This Week in Washington - May 6, 2011

    6 May 2011

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Death of Osama bin Laden. Late Sunday night, President Obama addressed the nation to report that, acting on the his orders, a covert U.S. operation had located and killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The U.S. Government did not inform the Government of Pakistan until after the mission’s conclusion, when U.S. Special Forces left Pakistani soil to bury bin Laden’s body at sea. President Obama hailed the operation, saying “Justice has been done.” Many Americans jubilantly welcomed the news, celebrating late Sunday night outside the White House, at Ground Zero in New York City, and across the country. Members of Congress from both parties praised the President for his decision to authorize the joint CIA/Navy SEAL mission, and the President’s popularity rating has risen above 50 percent in recent polls. The Special Forces also netted several computers, DVDs and documents from bin Laden’s compound, which the U.S. intelligence community is reviewing for information. In the days since the mission, Administration officials released some conflicting information on the details of the raid. Meanwhile, some Members of Congress and other opinion leaders increasingly questioned whether some Pakistani officials were complicit in the sheltering of bin Laden in the military city of Abbottabad, while the Government of Pakistan challenged the legality of the mission itself. On Wednesday, President Obama announced he would not release the classified photos taken of bin Laden’s corpse. The President visited the World Trade Center site Thursday to meet with 9/11 victims’ families and first responders. Friday, President Obama travelled to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to thank the Special Forces involved in the mission and to greet service members who recently returned from Afghanistan. Al Qaeda publicly confirmed bin Laden’s death Friday, vowing to “continue on the path of jihad” and urging Pakistan to end its cooperation with the United States.

    Congressional hearings this week explored whether to restrict foreign assistance to Pakistan. Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) were joined by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-California) in criticizing the Administration’s handling of military assistance to Pakistan. Chairman Levin’s committee authorizes the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF), and Chairman Leahy’s subcommittee is working on the FY 2012 foreign assistance funding measure. Since the FY 2011 foreign aid allocations have yet to be finalized, appropriators will have another chance to cut funding to Pakistan. On the other hand, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-California), among others, urged caution about reducing assistance, citing the need to work with Pakistan on ongoing military, intelligence, and development efforts.

    Following the death of bin Laden, some fiscally conservative House Republicans joined with liberal House Democrats in advocating for a quicker drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, scheduled to begin in July. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said while she supports withdrawal, she is not backing a proposal to require the President to submit such a plan. The Obama Administration has yet to disclose the scope and pace of the drawdown. However, on Friday, Secretary of Defense Gates described bin Laden’s death as a potential “game changer” for efforts to defeat the al Qaeda-allied Taliban in Afghanistan.

    Libyan Intervention. Secretary Clinton flew to Rome Wednesday to attend the 2nd Libya Contact Group meeting. The Secretary held a bilateral meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, where they discussed increasing pressure on Qaddafi; concern over the continued use of violence by the Syrian Government; the new U.S. sanctions imposed on Syria; and Afghanistan, where the Secretary affirmed the Administration is committed to beginning the drawdown. Secretary Clinton also met with Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who will visit Washington next week. The Secretary announced the Administration is working with Congress on legislation to unfreeze Qaddafi and the Libyan Government’s assets for use by the Libyan opposition.

    Middle East Peace Process. On Thursday, the State Department said it has yet to see details of the unity government agreement between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. The State Department further said the U.S. position labeling Hamas as a terrorist organization remains unchanged, and any acceptance of a role for Hamas “will have to be predicated on an acceptance” of the Quartet principles for negotiations with Israel. The White House announced Wednesday President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an ardent critic of the new Fatah-Hamas arrangement, on May 20th.

    On Wednesday, the Administration indicated it is prepared to advance all three negotiated free trade agreements (FTAs) – with South Korea, Colombia and Panama – helping to pave the way for a series of trade-related votes in the coming months. The White House will submit the FTAs to the House and Senate, which will have 90 days to hold up-or-down-votes. However, the Administration and Congressional Democrats first want to try to strike a deal with Republicans to renew the lapsed Trade Adjustment Assistance program. The Administration also will push for reauthorization of the Andean trade preference program and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Russia.

    On Tuesday, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher and Romanian President Traian Basescu announced the location for a planned interceptor site in Romania for the U.S. missile defense shield for Europe, expected to be operational by 2015. Under Secretary Tauscher next met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s lead negotiator on missile defense.

    President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following individuals: Barbara McQuiston as Assistant Secretary for Acquisition (Defense), and Janice Eberly as Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy (Treasury). The President also announced the following U.S. Ambassador-nominees: Matthew Tueller (Kuwait); Michael Corbin (United Arab Emirates); Jeanine Jackson (Malawi); William Moser (Moldova); and Jeffrey DeLaurentis (alternate U.S. representative for Special Political Affairs in the U.N.). On Wednesday, President Obama met with His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and discussed Afghanistan, Libya, climate change and the President’s impending State visit to the United Kingdom.

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) Monday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner readjusted predictions for the federal debt ceiling, pushing the date back to early August, due to increased tax receipts and lower spending. The Secretary encouraged Congress to take action to increase the debt limit. Vice President Joe Biden began debt-reduction talks with some Congressional leaders on Thursday. Republicans insisted tax increases would not be part of a final deal. The group plans to meet again Tuesday. Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) may mark up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget resolution next week.

    On Thursday, the House passed a bill requiring the Interior Department to conduct offshore oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off Virginia’s coast – the first of three measures aimed at boosting offshore oil production. Next week, the House is expected to consider legislation to expedite the permitting process for lessees in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as to reverse the Administration’s offshore drilling moratorium and set a national oil and gas production goal. While efforts by House Democrats failed to force a vote to repeal a tax deduction for the largest oil companies this week, they plan another effort aimed at eliminating energy tax breaks next week.

    Wednesday, the House passed legislation which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions and includes in that definition tax deductions and locally-raised revenue by the District of Columbia. The legislation is unlikely to gain much traction in the Democratic-led Senate.

    House Intelligence Committee Members reported a deal was reached on the FY 2011 Intelligence Authorization bill, which, among other provisions, will authorize more counterterrorism positions at the Central Intelligence Agency. The measure likely will come to the floor for a vote next week.

    On Friday, the Labor Department announced the unemployment rate increased to 9 percent, despite the addition of 244,000 jobs during the month of April.

    Campaign News. Former U.S. Ambassador to China and Republican Utah Governor, Jon Huntsman, filed paperwork Tuesday to create a federal political action committee, a sign he is likely to announce a 2012 presidential bid. A day earlier, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) established a presidential exploration committee. The first Republican primary debate of the 2012 Presidential race took place in Greenville, South Carolina, on Thursday night. Indiana Congressman Mike Pence (R) formally launched his campaign Thursday for that state’s 2012 governor’s race. The Missouri Legislature overrode Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of its redistricting plan, which effectively eliminates the district of Democratic Congressman Russ Carnahan.