The feud between Brazil’s two most powerful political power brokers that played out mostly behind the scenes for months has now spilled into the open, as president Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of Congress’s lower house, scramble for dominance.
At a rally outside a military base this weekend, Mr Bolsonaro joined protesters calling for Mr Maia to be ousted over the speaker’s support for social isolation measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, which the president has publicly flouted. Carla Zambelli, a pro-Bolsonaro lawmaker, said they were calling for the “investigation and arrest” of Mr Maia.
Many in the crowd bore placards calling for the restoration of military rule in scenes that drew condemnation from lawmakers, judges and even the Brazilian military. A day later, the Brazilian president declared “I am the constitution,” as he urged an end lockdowns.
Days earlier, he accused Mr Maia of trying to “stick a knife” in the federal government by conspiring with the nation’s governors — who call the president “Bolsovirus” — to oust him. Mr Maia responded: “In Brazil we have to fight against corona and the virus of authoritarianism. I repudiate any and all acts that defend dictatorship and undermine the constitution.”
For Mr Bolsonaro, the conflict is a dangerous gamble as the impact of coronavirus stokes tension across the nation. As house speaker, Mr Maia not only controls the legislative agenda — including vital economic reform plans — but he also has the power to push forward the numerous requests he had already received for the impeachment of the Brazilian leader.
The president, however, appears to have made the calculation that attacking a political heavyweight will keep his base energised as the coronavirus crisis continues to polarise Brazilian politics. A fifth-term lawmaker whose term ends in January, Mr Maia embodies the “dissatisfaction with Congress” felt by supporters of Mr Bolsonaro, said Thiago de Aragão of Arko Advice, a Brasília-based political consultancy.
“Bolsonaro must be careful: if the government is going to get into a war to liposuction Maia out of his job and then appoint his successor, they better win,” added Alon Feuerwerker, a political analyst with consultancy FSB.
Beyond the public recriminations, the conflict between the two men is playing out behind the scenes, with Mr Bolsonaro attempting to form allegiances with the adversaries of the speaker in Congress, according to lawmakers. The two men were reluctant allies throughout Mr Bolsonaro’s first year in office last year, with Mr Maia playing a crucial role in the passage of government-sponsored pension reform legislation in October.
Relations soured, however, after Mr Maia spoke out publicly and repeatedly against the president’s controversial identity politics and culture wars. While Mr Bolsonaro’s manoeuvres are unlikely to succeed in ousting Mr Maia, they may help influence the election of a new speaker early next year.
The strategy, however, demands that the president engage in the “old politics” of horse-trading — tactics that Mr Bolsonaro has long criticised — to lure back support from the so-called centrão, the large agglomeration of centrist parties known for their patronage-seeking politics. In recent days, Mr Bolsonaro has been offering government posts with big budgets to members of the bloc, according to local media reports. “He is buying the centre’s support in the crudest way,” said a member of the centrão.
But the speaker has also left himself vulnerable, by alienating fellow lawmakers, according to a senior member of Mr Maia’s Democratas party. “He won’t have complete solidarity in the moment when Bolsonaro approaches the centrão promising power,” said the member, who is critical of Mr Maia.
Mr Maia still remains powerful, however, with control over the legislative agenda and the 24 impeachments requests already tabled against Mr Bolsonaro — although he is unlikely to act on them, given there is little appetite for more upheaval at the moment, congressional insiders said.
Unlike former leftist president Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached after her popularity plummeted, Mr Bolsonaro still maintains a staunch power base and an approval rate of about 30 per cent.
Much of Brazil’s political landscape is likely to be defined in the coming months by the impact of coronavirus. Images of coffins rapidly filing up cemeteries in the Amazonian city of Manaus notwithstanding, a death toll of 3,300 remains relatively low compared with the US and some European nations.
However, if fatalities swiftly begin to mount nationwide, Mr Bolsonaro’s breezy dismissal of the virus is likely to come back to haunt him. Equally, if the economic impact of statewide lockdowns becomes very profound, the president stands to benefit from his steadfast opposition to self-isolation.
Asked this week about the number of deaths so far, the fiery Brazilian president refused to discuss specifics: “I am not a gravedigger, OK?”
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice
The House's green surface bill runs into politics – Politico
Presented by Freight Rail Works
With help from Tanya Snyder and Brianna Gurciullo
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— The House’s ambitious surface transportation bill released this week is already running into some problems, with some industry groups and Republicans crying foul over what they called a “partisan” process.
— Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao stuck by the agency’s hands-off approach to regulating air travel during the pandemic in an interview with POLITICO.
— As part of an escalating row with China over airline access, DOT said it will ban Chinese flights from the U.S. later this month.
IT’S THURSDAY: Thanks for tuning in to POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Get in touch with tips, feedback or song lyric suggestions at [email protected] or @samjmintz.
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LET THE SURFACE CIRCUS BEGIN: House Democrats’ climate-focused surface transportation reauthorization got skewered on Wednesday by Republicans and some industry groups, including those representing the rail industry and state transportation departments. GOP lawmakers accused House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio of shutting out Republicans and unveiling a partisan bill that has an “extreme” environmental agenda. Some turned to the Senate’s version of the bill, which included a climate title for the first time but holds more modest goals than DeFazio’s proposal to discourage states from building new highways and include climate impacts in transportation plans.
Two weeks to work it out: DeFazio told reporters that Republicans left “very little room” for engagement on climate issues and Democrats crafted the bill according to their own priorities — and that they’d likely have no problem passing it in the House even without Republican votes. But before the July 1 floor vote comes the June 17 markup, and DeFazio said he scheduled a two-week window between the release of the bill text and the markup to make time for amendments and other input from Republicans. Tanya Snyder has all the details for Pros.
Guinea pig: The transportation bill markup will be a trial run for new House rules that allow the legislative process to go forward remotely, as our Connor O’Brien observed. He notes that the surface vote will happen before the defense authorization bill, and that T&I is a bigger committee than Armed Services.
NOT OUR JOB: Chao hit back at criticism over how her agency has handled regulating pandemic measures for airlines, calling questions about masks and social distancing “labor management” issues. “When the federal government gets involved, we tend to be much more heavy handed,” Chao said on Wednesday, while noting that her agency continues to “monitor” the situation.
Her comments, made during a virtual interview with POLITICO Playbook, earned a strong reaction from labor unions and workplace safety advocates. David Michaels, who was head of OSHA during the Obama administration, called it an “abdication of duty.” Labor unions for flight attendants and pilots, which have called for DOT to make health guidelines mandatory, were mad, too. “There’s a difference between heavy handed and just washing your hands of this critical responsibility,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, calling DOT an “outlier” on safety.
An example of the patchwork: Delta Air Lines on Wednesday said it would keep preventing customers from picking middle seats and extend caps on seating through the end of September. “On routes where increasing customer demand is driving flight loads closer to our caps, we will look for opportunities to upsize to a larger aircraft type or add more flying,” the carrier said.
DOT FINALIZES SERVICE EXEMPTIONS: DOT issued a notice late Wednesday easing airlines’ service requirements that are a condition of receiving CARES Act aid. The final order, which is unchanged from a previously published preliminary order, says carriers can suspend service to either 5 percent of the points they cover, or five points, whichever is greater. “The Department believes that the process we are finalizing here strikes an appropriate balance between the needs of communities to maintain at least minimal access to the national air transportation system during the public health emergency, and the needs of carriers to conserve financial resources to weather this time of unprecedented loss of demand,” the agency wrote.
EYE FOR AN EYE: DOT announced on Wednesday that it plans to stop Chinese passenger carriers from flying into or out of the U.S. this month because China hadn’t taken steps to give Delta and United Airlines the OK to resume service to the country.
Move gets results: Shortly after, China said in a statement that it will ease its restrictions on foreign airlines flying into the country, according to Reuters. “Qualifying foreign carriers currently barred from operating flights to mainland China will be allowed once-per-week flights into a city of their choosing starting on June 8,” the story says. The number of flights can increase if no passengers on the incoming flights test positive for three weeks.
The DOT restriction, which would hit four Chinese airlines, is set to go into effect June 16. As our Brianna Gurciullo reports, DOT said its move would “restore a competitive balance and fair and equal opportunity among U.S. and Chinese air carriers in the scheduled passenger service marketplace.” The agency says its “overriding goal” is for airlines from both countries to “be able to exercise fully their bilateral rights.”
Calling all China watchers: The trajectory of the U.S.-China relationship will determine whether this century is judged a bright or a dismal one. POLITICO’s David Wertime is launching a new China newsletter that will be worth the read.
THE LOW LOWS: Airline fuel consumption hit its lowest point in at least 20 years in April, according to the new numbers from DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. There were 447 million gallons of fuel consumed that month, down from 1.5 billion the year before, a 70 percent drop.
FOR THE RECORD: After the New York Times reported this week that TSA officers had been “called out of the airports to help protect federal property” amid protests in the D.C. area over the death of George Floyd while in police custody, the agency made clear that those employees weren’t security screeners but rather law enforcement officers. “@TSA officers who interact with and screen passengers and their baggage at airports every day did not participate in responding to #BlackLivesMatter protests. Airport TSA officers are not law enforcement officials,” agency spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said in a tweet.
GOVERNING FROM HOME: In the interview with POLITICO, Chao also noted that while she expects the transportation world to return to normal relatively soon, there could be long-term changes to employers like hers that could stick around. “We’re going to see trends develop in telework,” Chao said. “Do we really need a building for 5,500 people [the size of DOT’s headquarters] when more and more people are feeling more comfortable teleworking … and video conferencing?”
— “Pakistani aviation authority says PIA pilot ignored air traffic control.” Reuters.
— “Full rollout for contactless payments in NYC subways delayed until December.” The Verge.
— “Former UAW president pleads guilty to embezzlement, racketeering charges.” Wall Street Journal.
— “VRE seating is now every other window seat.” WTOP.
— “Air Canada retires last Boeing 767 after 37 years.” The Points Guy.
DOT appropriations run out in 118 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,214 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 118 days.
Northern Ireland after coronavirus: three scenarios for politics and peace – The Conversation UK
When it comes to disruptions from outside, the Northern Ireland conflict has a reputation for being immune to them. Winston Churchill observed this after the first world war, in one of the most quoted remarks on Irish politics:
… as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that has been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.
A century later, the “integrity of their quarrel”, for the most part, remains. That said, external developments like the US civil rights campaign, the end of the cold war and the EU have influenced events in the region.
So far, the coronavirus pandemic has interacted with Northern Ireland politics in some intriguing ways. At the beginning of the crisis in mid-March, the cross-community executive became split on whether to follow Dublin’s lead in immediately closing schools or stick with the UK’s more relaxed approach.
Yet since then, the first and deputy first ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, have maintained a mostly united front. This has been in contrast with the three years before January 2020, when their parties wouldn’t work together, leaving Northern Ireland without devolution. The mere sight of Northern Ireland’s provincial politicians, schooled in the tribal minutia of a nationalist conflict, battling a global natural disaster has been arresting.
North-south co-operation has also been in the spotlight. This is a key part of the Good Friday Agreement. While Belfast and Dublin agreed they would share information on the virus, deficiencies in coordination have been exposed.
Another feature of the crisis in Northern Ireland has been the outpouring of support for the NHS from across society. Remarkably, murals praising this (British) institution have appeared in both unionist and nationalist areas.
Does any of this matter? When the deluge of COVID-19 subsides, there are three possible scenarios. The first is, of course, that there won’t be any long-term consequences of the pandemic and that political life picks up mostly where it left off.
However, the pandemic could, on the other hand, worsen divisions. Stormont now has its own roadmap out of lockdown, which is different to those of both London and Dublin. This has cross-community support but there is still plenty of room for unionists and nationalists to split over virus policy.
Anger at the Conservative government’s handling of the crisis, and the prominence of the devolved administrations, could hasten the end of the UK, with all the tumult that would bring to Northern Ireland. Paramilitary murders and threats have continued during the shutdown. And the dreary steeples of Brexit have never been fully out of view.
A chance to change
But a third possibility – and narrowly, the most likely – is that the virus, overall, has a stabilising influence. It could put political identity politics into perspective.
While COVID-19 is an external shock, it has shone a light on existing social realities: inequality; challenges in education; the quality of people’s environment, lifestyle and relationships; and above all, the health service. Public interest in these issues may increase over Orange-Green politics.
As the success of the non-aligned Alliance Party and Greens in the 2019 election showed, this process was already under way. Before the crisis, the main parties knew that the current period of devolution could be the last chance they get to show the public that they can govern effectively. The socio-economic damage of the shutdown may stimulate bold, unprecedented policy solutions.
Irish republicans have argued that the pandemic, which respects no borders, proves the illogic of partition on a small island. But pandemics, we hope, will not be something Ireland or any country has to face often. And the problem of differing strategies between neighbouring countries is not unique to Ireland, but has been felt across Britain and Europe. The crisis may actually slow the momentum of the Irish unity discussion, which had been given so much oxygen by Brexit, especially given the looming financial pressures.
When the dust settles, Northern Ireland could have a stable executive focused on everyday politics in the north, pragmatically aligned with Dublin or London or Brussels on particular issues. In other words, the region could find itself closer to the vision of the Good Friday Agreement than it has been for some years.
What is beyond doubt is that sectarianism, Northern Ireland’s local brand of social distancing, offers no protection from an infectious disease. Whatever its legacy, COVID-19’s indiscrimination proves that the physical space is in fact a shared one. Those who live in that space share the same fate, no matter the imagined national communities to which they purport to belong.
Politics – Moe must continue to remember his roots – Yorkton This Week
More so than just about any business you can think of, politics is all about knowing whom you are and where you have come from.
The problem, however, is that it’s quite easy to forget all that, even under normal circumstances.
And with the stakes so high in this COVID-19 crisis, it’s likely even harder for our leadership to remember the fundamentals of this province.
As such, Premier Scott Moe had some mixed results in being able to do so.
There is one area in which Moe has been rather successful in remembering where he has come from and reminding all of us in Saskatchewan of exactly who we are.
The Premier recently wrote: “Hats off to our farmer for perseverance and hard work this season” to congratulate that seeding was at the five-year for this date.
In a world where nothing seems normal – Saskatchewan lost a staggering 53,000 jobs in April – agriculture saw a 1.4-per-cent increase in employment in April as seeding got into full swing.
It’s done so without receiving anything resembling the federal subsidies other business are getting. So far, only $252 million has been made available to farmers across the country to deal with effect of COVID-19 – very little of which has made its way to western farmers and ranchers. Moreover, it’s only one-tenth of what the Canadian Federation of Agriculture requested.
Yet farmers are demonstrating what Moe aptly described as “perseverance” in carrying on with seeding that will be an estimated 37 million acres this year. Some of them have had to leave last year’s crop in the field because of horrific harvest conditions last fall.
Agriculture is simply soldiering on, pumping millions into the local economy as farmers buy seed, fertilizers, chemicals and fuel.
The net result is that Saskatchewan has seen an increase in exports in the first quarter of 2020, largely due to canola, pulse, agricultural machinery, oats and soya beans sales.
It is important for Moe and others to acknowledge what we are – especially, in these tough times when the impact of the pandemic is taking its toll on all of us.
However, Moe and his government hasn’t always been quite so successful at remembering its roots, as was demonstrated by the recent Saskatchewan Health Authority driven decision to temporary close to 12 rural hospital emergency rooms as part of the SHA’s pandemic readiness plan.
One gets the need to prepare health staff everywhere in the province for the potential impact of a COVID-19 outbreak.
But the simply fact of the matter is there has been no more than one active COVID-19 case in all of central and southern rural Saskatchewan for a month. To even “temporarily” completely close rural ERs during seeding poses a very real problem.
That it comes from a government that represents all 29 rural seats is even more bizarre.
It took a letter from 21-year Arm River-Watrous MLA Greg Brkich to the SHA and to his own cabinet before the Sask. Party administration seemed to realize this.
In his letter, Brkich expressed frustration over the temporary closure of the Davidson Hospital ER – the only hospital between Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Outlook.
“Local folks are being short changed again in rural Saskatchewan” by being left without quality emergency care, Brkich wrote.
Given the history of the closure of 52 rural hospitals by the former NDP government 27 years ago, it’s especially strange that the Sask. Party government would have missed the significance of what it was doing.
To his credit, Moe took responsibility for the “communication” problem and offered assurances the closed ERs would be re-opened in mid-June.
But it does seem to demonstrate how important it is for politicians to remember where they come from.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics since 1983.
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