Week ahead: Congress to examine al Qaeda threat

A trio of hearings in the House this week will give Republicans the chance to publicly question President Obama’s statements that al Qaeda “is on the path to defeat.”

The House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing Tuesday on the threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates, while the House Foreign Affairs panel will take a look at the resurgence of al Qaeda affiliate groups in Iraq on Wednesday.

The House Intelligence Committee is holding its annual worldwide threats hearing on Tuesday, where Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and other intelligence officials will testify.

The hearings take place as Republicans have criticized the president’s contention that “core al Qaeda” is on the run in Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly after he made taking out al Qaeda a significant part of his 2012 reelection campaign.

“Today, the president’s rhetoric on the threat of al Qaeda and its franchises are in stark contrast to the reality we are witnessing in the Middle East and Northern Africa,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said at a hearing earlier this month that his panel held on the administration’s “al Qaeda narrative.”

In his State of the Union address, Obama said that the core of al Qaeda was “on the path to defeat” but that the threat has evolved as the terror group has become more decentralized.

At the Senate Intelligence Committee’s threats hearing last week, Clapper said that the threat posed by a dispersed al Qaeda could be just as great as it was before 9/11.

“I can’t say that the threat is any less,” Clapper told the Senate panel. “I think our ability to discern it is much improved over what it was in the early part of the 2000 period. So, I think that dispersion and decentralization actually creates a different threat and a harder one to watch and detect because of its dispersion.”

On the Senate side of the Capitol, the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees will be getting a joint briefing on counterterrorism from Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Michael Vickers and several others.

That briefing, however, is classified and closed to the public.

The Senate Armed Services panel is also holding a closed briefing on Tuesday on Afghanistan with officials from the office of the secretary of Defense and Joint staff.

While the push for a vote has stalled on a new Iran sanctions bill from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea? Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo Poll: Menendez has 17-point lead over GOP challenger MORE (D-N.J.) and Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (R-Ill.), Menendez will get a chance to press the administration on the nuclear negotiations with Iran on Tuesday.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will testify at the committee’s hearing on the nuclear negotiations.

Menendez has been critical of the interim deal the administration stuck with Iran last year, but Obama has threatened to veto any new sanctions bill while negotiations are ongoing.

The House Homeland Security Committee will be tackling an issue a bit closer to home on Tuesday, with a hearing looking the future of homeland security missions for the U.S. Coast Guard. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp will be testifying.

On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on U.S. counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan.