DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS
The Senate is in recess until the week of January 24th. The House convened only for pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday and is scheduled to return next week. Last Saturday, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) was shot at a public event in Tucson, leaving 6 people dead, including U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Roll, and another 14 injured. Congresswoman Giffords likely faces a long recovery from her gunshot wound to the head. The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was arrested and charged with multiple counts, including six homicides. President Obama travelled to Tucson Wednesday to attend a memorial for the victims, where he called for political civility. Several Members of Congress have endorsed a plan by Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) for non-partisan seating at the State of the Union address, scheduled for January 25th. Historically, Democratic and Republican Members have sat on opposite sides of the House chamber.
House Republican leaders now plan to begin debate Tuesday on repealing the health care reform law, with a vote tentatively scheduled for Wednesday. As a result of the shooting in Arizona, some Members of Congress have begun to take extra security precautions and also have engaged in debate over gun control policy. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-New York) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) plan to introduce legislation to ban the type of extended handgun magazine clip used in the shooting, and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-New York) called for a ban on all guns within 1,000 feet of Members of Congress and other high-ranking federal officials. House Republican leaders quickly voiced their disagreement with the proposals.
The annual House Republican retreat is taking place January 13-15 in Baltimore, Maryland, at which the Majority will set its policy agenda for the coming session. Topics receiving attention include raising the debt ceiling and cutting spending. Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus will serve as the new Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair.
After over 17 years in the U.S. Senate, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) announced she will retire at the end of her term in 2012. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was sentenced to three years in prison this week, resulting from his 2010 conviction for conspiracy and money laundering.
Tuesday, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released its final report and recommendations to Congress. The report calls for the creation of an Interior Department office to oversee offshore drilling safety, the dedication of oil spill penalties for Gulf environmental restoration, and raising the liability cap on companies held responsible for accidents.
White House Turnover. Vice President Biden announced Friday that Bruce Reed will be his new Chief of Staff. Reed previously worked in the White House as head of the Domestic Policy Council under President Clinton and served as CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) from 2001 to 2010.
FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS
Tuesday, within hours of Defense Secretary Robert Gates meeting with President Hu Jintao, China conducted its first test flight of its new stealth fighter. The Secretary also met with General Liang Guanglie and discussed maintaining military-to-military dialogue, including possibly expanding the U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue to include a security component. Secretary Gates stopped in Tokyo Thursday and met with Japanese Minister of Defense Tosihimi Kitazawa, where he cited threats from North Korea and China's modernizing military as reasons underscoring the importance of the U.S. alliance with Japan. The Secretary also warned North Korea is within five years of developing a missile with the potential to hit Alaska, Hawaii, or the U.S. West Coast. In Seoul Friday, Secretary Gates met with President Lee Myung-bak and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin to reaffirm American solidarity with South Korea. Meanwhile, North and South Korea re-established a telephone “hotline”, which had disconnected for seven months. In Washington, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the Administration will push for Congressional passage of the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) by July 1st. President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett called KORUS a “first and foremost” legislative priority for the White House.
Prior to President Hu’s Washington trip next week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned in a speech Tuesday that China’s “substantially undervalued” currency is untenable. The Secretary also stated China faces other significant economic challenges, including ensuring intellectual property rights and growing its domestic market. Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also gave a speech on the U.S.-China relationship at the inaugural Richard Holbrooke Lecture in Washington. The Secretary said differences on human rights and other issues will continue, but she also stressed a “positive, cooperative and comprehensive” bilateral relationship is necessary for the Asia-Pacific region. Secretary Clinton also praised China’s cooperation during the global financial crisis and said other areas for expanded interaction include climate change, international development and security issues.
On Wednesday, Lebanon’s unity government collapsed as Prime Minister Saad Hariri was meeting with President Obama in Washington. President Obama criticized Hezbollah for spurring the collapse.
On Monday, Secretary Clinton met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Emirati Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid to discuss regional and bilateral issues of the United Arab Emirates. Secretary Clinton made a surprise stop in Yemen Tuesday and met with President Ali Abdullah Saleh to further discuss mutual efforts to combat terrorism. Wednesday, in Muscat, the Secretary met with Sultan bin Qaboos and Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Allawi of Oman. The Secretary travelled on to Qatar and met with Sheikh Hamad bin Khahifa Al-Thani, as well as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim Al-Thani, to discuss Gulf regional security, Lebanon, Iran and Sudan.
Arnold Fields, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), resigned Monday, after months of Congressional pressure. Tuesday, Vice President Biden made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan, where he affirmed the United States will have a presence beyond 2014, if desired. The Vice President travelled on to Pakistan and similarly affirmed the United States’ long-term commitment to Pakistan. Thursday, Vice President Biden was in Baghdad where he met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and stated a “free, prosperous” Iraqi democracy is of strategic importance to the United States.
On Thursday, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Senator George Mitchell met separately with Palestinian envoy Saeb Erekat and Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molho in Washington. The State Department signaled Thursday that the United States is likely to oppose an anticipated UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement-building. Secretary Clinton will meet in Munich on February 5th with her counterparts from the Middle East Quartet.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov exchanged diplomatic notes Wednesday to bring into force the U.S.-Russia 123 Nuclear Energy Agreement. House Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) vowed Thursday to reform the Atomic Energy Act to require that Congress vote on any future 123 Agreements.
African Affairs. The Southern Sudan’s independence referendum vote began last Sunday and ends Saturday, with U.S. electoral observers on the ground. Friday, Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali departed the country, with Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi declaring he has assumed the powers of the president. President Obama declared, “I condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens peacefully voicing their opinion in Tunisia, and I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.” Thursday, the United States granted agrément to Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara’s ambassador-designate to Washington. The State Department also strongly condemned interference by the outgoing Gbagbo regime with the work of United Nations operations in Côte d'Ivoire.
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake. Aid has stalled due to a stalemate over Haiti’s November presidential election, which produced no clear winner and was marred by accusations of fraud. On Thursday, the U.S. delegation concluded another round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Accord talks in Havana. The U.S. delegation raised the case of Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen detained in Cuba since December 3, 2009, and called for his immediate release.
President Obama welcomed President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to the White House Monday. Friday, the President met with President Asif Zardari of Pakistan. Many foreign dignitaries were in Washington Friday to attend a Kennedy Center memorial for Richard Holbrooke. This week, the United States extended offers of assistance to Brazil and Australia as both countries handle devastating floods.