DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS
Budget and the Debt Ceiling Debate. On Wednesday, President Obama held a press conference on the economy, blaming Republican petulance for stalling legislation and urging both parties to work together to reduce the nation’s deficit. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) subsequently extended an invitation to the President to attend a Republican luncheon, but his offer was declined. On Thursday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced the Senate will cancel its recess next week in order to continue deficit reduction negotiations. The Treasury Department reaffirmed Friday the United States faces default if the debt ceiling is not raised before August 2nd. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also announced this week that he plans to stay in his job for the “foreseeable future.”
Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations Bills. The House returns from its Fourth of July recess on July 6th and is expected to resume floor debate on the FY 2012 Defense appropriations bill. The FY 2012 Interior-Environment and Commerce-Justice-Science bills are tentatively scheduled for subcommittee markups on July 6th and 7th. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill Thursday, which is expected to be considered on the Senate floor before the August recess. In the absence of an FY 2012 budget resolution, no additional Senate appropriations markups are currently scheduled.
On Thursday at a formal Pentagon retirement ceremony for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, President Obama noted the Secretary’s “profound sense of duty” and integrity; and awarded Secretary Gates with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest honor a President can bestow on a civilian. On Friday, Leon Panetta was sworn-in as Secretary of Defense.
In opposition to the provision of the House-passed patent reform bill (H.R.1249) that allows Congressional appropriators to maintain control of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s funding, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) Wednesday urging him to pledge that the Patent Office will receive all the revenue that it generates. Also on Wednesday, President Obama expressed support for the reform legislation and urged Congress to send him the bill to sign into law.
The Senate voted Wednesday 79-20 to approve legislation (S.679) to streamline the confirmation process by reducing the number of low-level presidential appointments requiring full Senate confirmation. The House, which has no role in confirming presidential nominees, has indicated that it will also pass the measure that, if enacted into law, will reduce the number of presidential appointees requiring Senate approval from about 1,200 to about 1,000.
The House ethics panel announced Friday that it is extending its investigation into whether Representatives Gregory Meeks (D-New York) and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) violated the chamber’s rules. Congressman Meeks is being investigated because of alleged omissions from his financial disclosure forms, while Representative Schmidt’s investigation stems from her alleged receipt of legal services from a Turkish-American group.
Political News. On Tuesday, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-California) declared she will retire at the end of the 112th Congress. The Democrats are favored to retain her seat. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) formally announced Monday in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, that she will run for the Republican nomination, as a poll showed the Congresswoman statistically tied with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for the lead among likely Republican Iowa Caucus participants. Also this week, Governor Pat Quinn (D-Illinois) signed into law a Congressional redistricting plan that endangers the re-election prospects of several Republican House Members. On Monday, Rod Blagojevich, former Governor of Illinois, was found guilty on 17 of 20 counts against him. His trial stemmed from allegations of corruption for trying to sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat and for scheming for corporate campaign donations.
FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS
Libyan Intervention. On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the War Powers Act and approved (14-5) the Kerry-McCain resolution (S.J.Res.20) to authorize the limited combat mission. Early this week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Moammar Qadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the country's spy chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, on charges of crimes against humanity. President Obama again urged Qadhafi to step down Wednesday. Meanwhile, in Libya, France allegedly airdropped light arms and ammunition to the Libyan opposition forces.
Early this week, a tentative bipartisan compromise between the Administration, Senate Democrats and key House Republicans was reached to provide $964 million towards Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA); however, Senate Republicans did not sign onto the discussions. In response Thursday, as the Senate Finance Committee was prepared to hold a “mock” mark-up hearing of the pending free trade agreements (FTAs) with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, Committee Republicans boycotted the preliminary hearing. They instead held a press conference, where Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (Utah) said Republicans “would not stomach attaching a big government spending program [TAA]” to the FTAs. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Montana) said the Senate Republican “boycott means the opportunity to pass important job-creation legislation is now delayed.” House Republicans are considering holding separate votes on the FTAs and the TAA.
Greater Middle East. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) stopped in Damascus Monday, while on a trip to the Middle East, where he reportedly met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition leaders. From Lithuania Thursday, Secretary Clinton warned Assad he faces more organized resistance unless he allowed “a genuine transition to democracy,” further saying one meeting with the opposition (held Monday) was “not sufficient action toward achieving that goal.” While in Hungary Thursday evening, Secretary Clinton said the United States is willing to talk to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Meanwhile, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns travelled to Cairo, Thursday. On Friday, Secretary Clinton congratulated the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for having handed down indictments. On the heels of President Obama’s timetable for the U.S. troop draw down in Afghanistan last week, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the Tuesday terrorist attack on the Kabul Inter-Continental hotel. Meanwhile, Yemeni Acting President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi said Friday President Ali Abdullah Saleh wants a return to dialogue, not a transfer of power before elections.
On Monday, Secretary Clinton released the 2011 Trafficking in Persons report. The Secretary said the report reflected the number of prosecutions worldwide has remained relatively static, saying “the measure of success can no longer be whether a country has passed laws; … now we have to make sure laws are implemented ….” Secretary Clinton also shared U.S. Embassies and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) will be intensifying partnerships with foreign governments that wish to improve their standing. With the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) due to expire September 30th, on Wednesday, Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy (Vermont), John Kerry (Massachusetts) and Dianne Feinstein (California) introduced a reauthorization measure (S.1301).
Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting Tuesday with Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Wednesday, the Secretary departed Washington for Vilnius, Lithuania, where the Secretary provided remarks at the Civil Society Strategic Dialogue. Secretary Clinton later participated in the inauguration of the Tom Lantos Institute in Budapest, Hungary, established in memory of Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor and former Representative Tom Lantos.
This week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate: Thomas Krajeski (Bahrain) and Robert Mandell (Luxembourg) to be U.S. Ambassadors; Wendy Sherman to be Under Secretary for Political Affairs (State); Mary John Miller to be Under Secretary for Domestic Finance (Treasury); and Matthew Olsen to be Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed James Cole as Deputy Attorney General (Justice). The Senate also unanimously approved General David Petraeus as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Thursday; and approved the following: Lt. General John Allen to command U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan; Daniel Ashe as Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (Interior); David Cohen as Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes (Treasury); Timothy Massad as Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability (Treasury); and William Ostendorff as a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The following U.S. Ambassadors were also confirmed by the Senate: Ryan Crocker (Afghanistan); Kenneth Fairfax (Kazakhstan); Lewis Lukens (Senegal and Guinea-Bissau); Donald Koran (Rwanda); Geeta Pasi (Djibouti); Jeanine Jackson (Malawi); D. Brent Hardt (Guyana); James Thessin (Paraguay); Lisa Kubiske (Honduras); Michael Corbin (United Arab Emirates); Matthew Tueller (Kuwait); Susan Ziadeh (Qatar); and Anne Patterson (Egypt).
On Friday, former IMF Director Dominque Strauss-Kahn was released on his on recognizance from house arrest. He must remain in the United States for a hearing scheduled later this month.