This Week in Washington - October 2, 2011

    2 October 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Continuing Resolution (CR) and Appropriations. On Monday, the Senate passed, 79 to 12, a stopgap funding bill (H.R. 2608) to keep the government running through November 18th. The measure did not include disaster funding for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 – opposed by House Republicans due to lack of offsets – but did leave the remaining $2.65 billion in disaster aid for FY 2012. Additionally, after Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials confirmed the agency’s Disaster Relief Fund had enough money to move into the new fiscal year, the Senate also quickly passed by voice vote a “clean” short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) (H.R. 2017) to fund the government through October 4th, providing additional time for the House to consider the longer-term spending measure. The House cleared the short-term CR in a pro forma session on Thursday and is expected next Tuesday to take up the longer CR (to fund the government through November 18th). Also this week, House Appropriators released committee reports for the FY 2012 State- Foreign Operations (SFOPS) and Transportation-Housing (THUD) spending bills, as well as the bill text for the Labor-HHS-Education (LHHS) Appropriations bill. While full Committee mark-ups did not occur for the SFOPS and THUD bills, and no Subcommittee mark-up has taken place for the LHHS bill, the documents released will likely be used for positioning in the omnibus negotiations with the Senate.

    Jobs Agenda & Deficit Reduction. President Obama travelled to California and Denver early this week, again pushing for his bill – the American Jobs Act – as well as attending Democratic campaign events. Despite the President’s efforts, both the Republican-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate appear unlikely to take up President Obama’s $447 billion jobs package. Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) indicated one issue with advancing the bill may lie with the President’s suggestions for off-setting the costs associated with the programs in the Jobs bill – saying alternatives are being explored in order to garner more support. Meanwhile, the deficit reduction committee – the Super Committee – continues to meet behind closed doors, leading some to call for increased transparency.

    On Wednesday, the FBI arrested Rezwan Ferdaus, a radicalized American Muslim, who is accused of plotting an attack on the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol Building. According to a statement by the Justice Department, the suspect began planning a “violent jihad” against the United States early last year.

    A federal judge ruled Wednesday Alabama could begin enforcing some of the controversial parts of its state immigration laws, including requirements for schools to verify students’ immigration status and for police to determine citizenship and status of those they stop, detain or arrest. The Department of Justice is currently reviewing recently enacted immigration laws in Utah, Georgia, South Carolina and Indiana to determine whether to file additional law suits – beyond Arizona and Alabama – alleging interference with federal immigration law. The Justice Department filed a petition Wednesday asking the Supreme Court to consider an appeals court ruling and uphold the individual mandate in the new healthcare reform law. On Thursday, House Republicans released a draft LHHS bill that would significantly cut funding for implementation of the healthcare law and prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from continuing any implementation of the law until 90 days after the date when all legal challenges to it are finished. Also Thursday, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced plans to introduce a bill to reform the outdated No Child Left Behind law, which governs federal policy on elementary and secondary education. While no bill text has yet been released, the committee plans to mark up the legislation October 18th. On Saturday, New York police detained approximately 700 protestors when they illegally blocked the Brooklyn Bridge while demonstrating near Wall Street.

    Political News. On Friday, Florida’s presidential preference commission set the state’s primary for January 31, a move certain to push the four states authorized to hold early-nominating contests (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) into early January. Seventeen years after announcing his first “Contract with America,” former Speaker of the House and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich announced his “21st Century Contract with America” on Thursday, a document he says offers a bold framework for turning around the country. Although Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claims he will not run for the presidency in 2012, his high-profile speech Tuesday on “Real American Exceptionalism” sparked rumors he may be reconsidering. Last Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won his home-state Michigan straw poll.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    U.N. General Assembly (UNGA). This past week, the U.N. Security Council reviewed the Palestinian statehood petition and debated whether to impose international sanctions against Syria. On the margins of the UNGA Monday and before returning to Washington, Secretary Clinton met with Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, discussing the Swiss effort to mediate between Russia and Georgia over Russia’s application to join the World Trade Organization (WTO); Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, discussing the pending U.S. free trade agreement; Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, talking about human rights and deepening the bilateral relationship; Ukraine Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchencko, signing a Memorandum of Understanding on nuclear security cooperation; Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, discussing the U.S.-Taiwan arms sale package unveiled last week, other regional issues, Syria and the global economy; and Prime Minister Najib Miqati, reminding Lebanon of its international obligations regarding the special tribunal and also discussing Syria.

    Middle East Developments. In Washington Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Portuguese Foreign Minister Paulo Portas criticized Israel’s announced intention to build 1100 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem; with Secretary Clinton saying, “We have long urged both sides to avoid any kind of action which could undermine trust, including and perhaps most particularly in Jerusalem, any action that could be viewed as provocative by either side.” The Secretary held a bilateral meeting Wednesday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, saying she was pleased Egypt has recognized the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) and was pleased  Foreign Minister Amr has reiterated Egypt’s support for the Camp David Accords. Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and U.S. Embassy personnel were attacked by a mob supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime; to which Secretary Clinton said the attack on Ambassador Ford was “wholly unjustified.” Also Thursday, the White House condemned the conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran, calling for his release and saying “[a] decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities’ utter disregard for religious freedom….” Thursday, in Libya, four Republican Senators – Senators John McCain (Arizona), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Mark Kirk (Illinois) and Marco Rubio (Florida) – reportedly discussed with NTC officials the need to prosecute unpunished Libyan perpetrators of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and future trade prospects. Also Thursday, the State Department said it was “deeply disturbed” by reports 20 medical professionals have been convicted by the National Safety Court in Bahrain. Vice President Biden met Thursday with Prime Minister Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah of Kuwait, affirming U.S. commitment to the region’s security. President Obama confirmed U.S.-born cleric and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Anwar al -Awlaki was killed Friday morning by a U.S. drone attack in Yemen (which also killed U.S. citizen Samir Khan, coeditor of an al Qaeda magazine) saying the death of Awlaki is a “major blow” to al Qaeda’s most active affiliate. Next Friday, President Obama will host Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia.

    On Tuesday, the Senate approved the U.S.-Rwanda Bilateral Investment Treaty by unanimous consent. This week, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk requesting clarification on the Administration’s position on Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Charles Schumer’s (D-New York) currency bill (S. 1619). White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday the White House is “reviewing the bill, and we share the goal of achieving further appreciation of China’s currency.” The Senate is scheduled to take up the bill next week.

    President Obama spoke Thursday with President Islam Karimov, discussing Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, Afghanistan, and furthering the bilateral relationship. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton held bilateral meetings Thursday with Uzbek Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiev; Kuwaiti Prime Minister Al-Sabah and Nigerian Foreign Minister Olubenga Ashiru; the Secretary also chaired a Millennium Challenge Corporation Board Meeting Wednesday. The State Department said Thursday the United States continues to strongly support the Cypriot-led negotiation process to reunify the island of Cyprus into a bi-zonal, bicommunal federation and also supports Cyprus’ right to explore for energy in its coastal water boundaries.

    This week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following individuals: Earl Gast to be Assistant Administrator for Africa (USAID); Robert Jacobson to be Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs (State); and Michael Scuse to be Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (Agriculture). Terry Garcia, the President’s nominee to be Deputy of Commerce, announced Thursday he is withdrawing his nomination after his nomination was held up by Republicans. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Tom Countryman as Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation and John Heffern as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia. The White House announced Friday, President Obama will host Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on October 20th.