Rachel Oswald

Diplomats testifying in impeachment inspire pride, worry
Positive reviews come with increased fears over safety and political retaliation

Few other parts of the U.S. government under the Trump administration feel as undermined and besieged as the State Department.

The department’s funding has repeatedly come under attack in White House budget requests; the expertise of its diplomats and policy specialists has routinely been ignored in favor of the opinions of Trump loyalists with little foreign affairs experience.

Former ambassador to Ukraine says Foreign Service being ‘degraded’ under Trump
Yovanovitch said her ouster caused real harm, morale decline at State Department

Top State Department leadership came under searing attack Friday by one of their own senior ambassadors in remarkably stark language during the second day of public hearings in the House’s impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. 

Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified before the House Intelligence Committee that nearly three years into the Trump administration, the State Department has been badly harmed by attacks on its diplomats from the president and his allies.

Impeachment strains longstanding bipartisan support for Ukraine
Consensus built on keeping Ukraine inside the Western European camp

The bipartisan backing for Ukraine in its long face-off with Russia has been a hallmark of Congress’ role in foreign policymaking for decades. Congress — both parties — has generally been willing to confront Moscow more forcefully over its treatment of Ukraine than the Trump, Obama or George W. Bush White Houses.

But with U.S. policy toward Ukraine the centerpiece of the impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump’s antipathy toward Kyiv out in the open, and Republicans not wanting to break with their GOP president publicly over Ukraine policy, concern is rising that this longstanding bipartisan consensus to keep Ukraine inside the Western European camp could erode.

‘That’s not believable’ — Cardin has heated exchange with administration official

James Jeffrey, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Syria and countering the Islamic State, called President Trump’s decision two weeks ago to abruptly remove U.S. troops in northern Syria a “tragic situation,” but added that after a five-day ceasefire, “we’re in a better place now than we were a week ago.”

Turkey sanctions bills likely to move despite ceasefire
Shaky ceasefire agreement halting Syrian Kurd attacks appears to not appease lawmakers, who may still vote to impose sanctions

A shaky ceasefire agreement with Turkey to halt its attacks on the Syrian Kurds does not appear to have done much to slake lawmakers’ appetite for imposing sanctions on the longtime NATO ally.

President Donald Trump was quick to declare victory Thursday after Ankara agreed to a five-day ceasefire in its attacks on Kurds in northern Syria. Kurdish fighters are supposed to use that window, which the Turkish government is describing not as a ceasefire but as a “pause,” to withdraw to roughly 20 miles south of the Turkish border.

Pence says Turkey has agreed to cease fire in northern Syria
Trump has faced a bipartisan backlash over pulling U.S. troops from buffer zone along Turkey-Syria border

Vice President Mike Pence announced on Thursday that a ceasefire agreement had been reached with the Turkish government that would allow for a cessation of fighting in northeast Syria where Syrian Kurds have been getting hammered for the last week.

Specifics of the ceasefire, which was to last for 120 hours, were initially scarce but Pence at a news conference in Ankara alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was already being implemented.

State Department official says Iran has been transferring missiles to terrorists
Administration says transfers justify abandoning the Iran nuclear deal

The State Department on Wednesday revealed that Iran has been transferring ballistic missiles to regional partners that the United States views as terrorists.

The revelation by the special envoy for Iran policy, Brian Hook, came at the start of a contentious Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Hook argued that evidence of Iran’s transfer of ballistic missile technology to regional extremist groups justified the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal.

House passes trio of measures supporting Hong Kong protesters
All three measures were advanced to the floor unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in late September

The House passed on Tuesday legislation aimed at helping Hong Kong democracy activists in their fight to preserve political freedoms from encroachment by mainland China.

The most important of the three bills, which passed by voice vote under suspension of the rules, would threaten Hong Kong’s continued special trade status with the United States if the State Department is unable to certify that the city is sufficiently autonomous from Beijing. The status gives Hong Kong easier rules on foreign investment, customs and export regulations.

Sanctions on Turkey go front and center as Congress returns
Trump’s proposed sanctions appear to buy some breathing room with GOP critics

Bipartisan, bicameral sanctions against Turkey over its incursion into northern Syria against longtime Kurdish allies of the U.S. are high on the agenda as lawmakers return from recess Tuesday, even as President Donald Trump appeared to try to undercut the emerging unity on the issue.

While the sanctions and trade actions declared by the president Monday fall short of what lawmakers had been proposing, they do appear, at least initially, to have bought him breathing room with some top Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has been leading the sanctions charge in the Senate.

Bush-era torture memos cast doubt on human rights nominee’s approval
Sen. Robert Menendez said the administration had not been transparent on two separate matters relating to Billingslea’s background

The future of a Trump nominee to serve as the executive branch’s highest-ranking human rights official is in doubt following a difficult Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing and lawmakers’ frustration over how the nomination has been muscled through.

With last week’s confirmation hearing of Marshall Billingslea to be the next undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights, Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, broke with a decades-long tradition of agreement between the Republican and Democratic panel leaders when scheduling committee hearings and markups.

Issa hearing delayed after dispute over background investigation
Democratic Sen. Menendez says White House has ignored its requests for additional information

A confirmation hearing for former Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, who was nominated to a key trade post, was interrupted and then delayed on Thursday as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee fought over information in Issa’s FBI file that could be potentially disqualifying.

Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, had decided to hold confirmation hearings for two nominees whose FBI background files contained classified and potentially disqualifying information that the White House declined to release to anyone other than Risch and ranking Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

White House mulls slimmed-down foreign aid cuts package
Pompeo said to urge Trump not to use budgetary end-run

A Trump administration plan to do an end-run around Congress and cancel more than $4 billion in previously approved foreign aid funds could be scaled back, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged President Donald Trump to back away from the idea in a phone call Monday night.

Details of the conversation between Pompeo, Trump and acting White House budget chief Russell Vought were shared by several individuals close to the foreign aid sector. A senior administration official declined to comment, other than to say it was a private conversation.

Trump appointees routinely bullied State Department staffers, IG reports
Numerous employees subjected to ‘disrespectful,’ ‘hostile’ and ‘inappropriate’ treatment

A long-awaited investigation by the State Department’s inspector general concluded in a report released Thursday that multiple career employees were subjected to “disrespectful,” “hostile” and “inappropriate” treatment at the hands of political appointees.

The review specifically focused on allegations of political retaliation against career employees at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, which leads and coordinates U.S. policy toward the United Nations. For over a year, House and Senate Democrats have pushed for a thorough investigation into whistleblower complaints and news reports that political appointees were vetting career employees at the State Department and retaliating against those they deemed insufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump and his administration’s conservative agenda.

White House blocks foreign aid funds, demands accounting
Affected money could total $4 billion appropriated for public health, peacekeeping, development and diplomacy programs

For the second year in a row, the White House appears to be considering canceling billions of dollars in appropriated foreign aid funding at a time when Congress would be hard-pressed to block such a move.

Over the weekend, the Office of Management and Budget wrote to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development directing the foreign aid agency to cease spending for a range of programs that still have unobligated fiscal 2018 and 2019 balances and would otherwise expire if not spent by Sept. 30.

Senate confirms wealthy GOP donor, McConnell friend as UN ambassador
Kelly Knight Craft, current envoy to Canada, has come under harsh criticism from Democrats

After seven months without a permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations and at a time of increasing turbulence in global affairs, the Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed a new ambassador, a Republican Party fundraiser whose thin diplomatic résumé has come under harsh criticism from Democrats.

The confirmation vote, 56-34, of Kelly Knight Craft, who currently is U.S. ambassador to Canada, came hours after Senate Foreign Relations Democrats published a report that harshly criticized her suitability for the role. The report asserted she was “unknowledgeable” about basic U.S. foreign policy issues and likely to be “outmatched” by her U.N. counterparts from Russia and China. It also lambasted her long record of unexplained absences during her time as envoy in Ottawa.

Risch drops Saudi measure; panel backs Menendez sanctions bill
Sends strong message of displeasure with the Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday advanced to the floor bipartisan legislation that would impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, though the panel’s chairman said he would “absolutely not” recommend it be brought up for a vote.

Chairman Jim Risch withdrew his own Saudi legislation after the committee voted to amend it by adding ranking member Robert Menendez’s sanctions bill to it. In the end, only the Menendez bill was reported to the floor.

State Department aides won’t rule out existing authorizations allowing for attack on Iran
Officials would not commit on seeking congressional approval for military action, either

Senior State Department officials wouldn’t commit to a Senate panel Wednesday that the Trump administration will seek congressional authorization for a potential military conflict with Iran, nor would they promise that existing military authorizations would not be reinterpreted to allow attacks on Iran.

Rather, the Trump administration officials said they would consult and inform lawmakers of any administration plans to carry out military strikes on Iran, including actions related to the defense of U.S. troops and partner forces.

Defense conferees to decide fate of firearms export oversight
Decision nears on blocking the Trump administration from weakening regulations on the export of firearms

Among the many thorny issues Senate and House negotiators have to hash out as they negotiate a final annual defense policy bill this summer is whether to block the Trump administration from weakening regulations around the export of firearms.

The House version of the fiscal 2020 defense authorization measure contains a provision that would restrict the administration from moving forward with its plan to shift export control of firearm sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department.

White House threatens to veto resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales
Senate sends 22 resolutions disapproving of sales to Saudis and UAE to the House where they have good prospects for passage

The White House said Thursday it would veto Senate-passed measures to block its proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries.

“The transfer of these capabilities and services to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan directly supports the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of friendly countries that continue to be important forces for political and economic stability in the Middle East,” according to a statement of administration policy memo.

When sanctions become weapons of mass disruption
A popular foreign policy tool can often have unintended consequences

These days, it seems lawmakers believe every foreign policy challenge can be resolved by imposing sanctions.

Worried that Russia will interfere in the 2020 presidential election? Concerned about the international community bringing Syria’s Bashar Assad in from the cold? Horrified by China’s mistreatment of its Uighur Muslim community? There are sanctions bills for all of them.