President Donald Trump is preparing to release another immigration-related Executive Order (E.O.) that is expected to refine a previous directive that banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States and suspended the issuance of visas and admission into the United States for foreign nationals from seven countries of “particular concern.” The President will address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday and give a speech expected to focus on the renewal of the American spirit.
The U.S. Congress returns to Washington on Monday, 27 February, with the Senate scheduled to vote that evening on Wilbur Ross’ nomination to serve as Secretary of Commerce. The Pentagon is also set to submit its plan for defeating ISIS to the White House on Monday.
Syria: Combatting ISIS – DoD Plan Completed
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis concluded his first trip to the Middle East on 20 February, a trip that included stops in the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. Pentagon Press Operations Director Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters on Tuesday that Secretary Mattis gained valuable insight as he prepares to make key policy decisions, including submitting the results of a review of the Defense Department’s (DoD) strategy to defeat ISIS to the White House this week.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said of the military-political plan at a Brookings Institution event last week: “In the development of the plan, we have been engaged at every level of the State Department” he said. Chairman Dunford added: “Anything we do on the ground has to be in the context of political objectives or it is not going to be successful.” The intelligence community and the Treasury Department have also participated in development of the plan.
Pentagon Spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters on Friday that the Pentagon has supported an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS under both the Trump and Obama Administrations. “An AUMF would make a lot of our congressional authorities clearer, and that thinking has not changed,” Davis said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) recently traveled to Syria to speak with U.S. forces there about the campaign against ISIS, according to his office last Wednesday. His trip comes as U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Joseph Votel told reporters that the Pentagon is considering whether to deploy additional troops to Syria. Chairman McCain met next with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud on 21 February. The two reportedly discussed regional issues and enhancing U.S. cooperation with the Kingdom.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dated 22 February that urged the Administration to “ensure Assad, Russia and Iran are made to answer for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria.” While all 10 Democratic Members of the SFRC signed the letter, Republican committee members appeared to be more reluctant in signing. The letter also asks for an update on the Administration’s steps to document war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.
Iranian Naval Exercise Underway
Iran launched naval drills on Sunday, amid increased tension with the United States after the Trump Administration put “Iran on notice.” The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in the region.
Russia – Washington Scrutiny
Washington and the media continue to focus on increased allegations of Russian meddling in the United States. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) said at this point there is no evidence of improper influence with respect to the Trump Administration, adding the House would not engage in a “witch hunt.” Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), who serves as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, cautioned this weekend against some calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the Administration’s alleged ties. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting an investigation of Russia’s effort to influence the 2016 U.S. election.
Mexico City Trip Readout
Secretary Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly met Thursday with several Mexican officials, including Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. According to the State Department, both sides acknowledged that “two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences,” while also reaffirming “close cooperation on economic and commercial issues such as energy, legal migration, security, education exchanges, and people-to-people ties.”
Both sides also agreed the “two countries should seize the opportunity to modernize and strengthen our trade and energy relationship.” With respect to border security, the discussion included: (1) dismantling transnational criminal organizations that move drugs and people into the United States; (2) stopping the illicit flow of firearms and “bulk cash” that is originating in the United States and transiting to Mexico; and (3) curtailing irregular migration, which includes securing Mexico’s southern border and supporting efforts to stem the migration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Press Secretary Spicer said of the bilateral meetings at the Thursday press briefing: “Both sides had a candid discussion on the breadth of challenges and opportunities as part of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. The conversation covered a full range of bilateral issues, including energy, legal migration, security, education exchanges, and people-to-people ties.”
Peru Bilateral Meeting
President Trump met on Friday with Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who was in the United States to receive an award from Princeton University. In remarks before the bilateral meeting, President Trump said Peru has been a “fantastic neighbor.” President Kuczynski noted: “Latin America needs to grow more, and we’re going to talk about how to do that.” White House readout of the meeting reflected: “President Trump underscored the continued United States commitment to expanding trade and investment ties with Peru and others in the Asia-Pacific region.” The two leaders also discussed the political and economic situation in Venezuela. President Trump also thanked Peru for hosting the 8th meeting of the Summit of the Americas next year.
Human Trafficking – A Priority
President Trump led a listening session on domestic and international human trafficking on Thursday. He acknowledged:
“Human trafficking is a dire problem, both domestically and internationally, and is one that’s made really a challenge. And it’s really made possible to a large extent, more of a modern phenomenon, by what’s taking place on the Internet, as you probably know. Solving the human trafficking epidemic, which is what it is, is a priority for my administration”
He said he would direct the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, as well as other federal agencies, to examine its resources and determine whether additional resources are needed to combat human trafficking: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said of the meeting: “Their expertise [re: meeting participants] will be invaluable to the President as he engages with members of Congress to raise awareness about, and push through, legislation aimed at preventing all forms of the horrific and unacceptable practice of the buying and selling of human lives.”
Foreign Policy Congressional Hearings This Week
- On Tuesday, 28 February, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Iraq After Mosul.”
- On Tuesday, 28 February, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Issues and Opportunities in the Western Hemisphere.”
- On Tuesday, 28 February, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Checking China’s Maritime Push.”
- On Wednesday, 1 March, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”
- On Thursday, 2 March, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Venezuela: Options for U.S. Policy.”
Defense Congressional Hearings This Week
- On Tuesday, 28 February, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Hearing on Department of Defense Inspector General Report ‘Investigation on Allegations relating to USCENTCOM Intelligence Products.’”
- On Wednesday, 1 March, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Cyber Warfare in the 21st Century: Threats, Challenges, and Opportunities.”
- On Wednesday, 1 March, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “U.S. Ground Force Capability and Modernization Challenges in Eastern Europe.”
- On Thursday, 2 March, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Cyber Strategy and Policy.”
Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:
- 28 February: President Trump to address a joint session of Congress
- Mid-March?: Release of the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2018
- 14-15 March: Chile to host a Pacific Trade Summit in Vina del Mar, Chile
- 21-23 April: World Bank/International Monetary Fund Spring Meeting in Washington
- 28 April: U.S. Federal Government funding expires