The 116th Congress has been in session since January and EANC has already held meetings with contacts in the House and Senate to discuss the Baltic caucuses in each chamber and legislative plans for the new session.
The House Baltic Caucus (HBC) lost a number of members in last year’s election. Although membership is down to 65 Representatives, it’s still the highest starting point for a new Congressional session in several years. Caucus co-chairs Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) remain supportive, with plans to circulate a Dear Colleague letter inviting new Members to join the HBC in the coming weeks. Please take a look at the current membership list and if your Representative is not on it, consider making a call to ask that s/he join.
While caucuses in the Senate are not as formal as those in the House, the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus (SBFC) is undergoing a revival with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) having joined Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) as co-chair last year after a long absence of Republican caucus leadership. Membership on the SFBC currently stands at eight. The Estonian embassy is also interested in encouraging more activity in the caucus in the coming session. EANC and JBANC are working with embassy personnel and the co-chair staffs on strategies for increased engagement. Readers are invited to check the membership list at www.jbanc.org and contact offices not listed about joining.
EANC is following new legislation as it is presented. The House overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan NATO Support Act (H.R.676) on January 22nd. The Senate has introduced a joint resolution to require Congressional consent for any changes to the status of U.S. membership in NATO. The House has also introduced bipartisan legislation to prohibit U.S. recognition of Crimea’s annexation by Russia (H.R.596) and in support of Georgia’s sovereignty (H.R.598). Along with our Central and East European Coalition colleagues, we will advocate for these and other pieces of legislation relevant to our region and keep our constituents informed on how they can help.
EANC is also tracking changes to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees (HFAC and SFRC) and maintaining contacts with committee staffs. The HFAC’s website (foreignaffairs.house.gov) indicates they are still finalizing their membership and subcommittee assignments, likely due to the change in majority party leadership. The SFRC (www.foreign.senate.gov) looks to be fully established, although their previous chair, Senator Bob Corker, retired at the end of last year and the committee is now led by Senator James Risch (R-ID), which may bring changes to the committee’s dynamic.
Finally, EANC will be following the activities of the Senate NATO Observer Group (SNOG). The SNOG was active during the 2000s when NATO enlargement was at its peak, then disbanded in 2007. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) revived the group in February of last year to coordinate the Senate’s efforts in responding to increasing threats to NATO from Russia and other adversaries. A July 2018 press release by Senator Tillis at www.tillis.senate.gov announced the 12-member group and its mission.
EANC looks forward to another year of engagement on the Hill and with the Estonian American community throughout the U.S. Please continue to follow this space and our Facebook page for updates on our activities and opportunities to support our grassroots activism efforts.