OurWeek In Politics (10/30-11/6/8)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:

1. Trump Administration Reimposes Sanctions Against Iran

Described as the “biggest series of sanctions ever implemented by the US against another country,” the Trump Administration imposed a series of crushing and punitive sanctions against Iran on November 5. The package of severe economic penalties imposed against Iran by the US is the most significant part of President Trump’s decision last May to abandon the Iranian nuclear agreement of 2015 (JCPOA), which he has described as a “disaster” and a significant security risk for US allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Despite the stringent nature of the sanctions, there are several exceptions that could reduce their effectiveness. For example, Iran’s biggest oil customers India and China are exempt from the sanctions. Despite several gaps, Iran’s shipping, banking, and oil industries could take a significant hit and its already weakened currency could plunge even further due to the sanctions.

According to President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton, the primary rationale behind the sanctions is the claim that the JCPOA  did nothing to deter Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and that the restrictions imposed by the agreement must become permanent. Additionally, the Trump Administration desires the Iranian government to abandon its ballistic missile development and to stop supporting anti-Zionist political groups in Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria that the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel regards as terrorist organizations. The main areas of the Iranian economy that are sanctioned under the new law are its oil, banking, aeronautics, and medical industries. Additionally, the new sanctions blacklisted 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 people and ships, Iran’s national airline and more than 65 Iranian aircraft. Under such sanctions, the US can seize assets under its jurisdiction that are owned by blacklisted people and entities. The sanctions also forbid commercial relations with those people or entities.

The international reaction to the newly imposed sanctions against Iran by the US has been overwhelmingly negative. Despite countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel enthusiastically supporting the Trump Administration’s policy, other countries such as the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia were quick to condemn the sanctions as “punitive” and as having no justification. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that his country would “proudly break” the reimposed sanctions and that Iran was engaged in “an economic war” with the US, and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, an outspoken critic of President Trump, said the sanctions reinforced what he called the growing isolation of the United States.

The outcome of the sanctions against Iran is unclear at this point. While some observers note that the sanctions may result in the Iranian government ultimately collapsing, recent events show that in times of elevated sanctions, the Iranian economy has instead adapted and, in some cases, thrived due to its effective use of Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) policies. Additionally, the reimposition of US sanctions against Iran raises the specter of war to a level unseen in recent years. For example, the Iranian military tested new missiles as part of its air defense system hours after the sanctions resumed, and announced that it has every right to retaliate against the US in response to the sanctions.

2. Democrats Announce Plans to Release President Donald Trump’s Tax Returns if they Win House of Representatives

Democrats are preparing to use an obscure law to try to obtain a copy of President Donald Trump’s tax returns if they win control of the House or Senate after the midterm elections, a scenario that could force one of the President’s most trusted aides to reveal his most closely guarded secret. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, said in an interview that he would honor any legal requests from Congress to release the President’s tax returns. But the demand would undoubtedly thrust Mnuchin into the position of balancing his loyalty to President Trump with a legal requirement to deliver the returns. “The first issue is they would have to win the House, which they haven’t done yet,” Secretary Mnuchin said during an interview in Jerusalem last week. “If they win the House and there is a request, we will work with our general counsel and the IRS general counsel on any requests.” Secretary Mnuchin said his team would analyze any demands for the president’s returns and fulfill them if required by law. Asked whether a request made for political purposes would be legal, Mnuchin disagreed, saying he did not want to stake out any legal positions.

An IRS provision stemming from the 1920s appears to give the Trump Administration little legal room to ignore such a request. The law states that the leaders of the House and Senate tax-writing committees have the power to request taxpayer information from the Internal Revenue Service and asserts that “the secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request.” “On a plain reading of the statute, I think the baseline ought to be, they ask for taxpayer information, they’re entitled to it,” said Neal Wolin, who served as the Treasury Department’s general counsel from 1999 to 2001. House and Senate Democrats have made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain President Trump’s tax returns and say they intend to try again if they gain control of either chamber.

Donald Trump was the first presidential candidate in decades to refuse to release his taxes. After promising to do so, he cited a continuing IRS audit as a reason his lawyers were advising him against releasing them before ultimately settling on the argument that the American people are not that interested in his finances. Portions of President Trump’s returns that have become public have shed light on the legal maneuvers he has used to reduce his tax liabilities. A complete release of his filings could offer additional insight into his business ties, charitable giving and wealth. After withholding the documents for so long, President Trump is unlikely to hand over his taxes without a fight. Rudolph Giuliani, President Trump ’s lawyer, said this month that it would be a struggle for Democrats to prove that they have a legitimate oversight objective and that it would be a “heck of a good battle” for the president.

Most tax experts agree that Congress has the authority to request taxpayer returns. There is some legal debate about whether the motivations for such a request matter and under what circumstances the returns can be made public. Andy Grewal, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, argued in the Yale Journal on Regulation last year that President Trump could order the IRS not to disclose his returns if he can make the case that the congressional request has been made out of “personal animus” rather than for legitimate legislative reasons. Democratic congressional aides have said taxpayer returns can be released publicly if the chairman and ranking member of a tax-writing committee agreed to do so or if the majority of the committee votes in favor of disclosure. In 2014, the Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee helped to set that precedent by voting along party lines to release some taxpayer information related to an investigation into whether the IRS was wrongfully targeting conservatives.

3. President Trump, Former President Obama Campaign Hard Ahead of the Midterm Elections

Using Air Force One as a campaign shuttle, President Donald Trump traveled to Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri on November 5, the eve of crucial midterm balloting that is perceived as the most significant referendum yet on his presidency. President Trump acknowledged the importance of the midterm races earlier in the day in a conference call with his strongest supporters. “If we don’t have a good day, they will make it like it’s the end of the world,” Trump said. “Don’t worry. If we do have a good day, they won’t give us any credit.” Over 200,000 people were listening in to the call, according to Brad Parscale, the Trump/Pence campaign manager. “There’s a great electricity in the air,” Trump told reporters just before boarding Air Force One for the flight to Ohio. “I think we’re going to do very well.”

At a second rally of the day in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the President continued that theme, asserting that “if the radical Democrats take power, they will take a wrecking ball to the economy and the future of our country.” He also called on the attendees to vote for Republicans “to end the assault on America’s sovereignty” by Democrats. Trump then traveled to Cape Girardeau in the state of Missouri for a third, similar political event. “You can stop them with your vote tomorrow,” the President said of the opposition candidates, accusing them of the politics of “anger, division, and destruction.”

Political scientists of both parties have noted that President Trump’s midterm campaign tactics are unlike what any other president has done. “It really is unprecedented,” said political science professor David Cohen at the University of Akron in Ohio. “No president has ever campaigned as much in the midterms as Trump has.” Additionally, other observers see the Trump events as of significant value to the Republican party as a whole. “The kind of people that come to them are not typical Republicans. They are Trumpsters. Getting that segment of the electorate out in 2016 was critical to Trump’s win in 2016, and getting them out to vote in 2018 can only help Republicans,” said University of New Hampshire political science professor Andrew Smith.

In addition to President Donald Trump’s relentless campaigning for Republican candidates, former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have made some stops for Democratic candidates. In a stop in Northern Virginia on November 5, Obama said “how we conduct ourselves in public life is on the ballot,” a delicately veiled criticism of Trump and some prominent Republican candidates. “What I’m seeing all across the country is this great awakening,” Obama added, standing alongside incumbent Senator Tim Kaine and congressional nominee Jennifer Wexton in a campaign office. “In that great awakening, I feel hopeful.”

Most polling shows that the Republicans are highly favored to retain control of the Senate, with several vulnerable Democrats in states Trump won such as North Dakota, Indiana, Montana, and Missouri likely losing their re-election bids. Despite optimism for the Republicans holding onto the Senate, pollsters have noted that many Republican-held House districts are trending towards the Democrats and expect the Republicans to lose their House majority. Such an outcome would halt the President’s ability to get key legislation approved, and would put the chairpersons’ gavels of committees in the hands of Democrats certain to launch an array of investigations into the Trump administration.

the author

Matt is a student at Seton Hall Law School and graduated from Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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