In just over 48 hours this week, President Biden faced a double-barreled onslaught of political and personal setbacks, as his son’s business dealings and personal struggles created new turbulence at a time when his advisers wanted to focus attention on the problems of former president Donald Trump and House Republicans.
On Thursday, Biden’s son Hunter was indicted on charges of making false statements and illegally possessing a handgun, paving the way for a criminal trial that could unfold as Biden pursues reelection. That came two days after House Republicans opened a formal impeachment inquiry centered on whether the president benefited from his son’s business dealings, although they have produced little, if any, evidence to that effect.
Neither the inquiry nor the indictment was unexpected, but the back-to-back developments underscored the challenges Biden faces as he runs for a second term. He faces no serious competition for the Democratic nomination, but some Democrats are growing increasingly concerned about his vulnerabilities, including his age, as polls show a tight race between him and Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
The legal and political clouds hanging over Hunter Biden now add to those troubles. “It’s always a concern,” former senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a Biden ally, said of Hunter Biden’s indictment. “It’s weighing on him and the entire family. The fact of the matter is, this president has made a point of letting the Justice Department do its work and not interfere. The chips will fall where they are going to fall.”
Trump’s criminal trials stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and his alleged mishandling of classified documents have largely overshadowed Biden’s challenges to this point. But an impeachment inquiry and the indictment of an immediate family member, especially in such rapid succession, represent a striking pair of setbacks for a president, a reality that may become more evident with the formal launch of proceedings in the courtroom and the Capitol.
Jones said he thinks the court case will end up with a favorable resolution for Hunter Biden. In the meantime, he predicted, the president will stay focused on selling his record to voters.
“It’s significant and it’s historic,” the former senator said of Biden’s accomplishments. “That’s what he’s going to be running on. I don’t think the American people are going to give a damn if a son has been charged with a gun offense.”
Some Republicans see more of a problem for the president.
“Biden has had a very difficult time gaining any sort of momentum as he heads into his re-election bid,” said Jesse Hunt, a Republican strategist and the former communications director at the Republican Governors Association. “This is another troubling development for him when voters already questioned his competence. It gives them yet another reason to look at him in a negative light.”
Hunter Biden’s indictment follows the collapse of a deal in which he would have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor tax violations while admitting to illegal possession of the gun but not pleading guilty to that felony offense.
The deal probably would have allowed him to avoid jail time. Instead, Hunter Biden could now stand trial in the middle of his father’s reelection campaign, and it remains possible he will face additional indictments on tax charges.
Hunter Biden’s legal team argues that the plea deal collapsed because of pressure from right-wing Republicans who complained that the president’s son was getting off easy.
“As expected, prosecutors filed charges today that they deemed were not warranted just six weeks ago following a five-year investigation into this case,” Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, said in a statement. “The evidence in this matter has not changed in the last six weeks, but the law has and so has MAGA Republicans’ improper and partisan interference in this process.”
In the House, it is not clear whether the inquiry will lead to an actual impeachment of Biden. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ordered the inquiry on his own authority when Republicans appeared to lack the votes in the full House to initiate the move.
Even so, such an inquiry is a rarity in American history. Three presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Trump, who suffered the indignity twice. None of them was convicted by the Senate, which acts as the jury in such cases.
Similarly, presidential relatives have caused problems before, but rarely in this way. “Having a son or daughter who gets into trouble is nothing new,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “Billy Carter and Roger Clinton never really loomed large in the White House, whereas the Hunter Biden story is about trying to connect the link to dad.”
Billy Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s brother, faced a Senate investigation into alleged influence-peddling. Roger Clinton,Bill Clinton’s half brother, had drug problems and received a controversial pardon from his brother for a drug-related conviction.
Biden is known to worry deeply about his surviving son, who a few years ago was in the throes of a major drug addiction. Hunter Biden stayed at the White House for two weeks this summer, and most of the president’s aides avoid discussing his son’s troubles with the president, believing their contributions and ideas would not be welcome, even as they worry about the personal toll it is taking on him.
Senior aides to the president informed him of his son’s indictment shortly after it became public and less than an hour before he departed the White House on Thursday for an economics speech in Maryland, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Biden did not address the indictment on Thursday, and officials said there are no plans for the White House to do so, as they want to emphasize that the Justice Department’s case against Hunter Biden is independent.
But as a father, the president — whose other son, Beau, died of cancer in 2015 — is particularly sensitive to Hunter’s legal troubles. When Hunter Biden’s plea deal collapsed in July, the president was blindsided and frustrated, since he had believed his son’s legal troubles were largely behind him, according to people familiar with his reaction.
“The legal status of his son has got to be extremely painful for him, but he’s going to have to endure,” said former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), who served with Biden in the Senate.
Both father and son have spoken about Hunter’s struggles with addiction, and the president has often related how proud he is of his son’s recovery.
Republicans have not presented any direct evidence indicating the president benefited from his son’s foreign business dealings, but many of the most conservative House Republicans had been pressuring McCarthy to formally open an impeachment inquiry. Some even said they would not support funding the government unless McCarthy acquiesced.
“They have no evidence, so they’re launching the next phase of their evidence-free goose chase simply to throw red meat to the right wing so they can continue baselessly attacking the president to play extreme politics,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.
But as in any inquiry, there are risks for the president. Congress is likely to have expanded authority to dig into Biden’s finances and could spend more resources investigating the president and his family.
“Going through an impeachment hearing is never a badge of honor,” Brinkley said. “It’s not something the president coveted or wants to happen, but it’s part and parcel of our new civil war going on between Democrats and Republicans.”
He added: “The weaponization of impeachment has now come to full blossom. It was always the fear of double impeachment of Trump that this day would happened. You don’t really need evidence to get an impeachment inquiry going — you just need the political will to do it. It’s just another manifestation of toxicity in our politics.”
Julia Malott: Nope, parents are not ‘fascists’ for being skeptical of gender politics
In the coming days, Canada will see heightened activity in the nation’s ongoing gender identity politics debate. The “1 Million March 4 Children” protest against how gender identity is taught in schools, is set to occur on Wednesday, with synchronized events in more than 50 cities countrywide. Two days later, separate Toronto rally will spotlight two figures prominent in the gender-critical movement: Chris Elston, colloquially known as “Billboard Chris” for his distinctive method of protesting against childhood medical transition, and Josh Alexander, a Renfrew, Ontario student who was expelled earlier this year after objecting in class to his school’s transgender washroom policy.
As parents’ voices grow louder, there’s a perception in the progressive left that all of these emerging movements are rooted and inspired by “far-right” extremism. Many in leftist circles suggest that parental rights advocacy is a dog-whistle: a veiled attempt to advance anti-transgender policies. A recently leaked video from an Ontario Federation of Labour meeting offers a glimpse into how some of the province’s most influential union members perceive these protests. As one member notably stated during the meeting: “The fascists are organizing in the streets … . This is far more than a far-right transphobic protest. They’re fundamentally racist, they’re fundamentally anti-union, they are fundamentally transphobic, and it’s just a matter of time before they come for us.”
It’s a grave mistake to deride the parental collective pushing back against the status-quo as fascist sympathizers motivated by transgender hate. A glance past such alarmist rhetoric reveals that — while a fringe group of hate has always existed — the concerns many parents are championing are much more moderate than a “far-right” moniker suggests.
For many parents, the core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education. They want transparency about what is being taught, the option to excuse their child from content they believe doesn’t align with their values, and the discretion to determine age-appropriateness for activities, such as certain reading material or events like drag queen performances at schools. Perhaps least surprisingly, parents want to be involved in the key decisions of their own child undergoing a social transition in the classroom.
The matter of social transition behind parents’ backs in particular is so condemning of their role in upbringing that it has thrust the entire gamut of gender identity matters into the national spotlight, revealing just how out of balance transgender accommodation has become. The manner in which the left has responded — by doubling down in their rhetoric and deriding parents as militant zealots, has played powerfully into the rapid growth of this grassroots movement.
Many parents, even amid those who will stand in protest, have little desire to limit other families’ decisions regarding gender teachings and expression for their children. They realize that their objective of ensuring their own parental autonomy is intertwined with safeguarding those same freedoms for other families as well.
So where do we go from here? What might a balanced approach to parental rights look like within the nuanced landscape of gender identity politics? Fortunately, we need not start from scratch; history offers us a model for the coexistence of diverse ideologies within our educational institutions. Look no further than religion.
Amid religious diversity, we teach acceptance. Students are taught to make space for varied faith expression among their peers, whether through clothing or other customs, and with a strong desire to maintain neutral, religious symbols are not adorned by the institution. The lesson for students is to embrace and include, even where personal beliefs diverge; Meanwhile, the guiding principle for the institution is to avoid actions that display favouritism toward any specific religious doctrine.
Such a solution could address a significant portion of the concerns fuelling the rising parental unrest. Moderate parents would applaud such an education system, and this would still be inclusive of transgender students. But in order for this to be realized, the two factions moving ever further apart will first need to come to the table and talk. Given the recent rhetoric from progressive quarters, the prospect of this dialogue anytime soon appears distant.
Ex-diplomat says Poland asked him to keep tabs on Alberta politician
A month after Global Affairs Canada told CBC News it was looking into claims that the Polish government asked one of its diplomats in Canada to gather information on a former Alberta cabinet minister, the dismissed consul general at the centre of the affair says he still hasn’t heard from the department on the matter.
Andrzej Mańkowski told CBC News the only official he has heard from is a B.C. bureaucrat who asked him to return his diplomatic licence plates and identification.
“[Officials with Global Affairs] haven’t tried talking to me,” he said.
Mańkowski showed CBC News a copy of a letter dated Aug. 31 he received from B.C.’s Chief of Protocol for Intergovernmental Relations Lucy Lobmeier asking him to turn in his identity card and to return his diplomatic plates “within 30 days of this letter.” She also thanked him for his service.
Mańkowski alleges he was dismissed from his post in late July after he refused to carry out orders from the Polish government to gather information about Thomas Lukaszuk, a former deputy premier of Alberta who often provides commentary to CBC News about the province’s politics.
“It’s clear that Polish diplomacy during Communist times, the main responsibility was to collect information, to gather information on some Polish representatives abroad,” Mańkowski said, adding he felt as if the request was a throwback to that time.
“The analogy’s extremely evident.”
Last month, Global Affairs Canada said it was taking the allegations seriously.
Spying allegations ‘out of this world’: ambassador
In August, Lukaszuk said he believed he had been targeted by Poland’s department of foreign affairs over his activism against a controversial Polish pastor, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has private radio and television stations in Poland.
Rydzyk, who has ties to the Polish government, has been criticized for delivering sermons featuring homophobic and anti-Semitic views and for preaching against the European Union.
Lukaszuk also shared what he said were encrypted messages Polish government officials sent to Mańkowski asking him over the course of a year to prepare notes on the former Alberta politician.
CBC News has not independently verified these messages were official government communications. Mańkowski did not dispute their veracity in his interview.
“Asking for my opinion about Lukaszuk was just a kind of trap, was just a political test of my loyalty,” he said.
Poland’s Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski called the allegation “totally absurd.”
“The idea of Polish diplomacy spying on a former provincial politician … it’s really out of this world,” Dzielski said.
He said he has never met Lukaszuk and did not know of his previous career in politics before Lukaszuk emailed him about an unrelated consular matter long before the reports about Mańkowski came out.
Dzielski said that if the notes cited by Lukaszuk are real, they were leaked illegally because they would constitute private diplomatic communications.
The affair has captured attention in Polish media, where the story first broke.
In July, Polish opposition politicians cited the messages released by Lukaszuk when they asked Piotr Wawrzyk, a secretary of state in the government’s foreign affairs department, whether Mańkowski was dismissed because he refused to spy on Lukaszuk.
In reply, Wawrzyk said the government could recall a diplomat who refused to carry out an assignment.
Wawrzyk, who was also a deputy foreign minister, has since been fired himself over an unrelated matter both local media outlets and Reuters have linked to a clandestine scheme awarding migrants visas in exchange for cash.
On Saturday, The Associated Press noted he had been hospitalized following an apparent sucide attempt.
“The minister, Wawrzyk, was laid off because of a totally different subject,” Dzielski said.
He pointed out that those documents were cited by opposition politicians in the context of a heated election campaign.
Dzielski� also said it’s normal for diplomats to be asked to gather information on notable members of diaspora communities.
‘A very marginal conversation’
“We are working very closely with them,” he said. “It is obvious and natural, and it is an element of diplomatic workshops, that we provide and we build ourselves opinions about the quality of cooperation with particular actors.”
He said Global Affairs has spoken to him about the allegations. “We had a very marginal conversation on this which reflects the level of seriousness of this topic,” he said.
A NATO member, Poland has worked closely with Canada to help out its neighbour Ukraine ever since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year.
Asked for comment, Global Affairs said in a media statement it “continues to work closely with security and intelligence community partners to assess the situation and identify next steps as appropriate.”
The department said last month it had contacted Lukaszuk and that it took the responsibility of protecting Canadians from “transnational repression” very seriously.
Put politics aside to solve housing crisis, or your kids might never own a home: Raitt
The Current20:05Putting politics aside to tackle the housing crisis
Political leaders of all stripes must find a way to work together to solve the housing and climate crises impacting Canadians, says former Conservative MP Lisa Raitt.
“Toronto is the best example. NDP mayor, provincial premier who’s Conservative, federal Liberal who’s the prime minister,” said Raitt, co-lead of the new non-governmental Task Force for Housing and Climate, which launched Tuesday.
“And if they don’t figure this out, one voter is going to punish them all.”
The new task force is concerned with accelerating the construction of new homes, while ensuring that’s done in a sustainable way. In a press release, the group of former city mayors, planners, developers, economists and affordable housing advocates said it intends to convene until April 2024 to develop policy recommendations. The work is supported by the Clean Economy Fund, a charitable foundation.
Raitt held several senior cabinet posts under former prime minister Stephen Harper. But as co-lead of the task force, Raitt said she won’t engage in the political partisanship that she thinks “poisons the well” around these issues.
“Part of the reason why we’re coming together as the task force is to have a real pragmatic and practical conversation about these issues instead of weaponizing it into a political arena, and finger pointing back and forth,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway.
Canada needs to build an extra 3.5 million new units by the end of the decade, over and above what’s already in the works, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. A report this week showed rental costs have increased 9.6 per cent from Aug. 2022 to 2023, to an average now of $2,117 a month.
This week, the federal government announced it would cut the federal goods and services tax (GST) from the construction of new rental apartments, in an effort to spur new development. The Liberal government also pledged $74 million to build thousands of homes in London, Ont., — the first in what it hopes will be a series of agreements to accelerate housing construction.
Speaking in London on Wednesday, Housing Minister Sean Fraser called on municipalities to “legalize housing,” urging them to remove “sluggish permit-approval processes” and zoning obstacles if they expect federal investment in housing construction.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticized the government’s plans as not going far enough, while pointing out it echoes some of his party’s proposals. He’s proposed measures that tie federal funding to the number of housing starts. Funding would be withheld from cities that fail to increase the number of homes built by 15 per cent, while cities that pass that threshold would receive bonuses.
Poilievre’s proposals also include a “NIMBY” fine on municipalities that block construction because of opposition from local residents, and the sale of 15 per cent of federally owned buildings so the land can be used to build affordable homes.
Don Iveson, former mayor of Edmonton and co-lead of the task force, said he understands why partisan politics can creep into the debate — but Canadians expect more.
He said the task force intends “to help all orders of government” understand what’s needed to tackle these problems from an economic, technical and planning perspective.
“We’re not going to be able to solve the housing crisis [by] building housing the way we built it for the last several generations,” said said Iveson, who was mayor of Edmonton from 2013 to 2021.
Your kids need a place to live: Raitt
Iveson said the challenge of scaling up housing construction will require some new ways of thinking.
That might mean a greater emphasis on automation and building houses from components prefabricated off-site, which he described as “essentially a more factory approach” that could also reduce construction costs.
Raitt said the task force will examine where houses are built, and in what kind of density, to ensure scaling up can “get the most bang for the buck.”
That might mean Canadians might need to have difficult conversations, including whether to build multi-storey buildings instead of single-family homes.
Raitt said older Canadians who already own their own homes might not like the idea of taller buildings going up around them, but they should speak to their kids about it.
“They don’t care if it’s going to be four, six storeys in a residential neighbourhood. They just want a place that they know that they can purchase,” she said.
“Talk about whether or not our kids are going to have a place to live, let alone rent, let alone own, let alone a house in the communities where they were brought up, because right now it’s not looking so good.”
Counting the cost of climate change
When it comes to climate change and sustainability, the task force’s goals come down to a “very simple equation,” Raitt said.
“Whatever we’re building now is going to be here in 2050. So if it’s going to be part of the calculation of our net-zero aspirations, whatever they’re going to be,” she said.
She said the task force will work to formulate ways to build housing that take emissions into account, but don’t include prohibitive costs that slow down the rate of construction.
“It’s going to be a little bit more costly to build with climate indications built in … but you’ve got to make sure that there’s policies surrounding that to make sure it still makes it affordable,” she said.
Iveson said wildfires, floods, heat domes and extreme weather events are already disrupting the economy, as well as posing huge financial burdens for the Canadians caught up in them.
“Climate change is already costing us a fortune,” he told Galloway.
Building without those climate considerations “maybe seems affordable in the short term, but it’s false economy when it comes to the real costs ahead of us,” he said.
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