U.S. President Barack Obama is in New York City for his speech to the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) this week, as well as attend the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees and the U.S.-Africa Business Forum.  Secretary of the U.S. Department of State John Kerry is also in New York City this week, meeting on the margins of the Assembly with leaders.  U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will join President Obama at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum on Wednesday.  Ambassador Froman will host select African trade ministers for a trade and labor ministerial roundtable in Washington on Thursday.  Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Michael Punke is participating in the 16th round of Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) negotiations this week in Switzerland.

Both chambers of Congress are in session this week, seeking to advance a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the Federal Government beyond 30 September. Some have suggested the Senate is looking to truncate its September scheduled and intends to recess until after the November elections, once a CR is approved.

Three Incidents in the United States – Characterized as Acts of Terror

There were three incidents within a 12-hour period on Saturday – one in New York City, one in New Jersey and one in Minnesota – that many security experts are characterizing as acts of terror. The attack in New York City reportedly involved an explosive device that injured 29 civilians in the Chelsea neighborhood.  Another explosion occurred just ahead of a scheduled race in Seaside Park, New Jersey, injuring none.  Meanwhile, at a mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, an individual is alleged to have stabbed nine people before being killed by an off-duty police officer.  The Islamic State is reportedly claiming the Minnesota mall attacker was affiliated with the terrorist organization.  All three incidents are being investigated by federal and local law enforcement, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

  • On Wednesday, 21 September, the House Homeland Security Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Stopping the Next Attack: How to Keep Our City Streets from Becoming the Battleground.”
  • On Thursday, 22 September, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Identifying the Enemy: Radical Islamist Terror.”

JASTA – Veto Imminent

Congress formally submitted the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA; S. 2040), to President Obama last Monday.  The President has until this Friday to veto the measure, as he has vowed to do.  While it remains unclear whether Congress has the necessary votes – two-thirds in both chambers – to override a veto, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) have expressed confidence a veto override vote would be successful.  Should the Senate recess at the end of this week, an override vote would likely slip to after the November elections and into lame-duck session of Congress.

The White House continues to argue JASTA may create unintended consequences on the global norm of sovereign immunity that currently protects the U.S. service members from being sued in foreign courts. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has expressed sympathy to the White House argument.  The Senator is reportedly exploring whether an alternative measure could be put forward with an executive waiver provision to safeguard against the sovereign immunity concerns.

Burma – U.S. Lifting Sanctions

President Obama met with State Counselor of Burma Aung Sun Suu Kyi last week. According to a joint statement:

“Both leaders remarked on the tremendous change in Myanmar over the past five years, during which time Myanmar moved from a military government through a period of opening, held free and fair elections in November 2015, and inaugurated a new, democratically elected government in March 2016.”

President Obama cited the progress when saying the United States will (1) restore Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits to Myanmar; (2) terminate the National Emergency with respect to Myanmar; and (3) revoke the Executive Order-based framework of the Burma sanctions program. The two leaders also announced a U.S.-Myanmar Partnership.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) also met with Counselor Aung Sun Suu Kyi, observing at the conclusion of the meeting:

“While this new administration brings hope to Burma, I remain concerned over the grave mistreatment of Burma’s Rohyinga, a minority that continues to be among the most persecuted people in the world. As Chairman, I remain committed to efforts to protect this tormented minority.”

Iran – House Committee Advances a New Bill

On 14 September, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed an amended version of the Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act (H.R. 5931). The legislation, introduced by Chairman Royce, would prohibit future cash payments from the United States to Iran for any reason.

  • On Wednesday, 21 September, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “The Consequences of Cash to Iran.”
  • On Wednesday, 21 September, the Senate Banking Subcommittee on National Security, International Trade and Finance is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Terror Financing Risks of America’s $1.7 Billion Cash Payments to Iran.”

North Korea – Closed Senate Hearing

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a closed hearing today titled, “Assessing the Recent North Korea Nuclear Event, Missile Tests and Regional Dynamics.”

NDAA – Reconciliation Negotiations Stall

House and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders have pushed reconciliation negotiations of the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4909, S. 2943) beyond the September session and into November. While some sources reported a compromise was reached on topline funding differences, which was one of the top differences between the Senate and House-passed NDAA measures, a more minor difference – the greater sage grouse – remains an outstanding matter yet to be resolved.  The House measure contains a provision that would block listing the greater sage grouse as an endangered species, whereas the Senate measure lacks such a provision.

TTIP – Next Round in October

At the conclusion of their meeting last week in Belgium, EU Trade Commissioner Malmström and Ambassador Froman announced the next formal round of the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations will be held in New York City the first week of October.

Cyber Security – U.S.-Australia Dialogue

On Thursday, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman will discuss advancing an innovative and secure digital economy at the U.S.-Australia Cyber Security Dialogue in Washington, hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

EB-5 Visa Program – New House Bill Introduced

Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) and John Conyers (D-Michigan), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, respectively, have introduced a new EB-5 reform bill, the American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform Act of 2016.  H.R. 5992 contains higher investment thresholds for non-Targeted Employment Areas (TEAs) and TEAs ($1.2 million and $800K, respectively), a 10% direct jobs requirement that has been proposed in the past and some modifications to the TEA designation system, and certain set-asides for rural and “priority urban investment” areas, among other provisions.

Separately, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to encourage the agency to “investigate and report to Congress on the extent to which foreign governments, foreign corporations and foreign investors are colluding to use the EB-5 program at the expense of U.S. business interests and taxpayers.”  Chairman Grassley further requested a briefing “on the policies and guidance that permit foreign ownership of an EB-5 regional center and allow foreign corporations to invest in and profit from EB-5 projects.”

Global Effort to Eliminate Fishing Subsidies

Last week, the United States and 12 other World Trade Organization (WTO) members announced a new initiative to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies, particularly those that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity or are linked to illegal fishing.  In a joint statement, other like-minded WTO members were invited to begin preparing for negotiations in the WTO to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies.

Congressional Hearings This Week

  • On Tuesday, 20 September, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “South Sudan: Options in Crisis.”
  • On Wednesday, 21 September, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest will hold hearing titled: “Oversight of the Administration’s FY 2017 Refugee Resettlement Program.”
  • On Wednesday, 21 September, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “15 Years After 9-11: The State of the Fight Against Islamic Terrorism.”
  • On Wednesday, 21 September, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea.”
  • On Thursday, 22 September, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Diplomacy and Security in the South China Sea: After the Tribunal.”

Looking Ahead

Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:

  • 19-23 September: EGA Negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland
  • 20 September: UNGA General Debate Commences
  • 20 September: Leader’s Summit on Refugees in New York City
  • 21 September: U.S.-Africa Business Forum in New York City
  • 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