OurWeek in Politics (March 19, 2019-March 26, 2019)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:

1. The Long-Awaited Mueller Report Is Released, Finding No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Collusion in the 2016 Election

The log-awaited Mueller report was released this week, finding no direct evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump’s 2016 Campaign and the Russian government.

The two-year long investigation led by Robert Mueller found no evidence that President Donald Trump or any of his aides coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference, according to a summary of the special counsel’s key findings made public on March 24. Mueller, who spent nearly two years investigating Russia’s effort to sabotage the 2016 Presidential Election, found no conspiracy “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign,” Barr wrote in a letter to lawmakers. Mueller’s team drew no conclusions about whether President Trump illegally obstructed justice, Barr said, so he made his own decision. The Attorney General and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, determined that the special counsel’s investigators had insufficient evidence to establish that the president committed that offense. Attorney General Barr cautioned, however, that Mueller’s report states that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” on the obstruction of justice issue.

The release of the findings was a significant political victory for President Donald Trump and lifted a cloud that has hung over his Presidency since before he took the oath of office. It is also likely to alter discussion in Congress about the fate of the Trump presidency, as some Democrats had pledged to wait until the special counsel finished his work before deciding whether to initiate impeachment proceedings. President Trump and his supporters trumpeted the news almost immediately, even as they mischaracterized the special counsel’s findings. “It was a complete and total exoneration,” Trump told reporters in Florida before boarding Air Force One. “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.” Trump added, “This was an illegal takedown that failed.”

Attorney General William Barr’s letter was the culmination of a tense two days since Robert Mueller delivered his report to the Justice Department. Barr spent the weekend poring over the special counsel’s work, as President Donald Trump strategized with lawyers and political aides. Hours later, Barr delivered his letter describing the special counsel’s findings to Congress. Barr’s letter said that his “goal and intent” was to release as much of the Mueller report as possible, but warned that some of the reports were based on grand jury material that “by law cannot be made public.” Barr planned at a later date to send lawmakers the detailed summary of Mueller’s full report that the attorney general is required under law to deliver to Capitol Hill. Despite the comprehensive nature of the report on the Mueller investigation, many Congressional Democrats expressed concern regarding its findings. For example, shortly after the release of the Mueller findings, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a Twitter post that he planned to call Barr to testify about what he said were “very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department.”

2. Trump recognizes Golan Heights as Israeli Territory

In a widely-denounced move, President Donald Trump recognized Israeli control over the Golan Heights on March 25.

On March 25, US President Donald Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights in an election boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prompting a sharp response from Syria and Lebanon, which once held the strategic land. With Netanyahu looking over his shoulder at the White House, President Trump signed a proclamation officially granting US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, a dramatic shift from decades of US policy. The move, which Trump announced in a Twitter post last Thursday, appeared to be the most overt gesture by the Republican Party to help Netanyahu, who had been pressing Trump for the move since February 2017. Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981 in a move condemned by the UN. In signing the proclamation, President Donald Trump said that, “This was a long time in the making.” Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s action and said Israel had never had a better friend as US President. Additionally, Netanyahu harkened back to the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War in justifying Israel’s need to hang on to the Golan. “Just as Israel stood tall in 1967, just as it stood tall in 1973, Israel stands tall today. We hold the high ground and we should never give it up,” he said.

Overall, the international reaction to President Donald Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli Territory was overwlmingly negative. Both Syria and Lebanon reacted swiftly to Trump’s proclamation, calling it a “blatant attack” on their sovereignty and territorial integrity and saying it had a right to reclaim the Golan. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has refused to talk to the United States since Trump ordered the U.S. embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, expressed his “absolute rejection” of the Golan move in a statement issued by the Palestinian Authority news service Wafa. “The presidency reaffirmed that sovereignty is not decided by either the US or Israel no matter how long the occupation lasts,” the statement said. Moreover, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani harshly criticized President Donald Trump for recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel and said the move was against international law. “No one could imagine that a person in America comes and gives the land of a nation to another occupying country, against international laws and conventions. Such action is unprecedented in the current century,” Rouhani said in a statement. Additionally, several staunch allies of the US and Israel including France, the UK, Germany, and Saudi Arabia similarly condemned President Trump’s Actions.

3. Trump Administration Announces Support for Judicial Efforts to Overturn Obamacare

The Trump Administration announced its intention to convince the courts to overturn the Affordable Car Act (“Obamacare”) on March 25.

In a significant shift, the Trump Administration says that it backs a full invalidation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare“), the signature Obama-era health law. The Justice Department presented its position in a legal filing on March 25 with the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, where an appeal is pending in a case challenging the measure’s constitutionality. A federal judge in Texas ruled in December that the law’s individual mandate “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power” and further found that the remaining portions of the law are void. He based his judgment on changes to the nation’s tax laws made by Congressional Republicans in 2017.

If the Trump Administration’s position prevails, it would potentially eliminate health care for millions of people and disrupt the US health-care system, from removing no-charge preventive services for older Americans on Medicare to voiding the expansion of Medicaid in most states. A court victory would also fulfill Republican promises to undo a prized domestic accomplishment of the previous administration but leave no substitute in place.

The change comes as newly empowered Democrats in the House have vowed to protect Obamacare from Republican attacks. In midterm races last fall that restored their majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats hammered their rivals for pursuing an eight-year crusade against the law, commonly known as Obamacare. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pledged in a Twitter post on March 25 that Democrats would “fight relentlessly” to preserve “affordable, dependable health care.” “Trump and his administration are trying to take health care away from tens of millions of Americans,” warned Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is among the Democratic aspirants who have signaled support for a Medicare-for-all system. In 2020, Harris added, “we need to elect a president who will make health care a right.”

4. Senate Blocks “Green New Deal” in Partisan Vote

The Senate this week blocked a vote on the “Green New Deal,” a progressive climate change legislative program championed by Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortes and Senator Ed Markey

On March 26, the Senate blocked the Green New Deal, a progressive climate change resolution that Republicans view as prime fodder heading into the 2020 presidential election. The Senate voted 0-57 on taking up the resolution, with 43 Democrats voting present. The measure was widely expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the procedural hurdle. Most Democrats were expected to vote present, a move that allowed them to avoid taking a formal position. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Doug Jones (D-AL) and Angus King (I-ME) voted with Republicans against the measure. Republicans have seized on the measure as an example of Democrats shifting to the left ahead of next year’s presidential election. Every Democratic senator running for the party’s nomination in 2020 has co-sponsored the Senate Green New Deal resolution.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) lashed out at the proposal ahead of the vote on Tuesday, calling it an item on the “far-left wish list that many of our Democratic colleagues have rushed to embrace.” “The American people will see, they will see which of their senators can do the common sense thing and vote no on this destructive socialist daydream. And they will see which senators are so fully committed to a radical left-wing ideology that they can’t even vote no on self-inflicted economic ruin,” he said. The resolution, introduced last month by Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), strives for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States while creating millions of “good, high-wage jobs.” It faced pushback from conservatives as well as some Democrats for being too broad and including wishlist items not directly related to climate change, like expanding family farming and transitioning away from air travel.

Leading into March 26’s vote, Democrats accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of trying to set up a “gotcha” vote since no hearings were held on the fast-tracked legislation, which was widely expected to fail to get the 60 votes needed to ultimately pass the Senate. Speaking at a rally early on March 26, Senator Markey blasted Republicans for putting on a “sham vote.” “They are calling a vote without hearings, without expert testimony, without any true discussion of the costs of climate inaction and the massive potential for clean energy job creation in our country. And that is because Senator McConnell wants to sabotage the call for climate action,” Markey said. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) added that Republicans were making “a mockery of the legislative process” by bringing the Green New Deal resolution up for a vote just to have the Senate vote it down. “Republicans want to force this political stunt to distract from the fact that they neither have a plan nor a sense of urgency to deal with the threat of climate change. … It’s a political act. It’s a political stunt,” Schumer said.

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the author

Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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