Opinion: Biden's smart political move angers progressives – CNN
Editor’s Note: John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst and anchor. He is the author of “Lincoln and the Fight for Peace.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
President Joe Biden gets it. Being seen as “soft on crime” is the Achilles’ heel for Democrats — and he’s not going to let them deepen that negative association, even if it angers some progressives.
At issue is a local Washington, DC, bill that would revise the city’s 100-year-old criminal code. There’s general agreement that the code needs fixing, but the devil is in the details of the new version — in this case, literally soft-on-crime provisions such as reduced sentences for carjackings. This is absurd at a time when homicides are up 36% year-over-year in the nation’s capital, according to police.
That was one of the reasons why Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the bill — but she was overridden by the City Council. Because of DC’s limited home rule status, Congress reviews all legislation passed by the City Council before it becomes law. The House of Representatives rejected the city’s new criminal code in a vote last month, and the Senate is on track this week to block it.
After it became clear the legislation would be nixed, City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson tried to withdraw the criminal code revision in a letter Monday to the Senate. Mendelson said he is not sure that this step “will stop the Senate Republicans, but our position stands: The bill is not before Congress any longer.” A senior Republican aide, however, told CNN the GOP still expects a Senate vote this week to stop the legislation.
Biden had earlier surprised some Democrats by tweeting, “I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings. If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”
This response set off members of the progressive caucus, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who fired off criticism of the president’s position, saying that it violated the premise of home rule. That process complaint misses the larger point.
Biden understands that Democrats need to play offense against crime with effective policies. That was part of the lesson behind Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decisive defeat last week in which she received an anemic 17% of the vote in a crowded primary field. It’s simply not true that otherwise liberal voters are fine with civic decline that comes with laissez-faire policies on crime. Just ask former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, whom voters recalled last year.
We’ve seen Republicans run the urban-versus-rural playbook by trying to exploit rising rates of violent crime in cities. You can reject the premise by showing that high crime rates are beginning to come down in many categories, but politics is perception and defending the status quo in a time of rising crime — after decades of decline — is both politically clueless and callous to the very real victims of crime.
Being a tough-on-crime Democrat — also once known as a “Kojak Liberal” — is consistent with Biden’s beliefs going back decades. He took a lot of flak for his leadership on the much-maligned 1994 crime bill during the 2020 campaign, but that law was effective in bringing down sky-high crime rates for decades. (Yes, it was controversial, but I broke down all the data in this “Reality Check.”)
Even in the high-water mark of protests around the police murder of George Floyd, Biden refused to take the bait by backing the truly disastrous policy slogan “defund the police.” By my count, only seven House Democrats backed the policy — but that didn’t stop Republicans from trying to present it as the official position of national Democrats. That’s just more evidence of how the far left ends up unintentionally functioning as a fundraising arm of the GOP.
Now’s the time for Biden and Democrats to propose their own crime-fighting policies. In his budget, Biden is expected to propose more funding for his Safer American Plan, while highlighting the far right’s lurch away from law and order under the sway of former President Donald Trump and some of his supporters, including their calls to defund the FBI. That’s a debate worth having that can isolate the extremes while highlighting the common ground between most Americans.
Biden is right on the politics and the policy here, but Democrats do have a reason to be frustrated on purely procedural grounds. It was an unforced error for the Biden White House to say initially it was for the bill, before it was against it. That caused a lot of needless confusion.
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But what happens in DC doesn’t stay in DC. It becomes a symbol of urban success or decay that members of Congress take back home to their constituents. Advocates of DC home rule and statehood should know that soft-on-crime policies enacted by the City Council of our nation’s capital are the quickest way to ensure that those goals are never achieved.
Biden understands that if Democrats want to move America’s policies in a moderately more progressive direction, they cannot do it at the expense of public safety. Because that’s the fastest path toward political backlash.
Post-Trump Canada-U.S. relationship needed work: Ambassador
Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman says the country’s relationship with its American counterparts required rebuilding after the Trump administration.
On CTV’s Power Play Wednesday, host Vassy Kapelos asked Hillman if she agreed with a characterization that the relationship needed to be rebuilt.
“Yes, I do, in some respects I think it did require rebuilding,” she answered.
Her comments followed remarks from White House Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby Wednesday afternoon.
“In the first year of this administration we focused on rebuilding that bilateral relationship,” Kirby said in a White House briefing.
Hillman told Kapelos the federal government was able to find common successes with the Trump administration in the early days of the pandemic and in NAFTA negotiations.
“But it wasn’t an administration that was that interested working with allies to solve certain kind of problems,” Hillman said. She highlighted climate change and NATO as some of those problems.
Hillman’s remarks on the Canada-U.S. relationship comes ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada Thursday evening and Friday.
Hillman discusses President Biden’s visit in the video at the top of this article.
Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford to testify at committee probing Chinese government interference
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff has agreed to testify before one of the committees investigating the extent of the Chinese government’s interference in Canada’s elections — and what the Liberal government knew about it.
“While there are serious constraints on what can be said in public about sensitive intelligence matters, in an effort to make Parliament work, [Katie] Telford has agreed to appear at the procedure and House affairs committee as part of their study,” says a Tuesday statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The decision clears a logjam at the procedure and House affairs committee (PROC), where Liberal MPs have been filibustering over the past two weeks to stall a vote on calling Telford to appear.
The committee resumed Tuesday morning and voted to call Telford to appear for two hours between April 3 and April 14.
Committee member and Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who first floated the motion, said that while Liberal MPs should answer for their actions in obstructing the committee, he’s pleased with Tuesday’s decision.
“It’s critical that she testify. She’s the second most powerful person in this government, arguably. But not only that, she played an integral role in the 2019 and 2021 election campaigns on behalf of the Liberal Party,” he said.
“She is a critical witness to get to the heart of the scandal, which is what did the prime minister know, when did he know about it and what did he do or fail to do about Beijing’s interference in our elections?”
Liberal MP Greg Fergus said he wasn’t willing to call her to testify, but Telford volunteered.
“It allows us to move on to other business,” he said. “The tradition is not to have political staff come before committees. It should be ministers who are really responsible for this. It makes a lot of sense. It’s been a long-standing tradition of the House and one that should be broken with great hesitation.”
The approved motion also invites the national campaign directors for the Liberal and Conservative parties during the 2019 and 2021 federal election campaigns to testify. It extends the invitation to Jenni Byrne, adviser to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and Tauscha Michaud, chief of staff to former leader Erin O’Toole.
Public and political interest in foreign election interference has intensified since the Globe and Mail alleged that China tried to ensure that the Liberals won a minority government in the last general election. The newspaper also published reports saying Beijing worked to defeat Conservative candidates who were critical of China.
Back in the fall, Global News reported that intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China’s consulate in Toronto floated cash to at least 11 federal election candidates “and numerous Beijing operatives” who worked as campaign staffers.
Trudeau has said repeatedly he was never briefed about federal candidates receiving money from China.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) calls foreign interference activities by the Chinese government the “greatest strategic threat to national security.”
An independent panel tasked with overseeing the 2021 election did detect attempts at interference but concluded that foreign meddling did not affect the outcome.
Conservative motion fails in House
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took credit for Telford’s decision to appear on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Singh said his party would back the Conservatives in passing a motion compelling her to appear before another parliamentary committee — the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics — if the government didn’t stop filibustering in committee. The PMO announced Telford’s appearance not long after.
“I forced the government and I made it really clear today they had a choice. They could stop the obstruction in committee, allow the witness to testify or we would support the motion,” Singh told reporters Tuesday. His party has a confidence-and-supply agreement with Trudeau’s Liberal minority government.
The Conservative motion was defeated in the House of Commons Tuesday by a vote of 177 to 145.
NDP MPs voted on the side of the Liberals. They were booed by the Conservative bench.
Speaking to journalists after the vote, Conservative MP Andrew Scheer took a swing at Singh.
“I’ve served with several NDP leaders. I served in the house with Jack Layton, Ed Broadbent, Alexa McDonough and Thomas Mulcair. I’ve never seen an NDP leader like this, selling out longstanding principles that that party used to stand for, in exchange for who knows what,” he said.
The former Conservative leader went on to lambaste the government for staging what he called a “theatrical display” at committee before climbing down and agreeing to let Telford testify.
“Now the prime minister is expecting, Justin Trudeau is expecting a gold star for exhausting every attempt to delay and block Ms. Telford from testifying,” he said.
“None of this takes away from the urgent need for a full independent public inquiry.”
Singh said he’ll also still push for a public inquiry into the allegations of election interference.
“I’ve said clearly, both publicly and privately, that … we need a public inquiry and we need questions answered in the meantime,” said Singh,
“Absent a public inquiry process, the only process that we have is the committee work.”
The Liberals floated making the vote on the Telford motion a confidence matter, but Trudeau shut that down — pushing off speculation about an early election for the time being.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office also released the mandate for former governor general David Johnston‘s position as independent special rapporteur on foreign interference.
The terms of reference say Johnston will report regularly to the prime minister and must make a decision on whether the government should call a public inquiry by May 23, 2023. The PMO says the prime minister expects Johnston to complete his review by Oct. 31, 2023.
The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois have pushed back against Johnston’s appointment, arguing that he is too closely linked with the prime minister.
Trudeau has shot back by accusing Poilievre of attacking Canada’s “institutions with a flamethrower.”
Trudeau retreats, and retreat is his best political strategy
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau retreated on Tuesday so that his chief of staff, Katie Telford, will now testify before a parliamentary committee. But it turns out retreat is a good plan for his Liberals.
Despite the chatter, Mr. Trudeau was never going to trigger an election simply to stop Ms. Telford from testifying. That would be a nutty political calculation.
The Liberals had already spent a lot of political capital blocking the opposition demands for Ms. Telford to testify, filibustering at the committee and taking a beating from commentators and painting themselves into a corner.
Retreat, on the other hand, provided some technical political advantages.
Ms. Telford’s appearance at the procedure and House affairs committee, when it comes, could still be tricky, though she won’t be telling all about the PM’s intelligence briefings on Chinese interference in Canadian elections.
But it was getting harder and harder to avoid ever since the NDP, the Liberals’ parliamentary allies in a confidence and supply agreement, broke with the Liberals and supported the opposition demand to have Ms. Telford testify.
The Conservatives had presented a motion in the House of Commons demanding she appear that was coming to a vote Tuesday night.
But once the Liberals conceded, and Mr. Trudeau announced that Ms. Telford would testify, the NDP voted against that motion. And the Liberals avoided umpteen hours of hearings including testimony from 30 cabinet ministers, officials and political party representatives.
Mr. Trudeau’s opponents can crow that he blinked – and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said he had flip-flopped after weeks of pressure – but retreat was good for the Liberals.
There will still be the spectacle of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff refusing to reveal much about what the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told the PM about Beijing’s efforts to influence Canada’s elections in 2019 and 2021. Mr. Trudeau told reporters that there are lot of things about intelligence that Ms. Telford, much like officials who have previously testified, won’t be able to say in public.
The Conservatives know that. Perhaps what they really want to ask Ms. Telford – also a key figure in Liberal election campaigns – is whether CSIS warned campaign staffers that they suspected Liberal candidates might be compromised by ties to Beijing. (Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford answered a similar question on Tuesday by telling reporters that CSIS briefed his chief of staff about MPP Vincent Ke last fall, but only in vague terms.)
But at this point, the Liberals are almost hoping that the Conservatives will have their knives out for Ms. Telford when she testifies.
Mr. Trudeau keeps saying that Canadians don’t want to see Chinese interference become a partisan issue. The Liberals accuse the Conservatives of turning the issue into a political circus, but the truth is they hope the hearings will look like one.
At any rate, Ms. Telford was always going to end up having to testify, at least to avoid something worse. The Liberals suffered damage in a vain attempt to prevent it. Mr. Trudeau should learn a lesson about the value of retreat.
While the opposition parties howled for an inquiry, Mr. Trudeau named former governor-general David Johnston as a “special rapporteur” – prompting both the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois to argue that Mr. Johnston’s friendship with the Trudeau family makes him unfit for the role.
But now the timeline that Mr. Trudeau has given to his “special rapporteur” presents the opportunity for another retreat. Mr. Johnston has six months to issue his final recommendations but a surprisingly short time, until May 23, to come up with recommendations on whether there should be another process – such as an inquiry.
You would think that in that brief period, Mr. Johnston can only look around at all the perplexing questions hanging over the Canadian polity, and realize he has little choice but to recommend some step that will be seen as providing a truly independent review that offers some transparent answers.
Mr. Trudeau should hope so. That’s the place where all of this has to go. The Prime Minister would be better off backing out of the corner he is in quickly, and getting to that place with less damage.
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