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The Continuing Politics of Keystone

November 21, 2014

by John Parisella

U.S. Republicans did not wait long after their midterm gains to provoke a congressional vote on the approval of the Keystone Pipeline project. 

It was not the first such try.  Getting a strong and unequivocal vote in favor of Keystone in the House of Representatives, where the GOP has a strong majority, was easy.    The Senate, on other hand, was another matter.  The project narrowly failed to reach the needed 60 votes needed to make it to the president’s desk, with 59 votes in favor and41 opposed.  So once again, the Republicans failed.

Obviously, this was a failed political ploy meant to embarrass the president. Republicans knew that President Obama would likely have vetoed Keystone, and would have had the votes to resist an override by Congress (two-thirds of both Houses are required to override a presidential veto). The new Senate, with 54 Republican senators (nine more than in the current Senate) will not be sworn in until early January 2015. 

So it was all about politics—and the president expected as much, even in the current lame-duck Congress. 

However, Obama is not beyond playing politics himself.  He has essentially given up the Louisiana Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mary Landrieu (who faces a runoff election on December 6) to her Republican adversary.  He repeated that he will not decide whether to approve Keystone until a Nebraska Appeals court rules on the pipeline’s route through the state.

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Tags: Keystone XL pipeline, Canada-U.S. relations, President Barack Obama

Obama Moving Forward with Immigration Reform Plan

August 29, 2014

by AQ Online

President Barack Obama’s plan to move forward with reforming the U.S. immigration system through executive action will not be deterred by threats from some Congressional Republicans to force a government shutdown, press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. “The president is determined to act where House Republicans won't, and there is strong support for that all across the country," Earnest said.

The comments from the White House come in response to remarks by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that signaled the possibility of the GOP using the budget process to halt any executive action on the issue. "If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear," Rep. King told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday.

White House lawyers are in the final stages of building a legal case around Obama’s plan to expand administrative relief that will likely expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) launched through executive action in June 2012 to more recipients. While an announcement of the reforms were excepted by Labor Day, the president’s trip to Estonia and Wales and conflicts in the Middle East will likely delay it until mid-September.​

Tags: President Barack Obama, Immigration Reform

Obama to Pursue Executive Action on Immigration Reform

July 1, 2014

by AQ Online

In an announcement at the White House yesterday, President Barack Obama blamed House Republicans for congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration reform, and said that he would be moving forward with executive action to fix the U.S.’s broken immigration system. Obama went on to say that he would be moving resources from the interior of the country to the border, in part to address the estimated 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have entered the U.S. illegally so far in 2014.

Obama said that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder will "identify additional actions my administration can take within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.” Obama expects recommendations by summer’s end, which could affect the midterm elections in November.

Under executive action, Obama could reduce deportations by extending deferred action to certain group of undocumented immigrants, similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program he started through executive action in 2012.

The announcement comes less than a week after Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner told the president that the House of Representatives would not vote on the comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate a year ago, despite the fact that there is enough bipartisan support in the chamber to pass it.

Tags: Immigration, President Barack Obama, unaccompanied minors

Obama Sets Timeline for Action on Immigration Reform

May 14, 2014

by AQ Online

In a meeting with law enforcement officials at the White House on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that House Republicans have a “narrow window” of two or three months to push comprehensive immigration reform legislation through before midterm politics become a priority. Congressional elections will be held on November 4.

At the meeting, Obama cast immigration reform as a security issue, saying that maintaining the status quo “makes it harder for our law enforcement agencies to do their job.” The president signaled that the administration could “reboot” the controversial Secure Communities program, which shares information on immigrants gathered by local and state law enforcement with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson—who assumed office last December—is in the midst of conducting a review of the administration’s immigration enforcement policies. Over the past few months, Johnson has met with stakeholders on both sides of the immigration reform debate, including the national immigrant youth organization United We Dream and the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies.

The president expressed hope that comprehensive reform legislation—like the bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support in June 2013—would make it to his desk, provided that there’s movement before the August recess. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told local chambers of commerce in San Antonio on Monday that both parties are “getting closer on the policy side in terms of how to deal” with immigration reform.

Tags: President Barack Obama, Immigration Reform, Jeh Johnson, Secure Communities

Shifting Mood in Canada–U.S. Relations

January 24, 2014

by John Parisella

In a recent blog, I described Canada’s new and emerging American economic challenge with our neighbor to the south as it was heading towards energy self-sufficiency with its consequent impact on the manufacturing sector of its economy. While Canada has increased its trade with new partners  in recent years and is actively pursuing new markets for its products through free trade agreements, I concluded by saying that the United States remains our number one export nation and this will not change in the near future.

On the political front, there are few relationships more stable and predictable than that of Canada and the U.S. We have fought wars together, have done peace missions together, have shared intelligence on national and continental security matters, and generally have had compatible national interests. The post-World War II years have seen some differences between these two neighbors, but none significant enough to doubt the depth of trust, commonality of interest, and shared commitment. At least until recently.

The current trip by Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, with a huge delegation of government officials and business people to the Middle East, including Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, has raised speculation that Canada has steadfastly decided on a go-it-alone policy at a crucial moment as U.S. diplomacy is actively pursuing peace in the region. The reception offered to the Canadian visitors by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is unmatched in recent memory and Prime Minister Harper has reciprocated with an unequivocal endorsement of Israel’s conditions for peace. Some observers in Canada are asking: is Canada more supportive of the Israeli government’s negotiating position than the brokering efforts of the U.S.? 

The Canada-Israel bond contrasts with the frosty relationship between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. Considering the Israeli Prime Minister’s warmth to the Republican Party and its 2012 Presidential nominee, Governor Mitt Romney, and his public lecturing of President Obama, Netanyahu’s enthusiastic praise for Harper’s policy seems meant to convey an implicit mistrust of the U. S. government in its handling of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Clearly, this did not seem to be a factor in the Canadian Prime Minister’s trip.

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Tags: US-Canada relations, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Barack Obama

Independent Watchdog Says NSA Program Is Illegal

January 24, 2014

by AQ Online

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal privacy review board, has concluded that the National Security Agency (NSA)’s phone call record collection program is illegal and should be discontinued. The 238-page report published yesterday finds that the spying program “lacks viable foundation” under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, violates the First and Fourth Amendments and poses threats to privacy and civil liberties.

The report comes a week after President Barack Obama’s speech on limiting the reach of the NSA in order to protect civil liberties, during which he pledged to change how the NSA collects civilian telephone records in order to increase transparency on surveillance activities. The president also said he would alter the metadata gathering program, moving the bulk information out of government hands into a third party where privacy can be protected, but U.S. officials have expressed concern about the feasibility of achieving these changes.

The NSA’s surveillance tactics have also recently sparked debate about the impact on U.S. foreign relations, the topic of the Americas Quarterly Winter 2014 Hard Talk Forum. Responding to international criticism, President Obama proposed setting limits on the surveillance of foreign heads of state as part of the planned reform. Many Americans remain skeptical of government surveillance programs according a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released Monday, with as many as 73 percent saying they don’t believe the proposed changes will make a significant difference.

Tags: NSA spying, President Barack Obama, Surveillance

Brazil Cancels Preparatory Trip to the U.S. Over Espionage Claims

September 6, 2013

by AQ Online

Brazilian authorities canceled a delegation trip to Washington that had been scheduled to lay the groundwork for President Dilma Rousseff‘s meeting with President Barack Obama in October. The decision was made on Thursday in response to allegations that the Brazilian president was a target of U.S. electronic espionage.

The allegations were made on September 1 by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret government documents on U.S. electronic surveillance programs from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The documents revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the communications network of the Brazilian president and her staff, including telephone, Internet and social network exchanges. According to Greenwald, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was similarly targeted. Both presidents have demanded an explanation from Washington by the end of this week.

For Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, “this represents an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty.” Brazil’s Senate is creating a special committee to examine the spying allegations and to seek federal police protection for Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro. Figuereido said that Brazilian authorities also will file a complaint with the United Nations and reach out to other developing nations to protest against this breach of national sovereignty.

According to former Brazilian ambassador to the U.S., Rubens Barbosa, though Brazil-U.S. relations have waned in recent years, the scandal won’t affect commercial ties between the two countries. “Rousseff will probably end up going through with the trip and speak out against the espionage in Obama’s face,” Barbosa said.

The October 23 trip would be Rousseff’s first state visit to Washington DC.

Tags: Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff, President Barack Obama

Obama’s Visit to Costa Rica: Lessons for an Improved Partnership

May 6, 2013

by Mariano Batalla

President Obama’s recent visit to Costa Rica focused on enhancing competitiveness and deepening economic ties with the Central American Integration System (SICA) through a U.S.-SICA partnership based on human and economic development. The visit also served as a pressing reminder of the need to improve integration efforts within the region.

For this partnership to succeed, the countries involved should recognize that most regional challenges arise in part because of poverty. Young men and women don't see a brighter future ahead and institutions are not working for their people.

President Obama’s trip provided a renewed perspective on the relationship between the U.S. and Central America—especially for a region more used to talking about its problems than coming up with solutions and more used to asking for assistance than offering mutual cooperation. In that spirit, here are the three main themes that Central American leaders must follow up on after this visit.

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Tags: Costa Rica, SICA, President Barack Obama

New AQ Looks at Latin America’s Global Presence as Obama Heads to Mexico, Costa Rica

May 2, 2013

by AQ Online

Today, as U.S. President Barack Obama kicks off his sixth visit to Latin America, Americas Quarterly releases its Spring issue, Latin America Goes Global, in which, among other articles on the region’s increasing role in global affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson reveals 10 generally unknown initiatives that are advancing U.S-Latin American relations. 

In “10 Things You Didn’t Know about U.S.–Latin America Relations,” Jacobson looks at both long-standing and nascent efforts to promote many of the broader issues President Obama will discuss during his meetings with Latin American leaders in Mexico and Costa Rica. The president departs for Mexico this morning and will be visiting the two countries from May 2–4.

Economic and trade relations, security and cooperation will be top agenda items. And Jacobson points to local efforts already in place to connect small entrepreneurs and bolster education and opportunities in the region.  From bicultural centers throughout the region that offer education in English and technology, among other subjects, to the Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA), the hemispheric collaboration Obama seeks to expand has firm roots in place, Jacobson notes.  On a larger scale, Jacobson notes multilateral alliances like the Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—also explored in the Spring AQ—and its potential to deepen economic ties and opportunities.

President Obama has committed to discussing efforts to coordinate the hemispheric energy supply and demand and to launch new environmental partnerships, and Jacobson details existing efforts to collaborate on environment and energy issues.  Local initiatives are raising environmental awareness and furthering initiatives to connect Latin America’s private sector entrepreneurs to U.S. clean energy companies.

The Spring AQ explores many other aspects of Latin America’s increasing global presence that will, in part, guide the issues Obama discusses and the initiatives he puts forth.

Tags: Mexico, Costa Rica, President Barack Obama

President Obama Offers Wide-Ranging Interview Prior to Latin America Trip

April 30, 2013

by AQ Online

In anticipation of his May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out his perspectives on how regional cooperation can help to advance growth and prosperity in the Americas. In an exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly, Obama said that his sixth trip to the region will be an opportunity to consolidate joint efforts on citizen security, increase trade and investment, launch clean energy partnerships, and expand exchanges between citizens across the hemisphere.

On Thursday, Obama will travel to Mexico, where he will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “Building on Mexico’s presidency of the G20 last year, we’ll continue working to sustain the global economic recovery, promote global development and address climate change,” Obama told AQ. The president also highlighted Mexico’s “growing leadership in the region and on the world stage," and praised Mexico’s role in the negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he expects to be completed by the end of this year. He emphasized that TPP would bring “rewards [that] would be substantial for all our countries.”

On Friday, Obama will travel to Costa Rica, where he will meet President Laura Chinchilla and other Centro American leaders at the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana—SICA) summit in San José. During this meeting, Obama will draw attention to the importance of finding new ways to involve governments, the private sector and civil society in reducing crime and violence, as well as encourage regional partners to address citizen security from a more holistic perspective. Energy security and cooperation to provide clean and affordable energy also will be on the agenda.

Immigration will be a backdrop to the president’s discussions given the large number of Central American and Mexican migrants in the United States. Here, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible to take advantage of the significant contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy. “We need to fix our broken immigration system to make sure that every business and every worker in the United States is playing by the same set of rules,” he said.

Read President Obama’s exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly here.

Tags: President Barack Obama, Latin America, Mexico, Costa Rica, SICA

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