Senator Bob Corker at the Post, John Ray, Impact Investing Analyst, Georgetown University, Master’s in Finance

On Wednesday, July 26th, I watched as Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) sat down with David Ignatius of The Washington Post to discuss the current foreign policy environment in the United States. Part of the Post's “Securing Tomorrow” Series, Senator Corker, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, answered questions on Congress’ attitude towards a variety of foreign policy concerns.

The major takeaways from the event include Corker’s firm stance on the need for congressional review of Presidential actions, his continued praise for Secretary Tillerson and President Trump’s cabinet, and his belief that sanctions on both Russia and Iran are absolutely vital pieces to American foreign policy.

Corker's bill not only enhances sanctions on Russia and Iran, but also limits the president’s ability to lift sanctions currently imposed.  Mr. Corker believes very strongly in increasing Congress’ role in foreign policy when it comes to sanctions and his bill does just that.

Interestingly, while the bill currently includes sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, it is expected that the North Korea sanctions included will need to be stripped out prior to passing the Senate, having passed overwhelmingly in the House just a few months ago. He claimed strong bipartisanship in favor of the bill and fully expects the revised sanctions measure to be pushed through prior to Congress’ August recess. ("The Senate voted 98-2 to send a bipartisan sanctions package against Russia, Iran, and North Korea to President Donald Trump's desk" on 7/27/17).

How will President Trump and the White House react you might ask? Corker anticipates some push back from the Executive Branch, but firmly believes the bipartisan support will be enough to override any Presidential veto that may come.  He acknowledged the President’s push to relax relations with Russia by lifting sanctions put in place by the Obama administration.  However, the Foreign Relations Committee believes this is certainly not the right approach to take in the current political environment.  While recognizing the United States may have its worst relationship with Russia since 1991, Corker believes the Committee will not allow Russian aggression to continually destabilize democracy worldwide.

Senator Corker thinks this bill, and subsequent sanctions, lays the groundwork for protecting our allies from future Russian aggression and addresses concerns over Russian involvement in the presidential election.  A core issue driving this bill is President Trump’s repeated “flip-flopping” on Russian involvement in the election, the lack of acknowledgement of their involvement driving the legislation.

While the Russian sanctions bill was the focus of the interview, Senator Corker did briefly address other issues, most prominently the current healthcare reform bill, President Trump’s tweeting habits, and the drama among the president’s staff and cabinet members.

On healthcare, Corker believes reform must occur, but notes that healthcare delivery costs must be addressed in order to facilitate a fully beneficial healthcare system for Americans.   Mr. Corker also believes an Obamacare repeal must occur, but not until 2020, giving Congress time to structure a reform package.

 A point continually reinforced throughout the interview was Senator Corker’s respect for Secretary Tillerson and the inner working of the President’s cabinet.   He lauded Tillerson’s work in improving foreign policy. Corker did note the apparent lack of continuity between the president and Tillerson himself.  With a string of tweets, President Trump regularly undermines Tillerson’s efforts by occasionally contradicting his own Secretary of State.

When asked more specifically about the president’s extensive use of twitter, Corker does not believe there is anything that Congress can to do to restrict the President.  In a bit of irony, President Trump sent a controversial tweet on the military during the interview, forcing Corker to, again, do his best to dodge the question of should Congress do anything about the president’s use of social media.

In concluding the interview, Corker addressed his concerns about the Iran nuclear deal put in place by the Obama administration.   He believes it was much too light on sanctions and believes his new bill will address some of Congress’ concerns. He did admit that leverage with Iran is gone since signing the initial deal.  Without tearing up the deal and destabilizing relations, Corker believes in radically enforcing the sanctions that are in place and strictly monitoring Iran's enrichment of uranium.  Backing out of the deal now could create a world crisis and adding to the list of crises right now would be very unwise.  He hopes the President understands this and waits to carry out his campaign promise of tearing up the Iran deal.

All in all, Corker did not drop any bombshells. With that said, it will be interesting to monitor the effects of the new sanctions bill.  Will President Trump veto the bill and, by doing so, create tension within the federal government? Will Russia have a strong push back against it?  While we find financial markets around the globe rallying right now, could these sanctions have a destabilizing effect on the global economy?  While no immediate impact is foreseen, it will be of the utmost importance to anticipate Russia’s response and potential escalation that would certainly affect the world economy.

Stay tuned America; our wild political ride appears to be only getting crazier.

John Ray
Impact Investing Analyst
Creative Investment Research
Georgetown University, Master’s in Finance

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