This Week in Washington - August 31, 2012

    31 August 2012


    Republican National Convention (RNC).  The delegates confirmed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for President Tuesday night at the RNC in Tampa, Florida.  House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was then nominated by acclamation for Vice President.  Mitt Romney accepted his nomination during his speech Thursday evening, and Paul Ryan did the same during his address one night earlier.  Both speeches criticized President Obama’s economic record and discussed the Romney-Ryan ticket’s vision for the future.  In addition to nominating Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Tuesday, the Republican Party approved the 2012 Republican Platform, which focuses on the party’s traditional support for low taxes, small government, national security, and social conservatism.

    After disrupting the opening of the RNC, and on the seventh anniversary of the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Isaac – a lesser Category 1 storm – came ashore Tuesday night over the mouth of the Mississippi River.  Early Wednesday morning, Isaac stalled over the New Orleans area, dumping rain that caused rising water levels to overwhelm a levee in nearby Plaquemines Parish.  President Obama approved a disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana, expediting assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Thus far, Isaac has resulted in at least four deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi.

    Budget and Economy.  Friday, at the Kansas City Federal Reserve meeting, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke called "the stagnation of the labor market in particular a grave concern“ and reiterated the Federal Reserve is prepared to further stimulate the economy.  Chairman Bernanke did not, however, confirm whether such action may occur at the next Federal Reserve meeting (September 12-13).  In its updated budget and economic outlook released this month, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) lowered its estimate of the impact of automatic spending cuts from domestic discretionary spending under sequestration by $4 billion.  The report concluded that unless Congress and President Obama agree to a replacement for sequestration, it will result in $109 billion in cuts from Fiscal Year 2013 spending, including $55 billion from defense, starting January 2.

    The Federal Reserve announced Monday that it is considering delaying, until September 2013, implementation of the “stress tests” required by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  On Tuesday, the Obama Administration finalized its standards to require cars and light trucks to have a fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, nearly 20 miles per gallon more than what is required by 2016.  President Obama stated that the new “standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”  Meanwhile, Congressman Robert Goodlatte (R-Virginia) joined several Governors across the country in urging Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to set aside the 2005 federal ethanol production mandate due to the devastating drought affecting much of the country.  Thursday, a federal district court struck down Texas' 2011 law requiring picture identification for voters, ruling that the state failed to prove the law would not harm the rights of low-income and minority voters.  Another federal court ruled Tuesday that Texas Republican lawmakers discriminated against minorities in drawing new redistricting maps for the state.  Both cases are expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Political News.  President Obama released a statement last Saturday after the passing of U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, stating “when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”  On Tuesday, Congressman Jeff Flake won Arizona's Republican Senate primary and will now face former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona in the general election to fill the seat being vacated by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R).  Also on Tuesday, Congressman David Schweikert defeated fellow freshman Congressman Ben Quayle in the Republican primary for Arizona's 6th Congressional District.  This week, before heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Democratic National Convention convenes next week, President Obama campaigned in towns surrounding universities in several battleground states across the country, including Iowa State University, Colorado State University and the University of Virginia.  On Thursday, President Obama traveled to Texas to meet with military service members, marking two years since the end of combat in Iraq. 


    Syria.  On Thursday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi addressed the 120-country Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran, urging all to "… express our full support to the struggle of those who are demanding freedom and justice in Syria and translate our sympathies into a clear political vision that supports peaceful transfer (of power) to a democratic system.”  In objection, the Syrian delegation walked out.  Earlier this week (Monday), French President François Hollande urged the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government, saying this is a step that would lead to recognition by France.  The State Department, however, was cautious in its response to the French proposal.  In Berlin Tuesday, Syrian exiles from the main opposition Syrian National Council and other groups unveiled a 122-page transition blueprint.  Meanwhile, on the ground in Syria, Syrian opposition forces claimed Monday to have successfully taken down a regime helicopter over Damascus.  On Thursday, the Syrian rebels claimed to have downed a fighter jet in the northern province of Idlib.  Also Monday, the State Department acknowledged reports received over the weekend of summary executions and aerial strafing of civilians lined up waiting for bread outside of Aleppo by the Syrian regime.  State said the Syrian opposition “… is facing some of the most egregious and horrific violence we’ve seen exacted on a civilian population anywhere.”  The Turkish and Jordanian governments are working with the United Nations and are now accepting international assistance to handle the continued large influx of Syrian refugees.  On Wednesday, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told the media that while the United States and Turkey have talked about possibly creating a safe zone along the Turkish border for refugees, NATO is currently not discussing this option.  The U.N. Security Council met Thursday to discuss the humanitarian response to the crisis.         

    Iran.  Addressing the two-day NAM Summit Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted Iran’s nuclear program is a “top concern” of the international community, urged Tehran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and also urged all parties to "stop provocative and inflammatory threats; a war of words can quickly spiral into war of violence."  The Secretary-General further rebuked Iran at the Summit, saying "I strongly reject threats by any member states to destroy another or outrageous attempt to deny historical facts such as the Holocaust, claiming that another state, Israel, does not have the right to exist or describing it in racist terms."  In an inaugural address at the Summit Thursday, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei asserted nuclear weapons were contrary to Islamic teachings and declared “… the Islamic Republic of Iran has never been after nuclear weapons and it never will abandon its right for peaceful use of nuclear energy."  On the same day, the IAEA reported Iran has:  doubled the number of uranium enrichment machines it has in an underground bunker at the Fordo facility, increased Iran’s total stockpile of so-called medium-enriched uranium (from 159 pounds in mid-May to 255 pounds in mid-August), and has undertaken “extensive activities” at the Parchin military complex.  On Wednesday, the State Department marked the one-year anniversary of the detention of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati by Iranian authorities and expressed concern over Iran’s continued refusal to allow consular access by Swiss authorities, the United States’ protecting power in Iran.  Tuesday, the State Department also called on Iran to provide information on U.S. citizen Robert Levinson, who went missing on Iran’s Kish Island and has been missing for over 2,000 days.

    Secretary Clinton departed Washington Thursday for an eleven-day trip that includes stops in the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Russia.  In the Cook Islands Friday, the Secretary attended the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Post Forum Dialogue.  On Thursday, the State Department expressed concern about the welfare of the Burmese Kachin population along the China-Burma border. State urged China to implement a temporary protection program for those seeking refuge from the conflict.

    Late last Friday, the Organization of American States adopted a resolution urging Ecuador and Great Britain to continue a dialogue to resolve the dispute over Ecuador’s decision to grant diplomatic asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.  The State Department expressed concern Tuesday over The Gambia’s execution of nine death row inmates on Monday.  State condemned the lack of transparency and haste under which the executions were effected and the apparent lack of due process in the proceedings leading to the death sentences.  This week, after an Israeli court dismissed the Corrie family wrongful death lawsuit, the State Department emphasized U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed to the Government of Israel the need for a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie, a young American activist who was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.  The State Department also noted that under Israeli law, the Corrie family has the right to appeal the verdict.

    The 2012 Republican Platform includes a chapter – American Exceptionalism – broadly outlining Republican’s foreign policy approach.  The policy criticizes the Obama Administration for “leading from behind” and instead advocates for:  a strong national defense that includes an adequate defense budget; addressing cybersecurity issues; sovereign American leadership in International Organizations; protecting human rights, including combating human trafficking; promoting trade; strengthening ties in the Americas; advancing hope and prosperity in Africa; and unequivocal support of Israel.