USA: The Week Away from Trump’s Racist Tweets
Tension with (and a possible back channel to) Iran, Biden’s health-care plan, a minimum-wage bill, and more.
If you are at all like me, you spent much of this week tracking the fallout from the racist tweets that Donald Trump posted last Sunday morning, in which he targeted four young Democratic representatives who are all women of color—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib—saying that they should “go back” to the places “from which they came,” even though all four are Americans and three of them were born in the United States. The story dominated the news all week, and on Friday, I argued that, contrary to some accounts, it did more harm than good to Trump’s reëlection prospects. Whether I am right or wrong, Trump’s behavior certainly diverted attention from other significant happenings, as it often does. Here are some of them:
In the Persian Gulf region, tensions with Iran got even more heightened, as the U.S. Navy claimed to have shot down an Iranian drone that was menacing a U.S. warship—a claim the Iranian government denied—and, on Friday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranian government said that the tanker, the Stena Impero, which is owned by a Swedish company but registered in the United Kingdom, had violated international maritime regulations. The British government demanded its release and warned other British vessels to stay away from the area. “We are not looking at military options,” Jeremy Hunt, the British Foreign Secretary, told Sky News. “We are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved.”
The seizure of the British vessel may have been a delayed response to the British seizure of a fully loaded Iranian-flagged tanker in Gibraltar, a tiny British outpost in the Mediterranean, on July 4th. The British government said the Royal Marines seized the Iranian ship because it was bound for Syria, and this violated European Union sanctions against the government of Bashar al-Assad. “To the Iranian eye,” Patrick Wintour, the diplomatic editor of the Guardian, pointed out, “the British action had nothing to do with an EU embargo, and everything to do with a desire to support the US squeeze on Iranian oil exports, the quickest route to bringing the Iranian economy to its knees.” At least publicly, however, Britain opposes the U.S. sanctions, which the Trump Administration imposed, on the grounds that they are counterproductive. Along with other European countries, Britain has supposedly been trying to act as in intermediary between Tehran and Washington, in an effort to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
As these events were unfolding, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, arrived in New York to attend a meeting of the U.N. Economic and Social Council. Although Zarif dismissed the idea of the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, talking directly with Trump, Zarif hinted that the Iranian government was looking for a way out of the crisis. And he made an opening offer, the Times reported that, in return for some relief from the U.S. sanctions, Tehran would agree to a scenario where Iran “formally ratifies an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow far more intrusive inspections of the country, including sites that Tehran has never declared as nuclear-related.”
What does all this portend? It’s hard to know, but there was talk this week that Senator Rand Paul would act as Trump’s intermediary and meet with Zarif. “If it happens, the Paul back channel and Zarif’s presence in New York would represent the first concrete avenue for talks between the United States and Iran during a crisis that nearly resulted in a shooting war between the two countries,” an article at Foreign Policy pointed out. The piece’s author, Elias Groll, also pointed out that these developments represent the latest in a series of setbacks for John Bolton, Trump’s hawkish national-security adviser, who in the past has advocated bombing Iran’s nuclear installations. “On key marquee issues, he’s not winning,” Mark Groombridge, a former aide to Bolton, told Groll.
On the domestic front, the Democratic National Committee set the stage for the second set of candidates’ debates, which will take place on July 30th and 31st, in Detroit. In a three-part random draw shown live on CNN, it was determined that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will appear on the first night, along with Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, John Hickenlooper, Tim Ryan, John Delaney, Marianne Williamson, and Steve Bullock. Bullock, the governor of Montana, is replacing Eric Swalwell, the California congressman who has dropped out of the race. The second debate will feature Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who tangled in the first debate, along with Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Jay Inslee, Kirsten Gillibrand, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Bill de Blasio, and Michael Bennet.
As the candidates prepare for the debates, the latest opinion polls suggest that Biden still has a big lead, although not as big as it was a month ago. Warren and Harris, who was widely judged to have got the biggest bounce out of the first debate, are vying for second place with Sanders, and Buttigieg is in fifth place alone. In the RealClearPolitics poll average, Biden is at 28.4 per cent, Sanders is at 15.0 per cent, Warren is at 14.6 per cent, Harris is at 12.6 per cent, and Buttigieg is at 4.8 per cent. The other candidates all get less than three per cent, and many of them get less than one per cent. It isn’t a four- or five-person contest yet, but the pressure is clearly on all the candidates to make a mark.
Since his faltering performance in the first debate, Biden has been burnishing his policy credentials, and this week he unveiled a health-care plan that contrasted with the Medicare for All vision that Sanders, Warren, and Harris support. “I understand the appeal of Medicare for All, but folks supporting it should be clear that it means getting rid of Obamacare, and I’m not for that,” Biden said in a videoaccompanying the rollout of his plan. Quickly dubbed Affordable Care Act 2.0, the Biden proposal would retain the basic structure of the A.C.A., including the insurance exchanges, the federal subsidies for households with modest incomes, and the expansion of Medicaid. The subsidies and Medicaid portions of the A.C.A. would both be expanded, and there would also be a “public option” for people who want to buy into some version of Medicare. Biden’s campaign said the plan would cost taxpayers seven hundred and fifty billion dollars over a decade.
As Biden launched his plan, he emphasized that it would allow people to keep their employer-based insurance if they wanted to, and he quickly got embroiled in a bitter dispute with Sanders, who gave a speech on Wednesday defending his own proposal. Sanders accused Biden of distorting what Medicare for All would mean and “sounding like Donald Trump.” The argument reflects fundamental differences over how to organize the delivery of health care, but as a piece at the Times pointed out, it also served the political purposes of both men. Biden sees his health-care plan as a key way to distinguish his campaign from those of his three closest challengers. For Sanders, who has been dropping in some polls, health care is his trademark issue, and it “offers a possible path back to the center of the national political conversation.”
In other political news, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a minimum-wage bill that would raise the minimum to fifteen dollars an hour by 2025. The hourly rate is now just $7.25, and Congress hasn’t raised it in a decade. The passage of the bill, by a vote of 231–199, was a victory for labor unions and progressive activists, who have already succeeded in persuading a number of cities and states to adopt a floor of fifteen dollars an hour. The White House and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, both claimed that moving to fifteen dollars would cost a lot of jobs, but a number of recent academic studies have questioned the presumption of a negative relationship between higher minimum wages and levels of employment. “While 20 or 30 years ago most economists believed that minimum wage increases invariably caused some job loss—the big issue then was whether the trade-off was worth it—the profession has updated its views,” Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, wrote in a recent review article.
Finally, back to Trump, who received some good legal news this week. In a court document released on Thursday, federal prosecutors in New York said that they had “effectively concluded” their criminal investigations into the hush-money payments that were made in the fall of 2016 to two women who claimed to have had affairs with the President years ago. Last year, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former private attorney, pleaded guilty to committing campaign-finance violations in helping to arrange the payoffs. At that time, a sentencing memorandum the prosecutors filed appeared to identify Trump as a co-conspirator, and there was speculation that he could be charged when he leaves office. But, in the court documents, the prosecutors indicated, “it was unlikely they would file additional charges,” the Times reported.
This indication came despite the fact that other documents showed that Trump, who has denied having any knowledge of the payments at the time, spoke with Cohen a number of times in the days when the lawyer was arranging and making a payoff to Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress. This revelation would appear to further incriminate Trump, but the Times, citing sources who had been briefed on the case, said that the prosecutors had “encountered obstacles to filing additional charges.” Specifically, they “grappled with whether they had enough evidence to show that Mr. Trump had understood campaign-finance laws and had intentionally violated them.” Cohen issued a statement from prison calling on Congress to look into why the investigation had ended. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said, “Case closed.”
—— AUTO – GENERATED; Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: July 20, 2019 at 04:24PM