Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Begin
The Senate confirmation hearing of President Donald Trump’s choice to be the next judge on the US supreme court, the ultra-conservative Brett Kavanaugh, began on September 4, amid much protest by Senate Democrats and activists. In his opening speech, Kavanaugh recounted his relationship with former Justice Kenedy, noting that he clerked for him in 1993 shortly after graduating law school, and announced that “Supreme Court judges must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent,” reflecting is strict constructionist judicial outlook. Despite his support for a more conservative judicial outlook, Kavanaugh also noted that “the Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution” and that political opinions should not be the main things that inform a judge’s opinion.
Despite the neutral tone of Brett Kavanaugh’s opening statement, the hearings regarding his confirmation soon heated up. Leading Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed much concern regarding historically secretive and opaque vetting process and the lack of oversight regarding the release of documents related to Judge Kavanaugh’s time working for the Bush Administration. Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) led the calls for delay of the confirmation hearings until the documents related to Kavanaugh’s background were released to the public. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, denounced the actions on the part of the Democrats, arguing that they are a direct violation of long-standing Senate procedures. In addition to protests within the Senate, close to 300 individuals were arrested for protesting against Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Despite much concern regarding his record and fear that his nomination will overturn much progressive reform that has been implemented over the past century, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings went somewhat smoothly and he was cleared for a full Senate vote to be held on October 1. Based on the make-up of the Senate, it will be likely that Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed with between 54-57 Senate votes, with Republicans Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Rand Paul being the only Republicans who might oppose his confirmation and several vulnerable Senate Democrats (Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, Joe Donnely, Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Heidi Heitkamp, and Sherrod Brown) potentially voting in favor of his confirmation.
2. Syrian Military Begins Assault on Idlib, the Last Rebel-Held Enclave In The Country
On September 8, the Syrian Government began a major assault on Idlib, the last substantial area in the county under the control of the anti-Assad “Free Syrian Army.” The assault began with a joint Syrian/Iranian/Russian airstrike on the center of the city, which is to be followed up by a ground invasion with forces from all three countries. The city of Idlib has been under control of anti-Asad rebels since early 2015 and a successful recapture of the city by pro-Assad forces may result in the conclusion of the Syrian Civil War. Thus far, an estimated 5,000 individuals have fled the city to areas in the Northern part of Syria. The airstrikes came two days after Russia, Iran, and Turkey held a summit to discuss the fate of Idlib. A call at the summit for a ceasefire in Idlib, made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was rejected by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who maintain the province is inhabited by western-supported terrorists who threaten to destabilize the Middle East.
Overall, the international reaction to the Syrian airstrikes in Idlib have been mixed. US President Donald Trump denounced the bombings and is reportedly considering intervening in Syria to remove Assad from power. Additionally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey would neither watch from the sidelines nor participate in such a game “if the world turns a blind eye to the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people [in Syria]” in a Twitter message posted in Turkish, English, Arabic, and Russian. Despite much criticism of the assaults by opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that the airstrikes were justified, correctly noting that many of the anti-Assad rebels subscribe to the ideology of Wahhabism and represent a major threat to both the Christians and Shi’a Muslims of Syria (two groups that comprise nearly 15% of Syria’s total population). The Russian government has also announced that it may consider attacking US military personnel who are working to train and arm the last remaining Syrian rebel groups.
Turkey has been trying to stop the bloodshed in Syria since the crisis broke out. Without discrimination, we rushed to the help of our Syrian brothers and sisters. Today, as in the past, we do not any of our Syrian brothers or sisters to suffer – even from a nosebleed.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) September 7, 2018
3. New York Times Publishes Anonymous Op-Ed By Trump Administration Official
An unnamed senior Trump administration official assailed President Donald Trump’s “amorality” and reckless decision-making in a New York Times op-ed published on September 5, and said that they are part of a “resistance” working to prevent President Trump from implementing the most destructive aspects of his agenda. “The dilemma — which (Trump) does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” the article reads. “I would know. I am one of them.” The New York Times said disclosing the name of the official, who is known to the publication, would jeopardize the official’s job, and that publishing the piece anonymously was the only way to deliver an essential perspective to its readers. The op-ed came on the heels of reports based on a damning book about Trump’s presidency by journalist Bob Woodward and amplified the sense that top advisers to the President have serious concerns about his conduct in office and leadership abilities.
President Donald Trump quickly lashed out against the article immediately after its publication, dismissing it as “really a disgrace” and “gutless” and assailing the author and The New York Times for publishing the anonymous opinion piece. He then pivoted to his accomplishments, claiming that “nobody has done what this administration has done regarding getting things passed and getting things through.” President Trump later Tweeted a sharp and unsubstantiated attack on the New York Times, questioning if the author of the op-ed exists. If the author does exist, the organization should publicly identify the individual, Trump said.
Does the so-called “Senior Administration Official” really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
The op-ed offers a firsthand account that corroborates key themes of Bob Woodward’s book in that that some of the President’s top advisers have a dim view of the commander in chief and are quietly working to thwart Trump’s most reckless and impulsive decisions from becoming a reality. The author writes the resistance inside the Trump administration is not the same “resistance” of the left against the President and said they “want the administration to succeed … But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.” The result, the official writes, has been a “two-track presidency” in which Trump’s own worldview — uttered both in public and private — diverges from some key actions taken by the administration, like those involving additional sanctions against Russia.
The official also alleges there were “early whispers within” Trump’s Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would require a majority of Cabinet officials to declare to Congress they believe the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Explaining the “resistance” effort, the senior administration official offers a damning portrait of Trump’s character and leadership ability. The author argues the “root of the problem is the President’s amorality” and assails Trump’s “reckless decisions,” “erratic behavior” and what the official describes as the President’s “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” leadership style.
Trump administration officials, struggling to mount a defense to Woodward’s tell-all book, were stunned when the op-ed was published Wednesday afternoon, left guessing and quietly pointing fingers at other officials as they tried to figure out who wrote it, even texting reporters reasonable guesses. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the New York Times for publishing the op-ed, saying “they should not well have chosen to take a disgruntled, deceptive, bad actor’s word for anything and put it in their newspaper,” and called it “sad” that the senior administration official made a choice to write the op-ed. Additionally, Vice President Pence (who was rumored to have written the op-ed) was quick to denounce it and stated that he played no role in its publication. Overall, the release of such a document shows that the Trump Administration is in serious trouble politically and that there are severe divisions amongst its members.
4. Trump Administration Meets With Venezuela Generals To Discuss Possible Coup Against President Maduro
On September 9, it was reported that the Trump administration held secret meetings with Venezuelan military officials to discuss a potential coup against President Nicolas Maduro. Since Maduro came to power in 2013, Venezuela has suffered from hyperinflation, a decimated economy, a food and drug shortage, and a growing refugee crisis. According to the report, there were plans for a coup in May of this year. However, when US officials declined to cooperate, plans for Maduro’s overthrow fell apart. The report comes just a month after two explosive-laden drones blew up near Maduro in an apparent assassination attempt. Jorge Arreaza, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, denounced efforts to overthrow his government. “We denounce in front of the international community, the plans for intervention and the support of military plots against Venezuela by the United States government,” he said in a Twitter post.
Denunciamos ante el mundo los planes de intervención y apoyo a conspiraciones militares del gobierno de los Estados Unidos contra Venezuela. En los propios medios estadounidenses salen a la luz nuevas y groseras evidencias: https://t.co/1vvuusfgrb
— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) September 8, 2018
The relationship between Venezuela and the US has steadily declined over the past 20 years due to the fact that the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela is highly critical of US foreign policy throughout the world, correctly noting that it has only served to further enrich the economic and military elites within the US at the expense of the poor and oppressed throughout thw world. The already mediocre relationship between both countries declined even further since President Donald Trump assumed office last year. Along with Iran, Venezuela has been one of the countries that President Trump has repeatedly threatened military action against. For example, President Trump said in August of 2017 that “the people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.” The Trump Administration has thus far not responded to the report directly, but did say that it supported dialogue with Venezuelans who “demonstrate a desire for democracy.”