OurWeek in Politics (12/31/18-1/7/19)

Happy 2019! Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:

1. Senator Elizabeth Warren announces Presidential candidacy, becoming First Major Democratic candidate.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced on December 31 that she would be a candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

On December 31, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a major critic of President Donald Trump and strong supporter of progressive economic reforms, officially entered the 2020 Presidential race, becoming the first serious candidate in what is likely to be a long and crowded primary marked by ideological and generational divisions. “No matter where you live in America or no matter where your family came from in the world, you deserve a path to opportunity,” Warren stated in her announcement video. “That’s the America I am fighting for, and that is why today I am launching an exploratory committee for president.”

A former Harvard law professor and champion of consumer protection, Elizabeth Warren has been considered a potential Democratic candidate since her election to the Senate in 2012. Her fundraising prowess and popularity in progressive circles has left many in Washington referring to her as one of a few early front-runners as well, though more than two dozen other Democrats such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Cory BookerBernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris, former Congressman and 2018 Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and anti- Trump attorney Michael Avenatti are also rumored to be considering presidential runs.

While Elizabeth Warren’s attacks on the policies and personality of President Donald Trump, as well as Wall Street excesses have helped make her a favorite of the political left, she also faces challenges as a presidential candidate due to her lack of experience in a national race, controversy over her heritage, and lack of enthusiasm on the part of younger Democratic voters. These challenges have made many in the Democratic Party establishment urge her not to run. Additionally, Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy may also serve to unite the political right and independent voters behind President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly mocked Warren by calling her “Pocahontas,” because of her claim that she is part-Native American. “Elizabeth Warren will be the first,” Trump said, referring to Warren being the first major Democrat to throw her hat into the ring. “She did very badly in proving that she was of Indian heritage. That didn’t work out too well” said Trump in a Fox News interview.

2. Historic New Congress Sworn In

The historic 116th Congress, perhaps the most diverse Congress in US history, was sworn in this week.

The Democratic Party seized control of the House of Representatives on January 3 with fresh voices and new energy as they prepare to take on President Donald Trump, many of them inspired to run because of the destructive and divisive policies that he has pursued thus far. Longtime Democratic house leader Nancy Pelosi of California won back the speaker’s gavel and reclaimed a title she held from 2007 to 2011, when she served as the first, and still so far only, female House speaker. The party breakdown in the new House of Representatives is 235 Democrats and 199 Republicans, with one congressional race in North Carolina still uncalled.

The 116th Congress is notable itself due to the diverse ethnic, gender, and religious backgrounds of many of its newest members. Two of the most notable new members of Congress are Democrats Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the first Muslim women elected to serve in Congress. Tlaib has the distinction of becoming the first Palestinian-American member of Congress, whereas Omar is the first Somali-American to have been elected to Congress. “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC,” Omar tweeted, along with a photo of her and her father smiling with suitcases. “Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”

In addition to the first Muslim-American women elected to the House of Representatives, the 116th Congress includes several other “firsts.” Kansas and New Mexico sent the first Native American women to Congress, Democrats Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland. Davids identifies as a lesbian, which will also make her the first openly LGBT member of Congress from Kansas. Additionally, Alexandra Occasio-Cortez, a strong Bernie Sanders supporter and progressive Democrat, will become the youngest woman ever in Congress. Texas also sent its first Latinas to Congress after Democrats Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia won their respective congressional races to serve in the House of Representatives. Incoming Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is now the first African-American congresswoman to represent Massachusetts, while Democrat Jahana Hayes is the first African-American congresswoman from Connecticut.

Overall, the start of the 116th Congress reveals the fact that the American political system is rapidly becoming more diverse and progressive, a welcoming sight that directly contrasts with the bigoted and regressive policies of the Republican Party and President Donald Trump. Despite the progressive shift in Congress, many observers note that divisions in the Democratic Party dating back to the 2016 Presidential Election have yet to be heald. Progressive firebrands like Ocasio-Cortez, who promised to mobilize the resistance, have been elected to the same party as conservative and moderate Democrats who won in districts that went for Trump in 2016. On one side, progressives ran on promises of impeaching President Trump, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, raising the minimum wage and “Medicare-for-all.” Moderate Democratic members of Congress such as Congressman Joe Cunningham (SC) and Kendra Horn (OK), on the other hand, promised to prioritize small businesses, tweaking the existing health care system, and working with Republicans and Trump when they can.

3. As Government Shutdown Enters Week Three, President Donald Trump Mulls Declaring “National Emergency” To Expedite Construction of Border Wall

President Donald Trump announced that he may declare a “national emergency” to force the construction of his much-criticized border wall proposal.

On January 5, President Donald Trump said that he might declare a national emergency to secure money for his border wall. “I may declare a national emergency dependent on what’s going to happen over the next few days,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for Camp David. A White House official stated that Trump was leaning toward declaring a national emergency to use military funding for his wall. Since the middle of December, President Trump has demanded Congress appropriate money for the wall, and his dispute with Democrats over the issue pushed the government into an ongoing partial shutdown. In response to President Trump’s bold claim, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) called for not taking up any legislation not related to ending the shutdown. “Senate Democrats should block consideration of any bills unrelated to opening the government until Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House passed to open the government,” Van Hollen tweeted.

Vice President Mike Pence held a meeting with congressional leadership staff on January 6, but after the meeting, there was no indication they were getting close to a deal to reopen the government. During Sunday’s meeting, a letter from Acting Budget Director Russell Vought was handed to the congressional staff officially outlining some of the new requests for money on top of what’s already been included in the Senate’s FY 2019 bill. It included $5.7 billion for what is now called a “steel barrier” for the Southwest Border, ~$800 million to address urged humanitarian needs on the border, ~$700 million for more detention beds, and ~$500 million for 2,000 additional law enforcement personnel. The letter also includes a new policy proposal put forward by Democrats. The proposal, which appears similar to one rolled out during the Obama administration, would allow for in-country asylum processing for Central American minors. The letter notes that additional statutory change “would be required to ensure that those who circumvent the process and come to the United States without authorization can be promptly returned home.” It’s unclear if this means that those who approach the southern border would be denied asylum.

A Republican aide stated that after the meeting that Democrats did not come back with a “reasonable” counteroffer to the administration’s requests. A source in the meeting said the weekend talks were good only in the sense that they got a more precise sense of what the administration wanted. The source said Democrats reiterated that an agreement would take too long and that they should enact some appropriations bills this week, adding that there was no real discussion about a dollar amount they could agree to. President Trump, however, tweeted late Sunday afternoon that the meeting was productive. “V.P. Mike Pence and group had a productive meeting with the Schumer/Pelosi representatives today,” Trump wrote. “Many details of Border Security were discussed. We are now planning a Steel Barrier rather than concrete. It is both stronger & less obtrusive. Good solution, and made in the U.S.A.”

The idea of The idea has met pushback from some, including Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), who said that he did not think Trump would be able to use emergency powers to build a wall at the southern border. “Look, if Harry Truman couldn’t nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this President doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border,” Schiff said. “So that’s a non-starter.” Schiff said the burden remained on Trump to move and reopen the government, saying Trump had painted himself into a corner and needed to “figure out how he unpaints himself from that corner.” Congressman Schiff also said that if Democrats give into Trump’s demand, it would incentivize the President to attempt further shutdowns in order to extract concessions.”We just can’t afford to do business that way,” Schiff said.

4. Supreme Court Announces Intention to Hear Cases on Partisan Gerrymandering

The US Supreme Court announced on January 4 that it would take up several cases regarding partisan gerrymandering in Congressional elections this year.

The Supreme Court once again will take up unresolved constitutional questions about partisan gerrymandering, agreeing on January 4 to consider rulings from two lower courts that found congressional maps in North Carolina and Maryland so extreme that they violated the rights of voters. The North Carolina map was drawn by Republicans, whereas the Maryland districts by the state’s dominant Democrats. While the Supreme Court regularly scrutinizes electoral districts for racial gerrymandering, the justices have never found a state’s redistricting map so infected with politics that it violates the Constitution. Such a decision would mark a dramatic change for how the nation’s political maps are drawn.

The court passed up the chance last term to settle the issue of whether courts have a role in policing partisan gerrymandering, sending back on technical rulings challenges to a Republican-drawn plan in Wisconsin and the challenged Maryland map. In oral arguments last term, conservative justices generally seemed uncomfortable with judges getting involved in what some consider a political matter between voters and their representatives. Liberal justices seemed to think that partisan redistricting was thwarting the will of voters and that the situation will get worse as technology provides lawmakers with pinpoint accuracy in identifying which party voters support.

But a reconfigured court will consider the issue in March. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had held out the belief that some gerrymandering could be so political as to be unconstitutional, has been replaced with Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The new justice is generally more conservative but has not ruled on the issue in the past. The Supreme Court had little choice but to accept the cases, as it is required to either affirm or reverse lower-court decisions on such political matters.

While last term’s outcomes did not favor them, opponents of partisan gerrymandering said they hoped the Supreme Court could be persuaded to find a role for the judiciary in the matter. “Voters nationwide are ready for a ruling from the Supreme Court that finally declares that they come first, not self-interested politicians,” said Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center. Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said that “maps that follow traditional redistricting criteria should be free from challenges in federal court.”

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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