Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. 2020 Democratic Primaries Heat up as Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Enter into Race
The 2020 Democratic Presidential primaries took an interesting turn this week with the entry of Senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, both strong critics of President Donald Trump, as well as proponents of the socially-liberal, economically moderate wing of the Democratic Party. Harris, a 54-year-old former prosecutor representing a state where President Donald Trump only has a 20% approval rating, announced her candidacy during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and in a video that her campaign posted online. “The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values,” she said in the video. “That’s why I’m running for president of the United States.” Harris plans a more formal campaign launch in Oakland, California on January 27, when she will give a speech outlining her candidacy.
Kirsten Gillibrand, on the other hand, announced her intention to run for President during a January 16 appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” “I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom I am going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own,’’ she said. Additionally, Gillibrand pitched bipartisanship in her announcement. “I would bring people together to start getting things done,” she said. “If you want to get health care done, you have to bring Democrats and Republicans to the table on the shared values of this country.” But nothing would be accomplished, she said, without taking on “the systems of power,” including “institutional racism” and corruption in Washington.
Senator Gillibrand has emerged as one of the most forceful critics of the Trump administration in the last two years. She has voted against nearly every significant nominee President Trump has put forward and rallied opposition to his congressional agenda. In the last two months, as she publicly considered a campaign, she has spoken repeatedly about the need to restore the “moral compass” of the nation.
Overall, the reaction to the candidacies of both Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris has been mixed. Whereas many observers have praised both Gillibrand and Harris for their leadership on social issues and strong opposition to the fascist policies of President Trump and the Republican Party, both have been criticized for their corporate ties. For example, Gillibrand previously was a corporate lawyer for the tobacco industry and established a reputation as a conservative-Democrat prior to her election to the Senate in 2009. Additionally, Harris has been criticized due to her relative lack of experience on the national stage and reluctance to prosecute individuals for committing financial crimes during her time as California Attorney General. Despite some weaknesses, both Harris and Gillibrand represent welcome faces to the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary and would have a good chance at defeating President Donald Trump assuming that either one would win the Democratic nomination.
2. President Donald Trump Offers “Compromise” to End Government Shutdown
On January 19, President Donald Trump offered the Democrats three years of deportation protections for some immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, a proposal immediately rejected by Democrats and derided by conservatives as essential amnesty.
Aiming to end the 29-day partial government shutdown, Trump outlined his plan in a White House address in which he sought to revive negotiations with Democrats, who responded that they would not engage in immigration talks until he reopened the government. Trump proposed offering a reprieve on his attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from some Latin American and African nations, in exchange for building hundreds of miles of barriers on the southern US border and hiring thousands of new law enforcement agents to be deployed there. “This is a common-sense compromise both parties should embrace,” Trump said. He added: “The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let it happen.”
Despite the President’s willingness to move away from his hardline position and offer some form of a compromise, the initial reaction to the offer from Democrats and conservative border hawks was overwhelmingly negative, raising doubts that it would be enough to end the government shutdown once and for all. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA.) dismissed the proposal as a “non-starter” and vowed that Democrats would pass legislation in the coming week to reopen the government, putting the onus on the Republican-led Senate to follow suit. “The president must sign these bills to reopen government immediately and stop holding the American people hostage with this senseless shutdown,” Pelosi said. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also said he opposed the plan, denouncing it as insufficient and as a rehash of previously discredited proposals. Moving ahead on Trump’s plan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he would put the legislation on the Senate floor for a vote in the coming week.
President Trump heralded the package as a bipartisan, “compassionate response” that would offer humanitarian relief on the border and curb illegal immigration while allowing the government to reopen. Senior White House aides cast the proposal as a good-faith effort from the President to incorporate ideas from Democrats during weeks of talks with a negotiating team led by Vice President Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner. In a briefing for reporters after Trump’s remarks, the aides acknowledged that the bill faces a difficult path in the Senate, where it would require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But they predicted that ordinary Americans would view the plan as a compromise and pressure lawmakers to make the deal. “I hope once people get past their initial statements, initial reaction, they will really look at the legislation that comes to the floor and see what it is, a sincere effort by the president of the United States to take ideas from both political parties,” Pence said of lawmakers.
3. After Several Months of Relative Calm, Israel Attacks Iranian Targets in Syria
On January 21, the Israeli military announced that it struck several Iranian targets in Syria in response to a missile attack. The allegedly attacked sites included munition storage sites, a military training camp, and a site at the Damascus International Airport. At least 11 people were killed by the Israeli strikes, at least four of which were Syrian soldiers, according to the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Israel also struck several Syrian aerial-defense batteries after Syria fired dozens of missiles at its jets, the military added. The strikes came after Israel’s military accused Iran’s Quds Force, an elite arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of firing a missile at the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on January 20. Israel’s recent attack adds to the hundreds of strikes in Syria carried out by its military in a nearly eight-year operation to foil Iranian military entrenchment on its northern border. But it marked only the third time Israeli strikes have targeted Syria in response to a direct attack by Iran.
“We will not ignore such acts of aggression as Iran attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and given explicit statements by Iran that it intends to destroy Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the attack. Although Iranian officials often make verbal threats against Israel (due to Israel’s nearly four decades of aggressive policy towards Iran), military action by Iran and its allies against Israel has been generally limited throughout the Syrian war. On the other hand, Israeli officials have expressed concern that a quick drawdown of American troops could give Iran an opportunity to expand its presence and influence in Syria. Forces loyal to Iran, including Hezbollah, have helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reassert control over the entire country after nearly eight years of war and the fight against Islamic State.
As with nearly all of Israel’s actions over the course of the Syrian Civil War, the international reaction was polarized. Both US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, praised Israel’s actions regarding the attack, arguing that Israel has a right to act in self-defense to protect its borders. On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin forcefully denounced the incident, stating that “Netanyahu’s reckless gambit will only cause more chaos for the region.” Additionally, Aziz Nassirzadeh, the head of the Iranian air force, stated that Iran’s “current and future generations are ready, impatiently, and with every fiber of their being, for battle with the Zionist regime and to wipe it off the face of the earth” and that both countries were heading towards a dangerous confrontation over Syria.
4. Supreme Court rules in Favor of Trump Administration Ban on Transgendered Individuals from Serving in Military
On January 21, the Supreme Court ruled that the Pentagon may continue limiting transgender people from serving openly in the military, pending ongoing lawsuits in lower courts advocating for their continued right to do so. The court’s five conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas, allowed the restrictions to remain in place.
The ruling is a major victory for President Donald Trump, who sought to re-impose a ban his predecessor President Barack Obama overturned in 2016. President Trump stated in a series of tweets in 2017, that reportedly surprised top officials at the Pentagon including then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, that transgender service members should not serve in any capacity, saying the military “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs.“
A 2016 study by the RAND Corp. estimated that as many as 6,000 transgender people serve in the military among a total of 1 million active duty service members, and as many as 4,000 in reserve units. It also estimated that medical costs related to gender transition among active-duty troops would raise medical costs by as much as $8.4 million, a less than 0.13 percent increase for the military’s nearly $1 trillion yearly budget. Mattis had questioned the details of the RAND study. Neither Mattis nor his successor, acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan, have made public their personal beliefs regarding the issue. Shortly after Trump’s surprise announcement, Mattis designated Shanahan to study the issue, alongside Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Air Force General Paul Selva. Mattis subsequently imposed the ban granting an exception for the roughly 900 service members who currently serve openly and for others who will identify with their birth gender.
“As always, we treat all transgender persons with respect and dignity,” Air Force Lt. Colonel Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement to The Washington Post. The Defense Department’s “proposed policy is NOT a ban on service by transgender persons. It is critical that the Department of Defense be permitted to implement personnel policies that it determines are necessary to ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world. DoD’s proposed policy is based on professional military judgment and will ensure that the US armed forces remain the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world.”
Despite some support for the decision amongst US military leaders, several groups have criticized the decision. “The Supreme Court has allowed military discrimination to be reinstated,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a California-based public policy research institute, said in a statement. “It’s critical to understand that the military is not required, and has no need, to reinstate the transgender ban.” “The Defense Department should not reinstate the transgender ban because it would undermine readiness, cause significant disruptions and skepticism, deprive the military of much-needed talent, and wreak havoc with the lives and careers of the 14,700 transgender troops bravely protecting our nation’s security,” Belkin further stated.