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tv   Washington Institute Forum on U.S. Policy in the Middle East  CSPAN  January 31, 2019 12:28pm-1:54pm EST

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being offered in states, it takes financially off the table and allow people to borrow for living expenses. federal is what the government can do in this case. we have seen states experiment with good results in free college around the country, and the government can kick in some extra money and allow you to not have to borrow to fulfill the promise of debt-free over tuition free. host: william in tennessee, good morning. i am welcoming -- thank you for joining us. if i could ask you to please make sure your phones are on mute, feel free to tweak as much as you like but make no noise about it. delighted that we can meet at a time when the federal government is now open.
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there is so much on the middle and it isa in 2019, good to have a government that is focused on that. i am delighted to be joined on this panel, to be introducing a panel of three of my colleagues, two of whom have made journeys around the world in recent days, coming back to report on what they have observed, seen and learned in the middle east. one of them have made perhaps an even longer journey from capitol hill, because this is a very different environment than capitol hill. i will introduce all three of them in just a moment. just a brief, introductory word -- i am a historian by training, so i tend to see things in a historical perspective. i think it is useful to note three things so far as we enter 2019. into anow two years
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experiment in which both american political parties, for the first time since world war essentially argue for we are now 10 years into an experiment in which two successive presidents argue for a diminished american role in the middle east. to talk about whether this is good or bad, right or wrong, the implications of this, but i think it's important at least lay that out. and the third point i would make, as we now enter the third year of the trump administration, for all the high anxiety that we have witnessed we haveast two years,
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actually not had the middle east crisis the presidents almost inevitably come to face. one can go back to presidents in your lifetime and they've all faced some major crises. we have not had that yet. and as you look at our system, as you look at the people, the institutions, the administration of how we are addressing , preparing options, identifying solutions, executing in the backeep that of your mind. that we have not yet had the crisis. pleased toi'm very introduce my colleagues. speaking first is ambassador barbara lee. barbara joined the institute last year after completing ,ervice in the state department
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a very distinguished career of diplomatic service that ended as a tour of the american ambassador to the united arab emirates. previously barbara had served as assistant secretary of state on two occasions, she knows the region certainly better than almost any person that i have ever met, and i'm really delighted to have her as a colleague here at the washington institute. speaking after barbara b ambassador dennis ross. know, has more than a quarter-century experience in a rare way of experience in the sense that he has served white house tours for both democratic and republican presidents. you don't see that much. int level of bipartisanship one person's professional career much anymore.
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dennis served most recently in the obama administration, and i'm delighted that he's with us after returning from his own inp, several weeks abroad israel with other travels around the region. table,the foreign of the i'm thrilled to be able to welcome for her first policy forum visitation here of the washington institute, my newest colleague. dana joined the institute after service on capitol hill where she was the senior professional staff member on the senate foreign relations committee on the democratic side, previously she had service in the pentagon. so she knows both ends of the executive and legislative branches and i'm thrilled that she is with us and i'm offering special insight not just on traditional policy matters that are staff focuses on, but also
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making sure that we fully understand and appreciate the complexity is a capitol hill. with that, i'm going to turn the floor over to barbara. >> good afternoon, everyone. well, i might take issue with one of the things that you asked us to think about, but i will wait until the end of my eight to nine minutes to do so. agome back a week or so from 10 days in saudi arabia, and i wanted to give you just a sense of the atmospheric conversations that i had moving between with a group of international businessmen and women and with a set of largely private saudi engagements, private sector saudi businessman and women, some government engagements but largely economic policy orientation. but lots of engagements with private saudi's across generationally. and give you a sense of what i
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found there. and i would just start by saying the kingdom was march of 1990. when i was signed in jerusalem, and i was anticipating back in washington, and our embassy asked me to come over and do a arabia, so iaudi went to the same three cities and needless to say, it's a very different saudi arabia that i found and i have been going at regular intervals over the succeeding years. as recently as january of 2017. but what i found was really almost disorienting. just visually. social change is real, it's visible, the gender segregation is simply dissolving. almost in front of your own eyes. and saudi women are literally visible in the public space in a way that i've never seen.
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you would see saudi woman fully cloaked, where you just did not see them in most places. you certainly did not see them in ministries, government spaces, and you really did not see them in the workspace except sectors that niche were opened up under former king abdulla. mean, uncovered hair, shocking. if you have not been to saudi arabia, and i was traveling with a group that by and large had not, it became very difficult to explain why all of this was so extraordinary because this was a group that had traveled all over the middle east. i was just staggered. and, of course, you have read but you have to experience it to believe it or experience the old saudi arabia, just two or three years ago, tin can music types through
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restaurants, totally integrated restaurants. and shopping malls and so forth, public entertainment. and then women in the workplace all over. it was really quite striking. theseen going into discussions with saudi men and women, and i'm focusing on the social aspect and the desegregation aspect because it is having such a profound psychological effect on saudi's themselves, all of them having grown up in saudi arabia that closed, ofrmatively course you had starbucks on every corner and so forth, but you didn't have essentially from the 1980's on, and particularly, you had a closing off of a lot of the more nefarious western influences and music and entertainment, films, etc. we
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just have been unknown to the generations since 1979. what i found was that it's unsettling to saudi's. i will caveat my remarks by saying as one young saudi woman said to be the first evening in her father's home, what do you think now that you have met the 1%? meeting herself and all of the people we were seeing. indeed, this was by and large western oriented, western educated, their children were western educated. vested course, heavily in relations with the west and the u.s. in particular. even all of these avid proponents of these changes, socioeconomic changes that are represented in what known as a vision 2030, the national transformation plan, it's disorienting to them. i found some of the fortysomething men in particular said they were just, they would
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have a physical shock every time they walked into a cafe, sat down, and so i bunch of saudi women sitting next to them. they jumped. -- there ist of sort of a twitching apparent with people that is less of them following the religious beliefs only very active in keeping things segregated and locked down. interestingly, no discussion as yet of integration of the public education system. there is of course one sort of which is auniversity king abdulla project that is integrated by and large there seems to be no real discussion and even several saudi's estimate that they could not imagine integrating the educational system.
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about i'm not talking only about the social changes are quite shocking, as i said, for many, even those who are enjoying them. to my question which i put i meant where is the opposition to all of this? diversity.azing deeply the most polarized society. and i said i'm american, i know all about polarization. and she said no really, it's deeply polarized. and i said for instance, what is the percentage? and she said ok, it's 50-50. i trust that all the studies i talked to, and the answers, if they were 40 and below, they said look, demographics are on our side, 70% of us are 35 or
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under, we all love this. and i said not every 22-year-old is the same as another 22-year-old. all, but by and large we want it. and those who object to it are just being squeezed away. one fortysomething businessman that i asked about this said, look, at any given point, you know, there are 3000 government aployees sifting through on daily basis, social media to sort of track public opinion. i said fair enough, but not all of the naysayers are going to be on twitter. he said true enough, but we have really heavy-duty surveillance to track that. buys the best that israel has to offer in technology. that is a quote. [laughter] he said it very matter-of-factly. and on a really interesting theme throughout these comments of the irreversibility of these changes, that they were
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irreversible and side-by-side, the comments made it clear that so many of these speakers felt that the reform project itself is inseparable from mohammad bin salman, the crown prince's staying in power. there was a highly charged sense of defensiveness on the part of this western educated, oriented elite. again, across generations. an acute sensibility or sensitivity to the fact that there is just a huge amount of international heat directed of the kingdom. and there was frustration about this point and i will disaggregate some of the points, but one woman in her 40's said look, i've spent my whole life being told by westerners, by americans, you people are so medieval. especially with your women situation. and she said now we are changing and really changing, it's fundamental.
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and we are being told yeah, you are changing at a glacial pace. which is a? why don't you support us, why don't you help us out on this? on reform in general, i got some interesting quotes, i will give you a sense of that. once in a lifetime opportunity to self transform. we're unlikely to have another chance. i'm so happy the changes are happening, but i feel so angry, frustrated, regretful. that i or the government wasted 20 or 30 years of my youth in this very closed society. to the issue of the current unpleasantness between washington and riyadh, specifically the congressional reaction, is this about us, or is it anti-trump? and then, interesting comments about their own sense of what sort of the truth of the way saudi arabia was looked at over decades.
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we used to have a false sense of accomplishment about converting to a severe form of islam, and that's not good enough. it's the ability to dream now, that's the importance of reform, i can finally see something, i can see my country and what it's supposed to represent and i'm seeing it through the eyes of my children. himself, he came to the job with no bills to pay, he owes no one anything and those nothing to anyone. is willing to rock the vote, upset the status quo, take the responsibilities. previous approaches to reform was slow. all down.bout going he's a person -- first person to confront things head-on and not sugarcoat it. that is my sense of things in the kingdom admittedly from a
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certain part of the society but it is really unlike anything i've seen in years of going to the kingdom. i would just spend one or two more moments on trends in the region and prospects for 2019. i would say not only from the strip but lots of other some things i've done, there is a deepening sense of doubt and concern, even anxiety among our closest u.s. partners about u.s. commitment to the region. partners are hedging or they are tong full on past hedging take up policies and relationships that are clearly at odds with where we would like them to be. and we have that in the gulf within a rush for an -- and we have the sense with israel, israel having
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a sense of having to go in alone, in terms of dealing with iran and syria. say as a former foreign policy practitioner, what is alarming to me and what is also reflected in these conversations u.s.thinning out of key bilateral relationships in the region. lack of ambassadors in 12 of 18 of our embassies, or 12 of 18 relationships. constant turnover back here in washington at the cabinet level, in the national security community, high-level engagement. finally, what was remarked on during the trip but also in my previous engagements, who released each of the administration, and i think that relating to a head in december over the president's announcement of the troop withdrawal from syria and in the that national
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security adviser bolton did to israel and turkey when you had just completely contradictory messages coming up. key developments in the face of all of this, when i see right now is the prospect for the bilateral u.s. saudi relationship really heading into the deep freeze. for a variety of reasons, congressional, i think dana is going to address that, but also because i think structurally there are some real problems with the way washington is carrying out the relationship and that would be one of the things that has got to change if we got to pull relationship in the direction it needs to go. yemen, slow, unraveling. the processing unless the administration really gets serious and gets engaged. and the rock, i think the truth the troopq, i think issue is going to the toxic very fast and it will have reverberations back here and we could see a replay of 2011.
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on that note, i will turn it over to you. >> thank you. of going to complement a lot positive sense and then in terms of division of labor, i'm going to complement a lot of what barbara was describing. i made two trips to abu dhabi and dubai speak at conferences a little over six weeks ago. andthen i went to israel that i went to saudi arabia and that i came back to israel. and i want to talk about broader progressions that i had from those conversations. and i would be and dubai, i did see a number of saudi's both official and unofficial saudi's, and what i was in saudi arabia, i was there primarily see an official saudi's. i would start with one general observation. a point that barbara made about ,uestioning where the u.s. is
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it's something that comes through both in my trips to abu dhabi and dubai and saudi arabia and israel. i would even casted a little bit differently. the questions i got actually really, maybe trump is not an exception, trump seems a lot like obama to us. in terms of not wanting to be in the region, not equating the two, but saying that basically, we wonder what the u.s. really wants to be in the middle east whether what we're seeing now is the new normal. as theust put that out kind of reality that you get when you are in the region. withudi arabia itself, and the saudi's i spoke to both prior to being there and then when i got there, right now is a kind of interesting mood. initially when i was first seeing saudi's in the emirates,
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they were quite shaken by the effect of khashoggi, the international reaction to it, there was desire to sort of get out from under this, there was a thatng of great discomfort as one person said to me, we have not felt this was in 9/11. they really wanted to get over it. three weeks later when i went to saudi arabia, i found it was really different and it was much more, i would say, reflective of a kind of anger. one of the things i think you have to recognize is, mohammad bin salman has been seeking to replace wahhabism with a different form of legitimacy. legitimacy pillar of is not just modernization but nationalism. and when you make nationalism the form of identity, when the outside world seems to be ganging up on you, what a shock that it produces a backlash.
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that's exactly what i found when i was there, a very strong sense of saudi arabia being singled sense, arly and in a kind of coalescence, a kind of circling the wagons. it was especially true as it .elated to mohammad bin salman i found a range of opinions about whether or not there should be some senior counselors to him, checks and balances, but where there was no range of opinions, on his centrality to the changes taking place in saudi arabia, and if anybody thought that if you somehow could succeed in pushing him out, which they didn't think you could, but if you could, the dark forces of saudi arabia would be back. and anyone who thought that somehow this move towards transformation of saudi arabia inld continue was engaging an allusion. that this was not possible.
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and if you want to see the transformation continue, then, in fact, he has to be the focal point of this. you know, i have found at the same time, while there was this kind of anger at least among officials, i found this very sort of sober sense that, ok, know got a problem, we that it's not going to go away right away, we realize was going on in congress. it, butot happy about we just, we have to persevere. and we will, it will take some time, but we will. at the same time, i found a very strong impulse towards not walking away from reform, doubling down on it, continuing to open up things within the society. there, awhen i was formula one car race was there, and regain iglesia's was there, -- and regain -- enrique
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iglesias was there, something like 30 thousand or 40,000 people were observing this and this was presented to me with a lot of enthusiasm and a marker of how things are changing in saudi arabia. across the board, i found a determination to just overall press ahead with reform process. i was told, and a raised questions about the guardian rules, i was told there may not be anything that is as open as the decision on women driving, but there simply are a series of steps being taken as a matter of fact. so, women at this point no longer have to have male approval to apply for a job. to get a loan. same thing, doing any kind of banking, the same thing. of what will be very practical activity and certainly commercial activities will be made without any
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reference to having any kind of guardians, from male relationships. the idea of pressing ahead in terms of overhauling the education system was made to me very clearly and again, with the the role ofsforming education so that, in fact, you create a knowledge-based society. interestingly enough, there is a standing committee now that is reviewing the overhaul of the educational system and from soup to nuts, and i was told that mohammad bin salman was on it but so was the secretary-general of the world muslim organization. if anyone was paying attention to the article that he wrote on the holocaust remembrance day, to look at that article and think that it came from someone who's a saudi is almost hard to imagine. trip too say, my first
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saudi arabia was march of 1991. when we went in immediately after the conclusion of the gulf war. so i have been going there since that time, and it does feel like an entirely different country when you're there and when you see someone like him write the things that he does, say the things that he does, you feel like you are certainly dealing with kind of a different realm. i have a number of messages i felt like i wanted to convey and rather than can a them, -- rather than convey them, i think that's what the u.s. policy on to be. what are the things i would like to see pushing right now? well, i think we need to push transparency in the trials. that are going to be held for those who have been accused in saudi arabia of carrying out the jamal khashoggi murder. i think the more transparent
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that is, it will be at least saudi'sa story that the can put out that they actually have a legal system. like to thing i would see the administration push, i think the administration ought to be saying to mohammad bin salman, ok, the policy of trying to convince dissidents to come back to saudi arabia or to silence the critics when egregiously wrong. and when things go egregiously wrong, they assume responsibility and you ought to assume is a possibility for this. you say you are changing the policy because you know what went wrong. i would like to see, since there is clearly an effort to continue crownform process, the prince needs to rebrand himself again as a performer, hard to do that so long as woman activists are in jail. i would like to see them released. i do think that there has been a
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, any administration should be pushing that. there has been a kind of oflation of the demonization saudi arabia and the crown prince over to show the with yemen. so the story of what going on in yemen is on the one hand completely legitimate to expose the kind of starvation in the real human deprivation, but there's a reality here that they have made a major contribution to the reality in yemen and that story doesn't really come through, so i would like to see the saudis go beyond what is the current u.n. process in sweden and have the saudi's say, look, even if there are violations in what is supposed to be a tose-fire, we are prepared declare unilateral cease-fire throughout the country. for two weeks. it, it willond to be extended indefinitely. and if they don't, at least you
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begin to transform the story and the narrative. i'd like to see the , iinistration on the issue would like the ministration to basically say here's a proposal, settle this. something that we really haven't done, i think with the saudi's we can sadly say look, you know we share a lot of your concerns about country behavior, we are going to make a proposal, we want you to accept it. to seely i would like that happen, i would also like to see one other thing. i would like to see a more systematic dialogue with the saudi leadership. three or four months going over mutual concerns, i think that might be a way to avoid surprises may be on each side. that's my kind of cake and recommendation for saudi arabia. in the case of saudi arabia, i
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was there just before the president's declaration on syria. in the case of israel, i was there after the declaration. israel was ok, we can deal with this, but i also found an unmistakable sense that we are alone. not alone in the sense that the u.s. won't support us publicly, we appreciate that, but when it comes to dealing with iran and syria, and the russians in syria, israel is completely on its own and feel that is completely on its own. i found a sense that we can manage it, that i also found a kind of interesting context of the russians basically have adopted a much tougher policy toward israel since the shootdown of their aircraft in september. the israelis in response to that
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have greatly limited the operations that they were carrying out in syria against i was told they had greatly reduce their operations. any noticed russians had effect on a radiance because the iranians had no longer been expanding outward, but that they were doing more on syrian bases, read that mayaelis be the array means thought that since the russians were there to secure assad, this was a way the iranians could build up their missile presence on syrian races and these would be less likely to be struck. the fact is after the declaration israelis decided they were in a position where they do not clearly establish limits, the limits will not be expected -- respected, so they felt any. in the aftermath of the
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declaration, the israelis carried out two strikes. the interesting is not that they did them or tried to reinforce them in the aftermath of the american declaration, the more interesting thing is the iranians try to respond to that with something and raise these said they had planned for some time, which was a missile strike. a missile strike with a very heavy payload, directed at a mountain where they was a skewed producedhich significant civilian casualties, which would have reduced more from the air israelis. iron dome succeeded in knocking down not just a shorter range rockets, but this was a larger one. sensee this because in a you have what is a vacuum and each side is trying to establish the rules. and in the israeli case, when
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they feel they are going to have to do more on their own, that's is one thing, iranian in this case -- and this was a longer-range iranian missile with a significant payload from a syrian base -- and this is different from what you saw last february. you saw it ran fire drones directly at an armed drone, directly at israel, not working to done normal process, the arabian silent. this was -- the iranian style. this suggests there is a trend. i flagged this because if you are looking for one place where there is a potential for real escalation, this is it. you know, and i do not know how many of you read the three-hour he was sending
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his own signals with this. portend that he is about to launch an attack against israel. that is not what is the case, but it suggests the conventional -- potential for real escalation, because when they talk about covering all israel, the whole resistance access will be -- axis will be part of this -- corrupt inlict lebanon, or in syria, there are rockets fired against israel, israel will not the arabians to be the position where tens of thousands of rockets are hitting israel, koran feels it is aloof from this, israel will hit it ran under those circumstances. the potential for horizontal and vertical escalation is >> high, -- is quite high, and this leads me to my concluding point.
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the united states may not want to be in syria, but one thing that this administration and even the president should be doing, we need to communicate to putin that if in fact there is not more containment of what the do, and do -- iranians here it is less about a presence, it is more of a certain kind of presence, that if they continue with this precision project with their missiles, which confronts israel with a true strategic threat, tens of thousands of rockets that have capabilities is something israel cannot live with, that that is the sort of thing if the war becomes a not in a they are position to do more, you're talking about responding to saudi arabia in the gulf.
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that is something they could bring the united states in. for couldn't understand if this administration does not want to be in, it would bring in this kind of a conflict and the russians would be wise to ensure that this does not happen. >> carry good. thank you. thank the washington for the warm welcome, and accept my apologies for the voice. i'm hopefully at the tail end of fighting a cold. i wanted to structure my comments about what to look for in the middle east policy room in the new congress into a couple sets of baskets. the first one is observations on the structure of the new congress, and then some expectations for what we can expect to see from new congress. and i will touch on a few issues i am looking out for. first of all, in terms of the
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structure of the new congress, what is different from the last one is we have a divided chamber. democratic-controlled house and the republican-controlled senate. this will make it exceptionally difficult for the legislative branch to fundamentally alter the trajectory of any trump administration policies in the middle east. newhe senate, there are two republican chairman of national security chairman communities. senator jim risch and senator jim imhoff. and while all the committees on the house and the senate side are just getting into the business of holding here is an starting to debate legislation, given that the partial government shut down just ended, we know that these chairman will be different in style than the previous chairman. so senator john mccain and bob corker. that sets up a different dynamic
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for how the republican-controlled senate will interact or seek to assert itself in expressing disagreement or reinforcing trump administration policy. on the house side, for all the national security committees, there is a transition from republican-controlled committees to democratic. for all these chairman, face they were in the ranking member position before. they are staffing up. one interesting point for the house foreign affairs to become they have set up a new committee for investigation which is an indicator of how seriously the democratic-controlled house sees that mandate for itself. however, all these chairman at the new positions will encounter some challenges in working with the new very large freshman class of democratic member. one key takeid, away from my time on capitol
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hill is when it comes to congress and the middle east, meaning for own policy legislation always required cooperation, and barber talked about in terms of understanding the hyper partisan nature of washington at that time, it remains to be seen whether or not congress can come together on meaningful standalone pieces of legislation. however, there are certain must-pass pieces of legislation, and those are things i will be looking over the course of 20 19th to catch the mood of congress becomes the middle east. ions legislation, there has been some reporting on funding levels for egypt, withholding some assistance for saudi arabia. this gives you a sense of where congress may be going. big piece of foreign policy legislation to look out for this year will be the national defense authorization act. it will interesting to see whether it will be a robust
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piece of legislation or a skinny piece of legislation given the fact that the democratic-controlled house and the republican-controlled senate will need to come together and figure out where they can reach agreement on these issues. obviously, it goes without saying that there's a very short window of opportunity for congress to do anything in this particular congress. israeli 2019. we're heading -- it is 2019. we heading into a presidential electoral cycle. we know the democratic field is already crowded, likely to be more crowded, and by the time we get to 2020, there will be longer recesses, more recesses as members go home to their home states and district work on that. so in terms of big pieces of time to get things done, 2019 is the year. so if we cannot expect a major's legislative -- major legislation
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in congress, what can we expect? i am looking at oversight congress attempts to exert. we know that is happening in the house where there is a lot of recruitment of staff members for the committees that have specific investigative and oversight expertise. ways members of congress can assert themselves, even without standalone pieces of legislation, that would have significant potential to influence relationships and where the trump administration may or may not want to go on june policies, weapon -- on a certain policies, weapon sales. weapon sales, members of congress have cheated and especially in recent years resolutions of disapproval on weapons sales. these happened over and over in the last two congress this vaguely on contentious weapons sales to gulf countries where congress were concerned that sophisticated weapons could be used in yemen.
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they can introduce special pieces of legislation. they can do this on the senate or the house for. thisnk we will see more of if we do not see significant pieces of legislation moving forward. on assistance, military, economic, refugee, police training assistance, members of congress will seek to assert their views through imposing conditions on that assistance, requiring the executive branch to make certifications on that assistance, whether it is tiny assistance to human rights certifications, political reform certification, all of these different things. in general, my impression is that foreign governments find it to be exceptionally insulting, and i see no change from congress in attempting to make itswill known or
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expectations known through these conditions and reporting requirements. and finally, especially in a republican-controlled senate, if there is less of an interest in conducting rigorous oversight, the democratic minority, which sizable,, will find ways to make itself known, including holding up nominations. there is a dangerous vacuum a seven it-confirmed officials across the middle east, which means it is difficult for these embassies to represent the views of washington. without bipartisanship to move these forward, i think it will be difficult to rapidly filled those posts. what to look out for this year -- interestingly, despite the fact that i sent this will not be a legislatively active congress on the middle east -- and it was unclear what the oversight will look like -- both chambers will be focusing on
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middle east legislation out the gate on foreign policy. today the sense is debating strengthening american security in the middle east act, a hodgepodge of legislation that did not become law last year, and by and large have bipartisan support. consistencecurity desk assistance act, which would impose more restrictions on the assad regime. combating -- act, the most controversial part of the legislation. there is a debate, and in terms of foreign policy legislation, it is the middle east. in the house, a german has announced the first hearing next week will be about the middle the, about u.s. policy in
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arabian peninsula, and we know members in the house and the seventh have both announced intent to introduce and push toward more yemen-and saudi-arabian legislation and next weeks. tot members are signaling is the extent they are interested in foreign policy legislation, it is middle east focused. issues to look out for 420 19 -- israel -- for 2019 -- israel. divisive on the democratic side. can see there is a spectrum of views about the u.s.-zero edition ship on the democratic relationshipisrael on the democratic side. elections will be a terrifying moment for bipartisanship to be restored on the necessity, the strategic necessity of the
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u.s.-israel relationship, or whether it will be divisive on the democratic side and what that means for the 2020 electoral cycle is what i am looking out for. excuse me -- traditionally, a very bipartisan issue, where prior to the iran nuclear agreement, there was not for congresse to come together in a bipartisan way and passed successive packages of sanctions, not only related to the iran nuclear issue, but related to their sponsorship of terrorism, its program, violations of human rights, etc. we have seen that bipartisanship dissipate not only since the jpa came into the force in the aftermath of very serious credit disapproval of the manner of the withdrawal from the jcpoa and the iran nuclear agreement. congress has been largely silent on meaningful sanctions on iran
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actr than countering an which passed in 2017 which i will touch on at the end of my remarks, but the vote on that bill was mostly a vote about russia at the time and not about iran. one other issue -- syria. december announcement of the withdrawal of u.s. forces from syria -- although now there seems to be some murkiness about whether it is a condition space unifying inlargely the foreign policy instead of percent in washington. this is an interesting issue i am looking for an where the president and many democratic candidates actually sound very similar. why are troops there? why should u.s. forces carried a burden? we can transfer this to somebody else, etc.. both dennis and
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barbara touched on, concerns across the region about u.s. retrenchment -- why should u.s. forces be across their region? what is the nature of the u.s. involvement? we are clearly seeing government hedge and make alternative plans because they are questioning whether or not the united states is committed to remaining the security guarantor for these countries. and as they are looking around, moscow is obviously looking pretty good to a lot of these governments. in legislation, there are clear mandatory sanctions. if governments in the middle sophisticated weapons systems, if they sign robust agreements for commercial activities, etc., this sets up a potential conflict in 2019 if any of these -- whether it is a missilechasing
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interceptor system from russia or many of the governments that are currently purchases -- the trump administration will have to decide whether or not is going to impose sanctions on these countries where the administration wants to make robust partnerships, and the oppositeset up choice. these are potentially very serious conflict areas, and it remains to be seen what congress will do, and i will come against the backdrop of sanctions on russia for other activities, a trade war with china, transatlantic relationships, and now the potential for sanctioning partner governments in the middle east, a very dangerous time for the united states. >> thank you. on that happy note, thank you very much. by briefly asking my colleagues a quick question based on the remarks, or based on what the other colleagues might have said.
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barbara, i want you to expand on some of the important things that you said later in your marks, namely, about the emerging contest over american troops in iraq. now that we have seen and are aware the administration wants to go in syria, it seems that some iraqi allocations smell blood. this is a big target. how important are american troops in iraq? what do you think the future of their deployment is going to be? where do you think the menstruation is going to end up on this? dennis, i'm not going to ask you to prophesy the outcome of the israeli election, but i want to ask you what impact do you think the electoral process, the next several months, is going to have on the israeli policy decisions?
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. will the prime minister of israel make certain decisions sees he is in a race with a reputable candidate? barbara, that yemen resolution, the right and left are together, it is as much anti-trump, perhaps even more, than anti-saudi arabia. how much of what goes on in congress is really a starting course for other things, starting with insight trump? i spoke in shorthand when i mentioned iraq, but i see -- and i will respond to was said -- i was
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reliably told as recently as this week from someone who knows, it is just happening. a lot of things are happening around it diplomatically to try to mitigate the harm and risk and so forth, including our forces. it is happening. on the other side of the border, we have iraq, and it is an eerie , thereally to see emerging dynamic that i remember vividly from 2010, which is to say -- first of all, anti-bodies in the iraqi bali top -- iraqi body politic, to foreign troops, specifically, agitated more by some of thosebut antibodies today were guests of hours in a potential -- in a
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detention facility in iraq. they are agitated. --y are matched weirdly eight to nine years ago by a president who would be more than happy to bring them home. i am told -- i have been told for two months that the troops are there. that is conditional upon an iraqi government wanting them to stay, and what is the iraqi government? last a government elected may, still does not have a minister of defense or interior, and that is an internal fight among these same forces that have said thank you, but we do not want u.s. troops. so you have just had the president announced summarily we are going home in the face of a lot of consternation, weird going home, and that reinforces
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those forces in iraq that say, again with a false sense of confidence that i remember vividly from eight or nine years ago, that can handle it. the country nearly tipped over into the abyss into a caliphate three years ago, two years ago, but memories are short. we have got the potential for a replay there. a motion gets underway in the parliament to get the troops out, i think the president will respond, fine, they are gone, they are gone yesterday. very interesting question, and the answer may not be obvious. i see that because on the one hand, it is not an accident that the last blowup in november in gaza, there was a cease-fire. and you had the defense minister
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lieberman resign. he was against what was done in terms of a cease-fire. he was against money going to yet theom qatar, and decision that was made was made by the prime minister because he a no-win proposition. you get into a war in gaza and you will lose people, you will end up inevitably, given the density of gaza, the way that hamas has pretty much positioned itself so it has civilian hostages, you are going to have a lot of dead palestinians. and at the end of that, do you want to stay in gaza? no, but if you leave gaza, what have you left? do you have a vacuum? that israel has
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an address in gaza. the threat israel makes that the current hamas leadership could put itself at risk if israel comes in. if israel fulfills that, who was there? and israel does not want to say. you probably do not want to test the proposition, especially during an election period where the prime minister is going to be criticized if he does not do enough. might other hand, you probe to see what the thresholds of primein the case minister netanyahu, on the one hand he wants to convey a very tough rhetorical posture that he hopes will be convincing so that it deters anything from happening, weather in gaza or if it happens in the northern front, and in both cases, the last thing he probably wants is to have a conflict that is unlikely to be decisive.
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and is not easy to bring to a conclusion. and there clearly are hence from fromesk from hezbollah -- hezbollah and the iranians that all the resistance would be involved. just in gaza alone, would that really mean that nothing would be happening on the northern front? hamas now has people -- now has people in southern lebanon. all sides real allies it is not in their interest to have a conflict. and as we have seen before, even though all sides believe it is a conflict, it happens that way. in response to this question of is it all anti-trump, no and a little bit of yes. prior to the trump administration, it be fair to say in terms of foreign policy voting, members of congress took the most votes on legislation related to israel and iran.
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in the last four years, they have taken more votes related to saudi arabia and yemen than other foreign policy issues. a couple of examples -- at the end of the obama administration him there was a justice against terrorism act, which would have given american citizens the right to sue saudi arabia in u.s. courts first possibility tied to 9/11. president obama actually vetoed that bill when it passed both chambers of congress and the senate overrode his veto. trump. congress also voted on multiple issues of disapproval on weapons sales to saudi arabia, all before president trump. in the past two years of the trump administration, there were multiple attempts at votes on resolutions related to war
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powers and withdrawing u.s. forces for making hostilities in yemen. -- in the votes on senate and house on the conflict of yemen, the humanitarian situation. more hearings on yemen more than any other middle east issue, and then the khashoggi situation. i would also note some of the most aggressive voices threatening the entire u.s.-saudi relationship are coming from the rep. upton: side, -- from the including those who went live on tv and said extremely aggressive policy statements about willingness to discard the entire relationship because of what had happened to mr. shoji -- mr. khashoggi. place wherest at a
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it is entirely a democratic reaction. there is bicameral concern and it is long-standing, and now because members have taken so many votes were on issues related to the u.s. saudi relationship to saudi arabia, it means that every time they take those votes to have staff that are prepping them on the votes, on the contents of the votes, they have officials calling them, explaining them why this vote is not in the u.s. interest or contrary to the administration's desire, which means they are educated on the issue. they understand the pros and cons. we are a point where before you can have never said congress talking to you about the dynamics of the iran nuclear program. what about this reactor? what about this level of enriched uranium? and now they are conversant enough on these issues related to saudi arabia and human. had the top administration taking a different approach earlier with the kijiji
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situation, it might have turned out differently. there was from the 2017 trump trip to riyadh and how perceptions how the trump team engaged on the qatar dispute all the way to what looks like a knee-jerk defensiveness to protect and not call for immediate transparency and accountability when mr. khashoggi disappeared and the continue to riyadh change. that pushed members of congress to take an even more aggressive stance both publicly and legislatively but it was not partisan and that's what unique about this period in time. it's bicameral and bipartisan. you very much. we are going to turn to inject an endorsement of what you said earlier about hoping that this next congress is able to fill those important vacancies and there is no more important
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vacancy than the need to fulfill for -- dave shanker. >> identify to whom you are asking the question and try to pose only one question, not three in the guise of one. >> thank you for your clarity of thought. your report i thought clean. you are very clear but as we all know there is always a tension in these institutions. committees and personal thinking and personal ambition.
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who do you think are going to be the driving forces? into rationto get in half versus graham. but who else do you think in the senate and secondly we've all known eliot engel for a long period of time. strong, will he be weak, mild or are there other forces at work including in the speaker's office. institutional basis. where's the tension that's between the executive and legislative branch. >> so you did get three in. that was very impressive. >> i know better than to make personal comments about specific members of congress.
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all real start with the senate side which i know much better. the senate foreign relations committee has the potential to be very active in the foreign it depends onut whether the chairman decides to use the committee in that way. a committee is only as good as the hearings it's holding. willingness to exercise real oversight. to hold business meetings to actually advance legislation. senator,ators from the he gave one interview to pbs newshour and another one in the usa today and he was quite clear about his his intentions not to air disagreements publicly with the trump administration. said as he has no
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intentions of holding hearings related to middle east issues and that when he had disagreements with the president he chooses to deal with them privately. there is i think the fundamental view that congress is a separate coequal branch of government and it is part of the debate toce public american voters and constituents and that's why we have hearings so how that committee plays out i think remains to be seen. and the house side was quite clear to me that there is a very large and very new set of members in the democratic caucus and eliot engel has his work cut out for him.
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there has always been tensions the foreign affairs committees can do versus the armed services committees because one of the committees passes and authorizing bill every year and the appropriations committees who actually control the purse strings and it has been very to pass actual authorizing legislation. if we are in a hyper partisan moment where there is not going to be a lot of commitment to bipartisan than the real action is in the armed services committee and the appropriations committee. in the foreign relations committee's can hold hearings by exercise oversight shining a light on boutique issues or holding up specific weapons sales. that's different from fundamentally passing a piece of legislation or bringing together the entire caucus. i'm skeptical about what will
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happen this year. >> thank you very much. questions. mark concerned. -- ginsburg. >> thank you. i'm going to direct my question to both of you. neither of you mentioned our crown prince and the ultimate deal. i'm wondering whether or not either of you had any discussions about shall we say in israel and in saudi arabia whether this vaunted great experiment in peacemaking by the trump administration is going to somehow see the light of day and what does the light of day look like particularly in the wake of secretary pompeo's speech in cairo as well as the fact that
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we are hearing time and again that the revelation is just around the corner? >> unlike dennis i did not speak officials inlicy that space. i had engagements with economic officials. i sort of test ran the proposition with all of these saudi's many of whom are very well wired into the government. proposition which we are all familiar with. what about this notion that convergence of the perspective arabiaat between saudi and israel uae etc. having shape shifted their perspective and the dealore closely
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being so far off in the mists of time. imagine aible to creeping normalization even in the absence of a comprehensive settlement? and i pose that to my fortysomething host and his 22-year-old niece over dinner. , mysaid absolutely not generation is very committed to the palestinian cause. it's a matter of justice. he said oh yeah. we can and we should just move ahead. we've got interest there. i got the full gamut. traditional yes we have a relationship that is sort of off-camera but we can't bring it into the light of day until we see those issues wrapped up. >> let me pick up on that because i heard a lot of the same.
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i would say it was unmistakable how clearly they were describing the convergence of strategic interest. face was a sense that we common threats. a some ways i link it to point that we both made at the outset which is the less reliable the united states is perceived more israel's role becomes more important to them in a defective sense. so that argues for all sorts of things below the radar screen. i did get a lot of what i would describe as fatigue with the palestinians. that we make a sacrifice by not being able to do things more overly with the that's one that we will continue to do because we understand this is still an issue that has residence and
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creates -- residents and creates a sense of justice or injustice. when i heard was we don't want the iranians exploiting that. little confidence that the iranians will ever respond to anything. there was a sense of how long should we deny ourselves something that should be in our interest. a number of occasions that the mood in saudi arabia among the public towards israel is changing. one thing i heard was when we get attacked by rockets from the hutus, it makes people more aware of what israel faced in terms of both hamas and hezbollah. no one suggested this was a majority sentiment. they were saying these are -- there is a gradual
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evolution. still i would say no readiness to really transform the relationship in a public way absent some significant move on the palestinians. so where does the trump peace plan come in. in boths an expectation places that it would be presented to there was a clear statement that no one knew exactly what was in it. that they have each been briefed on elements of it. and they couldn't truck conclusions based on that. they hadn't seen anything in writing. say on the would saudi side there was a certain sense that it might be more serious than people think. side there was a sense that it's coming and we
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will see what it is. but nobody on either side pretended that they knew what was actually in it though they each felt very strongly that it would actually happen. questions. as a person who cares about -- i was intrigued by your comment that we need more transparency in the trial of the killers of khashoggi. isn't that something maybe we should be afraid of especially if the facts are as everyone supposes them to be? tosn't transparency lead more conflict and more difficult relationship with the crown prince? >> i make the case for transparency because saudi arabia itself says it has a legal system, it's building an unmistakable rule of law.
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it has a story about the killing so if they nowth have a trial where they simply come out here's what the verdicts were i'm not sure that is going to accelerate the process of trying to change the relationship and the impression or image of saudi arabia. we will have to see what it produces. >> in washington we all suffer from the disease of bifurcation between blacks and whites. race but in of terms of who is wearing the black hat and who is wearing the white hat. the iranians actually lucked out in a sense that khashoggi was saudi.
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there are human rights abuses galore within the republic of iran. i was wondering if that had come up at all in the conversation and whether or not they feel that they are in particular being discriminated against because of this. is do they question feel discriminated against. i wanted to ask you more generally how do saudi's, israelis see the internal situation in a wrong? -- iran? do they see that the trump administration's effort to impose tougher sanctions is leading to a certain direction? where are the iranians sitting and the handling it iranian ambition continues
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without without the u.s. being able to stop it just through economic means? on your question the answer is absolutely in saudi arabia yes. example asd was for terrible as khashoggi was and what was done at the same time the iranians were trying to kill dissidents in elgin and in france and denmark and nobody was paying any attention to that. so there was a very strong sense. what i was describing as the nationalistic backlash. there was a sense that we are being singled out and what iran is doing is being ignored. i noted that this is an
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interesting reminder of what happens when you take a step like this. the attention is being riveted on you, not on the iranians. in both places there was a sense that the iranians are really being squeezed. pressures are rising. there was also a perception, believe that the iranians would try to outlast the trump administration. didn't see them at this point moving in a different direction although what they do feel it is each felt the iranians have become more aggressive in the region in response to the pressures. these pressures have not led them to somehow look for ways to limit what they're doing. there was a hope that somehow these pressures could lead to a change.
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i think in saudi arabia i felt more hopeful that you could see change but they didn't have high expectations that it would be soon. in israel i heard that there is a debate going on because the costs are high. portrayed for simplicity's sake i will just say it was portrayed in terms of so the money against rouhani. between those who saw this is not the time for us to be doing things that will actually raised the cost to us versus those who felt that doing more now was the way to show the consequences of putting pressure on iran. so there was a sense the iranians were feeling it to it was a sense that they could probably endure for the time being.
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i think the saudi's were a bit more hope for that it might have an effect on them sooner rather than later. both expected that they would try to outlast the trump administration. >> i would add that the saudi's didate sector by and large not have a wrong much on their minds. concerned with their own internal -- they were the sensitive about battering they are getting mostly in terms of look. said it's really too bad that these arrests had to happen. people went too far in asking too much from the bottom up. bad these arrests had to happen.
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so awareness that this sort of stuff is going on. strict adherence to the party line that crown prince had nothing to do with the murders. that these were bad folks. awkward silence on who said the command environment that these folks thought it was normal to brutally kill somebody for dissent. in the official context i've had withthe last six weeks golf officials there's a jarring juxtaposition for them of the abrupt decision to pull troops out of the area. how does that square with the policy that's going to drive every boot out of syria etc. and
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i think much as they are all boosters of the sanctions they are beginning to say and we heard this this week, but what else? because sanctions won't do it it's is not going to happen fast enough. >> we have to call today's session to a close. i hope you take a look at the range of expertise at the institute. so many topics we didn't get a chance to talk about today from to the nextst assad phase in syria to egypt across the middle east. to get a glimpse of where 2019 is going to go. barbara,delighted that dennis and dana were able to give us signposts along the road
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for those of you who know the middle east reference. thank you very much for joining us at the washington institute. [applause]
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>> more alive public affairs coverage from washington coming up at 3:00 p.m. eastern. and sylvia burwell are part of the discussion about technology and national security posted by the us strategy group. >> over the world we have seen that no people on earth are so fearing for daring or determined as americans. if there is a mountain, we climb it. frontier, we cross
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it. tonight bygin recognizing that the state of our union is strong because our people are strong. >> the state of the union first post post because of the government shutdown will now take place on tuesday night. watch as president trump delivers his state of the union address live from the house chamber getting at 9:00 p.m. eastern on c-span followed by the democratic response by stacey abrams. the state of the union live tuesday on c-span, or listen with the free c-span radio app. >> house speaker nancy pelosi held her weekly briefing this morning talking about the conf


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