House Rebukes Turkey With Votes On Sanctions, Armenian Genocide

Armenian Americans march in Los Angeles on April 24 during an annual commemoration of the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.

Updated 6:40 p.m. ET

The House of Representatives approved two measures pushing back at Turkey, a sign of significant bipartisan ire at a longstanding NATO ally following the country’s offensive into northeastern Syria.

The first measure was a symbolic resolution labeling the deaths of roughly 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 in the Ottoman Empire, which is now modern-day Turkey, as a “genocide.” It passed 405-11, with 3 members voting present.

Previous administrations prevented Congress from allowing a vote on this, arguing that it could damage the relationship with the Turkish government.

The second was a bipartisan bill that imposed sanctions on Turkish officials and prevents the sale of arms to Turkey for use in Syria. That passed overwhelmingly too – 403-16.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has cautioned that sanctions should not be a first resort so it’s unclear whether either of these measures will be brought up for votes in the Senate.

There was no such caution in the House. Both measures passed with veto-proof majorities.

“The United States needs to make sure that Turkish President Erdogan faces consequences for his behavior,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the highest-ranking Republican on that same committee, told NPR that the House was sending a clear signal with sanctions.

“I truly believe this will send another signal to Erdogan to stop ethnic cleansing, to stop this aggressive behavior,” McCaul said. “And I think these two bills together will tie in very well.”

One of the lead co-sponsors of the four-page resolution on the Armenian genocide is House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who represents one of the largest concentrations of Armenian Americans in the United States. The resolution also enjoys support from many House Republicans, including Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida and Rep. Peter King of New York, both co-sponsors.

“It’s an extremely contentious historical issue,” said Lisel Hintz, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies Turkish politics and international relations. “For the U.S. to take a position on it, I think for frankly any country to take a position on it — from the Turkish perspective — is meddling in the international affairs of that country’s sovereignty.”

According to the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, 49 states have already recognized that an estimated 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 were systematically killed in the Ottoman Empire, which is now modern-day Turkey.

The resolution is a victory for Armenian Americans and their allies, who have long unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to recognize it. “We urge all members to support this bipartisan human rights legislation and ensure that the days of genocide denial are over and that America’s proud chapter in helping the survivors of the first genocide of the 20th century is honored and preserved,” said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America.

In recent decades, the U.S. government has been coy about efforts to formally recognize those events out of fears of inflaming relations with Turkey, where the government denies that a genocide occurred. The Turkish government has traditionally deployed intense and effective lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill to discourage Congress from passing the resolution.

“We should have recognized that genocide again and again long ago,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif. “But we didn’t because we were told that that we had a great alliance with Turkey.”

U.S. lawmakers’ attitudes toward Turkey have been degrading for years, most recently over Turkey carrying out military attacks against Syrian Kurdish forces that are allies of the U.S. fight against ISIS.

“There’s an extremely high level of tension right now, which means particularly within the U.S. Congress right now, there is an almost unified sentiment against Turkey,” said Hintz, adding that passage of the resolution will likely ratchet up tensions even further.

However, Hintz said the resolution could have unintended consequences, including bolstering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political strength back home. “It would be absolutely perfect timing for him,” Hintz said. “I think a recognition of the genocide resolution, what that’s going to do is unite the opposition, and the opposition is the only chance you have of defeating Erdogan.”

There is a bipartisan Senate resolution by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, recognizing the Armenian genocide as well. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Cory Gardner of Colorado are among the co-sponsors. All four senators are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, the Senate plays a more direct role in shaping foreign policy and tends to take a less reactionary stance on such issues. There is no current plan to bring the resolution up for a Senate vote.

The Trump administration has not yet weighed in on the House resolution. In recent decades, both Republican and Democratic administrations have generally tried to avoid the Armenian genocide debate. Turkey is a NATO member, stores many U.S. nuclear weapons and is a strategic military ally in regards to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

For example, President Obama declined to use the term “genocide,” which some of his top administration officials later said was a mistake. “I’m sorry that we disappointed so many Armenian Americans,” Samantha Power, Obama’s U.N. ambassador, told the Pod Save the World podcast last year.

Czech-Chinese Ties Strained As Prague Stands Up To Beijing

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Czech Republic President Milos Zeman shake hands in Prague in March 2016. For years, the Czech Republic kept its distance from Beijing. But this changed when Zeman, a populist, took office in 2013.

On a typical day, Prague’s City Hall is buzzing with discussions about contracts to upgrade the centuries-old city’s network of cobblestone streets or sewers. But this month, assembly members have been debating a bigger topic — China, and what to do about it.

“This is clearly a topic for our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a complicated one at that,” city assembly member Patrik Nacher lectures Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib during open debate. “And here you are, pulling Prague into a matter of such importance.”

Hrib looks off into the distance stone-faced, not bothering to respond. For months, the 38-year-old mayor has been at the center of a controversy involving his city, Beijing and the Communist Party of China.

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In 2016, a month before a state visit to the Czech Republic by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Prague’s previous administration approved a sister-city relationship with Beijing. It included a provision to adhere to the “One China” policy, Beijing’s insistence that Taiwan — with its own democratically elected government — is part of China.

Nearly three years and one city election later, Hrib, who worked briefly as a medical intern in Taiwan before becoming mayor last November, began calling for the One China language to be eliminated from the agreement. “A sister-city agreement should not include things that are not related to the cities’ relationship,” he said.

Beijing swiftly punished Prague institutions that have interests in China, canceling a planned 14-city autumn tour of China by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra — which spent 2 1/2 years in preparation and lost nearly $200,000 on the tour, says Director Radim Otépka. “It was the biggest project we’ve ever had,” he says.

Beijing also terminated the sister-city relationship this month, before Prague’s city assembly could vote to do so.

Hrib has become famous among civil rights advocates in Europe for standing up to Beijing by excising a provision from his city’s sister-city agreement with Beijing to adhere to the One China policy. This month, Beijing responded by terminating the agreement.

“It was quite obvious that the only thing that the Beijing side was focused on was their propaganda, and not the political or cultural exchange we were interested in,” Hrib tells NPR.

Czech President Milos Zeman wrote to Xi, making it clear he did not agree with the Prague politicians who wanted the One China language excised from the agreement. He urged Xi to preserve specific areas of cooperation between the two countries, including China’s investment in its assets inside the Czech Republic.

But the sister-city termination is only the latest in a list of episodes with China’s government that have ended badly for the Czech Republic.

“There’s been this backlash building up slowly. People really feel cheated,” says Prague-based China expert Martin Hala. “And a lot of things that have been happening in relation to China have been driven by local actors.”

In particular, Hala notes one company with a big stake in China: the PPF Group, a privately held financial and investment group with more than $40 billion worth of assets.

Its Czech founder, Petr Kellner, is among the wealthiest people in Europe, worth an estimated $15 billion. PPF’s lending division, Home Credit, has become one of China’s top foreign lenders, specializing in loans for individuals with little or no credit history.

Hala says when Home Credit started doing business in China in 2007, Beijing spelled out the terms under which it would grant the lender access to its market. “According to [Home Credit’s] own accounts, they were immediately notified that this would not happen until the relationship between China and the Czech Republic improved,” Hala says, “because at that point it was still quite chilly.”

In Prague’s City Hall, assembly members debate the termination of Prague’s sister-city agreement with Beijing. One member brought a stuffed panda bear to the podium to deliver a message to China’s government that, even though he didn’t like the terms of the sister-city agreement, Prague’s zoo still would like to have a panda promised years ago by China’s government.

For years, the Czech Republic — formerly part of Czechoslovakia, a Soviet satellite — had kept its distance from Beijing. Its first president, Vaclav Havel, championed the cause of the Dalai Lama and Chinese dissidents. But this changed when Zeman, a populist, took office in 2013.

PPF went straight to work, hiring former Czech politicians to help flip the government’s anti-communist foreign policy into a pro-China one, arranging a Beijing visit by Zeman in 2014, even supplying a private jet to fly him back to Prague.

Zeman proclaimed his country would be “China’s gateway to Europe,” invited Xi for a state visit and appointed the CEO of a Chinese energy company as his honorary adviser after the company went on a spending spree in Prague, buying part of an airline, a football club and a brewery.

But four years later, the company, CEFC China Energy, suddenly became insolvent. Its CEO disappeared, and the head of its nonprofit arm landed in prison in New York after a U.S. federal court found him guilty of bribing African heads of state.

A Chinese state-owned company took over CEFC’s assets in the Czech Republic, but the Czech government was left with a missing presidential adviser and a pile of debt.

PPF, meanwhile, continued to thrive. “It’s now the richest private company in the Czech Republic,” says Jiri Sticky, a financial journalist for the Prague-based Reporter Magazine.

PPF declined NPR’s requests for an interview. According to a company prospectus filed in preparation to sell its shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange, the Home Credit division made loans worth nearly $15 billion to Chinese consumers in the first three quarters of this year alone, equal to nearly two-thirds of its overall lending portfolio worldwide.

That’s why, when Home Credit offered to become a corporate sponsor of Prague’s Charles University this autumn, it nearly led to the resignation of the university’s rector. As part of the sponsorship, the university would have had to sign an agreement stating it would not hurt Home Credit’s global interests — including keeping China’s government happy.

Tourists ride a horse-drawn carriage in Prague’s old town square. The city is fighting Beijing’s efforts to influence local politics and business interests.

“It was translated as, the university would have to stop all their critics towards China,” Sticky says.

Charles University — Central Europe’s oldest, most prestigious learning institution — is the academic home of many influential critics of China, including Hala and his organization Sinopsis, which has examined and exposed questionable dealings with Beijing by the Czech government.

Within days of learning about the Home Credit sponsorship requirements, students, faculty and local media lambasted university leadership for selling out its academic freedom to please a sponsor with business interests in China. That prompted Home Credit to withdraw its offer and Rector Tomas Zima to publicly apologize for his role in the matter.

“I would like to apologize to all of you,” Zima told an overcrowded meeting of the university’s senate in early October. “I underestimated the reaction to this. I never thought this could threaten our academic freedoms, freedom of research and freedom to teach.”

While Zima’s apology may have saved his job — for now — his secretary in charge of the university’s Czech-Chinese center, Milos Balaban, was forced to resign on Oct. 24, after Czech media revealed that China’s government was funding the center’s largely pro-China conferences.

Hala says all of this has left a bad taste in the mouths of Czechs, who are tired of their government and biggest institutions doing the bidding of Beijing.

“In a democracy,” he says, “there’s a cacophony of voices, and people have different opinions, and the People’s Republic of China doesn’t like that.”

The Chinese embassy in Prague did not respond to NPR’s requests for an interview.

Back at Prague’s City Hall, Hrib listens with a fatigued face as a city assembly member warns that Beijing may retaliate further. When NPR asks if he’s worried that China’s government may limit its hundreds of thousands of annual tourists to the city — something it has done in the past to countries that offend it — Hrib shakes his head.

“Because the Chinese tourists do not stay here a long time, they are using their own Chinese agencies, and they are basically not the tourists we would like to focus on,” he says.

Plus, he says, anyone who has been to Prague in its peak summer season knows the city has too many tourists anyway.

House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump

The House on Tuesday easily approved sanctions against Turkey over its offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish forces.

The measure passed 403-16, with 176 Republicans voting in support and just 15 opposing the bill.

The sanctions offer a rare bipartisan rebuke of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNumber of uninsured children rises for second year, tops 4 million Trump moment from White House Halloween trick-or-treat event goes viral White House official says transcript of Ukraine call omitted key phrases: report MORE‘s policies while underscoring the growing divide between Congress and a NATO ally. 

Trump had hoped the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on his watch would stem the flow of criticism about his Syria policy, but Congress remains deeply concerned about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s military offensive.

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Click Here: IQOS White“Rather than hold Turkey accountable for how they’ve conducted this bloody campaign, President Trump has given them a free pass,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump House votes to recognize Armenian genocide MORE (D-N.Y.) said. “When the head of ISIS was finally killed, President Trump unfortunately thanked the Turks, thanked the Turkish government. That just doesn’t sit right with me.”

The House brought the sanctions bill to the floor under suspension of the rules, meaning it needed at least two-thirds approval to pass.

Despite the bipartisan majority approving the bill in the House, the effort to slap new sanctions on Ankara appears stalled in the upper chamber after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Mark Mellman: Three questions for Republicans Menendez seeks probe into if Pompeo violated Hatch Act MORE (R-Ky.) warned against rushing to sanction a NATO ally.

Lawmakers in both parties and chambers introduced multiple bills to sanction Turkey after Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, paving the way for Ankara’s long-threatened invasion.

Trump himself placed sanctions on Turkey, though he lifted them after a five-day cease-fire brokered by Vice President Pence. Turkey agreed to the cease-fire in order to allow the Kurds to evacuate from a so-called safe zone.

Lawmakers slammed Trump for abandoning the Kurds, who were U.S. allies in the battle against ISIS and did the bulk of the most dangerous ground fighting. They have also worried the chaos from the offensive could lead to an ISIS resurgence, including allowing ISIS prisoners to escape from Kurdish-guarded detention facilities.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump Democrats want answers from Pentagon chief on withheld Ukraine aid MORE and special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey have said more than 100 ISIS fighters have escaped since the start of Turkey’s offensive.

“Even with the death of al-Baghdadi, ISIS remains a serious and resurgent threat,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Mark Mellman: Three questions for Republicans White House: Democrats’ resolution shows impeachment is ‘illegitimate sham’ MORE (D-Calif.) said. “The death of a top ISIS leader does not mean the death of ISIS. Scores of fighters remain under uncertain conditions in Syrian prisons and at risk of a jailbreak.”

In a previous rebuke to Trump, the House earlier this month overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing his decision to withdraw U.S. troops.

Trump got a brief reprieve from Republican criticism of his Syria policy after the successful raid over the weekend in northwest Syria that led to the death of al-Baghdadi.

But many lawmakers kept up their criticism, saying the evacuation of the Kurds is tantamount to ethnic cleansing and that Trump appears to be operating on the fly instead of having a strategy by first withdrawing 50 troops and then withdrawing all troops and then deciding a few hundred will stay to guard oil fields.

“Over a time, we’ve seen a pattern emerge. The president of the United States stokes a crisis and then steps in with some sort of half-measure in a failed attempt to look like a great deal is happening,” Engel said. “You can’t be the arsonist and the fireman at the same time.” 

Engel added that Turkey’s offensive has been “ethnic cleansing at its worst.”

The lone Democratic “no” vote came from Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarNBA’s Enes Kanter calls out Ilhan Omar over Turkey sanctions vote House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump Trump Jr. sending copies of ‘Triggered’ book to Romney, top Democrats MORE (D-Minn.), who penned a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month warning Turkey sanctions would be ineffective and could create humanitarian issues.

Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill Overnight Defense: Top general briefs GOP senators on Syria plan | Senators ‘encouraged’ by briefing | Pence huddles with Republican allies on Syria | Trump nominee sidesteps questions on arms treaties MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he “applaud[s]” Pence and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: House approves Turkey sanctions in rebuke of Trump | Trump attacks on Army officer testifying spark backlash | Dems want answers from Esper over Ukraine aid Menendez seeks probe into if Pompeo violated Hatch Act House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump MORE for negotiating the cease-fire, which he said “prevented a worst-case scenario from taking place,” and that he was “pleased the administration heard our call for a residual force in Syria.”

But McCaul still supported the bill, which he co-authored with Engel, as helping to “strengthen the president’s hand in ensuring Turkey upholds its commitments.”

“Baghdadi still has thousands of followers committed to terrorism, and while their leader’s death is a huge blow, we must stay vigilant to keep them from reconstituting or carrying out attacks on the West and to our homeland,” McCaul said. “With that, we cannot allow Turkey’s invasion to hinder in any way our counter-ISIS campaign.”

Congress’s ire has also turned toward Turkey, which lawmakers have been increasingly frustrated with over what they describe as its turn away from NATO values.

“I co-sponsored this because I’m worried about the direction of President Erdoğan and the direction he’s taking the Republic of Turkey,” Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerHouse approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing GOP lawmaker condemns Trump over ‘human scum’ comment MORE (R-Ill.) said. “The leader of country with so much to offer the world should not be cozying up to the like of [Russian President] Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinHouse approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump Trump’s unimpeachable foreign policy Russia calls increased US military presence in Syrian oil fields ‘banditry’ MORE and [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.”

Earlier this year, lawmakers pushed Trump to impose mandatory sanctions on Turkey for buying a Russian missile defense system. The administration has yet to levy those sanctions.

In addition to the sanctions bill, the House on Tuesday passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. The bill was fiercely opposed by Turkey, which denies the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of more than 1 million Armenians in 1915 was a genocide.

The votes fell on the same day as Turkey’s Republic Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

The sanctions bill, dubbed the Protect Against Conflict by Turkey Act, would impose financial and visa penalties on officials connected to Turkey’s offensive in Syria, including the defense minister, the chief of the general staff of the Turkish armed forces and the finance minister, as well as sanction the state-owned bank Halkbank.

The bill would also ban arms sales to Turkey and sanction foreigners providing arms to Turkish forces in Syria. It also seeks to force the administration to impose the previously mandated sanctions for Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

McCaul called the S-400 sanctions “very important.”

“How can you be a NATO ally and purchase Russian military equipment?” McCaul asked. “We let Turkey into NATO to protect them from the Soviet Union, and now our NATO ally is buying Russian equipment.”

In the Senate, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump moment from White House Halloween trick-or-treat event goes viral House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump AP: Saudi tycoon donated to Obama inauguration through a middleman MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenHouse approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump Democrats renew push for contractor back pay from government shutdown This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill MORE (D-Md.) and Sens. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischEx-Trump officials back Russia ambassador pick ahead of hearing House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill MORE (R-Idaho) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Paul blocks Senate vote on House-passed Syria resolution House to vote on resolution condemning Trump’s Syria pullback MORE (D-N.J.) have introduced separate sanctions bills.

But last week, McConnell poured cold water on sanctions, questioning if they are the right response to a member of NATO.

“I caution us against developing a reflex to use sanctions as our tool of first, last, and only resort in implementing our foreign policy,” McConnell said at the time.

“Sanctions may play an important role in this process, and I am open to the Senate considering them. But we need to think extremely carefully before we employ the same tools against a democratic NATO ally that we would against the worst rogue states,” he added.

McConnell has introduced his own resolution urging Trump to halt the pullback of U.S. forces and warning that a “precipitous withdrawal” would “create vacuums.” It also urges Trump to rescind his invitation for the Turkish president to visit the White House next month and opposes Turkey’s military action. 

Pentagon: US on alert for possible 'retribution attacks' following al-Baghdadi raid

The Defense Department is on alert for possible retaliation from ISIS in the wake of the reported killing of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by U.S. Special Forces last weekend, according to The Associated Press.

Gen. Kenneth “Frank” Mackenzie spoke of the possible threat Wednesday as part of the most detailed account to date of the operation and echoed warnings by both critics and allies of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump congratulates Washington Nationals on World Series win Trump hints that dog injured in al-Baghdadi raid will visit White House Vindman says White House lawyer moved Ukraine call to classified server: report MORE that the operation had not eliminated the threat from the terror group.

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“It will take them some time to re-establish someone to lead the organization, and during that period of time their actions may be a little bit disjointed,” Mackenzie said. “They will be dangerous. We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack, and we are postured and prepared for that.”

The comment echoed remarks by FBI Director Chris Wray, who said the greater threat to the U.S. was the “virtual caliphate” of radicalized Americans with no connection to on-the-ground ISIS forces in Syria who commit acts of domestic terror in the group’s name.

Similarly, House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Better Medicare Alliance – Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP McAleenan says he won’t testify before House panel despite subpoena House Homeland Security Committee subpoenas security officials for testimony on terrorism MORE (D-Miss.) has warned that conditions in Syria are “ripe for ISIS to reconstitute” even after al-Baghdadi’s apparent death.

Russell Travers, the acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the committee Wednesday he believes al-Baghdadi’s death will have little effect on ISIS’ day-to-day operations.

“If there were significant attacks that were in the planning, that planning will continue. It won’t have that much effect,” Travers said, according to the AP.

Cruz, Cotton: US should withdraw from surveillance flight treaty

Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz, Cotton: US should withdraw from surveillance flight treaty The Memo: After Vindman, GOP anxiety deepens Trump’s Russia ambassador nominee say US hasn’t withdrawn from surveillance flight treaty MORE (R-Texas) and Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonCruz, Cotton: US should withdraw from surveillance flight treaty Dem lawmaker raises concerns over ‘eavesdropping’ smart speakers Overnight Defense: Top general briefs GOP senators on Syria plan | Senators ‘encouraged’ by briefing | Pence huddles with Republican allies on Syria | Trump nominee sidesteps questions on arms treaties MORE (R-Ark.) on Wednesday introduced a resolution to withdraw the U.S. from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows treaty members to fly unarmed observation flights over the territory of other signatories. 

“Russia is in open violation of the Open Skies Treaty,” Cruz said in a statement. “It enhances Russia’s surveillance of major American cities, strengthens Russia’s espionage capabilities, and costs the United States millions of dollars. The treaty no longer serves America’s national security interests, and it is long past time the United States withdraw.”

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Cotton added, “The Open Skies Treaty could be more appropriately named the ‘Russian Spies Over America Treaty.’ America ought to withdraw from this flawed accord, which invites Russia to fly spy planes over our houses while Putin violates the treaty by restricting U.S. flights over Russia.” 

The treaty, which has been in effect since 2002, is intended to increase transparency and minimize military miscalculations among its 34 signatories. 

Republicans have said for years that Russia was in violation of the pact by blocking flights over parts of its territory. Democrats have agreed that Russia’s actions were concerning but have argued that they should be addressed while the U.S. remains part of the accord. 

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump congratulates Washington Nationals on World Series win Trump hints that dog injured in al-Baghdadi raid will visit White House Vindman says White House lawyer moved Ukraine call to classified server: report MORE‘s nominee to be ambassador to Russia, said Wednesday that the U.S. has not withdrawn from the treaty.

“There would need to be substantial evidence to support the national security interest for withdrawal from that treaty, and there would need to be consultations with this committee, with Congress and, in particular, with our NATO allies and the other countries that are members of the treaty,” he said during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  

Withdrawing from the treaty would require a formal notice to its other members, launching a six-month exit process. 

Ocasio-Cortez lauds Twitter's decision to refuse political ads

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy: House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon| Union says EPA refuses to renegotiate contract | Climate protesters occupy Pelosi’s office over California fires Hillicon Valley: Twitter to refuse all political ads | Trump camp blasts ‘very dumb’ decision | Ocasio-Cortez hails move | Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook’s ad policies | GOP senator blocks sweeping election reform bill Ocasio-Cortez lauds Twitter’s decision to refuse political ads MORE (D-N.Y.) lauded Twitter following its Wednesday announcement it will no longer accept political advertising.

“This is a good call. Technology – and social media especially – has a powerful responsibility in preserving the integrity of our elections.Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response to CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement Wednesday.

“Many folks have asked whether I believe all social media political ads should be banned outright. I believe that if a company cannot or does not wish to run basic fact-checking on paid political advertising, then they should not run paid political ads at all,” she added.

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Ocasio-Cortez recently grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the social media giant’s advertising policy allowing political ads that had not been fact-checked and may contain false or misleading information. Shortly after Twitter’s announcement, Zuckerberg announced on an earnings call that the Facebook policy would continue.

Ocasio-Cortez was not the only figure to hail the decision and call on Facebook to follow suit. Wednesday afternoon, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Twitter to refuse all political ads | Trump camp blasts ‘very dumb’ decision | Ocasio-Cortez hails move | Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook’s ad policies | GOP senator blocks sweeping election reform bill Ocasio-Cortez lauds Twitter’s decision to refuse political ads Hillary Clinton celebrates Twitter’s decision to stop political advertising: ‘What say you, Facebook?’ MORE called Twitter’s move “the right thing to do for democracy in America and all over the world,” adding “what say you, @Facebook?”

 

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PETA asks DOJ to stop conducting training that harms animals

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on Thursday wrote a letter asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to stop using animals for “cruel and deadly” medical training exercises. 

“I am writing to you on behalf of PETA and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide regarding recent disturbing taxpayer-funded awards issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Marshals Service (USMS) for cruel and deadly trauma training drills on animals … in which live animals are typically shot, stabbed, dismembered and killed,” wrote Shalin Gala, PETA’s vice president for international laboratory methods.

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The letter, addressed to Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrPETA asks DOJ to stop conducting training that harms animals New York medical examiner stands by assessment of Epstein death Democrats doth protest too much against the Durham investigation MORE, recommends that the department replace its use of the so-called live tissue training (LTT) with “superior and more cost-effective human simulation models.”

PETA also posted a page on its website encouraging its supporters to write to the department, and a PETA spokesperson told The Hill that an email alert would be sent to its members. 

Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) have also recently expressed concern about the training exercises. The lawmakers, in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, said that the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service recently spent more than $120,000 on contracts for LTT exercises.

The U.S. military has also used LTT, although in recent years there have been moves to limit its use. 

The Coast Guard ended its use of LTT in 2017, according to Military.com. Defense Department policy also states that simulations should be used “to the maximum extent practicable” before LTT.

Environmental groups sue Trump administration over drilling plan

Environmental groups on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s plan to open up hundreds of thousands of acres of land in California to oil and gas drilling. 

The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the plan to open more than 700,000 acres of land to oil and gas lease sales.

“Defendants failed to consider meaningful alternatives to the plan amendment, failed to analyze and disclose the environmental impacts, and denied the public the opportunity to comment on its environmental analyses as the law requires,” the lawsuit reads.

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It also says the plan opens the land up to “dangerous and polluting techniques like steam injection and hydraulic fracturing.”

Neither the Department of Justice nor BLM immediately responded to The Hill’s request for comment. 

BLM spokeswoman Sarah Webster told Reuters in a statement that the suit was under agency review. 

She said the administration’s decision “strikes a balance between resource conservation and energy development consistent with BLM’s mission for managing the lands for multiple use and sustained yield.”

The wire service previously reported that the administration had announced approval for the plan earlier this month.

“Oil and gas extraction is a dirty, dangerous business that poisons our water, kills wildlife and worsens the climate crisis,”Clare Lakewood, senior Center for Biological Diversity attorney, said in a statement. 

“It’s reckless and illegal for Trump officials to open our public lands to oil companies without considering the human and environmental costs. We’re taking them to court to keep this planet livable for our kids,” Lakewood added.  

FBI chief says racist extremists fueling one another, making connections overseas

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday said that violent, racially motivated extremists in the U.S. are connecting with foreign extremists, with some traveling abroad to train. 

Appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, Wray was pressed to discuss how the FBI handles domestic terrorism suspects and how it is different than foreign terrorism suspects.

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“We are starting to see racially motivated violent extremists connecting with like-minded individuals overseas online, certainly, and in some instances we have seen some folks travel overseas to train,” Wray said after Rep. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaHillicon Valley: Amazon poised to escalate Pentagon ‘war cloud’ fight | FCC’s move to target Huawei garners early praise | Facebook sues Israeli firm over alleged WhatsApp hack | Blue Dog Dems push election security funding Blue Dog Democrats push Congress to fund state election security Lawmakers beat Capitol Police in Congressional Football Game MORE (D-Calif.) expressed concern about domestic terrorists traveling to Ukraine for training. 

A U.S. Army soldier, Jarrett William Smith, was arrested last month on federal charges for allegedly sending instructions to build bombs over social media. Smith said he was interested in joining the Azov Battalion, a paramilitary group in Ukraine.

Asked about other places possible domestic terrorists would travel, Wray said “it varies” but that some go to parts of Eastern Europe. He said that some U.S.-based neo-Nazis have connected with foreign equivalents. 

He also said many extremists are inspired by what they see overseas. 

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“Probably a more prevalent phenomenon that we see right now is racially motivated violent extremists here who are inspired by what they see overseas,” he said, specifically referencing shootings at a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a motivator for people who have been arrested in the U.S.  

Wray pointed at the lack of structure and organization among domestic terrorists as an issue that makes it “more challenging, for example, to get human sources or undercovers inserted. If there’s no organization to insert somebody into, that’s a challenge, so that’s part of the different nature of the threat.”

Rep. Max RoseMax RoseFBI chief says racist extremists fueling one another, making connections overseas NY Democrat presses Trump officials on terrorist designation for foreign white supremacist groups Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from ‘war cloud’ contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against ‘stalking’ app developer MORE (D-N.Y.) pressed Wray and other law enforcement officials during the hearing on their efforts to counter white supremacist groups as terror organizations.

“If a white nationalist organization fits the criteria of an FTO [foreign terrorist organization], as I believe these do, should we consider designating them as such so you have the broad-based authorities you currently do to fight ISIS, al Qaeda and its affiliates?” Rose asked.

Wray said that FTO designations are the responsibility of the State Department. 

The U.S. has seen a spate of racially motivated violence domestically in recent years. This year, 22 people were killed in a shooting in El Paso, Texas, that authorities said was driven by a desire to kill Hispanic people. Last year, 11 were killed in a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  

The FBI released a report last year saying that hate crimes in 2017 had risen 17 percent from the previous year.

Schumer: 'Increasingly worried' Trump will shut down government over impeachment

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer Senate Democrats to vote this week to overturn Trump ObamaCare moves Man explains refusing to shake McConnell’s hand at Cummings memorial: ‘I couldn’t do it’ MORE (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday he was growing more worried that President TrumpDonald John TrumpNumber of uninsured children rises for second year, tops 4 million Trump moment from White House Halloween trick-or-treat event goes viral White House official says transcript of Ukraine call omitted key phrases: report MORE could force a government shutdown as soon as next month over the impeachment fight.

 

“I’m increasingly worried that President Trump may want to shut down the government again because of impeachment, an impeachment inquiry. He always likes to create diversions,” Schumer told reporters during a weekly press conference.

 

“I hope and pray he won’t want to cause another government shutdown because it might be a diversion away from impeachment. It’s very worrisome to me,” he added.

 

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Schumer’s comments came as Trump on Tuesday lashed out at the impeachment inquiry ahead of key testimony from a White House official. Democrats in the House also unveiled a resolution Tuesday afternoon outlining the next phase of the inquiry.

 

The government is currently funded through Nov. 21, giving lawmakers and the White House weeks to agree on a plan to avoid a shutdown next month.

 

Congress needs to pass 12 appropriations bills, either individually or as a package, before the November deadline or agree to another short-term continuing resolution in order to avoid a shutdown.

 

So far, the House and Senate have reached an agreement on none of the 12 bills.

 

The House has passed 10 appropriations bills so far this year. The Senate is expected to pass a package of four spending bills this week, but Democrats are expected to block a separate mammoth defense spending bill on Wednesday.

 

Republicans have so far insisted they will not let the government shut down next month, with several predicting another stopgap bill that could last at least until December and potentially into early next year.

 

But looming over the talks is the impeachment inquiry. The House is investigating Trump calling for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWhite House official says transcript of Ukraine call omitted key phrases: report Biden uses National Cat Day to fundraise for putting a ‘pet back in White House’ Sondland emerges as key target after Vindman testimony MORE and his son Hunter Biden and whether the president tied aid to the country opening a probe.

 

Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, demurred when pressed by reporters on Tuesday about whether he would guarantee there would not be a shutdown.

 

“In terms of a shutdown, obviously there are many weeks between now and Nov. 21, so we’ll take it each day as it comes,” he said. 

 

Pressed on whether the impeachment fight made it harder to fund the government, he added. “I’m hopeful that it doesn’t. I’m hopeful that Congress doesn’t get distracted from some of these core priorities that the president’s laid out and that people are interested in making progress on. But that’s really going to be up to Congress.”

 

If the government shuts down, it would be the second funding lapse of the year after a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended in February. 

   

Schumer added on Tuesday that if lawmakers were “left to our own devices,” he thought Congress “could work out an agreement to quickly fund the government.” 

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