foreign relations

Duncan one of three congressmen voting no on Russia, Iran and North Korea sanctions bill

From Politico:

The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, with the GOP-controlled chamber advancing a significant new constraint on President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

The sanctions legislation, which allows lawmakers to block Trump from any attempt to roll back sanctions against Moscow, is expected to pass the Senate in similarly bipartisan fashion before next month’s recess.

… The House’s 419-3 vote on the sanctions bill saw only three dissenters: GOP Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, John Duncan of Tennessee and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. Even Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Russia’s staunchest defender on the Hill, revealed hours before the vote that he would support the measure out of support for its penalties against Tehran and Pyongyang.

Full story HERE.

U.S. Senate confirms Bill Hagerty as U.S. ambassador to Japan

The U.S. Senate voted 82-12 today to confirm President Trump’s nomination of William “Bill” Hagerty, formerly commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Tennessee’s two U.S. senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both praised Hagerty in Senate floor speeches. Here’s text of their remarks, as provided by their communications staff:

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Corker wades into Qatar controversy

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker on Monday said he would block future U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and four other Gulf nations until a regional conflict is resolved, reports Politico.

The Tennessee Republican announced his plans in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Monday as the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council remains wracked by internal disputes over anti-terrorism efforts and a Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.

Corker’s gavel grants him advance approval of significant arms sales to foreign governments before Congress is notified, authority also held by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

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Haslam headed to Europe for a week

News release from Department of Economic and Community Development

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe will travel to Europe from June 26 to June 30 for an economic development trip designed to strengthen ties with European businesses and increase foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tennessee.

During the weeklong trip, Haslam and Rolfe will pitch Tennessee’s advantages to a number of European businesses interested in establishing operations in the Southeast U.S. The trip will include stops in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Germany.

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Cohen, Cooper sign onto lawsuit attacking Trump’s foreign business dealings

Tennessee’s two Democratic congressmen, Reps. Steve Cohen of Memphis and Jim Cooper of Nashville, are among about 200 members of Congress signing on as plaintiffs in a federal court lawsuit that contends President Donald Trump’s foreign business dealings may violate a provision of the Constitution.

Quote from a Cooper press release:

“The Constitution says our president should be free from all foreign influence,” Rep. Cooper said. “Since President Trump shows no sign of changing, Congress must ask the courts to enforce the Constitution he has sworn to uphold.”

Quote from a Cohen press release:

“The Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause is a vital protection against foreign governments’ corrupting influence.” said Congressman Cohen. “The American people should have total confidence that the President is serving their interest, not his own financial enrichment.  President Trump’s refusal to disclose information to Congress or seek Congress’s authorization for accepting profits from foreign governments stemming from his sprawling foreign financial interests is a brazen violation of the Constitution and a danger to our democracy.”

The full Cohen press release is HERE; the full Cooper press release HERE.

Hagerty gets Senate committee OK to become ambassador to Japan

News release from Sen. Bob Corker

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today (Wednesday) joined members of the committee in approving the nomination of William Hagerty to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan. The nomination will now be considered by the full Senate.

“There is no one more well-suited to fill this important role than Bill Hagerty,” said Corker. “Our nation will benefit from his leadership and experience as he carries on the tremendous legacy of U.S. ambassadors to Japan, and I look forward to his confirmation very soon.”

Note: The Tennessean observes that, if confirmed by the Senate, Hagerty – a former head of the state Department of Economic and Community Development who worked in vetting Trump administration appointees —  would become the third Tennessean to serve in the post.

Former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., who died in 2014, was ambassador to Japan under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.

Luke Edward White, who was born in Giles County, served in the post from 1906 to 1907 under President Teddy Roosevelt.

 

Corker says his criticism of Trump is ‘constructive,’ not ‘destructive’ — and gets White House cheers

While Sen. Bob Corker may be gaining a reputation as one of few Republican congressmen willing to publicly criticize Donald Trump – a notable example being his recent declaration that the White House is in a “downward spiral” – the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman tells BuzzFeed he makes the same points to Trump and his staff in frequent private discussions.

Coincidentally(?), Corker issued a press release Sunday basically praising Trump’s first trip overseas — after speaking with the president “at length.”

Excerpt from BuzzFeed:

Days (before the “downward spiral” remark), Corker had spoken to Trump over the phone about the firing of FBI director James Comey — an incident the Tennessee Republican publicly said would “raise questions.” And in a previous late-April private dinner, Corker said he made it clear to Trump that the turmoil in the White House was making it harder for Republicans to move forward with anything in Congress.

“I actually shared many of the same concerns, OK? Respectfully, of course,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with BuzzFeed News Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve got close relations and talked frankly with people (at the White House) often,” he continued, repeating two words for emphasis: “Frankly. Often.”

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Hagerty breezes through first Senate step in becoming ambassador to Japan

Nashville businessman Bill Hagerty, former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development,  diplomatically deflected a few potentially dangerous questions as he breezed through his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday, reports The Tennessean, bringing him one step closer to becoming the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Most of the questions Hagerty, 57, faced were about how to open up Japan for more U.S. exports and how to deal with a nuclear North Korea and a China looking to expand its influence.

For Sen. John Barasso, R-Wy., it was how to get more Wyoming beef into Japan while Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., asked about removing barriers to the sale of the state’s chicken in Japan and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, lamented that few American cars are sold in Japan.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” Hagerty told Portman in what was a typical response during the hearing.

The hearing lasted only about an hour but the hearing room was packed, mostly with Japanese media and members of the diplomatic corps, including Kenichiro Sasae, Japanese ambassador to the U.S.

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Corker: Trump administration ‘downward spiral’ (UPDATE: Alexander kinda critical, too)

Among congressional Republicans, Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker had one of the stronger  negative reactions Monday to reports that President Donald Trump has revealed sensitive intelligence to Russia’s foreign minister and U.S. ambassador and is widely quoted today in national media.

From CNN:

“They are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Corker told reporters. “You know the shame of it is there’s a really good national security team in place, there’s good productive things that are underway through them, and through others. But the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think — it creates a worrisome environment.”

From Politico:

“To compromise a source is something that you just don’t do,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters, adding that he didn’t know yet whether the report was true. “That’s why we keep the information that we get from intelligence sources so close, is to prevent that from happening.”

Corker was referring to a report in The Washington Post on Monday that Trump divulged highly classified information involving the Islamic State that officials had obtained through an intelligence-sharing arrangement with a U.S. partner. The arrangement was so sensitive that the information was not even shared with other U.S. allies, according to the Post.

The report, which the White House denied, came on the heels of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey last week. Corker told other news outlets the White House is “in a downward spiral right now” and needs to get things “under control.”

UPDATE, via The Tennessean: In a cryptic statement Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander R-Tenn., described the global impact of White House actions.

“Those working in the White House would do well to remember that just a little tilt there can create earthquakes out in the country and around the world,” Alexander said.

Corker: ‘We’re not going to do a Russia sanctions bill’

Excerpt from a Politico article:

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have reached a decision that’s sure to disappoint Russia hawks: They’re not taking up a Russia sanctions bill anytime soon.

Instead, Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee and ranking Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland have agreed to move forward on a measure to counter Russian influence in Eastern Europe without using sanctions as well as an Iran sanctions bill.

… “We’re not going to do a Russia sanctions bill,” Corker told POLITICO on Monday. “The ranking member and I are in strong agreement on a pathway forward and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do an Iran sanctions bill. It’ll be done toward the end of this work period. We’re also working together on a bill to push back against Russia in Europe and what they’re doing, and those are the two courses of action that we’re taking.”

… The deal between Corker and Cardin resolves a point of contention between Corker and some Democrats on the Foreign Relations panel, who wanted to move Iran and Russia sanctions together, according to multiple Democratic Senate aides.

The Iran sanctions bill was introduced in March by Corker and has bipartisan support. It’s in retaliation for Iran’s ballistic missile development, support for U.S.-designated terrorist groups and human rights violations.