On May 4, 2017, House Republicans passed the latest version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which repeals most of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes including the employer and individual mandate penalties. No Democratic representatives voted for the bill, which narrowly passed with a vote of 217-213. The Senate will now take up the “repeal and replace” task started by House Republicans.
Large employers should continue efforts to comply with the ACA, including maintaining appropriate records to comply with the Form 1095-C and Form 1094-C reporting requirements for 2017, until legislation is enacted. Any developments regarding the repeal, replacement or amendment of the ACA will be reported in For Your Benefit.
© Copyright 2017 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved
Under pressure to make good on campaign promises as his first 100 days in office drew to a close, President Donald Trump considered a number of new trade-related actions last week, highlighting the importance of stakeholder engagement with his Administration on trade matters.
On Wednesday, April 26, reports emerged that President Trump was seriously considering withdrawing the US from NAFTA. The action reportedly came as a surprise to many stakeholders, who were expecting trade developments ahead of President Trump 100th day in office but not NAFTA withdrawal. President Trump ultimately decided to shelve the draft executive action following conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, calls from Members of Congress, and outreach by private stakeholders, as well as meetings with his most senior advisors.
In remarks the following day, President Trump confirmed that he had been seriously considering withdrawing the US from NAFTA, reiterating his promise to pursue the strongest deal possible and pledging to terminate the agreement “if we do not reach a fair deal for all.”
On Saturday, April 29, President Trump went on to sign two trade-related Executive Orders (EO).
The first EO states that the policy of the United States will be to negotiate agreements that benefit American workers, manufacturers, farmers and ranchers; protect intellectual property (IP) rights; and encourage domestic research & development. It is also states that the policy of the United States will be to renegotiate any existing trade agreement, investment agreement, or trade relation that, on net, harms the U.S. economic, businesses, IP rights, and “innovation rate,” or the American people.
The EO directs the Secretary of Commerce and the U.S. Trade Representative – working with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General, and the newly-established Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Director – to conduct comprehensive performance reviews of:
All bilateral, plurilateral, and multilateral trade agreements and investment agreements to which the United States is a party; and
All trade relations with countries governed by the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) with which the United States does not have free trade agreements, but with which the United States runs significant trade deficits in goods.
The second EO establishes the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy (OTMP) within the White House. The OTMP’s stated mission is “to defend and serve American workers and domestic manufacturers while advising the President on policies to increase economic growth, decrease the trade deficit, and strengthen the United States manufacturing and defense industrial bases.” Peter Navarro, previously Director of the White House National Trade Council, will serve as OTMP Director.
Last week’s developments provided the strongest indications yet that President Trump is ready to put his trade promises into action. International stakeholders must be prepared to engage with the Administration, to emphasize the importance of trade in the Western Hemisphere for the US economy and American jobs and businesses. The performance reviews mandated by the President’s April 29 EO – which are expected to help direct further policy-making efforts – will also provide Latin American stakeholders a chance to formally comment on the importance of existing trade relations and help to influence new policies going forward.
© Copyright 2017 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP
Serving as guardian is never simple or easy. Having the responsibility to make major life decisions for another is much more difficult than making decisions for oneself. Recent studies by the National Center for State Courts estimate that between one to two million adults are under court-supervised guardianship. The Administrative Conference of the United States estimates that approximately 75 percent of guardians are family members or friends. A constant refrain in multiple national studies and legislative reports is that once guardians are appointed they receive little instruction on how to carry out their responsibilities and have few resources to guide them.
Fundamentals of Guardianship is the much-needed, basic manual for new guardians that explains those roles and responsibilities. The court orders guardians to make decisions; Fundamentals of Guardianship explains how to make those decisions. It guides the new guardian step-by-step through the process of how to make responsible and ethical decisions, prudently manage another’s resources, avoid conflicts of interest, and involve the person under guardianship in the decision process. Fundamentals of Guardianship is the authoritative resource written by guardians with decades of experience and members of the National Guardianship Association.
This book will appeal to all who have been appointed as guardian or conservator, whether lawyer, family member, friend, volunteer, or public or private entity, as well as all those who serve vulnerable adults. Included on this list are judges, court administrators, law enforcement officials, adult protective services, social workers, health care providers, case managers, residential care administrators, long-term care ombudsmen, financial institutions, and financial advisors.
Congress is poised to extend the EB-5 regional center program through September 30, 2017, without any changes. Here is how we got to this point:
On April 28, 2017, the U.S. Congress passed a one-week stopgap funding bill to prevent a government shutdown and the expiration of the EB-5 regional center program. The continuing resolution keeps the U.S. federal government open through May 5, 2017, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to accept Form I-526 petitions based on investments through EB-5 regional centers through that date.
Behind the scenes, members of Congress and their staffs are negotiating an EB-5 reform package to include in the larger funding bill. The key issues concern: (1) raising the minimum investment amount from the current $500,000; (2) revising the definition of what constitutes a “targeted employment area” to allow certain investments at the minimum investment level; (3) establishing visa “set-asides” for investments in certain rural and truly distressed urban areas; and (4) establishing effective dates for the changes.
Congress is close on all these issues. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is circulating one discussion draft; Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) have circulated a similar discussion draft. Neither draft has been officially introduced; thus, they are not public.
It appears unlikely that Congress will be able to finalize an EB-5 reform package in time to include in the larger funding bill. On Sunday night, April 30, congressional leaders announced that they have finalized discussions on the key big-ticket items in the government funding bill, including more money for defense spending and border security. The funding bill is technically called an omnibus appropriations bill. The bill, H.R. 244, is available here. Section 542 of the bill includes a clean extension of the EB-5 program until September 30.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on H.R. 244 on Wednesday. The bill will then proceed to the Senate with time to meet the deadline for approval by midnight Friday.
Given that the omnibus appropriations bill has already been introduced, it is hard to see how an EB-5 reform package could be included as an amendment to H.R. 244. It is more likely that Congress will extend the EB-5 regional center program without changes until September 30, as the bill already provides. During that time congressional negotiators will try to agree on final changes to the EB-5 program. Stay tuned.
The 21st Century Cures Act (“Cures Act”), signed into law by President Obama on December 13, 2016, included a provision that exempts qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangements (“QSEHRAs”) from the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA’s”) group health plan rules. On February 27, 2017, the IRS extended the time for plan sponsors to provide the required QSEHRA notice to employees. This Update describes the general rules for QSEHRAs under the Cures Act, as well as the extension recently granted by the IRS.
Background – Health Reimbursement Accounts Under the ACA
A health reimbursement arrangement (“HRA”) typically consists of an arrangement under which an employer reimburses medical expenses (whether in the form of direct payments or reimbursements for premiums or other medical costs) up to a certain amount. Under the ACA, employers are generally prohibited from establishing an HRA unless it is “integrated” with (that is, considered part of) the employer’s ACA-compliant group health plan. This is because an HRA, standing alone, is a group health plan that will not satisfy several ACA requirements, such as the prohibition on annual or lifetime benefit limits. The IRS has also stated that a non-integrated HRA violates the ACA regardless of whether reimbursements or direct payments are treated as pre-tax or after-tax. An employer that offers a non-compliant HRA is subject to an excise tax under Section 4980D of the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) of $100 for each day that it offered the non-compliant HRA.
For more information about HRAs under the ACA, including types of HRA arrangements that do not violate the ACA, see our June 11, 2015 Compensation & Benefits Legal Update.
HRAs for Qualified Small Employers Under the Cures Act
Under the Cures Act, a QSEHRA established by an eligible employer is not considered a group health plan for purposes of the ACA. As a result, the QSEHRA does not need to comply with the ACA’s market reforms, and an eligible employer that establishes a QSEHRA is not subject to the Code Section 4980D excise tax. To be an eligible employer, a company must have fewer than the equivalent of 50 full-time employees and must not offer a group health plan to any of its employees.
A QSEHRA may pay and/or reimburse for medical care expenses, as defined in Code Section 213(d), including premium payments for individual health insurance policies covering the employee or enrolled family members, regardless of whether the policies are purchased through a broker or through a health insurance exchange. In addition, a QSEHRA must meet the following requirements:
It must be provided on the same terms to all eligible employees of the eligible employer;
It must be funded solely by the employer (i.e., no salary reduction contributions);
It must require employees to provide proof of coverage before the payment or reimbursement of benefits; and
It must limit the amount of payments and reimbursements for any year to no more than $4,950 for single coverage or $10,000 for family coverage (prorated for partial-year coverage).
If an eligible employee enrolls in a health plan that qualifies as minimum essential coverage for the year, the QSEHRA benefit will not count as taxable income. Otherwise, the amount will count as taxable income. The employer must report the total amount of the QSEHRA benefit on each employee’s Form W-2, regardless of whether the amount is taxable.
QSEHRA Notice Requirement
An employer that offers a QSEHRA must issue a specific written notice to all eligible employees. The notice must describe the benefits including the maximum annual benefit, state that the employee should disclose the amount of the QSEHRA benefit when purchasing coverage through a health insurance exchange and that the QSEHRA benefit will offset the amount of any premium tax credit, and state that if the employee is not enrolled in minimum essential coverage he or she may be subject to the individual mandate penalty under the ACA and that any reimbursements from the QSEHRA may be taxable income.
The QSEHRA notice must be provided no later than 90 days before the beginning of the QSEHRA plan year (or, if the employee becomes eligible during the QSEHRA plan year, by the date the employee becomes eligible to participate). However, an eligible employer that provides a QSEHRA for a year beginning in 2017 will not be treated as failing to timely furnish the initial written notice if the notice is furnished to its eligible employees no later than 90 days after the enactment of the Cures Act, which was March 13, 2017. An employer that fails to provide the required notice will be subject to penalties of $50 per employee for each failure, capped at $2,500 for all such failures during a calendar year.
Extension of QSEHRA Notice Requirement
On February 27, 2017, the IRS issued Notice 2017-20, in which it recognized that some eligible employers may find it difficult to comply with the QSEHRA notice requirement absent additional guidance concerning the contents of the notice. Therefore, the IRS provided that an eligible employer that provides a QSEHRA to its eligible employees for a year beginning in 2017 is not required to furnish the initial written notice to those employees until after further guidance has been issued by the IRS. That further guidance will specify a deadline for providing the initial written notice that is no earlier than 90 days following the issuance of that guidance. Employers may provide QSEHRA notice to their eligible employees before such further guidance, and may rely upon a reasonable good faith interpretation of the Cures Act to determine the contents of the notice.
©2017 von Briesen & Roper, s.c
Appeal in Home Depot Data Breach Derivative Action Results in Settlement of Corporate Governance Claims
Snatching victory of a sort from the jaws of defeat, shareholders who brought a derivative action alleging that the 2014 Home Depot data breach resulted from officers’ and directors’ breaches of fiduciary duties have reached a settlement of those claims. As previously reported, that derivative action was dismissed on November 30, 2016. That dismissal followed on the heels of dismissals of derivative actions alleging management breaches of fiduciary duties in connection with the Wyndham and Target data breaches. Despite that discouraging precedent, the Home Depot shareholder plaintiffs noticed an appeal from the trial court’s order of dismissal. The parties subsequently resumed settlement discussions that had broken off in the fall of 2016, on the eve of argument and decision of Home Depot’s motion to dismiss. On April 28, 2017, the parties submitted a joint motion disclosing and seeking preliminary approval of the proposed settlement. If approved, the proposed settlement would result in dismissal of the shareholders’ appeal and an exchange of mutual releases, thereby terminating the fiduciary claims arising from the Home Depot data breach.
The Stipulation of Settlement filed with the court specifies that Home Depot will agree to implement the following nine changes to its information governance practices (which are a checklist of best practices for any business):
Document the duties and responsibilities of the Chief Information Security Officer (“CISO”);
Periodically conduct Table Top “Cyber Exercises” to prepare for emergencies and train personnel to respond to data security threats;
Monitor and periodically assess key indicators of compromise on computer network endpoints;
Maintain and periodically assess the Company’s partnership with a dark web mining service to search for confidential Home Depot information;
Maintain an executive-level committee focused on the Company’s data security;
Receive periodic reports from management regarding the amount of the Company’s IT budget and what percentage of the IT budget is spent on cybersecurity measures;
Maintain an Incident Response Team and an Incident Response Plan;
Maintain membership in at least one Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) or Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (ISAO); and
Retain their own IT, data and security experts and consultants as they deem necessary.
It is unknown whether Home Depot had independently contemplated implementing any of these practices in the aftermath of the breach.
The proposed settlement assigns credit for the changes to the derivative action and, by making them part of a court-approved settlement, does allow for judicial enforcement in the event that Home Depot fails to comply with the remediation program. More significantly, wrapping these practices into the derivative action settlement provides a justification for the shareholders’ counsel to request a fee award of $1,125,000. Significantly, Home Depot continues to deny any wrongdoing, and the Settlement Agreement expressly states that it may not be construed as evidence or admission of fault, liability or wrongdoing.
The amount of the requested fee award, which is relatively modest by the standards of large scale derivative litigation, suggests that this may have been a nuisance value settlement of an appeal with slim prospects for success. Given the prior failures of derivative claims in data breach cases, it remains to be seen whether this settlement will encourage shareholders in future data breach cases to attempt to buck the odds by asserting derivative claims.
©1994-2017 Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved.
The National Law Review is one of the highest volume online-legal publications in the country. Founded in 1888, the National Law Review revolutionize publishing and this cutting-edge tradition continues today. We’re looking for an executive assistant project coordinator and a web content specialist to join our team. Below is a brief summary of the positions. For more information and to apply, go to the career page on our website.
Executive Assistant Project Coordinator (part-time – Western Springs, IL – partially remote)
The National Law Review publishes articles and regulatory alerts from the nation’s premier law firms, law schools, regulatory agencies and professional associations and we also cross promote several legal and other professional events per month. We are one of the highest volume legal websites in the United States and we are looking for an office coordinator to help keep all the things we have going on moving forward and to provide exceptional client-focused and proactive service for both internal and external clients.
- We work with very large law firms so you must have an incredible eye for detail and be a consummate professional.
- We’re a website – so excellent computer skills are non-negotiable. Need demonstrable proficiency in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Microsoft Office 365, Google Drive, Quick Books and Constant Contact and a CRM system. You MUST have these skills coming in the door and have used them recently.
- Strong organizational skills, self-motivation, resourcefulness and a positive, can-do attitude. Wonderful communication skills, both written and oral with both team members and clients.
- Capacity to manage multiple concurrent projects and work well under pressure, adapt quickly, to changing requests, have pride in your work and get along with others.
Web Content Specialist (part-time – Western Springs, IL – mostly remote)
The National Law Review publishes articles and regulatory alerts from the nation’s premier law firms, law schools, regulatory agencies and professional associations and we also cross promote several legal and other professional events per month. We are one of the highest volume legal websites in the United States and we are looking for an additional publication specialist who will format, classify and upload articles, videos and events, relating to business legal news. We publish around the clock, so we have flexibility in scheduling but require a minimum of a three day a week commitment.
Duties and Responsibilities:
- Upload, format and classify legal news articles, videos and events and create new author profiles as needed.
- Develop and send daily subject area email newsletters.
- Maintain and update contacts in bulk email system.
- Work with other team members to further develop website and add additional features and content to website.
- Other duties as may be assigned.
President Trump’s first hundred days did not produce the event that most people in the cybersecurity community expected – a Presidential Executive Order supplanting or supplementing the Obama administration’s cyber policy – but that doesn’t mean that this period has been uneventful, particularly for those in the health care space.
The events of the period have cautioned us not to look for an imminent Executive Order. While White House cybersecurity coordinator Robert Joyce recently stated that a forthcoming executive order will reflect the Trump administration’s focus on improving the security of federal networks, protecting critical infrastructure, and establishing a global cyber strategy based on international law and deterrence, other policy demands have intruded. Indeed as the 100-day mark approached, President Trump announced that he has charged his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with developing a strategy for “innovation” and modernizing the government’s information technology networks. This is further complicating an already arduous process for drafting the long-awaited executive order on cybersecurity, sources and administration officials say.
The Importance of NIST Has Been Manifested Throughout the Hundred Days
The expected cyber order likely will direct federal agencies to assess risks to the government and critical infrastructure by using the framework of cybersecurity standards issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a component of the Department of Commerce.
The NIST framework, which was developed with heavy industry input and released in 2014, was intended as a voluntary process for organizations to manage cybersecurity risks. It is not unlikely that regulatory agencies, including the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, the enforcement agency for HIPAA, will mandate the NIST framework, either overtly or by implication, as a compliance hallmark and possible defense against sanctions.
NIST has posted online the extensive public comments on its proposed update to the federal framework of cybersecurity standards that includes new provisions on metrics and supply chain risk management. The comments are part of an ongoing effort to further revise the cybersecurity framework. NIST will host a public workshop on May 16-17, 2017
Health Industry Groups Are Urging NIST to Set up a ‘Common’ Framework for Cybersecurity Compliance
Various health care industry organizations including the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and the Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Security have asked NIST to help the industry develop a “common” approach for determining compliance with numerous requirements for protecting patient data. Looking for a common security standard for compliance purposes, commenters also argue that the multiplicity of requirements for handling patient data is driving up healthcare costs. Thus, the groups urge NIST to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration “to push for a consistent standard” on cybersecurity. One expects this effort, given strong voice in the First Hundred Days, to succeed.
The Federal Trade Commission is Emerging as the Pre-eminent Enforcement Agency for Data Security and Privacy
With administration approval, the Federal Communications Commission is about to release today a regulatory proposal to reverse Obama-era rules for the internet that is intended to re-establish the Federal Trade Commission as the pre-eminent regulatory agency for consumer data security and privacy. In repealing the Obama’s “net neutrality” order, ending common carrier treatment for ISP and their concomitant consumer privacy and security rules adopted by the FCC, the result would be, according to FCC Chairman Pai, to “restore FTC to police privacy practices” on the internet in the same way that it did prior to 2015. Federal Trade Commission authority, especially with regard to health care, is not without question, especially considering that the FTC’s enforcement action against LabMD is still pending decision in the 9th Circuit. However, the FTC has settled an increasing number of the largest data breach cases The Federal Trade Commission’s acting bureau chief for consumer protection, Thomas Pahl, this week warned telecom companies against trying to take advantage of any perceived regulatory gap if Congress rolls back the Federal Communications Commission’s recently approved privacy and security rules for internet providers.
OCR Isn’t Abandoning the Field; Neither is DoJ
While there have been no signal actions during the First Hundred Days in either agency. The career leadership of both has signaled their intentions not to make any major changes in enforcement policy. OCR is considering expanding its policies with respect to overseeing compliance programs and extending that oversight to the conduct off Boards of Directors.
The Supreme Court Reaches Nine
Many would argue that the most important, or at least most durable, accomplishment of the Trump Administration to date is the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Justice Gorsuch is a conservative in the Scalia mold and is expected to case a critical eye on agency regulatory actions. There is no cybersecurity matter currently on the Supreme Court’s docket, but there will be as the actions and regulations of agencies like the FTC, FCC and DHHS are challenged.
©2017 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.
President Trump Will Welcome Palestinian President to White House, Meet with Australian Prime Minister in New York City
Congress Will Hold Hearings on Human Trafficking, Remittances and International Development, While Also Focusing on a Longer-Term Funding Measure for the Remainder of Fiscal Year 2017
President Donald Trump welcomed Argentine President Mauricio Macri to the White House last Thursday. In a joint statement, the two leaders committed to expanding bilateral trade and investments; strengthening cooperation to counter narco-trafficking, terrorist financing, money laundering, corruption and other illicit finance activities; and increasing cooperation on cyber policy. President Trump will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Wednesday. The President will travel to New York City on Thursday for an event and will also meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
President Trump signed multiple executive documents last week, including a Memorandum on aluminum and national security interests, as well as Executive Orders (E.O.) on veterans affairs, energy, agriculture, land management, and education. President Trump marked his 100th day in office with a Make America Great Again rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after signing two more E.O.s related to trade on Saturday.
On Friday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis honored two U.S. Army Rangers who died Thursday in Afghanistan. He said: “They carried out their operation against [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan] in Afghanistan before making the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation and our freedoms.”
Congress passed a short-term measure on Friday to fund the Federal Government for another week, allowing both chambers additional time to negotiate a longer-term measure that will fund the Government through the end of Fiscal Year 2017. The Senate also approved the nomination of Sonny Perdue to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture last Monday. Congress is in session this week.
North Korea – U.S. Continues Pressure on the International Community
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chaired the U.N. Security Council on Friday, where he focused on North Korea’s illegal nuclear program and its continued provocative activities. He sought to get the Council to act and leverage additional pressure on North Korea, saying:
“For too long, the international community has been reactive in addressing North Korea. Those days must come to an end.”
He outlined steps that the international community could undertake to leverage North Korea into abandoning its nuclear program. The White House released a brief statement on Friday afternoon acknowledging President Trump was briefed on North Korea’s failed missile test that day.
On Wednesday, after a briefing to the Senators at the White House, Secretary Tillerson, Defense Secretary Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a joint statement on North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs and nuclear and ballistic missile tests, saying each provocation jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to U.S. allies and the U.S. homeland. The officials noted: “We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on the D.P.R.K. in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue. We will maintain our close coordination and cooperation with our Allies, especially the Republic of Korea and Japan, as we work together to preserve stability and prosperity in the region. The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our Allies.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford also participated in the Senate briefing. In a summary, the Defense Department recapped North Korea as an urgent national security threat and a top foreign policy priority for the U.S. Government.
On 27 April, the head of U.S. Pacific Command recommended that the U.S. military develop capabilities that can directly defend against North Korean artillery. Testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Adm. Harry Harris shared that the U.S. currently cannot counter an artillery barrage from North Korea. He explained the missile defense system that the United States is deploying to South Korea, is only designed to intercept ballistic missiles. North Korea currently possesses roughly 4,000 artillery pieces positioned near the demilitarized zone. Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) noted that these pieces had the potential to target the South Korean capital, Seoul, and its metropolitan area of 26 million people.
South Korea – McMaster Affirms Missile Defense
On 30 April, National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster confirmed that the United States would adhere to its agreement with South Korea for a new missile defense system, but indicated that payment for the system might be renegotiated. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, also known as THAAD, is being rolled out in response to military provocations from North Korea.
In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” McMaster shared that he told his South Korean counterpart that “until any renegotiation, that the deal’s in place,” but explained that, “what the president’s asked us to do is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden-sharing, responsibility-sharing.” President Donald Trump said in a recent interview that he “informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid” for the missile defense system.
Syria, Iraq – Combating ISIS
The Pentagon gave an update last Friday on the U.S. and Coalition military forces’ efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Coalition forces conducted 24 strikes consisting of 30 engagements against ISIS targets in Syria. In Iraq, Coalition forces conducted eight strikes consisting of 24 engagements against ISIS targets, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government. The destruction of ISIS targets in both countries also further limits the group’s ability to project terror and conduct external operations throughout the region and the rest of the world, according to task force officials.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Thursday at a U.N. Security Council session she chaired on the humanitarian crisis in Syria:
“All eyes and all pressure now need to go to Russia because they are the ones that could stop this if they wanted to…the images don’t lie. The humanitarian workers don’t lie. The fact that they can’t get the assistance they need – that’s not lying. What is, is to continue to give Russia a pass for allowing this terrible situation to occur. I will continue to press the Security Council to act, to do something, regardless of if the Russians continue to veto it, because it is our voice that needs to be heard.”
The Department of State designated Mubarak Mohammed A Alotaibi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order E.O. 13224 on 27 April. Alotaibi is the Syria-based deputy leader of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) affiliate in Saudi Arabia, which was designated by the U.S. Department of State as a SDGT under E.O. 13224 on 19 May 2016.
On 24 April, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced new sanctions targeting 271 Syrian individuals in response to the 4 April sarin gas attack in Syria. According to an accompanying press release, the action – one of the largest OFAC has ever taken – targets employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC). They have been added to OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals (also known as the SDN List) pursuant to Executive Order 13582, “Blocking Property of the Government of Syria and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to Syria.” The full list of newly-designated individuals can be found here.
Afghanistan – Review of U.S. Policy
Defense Secretary Mattis added another stop to his Middle East trip last week that focused on a theme of combatting ISIS. The Secretary was in Kabul, Afghanistan, last Monday. At a press conference Secretary Mattis said of the 21 April Taliban attack on an Afghan military base and mosque that killed more than 100 people: “As if we needed a reminder of the type of enemy we’re up against, the killing of Afghan citizens and soldiers — protectors of the people — just as they were coming out of a mosque, a house of worship, it certainly characterizes this fight for exactly what it is. These people have no religious foundation. They are not devout anything, and it shows why we stand with the people of this country against such heinous acts perpetrated by this barbaric enemy and what they do.”
Regarding President Trump’s directive to review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Secretary Mattis said: “This dictates an ongoing dialogue with Afghanistan’s leadership, and that’s why I came here: to get with President Ghani and his ministers and hear directly and at length from … General Nicholson to provide my best assessment and advice as we go forward.”
NAFTA – U.S. Withdrawal Averted
President Trump considered signing an order last week that would have withdrawn the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). After news of the possible action emerged, the leaders of Mexico and Canada, interested stakeholders, and Members of Congress rallied to call the White House and urge against such action. President Trump said in an interview on Thursday: “I was all set to terminate [NAFTA]. I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.” Later in the interview, the President added he reserves the right to change his mind – “I can always terminate.”
Nominations – Update
The Senate has yet to schedule a final vote on Amb. Robert Lighthizer’s nomination to serve as U.S. Trade Representative. A vote is expected to happen in the next couple of weeks.
Last week, President Trump announced his intent to nominate the following individuals: (1) Kari A. Bingen to serve as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Ms. Bingen currently serves as the policy director for the House Armed Services Committee. (2) Robert Story Karem to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. Mr. Karem most recently served on the Presidential Transition Team as an advisor to Central Intelligence Agency Director, Mike Pompeo, during his confirmation process. He previously served in the White House as a Middle East policy advisor to former Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
Congressional Hearings This Week
On Tuesday, 2 May, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Wining the Fight Against Human Trafficking: The Frederick Douglass Reauthorization Act.”
On Tuesday, 2 May, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Examining the U.S. – E.U. Covered Agreements.”
On Tuesday, 2 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a hearing to consider the nomination of the Honorable Terry Brandstad, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China.
On Wednesday, 3 May, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing to consider the following bills:
R. 1625 – To amend the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to include severe forms of trafficking in persons within the definition of transnational organized crime for purposes of the rewards program of the Department of State, and for other purposes.
R. 1677 – To halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold Syrian human rights abusers accountable for their crimes.
R. 2200 – To reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and for other purposes.
On Wednesday, 3 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Global Philanthropy and Remittances and International Development.”
On Thursday, 4 May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “International Development: Value Added Through Private Sector Engagement.”
Washington is expected to focus on the following upcoming events:
3 May: President Trump will welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
4 May: President Trump travels to New York City, where he will hold a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
May: Formal notification to Congress of intent to renegotiate NAFTA expected
25 May: President Trump to attend the NATO Leaders Meeting in Belgium
26-28 May: President Trump to attend the G-7 Leaders’ Summit in Taormina, Sicily
18-20 June: SelectUSA Investment Summit in National Harbor, Maryland
© Copyright 2017 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP