President Trump offers first speech to joint session of Congress. Merkel holds talks with Egyptian government on Libyan refugees and unrest. Dutch elections near end as Geert Wilders’ campaign suspends campaigning. UK, France and US call for UN sanctions against Syria. All in The Week Ahead.
President Trump offers first speech to joint session of Congress
This Tuesday, the President will address a joint session of Congress to lay out his vision for the upcoming Congressional term. This speech has been slated as a more “positive” perspective when compared with the dark message conveyed by his RNC convention speech and Inauguration speech, though of course that remains to be seen. The administration has given little indication of what exactly it intends to include in the speech; in past speeches before a joint session of Congress, presidents have typically laid out a vision for their priorities in the upcoming term, possibly including a couple specific policy goals (such as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). Given the priorities the administration appears to have moved forward with in the past month, it is more likely than not Trump will bring up border security and healthcare.
In past instances, the President has frequently relied on sessions with Congress to change the narrative of discussion, though it is not certain that he will be successful in that endeavor: last week former chair of the House Oversight Committee and current California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa called for an independent investigation of the President’s Russia ties (particularly during the campaign), with Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the investigation. Additionally, Republicans have been unable to come up with an Obamacare alternative that does not lead to a severe disruption of the entire healthcare market, making their task of a simple “repeal and replace” suddenly not so simple. The most recent leaked plan creates a number of burdens in particular for sick ACA recipients, making it unlikely to get any Democratic support and very likely to prompt vehement opposition from constituents.
Merkel holds talks with Egyptian government on Libyan refugees and unrest
On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be visiting Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi to discuss unrest in neighboring Libya and Egyptian efforts to reduce violence (last week Merkel referred to el-Sisi as a “stabilizing element” in the region), which has allowed human smugglers to send thousands across the Mediterranean. This visit will be multifaceted in the issues discussed, and it will be politically multifaceted too. Chancellor Merkel will need to rely on partners like Egypt to reduce violence and instability in North Africa, which has contributed to a roiling political environment in Europe where right-wing populist movements promise to get rid of or severely clamp down on migrant groups.
Should any of these populist groups forge a sufficiently large electoral threshold to help form a government (as may be the case in the Netherlands), or elect a president (as may occur in France), this would severely restrict Chancellor Merkel’s space to operate in stemming the flow of migrants and refugees from North Africa while maintaining friendly relations with stabilizing nations like Egypt. Domestically, Chancellor Merkel will have to contend not only with right-wing groups like the AfD (whose leader Frauke Petry recently visited Moscow, furthering a long line of bread crumbs tying right-wing groups to Russia), but also with the emergence of Martin Schulz as one of the strongest contenders from the Social Democrats for the chancellorship in years.
Dutch elections near end as Geert Wilders’ campaign suspends campaigning
As the Netherlands enters one of its most politically fraught elections, the next two weeks will face an unexpected environment: Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has suspended campaigning for the duration of the election due to an alleged security leak last week. The Freedom campaign has allegedly been suspended due to a member of Wilders security team leaking information on the location of the MP to a Dutch-Moroccan criminal gang, which subsequently led to death threats. This bizarre development will not prevent Wilders from other appearances if he decides to participate, but his absence on the campaign trail could hinder that final push that most parties try to get in the few weeks before polls close.
Alternatively, the threat of a terrorist attack or murder plot by radical groups could also bolster his image among supporters, making the outcome of this situation difficult to determine. Wilders appears to be the clear frontrunner heading into the final stretch, although Prime Minister Rutte appears to be holding his own in recent polling (which indicated Wilders’ party was likely to secure 24 to 28 seats in parliament, with Rutte’s VVD looking at between 23 and 27).
UK, France and US call for UN sanctions against Syria, Russia promises veto
This week, the United Kingdom and France are expected to put forward a resolution in the UN Security Council seeking sanctions against Syria over the use of chemical weapons attacks, with UK deputy ambassador Peter Wilson expecting a vote to happen “as soon as possible.” Early indications are that the United States is expected to join the call for sanctions, which could include banning the sale of military helicopters to Syria. Russia has indicated its intent to veto the vote due to its skepticism over the findings of a UN investigations that determined the Syrian government led at least three chemical attacks.
This would more or less continue the situation in Syria in the multilateral space, with many nations calling for sanctions against the Assad government and Russia shooting down significant measures. The vote will also present the first test of US UN ambassador Nikki Haley, which will put two wings of the Republican Party at odds: on the one hand, military hawks like Senators McCain and Graham have called for robust action against both Syria and Russia, while the administration has called for a more conciliatory tone towards Russia and an inconsistent view of Syria. In all likelihood, Haley (like Vice President Pence, Secretary of Defense Mattis, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly) will simply contradict the President and act in the behavior of a conventional, conservative Republican. That means in all likelihood, Ambassador Haley will vote in favor of the resolution and condemn Russia’s veto.
The Week Ahead provides analytical foresight on the economic consequences of upcoming political developments. Covering a number of future occurrences across the globe, The Week Ahead presents a series of potential upside/downside risks, shedding light on how political decisions affect economic outcomes.
This edition of The Week Ahead was written by GRI Analyst Brian Daigle.