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The spring break is decidedly over in Washington and Congress has some serious catch-up work after politicians went home for a two-week recess.

The daunting congressional to-do list includes: passing a $95 billion foreign spending bill as Republicans remain split on Ukraine aid, border reform (which they complain has been too sluggish), the coming expiration of key components of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and, of course, President Joe Biden's fiscal year 2025 budget request.

All this, and House Speaker Mike Johnson is under threat of a “motion to vacate” – a move by hardliners in his own Republican Party who want to oust him amid the disputes over Ukraine spending and a lack of progress on southern border policy.

Far-right Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene filed the motion before the Easter holidays and Congress could take it up as soon as next week. Mr Johnson has again delayed bringing the Ukraine aid package to the floor amid the rift.

This is all happening as Washington faces a growing reckoning over its support for Israel. In a letter released on Friday, 40 lawmakers said the administration should “withhold this and any future offensive arms transfers” until there is a full US investigation into an Israeli air strike that killed seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen.

The White House is meanwhile waiting for a response from Hamas after a ceasefire proposal was presented to the militant group at the weekend.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said aid lorries have been getting into Gaza at a faster rate after Mr Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

Meanwhile, Mr Biden is hosting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for an official visit in a show of Washington's intention to further deepen Indo-Pacific alliances to counter China. The leaders announced a historic upgrade to their security alliance which officials say will “enable greater co-ordination and integration of our forces”.

On the economy, there were worrying signs for Americans that the Federal Reserve could delay cutting interest rates.

US inflation accelerated again last month, as doubts grow over the timing and number of rate cuts the Fed may announce this year.

Ellie Sennett
US Correspondent

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EYE ON 2024

How would Donald Trump handle the Israel-Gaza war?

Seven months from the election, Donald Trump is leading in many national polls, particularly in swing states like Michigan, which has a large Arab-American community that has already said it will not support President Biden due to his stance on the conflict.

This is despite the fact that Republicans are often even more hawkish than Democrats in their support for Israel, and some conservative members of Congress are even calling for the mass killing of Palestinians.

But “Trump is a wild card”, Victor Shiblie, publisher of The Washington Diplomat newspaper, told The National.

Observers point to Mr Trump's transactional style of politics, as well as his personal grievances with Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Trump has not offered any substantive details about what he would do to bring an end to the war, nor how he would address the humanitarian crisis, Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah, continuing efforts to broker a ceasefire in exchange for the release of the hostages and his vision for a postwar Gaza.

During Mr Trump's term from 2017-2021, he moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with decades of Washington policy. He also recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and advanced normalisation accords between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

In 2018, he closed the Palestinian mission in Washington and defunded the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

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What's Washington talking about?

Vladimir Kara-Murza Congressional leaders are pressing the Biden administration to designate Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza as wrongfully detained, amid warnings that internal repression by Moscow is fuelling its war in Ukraine. The designation would give the US government more capabilities to address the Kremlin critic's case with Russian officials under the Levinson Act. In a stirring speech about her husband's advocacy for democracy in Russia, Evgenia Kara-Murza told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the killing of fellow opposition leader Alexei Navalny has “demonstrated the urgency” of his case.

UNRWA Jim Risch, the top Republican foreign affairs senator, said yesterday that “we need to put UNRWA out of business”, referring to the UN relief agency for Palestinians. He was speaking at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Samantha Power, who leads the US Agency for International Development (USAID). “And I've got to tell you, that is the majority view in Congress,” he added. Congress recently passed a budget with bipartisan support that solidified Mr Biden's hold on US contributions to UNRWA until at least 2025.

Elizabeth Tsurkov Congressional Democrats are urging Mr Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to use a coming visit by Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani as “an expedient opportunity” to press Baghdad on the detention of Elizabeth Tsurkov, according to a letter I obtained from a Democratic office. Ms Tsurkov, an Israeli-Russian doctoral student at Princeton University, was conducting research in Baghdad when she was kidnapped last March. The Iraqi Prime Minister will be in Washington next week.

 

QUOTED

'It’s important to specifically address the Congress: if the Congress doesn’t help Ukraine, Ukraine will lose the war'

– Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video meeting of fund-raising group UNITED24

 
 

Spotlight: Millions look to the skies to catch glimpse of the solar eclipse

Millions of people in the US looked to the skies on Monday in the hope of seeing the total solar eclipse.

While not visible across the entire country, people in 15 US states were able to view the phenomenon, which first became visible from Mexico's Pacific coast.

In the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where residents could witness a near total solar eclipse, the spectacle was the talk of the town.

Matthew Leman, director of operations and visitor engagement for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, said Riverview Park welcomed up to 500 people to view the eclipse.

“People have come from all over,” he said. "[What] we're here to do is to get people back outside again, back out and experiencing the parks.”

People of all ages looked to the sky and took photos, despite the cloudy weather.

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ONLY IN AMERICA

Parents of Michigan school gunman sentenced to up to 15 years each in prison

The mother and father of a Michigan teenager who shot and killed four classmates were each sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison on Tuesday after a jury convicted them of manslaughter in a rare case of parents being held responsible in a school shooting.

Jennifer and James Crumbley, Ethan Crumbley's parents, were sentenced immediately after several parents of the victims gave emotional statements in an Oakland County courtroom.

“Not only did your son kill my daughter but you both did as well,” Nicole Beausoleil, the mother of 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, told the court as she wept.

Ethan was 15 at the time of the shooting at Oxford High School in 2021.

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Updated: April 11, 2024, 10:27 AM
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