Dispatch from Washington: April 23

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Former President Donald J. Trump was indicted and charged on thirty-four felony charges—he is the first current or former president to be arrested on criminal charges. The leak of a trove of classified documents has rattled allies. Republicans have controlled the House for over 100 days—and the results are mixed thus far. Inflation is at its lowest level in nearly two years, but the American economy is still in “bizarro COVID times.” The 10th meeting of the U.S. – EU Energy Council convened in Brussels. The U.S. and EU may be close to a deal on critical minerals. The Department of the Treasury released guidance for implementing the new electric vehicle (EV) tax credit under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). President Biden co-hosted the second Summit of Democracies with the leaders of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia. The 2024 Republican Presidential Primary field continues to take shape. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo passes on a presidential run. Vice President Kamala Harris made a historic visit to Africa. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen prompting a strong reaction from China.

Trump Charged with 34 Felonies

On March 31, former President Donald Trump was indicted for his alleged role in a hush money payment to adult film actress, Stormy Daniels. The charges center on a $130,000 payment Trump fixer Michael Cohen made to Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. It is the first time a current or former president has been arrested on criminal charges. Trump turned himself in to the Manhattan district attorney’s office on April 4 and was arraigned on 34 felony charges in the State Supreme Court in Manhattan later that day. The former President pled “not guilty” as hundreds of people demonstrated outside the court in dueling protests. Trump’s legal team has filed a long list of motions and appeals that will draw this legal process out, raising the prospect of a leading presidential candidate campaigning around the country while also facing trial for criminal charges.

 Beyond the charges filed in New York, Trump is the subject of inquiries initiated by federal and state prosecutors elsewhere. A Georgia prosecutor is in the final stages of an investigation into Trump’s attempts to reverse the election results in that state. Jack Smith, the former public integrity chief at the Department of Justice, was tapped as Special Counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee the Justice Department’s criminal investigations involving former President Donald Trump—including Trump’s handling of classified materials that were found at his home in Florida and his efforts to reverse his defeat in 2020 and his role in the events that led to the storming of the Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021. The former President faces considerable legal challenges.

Trump Charged with 34 Felonies

 The Department of Defense is investigating the source of leaked classified-intelligence files from the Pentagon that could pose “a very serious risk to national security.” The leak may have started over a month ago on obscure gaming websites. The documents bore classified markings, including some marked top secret – the highest level of classification. White House national security spokesman John Kirby wouldn’t confirm the validity of the documents during a briefing on April 10 — noting that in some cases they appeared to have been altered — he did say the information “has no business in the public domain.” On April 13, the FBI arrested Jack Teixeira, of Dighton, Massachusetts, in connection with the “unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information” according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Some of the documents expose the extent of US eavesdropping on key allies, including South Korea, Israel and Ukraine. Other documents show the degree to which American intelligence efforts have penetrated the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization. The Justice Department is also reviewing the matter following a referral from the Department of Defense for criminal investigation. Members of Congress have expressed concerns about the apparent scope of the leak and sensitivity of the documents posted.  Multiple congressional committees with jurisdiction over the Pentagon and intelligence community have requested briefings.

House GOP Majority’s First 100 Days

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has led the new House Republican majority for just over 100 days. Entering the 118th Congress in January, the new majority set forth an ambitious agenda—100 days in, the results are decidedly mixed. Before the 118th was gaveled into session, then House Majority Leader-elect Steve Scalise released a plan for 11 bills he was going to put on the House floor within the first two weeks—the House passed six of them in the last three months, five measures have either been pulled from the floor or have not been placed on the schedule. This is a slower start then many, including the new House Majority Leadership, expected and McCarthy must navigate a very slim majority—with only 222 House Republicans, leadership can afford to lose only five votes. Looking forward, the pace of House activity will likely increase. McCarthy has committed to put all twelve appropriations bills on the floor—a considerable lift. Additionally, the chamber will need to address the debt ceiling over the coming months—a point of significant political posturing with real implications for the American economy; nevertheless, there are no Biden-McCarthy talks on the horizon.

Inflation Continues to Ease, Economy Still in “Bizarro COVID Times”

On April 12, the Department of Labor released the most recent Consumer Price Index showing that prices across the economy climbed 5 percent in the year through March, down from 6 percent in February, the smallest annual increase since May 2021. This is also down from a 40-year high of 9.1% last June. On a monthly basis, prices rose 0.1 percent after rising 0.4 percent in February and 0.5 percent in January. Speaking at the Economic Club of Chicago, Austan Goolsbee, president of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, said the economy “is still coming back from bizarro COVID times…Goods inflation has come way down, but now services inflation…has returned and the inflation has proved particularly persistent” due to increased demand. The latest data comes several weeks before the Federal Reserve’s next policy meeting on April 28 and 29, where officials will consider additional rates hikes. Complicating considerations further are a series of recent bank failures—according to recently released minutes from the March 21-22 Federal Open Market Committee meeting, policymakers are scaling back their expectations for rate increases.

U.S. – EU Energy Council Meets

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy David M. Turk, EU High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell Fontelles and European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson co-chaired the 10th meeting of the U.S. – EU Energy Council in Brussels on April 4. The high-level body was launched in 2009 to coordinate strategic energy issues of mutual interest and research and development cooperation. Cooperation between the United States and the European Union on energy-related matters intensified following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, and the subsequent dramatic decrease in Russian gas deliveries to Europe. Europe has managed to replace much of the gas it previously got from Moscow by increasing imports from other suppliers, rapidly building out renewable energy, policy measures to curb overall gas use, and warmer than expected weather this winter. The United States more than doubled gas deliveries to Europe, delivering fifty-six billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the continent in 2022, making Europe the top destination for U.S. LNG supplies. In a joint statement, the United States and the EU “reiterated their strong commitment to directly confront, with adequate measures, all efforts to further destabilize the global energy situation and to circumvent sanctions.” The joint statement also said the U.S. and EU would also intensify cooperation to cut reliance on Russia for nuclear fuel and services. In 2021, Russia supplied 20% of EU nuclear power plants’ uranium provided and 31% of their uranium enrichment services—thus far, the EU has not sanctioned imports of Russian gas nuclear fuel. In 2021, the United States also imported 14$ of its uranium from Russia. Officials will hold a joint meeting later this year to promote advanced technologies such as small modular reactors.

Treasury Releases Proposed Rules for Electric Vehicle Tax Credits

Meeting in Washington last month, President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that they were trying to reach a deal on critical minerals. A deal would provide EU companies access to some of the green subsidies provided in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The European Union has been seeking concessions and exemptions from the IRA, which provides nearly $400 billion in tax credits and subsidies over the next decade for clean energy programs, arguing that the law would unfairly discriminate against European companies. An agreement has yet to be struck, but it is expected to be similar to the agreement between Japan and the United States strengthening critical minerals supply chains, signed in March.

U.S.-EU Critical Minerals Deal?

At the end of March, the Department of the Treasury released guidance for implementing the Section 30D new electric vehicle (EV) tax credit in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Under the IRA, consumers can save up to $7,500 on a new electric vehicle.  However, automakers must meet strict requirements for where they assemble the cars and batteries and where they get the materials that go into batteries to allow customers to qualify for the tax credits. Only a handful of vehicles are expected to qualify for the full credit when the rules, which are more stringent than previous requirements, are finalized and consumers will only be able to apply the tax credit to a limited number of electric vehicle models. The final version of the rules for the EV tax credit will be issued by the Treasury department on April 18.


Summit for Democracy 2023

The Biden administration convened the second Summit for Democracy in late March, the first of which was hosted in December 2021. The 2021 summit kicked off a “Year of Action” by participants to make democracies more responsive and resilient, and to build a broader community of partners committed to global democratic renewal. The United States and partners engaged in implementing over 750 commitments made at the first summit. Addressing the second summit, President Biden sought to assure participants that democratic institutions work, and declared that the administration has an “enduring commitment to boost democracy globally.” Biden co-hosted the summit with the leaders of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia. The Biden administration announced several initiatives during the summit, including an investment of $690 million in new funding over the next two years to the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal. The summit involved 120 countries, including Taiwan, but it is notable that the Biden administration did not invite NATO allies Turkey and Hungary to participate. In spite of these efforts, the administration has faced criticism that they have made little progress in advancing human rights and democracy in its foreign policy. While the leaders of the 120 participating nations were invited to sign the summit declaration, which included calling out Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and included backing basic tenets of democracy such as free and fair elections and respect for human rights, only 73 countries endorsed the text. 

TikTok Targeted

 The social media platform TikTok, which has over 150 million users in the United States, is facing intense scrutiny in Washington, and beyond. TikTok is owned by the Chinese technology company Bytedance, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Communications Commission have raised concerns over their privacy and security policies and warned consumers that ByteDance could share TikTok user data with China’s authoritarian government. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23 and struggled to reassure lawmakers that the popular social video app does not pose a risk to its American users. Thus far, the app has been banned on U.S. federal government devices and half of the 50 U.S. states have banned the app from state government devices. U.S. lawmakers have been advocating for forcing a sale to remove connections to China, limiting the app, or an outright ban and several bills have introduced that would empower the administration to take aggressive action. Americans are growing increasingly suspicious of the platform and more than twice as many Americans support the U.S. government banning TikTok as oppose it (50% vs. 22%), according to Pew. Beyond the United States, “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing partners, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand have taken similar steps against TikTok in recent weeks. In addition, a number of European Institutions (the European Parliament, European Commission, and the EU Council) have also banned TikTok on staff devices and the Parliament “strongly recommended” that members and staff remove the app from their personal devices as well.

2024 GOP Race for Presidential Nomination Continues to Take Shape

By any measure, the race to secure the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination is already historic. This will be the first time in American history that a former president is seeking an Oval Office comeback while under criminal indictment. Nikki Haley, as a twice-elected governor and former cabinet member, is the most politically accomplished woman to enter a Republican presidential primary field. The other declared candidates are former Governor Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy, an investor and former pharmaceutical company executive. Governor Hutchinson is a two-term Arkansas governor, former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) administrator, and former congressman (he also served as the impeachment manager for former President Bill Clinton). Ramaswamy launched an outsider campaign based largely on a critique of “wokeness” among corporations and other institutions. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott announced the formation of an exploratory committee but has not yet announced his formal candidacy. Former Vice President Mike Pence has not yet formally declared but, should he enter the contest, he is poised to be one of Trump’s loudest critics in the field. Some additional prospective candidates are Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.

Mike Pompeo won’t for President in 2024

Mike Pompeo, the former Secretary of State under Donald Trump, announced that he will not be seeking the Republican nomination for President. Pompeo also served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2017 to 2018. A retired Army captain with credentials from U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Harvard Law School, Pompeo pushed for a stronger NATO and increased military to deter Russia. He was also one of the Administration’s most vocal critics of China and its aggressions toward Taiwan. He was considered one of the most valuable Republican candidates for President as the 2024 election shapes up. Pompeo’s decision came after months of private deliberation with his family and public assertions that his former boss would not play a role in his decision to seek the Presidency.

Vice President Visits Africa

Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off her weeklong visit to three countries in Africa on March 26, traveling to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia. The trip was truly historic as Harris is the first Black female U.S. Vice President.  Her visit Africa also carried diplomatic significance, coming at a time when there is global democratic recession and heated U.S. competition with China on the continent. Harris sought to “highlight the innovation and the excitement and the opportunity and the momentum that is happening” in Africa, and the visit comes in the wake of progress achieved at the second-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, held in December 2022, where 49 African heads of state convened. Several major commitments from the United States were announced including: a $55 billion pledge to support the African Union’s Agenda 2063; the creation of a new Digital Transformation with Africa (DTA) initiative intended to invest over $350 million in financing Africa’s digital transformation; President Biden’s endorsement of the inclusion of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member of the G-20; and the creation of the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement, among others. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, a seasoned diplomat, was named as the special presidential representative for U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit implementation to ensure these commitments are met. Harris was greeted warmly in Ghana, her first stop, where President Nana Akufo-Addo told Harris, “You’re welcome home.” In Tanzania, Harris met Africa’s only female President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, and several hundred college students waited for hours at the airport to greet her upon her arrival. In Zambia, President Hakainde Hichilema said Harris’ visit was “like a homecoming,” in reference to when Harris’ grandfather worked there. The visit was part of an ongoing effort for the U.S. to restructure its partnership with the African continent—First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited Africa in February and President Biden pledged to visit “soon.”

Speaker McCarthy Meets with Taiwan’s President

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a trip to the United States. Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library outside Los Angeles, the Taiwanese leader thanked the U.S. for its support to Taiwan. The meeting drew sharp condemnation from China—in advance of the meeting China called it a “provocation” and threatened “countermeasures” should the meeting go ahead. In August 2022, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and met with Tsai.  Following the meeting, China responded with large-scale military exercises close to Taiwan and sent missiles flying over the island into waters near Japan. Following the McCarthy meeting, China began three days of military drills, called “Joint Sword,” around Taiwan in what the People’s Liberation Army called a “stern warning,” sending several warships and 71 planes near Taiwan, at last 45 of which crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

“Who’s Who” – Personnel Updates from the Biden Administration

Department of DefenseBrendan Owens was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment. Laura Taylor-Kale was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy.

Department of EnergyMatt Baca is Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs.

Department of StateMatthew Miller is now State Department Spokesperson. Richard R. Verma was confirmed as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. Eric M. Garcetti was confirmed to be Ambassador to India. The following Ambassadorial nominations were announced: Richard Riley IV to Somalia; Mark Toner to Liberia; Joel Ehrendreich to the Republic of Palau, Herro Mustafa Garg to Egypt, Robin Dunnigan to Georgia, Kara C. McDonald to the Republic of Lithuania.

Department of the TreasuryMegan A. Bates-Apper is Senior Spokesperson in the Office of International Affairs.

Development Finance CorporationNisha Desai Biswal was nominated as Deputy Chief Executive Officer.

White House Saloni Sharma is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor for Communications to the Chief of Staff. Jenny R. Yang is Deputy Assistant to the President for Racial Justice and Equity at Domestic Policy Council (DPC). Heather M. Boushey is Chief Economist to the Invest in America Cabinet at Council of Economic Advisers. Emily M. Mendrala is Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Southwest Border and Senior Advisor on Migration at Border and Transportation Security on the National Security Council Staff (NSC). Sarah M. Beran is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for China and Taiwan Affairs on the NSC staff. Sarah O. Ladislaw is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Climate and Energy at International Energy and Environment on the NSC staff. Gabe Sehr is Director for Legislative Affairs on the NSC staff. Sheila L. Casey is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director at Joining Forces Initiative in the Office of the First Lady. Stephanie L. Young is Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor at Communications in the Office of the Vice President. Bharat R. Ramamurti is Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Deputy Director and Advisor for Strategic Economic Communications at the National Economic Council. 



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