The U.S. Senate opened the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump with quiet ceremony on Jan. 16 senators standing at their desks to swear an oath of "impartial justice'' as jurors, House prosecutors formally reciting the charges and Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.
When it comes to courting Hispanic voters, Vice President Mike Pence might seem an unlikely candidate to serve as President Donald Trump’s top liaison. But while he isn’t bilingual, the … Click to Continue »
A Florida congresswoman who on Wednesday became an impeachment manager in President Donald Trump’s upcoming Senate trial wants to remove the lead juror: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Rep Val … Click to Continue »
Days after President Donald Trump killed an Iranian general and said he was sending more soldiers to the Middle East, about 100 protesters stood on a pedestrian bridge over Chicago’s … Click to Continue »
U.S. President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to warn Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to be "very careful with his words" after the Iranian called the U.S. leader a “clown” during a Tehran sermon.
A video showing students at Tehran's Shahid Beheshti University refusing to walk on U.S. and Israeli flags went viral on social media over the weekend and featured in a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump. Similar incidents suggest a growing opposition to disrespecting U.S. flags and shouting "Death to America," two practices that have been part of Iranian propaganda for four decades.
The revised U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the trade deal which the Senate passed Thursday, drew the support of more than 80 percent of Democrats in Congress, handing President Donald Trump a signal bipartisan accomplishment.
Yet perhaps the most surprising vote came in opposition: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who spurned a deal negotiated by his governing partner, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Schumer had kept his position a secret until the roll call was taken, stunning people who had been closely following the trade debate and who immediately began wondering about the political motivations that might have prompted the senator from New York to vote no. The fast-emergingconsensus: Schumer is trying to ward off a 2022 primary challenge from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Bronx Democrat who could find herself without a district if New York loses congressional seats in the next round of reapportionment.
“That’s all I thought it was about,” a veteran trade lobbyist told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the powerful minority leader. “He sees AOC over his shoulder at all times, apparently.”
Schumer has long been a trade skeptic; he voted against the original North American Free Trade Agreement as a member of the House in 1993 and opposed former President Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2015. Yet the 200-word statement he released Thursday explaining his vote against USMCA cited just one area of complaint: the climate.
“Despite the fact that it includes very good labor provisions, I am voting against USMCA because it does not address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet,” Schumer said. “When it comes to climate change, the agreement still contains many of the same flaws of the original NAFTA, which I voted against.”
Justice Democrats, the group that helped power Ocasio-Cortez to her upset victory over Representative Joe Crowley in 2018 and is now pushing other primary challenges to Democratic incumbents across the country, was quick to declare victory.
“Our primary challengers and sit-ins targeting moderate Democrats have been criticized as divisive and unnecessary by many in the party establishment,” Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of the group, said in a statement. “But Senator Schumer’s decision to oppose the USMCA on climate change grounds would not have happened without our movement putting pressure on Democrats to make this crisis an urgent priority in the party like never before.”
Climate change also happens to be a core issue for Ocasio-Cortez, who has fought to get other Democrats to back herGreen New Deal. On her first day as a member of Congress, she joined climate-change activists from the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats in a sit-in outside Pelosi’s office.
A spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez, who also voted against USMCA, declined to comment.
Schumer has faced pressure back home, including occasional protests outside his Brooklyn apartment by activists urging him to take a stronger stand against Trump across a range of issues. Of late, one of those groups, Indivisible Nation Brooklyn, has prioritized climate issues and pushed Schumer to endorse the Green New Deal and oppose USMCA. Schumer’s vote on the measure is “progress,” says Liat Olenick, a co-president of the group. “It’s positive, and we always want to acknowledge positive things.”
Schumer declined to comment beyond his statement. But his office noted that the longtime senator has been placing a higher priority on addressing climate change in recent years. The Democrats’ 2018 campaign platform pledged that any new trade agreement would address climate change, and last year Schumer established a Democratic special committee to address the crisis after Republicans refused to create an official Senate panel.
If primary considerations were a factor in Schumer’s vote, he’s likely not alone. The Democratic defections on USMCA underscore the growing threat incumbent lawmakers feel from progressive primary challengers, who are building on the model popularized by the Tea Party to push the party leftward. Just 38 House Democrats voted against the trade deal, but several of them are already facing aggressive primary challengers. The opponents include two representatives, Eliot Engel of New York and William Lacy Clay of Missouri, whose challengers have been endorsed by Justice Democrats.
In the Senate, Schumer was one of nine Democrats to oppose USMCA, which split the party’s current and former presidential contenders. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bennet of Colorado voted for it, while Bernie Sanders opposed it. The departed White House hopefuls Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand all voted no—perhaps with a spot on the Democratic ticket in the fall, or their current job security, in mind.
Evan Weber, the political director for the Sunrise Movement, told me Schumer’s office gave him a heads-up the day before the vote that he’d be opposing the trade deal. “We’re very thrilled,” he said, praising Schumer for recognizing the growing climate crisis and its importance to millions of young voters. When I asked him if he thought a potential primary challenge from Ocasio-Cortez factored into Schumer’s thinking, he replied cautiously: “He's a sharp politician, and I think he sees the political winds changing.”
He added: “Maybe wanting to secure his position as majority leader in the Senate has something to do with that.”
This Saturday, protesters in distinctive pink “pussy” hats will once again gather in Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March. And yet the march, which once symbolized the massive, female-led backlash against President Donald Trump, has struggled to establish a clear identity and purpose for 2020. After three years spent battling controversy, it’s not clear what, if anything, the Women’s March organization has directly achieved.
The Women’s March organization has worked hard to move past these controversies. Last fall, it appointed a new, diverse board that included three Jewish women. Three of the original four co-chairs—Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour—have left the organization, although according to the group’s bylaws, they can return in the future to serve in a rotating board position. Carmen Perez, the only remaining original co-chair on the board, has written a number of op-eds apologizing for the organization’s blind spots on anti-Semitism. When I recently spoke with Perez by phone about the evolution of the march, her public-relations manager, who was also on the line, encouraged her to detail her “growth journey” to learn about anti-Semitism. (She still refused to condemn Farrakhan outright.) Perez also described the Women’s March as a big tent: When I asked her whether women who identify as Zionists or oppose expanded abortion access would be welcome at the march, she maintained that it is “a space for all women,” even though many of the signs and comments at the original march were focused on protecting abortion rights, and Sarsour, a Palestinian activist, has said that feminism and Zionism are incompatible. Perez’s posture of openness marks a departure from the group’s previous infighting over who exactly has a place in the progressive movement.
Still, Perez—who also serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Gathering for Justice, which works against racism in the criminal-justice system—could not give a lucid description of the goals of the Women’s March organization. This week, it has hosted “actions”—in effect, guided conversations and rallies—focused on the march’s three main issue areas: immigration, climate, and reproductive justice. But the planned events also veered into other territory, including a protest against war with Iran. It was not clear from our conversation whether and how the Women’s March organization plans to take concrete action on its long list of chosen issues. When pressed, Perez said the organization’s first goal is to “bring awareness.”
I spoke with Perez about the past and future of the Women’s March: what it’s for, why it has struggled, and how she hopes to see it evolve. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Emma Green: What do you think the Women’s March has achieved since the first march in 2017?
Carmen Perez: Oh my God—there are so many achievements. We were able to bring together 5 million women and people from across the world to stand up in solidarity against racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia, and also to show that women have the ability to lead. We were able to inspire a new generation of activists to rise up.
There was a major cultural shift that has continued to evolve since 2017. 2020’s march is focused on three issue areas: immigration reform, climate justice, and reproductive justice. We are a decentralized movement with strong support for state chapters across the country.
Green: Can you point to tangible policy or legislative successes that are a direct result of the efforts of the Women’s March organization?
Perez: We put together a feminist agenda in 2019—a framework for elected officials as well as local organizers. We’re still trying to close the pay-equity gap. In regards to legislative changes, we still have some way to go. That’s why we’re focusing on these three issue areas. We’re still trying to identify how we can build political power in that way.
Green: Have you been able to channel the energy of the Women’s March into securing specific policy changes or electing leaders?
Perez: That’s what the feminist agenda was designed to accomplish. How do we look at criminal justice through a gender lens? How do we look at immigration reform through a gender lens? We’ve always talked about reproductive justice or reproductive rights, but what does reproductive justice look like for a woman who is currently incarcerated and being shackled while she’s giving birth? What we have been able to achieve is having these collective conversations about how our issues intersect. And that’s what the goal of 2017 was when we were organizing the first Women’s March.
Green: In 2020, will the Women’s March organization facilitate donations to specific electoral candidates, sponsor advertising in close races, draft any legislation, or take other concrete steps to implement your stated agenda?
Perez: We’re focusing on supporting our state chapters and giving them the resources that they need in order to organize locally. We have a national feminist agenda. But what we’re hearing from our base is that they wanted to dig deeper into these three issue areas. We are focused on achieving legislative wins and having more targeted, concentrated conversations around how we could create entry points for people to get involved, and how people can become more aware of what’s happening around those three different issue areas.
Green: So, just to be clear, from the national level, the Women’s March will not be releasing slates of candidate or endorsing specific legislation or policies that it’s going to push during the 2020 election cycle?
Perez: As of right now, I don’t have that information. One of the things that we need to do first is to really bring awareness, right? We polled our base, we heard from them that they wanted to focus on three issue areas, [so] we’re bringing it to them in D.C. For us, it’s directing people into these actions to be able to understand these issues deeply. In any type of campaign, awareness and education are key. And then from there, you’re able to develop a strategy. And so right now, we’re not at the strategy level, digging deeper, but I do know that the organizations on the ground have legislative policy that they have been pushing for quite some time. And I’m sure that during the actions, people will be privy to that information. And I do believe that at some point, the Women’s March will be making sure that it provides more concentrated policy.
Green: In 2019, Democratic elected officials largely avoided the Women’s March because of controversies surrounding the march and the organization. This included accusations that you and one of your co-chairs, Tamika Mallory, made anti-Semitic remarks to some of the march’s co-organizers, and also criticisms that you all would not disavow Louis Farrakhan, who has consistently said openly anti-Semitic things throughout his time in public life. I know you’ve written about this issue a number of times. Just to be clear, do you condemn Louis Farrakhan, and do you believe the Women’s March has space for all women, including Jewish women?
Perez: My position is very clear. First of all, we as an organization could have done something sooner. We’ve been very intentional about repairing the harm done, not only on an organizational level, but also on a personal level. Part of my journey was to lean into the controversy and to reach out to rabbis and begin to have courageous conversations, as well as participate in anti-Semitism training. We have Jewish people who are part of our family within the organization. Jewish women did help craft the unity principles in 2017. And when we put together the feminist agenda, Jewish organizations were part of that as well. Now we have three Jewish women who are part of our board of directors: Ginna Green, Rabbi Tamara Cohen, and Ginny Goldman. We do feel there’s a space for Jewish women in the community of the Women’s March.
Green: As you’re probably aware, part of the discomfort of some within the Jewish community was your hesitation to condemn people who are proximate to your organizing efforts, specifically Farrakhan. Have you gotten to a place where you feel comfortable saying, “I do not stand with him, and he doesn’t represent what I believe”?
Perez: I want to make clear that I organize under the ideology of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That’s the reason why our messaging in the 2017 Women’s March was not anti-Trump—it was for something, for our unity principles. I do not support racism or bigotry. I do not support anti-Semitism. As a Latina woman, we don’t denounce people, but that does not mean that we cannot stand up and fight for our Jewish siblings and the Jewish community. The work that I feel is important is to make sure that we’re building transformational relationships and also opportunities for reconciliation. That is my life’s work. And so I listened to the Jewish community and their concerns, and they’ve also listened to me, and it’s about us building stronger relationships.
Green: Is there space in the Women’s March for Jewish women who identify as Zionists or supporters of the state of Israel?
Perez: I believe that everyone who is aligned with our unity principles is welcome into the Women’s March. And so that means that if you believe that women deserve the right to immigration reform, then they’re welcome into the Women’s March.
Green: So, just to be clear, for women who would describe themselves as Zionists or supporters of Israel—do think that there’s room for them in the organization and in all of the actions you all have organized?
Perez: Of course. People who are connected to our unity principles, who are connected to our feminist platform, who believe in it, are certainly welcome.
Green: Does the Women’s March have space for women who disagree with certain portions of the unity principles—for example, who would disagree with expanding access to abortion?
Perez: I believe that the Women’s March is a space for all women. When women feel a desire to participate in the Women’s March, they may not agree with every piece of the ideology, they may not agree with the whole feminist platform, but I’m sure there’s something that they do agree with. I believe that the Women’s March is for you. The Women’s March is a place for people who identify as women, whether you’re trans or you’re a person who has always been a woman. The unity principles were an entry point for people to get involved.
Green: The Women’s March organization has been through a lot over the past couple of years: disagreements among the organizers, the establishment of a competing national organization called March On, local marches ending their affiliation with the national Women’s March. Has this diminished its effectiveness?
Perez: I believe that having as many people organized locally or in their state is an addition to the movement. It creates environments where people can get involved. It’s exciting to see how much energy there is, and how many people have now become active. When I think about these different organizations and mobilizing efforts, I see them in the spirit of my mentor and my boss, Harry Belafonte. He’s always talking about how those who are working towards the liberation of our people are subject to friendship and support, and those who are being divisive are playing the enemy’s game.
This is about a movement. This isn’t about individuals. A movement is meant to inspire people, to create entry points, to find ways to engage and activate individuals. The more people who stand up against racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism—we need that energy.
Green: It sounds like, to you, having lots of different spin-off organizations is not a matter of competition, but about building different channels that people can use to direct their energy. Is that right?
Perez: Yes. I truly believe that. There’s a lane for everybody.
The first warning sign of the new year came three days into 2020. Speaking at a rally of conservative evangelicals in South Florida, President Donald Trump riffed on the targeted killing of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani before the thousands assembled in the King Jesus International Ministry megachurch, outside of Miami.
That night, the president captured headlines for declaring that “God is on our side” and accusing Democrats of disloyalty for not supporting his air strike. But for Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, what the headlines—and Democrats—missed was the significance of the rally’s location: the home of the country’s largest Hispanic evangelical congregation.
“That should be a serious red flag to Democrats,” Garcia told me. Trump’s outreach to conservative Latinos in the South serves as a warning sign for deeper concerns that several Latino leaders and political activists shared with me: that they are dissatisfied with the level of engagement they are seeing from the Democratic primary contenders and are noticing the same kind of poor strategizing by candidates that yielded disappointing turnout among Hispanic voters in 2016.
By all demographic counts, 2020 should be the year Latinos make a decisive mark on national politics: Their support could swing primary races in early-voting and Super Tuesday states, possibly securing the nomination for one of the Democratic contenders, and it could tip the scales in the general election if they turn out to vote in the same record-breaking numbers as they did during 2018’s midterm elections.
But some of the Latino political organizers I spoke with described the primary season so far as a master class in “political malpractice”—as one person phrased it—with candidates struggling to engage Latino voters, address issues beyond immigration reform, and treat Latinos as the influential voting bloc they are. Others reported a lack of candidate interest in working with their organizations, including missed meetings and radio silence on questionnaires. (On top of all that, the only Latino candidate in the race, Julián Castro, dropped out earlier this month, leaving an all-white stage for tonight’s debate.) There’s a real risk that if Democrats don’t sort out these issues soon, they could struggle to attract and mobilize what could be the largest minority voting bloc in 2020.
“It feels like every four years there’s this clutching of the pearls and head-scratching about why the hell Latinos don’t vote,” Marisa Franco, a co-founder of the Latino activist network Mijente, told me. “I don’t think it’s an absence of interest. It’s a hunger for options.”
The only candidate still in the race to receive virtually universal praise from the organizers was Senator Bernie Sanders. Organizers from California to Texas highlighted the Sanders campaign’s grassroots engagement, something that seems to be reflected in Latinos’ consistently strong support for the senator: In pollafterpoll, Latinos, especially young Latinos, rank Sanders as their top pick among the primary contenders. Chuck Rocha, a top Sanders adviser, told me that the polls reflect the senator’s priority of expanding the electorate, including young Latinos who have not voted before. Of the record 32 million Latinos eligible to cast a ballot in 2020, 4 million of them turned 18 after the 2016 election, María Teresa Kumar, the CEO of the political-advocacy group Voto Latino, told me.
Rocha and Sanders’s national political director, Analilia Mejia, said the campaign has aired Spanish-language ads for the past eight months and hired more than 150 Latino staffers around the country. In vote-rich California specifically, the campaign opened most of its 14 field offices in heavily Latino communities, including East Los Angeles, Oxnard, San Jose, and the Central Valley region. “On our campaign, we’re very clear about the rising Latino iceberg of voters, how for years to come there will be a need to deeply motivate and mobilize Latino voters,” Mejia said. “When you have people who belong to that community [and] you empower those folks, of course you’re going to do better within that community—if you have folks who know how to navigate it, folks who come from it, folks who respect it.”
Sanders aside, the organizers I spoke with said the first signs of trouble in the 2020 campaign were clear during the two nights of the first Democratic debate, in June.
When several candidates broke into Spanish during those back-to-back performances, they quickly faced criticismfrom some quarters for “Hispandering.” (Others said it was an attempt at displaying cultural competency that they appreciated.) But perhaps even more concerning for the organizers who spoke with me was how many of the candidates focused exclusively on immigration when speaking about “Latino issues.”
“Yes, there are Latino citizens and voters who are more comfortable in Spanish, but people are interested in what kind of a candidate you are and … what are you planning to do,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the deputy vice president for policy and advocacy at UnidosUS, one of the oldest Latino advocacy groups in the country. “I think a lot of times, where Latino voters are concerned, they tend to be either taken for granted and/or attacked. And so our biggest fear is that we see a continuation of that.”
She and other organizers are concerned that both parties are following an outdated political playbook that casts Latino interests as alien to the concerns of working-class white Americans in the Midwest and Rust Belt states that Democrats are determined to win in the general election. As my colleague Ron Brownstein wrote last week, demographic trends suggest that the Rust Belt states Democrats are trying to wrest from Trump will only lose political influence as Americans move south and west—lending more political power to the states where Latinos already reside.
Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, the head of the California-based Latino Community Foundation, points to the Democratic sweep of longtime Republican strongholds in Southern California during the midterms as evidence that candidates should think of Latino interests beyond immigration as part of their mainstream agendas. Democrats managed to flip four House seats in Orange County because of a significant increase in Latino participation, driven by candidates who went door to door and collaborated with grassroots activists in their communities, Martinez Garcel said.
Representative Norma Torres of California told me that some candidates seem to overlook how issues such as education, affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, and college affordability dominate the minds of many working-class and young Latinos in particular. Torres, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala as a child, said three candidates had met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s political arm, of which she is a member. In those meetings, the candidates “regurgitate old policy,” she said, and “forget that the majority of Latinos live in communities like mine, which are very, very poor, working-class.”
Still, beyond their concerns about throwaway lines and policy blind spots, the organizers I spoke with said they fear that the candidates are struggling to understand a key fact about Latinos in America: They are a tremendously diverse group ideologically and culturally. And that diversity means there’s an opening for Republican overtures.
“Latino conservatives in Florida and in Texas, by the way, are amenable to the Republican message and are willing to forgive Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric to a certain extent,” said Garcia, the League of United Latin American Citizens leader. “That’s a small minority. But, you know, the difference between 20 and 30 percent could mean the difference of winning Texas or Florida or losing them.”
In other words: Republicans don’t need to win all, or even a majority of, the Latino votes to win in competitive states. Trump seems on track to capture 25 to 30 percent of Latino voters in 2020, a steady showing from his 29 percent support in 2016 and the roughly 32 percent of Latinos who voted for Republicans in 2018.
“That’s a concern that never leaves my mind,” says Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who argues that his brother’s now-defunct campaign demonstrated how candidates should weave Latinos’ economic and social concerns into broader discussions of criminal-justice reform, affordable housing, and education. (He said Julían Castro plans to increase the presence of Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom they have both endorsed, in Latino communities.)
The common theme in my conversations with political activists was the stress they feel watching this campaign—the stress that too many candidates assume they’re doing enough for Latino voters, and that they’ll be lulled into a false sense of security come the general election. After the primary, the eventual nominee could end up assuming that the Latino vote is theirs for the taking, the thinking goes, since Latinos couldn’t possibly vote to reelect the president or sit out another cycle. But the nominee could be very, very wrong.
At long last, President Donald Trump will soon get his day in the Senate’s impeachment court.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement today that she would relinquish her three-week hold on the articles of impeachment that the House adopted last month indicates that a Senate trial is likely to begin shortly after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, later this month. In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi said the House would vote next week on a resolution to formally transmit the two articles across the Capitol and to appoint managers who would try the case against Trump in the Senate.
Her decision ends a standoff with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that yielded few tangible benefits to House Democrats. Pelosi contends that the delay in sending the articles trained the national spotlight on the debate over rules for the Senate trial, boosting their side in the battle for public opinion. But she was unable to force either McConnell or a sufficient portion of his members to commit to calling witnesses, such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who Democrats believe would strengthen their argument that Trump abused the power of his office by withholding aid from Ukraine while he pressed its president to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. “We need to see the arena in which we are sending our managers,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, explaining her decision to withhold the articles. “Is that too much to ask?”
Indeed, it was.
Ultimately, McConnell refused to budge on even the most anodyne of Pelosi’s demands—that he disclose the specific rules he planned to propose that would govern the Trump trial.
Pelosi relented after a number of Senate Democrats—and a couple of her own members—seemed to grow weary of the impasse and called on her to send over the articles. Because the Senate did not plan to start the trial over the holiday break, proceedings are likely to begin only a week or two after they would have otherwise. But the biggest victims of the fight might be the five Senate Democrats still running for president: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Michael Bennet. The delay virtually ensures that while Biden and Pete Buttigieg can camp out in Iowa and New Hampshire, they’ll likely be sequestered in Washington for the crucial final weeks before the first caucuses and primary, in early February.
The trial’s duration is unknown, but it is expected to last a few weeks. That means there’s a good chance that Trump will deliver his State of the Union address in the House chamber on February 4 while he is standing trial for his job in the Senate—a repeat of the scenario that played out in 1999 during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.
As I wrote earlier this week, while it’s exceedingly unlikely that 67 senators will vote to convict Trump and remove him from office, some uncertainty remains as to how the trial will proceed and whether the president will suffer Republican defections. Democrats are targeting a group of GOP senators—including Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Ben Sasse—who have been critical of Trump’s handling of Ukraine and whose votes, joined with Democrats, would constitute a Senate majority in favor of conviction. And although those four backed McConnell in his fight with Pelosi over the rules for the trial, they will be under pressure again in a few weeks when the time comes to decide whether the Senate should vote to subpoena witnesses such as Bolton and Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who refused to cooperate with the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Should they join Democrats then, Pelosi’s decision to delay sending over the House articles and picking a fight over the fairness of the trial might look a little better. But as the week wore on, the announcement she made today seemed all the more inevitable—a recognition that whatever leverage the speaker tried to seize in her stare-down with McConnell just wasn’t hers for the taking.
A year and a half into Donald Trump’s presidency, Henry Kissinger set out a theory. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences,” he told the Financial Times. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident.”
A term has been coined to describe this notion: Ryan Evans of War on the Rocks calls them “Trumportunities.” It is the idea that, whether by accident or design, Trump creates chances to solve long-running international problems that a conventional leader would not. His bellicose isolationist agenda, for instance, might already be forcing Europe to confront its geopolitical weakness; China, its need for a lasting economic settlement with the U.S.; and countries throughout the Middle East, the limits of their power.
The president’s erratic behavior might be doing something else as well, something even more fundamental. Through a combination of instinct, temperament, and capriciousness, Trump may be reminding the world of the reality of international relations: Raw military and economic power still matter more than anything else—so long as those who hold them are prepared to use them. The air strike that killed Qassem Soleimani was a reminder that the U.S. remains the one indispensable global superpower. Iran, or indeed anyone else, simply cannot respond in kind.
While it is clearly too early to judge the long-term ramifications of the president’s decision to order the killing (my colleague Uri Friedman has set out the dangers of accidental escalation), the initial assessment among many in the foreign-policy establishment here in London is not quite what you might expect. The attack—in the view of analysts and British officials I spoke with (the latter of whom requested anonymity to discuss government discussions)—has, at a stroke, reasserted American military dominance and revealed the constraints of Iranian power.
Although Trump’s foreign-policy strategy (if one even accepts that there is such a thing) has many limits, his unpredictability and, most crucially, his willingness to escalate a crisis using the United States’ military and economic strength have turned the tables on Iran in a way few thought possible. What is more, the strike has exposed the gaping irrelevance of Europe’s leading powers—Britain, France, and Germany—in this whole crisis. The “E3,” which have long sought to keep the Iranian nuclear deal alive by undermining the U.S. policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, have so far failed to do so. This week, they were finally forced to admit the apparently terminal collapse of the Obama-era nuclear deal, releasing a joint statement to announce that they were triggering its “dispute resolution” clause because of Tehran’s failure to abide by the terms of the agreement. The reality of the situation is startling: Europe’s attempts to keep the deal alive have achieved little in Tehran because of the Continent’s powerlessness. And European opposition to Trump’s Iran policy has achieved even less in Washington. In an interview, Boris Johnson all but admitted defeat in keeping the nuclear deal alive, calling instead for a new “Trump deal.”
To some extent, one British diplomat told me, the air strike that killed Soleimani was an extreme snapback to the hyperrealist, Kissingerian principles that largely guided American foreign policy after the Second World War. In this view, Barack Obama and his cautious multilateralism were the break with the norm, not Trump.
While Obama showed the possibilities of this approach—the Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear deal being prime examples (both of which have since been dumped by Trump)—he failed to adequately address its weaknesses, those who spoke with me said. Principal among them, according to a British government official, was that under Obama, the West had forgotten the power of escalatory dominance. In other words, he who carries the biggest stick retains his dominance, so long as he is prepared to use it.
The argument for escalation is simple: If the response to any aggressive act by a foreign adversary is always to de-escalate in order to avoid a spiral of violence, then the advantage borne by military and economic dominance is lost, creating more chaos, not less. A logic has been allowed to develop among countries such as Iran and Russia, the British diplomat said, that the West will not escalate a crisis and will remain boxed into its cautious, multilateralist view. Trump has changed this.
Take Russia, for instance. The Western response to its incursion into Ukrainian territory was always proportionate and almost entirely economic. While there were very good reasons for this, that response meant that Moscow could escalate the crisis by moving more assets into territory it sought to control, safe in the knowledge that, having tested Western resolve, it would not be challenged militarily. In effect, the United States’ failure to enforce red lines empowered its adversaries.
With Iran, according to analysts at the Royal United Services Institute, Britain’s leading military think tank, Trump’s seemingly disproportionate response to Tehran’s aggression has left the Iranian regime shocked and unsure how to respond. At a briefing in London on Monday, I asked a panel of RUSI staffers whether, given that assessment, they considered the air strike a triumph for the president. No one on the panel demurred. Michael Stephens, a former British diplomat who is now a research fellow at RUSI, told me later that it was clear how badly the Iranians had been hurt, both in practical military terms and in pure national pride. “This has fundamentally changed the game and opens up the space for de-escalation,” he said. “It was a sucker punch which has scrambled their understanding of how the Americans might react in future. In the short term, it’s a triumph for Trump.”
Every option available to Iran now comes with huge risks, and the lack of serious response—so far—has damaged the Iranian regime’s reputation. The recent accidental downing of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 has also hit it hard, revealing a frightening incompetence as well as a limited retaliatory power.
But while the air strike itself might be a limited foreign-policy success for Trump now, the geopolitical gains he has won through escalatory tactics might yet dissipate if the killing turns out to be little more than an isolated incident, signaling nothing but the president’s capacity for shock. He has history in this area, after all. In 2017, Trump dropped the “mother of all bombs,” the largest conventional bomb the U.S. has ever deployed, to kill more than 90 militants in eastern Afghanistan, and the following year, he authorized, alongside France and Britain, air strikes on Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. On neither occasion was the action followed up in any long-term fashion.
The lessons of the Soleimani killing also do not fit neatly into Trump’s worldview, suggesting the need for clear and consistent red lines, as well as the willingness to commit U.S. military resources to enforce them. It’s America back as global policeman.
At the moment, in the assessment of the British diplomat I spoke with, the only clear strength of Trump’s foreign policy is his unpredictability, which has the power to unsettle the United States’ adversaries. The diplomat said that Trump appears to understand American strength more instinctively than Obama but, unlike his predecessor, doesn’t seem to have anything close to a strategy to go alongside this insight.
So while there are “Trumportunities,” there are also “Trumptastrophes,” as Evans also noted. The president, accidentally or otherwise, has identified real problems, including Iran’s ability to act with relative impunity and China’s disrespect for the rules of global trade. With regard to Iran, Trump appears to have stumbled upon an effective mechanism to advance U.S. interests. But he has yet to show himself to be any better than his forerunners at solving the long-term problems he has identified—and may yet make them worse.
Last weekend, Donald Trump offered Iran some sage, if obvious, advice: Do not kill your protesters.
The warning came amid ongoing demonstrations in Iran following the country’s admission that it had mistakenly struck down a Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 people on board, including 83 Iranian nationals. The announcement followed days of denial and obfuscation by Iranian authorities. Anger about the government’s apparent misleading of the public has resulted in the outpouring of thousands onto the streets, some of whom are calling on the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to resign.
Iran is known to be particularly heavy-handed when it comes to cracking down on protests—something President Trump appeared to be referencing when he urged the Iranian government against “killing … your great Iranian people!” Last month’s demonstrations over rising fuel costs led to the deaths of as many as 208 people at the hands of Iranian security forces. Similar unrest in 2009, following a disputed presidential election, resulted in at least 72 deaths.
Most foreign leaders call for maximum restraint and calm when such violence occurs, if indeed they choose to say anything at all. But Trump is no ordinary foreign leader, nor was his warning to the Iranian government—which was uncharacteristically written in English and Persian—an ordinary appeal. His advocacy lays bare the challenges foreign countries face when weighing in on protests that are not their own, such as how to support demonstrations without undermining them or how to raise the profile of protesters’ demands without unwittingly compromising them.
The protests currently taking place in Iran are not unlike mass movements around the world—many of which have been subject to violent government crackdowns. This violence has largely backfired: In their attempts to quash these protests, the authorities have paradoxically mobilized more people to join them, making the protesters’ cause—and their demands—impossible to ignore. The violent response has also invited the sympathy and support of foreign governments. In the United States and Britain, for example, lawmakers have expressed solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong, where demonstrations against a narrowly focused extradition bill have evolved into a months-long prodemocracy movement.
Though such foreign overtures have a way of propelling these movements, they can also be used to undermine them. In response to the United States’ unanimous passage of a bill supporting Hong Kong’s prodemocracy activists, Beijing harangued Washington for intervening in its internal affairs—an accusation fitting with China’s overall effort to portray the unrest in Hong Kong as a product of “Western interference.” The country has charged Britain with doing the same.
Efforts to undermine protest movements by framing them within a narrative of foreign or oppositional interference are part of a familiar autocratic playbook. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dismissed ongoing protests against the country's new citizenship bill as being propagated by his political opponents, whom he blames for “spreading violence and creating an environment of fear.” Anti-Putin demonstrations in Russia ahead of local elections in Moscow last year were similarly attributed to “foreign meddling.”
In some countries, protesters have come to expect this sort of delegitimization—and have even taken steps to avert it. In the recent anti-government protests in Iraq, for example, demonstrators intentionally framed their movement as nonsectarian in an effort to avoid delegitimization by the state. “There are particular reasons why the Sunnis in Iraq are not out on the streets in large numbers,” Lina Khatib, the head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the London-based think tank Chatham House, told me in October. Iraq is a Shiite-majority country, and Khatib noted that the distinct lack of Sunni protesters had to do in part with the fear that mass mobilization in Sunni areas would lead to “people accusing these Sunnis of rising up against the government because they are pro-ISIS,” and make the protests easier for government forces to stamp out.
Trump’s apparent endorsement of the protesters in Iran puts them in a similar bind. While his pledge to stand by them raises the international profile of their cause (certainly compared to last month’s anti-government demonstrations), it comes with the price of being tied to Trump himself: a figure the Iranian government can easily point to as a hostile, and therefore delegitimizing, force. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has already attributed last year’s protests about rising fuel costs to “subversive elements” backed by the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The intensification of hostilities following the U.S. killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani this year is likely to strengthen such arguments.
Trump’s warning also has only as much weight as the Iranian government is willing to give it—and the U.S. doesn’t exactly have a proven track record of following up its warnings with action. Anticipated American support for the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein in Iraq (which was endorsed by President George H. W. Bush) never materialized. President Barack Obama’s “red line” on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons ultimately proved an empty threat.
This isn’t to say that foreign leaders should turn a blind eye to worldwide protests. Indeed, their response plays a role in reminding governments that the treatment of their citizens—even within their own borders—is not immune to international scrutiny. But that doesn’t exempt leaders from thinking about how vocalizing their support aids protest movements in other countries, if it does at all. Part of this means interrogating what support for civil society elsewhere actually looks like. Tweets can’t shield protesters from heavy-handed crackdowns. Expressing support for the “great Iranian people” might bring more attention to their cause but, as someobservers note, so too could more policy-driven options, such as reversing the U.S. travel ban currently imposed on them or lifting the crippling economic sanctions against them.
Donald Trump is expected to
meet with EU leader Ursula von der Leyen in Davos, Switzerland,
next week, three sources said on Friday, as tensions mount
between the allies over tariff threats and the U.S. president
faces an impeachment trial at home.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday took up an appeal by President Donald Trump's administration seeking to enforce new federal rules allowing employers to obtain religious exemptions from an Obamacare requirement that health insurance that they provide to employees pays for women's birth control.
President Donald Trump turned to some legal heavyweights to help defend him in his Senate impeachment trial with the addition on Friday of former independent counsel Ken Starr, who paved the way for former President Bill Clinton's 1998 impeachment, and prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
Former independent counsel Ken Starr and lawyer Alan Dershowitz will join U.S. President Donald Trump's impeachment trial defense team led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, Trump's legal team and a source said on Friday.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee renewed a threat on Friday to subpoena Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if he does not provide information about Iran policy and President Donald Trump's ordering of the strike that killed an Iranian military commander.
Prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz and two former independent counsels, Ken Starr and Robert Ray, will be among those defending President Donald Trump when his impeachment trial begins in the Senate in earnest on Tuesday.
President Donald Trump's campaign plans to blanket Iowa with representatives and events ahead of the state's Feb. 3 caucuses, hoping to use the first-in-the-nation primary to show evidence of his strength in rural America, sources tell Reuters.
The Senate impeachment trial on whether to remove U.S. President Donald Trump from office formally began on Thursday even as a congressional watchdog found that the White House broke the law by withholding security aid for Ukraine approved by Congress.
U.S. senators are expected to hear opening statements next week in the impeachment trial on whether to remove President Donald Trump from office on charges he abused his powers and obstructed a congressional inquiry into his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.
The United States risks a proliferation of national taxes on tech giants if President Donald Trump rejects new international rules for taxing digital companies at next week's World Economic Forum, the French government said on Friday.
U.S. President Donald Trump gave a minute-to-minute account of the U.S. drone strikes that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in remarks to a Republican fund-raising dinner on Friday night, according to audio obtained by CNN.
President Donald Trump said on Friday that the U.S. Constitution was being attacked in the state of Virginia, where lawmakers have been moving to enact tougher gun laws and arms enthusiasts are planning a rally next week.
Chris Collins, a former U.S. congressman from New York who was an early backer of President Donald Trump, was sentenced to 26 months in prison and fined $200,000 on Friday after pleading guilty to taking part in an insider trading scheme.
The Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, a member of Donald Trump’s team for his impeachment trial, has said he will not vote for the president in November and that Trump’s acquittal by the Senate “would produce results that make me unhappy as an individual”.
As Democrats marched the articles to the Senate, the president basked in policy success. Many think re-election is coming
It was, the White House tweeted on Friday, “an incredible week” for Donald Trump. On that, no one could disagree. But what kind of incredible depended on which end of Pennsylvania Avenue you were standing.
In contrast with Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, no chicanery was needed to ensnare Trump. He brought this on himself
The trial of Donald Trump, which opens in earnest on Tuesday, is the third presidential impeachment in US history – and the most legitimate. For the first time, an American president will face the ultimate sanction not because he walked into a legal trap set by his opponents, or because of some broader, underlying rift in society, but because of the actual “high crimes and misdemeanors” on the charge sheet. Legally, the Senate has never confronted a stronger case for the removal of a sitting president than the one it is about to hear.
Impeachment tends to come down to a bald question: has a law been broken? With Trump the answer could not be clearer
The president just launched one of his most grievous attacks on the environment yet. Democrats must recognize the stakes
What are the consequences of a second term of Donald Trump? To even consider the question sends the left-leaning mind into a paroxysm. Everything from nuclear war to the utter collapse of American democracy looms large in the imaginations of otherwise sober-minded people.
Aggressive ‘non-cooperation’ can be effective but only if used carefully
The US president Donald Trump’s authorisation of the targeted killing of the Iranian al-Quds force commander, Qassem Suleimani, is, in many ways, similar to his administration’s approach to trade. In both cases, the administration has demonstrated a willingness to surprise by unilaterally leveraging US strength in the pursuit of long-term outcomes, despite considerable short-term risks and without wide consultations. As Ronald Reagan showed in the 1980s with his strategy vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, such aggressive unilateralism can work. But it is best used selectively and sparingly.
In seeking to address long-term US (and European) grievances against certain Chinese trade practices, the Trump administration decided to abandon the traditional approach of seeking redress through existing multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization. Instead, it opted for what game theorists call a non-cooperative approach, imposing harsh tariffs on Chinese imports and then threatening even more should China retaliate. By weaponising what is traditionally an economic-policy tool, the US has been able to pursue national-security objectives alongside economic and financial goals.
The impeachment charges are serious and appropriate. They will test the power of Congress to restrain the president
The impeachment of a president of the United States is an immensely powerful constitutional act. Donald Trump is only the third president in more than 230 years to face trial in the Senate after being impeached by the House of Representatives. The trial that begins in earnest next week could result in Mr Trump becoming the first president to be dismissed from office. His two impeached predecessors – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999 – each escaped that outcome. Mr Trump is likely to escape it too. Nevertheless, this is a hugely solemn moment for the republic. Most Americans rightly take it seriously.
It is easy, but wrong, to overlook this. Mr Trump treats the impeachment and trial with everything bar solemnity. He regards it as nothing more than a partisan witch-hunt. Like Mr Clinton he will not attend the trial in person. Unlike Mr Clinton he is likely to spend the next month raging against the process and insulting his accusers. But this does not mean the trial itself is trivial. The formality of the initial proceedings this week is appropriate. Even in polarised and partisan times, the American public should not dismiss it as trivial either.