On Friday, 20 January, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. In his remarks, President Trump stated:

“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

He added:

“We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.”

Congress confirmed two of President Trump’s Cabinet officials later that day – the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security.

New Commander-in-Chief – President Trump’s Defense & Foreign Policy Priorities

President Trump plans to work to lift the caps on defense spending, rebuild the military, and expand missile defenses, according to a policy paper released on the new White House website last Friday. The defense policy paper states that the President “will end the defense sequester and submit a new budget to Congress outlining a plan to rebuild our military,” and plans to “develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system to protect against missile-based attacks from states like Iran and North Korea.” Cyberwarfare is also named as a priority for the new administration, including developing offensive and defensive cyber capabilities at U.S. Cyber Command. The White House also mentions improving health care for veterans, vowing to “begin with firing the corrupt and incompetent Veterans Affairs (VA) executives.” The foreign policy paper posted to the new White House website also lists defeating the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) as one of President Trump’s top priorities. That paper further discusses the need to rebuild the U.S. military.

New Secretary of Defense – Gen. James Mattis

As one of his first presidential actions on Friday, President Trump signed into law the congressional measure providing an exemption for Gen. James Mattis to serve as the civilian head of the U.S. Department of Defense. The Senate confirmed Gen. Mattis later that day to serve as the next Secretary of Defense.

Ross Confirmation Hearing – Recap

On Wednesday, 18 January, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of Mr. Wilbur Ross to serve as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Ross fielded questions on President Trump’s trade agenda, the U.S.-China Trade relationship, and other issues. Ross was asked how the Trump Administration plans to address trade, given the seemingly overlapping portfolios of many appointed to serve in the Administration. To that question, Ross said:

“We’re well aware of the legislated powers of the U.S. Trade Representative …Neither the president [nor] I is going to try to do anything that is adverse to the congressional mandate given to the [U.S. Trade Representative]…. I think it’s important to bring all the intellectual resources and experience that we can, to helping solve the trade issues…I view that there will be a collaborative process among the [U.S. Trade Representative], myself, and Peter Navarro…We will try our best collectively to do what’s best for this country. So that’s how we visualize the interaction of those parties working.”

Throughout the hearing, Ross said hopes to develop a new model for U.S. Free Trade Agreements [FTA], mentioning the need for these agreements to: (1) require reciprocity provisions, (2) contain concessions that occur simultaneously, and (3) include provisions mandating parties to the agreement review the FTA after a certain amount of time. Ross said he anticipates the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to be “a very, very early topic” for the new administration.

  • On Tuesday, 24 January, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold an executive session to consider Ross’ nomination, among other business.

Mnuchin Confirmation Hearing – Recap

On Thursday, 19 January, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of Mr. Steve Mnuchin to serve as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Mnuchin mostly fielded questions on tax reform and the time he spent at OneWest Bank, which has been criticized for its role in foreclosing on homes following the financial crisis.  He also was asked about the trade agenda, currency manipulation, and sanctions.

On currency, Mnuchin pledged to use all of Treasury’s authority to fight currency manipulation, but did not specifically label China to be a currency manipulator (as President Trump did throughout the campaign). Mnuchin did say that he would label China a currency manipulator if he determined they were in fact manipulating their currency. He also said he believes currency manipulation to be a violation of global trade rules and that a country should be held accountable if they engage in the practice. On sanctions, Mnuchin said he is “100 percent committed to enforcing” current sanctions, including those on Russia, and that he is opposed to lifting the current sanctions on Russia. He noted that he believes sanctions are an effective tool, and said President Trump is only interested in changing our current sanction programs if he can get a “better” deal.

Haley Confirmation Hearing – Recap

On Wednesday, 18 January, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of Gov. Nikki Haley to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley fielded questions on Russia, U.S. funds with respect to the U.N., North Korea, China and climate change. In response to whether she supports new sanctions on Russia, Haley said that the National Security Council and President Trump need to discuss and establish a plan for Russia that includes what violation would trigger any new sanctions and then follow through. Haley also noted that the United States needs to encourage China to pressure North Korea to address Pyongyang’s nuclear program. She further testified that it is in the United States’ best interests to be distrustful of all countries as they are distrustful of the U.S.  Regarding the Paris Agreement, Haley said climate change should always be on the table but she also acknowledged that it should not be at the peril of U.S. industries.

North Korea – New Reports of ICBM Test

There were new reports last Thursday that North Korea may be preparing for another missile test. While the timing of the test is still unclear, it could be an early foreign policy test for the new administration. Reuters reported that South Korean media, citing intelligence agencies, said Pyongyang may be readying a test of an upgraded prototype of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). U.S. officials have cautioned that there is no precise information about the range or potential timing of the missile test, should it happen, and one U.S. official suggested Pyongyang could be largely seeking to provoke the Trump Administration.

Libya – B-2 Bombers Strike

On 18 January, the U.S. military flew two B-2 bombers over Libya to strike ISIL training camps. Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter stopped by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook’s final press conference last week to announce the operation had killed 80 Islamic State fighters. When asked why the B-2 bombers were used, Cook said it was a combination of their weapons and ability to “loiter.” Secretary Carter pointed to the operation as one of the reasons he believes the U.S.-led campaign will successfully defeat the militant group under the new Trump Administration. This was the B-2 bombers’ first strike mission since Libya in 2011.

GITMO – Obama Administration’s Final Four Transfers

On Thursday, 19 January, the Pentagon announced the final four detainees transferred from the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (GITMO).  One detainee was sent to Saudi Arabia, while the other three were sent to the United Arab Emirates. The last transfers conclude the Obama Administration’s final push to empty the facility as much as possible prior to President Trump taking office, with 19 inmates being transferred since Election Day. The detainee transfers came as former President Obama sent a letter to Congress, blaming lawmakers for blocking his efforts to close down the detention facility.

There were 242 detainees at Guantánamo when Obama came into office in January 2009, but now only 41 detainees remain. President Trump has vowed to keep the prison open, tweeting on 3 January that there “should be no further releases from GITMO. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”

Other Congressional Hearings

  • On Monday, 23 January, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a business meeting on Secretary of State-Nominee, Mr. Rex Tillerson.
  • On Tuesday, 24 January, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Defense Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 and Onwards.”
  • On Tuesday, 24 January, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is scheduled to hold a full Committee organizational meeting.