Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week
1. President Donald Trump’s Defense Team Begins Their Opening Arguments
President Donald Trump’s lawyers began their opening arguments in the impeachment trial on January 25, accusing Democrats of asking senators to “tear up” the ballots of the upcoming election while having “no evidence” to support the president’s removal from office. White House counsel Pat Cipollone indicated to senators that the initial arguments would seek to directly rebut the evidence presented by Democratic impeachment managers the previous three days. He also sought to portray the consequences of impeaching Trump in grave terms. “They’re asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election but, as I’ve said before, they’re asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election that’s occurring in approximately nine months,” Cipollone said. “I don’t think they spent one minute of their 24 hours talking to you about the consequences of that for our country.” President Trump’s defense team has 24 hours over three days to make its arguments. While Democrats used nearly the full time allotted for their opening arguments this week, Cipollone said he did not expect the defense to do the same and that their presentations would be “efficient.”
Pat Cipollone, his deputies Michael Purpura and Patrick Philbin, and President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow handled the speaking roles on January 25. They came armed with video clips of selected testimony to undercut specific arguments presented by House managers, seeking to paint the case against Trump as flimsy and based on cherry-picked evidence. “I am not going to continue to go over and over and over again the evidence that they did not put before you because we would be here for a lot longer than 24 hours,” Sekulow said. Trump’s team made the rough transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a central part of its early arguments. House impeachment managers similarly relied on the transcript in building their case, turning the five-page document into a Rorschach test for those trying to determine the President’s fate. Cipollone claimed that Democrats misrepresented the call, including by ignoring portions that showed Trump talking about burden-sharing and corruption.
The lawyers also zeroed in on storylines that will satisfy President Donald Trump. They raised questions about the credibility of the anonymous whistleblower who raised concerns about the Ukraine call, attacked lead impeachment manager House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), and painted the President as a victim of the agents who investigated his campaign’s contacts with Russia. The attorneys quickly showed a clip of Schiff reading a parody account of the call, claiming it was “fake,” an early indication they would focus on criticizing Democrats in an effort to drive home their claim that the impeachment inquiry was motivated by partisan interests. The use of the clip is likely to satisfy Trump. The president spent the days after Schiff made the comments calling for the congressman’s resignation and suggesting he committed treason. Even months after the September hearing, Trump continues to bring up Schiff’s comments in interviews when railing against the impeachment proceedings.
2. Major Protests Break Out In Iraq In Response To Continued US Presence In The Country
Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Baghdad on January 24 calling for US troops to leave Iraq, heeding the call of powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who called for a “Million Man March.” Families and children held aloft signs that read “no, no to America” and “no, no to occupation” amid a sea of Iraqi flags. A heavy security presence surrounded the path of the march, as well as the Green Zone which houses the US embassy. The Green Zone has been the site of multiple rocket attacks that have increased in frequency since a US attack in Baghdad killed Iran’s most powerful military general, Qasem Soleimani, and the Iran-backed Iraqi commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The targeted killing of both Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on January 3 sparked growing calls for US troops to leave the country, as many Iraqis criticized what they see as a breach of its sovereignty. Iraq’s parliament voted to expel the US military from the country following the attack, but the Trump administration has said it does not intend to pull troops out.
At the rally, Muqtada al-Sadr reiterated calls for US troops to leave the country in a bid to steer clear of “another war.” Iraqi President Barham Salih tweeted an image of the protest. “Iraqis insist on a state with complete sovereignty that will not be breached,” tweeted Salih. Protesters carried posters with caricatures of US President Donald Trump. One showed Trump on the back of a tank, his head sticking out of a ballot box, an apparent reference to the upcoming US election.
Thurgham al-Tamimi arrived at the protests from the Shi’a holy city of Karbala with his two children, his wife, and his father. “We came here to answer the call of the nation,” he said. “Our country is exposed to foreign interference from East and West,” an apparent reference to both Iran, which has developed a reputation as Iraq’s strongest ally and defender since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the US. “We don’t want any country to decide the fate of Iraq. We want to see Iraq with full sovereignty,” he added. Some protesters said they also wished to shake off Iran’s political influence in the country. “We don’t want Iran in Iraq either. We respect them as a neighbor but they should not have a say in Iraq and no one should interfere in our internal affairs,” said Um Ahmed, who declined to disclose her full name. “No to America, and no to Iran. Iraq is for Iraqis,” she added.
At the rally, Iraqi citizens criticized President Donald Trump’s targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani and said they feared becoming caught in the middle of a war between the US and Iran. Many across Iraq’s political divide have called on their government to avoid turning the country into a “battleground state.” Iran responded to the US targeted killing by firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US positions in Iraq, resulting in the deaths of some 80 American soldiers. Iraq has also been mired in an internal political crisis, with thousands of anti-government protesters taking to the streets. The demonstrators have protested against corruption perceived as widespread, and object to Iran’s growing influence in the country.
3. In Another Sign Of The Growing Ties Between Both Countries, Israel Announces That It Will Permit Its Citizens To Freely Travel To Saudi Arabia
In an apparent sign of the improving relationship between both countries, Israel on January 25 announced it would permit Israeli citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for the first time, under certain conditions. Israel’s Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri, after consulting with the country’s security establishment, issued a statement saying Israelis would be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia under two circumstances: For religious reasons, on a pilgrimage for the Hajj, or up to 90 days for business reasons. Travelers would still need permission from Saudi authorities, the statement said. Israelis, mostly from among the country’s Arab citizens, currently do travel to Saudi Arabia. But Israel had never granted official approval for travel by both Jewish and Muslim Israelis.
The statement comes after US President Donald Trump invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party, to Washington, DC. The Israeli leaders are set to hear details of the Trump Administration’s long-delayed peace plan ahead of an Israeli election in March of 2020, the third in less than a year. The launch of Trump’s plan to end the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine has been delayed numerous times over the past two years. The political aspects of the initiative have been closely guarded. Only the economic proposals, including a $50 billion investment plan put forward by President Trump’s close adviser Jared Kushner, have been unveiled. Palestinian leaders have thus far been critical of the plan, noting that it is one-sided in nature and, in effect, will legitimize Israel’s human rights abuses against the Palestinian people.
4. Supreme Court Allows Trump Administration to Implement Income-Based Restrictions on Immigration
The Supreme Court issued an order on January 27 allowing the Trump administration to begin enforcing new limits on immigrants who are considered likely to become overly dependent on government benefit programs. The court voted 5-4. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan said they would have left a lower court ruling in place that blocked enforcement while a legal challenge works its way through the courts.
The Department of Homeland Security announced in August of 2019 that it would expand the definition of “public charge,” to be applied to people whose immigration to the US could be denied because of a concern that they would primarily depend on the government for their income. In the past, that was largely based on an assessment that an immigrant would be dependent upon cash benefits. But the Trump administration proposed to broaden the definition to include noncash benefits, such as Medicaid, supplemental nutrition and federal housing assistance. Anyone who would be likely to require that broader range of help for more than 12 months in any three-year period would be swept into the expanded definition. But in response to a lawsuit filed by New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New York City and immigrant aid groups, a federal judge in New York imposed a nationwide injunction, blocking the government from enforcing the broader rule. Congress never meant to consider the kind of time limit the government proposed, the judge said, and the test has always been whether an immigrant would become primarily dependent on cash benefits.
The government has long had the authority to block immigrants who were likely to become public charges, but the term has never been formally defined. The DHS proposed to fill that void, adding noncash benefits and such factors as age, financial resources, employment history, education, and health. The acting deputy secretary of the DHS, Ken Cuccinelli, said the proposed rules would reinforce “the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America.” Two federal appeals courts, the 9th Circuit in the West and the 4th Circuit in the Mid-Atlantic, declined to block the new rule. They noted that the law allows designating someone as inadmissible if “in the opinion of” the Secretary of Homeland Security, that person would be “likely at any time to become a public charge,” which the courts said gives the government broad authority.
The Trump administration urged the Supreme Court to lift the nationwide injunction imposed by the New York trial judge, given that two appeals courts have come to the opposite conclusion. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas said that district court judges have been issuing nationwide injunctions much more often. They called on their colleagues to review the practice, which they said has spread “chaos for the litigants, the government, the courts, and all those affected by these conflicting decisions.” But the challengers of the public charge rule urged the justices to keep the stay in place. They said lifting it now, while the legal battle is still being waged, “would inject confusion and uncertainty” to the immigration system and could deter millions of noncitizens from applying for public benefits.