Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Redacted Version of Mueller Report Issued To Public
Ending months of suspense, Attorney General William Barr on April 18 released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and related matters. Attorney General Barr told lawmakers last month Mueller had completed his investigation and released a four-page summary of Mueller’s findings. According to Barr, Mueller concluded the Trump campaign did not directly collude with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election. Mueller did not establish whether or not President Donald Trump obstructed justice, but Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge the President with obstruction.
Robert Mueller’s nearly 400-page report describes the legal analysis and factual findings that support the conclusions previously shared by Barr. The redacted information includes grand jury material, foreign intelligence that could compromise sources and methods, information about ongoing investigations, and derogatory information about people who were not charged. The redacted report, however, is unlikely to ease tensions between Democrats and Republicans about what the findings mean for the Trump presidency. Democrats remain unconvinced that Barr is not protecting Trump from the release of damaging information. The Democrats are now planning to subpoena the complete, unredacted document. The House Judiciary Committee has already authorized a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report but has not sent it to the Justice Department. House Democrats are likely to send the subpoena quickly if they did not like what they see in the report, which could tee up a lengthy court battle.
2. President Donald Trump’s Approval Rating Declining
President Donald Trump’s approval rating has dropped 5 points, equaling his Presidency’s low-water mark, since last week’s release of the special counsel report into the 2016 election, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released on April 22. Only 39 percent of voters surveyed in the poll approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president. That is down from 44 percent last week and ties Trump’s lowest-ever approval rating, a 39 percent rating in mid-August 2017, in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Despite the fact that views of President Donald Trump have tumbled since the publication of the redacted Mueller report, so has support for impeaching him. Only 34 percent of voters believe Congress should begin impeachment proceedings to remove Trump from office, down from 39 percent in January. Nearly half, 48 percent, say Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings. The split decision in public opinion, a decline in views of Trump’s job performance but fewer voters wanting Congress to pursue impeachment, mirrors the report itself, which clears Trump and his campaign of criminally conspiring with the Russian government to boost his election but documents numerous examples of Trump’s efforts to stymie the investigation.
While the report is damaging to President Donald Trump in the short term, it could also paint Democrats into a corner on impeachment. Mueller seemingly kicks the obstruction of justice case on Trump to Congress, and the Democratic-led House is squeezed between a majority of Democratic voters who want impeachment, 59 percent, and slightly more than a third of the electorate that agrees. For immediately, most Democrats are treading lightly. In a letter to her Democratic colleagues on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) acknowledged that her conference’s positions “range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment.” While Democrats in Congress are split on impeachment, most party leaders, including Pelosi, are calling for the House to pull on some of the investigative threads in the Mueller report. Voters are split on whether Congress should continue to investigate whether Trump or his campaign associates and staffers obstructed the investigation: Forty-three percent say Congress should continue to investigate, while 41 percent say it should not.
3. 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Split on Impeaching President Trump
The leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates split during a CNN forum on April 22 over impeaching President Donald Trump, highlighting a schism in the party over whether a risky effort to expel him from office will distract them from talking about issues that voters care most about. Senator Bernie Sanders, the early front-runner for the nomination, gave his first direct answer on the question of impeachment, saying the House should carry out a “hard investigation,” but he warned that the political battle would play into the President’s hands. His stance put him at odds with some other members of the party’s progressive wing, including rival Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Warren, who was joined in calling for Trump’s impeachment by Senate colleague Kamala Harris of California, made an impassioned argument that Democrats should not avoid the fight. “There is no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution,” Warren said at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.
With the public far from sold on an impeachment fight, Democrats in Congress have been grappling with how to respond to the revelations in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russian election interference and whether the Trump campaign was involved. Elizabeth Warren was the first among the leading Democratic presidential candidates to call for Trump’s impeachment after the release of Mueller’s conclusions last week. Julian Castro also said Trump should be impeached. April 22’s back-to-back town hall events on CNN put the divisions among the presidential candidates into sharper focus. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg both deflected on the impeachment question when asked. Klobuchar called the Mueller report “appalling” and said Trump “should be held accountable” but that impeachment was up to the House. “They’re going to have to make that decision. I am in the Senate, and I believe we are the jury,” Klobuchar said. “So if the House brings the impeachment proceedings before us, we will deal with them.” Buttigieg, who has risen rapidly in polls in recent weeks, took a similar approach. “I think he’s made it pretty clear that he deserves impeachment,” he said. “I’m also going to leave it to the House and Senate to figure that out.”
Bernie Sanders’ position at the top of the Democratic field and as a leader in the progressive movement may help House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders keep a lid on impeachment talk in Congress. Like them, Sanders said he was concerned it would distract both candidates and voters. While calling Trump “the most dangerous president in the modern history of our country,’’ Sanders said that the most important goal is making sure President Trump is not re-elected. “If for the next year, year and a half, going right into the heart of the election, all that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump and Mueller, Mueller, Mueller” instead of health care, wages and climate change, “what I worry about is that works to Trump’s advantage,” Sanders said.
In contrast, Senator Kamala Harris joined Elizabeth Warren’s call for impeachment but downplayed its prospects of advancing in a Republican-led Senate. “I believe Congress should take the steps toward impeachment,” Harris said at the CNN town hall, arguing that the Mueller report shows “a lot of good evidence” that suggests Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. Harris predicted that Senate Republicans (as well as some Democrats such as Joe Manchin) would protect Trump and refuse to provide the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office. “We have to be realistic about what might be the end result. But that doesn’t mean the process should not take hold,” she said.
While many Democrats worry about the politics of impeachment, Elizabeth Warren insisted that “the issue was about preserving the American system of government. This is not about politics, this is about principle. This is about what kind of democracy we have. In a dictatorship, everything in government revolves around protecting the one person in the center, but not in a democracy and not under our Constitution,” Warren said. “We have to proceed here, understanding our place in history.”
4. Iranian Parliament Declares US Military Terrorist Organization
Iranian lawmakers voted on April 16 to list US forces in Western Asia as a terrorist organization in retaliation of the Trump Administration (at the urging of Israel and Saudi Arabia) giving the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps the same destination earlier this month. The Iranian parliament (Majlis) vote on CENTCOM was 173-4 with 11 abstentions. Iranian media said the US declaration “undermines regional and international peace and security” and “runs contrary to the principles of international law.” “CENTCOM, as well as forces, organizations and bodies under its command, are declared terrorist and providing any assistance — including military, intelligence, economic, technical, educational, administrative and logistical — to these forces in order to counter the IRGC and the Islamic Republic of Iran amounts to collaboration in an act of terror,” the law reads. CENTCOM, established in 1983, covers the Middle East and Central Asia with significant responsibilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Iran Defense Minister Amir Hatami said that the Trump Administration’s move to name the IRGC as a terrorist organization was evidence that US/Israeli/Saudi actions against Iran were failing. “The IRGC is a glorious defense institution that along with its comrades in the Army and other forces has played a significant role in securing and preserving the territorial integrity and independence of the country and supporting the oppressed people of the region against terrorists,” Hatami said. Iranian officials further added that the terrorist designation has unified the Iranian people against the US and its aggressive, imperialistic policies in the Middle East
At the same time as Iran’s declaration of the US Army s a “terrorist organization,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump Administration would not be renewing the 180-day waivers that allow individual countries to continue buying Iranian crude oil amid the expanded sanctions. The countries that are most affected by the waivers include China, India, South Korea, Japan, South Africa, Italy, Greece, France, and Germany. The end of the waivers will take approximately 1 million barrels of crude oil off the world’s market and has already resulted in oil prices increasing from $60 per barrel up to $74 per barrel. Although both Saudi Arabia and Russia have announced that they will be filling in the gap caused by the reduction in Iranian oil sales, it is yet to be determined if they will be able to produce enough oil to fill the gap in a reasonable amount of time.