What’s going on? New Year starts in US Politics
While the battle-filled 2018 has passed, the debates continue into the new year. 2019 begins with the longest government shutdown in US history, Nancy Pelosi becoming the speaker, and the US military pulling out from Syria.
The new class in Congress
The November Midterms established the 116th class of Congress. Democratic electoral gains saw the Democratic party taking control of the house, having 36 more seats than the Republicans. With this advantage, they can select the ever-important Speaker of the House
Despite Pelosi being the favoured candidate for Speaker, a group of Democratic Representatives attempted to oppose her leadership, reflecting a move against the establishment, however, it was suppressed as quick as it formed. Pelosi’s persuasion led to her being the only official candidate on the Democratic side, but she has won with only 220 votes compared to 192 for Republican nominee Kevin McCarthy. The ladder became the House Minority Leader defeating his contender Jim Jordan in a vote behind closed doors 159-43.
As the previous Congress could not come up with a budget for the next fiscal year that would satisfy all sides, the new class has been tasked with this responsibility. Despite a change in leadership in the House, the main problem with passing the budget remains, meaning the President and his demands for funding for the Border Wall. Theoretically, the House and the Senate could override the Presidential Veto by a two-thirds majority in both houses, but it does not seem probable.
Since Trump’s presidency, the government has been in shutdown three times. Whether it is caused by the President’s nonconformist deal-making methods or his stubbornness, the number is unprecedented. Both the House and Senate members reached consensus a few times, but the attempts to do the same with the President has not been successful so far.
The two issues driving the shutdown are Immigration, (specifically the funding for the infamous Wall). Donald Trump regards the wall as one of his biggest campaign promises, believing it is a policy that needs to be addressed and he expresses how crucial it is for the country’s security. Furthermore, his fight may be partly intended to be a show of power, aimed at both convincing the American people that he is not going to conforming to the Democrat-led House and to show his strength before the 2020 elections.
Polls show that only 36% of voters think the wall issue is worth a shutdown. However, it is worth noting that government employees are not paid when the government is in shutdown. Approximately 800 000 employees are not being paid, including 420 000 still performing their duties. To put it into perspective it is as if everyone in Philadelphia who is employed, was not paid. This causes a wide range of issues, from federal employees not being able to pay for their mortgages, utilities, or rent, up to not having enough gas money to fill their tank to drive their children to school.
Additionally, reports from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices show that only six people from the Federal Database on Terrorism have attempted to cross the border, with 0 . These numbers are much lower than the 4000 alleged by the White House. Similarly, misleading information has been given about rates of other criminals encountered by the CBP and the Department of Homeland Security.
Pulling out of Syria
In mid-December, Donald Trump declared US victory over ISIS in Syria and subsequently announced that US forces are going to pull out of Syria.
This has sparked criticism from Trump’s allies and aides, including Defence Secretary James Mattis, which prompted his resignation. Among the concerns, one of the most prevalent ones is that US allies, the Kurds, will be left alone in the region. Turkey perceives them as terrorists and with increased Turkish military presence the Kurds are in danger of facing a new opponent, just after a long fight against ISIS. President Erdogan has so far sent mixed signals on whether he is going to respect the Kurdish sovereignty or not.
The situation became even more problematic since National Security Advisor John Bolton’s trip to Turkey and his conversation with President Erdogan. Instead of assurance of Turkish non-aggression towards the Kurds, the Turkish leader expressed their readiness for a full-on offensive. This led to Michael Bolton pledging that the US will not withdraw from Syria unless they are sure Kurdish sovereignty is secured.
New Year Same Divisions
Along with partisan divides, 2019 has so also illuminated internal party divisions. This is apparent among the Democrats with the need to accommodate the more radical left, young, progressive wing of the party. For example, progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ro Khanna have recently opposed the PAYGO system, which offsets new spending b by matching cuts or increases in revenue. Other policy focuses of the 116th Democratic class include a 70% tax on the rich and revisiting the idea of a Green New Deal, which is a project radically changing the US industry to more environmentally friendly, through large government-fund projects and regulation.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Republicans remain divided by Trump’s policies, which continue to create rifts and fracture caucuses. It’s no secret that the established GOP members are concerned about the damage Trump’s presidency is doing to the Republican image, but this disapproval seems to concentrate around the Border Wall. The Centrists perceive it as useless and morally questionable, while the conservatives think it’s financially unreasonable. Both think that such an amount of money spent on something that has no proof of working is not worth furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal employees.
The opposition has not changed the President’s position. He has recently expressed the possibility of declaring the state of emergency that gives him full control over for example military spending, meaning the military could build the wall without going through Congress. Despite the idea of having some popularity, it was criticised for abusing power.
2019 the year of battles
Internal party divisions will only grow over time due to the impending 2020 Presidential Elections. By now a few major political figures on both sides have declared running. On Democratic side most notably, Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren, with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and former Vice President Joe Biden, and former Representative Beto O’Rourke, expressing their interest. The list of names is still growing, and so is the competition, which may divide the party even further.
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump as the current President has declared to run for reelection so that the race will be mostly Trump vs The Rest. His opposition so far is much smaller, with Former Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, and Governor John Kasich.
We do not know how the year 2019 is going to end, but we can already predict that it’s will be marred by battles both inside and between the major Parties.