Executive and Legislative Branch Activity
Interrupting the congressional recess one week early and after two days of debate, last Wednesday, September 4, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed by a vote of 10-7 its Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Syria resolution. Members in both the Senate and House, however, remain divided on U.S. military action in Syria. Complicating the congressional debate on Syria are polls that reflect the majority of U.S. citizens oppose U.S. military action in Syria.
Last Friday, the Senate briefly convened for the purpose of getting the Senate AUMF resolution on the Senate Calendar. This will allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to file cloture on the motion to proceed as early as Monday. The Senate goal is to complete action on the AUMF resolution this week. If, however, opponents filibuster the resolution, the floor vote could slip to next week.
Meanwhile, if the House decides to take up the Senate’s AUMF resolution, it could avoid regular order and bypass the House Foreign Affairs Committee and bring the resolution directly to the Rules Committee before a House floor vote. This strategy could avoid what is expected to be a difficult vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). Some HFAC Members have signaled a desire to amend the AUMF resolution in ways that would be unacceptable to the broader House or may hold up the AUMF altogether. A final House strategy will not be decided on until this week.
While U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has requested U.N. inspectors to speed up work on their findings from its recent trip to Syria to gather biological and other samples after the August 21 alleged chemical weapon attack, the report may take another two or three weeks. President Barack Obama cancelled a scheduled trip to California in order to be in Washington, D.C. today to help convince U.S. lawmakers to approve an AUMF for Syria. President Obama is also expected to address the nation on Tuesday, September 10.
While traditionally a forum for addressing global economic issues, the G20 Summit has been overshadowed by the Syrian conflict. On the margins, President Obama advocated for the international community to enforce international law, citing as a violation the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. Also on the margins, last Friday, September 6, the leaders and representatives of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a joint statement on Syria. Referencing the August 21 alleged chemical weapon attack by the Syrian regime, the statement urges
“a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated.”
The G20 Summit concluded last Friday, with a number of documents being released, including the St. Petersburg G20 Leaders Declaration. In response to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s moves to scale back its market stimulus program as the U.S. economy strengthens – a move that has created volatility in the currency markets and was criticized by some G20 leaders – the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group announced it would establish a $100 billion forex fund to mitigate impacts to their respective currencies.
Secretary of State Travel
Secretary of State John Kerry departed Washington, D.C. last Thursday, September 5 for a European trip with stops in Lithuania, France and the United Kingdom. In Vilnius, the Secretary discussed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), energy diversification, and European Union (EU) Presidency priorities. Secretary Kerry also met with EU Foreign Ministers in an informal session to discuss Syria, Egypt and the Middle East Peace Process. In Paris, the Secretary met with senior French government officials to discuss bilateral and global issues, including Syria. Secretary Kerry also met on Sunday, September 8 with representatives of the Arab League, before departing for the United Kingdom (UK) to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Secretary is expected to meet today with senior UK government officials to discuss transatlantic and global matters.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators concluded the 19th Round of discussions last week. While progress was made, the negotiators agreed to a schedule for TPP intersessionals on some of the more challenging topics being negotiated, including intellectual property, environment, competition, state-owned enterprises, and many aspects of market access. A meeting of chief negotiators will next be held in Washington, D.C. on September 18-21, along with a session on market access during the third week of September.
Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani indicated to Iran’s Assembly of Experts that
“[i]f something happens to the Syrian people, the Iranian Republic of Iran will do its religious and humanitarian duties to send them food and medicine.”
Washington continues to closely monitor for any shifts in Iran’s foreign policy under the new leadership of President Rouhani.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Tuesday, September 10: The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the “Proposed Authorization to Use Military Force in Syria.”
- Tuesday, September 10: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for The Honorable Wanda Felton to be First Vice President, Export-Import Bank of the United States.
- Tuesday, September 10: The House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Challenges to Democracy in the Western Hemisphere.”
- Tuesday, September 10: The House Foreign Affairs Global Human Rights Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “India’s Missing Girls.”
- Wednesday, September 11: The Senate Banking Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance will hold a hearing to “Assess the Investment Climate and Improving Market Access in Financial Services in India.”
- Thursday, September 12: The House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “The Troubling Path Ahead for U.S.-Zimbabwe Relations.” Officials from the U.S. Department of State are scheduled to testify.