Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Impeachment Trial Of President Donald Trump Commences
In what may prove a relatively swift proceeding, US senators began to decide on January 21 whether to take the unprecedented step of removing a sitting president from office as President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial got underway. While senators in the Republican-held chamber have promised to pursue impartial justice as jurors, the proceeding was fraught with partisan rancor from the start as rules unveiled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set a speedy timetable that could see the third impeachment trial in US history concluded ahead of the President’s State of the Union address in two weeks. Senator McConnell had previously indicated that he would use the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton as a blueprint for proceedings. The rules for the Clinton trial were passed by the chamber in a unanimous vote, but critical differences in McConnell’s resolution made such a display of bipartisanship unlikely this time around. The proposed rules initially put forward by McConnell were a sharp departure from those that governed the Clinton impeachment trial. However, by the time the resolution was read out in the Senate, a couple of crucial changes had brought proceedings more in line with those used in the 1999 trial. The initial draft rules would have given both House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team 24 hours to make their case to the chamber over two days. With proceedings set to be at 1 PM each day, this could have seen arguments continue until well past midnight and be wrapped up by the weekend.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused McConnell of orchestrating a “cover-up” and said that the proposed rules would see key evidence heard “in the wee hours of the morning.” This was later extended to give both sides three days to present their arguments, mirroring the proceedings of the Clinton trial. In another about-face, the draft resolution published would have required a separate vote at the tail end of the trial to admit evidence gathered by House impeachment investigators. But the resolution put forth would see the House’s evidence automatically entered into the record of the Senate trial, as happened during the Clinton impeachment trial. The changes were made after Republican senators, including possible swing voter Susan Collins of Maine, raised concerns about the two provisions, according to the New York Times.
Once both sides have presented their evidence, Senators will have 16 hours to put their questions to either side, which is likely to take place early next week. Questions will be submitted through Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial. After four more hours of arguments, lawmakers will weigh whether to subpoena further witnesses or documents. The Democrats are keen to hear from witnesses close to the President such as his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. They have argued that these senior officials or ex-officials could give key evidence about President Donald Trump’s involvement in efforts to pressure Ukrainian authorities to announce corruption investigations that could aid his 2020 reelection chances. It is unclear whether Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer would be able to convince the four Republican votes needed to support calling further witnesses, as well a to convince wavering Democrats such as Joe Manchin to support such an action.
In a 110-page brief submitted to the Senate, President Donald Trump’s lawyers outlined their defense of the President, describing the impeachment as a “brazenly political act.” Without disputing the underlying facts of the case, the President’s legal defense team argued that the articles of impeachment were baseless, as he did not break the law and had acted within the bounds of executive privilege. Legal scholars have challenged the notion that an impeachable offense must also be a criminal one. Last week the Government Accountability Office, an independent federal watchdog, concluded that the President had broken the law by temporarily withholding almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, which had already been appropriated by Congress. The decision was just the latest new development to emerge in recent weeks.
2. Chinese Economic Growth Slows To Three-Decade Low In 2019
Chinese economic growth slowed to 6.1% last year, according to figures released on January 15, as sagging trade and business confidence pulled the country’s growth to its lowest level in nearly three decades. The slowdown, which has become more severe since the economy peaked in 2011 following years of double-digit growth, rippled through many sectors of the Chinese economy last year and was made worse by the Trump administration’s trade pressure and tariffs. Even so, the growth rate of 6.1%, down from a revised 6.6% rate for 2018, fell within the government’s target of 6% to 6.5% for 2019. China’s official statistics bureau described the national economy as being “generally stable” last year. The economy grew by 6% in the fourth quarter. China’s main development targets were met, the National Bureau of Statistics said in its economic report, which it said “laid a solid foundation for completing the building of a moderately prosperous society,” invoking a favored term of President Xi Jinping to describe his goal of building a solid middle class.
The continuing downshift was not unexpected, given how large China’s economy had become. But it also reflects the degree to which debt helped fuel China’s extraordinary growth. The Chinese government continued its campaign against high debt levels last year, with some success. Trade tensions with the US also damaged China’s business confidence throughout the year. Economists say China’s economy will benefit only to a limited degree from a trade agreement signed by the two countries this week. Incomes grew more slowly than the economy did last year, 5.8%, while rising inflation, made worse by higher pork prices, crimped purchasing power. An outbreak of African swine fever roughly doubled the price of pork at certain points during the year as the virus forced farmers to kill off at least a quarter of the nation’s hog population. Pork is the most consumed meat in China.
The government is counting on improving consumer confidence and consumption to play a major role in boosting growth this year, Ning Jizhe, China’s chief statistician, said in a statement. The government-led stimulus is becoming increasingly apparent in economic figures and anecdotal signs of new projects in China and authorities say they are working to lower borrowing costs. But they have also refrained from flooding the economy with money that might have adverse effects in other sectors of the economy, for example, further inflating the value of homes.
3. Coupled With A Series Of High Profiles Endorsements, Bernie Sanders Surges In Democratic Primary Polling
Amid a series of endorsements from key groups and allies in crucial primary states this week, new national polling shows Senator Bernie Sanders now in the lead over former Vice President Joe Biden and the rest of the Democratic primary field. According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll, Sanders received support from 20% of registered Democratic primary voters surveyed. That figure was enough to edge out former Vice President Biden who received 19% and the 12% of voters who say they back Senator Elizabeth Warren. Rounding out the top five finishers in the nationwide poll, conducted this week before January 15, were former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (9%) and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (6%).
While the poll has a 5-point margin of error that puts Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in a statistical tie, the results show Sanders gaining steam and Joe Biden remaining flat compared to a similar poll taken last week. In addition, Reuters noted in its reporting, “The poll shows that standing does not appear to have been hurt by his recent confrontation with Elizabeth Warren” that captured political headlines throughout the week. “Warren, who is aligned with Sanders on a variety of issues, has accused him of telling her in 2018 that a woman could not be elected president,” noted Reuters. “Sanders disputes that claim, and the two sniped at each other after this week’s presidential debate about how they were framing the conversation in public.”
Bernie Sanders has been experiencing a surge in both national and state-level polling for weeks, a show of momentum that coincides with a raft of new endorsements by national groups and allies in key primary states that include Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, California, and Wisconsin. The Clark County Black Caucus in Nevada officially endorsed Sanders. The CCBC represents members in the state’s largest county and cited Sanders’ commitment to social, economic, and racial justice as the key reason for offering their support. “Bernie Sanders has been a lifelong advocate for civil rights and economic justice. His presidential campaign goes the furthest in addressing issues that impact the African American community nationally and here in Nevada,” caucus chairwoman Yvette Williams said in a statement. “As representatives of this community, CCBC looks forward to working with Sen. Bernie Sanders to ensure our political system works for everyone.”
In addition to the endorsements coming from the key early primary state of Nevada, Congressman Mark Pocan, a Democrat from the key mid-western state of Wisconsin who also co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, issued his endorsement of Sanders. “Sanders’ authenticity, honesty, and movement for equality is the antidote our nation needs now,” Pocan said. “I am proud to endorse a candidate that shares my progressive values and has long been an advocate for the issues Wisconsinites care most about. From health care to a living wage, it’s time we work for working people, and with Bernie Sanders as president, we can do just that.
Thus far, Bernie Sanders continues to poll the best against President Donald Trump in general election polling. According to a recent SurveyUSA poll, Sanders leads President Trump by 9% in a prospective general election matchup (52%-43%). Next was Former Vice President Joe Biden at 50 percent to Trump’s 43 percent, a seven-point lead. Michael Bloomberg, the media and financial data billionaire, also led Trump by seven points at 49 percent to 42 percent. Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren leads Trump 48 percent to 45 percent, a three-point advantage. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is also ahead of Trump by three points, at 47 percent to 44 percent. The tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang is ahead of Trump by two points, at 46 percent to 44 percent. The billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer is tied with Trump at 44 percent apiece, Democratic Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar loses to Trump by two points at 43 percent to 45 percent. Democratic Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is generally a more conservative Democrat and opposed to the impeachment efforts against President Trump, loses to Trump by five points at 39 percent to 44 percent.
4. Recently Released Economic Data Points To Moderate US Economic Growth In Late 2019
According to a January 16 report, US retail sales increased for a third straight month in December, with households buying a range of goods even as they cut back on purchases of motor vehicles, suggesting the economy maintained a moderate growth pace at the end of 2019. Other data released showed the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits dropped for a fifth straight week last week, indicating the labor market remained strong despite a recent slowdown in job growth. These indices should help sustain consumer spending and keep the longest economic expansion on record, now in its 11th year, on track.
The Federal Reserve on January 15 described the economy as having continued to expand modestly in the final six weeks of 2019. The Federal Reserve has signaled that it could keep interest rates unchanged at least through this year after reducing borrowing costs three times in 2019. “There’s more fuel in the tank of this economic expansion,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. The Commerce Department said retail sales increased 0.3% last month. Data for November was revised up to show retail sales gaining 0.3% instead of rising 0.2% as previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales would gain 0.3% in December. Compared to December of last year, retail sales accelerated by 5.8%. Sales increased by 3.6% in 2019.
In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 204,000 for the week ended January 11. Economists had forecast claims would rise to 216,000 in the latest week. While claims are trending lower, some worrying signs are emerging. The claims data showed layoffs in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, construction, educational services and accommodation, and food services industries in late 2019 and early 2020. Some of the job losses in manufacturing, which were spread across at least eight states, could be related to the 18-month trade war between the US and China, which has hurt business confidence and undercut capital expenditure. US President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed a “Phase 1” trade deal on January 14, a first step toward defusing the trade war. But with U.S. duties remaining in effect on $360 billion of Chinese imports, about two-thirds of the total, economists do not expect the initial deal to provide a boost to manufacturing, which is in recession.