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Washington’s World: November 24th – November 30th, 2014

The ramifications of President Obama’s new policy on immigration will suck most of the oxygen out of the Washington political debate for the foreseeable future. The Republicans have gone into full oppositional mode and will attack the proposals on legal, substantive and constitutional grounds. It is not clear at this stage how successful these challenges will be, but there is gathering consensus that the already meager prospects for cooperation between the White House and the new Congress have now hit zero. The implications for foreign policy will be significant. If a deal with Iran on its nuclear program emerges next week – something which at the time of writing is hanging uneasily in the balance – the Administration will need to use executive orders to lift or ease sanctions. This is precisely the method used over immigration and will thus be even more controversial than it already was. Some senior Administration officials as well as key Congressional staffers to whom we have spoken are concerned that the Iranians may decide that Obama will have difficulty delivering on any deal and could thus walk away. The Administration will also face much more aggressive pressure to step up its involvement in Iraq. Both Senator McCain, who will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Bob Corker, who will lead the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, see the current US engagement as ineffective and will push for an expanded US presence on the ground, once the stalemate ends between the White House and Congress concerning new legislation known as the "authorized use of military force”(AUMF). This is not going to pass until the new congress is sworn in in January. Irrespective of comments by top US commanders expressing optimism that the tide of war has turned against ISIL, the new Republican leadership is unlikely to be dissuaded from further deployments. Turning to trade, it has generally been expected that the new Congress would vote to confer trade promotion authority on Obama to facilitate the conclusion of the Transpacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. A group of Republican and Democratic Senators and their allies in the business community strongly favor these deals, but there is a risk that the new circumstances may derail this intention. With regard to Russia, there is much less daylight between the Administration and the Congress. All are agreed that President Putin is not someone with whom a reasonable compromise is possible. Unless Russian actions in Eastern Ukraine are moderated in the near future, we expect to see further isolation and intensified sanctions.

Key Judgments

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