Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Mass Shootings in US States of Ohio and Texas Stun Nations, Reignite Gun Control Debate
Twenty people were killed and dozens more injured in a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where thousands were shopping early in the morning on August 3. Witnesses described hearing endless gunshots as they fled or took cover inside the store. Shortly before opening fire, the El Paso shooter, a 21-year-old from suburban Dallas named Patrick Crusius, appears to have posted a manifesto on 8chan, a message board popular with far-right political groups in the US. The manifesto opens with a statement of support for Brenton Tarrant, who earlier this year killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Tarrant’s manifesto, which propounded a belief in “The Great Replacement”, a far-right conspiracy theory that holds that feckless Western elites are “replacing” those of European descent with non-white immigrants.
Patrick Crusius wrote that his attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”, a state that until 1836 was part of Mexico. El Paso itself has long been majority Latino. It forms part of a huge binational conurbation, of which Juárez, just across the border in Mexico, comprises the larger part. He claimed that Texas risks becoming “a Democrat stronghold”, but condemned both major political parties. (He suggested, however, that “At least with Republicans, the process of mass immigration and citizenship could be greatly reduced.”) He also sounded anti-corporatist themes and warned of environmental collapse and automation of jobs. He objected to being called a white supremacist, but railed against immigration, diversity and “race-mixing.” Crusius further advocated dividing the US “into a confederacy of territories with at least 1 territory for each race.”
Barely 13 hours after the slaughter in El Paso, a lone gunman in Dayton, Ohio, attacked the Oregon District, a popular downtown nightlife spot, on August 4, killing nine people and wounding an additional 27. Nearby officers heard gunfire and responded within approximately 20 seconds of the first shot, according to Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl. The suspected gunman, 24-year-old Connor Stephen Betts, was killed by police. His younger sister, 22-year-old Megan Betts, was among the first victims. Authorities do not believe the attack was motivated by bias or linked to the El Paso shooting, but they are looking at the connection Betts had with his sister and a companion she was with, who was shot and injured.
The brutal and callous nature of the shootings was met with immediate condemnation by political leaders on both sides of the aisle. President Donald Trump offered his condolences to the victims of both shootings, telling reporters after leaving his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 4 that “Hate has no place in our country.” But some Democrats have laid responsibility for the shooting at President Trump’s feet, blaming his rhetoric for inciting violence. “He doesn’t just tolerate, he encourages the kind of open racism and the violence that necessarily follows, that we saw here in El Paso, Texas,” Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman who lives in El Paso, said regarding President Trump’s reaction to the shootings
President Donald Trump, who praised the work of his administration in combating mass shootings but also suggested that “perhaps more has to be done,” said he would deliver another statement on the attacks on August 5. Some of the solutions mentioned by President Trump and the Republican Party include limiting the spread of violent video games (which many social conservatives falsely view as a motivating factor for mass shootings), promoting traditional family values, and increasing the presence of armed security officers in public places. On the contrary, Democratic lawmakers have called for the implementation of stronger gun control measures such as expanded background checks and limiting sales of firearms to individuals with mental health issues. Additionally, Democratic lawmakers have called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back from August recess and hold a vote on gun control legislation, something that Senator McConnell has been unwilling to do.
2. In Second Democratic Debates, Biden, Warren, Sanders surge, Harris Loses Ground
On July 30 and July 31, the Democratic Presidential candidates gathered in Detroit for the second of an estimated twelve debates that will play a role in determining the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2020. Due to the sheer number of candidates running (31 in total as of August 2019). the Democratic National Committee (DNC) agreed to split the first few debates into two nights, with ten candidates included assuming that they meet criteria related to donors and polling. The candidates included in the first debate night included Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney, Pete Buttigieg, John Hickenlooper, Marianne Williamson, Beto O’ Rourke, Tim Ryan, and Steve Bullock. On the other hand, the candidates included in the second night of debates included Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jay Inslee, Michael Bennet, and Bill de Blasio.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were at the forefront of the first debate, and defended their progressive ideologies and fought back against the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party. Both Sanders and Warren represent some of the most progressive ideologies of the Democratic Party, and are known best for their unapologetic embrace of aggressive plans to overhaul health care, higher education, childcare, and the economy. Representing the moderate wing of the Democratic Party in the debate were Congressman Tim Ryan and former Congressman John Delaney, who attacked progressive policies such as the Green New Deal and Medicare-For-All as impractical, instead calling for more gradual reforms in the area of healthcare and environmental policy.
During the second night of the debates, the focus was on former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris, who at last month’s debate assailed Biden’s past record on Civil Rights issues and propelled herself into the top tier of candidates. Harris was back with fresh ammunition about Biden’s stances on criminal justice reform and other key issues, but the former Vice President was prepared this time. Biden began his new approach with a rather cryptic aside to Harris during the introductions, saying with a grin: “Go easy on me, kid.” Harris was in no mood to take it easy, highlighting among other issues the number of deportations carried out while Biden was vice president. Biden came back with a defense of former President Barack Obama’s overall approach to immigration, including his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative for DREAMers. But Biden did not directly answer her accusation regarding deportations. Instead, he compared his own position on busing in an earlier decade to a position Harris herself had advocated at one time. When she criticized him for supporting legislation that swelled the ranks of federal prisoners, Biden came back at Harris’ reputation as a tough criminal prosecutor in California.
According to post-debate polling, former Vice President Joe Biden remains the clear front-runner from the Democratic nomination, with anywhere from 21-33% of overall support. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are currently ranked in second and third place respectively and saw their poll numbers increased due to their strong debate performances. On the other hand, Kamala Harris has seen her poll numbers decline, perhaps due to the lack of a breakout moment in the most recent debate. Additionally, several commentators declared that Marianne Williamson and Cory Booker had breakout performances as well that may translate into higher poll numbers. The next Democratic debate is scheduled for early September and has a higher qualifying threshold than the first two. The qualification to appear in the next debate is that an individual candidate needs to hit 2 percent in four recent polls from approved organizations and to have at least 130,000 donors. Currently, only eight candidates say that they have met that threshold: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, Booker, Beto O’Rourke, and Amy Klobuchar. A few more may make the cut too, but several will surely miss it, and with no future national platform likely, they may decide to bring their campaigns to an end.
3. Trump Administration Places Sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in the latest Escalation of Tensions Between the US & Iran
On July 31, the Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, striking at the main diplomatic channel between Iran and the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Zarif had been targeted because he acted on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “Foreign Minister Zarif is a key enabler of Ayatollah Khamenei’s policies throughout the region and around the world,” Pompeo said in a written statement. “The designation of Javad Zarif today reflects this reality.” In a Twitter post, Pompeo added: “He’s just as complicit in the regime’s outlaw behavior as the rest of [Khamenei’s] mafia.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif responded quickly to the new sanctions, shrugging off the significance of the US move. “The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s ‘primary spokesperson around the world’ Is the truth really that painful?” he asked in a Twitter post. “It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran. Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.” Additionally, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the move was “childish” and a barrier to diplomacy.
Shortly after the Trump Administration announced the sanctions on Zarif, National Security Advisor John Bolton said the US would renew sanctions waivers for Iranian nuclear programs that allow Russia, China, and European countries to continue their civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran. “I think the idea here is we are watching those nuclear activities very, very closely,” Bolton said in an interview on Fox Business Network. “So this is a short 90-day extension,” he said. A report in the Washington Post last week said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, had argued for renewing the waivers over the objections of Pompeo and Bolton because if they were not renewed, the US would have to sanction Russian, Chinese and European firms involved in projects inside Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.
The administration had first threatened to sanction Mohammed Javad Zarif last month but relented to allow him to, while strictly limiting his freedom of movement when traveling to the US. During his stay in New York, the Iranian Foreign Minister is reported to have met Senator Rand Paul, who Donald Trump had said was seeking to help negotiations between the two countries. Zarif was the chief Iranian negotiator of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOPA), which President Donald Trump withdrew from last May. In the face of mounting US efforts to kill the agreement, the Iranian diplomat continued to meet his counterparts from countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and China, who have been anxious to keep the deal afloat and expand trade and cultural ties with Iran.