Talk about March Madness. This week’s round of sanctions and counter-sanctions by the U.S. and Russia has left us dizzy -- and drawn some serious and not-so-serious responses from American lawmakers who found themselves on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s black list.
Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, one of those sanctioned, lamented in a Twitter tirade, "Our summer vacation in Siberia is a no go."
With diplomatic storm clouds continuing to gather, President Obama heads across the Atlantic next week to consult with fellow heads of state. The president hasn’t fared particularly well in the NCAA bracket challenge over the years (this time around he picked Michigan State to win it all) but he will be hoping for better luck on the international stage.
Here’s a look at some of the stories your ABC News political team will be tracking in the week ahead:
|OBAMA’S EURO TRIP|
President Obama is jetting off to the Netherlands for a nuclear security summit Monday. He and 50 world leaders -- including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov -- will meet at The Hague to discuss how to prevent terrorists from obtaining highly-enriched uranium and plutonium. He’ll also meet with the Group of Seven (that’s the G8 minus Russia) about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Then it’s off to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis and later to Riyadh in an attempt to improve the United States’ tenuous relationship with Saudi Arabia.
|THE HILLARY AND JEB SHOW|
Next week will bring a Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush split screen: The two potential presidential contenders -- and possible 2016 rivals -- are slated to speak at the Globalization of Higher Education Conference in Dallas. Bush is hosting the three-day affair, the latest in a string of high-profile appearances that have political pundits buzzing about the former Florida governor’s political ambitions. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also address the conference, which comes on the heels of a three-day Clinton fest in Arizona -- the Clinton Global Initiative University. Though Clinton and Bush could be rivals down the road, for now, they’re coming together to discuss solutions to pressing education challenges.
Will Congress have a productive week? Lawmakers are expected to consider an urgent aid package to Ukraine, which stalled last week after several House Republicans objected to proposed reforms to the International Monetary Fund included in the bill. The Senate plans on voting on its bill, which contains IMF reforms, early this week. But House Republicans have introduced a different measure – one that mirrors much of the Senate’s aid and sanctions bill but does not include any changes to the IMF, setting up a potential showdown between the two chambers. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill will also consider a bill extending unemployment insurance. After weeks of gridlock, the Senate struck a deal re-authorizing benefits for five months and allowing for retroactive payments dating back to late December. The Senate will likely vote on the bill Monday, but House Speaker John Boehner has called the Senate bill “unworkable."
|THE CASE OF CONTRACEPTION|
Obamacare is back at the Supreme Court. The justices will hear two new legal challenges to the president’s signature healthcare law Tuesday. For-profit corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are seeking exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provision, which requires employers to cover FDA-approved birth control at no cost. The Christian owners of the two companies object to four of the required drugs because they may “facilitate abortion” and argue that the provision violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from infringing upon a person’s exercise of religion. The justices will consider whether corporations can be considered “persons” for the purpose of religious liberty and whether the government interest outweighs the alleged burden.
|A DEADLINE LOOMS|
The March 31 Affordable Care Act enrollment deadline will be looming large over the entire Obama administration next week. Thanks to a sudden surge, enrollment hit 5 million Monday, but according to statistics released earlier this month, millennial enrollment is still lagging behind projections. The beleaguered Obamacare team has pulled out all the stops to attract healthy young people, which they need in order to keep insurance premiums low. So far, only a quarter of registrants are in the 18-34 demographic, but White House officials insist that young people tend to sign up later than their older, sicker counterparts. And they’ve used both star power and slick websites to try to meet their targets before the end of the month.