Political Roundup

In Our Headlines…

National Security Advisor John Bolton, known for his hawkish foreign policy views, abruptly resigned on Tuesday. The announcement came, as many do during the current administration, from a tweet by President Donald Trump. According to Trump, he and others in the administration “strongly disagreed with many” of Bolton’s opinions, and as a result, had asked for Bolton to tender his resignation. However, this was contradicted by Bolton himself, who claimed in a tweet of his own that he had offered his own resignation prior to Trump’s announcement. Bolton is the third of Trump’s National Security Advisors–the other two being Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster­­—to resign or be fired. In addition, the president’s other senior foreign policy advisors have undergone similarly unprecedented turnover. Trump has replaced a Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, a Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and an ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, among others. The loss of so many senior advisors—Bolton being the latest—who were seen as checks on Trump’s erratic and vitriolic nature worries many that the president will begin to act even more unpredictably with no one to reign him in (CNN, “Trump fires John Bolton,” 09.10.2019).

The third Democratic debate was held on Thursday night at Texas Southern University in Houston, TX. This debate was the first of the 2020 election cycle not to be split into two nights, as the Democratic National Committee had increased the threshold for candidates to qualify, which resulted in only ten making the cut. As a result, it was the first time all of the campaign’s major players shared a debate stage. The tension once again centered around the differences between the moderates and progressives within the party on issues such as healthcare and immigration. Progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders extolled the virtues of their proposed single-payer healthcare system, while moderates like Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden criticized the plan as costly and ineffective. Biden, the former vice president, was the target of significant criticism, in particular from the former housing secretary Julián Castro, over his former support for the Iraq War and the Obama administration’s record of deporting millions of illegal immigrants. Several candidates, including Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker, refrained from criticizing opponents and attempted to play the role of unifiers within the party. As the field of Democratic candidates narrows further, candidates will be even more eager to stand out from the still-crowded field (The New York Times, “Attacks on Biden in Debate Highlight Divide Over the Obama Legacy,” 09.13.2019).

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was hit with calls to resign on Sunday after a New York Times piece uncovered  new information about an accusation of sexual assault against him. Kavanaugh had previously been accused by two women of sexual assault during his nomination and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, testified at his confirmation hearing. His ultimately successful confirmation, by a vote of 50-48 in the Senate, had been one of the most controversial in recent memory. The debate was reignited on Sunday after the Times claimed its reporters corroborated a claim by his second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party at Yale University. Since the release of the story, several Democratic presidential candidates, including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, have called for the justice’s impeachment on the grounds that he lied about the incident during his confirmation. However, due the the two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress required for a judge’s impeachment, it is extremely unlikely that this would occur (Washington Post, “Democratic candidates demand Kavanaugh impeachment after new allegation in Times piece,” 09.15.19). 

Around the World…

The United Kingdom’s newly-minted prime minister, Boris Johnson, suffered another setback on Monday when his motion to call snap elections before Britain’s scheduled October 31 departure from the European Union was defeated in Parliament. Johnson, who took office in July after his predecessor Theresa May resigned over her handling of Brexit negotiations, hoped that by calling and winning a snap election he could gain legitimacy for his hard-line stance on Brexit, which has come under scrutiny from the opposition Labour Party and many within his own Conservative Party. His brief tenure has been characterized primarily by a series of defeats: As of publication, his government has yet to win a single vote in Parliament. Last week, many Conservative lawmakers broke with the government to vote for a bill that would block Britain from exiting the EU without a deal. In response, Johnson expelled many top members of his party. In yet another embarrassment for the prime minister, Conservative M.P. Phillip Lee crossed the floor of the parliamentary chamber during a debate to sit with the opposition Liberal Democrats, leaving the Tories without a working majority in the House of Commons. With Johnson’s latest failure in his bid to call new elections, the bombastic prime minister and his opponents are headed on a collision course ahead of Britain’s October 31 deadline (The New York Times, “For Boris Johnson, Another Bad Day and Another Big Defeat in Parliament,” 09.10.2019).

Israel prepares to go to the polls for the second time in four months on Sept. 17. New elections were called after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party ultimately failed to form a governing coalition after elections in April. Negotiations failed after Avigdor Lieberman, the conservative but secular leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, refused to join Likud’s coalition arguing it gave too many concessions to religious leaders. With Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community continuing to grow and assert its power, the clash between the religious and secular elements of Israeli society have been a central issue of the upcoming election. The election will not, unfortunately, be a very joyous occasion for Palestinians living in the West Bank. Though Netanyahu’s campaign has been more outwardly racist and hostile to both Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, both he and his rival, the centrist Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, support the annexation of parts of the West Bank. Such a move would leave up to 2.5 million Palestinians trapped in exclaves surrounded by Israel. Thus, the upcoming election, though crucial for Israel’s secular population hoping to undo the influence of religion in society, would likely not turn out well either way for Palestinians (The Guardian, “Benjamin Netanyahu in close election fight for power in Israel,” 09.13.2019).

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