Rachel Oswald

House Democrats press to stop gun export rule change
Democrats hope to block a change that could make it easier to export firearms abroad, but time is running out

House Democrats are working to block a proposed Trump administration regulatory change that is expected to make it easier to export firearms abroad, but it’s unclear if there’s enough time to stop the change from taking effect.

Legislation introduced last month by Rep. Norma J. Torres of California would effectively take away the president’s ability to shift export control of firearms from the State Department to the Commerce Department.

China is building soft power in U.S. schools, Senate report warns
The country has shelled out $158 million to seed a network of Confucius Institutes in the United States

A new bipartisan report by a Senate investigative panel has found that the Chinese government has the potential to use a popular Mandarin language program it funds at hundreds of U.S. universities and K-12 schools to shape and even stifle the discussion of controversial Beijing policies.

Although the findings are cause for concern, the report did not show a pattern of egregious incidents of U.S. academic research being squashed or that campus debate had been overtly stifled on matters that China views as sensitive such as Tibet, Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square massacre. But the report did say the institutes fostered a climate where self-censorship on those topics was more likely to occur among university officials and students.

Menendez blocks firearm export rule, citing oversight concerns
The proposed Trump administration rule would weaken oversight and make it easier for criminals to obtain military-grade weapons, he said

A senior Democratic senator has blocked a Trump administration proposed rule to switch oversight authority of firearm sales abroad from the State Department to the Commerce Department, arguing the move would significantly weaken congressional oversight and increase the risk of terrorists and criminals getting their hands on powerful military-grade weapons.

Sen. Robert Menendez, ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, placed the hold last week after he was notified earlier this month about the proposed change by the State Department. Menendez is objecting to the final language of the rule.

Engel promises tough oversight of Trump's North Korea nuclear talks
House Democrats are ready for a deal, but only if it offers permanent denuclearization

The Trump administration must be more transparent about its North Korea policy if it wants congressional support for implementing any nuclear agreement that could come out of this week’s summit in Hanoi, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Monday.

Chairman Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., said House Democrats are ready to be constructive partners in implementing a possible U.S.-North Korea nuclear deal, but only if it offers a credible path toward Pyongyang’s permanent denuclearization.

Democrats could stymie nuclear arms race after US leaves pact
2020 presidential hopefuls have already thrown support behind legislative efforts

Congress can do little to halt the U.S. withdrawal from a nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, if President Donald Trump is determined to do so. But Democrats could have opportunities to shape and even block the administration’s plans to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Earlier this month, the White House announced it would leave the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in six months. The Kremlin quickly responded that it too would cease honoring its arms control commitments under the accord, though the United States and NATO have long accused Russia of already violating the treaty by deploying an intermediate-range, ground-launched cruise missile.

Trump to meet North Korean leader later this month
The high-stakes talks will span 2 days starting Feb. 27, Trump said toward the end of his State of the Union speech

President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to announce he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet again later this month in Vietnam to resume nuclear disarmament talks.

The high-stakes talks will span two days starting Feb. 27, he said.

Senate passes Middle East policy bill, urges caution in Syria
21 Democrats vote against measure, including four declared presidential contenders

The Senate on Tuesday passed a Middle East policy bill that urges President Donald Trump not to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan.

The 77-23 vote on the measure came hours ahead of Trump’s State of the Union address and more than a month after the legislation, initially touted as widely bipartisan and noncontroversial, was first brought to the floor. Democrats refused to consider the bill during the 35-day partial government shutdown.

House Foreign Affairs Eyes New Subcommittee to Investigate Trump
Focus would be potential financial ties between foreign governments and the president

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is planning a reorganization in the new Congress that would emphasize investigating the Trump administration as Democrats take control of the chamber.

The anticipated changes, which include plans to streamline the subcommittee structure, were outlined in conversations with three House staffers, who added that the focus would be potential financial ties between foreign governments and President Donald Trump. The staffers were not authorized to be quoted discussing the changes in advance of official action.

Senators’ Yemen Vote Is Precursor to Debate on Saudi Relations
Corker eyes nonbinding resolution to condemn kingdom over Khashoggi murder

The Senate is expected Wednesday to debate and vote on a resolution that would order an end to military involvement in the war in Yemen, one of several measures that lawmakers are considering to punish Saudi Arabia.

But Wednesday’s discussion may be shortened due to scant floor time and several competing high-priority legislative items that, unlike the Yemen resolution, could still become law before the year is over.

Congress Waits for a Reboot, but Gets the Spinning Wheel
It’s an open secret that Congress isn’t doing its job. Now what?

The spring’s high-profile Capitol Hill hearings with the heads of Facebook, Twitter and Google should have been a chance for lawmakers to demonstrate to the American public why Congress is such an important institution.

Since early 2017, concerns about how tech giants were securing and using the personal information of hundreds of millions of social media users had escalated to alarm. Still, despite bipartisan agreement on the growing need for regulations to better protect privacy and prevent social media platforms from being used to spread lies and hate speech, lawmakers haven’t lived up to their oversight task. Months later, they’ve made no significant headway — no bills tackling the issue have received markups or are moving on the floor.

Senate Defies Trump on Saudi Arabia, Advances Yemen Measure
Vote comes after veto threat by White House

In a rebuke to the White House, the Senate cast a procedural vote Wednesday to advance a resolution that would cut off most U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia’s war operations in Yemen.

The Senate voted 63-37 to agree to a motion to discharge the Foreign Relations Committee from considering the measure, which authorizes the chamber to begin mulling the resolution, a debate that is likely to occur next week.

Why Angry Senators Are Ready to Break Up With Saudi Arabia
Podcast, Episode 125

Senators are considering several options to punish Saudi Arabia over the suspected murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, says CQ foreign policy reporter Rachel Oswald. She adds that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have grown frustrated with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He was once seen as a reformer but his crackdown on dissent has tarred his image.

 

3 Ways Congress Can Punish Saudi Arabia
Jamal Khashoggi’s alleged murder prompts bipartisan calls for action

Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill from Republicans and Democrats alike to impose stiff penalties on Saudi Arabia for its suspected murder of a prominent dissident journalist, as new gruesome details were leaked by Turkish intelligence on Wednesday.

The growing congressional outrage over the reported torture, beheading and dismemberment two weeks ago of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is diametrically opposed to the signals coming from President Donald Trump, who has criticized the rush to judge the kingdom. A columnist for The Washington Post, Khashoggi was a resident of Virginia.

Menendez, Pompeo Feud Over Diplomatic Nominees
Secretary of state accuses New Jersey Democrat of ‘putting our nation at risk’

A tiff between New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slowing down the confirmation of nominees for the nation’s diplomatic corps, already understaffed at a time of mounting global challenges.

Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, is objecting to some State nominees over their qualifications even as he continues to press Pompeo to fulfill long-standing oversight document requests.

Senate Poised to Pass Nicaragua Sanctions Bill
Central American nation has been riveted by violent protests since spring

The Senate is poised to pass legislation that would impose sanctions against Nicaraguan government officials and place conditions on international lending to the Central American country, which has been riven by violent protests since the spring.

The bipartisan legislation from Texas Republican Ted Cruz and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has been added to the Senate calendar and is expected to pass by unanimous consent. The measure advanced out of the Foreign Relations Committee late last month.

Senators Trigger Investigation Into Missing Saudi Journalist Who May Have Been Murdered
Jamal Khashoggi went missing after visiting Saudi consulate in Turkey

Senators on Wednesday triggered a U.S. government investigation into what happened to a prominent missing Saudi journalist, who is suspected to have been murdered last week in Turkey.

The lawmakers said they expect the investigation to look into the actions of the “highest-ranking officials in the government of Saudi Arabia,” a move that signals lawmakers on both sides of aisle are willing to confront the staunch ally.

Senate Eyes Passage of Bill to Check China in Asia-Pacific
Legislation would recommit to military sales to Taiwan

The Senate is looking to pass in the coming weeks a bill that would guide U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific with an eye toward preventing China from becoming a hegemonic regional power.

The Senate Foreign Relations committee last week unanimously advanced a bipartisan bill from Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., who lead the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee. The measure would authorize more than $1.5 billion in new funds over the next five years for the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Pentagon to maintain regional political support for the rules-based international order that the United States has championed over the last 70 years.

Senate Quandary: How to Sanction Russia Without Harming Europe
Foreign Relations chairman predicts resolution in coming weeks

As senators deliberate over legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia, former government officials warned against any action that would harm European allies that rely on gas imports from Russia.

“It’s very difficult with some of the bills that have been laid out to only punish Russia without punishing our European friends,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., at a Wednesday hearing on the importance of NATO.

State Department Hedges on Proposed New Russia Sanctions
Trump administration “needs discretion”

A senior State Department official on Tuesday urged senators to give the Trump administration considerable leeway as lawmakers contemplate new punitive sanctions against Russia.

“We need discretion with those sanctions,” testified Wess Mitchell, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on relations with Russia. “Sanctions without discretion, in my mind, is the antithesis of diplomacy.”

Lawmakers Wary of Potential Trump Cuts to Foreign Aid
Corker, Menendez doubt legality of reported plan

Sources close to Capitol Hill and within the foreign aid community say that Trump administration officials are preparing a potential foreign aid “rescission” package that could cut between $2 billion and $4 billion in fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018 funds from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Some $200 million intended to benefit Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is thought to be on the chopping block as part of the request, sources said.