Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. US Court of Appeals Finds President Trump’s Blocking of Twitter Critics Unconstitutional
President Donald Trump violated the Constitution by blocking people whose views he disliked from his Twitter account, a federal appeals court ruled on July 9. In a unanimous decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City said the First Amendment forbids President Trump from using Twitter’s “blocking” function to limit access to his account, which has nearly 62 million followers. “The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees,” wrote Circuit Judge Barrington Parker, citing several Supreme Court decisions. Kelly Laco, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, which argued in favor of the appeal stated that “we are disappointed with the court’s decision and are exploring possible next steps.”
President Donald Trump has made his @RealDonaldTrump account, which he opened in early 2009, a central and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his rabid, racist, far-right agenda and to ruthlessly attack even his most minor critics. President Trump’s blocking of critics was challenged by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, as well as seven Twitter users he had blocked. “The decision will help ensure the integrity and vitality of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy,” said Jameel Jaffer, Knight’s executive director.
The decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a May 2018 ruling by District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, which prompted Trump to unblock some accounts. The Justice Department had called her ruling “fundamentally misconceived,” saying that President Trump used Twitter to express his views, not to offer a public forum for discussion. Parker, however, said Trump’s account bears “all the trappings of an official, state-run account” and is “one of the White House’s main vehicles for conducting official business.” He said Trump and his aides have characterized the President’s tweets as official statements, and that even the National Archives considers them official records. Parker also found it ironic that Trump censored speech at a time the conduct of the US government and its officials is subject to intense, passionate and wide-open debate. “This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” he wrote. “We remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to a disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”
2. Iran Exceeds Uranium Enrichment Limit in 2015 Nuclear Deal
On July 9, Iran began enriching uranium to 4.5%, barely breaking the limit set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while it is still seeking a way for Europe to help it bypass US sanctions amid heightened tensions between both Iran and the US. The acknowledgment comes just days after Iran acknowledged breaking the 300-kilogram (661-pound) limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile, another term of the accord. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog organization, confirmed that Iran surpassed the enrichment threshold. Experts warn that higher enrichment and a growing stockpile could begin to narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic weapon, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented. While the steps now taken by Iran remain quickly reversible, Europe so far has struggled to respond.
The actions by Iran come at a time of steadily increasing tensions between the US and Iran, as well as speculation by foreign policy observers that a miscalculation in the crisis could explode into open conflict. President Donald Trump, who withdrew the US from the JCPOA over a year ago and re-imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran, and nearly declared war on the country last month after Iran allegedly shot down an (unarmed) US military surveillance drone. China, engaged in delicate trade negotiations with the White House, openly criticized America’s policy toward Iran. “What I want to emphasize is that the maximum pressure the U.S. imposes on Iran is the root cause of the crisis in the Iranian nuclear issue,” said Geng Shuang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman. “It has been proven that unilateral bullying has become a worsening tumor and is creating more problems and greater crises on a global scale.” After the announcement, President Trump warned that “Iran better be careful.” He did not elaborate on what actions the US might consider but told reporters: “Iran’s doing a lot of bad things.”
Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran has been closely monitored by inspectors from the IAEA, which on July 8 verified “that Iran is enriching uranium above 3.67%.” Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency, confirmed the increased enrichment. “At the moment our enrichment is at around 4.5%,” Kamalvandi said. Kamalvandi separately hinted in a state TV interview that Iran might consider going to 20% enrichment or higher as a third step if the material is needed and the country still has not gotten what it wants from Europe. That would worry nuclear nonproliferation experts because 20% is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels of 90%. Kamalvandi also suggested using new or more centrifuges, which are limited by the deal. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran appreciated the efforts of some nations to save the deal but offered a jaded tone on whether Tehran trusted anyone in the negotiations. “We have no hope nor trust in anyone, nor any country, but the door of diplomacy is open,” Mousavi said.
3. House of Representatives Votes to Condemn President Trump for Racist Twitter Remarks
A divided House of Representatives voted late on July 16 to condemn President Donald Trump’s racist remarks telling four minority congresswomen to “go back” to their ancestral countries, with all but a handful of Republicans dismissing the rebuke as harassment while many Democrats pressed their leaders for harsher punishment of the President. The vote in favor of the resolution was 240-187. Ultimately, only four Republicans broke ranks: Will Hurd (R-TX), the lone black Republican in the House; Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Fred Upton (R-MI) joined Democrats in backing the resolution. Independent Congressman Justin Amash, who left the Republican Party several weeks ago, also voted for it. Six Republicans did not vote.
In response to the proceedings by Congress, President Donald Trump insisted in a string of tweets that he is not a racist. “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” he wrote, and the top two Republicans in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made identical statements when pressed on Trump’s remarks. President Trump also lashed out at the four Democratic congresswomen who were the target of his initial racist tweet: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), accusing them of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful, and disgusting things ever said by a politician in the House or Senate.” The Republican National Committee provided a list of comments to bolster Trump’s contention, but in none did the four women say they hate America, as the President has asserted. Three of the lawmakers were born in the US, and Omar is a naturalized US citizen who was born in Somalia. “I know racism when I see it. I know racism when I feel it. And at the highest levels of government, there is no room for racism,” Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who fought for civil rights in the 1960s, said in the final minutes of the House debate.
In his latest tweets, President Donald Trump accused the four lawmakers of being “Horrible anti-Israel, anti-USA, pro-terrorist” and took issue with the “public shouting of the F . . . word, among many other terrible things.” Speaking to reporters at the end of a Cabinet meeting at the White House on July 16, President Trump held up papers and claimed to have “a list of things here said by the Congresswomen that is so bad, so horrible that I almost don’t want to read it.” Asked where the four House Democratic congresswomen should go if they did leave the United States, Trump said “wherever they want, or they can stay.” “But they should love our country. They shouldn’t hate our country,” he said. All four lawmakers have called for President Trump’s impeachment, and Tlaib has done so using profane language.
In a Tweet on July 16, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents a district that includes part of the borough where President Donald Trump was born (Queens) took issue with the President’s contention that he is not a racist. “You’re right, Mr. President — you don’t have a racist bone in your body,” she wrote. “You have a racist mind in your head, and a racist heart in your chest.” While Democrats united behind the resolution, with Pelosi casting it as backing “our sisters,” many rank-and-file members said they wanted to do more. Dozens signed on to a censure resolution filed by Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN), who called Trump’s comments “opprobrious” and deserving of serious rebuke. Censure, Congressman Cohen said, would put Trump alongside President Andrew Jackson, who was censured by the Senate in 1834. “We should put him where he wants to be — with a president who was racist, who had slaves, and led to the Trail of Tears against Native American Indians,” he said.
4. Federal Judge Signs Order Blocking a Citizenship Question From the 2020 Census
A federal judge in New York on July 16 signed an order permanently blocking the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, days after President Donald Trump gave up on his efforts to get such a question on next year’s census. The order, signed by Judge Jesse Furman, was jointly drafted by the parties opposing the citizenship question. It stops administration officials “from including a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census questionnaire; from delaying the process of printing the 2020 decennial census questionnaire after June 30, 2019 for the purpose of including a citizenship question; and from asking persons about citizenship status on the 2020 census questionnaire or otherwise asking a citizenship question as part of the 2020 decennial census.” The order also states that Furman, an Obama appointee, will be able to enforce the order “until the 2020 census results are processed and sent to the President by December 31, 2020.”
The parties in the case, including the state of New York and the American Civil Liberties Union, told Furman in a letter filed that they had written the proposed order and that the Justice Department “does not oppose” the judge signing it. The letter points to an executive order issued by Trump last week that directs federal agencies to provide records relating to citizenship to the Commerce Department, after determining there was “no practical mechanism for including the [citizenship] question on the 2020 decennial census.” Furman had initially ruled against the question’s inclusion on the 2020 census, an order upheld by the Supreme Court last month. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in last month’s 5-4 decision that the reason for the question’s inclusion, enforcing the Voting Rights Act, was “contrived” and blocked it from appearing on the census for the time being, unless officials provided a rationale in line with the evidence in the case.
Opponents of the citizenship question have argued that including it on the census would lead to an undercount of minority groups, particularly Hispanics and immigrants, and an overall inaccurate count of the US population. Disputes over the question are not over quite yet, as the House of Representatives is set to vote this week on a resolution to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas relating to the citizenship question.