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Happy Tuesday morning and Happy Independence Day.
In more ways than one, Congress could play a decisive role in this year’s NATO summit.
The annual gathering, which kicks off next week in Vilnius, Lithuania, was targeted as the aspirational deadline for all members of the Western military alliance to formally ratify the accession of Finland and Sweden.
The two countries applied for membership after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and the Vilnius summit comes at a critical juncture in the conflict. Lithuania shares a border with Belarus, which is allied with Moscow.
Finland is already in. But Sweden’s accession is being held up by Turkey and Hungary, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s role in approving weapons sales to Ankara and Budapest is front and center just days before the summit begins.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the panel’s top Republican, is blocking an arms sale to Hungary in order to pressure that nation to approve Sweden’s entry to NATO. Hungary’s parliament last week delayed a vote on Sweden’s accession until later this year, the AP reported, essentially dashing U.S. hopes of ratifying the alliance’s 32nd member before the summit. (There’s a belief behind the scenes, though, that Hungary won’t maintain its opposition if Turkey relents.)
The Biden administration is intensifying its efforts with Ankara.
This is news: We’re told that the State Department has newly engaged Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the committee’s chair, in talks over his long-standing opposition to a coveted sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey — with the issue shaping up as a potential bargaining chip for Sweden’s swift addition to NATO, according to three people familiar with the negotiations.
The Foreign Relations Committee declined to comment. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The Biden administration has long maintained that the F-16 issue isn’t tied to Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s accession. But U.S. officials also know that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan really wants to buy the advanced American fighter jets. Erdoğan said as much when President Joe Biden called to congratulate the Turkish leader on his reelection in late May. And, of course, Biden really wants Turkey to get out of the way and let Sweden into NATO.
So that’s where Menendez comes in. The New Jersey Democrat, along with Risch and the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, can place holds on major weapons sales as part of the review process.
Top Biden administration officials want to be sure that Menendez — given his authority over arms sales — won’t undercut them if they seek a deal with Turkey that ties the F-16 sale to Ankara’s approval of Sweden.
The administration supports the $20 billion sale and has informally noticed it to Congress, but Menendez has indicated for months that he won’t sign off on it — even apart from Turkey’s foot-dragging on Sweden.
For Menendez, Ankara’s refusal to green-light Sweden’s accession is just the latest in a litany of Turkish actions that have undermined confidence in its standing as a NATO ally. Alleged democratic backsliding and Turkish incursions of Greek airspace have also contributed to Menendez’s opposition to the F-16 sale.
Of course, the State Department could trigger an emergency declaration to circumvent congressional approval of the F-16 sale, but Menendez has said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured him this won’t happen.
The end result is the Biden administration being forced to mediate a delicate and high-stakes diplomatic spat between Menendez and Erdoğan, with Sweden caught in the middle.
So on the Hill and in Stockholm, all eyes will be on Menendez — before, during, and even well after the Vilnius summit.
More foreign policy news: House Armed Services Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and ranking Democrat Adam Smith (Wash.) just returned from leading a big bipartisan CODEL to Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan. In Taiwan, the group met with President Tsai Ing-wen.
— Andrew Desiderio
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Capitol Hill staffers pessimistic on passing all appropriations bills
An overwhelming majority of Capitol Hill staffers (79%) don’t think Congress will pass all 12 appropriations bills by the end of the year, triggering an automatic across-the-board cut. These results come from our monthly survey, The Canvass, conducted June 5-26 in partnership with Locust Street Group.
As part of the debt-limit deal between President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a 1% cut would be applied across all agencies, including defense and veterans programs, if Congress can’t pass all 12 appropriations bills by Dec. 31.
Of course, right now it’s unclear how Congress will even keep the government funded beyond the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The House is currently marking up its funding bills at about $120 billion lower than the agreed-to caps under Fiscal Responsibility Act. The Senate, meanwhile, is sticking to the funding levels in the debt-limit compromise.
Change doesn’t seem likely: A majority of senior staffers (57%) don’t think the most recent showdown over the debt limit will have any impact on whether Congress makes long-term reforms to the process. So look forward to another debt-limit fight in 2025!
— Robert O’Shaughnessy
THE WASHINGTON GAME
FORE! Congress digs in on PGA, LIV merger
The most controversial merger in sports history will get its day on Capitol Hill next week, when top officials from the PGA Tour will testify in front of a Senate committee about its union with the Saudi-backed LIV Tour.
Ron Price, the chief operating officer of the PGA Tour, and Jimmy Dunne, the top powerbroker in professional golf, will testify in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), on July 11. The hearing is entitled “The PGA-LIV Deal: Implications for the Future of Golf and Saudi Arabia’s Influence in the United States.”
Price has been with the PGA since 1994. Dunne is a longtime force in professional golf. He’s the vice chairman of investment bank Piper Sandler and a member at some of the nation’s most prestigious golf clubs, including Seminole Country Club in Florida, Pine Valley in New Jersey and Augusta National, the home of the Masters.
Greg Norman, the former professional golfer who has served as the face of the LIV Tour, and Yasir al-Rumayyan, the head of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, declined to testify on July 11.
The politics here are fascinating. The PGA Tour railed against LIV for months – urging senators and members of the House to join in the criticism – and eventually merged with the Saudi-backed tour in a reversal that shocked the sports world and many players. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed pause about the Saudis’ involvement in the PGA Tour, especially given its sometimes adversarial relationship with the United States.
U.S. athletic organizations have so far balked at foreign ownership, and now, according to critics, the Saudis will have outsized sway over the world’s premier golf tour.
But the PGA leadership has argued that Saudi investment will make the tour stronger and consolidate the fractured professional golf world.
What to watch: It will be up to Dunne and Price to explain how the Saudis will be involved in the day-to-day management of the PGA Tour. Furthermore, we may get more information on how the LIV Tour and PGA Tour will merge – which, as of now, is akin to a state secret.
The downtown angle: The PGA Tour has DLA Piper and former Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) – himself an avid golfer and member of the exclusive Burning Tree Country Club in Maryland – on retainer. Jeff Miller, a close ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, also lobbies for the PGA Tour. The Tour spent $190,000 lobbying in the first quarter of 2023 – $110,000 with Miller Strategies and $80,000 with DLA Piper.
– Jake Sherman
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Empire State Voices is already up with an ad criticizing Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.). The ad criticizes Molinaro for his vote on H.R. 1 – saying he voted to give tax breaks to big corporations. The ad is running in Binghamton, N.Y.
– Jake Sherman
9:15 a.m.: The Bidens will leave Camp David for D.C.
12:15 p.m.: The Bidens will participate in an event with the National Education Association.
5 p.m.: The Bidens will host active-duty military families for a barbecue.
8 p.m.: The Bidens will host a party for “military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors.”
9:09 p.m.: The Bidens will watch the fireworks.
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Political Memo: “Biden Sidesteps Any Notion That He’s a ‘Flaming Woke Warrior,’” by Reid Epstein
“Biden brings in Sperling to calm looming Detroit showdown,” by Zack Colman, Tanya Snyder and Holly Otterbein
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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The Canvass Year-End Report
And what senior aides and downtown figures believe will happen in 2023.Check it out