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Amy Coney Barrett’s expected nomination to Supreme Court is a perfect reflection of the divisions in U.S. politics – The Globe and Mail

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This image provided by Rachel Malehorn shows Judge Amy Coney Barrett in Milwaukee, on Aug. 24, 2018. (Rachel Malehorn, rachelmalehorn.smugmug.com, via AP)

The Canadian Press

Now, the 2020 effort to fill the Supreme Court seat once held by a jurist famed for her love of the opera takes on the air if not the arias of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1867 Don Carlo: a mix of death and politics.

Already, Washington is braced for dramatics worthy of La Scala, created by a set of unlikely stage circumstances worthy of the most imaginative librettos.

A year ago, nobody expected the leitmotif of this U.S. election year to be a once-obscure respiratory ailment with the ungainly name COVID-19. Seven months ago, few expected former vice-president Joe Biden, three-quarters of a century old and looking every year of it, to be the designated saviour of the Democrats in the Donald Trump era.

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And only a week ago, nobody expected the election to turn on the destiny of Amy Coney Barrett.

Amy Coney Barrett? An Indiana jurist known to few Americans outside conservative legal circles until late last week, Justice Barrett, 48, was expected to be nominated Saturday by Mr. Trump to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death just more than a week ago of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And if the scales of justice require an elegant balance, then Mr. Trump’s selection fits comfortably opposite Justice Ginsburg on the weighing pan of U.S. jurisprudence.

Though both are women, Justice Barrett – like the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Ginsburg’s opera companion, and the conservative jurist for whom Justice Barrett clerked – is a judicial originalist, the opposite of Justice Ginsburg’s profile as a judicial activist.

Justice Barrett was educated at tiny Rhodes College and the University of Notre Dame, and is a product of Memphis and the Midwest. Justice Ginsburg was educated at Cornell, Harvard and Columbia, the product of the Ivy League and the Eastern establishment. Justice Barrett has qualms about what she derided in a Notre Dame speech as abortion-on-demand and has an expansive view of the Second Amendment that is the basis of widespread gun ownership. Justice Ginsburg was a fervent supporter of abortion rights and didn’t believe the Second Amendment should be interpreted to permit widespread ownership of guns.

It is those differences – the positioning of Justice Barrett on the opposite side of virtually all the vital judicial issues of 21st-century America – that makes her “the nominee that social conservatives have been waiting and fighting for,” as John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney-general in the George W. Bush administration and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, put it.

And that is what so energizes conservatives in the United States and so horrifies liberals.

It is, moreover, those differences that add definition, passion and perhaps direction to an election that, like virtually no other in U.S. history, could turn on the future of the Supreme Court.

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Already, Mr. Biden has tied the Supreme Court confirmation battle to the survival in the high court of the Obamacare health-insurance law, emphasizing the urgency that the issue possesses in the time of the coronavirus. And already, both sides in the abortion battle are stoking passions among their adherents, declaring that abortion rights, established in 1973, now could be in the balance.

To be sure, throughout the past 90 years, the composition of the Supreme Court has been an important issue: in the New Deal years, when the high court ruled on the Great Depression remedies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; in the Dwight Eisenhower years, when the first important racial-integration rulings were handed down; in the Richard Nixon years, when abortion was legalized and the President’s prerogatives were curtailed.

Polls show Mr. Biden holding as much as a 17-point advantage over the President among women, raising the prospect of a record gender gap. Choosing a jurist such as Thomas Hardiman – a moderate that Mr. Trump has considered in the past and whose ideological profile would be less onerous to conservative Democrats in the Senate – would only make it more difficult for Mr. Trump to narrow that gap.

If the very prospect of replacing Justice Ginsburg is a flashpoint in U.S. politics, the selection of Justice Barrett is a lightning strike – a perfect reflection of the divisions in U.S. politics today and of the tensions that define the struggle for the White House. In every way that this nomination mobilizes Democrats infuriated at the President’s selection and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s determination to hold a confirmation vote for Justice Barrett, it also galvanizes conservatives.

She is, in the characterization of conservative Hoover Institution scholar Peter Robinson, “committed to the originalist interpretation of the Constitution, with an extensive and brilliant written record, the correct gender, and has demonstrated the character, resolve and sheer cussed stubbornness to withstand the calumnies of the confirmation hearings.”

Justice Barrett also “helps Trump in the culture wars, especially on behalf of white Christians, and she’s based in the Midwest, where he needs to do well,” said Daniel Urman, a constitutional scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University. Indeed, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California helped ignite sympathy for Justice Barrett and for devout Catholics when she told Justice Barrett during her 2017 nomination hearings for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”

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Ms. Feinstein concluded that “dogma lives loudly” phrase with the words “and that’s a concern.” But that phrase – swiftly seized upon by Catholic and conservative groups, appearing on T-shirts and coffee mugs – is an enormous advantage on the American right.

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Boris Johnson used to be the Teflon man of British politics, brushing off scandals, gaffes and mistakes. Not any more – CNN

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Now Johnson’s plans appear ruined. He’d wanted to use his personal enthusiasm for Brexit to instil a fresh sense of optimism that the UK’s future was brighter outside the European Union. Free from the Brussels bureaucracy, Johnson’s government vowed to address the UK’s socio-economic imbalance that in some sense led to Brexit by “leveling up” deprived areas. He would also seek to strengthen the bond between the four nations of the UK, which had been stretched to near-breaking point amid the bitterness following the 2016 referendum. In short, the man who led the campaign that caused so much division was on a charm offensive to heal the country.
However, 10 months on, his government is short on resources and losing good will. Johnson’s opponents point to numerous errors made early in the pandemic over testing and confusing messaging over lockdowns, the highest death count in Europe and worst recession of any major economy as evidence of his failures. Worse, members of his own party fear that his lack of attention to detail and instinct for combative politics is causing a shift in the PM’s public perception: From affable optimist to incompetent bully who is hopelessly out of his depth. And they worry what long-term damage this might do both to Johnson’s personal mission and the brand of the Conservative party writ large.
One former Conservative cabinet minister and colleague of Johnson, who declined to be named, agreed with this analysis. “To deal with a crisis like this, you need public confidence and you need different bits of the state working together as effectively as possible,” the politician said. “Instead, they have managed to enrage the leadership in Scotland and Wales while picking largely pointless fights with mayors of major cities where Conservatives historically don’t do well. It’s a very strange way of going about uniting the country.”
Over the past week, Johnson has been in a protracted and public spat with the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. Johnson wanted the city to enter the UK’s highest tier of Covid restrictions. Burnham didn’t want this to happen without more financial support from the central government. The whole thing ended in a complete mess, as Johnson’s government didn’t make clear after talks collapsed that the money deemed insufficient by Burnham was still on the table. This led to a televised press conference in which Burnham supposedly found out live on air that the government had withdrawn their offer of £60 million ($78 million) for the city, instead only offering £22 million.
The government claims the whole thing was a set up by Burnham and in fact the minister responsible had talked with him before the press conference.
A government minister told CNN that there is “zero evidence that the PM picked a fight with Burnham,” adding that a central government “naturally has to balance economic and public health issues while local politicians have a much narrower focus,” implying Burnham was playing politics with Johnson.
However, worryingly for Johnson, his personal approval ratings and trust in his government have plummeted sufficiently since the crisis that the truth doesn’t entirely matter.
“When you look at Boris’s personal brand you see dramatic drop-offs in people who think he is likeable and trustworthy since the start of the pandemic. He now lags behind Keir Starmer (leader of the opposition Labour party) on almost all of those metrics,” says Chris Curtis, Political Research Manager at pollster YouGov.
This dip in trust is particularly toxic for Johnson when you combine it with the reputation Conservatives have in parts of the country that historically vote Labour and Johnson was able to pick up seats in last December’s election — the so-called Red Wall.
This reputation was not helped when Johnson found himself in round two of a fight with popular Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford over providing meals for the poorest children during the Christmas holidays this year. On Wednesday night, Johnson directed his party to vote against the proposal.
“People will remember in six or 12 months that the government didn’t seem to care if children went hungry over Christmas during an economic crisis. It costs relatively little to fund compared to other government spending this year,” says Lauren McEvatt, former special adviser to a previous Conservative administration. “It feeds into a narrative which still exists that Conservatives ultimately don’t care as much about poor people.”
What’s perplexed many observers over the Rashford affair is that Johnson had to U-turn earlier this year on exactly the same matter for summer holidays. “This government is like that GIF where Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on the same rakes and whacking himself in the face,” says Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester.
All of which only goes to reopen the question of government competence. “From the start, this government set out to hyper-centralize everything from a small team in Downing Street in order to have a tight grip on the Johnson project,” says a senior Conservative lawmaker. “That means a small group of people are making decisions in areas they might not be experts. That’s hard enough at the best of times, but during a crisis which affects the whole country and is constantly changing, it’s virtually impossible.”
The lawmaker goes on to explain that he thinks they “rely too much on focus groups” in order to appeal to public opinion. “The trouble is, focus groups don’t have much foresight. Something might be very popular one day but six months down the line look like a massive mistake. Normal practice in government is to find the right policy and sell it to the public, not the other way around.”
Numerous current and former Downing Street insiders told CNN that while it was true this government did run a lot of focus groups and deemed them to be very important, opinion was divided on their precise influence over policy making. Some said that decisions were made on the basis of focus groups; some said they helped shape how the government would sell policy to the public; some claimed it had led to major policy U-turns, including over Rashford’s summer campaign. A government official denied this claim.
Boris Johnson visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust  on July 13, 2020 in London.
Whatever the truth, it is hard to deny that Johnson’s credibility has taken a significant hit this year. Many point to a scandal surrounding his most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, as the worst moment of the year. Cummings, having displayed symptoms for Covid, decided to drive hundreds of miles from his home in London when government advice clearly stated that he should self-isolate. Cummings claimed that he did so to provide childcare for his young son.
“They could have killed that story in 48 hours if they said he was desperately worried about his baby and now realizes it was wrong,” says the former cabinet minister. Instead, Cummings gave a bizarre press conference where he defended not only his initial trip, but a further outing in his car which he claimed to merely be testing his eyesight. “The refusal to show any kind of contrition led to a big change of mood. That episode symbolizes what has been wrong about the approach,” the former minister adds.
Whether that’s fair or not, it’s certainly possible to argue the case that the Cummings scandal had three key ingredients: Cock-up; lack of apology; aggressive response. It is also possible to superimpose this playbook onto both the responses to Burnham and Rashford. In the case of the latter, Johnson was not helped by members of his own party implying that some poor parents are feckless and not interested in feeding their children and that children have always gone hungry anyway.
All of this leaves Johnson vulnerable to those who want to paint him as a mean-spirited bully running a shambolic government. “Fairly or unfairly, it does play to the stereotype of Conservatives as not interested in the poor and not interested in the north. This, unfortunately, does really damage his agenda for leveling up, cementing the red wall and defending the union,” says the former minister.
It’s worth pointing out that as things stand, Johnson’s party is still ahead in the polls. A government minister puts this down to the fact that despite all the headlines, Johnson’s real actions present an alternative narrative that voters understand. “If you move away from Covid, all the big announcements we have made are focused on investments in skills, and we didn’t go for austerity 2.0 despite massive pressure. All of these things suggest that leveling up is still the PM’s top priority,” the minister said.
However, despite those polls, Johnson only won his majority last December and that lead has been slipping. And as the crisis continues, many of his previous supporters are increasingly skeptical that Boris Johnson was ever really the man to unite a country divided by political chaos for which he was largely responsible.

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Who Won the Debate? Political Observers Weigh In – The New York Times

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Like other presidents who have slipped in the polls after a widely panned first debate, President Trump was the beneficiary of low expectations on Thursday night in the final debate before the election, a more civil and lower-decibel affair than the last.

But his effort to demonstrate greater discipline was most likely too little, too late to deliver the jolt to the race that he needs to lift his chances for re-election, some of the nation’s top political strategists and other observers said.

Where some saw hope for Mr. Trump, others saw the same candidate facing the same challenging campaign dynamics.

“Nothing changed,” Matthew Dowd, a former top aide to President George W. Bush, said on ABC News. “He wasn’t a bull in a china shop. That doesn’t mean he won the debate.”

Though Mr. Trump needed some kind of breakthrough to overcome former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s lead in the polls, Mr. Dowd said later that he did not see that happen during the course of the 90-minute encounter. “Biden had a lead going in and has a lead leaving,” he wrote on Twitter.

The size of Mr. Biden’s lead, double digits in some national polls, is so large that any good Mr. Trump did to his campaign was probably limited by Mr. Biden’s even performance. “Biden did not do a face plant,” said Charlie Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “That is all he needed to do.”

Ahead of the debate, many analysts saw parallels between Mr. Trump’s underdog position and the high stakes President Barack Obama faced before his second debate in 2012, when he delivered sharper and more forceful rebuttals to Mitt Romney than he had before, and soon rebounded in the polls.

Certainly, many of Mr. Trump’s defenders sought to portray his performance that way on Thursday. Many claimed that he had triumphed over Mr. Biden, seizing on the former vice president’s statement about phasing out fossil fuel use as a devastating misstep.

Some praised the president merely for not interrupting. “Trump’s self-control is very impressive right now,” said Allie Beth Stuckey, a conservative writer and podcast host.

And others claimed that Mr. Biden had reinforced stereotypes of him as a career politician who inspires little passion.

David Brody, the chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said on Twitter that the president “has effectively hammered home a very simple theme tonight and that is this: ‘what have you done Joe during all your time in DC? You’re all talk no action.’”

Mr. Brody concluded, “That message will have traction.”

But it was not certain that the evening would have much effect on a race in which few undecided voters remain. Nor was it clear that the debate did anything other than reaffirm what most people already felt about both men.

Here is what observers from across the political spectrum said.

Mr. Trump’s supporters believed they had the moment that every campaign dreams of in a debate: those 20 or so seconds when your opponent makes a gaffe that can be spliced into an attack ad that can run repeatedly over the final stretch of the race.

It was not clear, however, that this is what Mr. Trump had after Mr. Biden challenged the president to produce video proving that he had said he would ban fracking, and then expressed support for phasing out fossil fuels and ending federal subsidies for oil companies.

“I’m not sure much is going to change or can at this point in the race, in this year, but if anything were to, that oil line is the one that will haunt him,” said Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative analyst.

Republicans quickly began circulating one such video showing Mr. Biden describing what he would do about fracking, saying, “We would make sure it’s eliminated.” The former vice president has since said repeatedly he does not support ending the practice, a major source of jobs.

“Biden thinks PA is stupid,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Republican strategists also saw something to like in Mr. Trump’s response on how he plans to handle the growing number of coronavirus cases across the country, revealing the deep divide between many conservative supporters of the president, who want a generally more hands-off approach from the government, and most other Americans, who believe in taking steps such as mandating mask-wearing in public.

Ari Fleischer, a former aide to Mr. Bush, said many Americans would find something more hopeful in the president’s message, versus what he saw as the pessimism of Mr. Biden’s words. “Trump is right about learning to live with the virus,” Mr. Fleischer said. “We can and must fight the virus, and live our lives. I suspect Trump’s message about living with it beats Biden’s message about dying with it.”

Brad Todd, a Republican strategist, echoed that point, saying that many Americans are wary of stringent lockdowns. “Biden talks bailouts and shutdowns – Trump talks re-opening. That’s a good contrast for the President and he should hold this fight here,” Mr. Todd said.

But Tony Fratto, who also worked for the Bush administration, raised what some strategists have said is Mr. Trump’s Achilles’ heel: his drop in support among seniors. “Continuing to press the fact that young people are less likely to die will not help to close that gap with old people,” Mr. Fratto said.

Mr. Biden’s defenders appeared to anticipate that Mr. Trump would be graded on a curve. But they tried to remind people that any perceptions of a vast improvement were relative.

“I’ve watched more Trump debates than any human,” Ron Klain, an aide to Mr. Biden who helped him prepare for the debates, said less than an hour into the event on Thursday. “The ‘new’ Trump never lasts more than 40 minutes.”

And Tim Miller, a Republican strategist who is supporting Mr. Biden, said the president’s ability to demonstrate self-control should not be confused with good policy. Describing the president’s response to being challenged by Mr. Biden on his handling of the coronavirus, Mr. Miller asked: “Was the president’s task there to convince Americans he has a plan to deal with this pandemic or to convince Americans that he can behave like a good boy for 4 minutes? Because it was a whiff on the first one.”

One of the biggest unknowns going into the debate was how Mr. Trump might try to unnerve Mr. Biden by raising unsubstantiated claims about the business pursuits of his son Hunter in China and elsewhere.

But when Mr. Trump raised the issue, he found himself on the defensive when Mr. Biden turned the question back around, asking about Mr. Trump’s taxes and noting a recent New York Times report that brought to light a previously undisclosed Chinese bank account belonging to the president. Even some conservatives conceded that Mr. Biden had played his hand well when Mr. Trump had to spend time explaining why he had not released his tax returns.

“Biden had a shrewd strategy on Hunter allegations to get it on Trump’s taxes and bank account, and it worked,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review.

Ezra Klein, the editor at large of Vox, said that Mr. Trump appeared thrown off by Mr. Biden’s response. “It is amazing how easy it is to distract Trump from the one attack he clearly prepared for tonight by needling him on his tax returns and finances,” he said. “It’d be funny except for that same total absence of focus defines his presidency.”

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Paul Davis's political return sparks Conservative Party turmoil – CBC.ca

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Former premier Paul Davis has announced his decision to re-enter politics, this time at the federal level — but that move isn’t welcome news to some members of the Conservative Party of Canada, with some local riding executives stepping away from their duties because of it.

On Thursday night, Davis posted on Facebook that he will seek the party’s nomination in the riding of Avalon in a future general election. Early Friday morning, Chris Power, the president of the Avalon Conservative Association, made an announcement of his own: that as Davis didn’t notify party executives first prior to posting, Power was stepping aside from his party duties, at least temporarily.

“I strongly feel that he should have first given notice to CPC nominating committee before any public announcement was made,” Chris Power said in a letter to fellow members of the association board.

In an interview with CBC News, Power said others on the board feel similarly and some executives have resigned, although he said Davis was not required to give a heads-up to the party before making his announcement.

“That’s your people on the ground, and the general consensus [is] that if we’re on the ground, that our opinion should matter, you know, and it didn’t seem like it really did,” Power said Friday.

Chris Power, the president of the Avalon Electoral District Association for the Conservative Party of Canada, is taking a leave of absence from his duties in the wake of Davis’s announcement he will run for candidacy in the riding. (Chris Power)

Power himself has decided on a temporary leave of absence from his role while the nomination process is underway, as Power said he and other executive members support the other candidate, Matthew Chapman, over Davis.

“We just thought at this time that we’d be better served with fresh blood. And we frankly didn’t think experience as a provincial politician was necessarily a positive thing right now,” said Power, who said he will be taking a “very active role” campaigning for Chapman during his leave.

‘Airing their dirty laundry’

Davis departed politics in November 2018, and in his resignation announcement at the time said he had no intention of running federally. But on Friday, Davis said the last six months — with troubles besieging small businesses and large industries, particularly oil and gas, as well as the omnipresent uncertainty — changed his mind.

“Someone needs to step up to the plate. I just can’t sit by any longer,” he told CBC News.

“There’s no plan to fix it. We don’t even hear any empathy or concern being communicated by our MPs in Ottawa.”

Davis said he’s had positive discussions with the local party ranks about running, and was caught off guard by their reaction to his announcement.

“Many of them are supporters of the other candidate. So it’s not unusual … for a candidate to have their own supporters on a district association. It happens provincially, it happens federally, it’s not unique to Avalon,” he said.

“I’m a little bit surprised that they’re airing their dirty laundry publicly, or their views on that, because some of them have been open arms welcoming and encouraged me to be in the process.”

A grassroots revival

Chapman, the other candidate, said he’s open to the competition.

“I wish Paul nothing but the best, and I’ve told him that. I believe that the membership and people of Avalon are going to recognize that I ran when nobody else would,” he said.

Chapman ran in the 2019 general election and lost to Liberal Ken McDonald, who has been the riding’s MP since 2015. In that race Chapman garnered significant support, capturing 31 per cent of the vote, compared with McDonald’s 46 per cent.

Matthew Chapman ran for the Conservative Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election and lost, and is running again for the party’s nomination in the Avalon riding. (Matthew Chapman)

Chapman credited that to grassroots support, as he and a few dedicated volunteers spent the last year rebuilding the Conservative Party’s base in the riding.

“I’ve spoken to all of people who are upset, because they’ve recognized I’ve literally put hundreds of hours of work into rebuilding this,” he said.

“People had the opportunity to run and turned it down, people had the opportunity to get involved and rebuild their association, and they didn’t.”

In the last year, the party’s grassroots in the Avalon have grown, added Power, to an executive board of 25 people with more than 280 party members, but Davis’s announcement and its resulting inner turmoil could prove to be a setback for the party.

“It’s sad because we had a number of initiatives that we were working through as a district that now all has to be put on hold,” said Power.

The call for nominations in the riding is still open, and Davis said the party would give two weeks’ notice before it closes and the candidate election process kicks in.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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