Rachel Oswald

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.

U.N. pick asked why almost half her days as Canada’s ambassador were spent elsewhere
Menendez noted the U.N. ambassador was away from her post for 300 days from Oct. 23, 2017, to June 19, 2019

President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.N. ambassador, who is also a close friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was chided Wednesday by a senior Senate Democrat for the “excessive” time she spent away from her current post as ambassador to Canada.

Kelly Knight Craft, a longtime Republican Party fundraiser and business consultant from Kentucky whose billionaire husband’s fortune comes from the coal business, does not have the diplomatic resume typical for envoys to the U.N. But her friendship with Kentucky Republican McConnell virtually guarantees her confirmation.

House Democrats vote to block diplomats’ funds from going to Trump hotels, golf resorts
Republicans slam amendment as ‘partisan stunt’

Updated 8:24 p.m. | House Democrats offered another rebuke to President Donald Trump on Tuesday, this time by voting to block the State Department from spending taxpayers' money at his domestic and overseas golf clubs and hotels.

The House voted 231-187 to adopt an amendment that would prohibit the department from spending funds at any of the Trump Organization’s hundreds of hotels, golf resorts and other properties. The provision was voted on as part of an en bloc package of amendments that Democratic leaders put together to avoid the risk of floor time being eaten up by roll call votes on each.

Senate rejects Paul bid to block arms sales to Bahrain, Qatar

The Senate on Thursday rejected a bid by Sen. Rand Paul to block arms sales to Qatar and Bahrain even as senators brace for a more contentious debate next week over proposed weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The vote Thursday means the proposed sales — a $3 billion Apache Helicopter package for Qatar and a $750 million munitions package to support Bahrain’s F-16 fleet — can go forward.

Democrats spar with State official over arms sales maneuver

A senior State Department official on Wednesday appeared to blame Democrats for the administration’s decision last month to declare a state of emergency over Iran to avoid congressional review of billions of dollars of weapon sales to Arab Gulf states.

R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, attributed the emergency order to holds placed in spring 2018 by Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez on $2 billion in proposed precision-guided missile sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Menendez, D-N.J., placed the holds in response to the many civilian casualties in the Yemen civil war, in which the two Gulf nations are fighting against Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents.

Saudi arms resolutions are within rules, McConnell says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said he believes a bipartisan effort to force floor votes contesting the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states is in line with Senate rules and procedures, despite the State Department’s declaration last month of an emergency situation in order to skirt congressional oversight.

“My understanding is there would still be a vote triggered no matter which path the administration chose to go forward on the sales,” McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters in response to a question by CQ Roll Call. “Presumably, it will be very similar to a resolution of disapproval under a more traditional approach. At least, that’s what we think the parliamentarian believes.”

Bipartisan Senate group seeks to block Saudi arms sales as Trump administration tries to avoid congressional review
Top Democrat on Foreign Relations Menendez formally announces 22 separate disapproval measures

Bipartisanship is breaking out in the Senate to push back on yet another emergency declaration from the Trump administration.

This time, the rebuttal comes over announced arms sales, including to Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of an emergency declaration from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Lawmakers seek solutions in Venezuela, Iran
CQ on Congress podcast, Episode 153

House works to end Trump’s suspension of aid to Central America
The draft fiscal 2020 State-Foreign Operations spending bill would also provide funds reproductive health programs and international agencies

House appropriators are trying to end a divisive suspension of foreign aid to Central America made by President Donald Trump, one of many provisions in a spending bill that would counter administration policy on a range of international issues.

The draft fiscal 2020 State-Foreign Operations spending bill released Thursday would also provide more money to reproductive health programs and international agencies.