Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. President Donald Trump Announces 2021 Fiscal Year Budget
On January 10, President Donald Trump proposed a $4.8 trillion election-year budget that would slash major domestic and safety net programs, setting up a stark contrast with President Trump’s rivals as voting gets underway in the Democratic presidential primary. The budget would cut Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and also wring savings from Medicare despite Trump’s repeated promises to safeguard Medicare and Social Security. It aims domestic spending with cuts that are sure to be rejected by Congress, including slashing the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 26.5% over the next year and cutting the budget of the Health and Human Services department by 9%. HHS includes the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will see a budget cut even as the coronavirus spreads, although officials said funding aimed at combating the coronavirus would be protected.
The budget is a proposal to Congress, and lawmakers have mostly rejected President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts in the past. Still, the budget plan sets up the Trump administration’s policy priorities heading into the November elections and is likely to draw scrutiny. It would target the Education Department is for a nearly 8% cut, the Interior Department would be cut 13.4%, and Housing and Urban Development would be cut 15.2%. The State Department and US Agency for International Development would be cut by 22%. The proposed cuts stand in contrast to proposals by major Democratic candidates to expand environmental, education and health care spending, setting up a clash between President Trump and his 2020 rivals over their major campaign priorities. Not all agencies would face cuts, however. Trump proposes to increase spending for the Department of Homeland Security while keeping military spending at roughly the same level as in last year’s budget. The NASA budget would also increase by 12% as Trump has said he wants the agency to prepare for space travel to Mars. Even with all the proposed spending cuts, the budget would fail to eliminate the federal deficit over the next 15 years, only if the economy grows at an unprecedented, sustained 3% clip through 2025, levels the administration has failed to achieve for even one year so far.
During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, his advisers said their budget plan would eliminate the deficit by around 2028. This new trend shows how little progress the White House is making in dealing with ballooning government debt, something Republican party leaders had made a top goal during the Obama administration. Trump’s first budget projected the deficit in 2021 would be $456 billion. Instead, it is projected to be more than double that amount. Trump has shown little interest in dealing with the deficit and debt, though some Republican leaders say it remains a priority. The $4.8 trillion budget for 2021 would represent a $700 billion surge over levels from 2018. White House officials have blamed congressional Democrats for inaction on the federal deficit. However, Trump has agreed to increase spending throughout the government because it was the condition on which Democrats accepted a higher military budget. “Trying to balance the budget in 10 years is very difficult, so having a longer time horizon makes a lot of sense,” said Marc Goldwein, a senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates reducing the deficit. “Fifteen years is still very aggressive.”
President Donald Trump’s budget aims to cut spending on safety-net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, cutting food stamp spending by $181 billion over a decade. It proposes to squeeze hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare over a decade through cost-saving proposals such as reforming medical liability and modifying payments to hospitals for uncompensated care. The budget cuts Medicaid spending by about $920 billion over 10 years, a change Democrats and administration critics warn would lead to reductions in benefits and the number of people on the health care program. A senior administration official defended the cut, noting it reflects a decrease in the rate at which Medicaid spending would grow rather than a reduction from current spending levels. The official said the administration would save money on Medicaid spending through new work requirements and recouping payments incorrectly spent by the federal government. Liberal economists rejected that argument. “This is a budget that would cause many millions of people to lose health care coverage. That is unambiguous,” said Aviva Aron-Dine, a former Obama official and vice president at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think-tank.
Democrats such as Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said early reports indicate the budget includes “destructive changes … while extending [Trump’s] tax cuts for millionaires and wealthy corporations.” During the last year that President Barack Obama was in office, the deficit was less than $600 billion, but it has grown significantly since then. The 2017 tax cuts and new domestic spending approved by bipartisan majorities in Congress have widened this gap markedly. However, the Trump administration’s new budget summary contains the line: “All administration policies will pay for themselves, including extending tax cut provisions expiring in 2025.” Without action by Congress and the administration, tax cuts for families and individuals would expire at the end of 2025. Budget experts have projected that extending those tax cuts would reduce revenue by roughly $1 trillion.
2. Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Trump Administration For Its Failure To Preserve Records Of The President’s Meetings With Foreign Leaders
A federal judge on February 10 dismissed a lawsuit brought by historians and watchdog groups to compel the White House to preserve records of President Trump’s calls and meetings with foreign leaders, saying that Congress would have to change presidential archiving laws to allow the courts to do so. Federal courts have ruled that the Presidential Records Act is one of the rare statutes that judges cannot review and that another law, the Federal Records Act, does not specify exactly how agency heads should preserve records, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in a 22-page opinion. “The Court is bound by Circuit precedent to find that it lacks authority to oversee the President’s day-to-day compliance with the statutory provisions involved in this case,” Jackson wrote of the US Court of the Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. However, the judge added pointedly, “This opinion will not address, and should not be interpreted to endorse, the challenged practices; nor does it include any finding that the Executive Office is in compliance with its obligations.” Jackson said that though those who brought the lawsuit allege Congress expressed “grave concerns” about the practices at issue, it is Congress that has the power to “revisit its decision to accord the executive such unfettered control or to clarify its intentions.”
The lawsuit was filed against the Trump Administration for its record-keeping policies was in May of 2019 by three organizations, government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the National Security Archive at George Washington University, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). The groups alleged that the White House was failing to create and save records as required of Trump’s meetings and communications with foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The lawsuit preceded Congress’s impeachment inquiry into the White House, which ended last week in a Senate acquittal, that was triggered by a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate unsubstantiated corruption allegations against former vice president Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter Biden. The groups suing had asked unsuccessfully for an emergency ruling, citing allegations that the episode exposed record-keeping practices “specifically designed to conceal the president’s abuse of his power,” CREW said in a statement. The groups sought a court order to ensure records are not destroyed, misfiled or never created. In a statement, CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz said the watchdog was “disappointed to see today’s ruling” but is reviewing an appeal.
Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University said it would “certainly appeal.” “Congress assumed presidents would want to save their records. Even [Richard M. Nixon] saved the tapes,” Blanton said, referring to Oval Office audio recordings that helped expose the Watergate scandal. Lawmakers also must decide whether they will give archiving laws “teeth,” making them enforceable and subject to congressional oversight, he said. The Justice Department had moved to dismiss the lawsuit, saying appeals courts have precluded courts from weighing in on presidents’ compliance with the archiving law. Without conceding their arguments for dismissal, department lawyers in October of 2019 promised the court that the White House would not destroy records of Trump’s calls and meetings with foreign leaders while the lawsuit was pending. Justice Department lawyers also said the government had “instructed relevant personnel to preserve the information” sought. They include records of communications with foreign leaders, record-keeping policies and practices, White House or agency investigations into such matters and efforts to return, “claw back” or “lock down” such records.
3. Joe Biden Plummets, Bernie Sanders & Michael Bloomberg Surge In Democratic Primary Polling
Former Vice President Joe Biden has plummeted in a new national poll out on February 10 that also shows Bernie Sanders with a clear lead among Democratic voters heading into the February 11 New Hampshire primary. The new Quinnipiac University poll, conducted after Sanders’ strong showing in the Iowa caucuses a week ago, has the Vermont senator boasting the support of 25% of Democratic voters, making an 8-point lead over Biden and a 4-point increase over the last national survey taken before the caucuses. Biden dropped 9 points to 17% after his dismal performance in Iowa, followed close behind by former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who rose 7 points to 15%, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who dropped 1 point to 14%. While former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg got a 4-point bump after appearing to narrowly edge Sanders out for first place in the Iowa state delegate count, results which Buttigieg and Sanders are both challenging, Buttigieg came in at fifth place nationally in the Quinnipiac poll, with 10% of the vote. Senator Amy Klobuchar rounds out the top six with 4%, a drop of 3 points, while no other candidate broke 2% in the poll.
The Quinnipiac survey is the latest yet to show a still-fluid race in the Democratic primary but continues a trend in which both Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg are on the rise, while Joe Biden, once considered the prohibitive frontrunner, is losing standing. Sanders looks likely to continue gaining momentum, heading into Tuesday’s primary as the candidate to beat in New Hampshire. Bloomberg’s steady rise, meanwhile, comes as he has continued to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into advertising nationally. He has also shirked the critical spotlight of the debate stage thus far and has been banking on mixed results for his rivals out of the first four early-voting states before the Super Tuesday contests he’s staked his candidacy on.
The February 10 poll finds the former Vice President with his lowest national numbers yet in a poll, but his weakened stance nationally is likely not the only cause for concern for the Biden campaign. The survey also shows that Michael Bloomberg is successfully eating into Joe Biden’s popularity among black voters, a key Democratic voting bloc that had been considered the Vice President’s firewall should he falter in New Hampshire. While Biden is still holding onto his lead among black voters, according to the poll, his support has plummeted from 49% before the caucuses to 27%. Bloomberg, meanwhile, has rocketed into second place among black voters, with 22% support compared to 7% late last month. The poll also brings Bloomberg one step closer toward qualifying for the next Democratic primary debate, which is on February 19 in Nevada. He needs to hit at least 10% in two more polls by February 18 to qualify. So far, Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren have qualified for the debate.
4. US Economy Adds 225,000 Jobs In January In A Surprising Sign Of Continued Economic Strength
The US economy added 225,000 jobs in January, a surprising sign of continued strength for the economy. The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 3.6%, mostly due to more people rejoining the labor force. The jobless rate remains near a 50-year low. The areas of strongest job growth came in construction and health care, as well as transportation and warehousing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retail and manufacturing were the two areas with the most significant job losses. “I can say that it pretty much blew estimates out of the water,” said Beth Ann Bovino, the chief economist at S&P Global. “It’s just a really nice report. I’d also say that the recession fears of last year seem to be a thing of the past when you look at this report.”
The number of jobs added for the month was well above the average of 176,000 jobs per month in 2019 and higher than the 223,000 jobs added each month of 2018. In 2019, the US added 269,999 jobs in January, an uptick that federal statisticians surmised had spiked because of the government shutdown as people took on part-time jobs. January was the 112th straight month of job growth since 2010. The new report comes on the heels of a milestone in December when women outnumbered men in the workforce for only the second time in history. That number was unchanged in January, with women continuing to make up slightly more than 50% of the non-farm labor force.
President Donald Trump is staking his reelection campaign in part on the strength of the economy, touting the job creation under his administration repeatedly during the State of the Union address. But analysts have urged caution, pointing to other economic measures. Relatively modest wage growth, around 3%, remains a puzzle for economists who say it has not grown as expected given the increasingly tight labor market. Business investment has fallen for three straight quarters. And problems at Boeing as well as fears about the coronavirus have raised fears about more economic headwinds on the horizon. “It’s a powerful antidote, in many ways, with respect to what’s been happening in Washington,” said Mark Hamrick, an economic analyst at Bankrate. “In many ways, we’ve seen a political environment that is violently ill, and yet the economy appears to be very robust. … A year or so ago we were thinking we could be on the precipice of a recession. The reality is that the expansion looks good for some time to come for the future.”
5. President Donald Trump’s Approval Rating Hits Highest Level Yet In His Presidency
President Donald Trump’s job approval rating has risen to 49%, his highest in Gallup polling since he took office in 2017. The new poll finds 50% of Americans disapproving of President Trump, leaving just 1% expressing no opinion. The average percentage not having an opinion on Trump has been 5% throughout his presidency. Trump’s approval rating has risen because of higher ratings among both Republicans and independents. His 94% approval rating among Republicans is up six percentage points from early January and is three points higher than his previous best among his fellow partisans. The 42% approval rating among independents is up five points and ties three other polls as his best among that group. Democratic approval is 7%, down slightly from 10%. The 87-point gap between Republican and Democratic approval in the current poll is the largest Gallup has measured in any Gallup poll to date, surpassing the prior record, held by Trump and Barack Obama, by one point.
The recent approval rating poll was conducted in the midst of the Senate impeachment trial that resulted in the President’s acquittal. The poll finds 52% of Americans in favor of acquitting President Trump and 46% in favor of convicting and removing him from office. In addition to possibly reflecting sentiment regarding his impeachment, Trump’s increased approval rating may also result from other issues, including the economy. For example, 63% of Americans approve of President Trump’s handling of the economy, the highest economic approval rating for any American President since Geroge W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks. Additionally, Trump’s approval ratings on foreign policy and foreign trade also remain his highest to date.
As President Donald Trump’s job approval rating has improved, so has the image of the Republican Party. 51% of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, up from 43% in September of 2019. It is the first time Republican favorability has exceeded 50% since 2005. Meanwhile, 45% of Americans have a positive opinion of the Democratic Party, a slight dip from 48% in September of last year. Additionally, the poll finds 48% of Americans identifying as Republicans or leaning toward that party, compared with 44% Democratic identification or leaning. Recent Gallup polls had shown a fairly even partisan distribution after the Democratic Party held advantages for much of 2019.
Whether the rise in Trump’s approval rating and the Republican Party’s image is being driven by a backlash against impeachment, the strong economy or other factors may become clearer in the near future. If it is mostly impeachment-based, his approval rating may revert quickly back to pre-impeachment levels, as it did for Clinton. Within two months of his acquittal in February 1999, Clinton’s approval rating returned to where it was before he was impeached, as did the Democratic Party’s advantage in party identification and leaning. If Trump’s higher approval rating is being driven by Americans giving him credit for improvements in the economy, his support may increase over the course of the year, as it did for Ronald Reagan in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2012. All of those recent presidents held office during periods of sustained economic improvement and were re-elected with job approval ratings of better than 50%.