, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested the P5+1 Talks may not be able to secure a deal on curbing Tehran’s nuclear program before the extended Joint Plan of Action deadline on 24 November.

  • On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade will hold a hearing on the Iranian nuclear talks.
  • On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold hearing to examine the impact of a nuclear Iran deal on global security.

Ebola Crisis

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Ebola last week, Africa Subcommittee Chair Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) said he intends to introduce a bill – the Ebola Emergency Response Act – to bolster U.S. efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. There was bipartisan support expressed for a robust international response and prudent containment measures. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee also held a hearing examining the U.S. response to the crisis and new funding request. Last Friday, the G-20 Leaders issued a statement on Ebola, inviting those governments that have yet to do so to join in providing financial contributions, appropriately qualified and trained medical teams and personnel, medical and protective equipment, and medicines and treatments. This week, Congress remains focused on Ebola, with the following hearings scheduled:

  • On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health will hold a hearing on a ground-level view of fighting Ebola.
  • On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold an executive session to examine, among other bills, S. 2917 – a bill to add Ebola to the Food and Drug Administration’s Priority Review Voucher Program Act.
  • On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on U.S. preparedness and response to public health threats.
  • This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold two subcommittee hearings on the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, and on medical product development – this Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Iraq/Syria Crises

The Pentagon said last Monday the Obama Administration will not send an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq until Congress approves its $5.6 billion request to pay for the deployment. The Defense Department noted that while the White House has legal authority to send the troops to Iraq to fight ISIL, the Administration wants to first secure congressional approval. In testimony before Congress last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said Iraq will need about 80,000 competent Iraqi security forces to retake the terrain it lost to ISIL and restore its border with Syria. He also indicated the U.S. may need to redeploy combat troops to Iraq. On Sunday, President Obama released a statement on the death of Peter Kassig, an American humanitarian aid worker in Syria who had been captured last year and reportedly beheaded by ISIL over the weekend.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on countering ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
  • On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing on next steps for U.S. foreign policy on Syria and Iraq.

Trade

The Swedish Government is reportedly urging the new European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom – a former Swedish official – to act quickly to conclude the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks with the United States in 2015 before the U.S. presidential election season commences. On the margins of the G-20 Summit, the leaders of the United States and the European Union, and the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain reaffirmed their commitment to comprehensive and ambitious negotiations, leading to a high standard TTIP agreement.

According to U.S. trade officials, a deal announced by the United States and India last Thursday to resolve the impasse at the World Trade Organization (WTO) includes an agreement that the General Council will simultaneously adopt a protocol to implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The deal also includes a clarifying decision that the peace clause will remain unchanged until WTO members reach a permanent solution. The General Council is not likely to approve the protocol and clarification until a previously scheduled meeting on 10 December.

This week, the House Republican Steering Committee is set to select committee chairs for the 114th Congress, including the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.  While it is expected that Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) will succeed current Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan), Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas) is also vying for the position.

Keystone XL Pipeline

Last week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted and approved a bill to advance the long-languishing Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada and several U.S. states to Midwest and Gulf Coast refineries. The Democrat-controlled Senate is expected to vote this Tuesday on approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. This is an unexpected turn of events for legislation that has failed for almost six years to advance in the upper chamber of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is allowing the vote in part to give Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu an opportunity to vote “yea” in an attempt to possibly boost her chances in the runoff election next month with Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy. President Obama has indicated that he will veto the bill; and neither chamber of Congress appears to have the two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

Immigration

President Obama warned just after the mid-term elections that he will use his executive authority to change U.S. immigration policy; a move that is expected to further anger Republicans. Government officials have indicated the President could issue Executive Orders as early as this week. If President Obama moves forward with such action he could “poison the well” of bipartisanship, possibly impacting the FY 2015 government funding negotiations and the confirmation of Loretta Lynch, the President’s nominee to be Attorney General, during the lame-duck session of Congress that began last week.

  • On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will hold a hearing to examine the Administration’s strategy for addressing unaccompanied alien children.

Central America

Vice President Joe Biden delivered remarks last Friday at the Inter-American Development Bank Conference, “Investing in Central America: Unlocking Opportunities for Development.” The White House also released a fact sheet on promoting prosperity, security and good governance in Central America.

United Nations

In Geneva last Wednesday, the United States conducted its two-day periodic presentation to the Committee Against Torture, articulating a number of changes and clarifications of U.S. policy. Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yury Fedotov told reporters last week that moves by some U.S. states to legalize marijuana are not in line with international drugs conventions. He is in Washington this week and is expected to raise this issue with U.S. officials.

Other Congressional Hearings

  • On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Emerging Threats will hold a hearing to examine water sharing conflicts and the threats to international peace.
  • On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Anthony Blinken to be the next Deputy Secretary of State.
  • On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will mark-up H.R. 5648The U.S.-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2014.
  • On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will mark-up the following bills:H.R. 2901The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2013; H.R. 5206, a bill to allow foreign service and other executive agency employees to designate beneficiaries of their death benefits; H.R. 5685The Rewards for Justice Congressional Notification Act of 2014.
  • On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on Cybersecurity threats.

Looking Ahead

Washington will likely focus on the following upcoming matters:

  • 24 November: P5+1 Talks’ Joint Plan of Action deadline.
  • 11 December: FY 2015 Continuing Resolution funding expires.
  • 16-18 December: U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce & Trade (JCCT) convenes in Chicago, Illinois.
  • 3 January: The 114th Congress convenes in Washington.