This Week in Washington - February 25, 2011

    28 February 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Congress is in recess until February 28th.

    Continuing Resolution (CR). Last Saturday, the House voted 235-189 to pass the CR proposed by Republicans to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. The bill cuts FY 2010 spending levels by approximately $61.5 billion. Because the Senate is not expected to approve the measure or otherwise reach agreement with the House before the current CR expires on March 4th, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said he would push for a one-month stopgap funding measure to avoid a government shutdown. House Republicans proposed a shorter two-week CR on Friday.

    Midwestern United States. Public employees continued this week to fight proposed anti-collective bargaining laws in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio. More than 60,000 protestors have demonstrated at the Wisconsin state capitol for more than a week to denounce Republican Governor Scott Walker’s budget plan that includes ending collective-bargaining rights for public employees. State Senate Democrats fled the state to delay voting on the measure, and the Governor has warned of public sector layoffs if the budget bill is not passed by Friday. President Obama weighed in last Friday, calling the plan an “assault on unions.” In Illinois Tuesday, former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (D) won the Chicago mayor election with 55 percent of the vote.

    President Obama ordered the Justice Department Wednesday to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) of 1996. Attorney General Eric Holder noted that by only recognizing marriage between men and women, DOMA “violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) said Congress is considering options to uphold implementation of the law. Meanwhile, the Maryland State Senate voted to legalize gay marriage, a measure that Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley is expected to sign into law.

    Wednesday, a Saudi national who entered the U.S. legally on a student visa in 2008, was arrested in Texas and charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. The suspect allegedly researched a range of possible targets, including the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush.

    The Pentagon announced Thursday that Boeing won a $35 billion contract to build a fleet of Air Force aerial refueling tankers, the first of which is scheduled to be delivered by 2017. Boeing beat out competition from European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) North America, which has the option to challenge the decision. The project is expected to provide an estimated 50,000 jobs.

    On Thursday, the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness met for the first time. President Obama challenged the U.S. business community to provide concrete actions to make sure the economy is working for everyone. The National Governors Association is in Washington this weekend for its winter meeting. On Friday, President Obama met with a group of Democratic governors to discuss the economy.

    On Monday, in response to the January 8th shootings in Tucson, the National Institute for Civil Discourse opened at the University of Arizona. With former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush serving as honorary chairmen, the Institute will represent a nonpartisan forum for debate, research, education.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Middle East Unrest Timeline. Despite anti-government protestors seizing control of Benghazi and other parts of eastern Libya, Colonel Muammar  al-Qaddafi vowed Tuesday, “I will die as a martyr at the end.” Secretary Clinton condemned the Libyan leader’s reported use of military force against his citizens Tuesday, saying “this bloodshed is completely unacceptable.” On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) held emergency consultations on the situation in Libya. Chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) proposed steps Wednesday that the U.S. Government could take to deter continued attacks in Libya, including putting Libyan military leaders on notice that “their acquiescence in atrocities could open them to future international war crimes charges.” Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) travelled to Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. The Senators said they supported anti-Qaddafi Libyan diplomats’ calls for a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent use of airpower to attack civilians. President Obama said Wednesday the highest priority is ensuring that U.S. citizens still in Libya are protected. The President also said “[t]he United States supports the universal rights of the Libyan people” and that the “entire world is watching.” Thursday, senior Libyan officials stated that some members of the international media had illegally entered the country, and the government now considered them al Qaeda collaborators. In Tripoli Friday, security forces fired on opposition demonstrators, while Colonel Qaddafi defiantly addressed his supporters in the Green Square. The United States suspended its Embassy operations on Friday and imposed unilateral sanctions against Libya. Also Friday, the UNSC met to discuss Libya, including possible sanctions; and the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution condemning Qaddafi’s government and establishing a U.N. commission of inquiry to probe possible war crimes. On Sunday, Secretary Clinton will travel to Geneva to attend the UNHRC inter-ministerial meeting to discuss possibly suspending Libya’s membership. On Monday, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns travelled to Egypt and met with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. This week, Egypt’s military rulers arrested former government leaders on charges of corruption. For the first time since 1979, Egypt’s Defense Ministry granted access for two Iranian warships to travel through the Suez Canal on Friday. The State Department said it was monitoring the movement of the ships and their actions. Under Secretary Burns’ trip also took him to Tunisia, Algeria, and to Europe, where he consulted about Libya. Last Friday, President Obama called King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon has been in touch multiple times this week with Crown Prince Salman Ben Hamad Al-Khalifa. Secretary Clinton praised the Crown Prince for taking “steps to initiate a meaningful dialogue” with his people. On Friday in Manama, protesters demanded the resignation of the Bahraini Cabinet. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman departed Washington Tuesday for a trip that will take him to Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. On Friday, Iraq anti-government demonstrations defied an official curfew to participate in a nationwide “Day of Rage,” which resulted in nineteen deaths when security forces opened fire in Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and Hawija. Protests continued this week in Yemen, with demands that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. Friday in Tunisia, protestors demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi's transitional government. Anti-government protestors in Jordan demanded more input into political and economic reforms. Conceding to the opposition, on Friday, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika lifted the 19-year state of emergency. The International Atomic Energy Agency released a new report Friday that indicates Iran is preparing to scale up its production of enriched uranium. Largely attributed to the growing unrest in Libya this week was the spike in oil prices (Brent oil neared $120/barrel) and Tuesday’s 180 point Dow plunge. Friday, Saudi Arabia increased its output by eight percent to offset the shortages resulting from the near halt of oil from Libya, helping to stabilize oil prices.

    Last Friday, Somali pirates seized an American yacht with four U.S. citizens on board. American naval Special Forces stormed the yacht, killing two pirates and detaining 15. The pirates had already killed the two American couples. The U.S. Justice Department and FBI are contemplating whether to try the 15 pirates in U.S. courts. This incident follows last week’s New York District Court decision to sentence a Somali pirate to more than 33 years for his involvement in the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. In response, Somali pirates have threatened to kill more captives, warning international warships to not approach captured vessels. On land in Somalia, intense fighting between African Union peacekeepers and Islamist militants resulted in heavy casualties Wednesday.

    State Department News. Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Kristovskis to discuss NATO, Afghanistan and the crackdown in Belarus. The Secretary also met Tuesday with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton met with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota to discuss Libya and President Obama’s impending trip to Brazil. The Secretary met Thursday with Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and discussed supporting human rights and democracy, as well as Timor-Leste’s development and stability. This week, Deputy Secretary James Steinberg travelled to Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, and will conclude this weekend with stops in Albania and Bosnia. The Deputy Secretary’s visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan was intended to ease tensions and discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In Tbilisi, Deputy Secretary Steinberg met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to discuss the strategic bilateral relationship.

    This week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Carl Shapiro to be a Member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. President Obama extended condolences to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key for the earthquake Tuesday that so far has claimed 113 lives. A U.S. search and rescue team arrived in Christchurch Thursday. Next Thursday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon will visit the White House. On March 7th, President Obama will welcome Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.