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Politics in the Time of COVID-19 – Voice of America



In order to combat the coronavirus, medical professionals are telling us to keep apart. If you think in terms of our national politics, that should not be too hard. We have been moving apart for decades. 

This week, I wrap up a 37-year career at Voice of America, having spent much of that time covering U.S. politics. First, it was the Congress in the early ’90s, and for the past quarter century, elections and politics on a national scale for an international audience.  

From my vantage point, the past three decades have shown the United States as a house divided, a country buffeted by shifting political currents that sway the pendulum on a regular basis between right and left, stability and upheaval. 

Now the country and the world face one of the great challenges of our times — countering the coronavirus pandemic. The closest parallel in recent history was the U.S. coming together to fight terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

That national unity, however, did not last long. The Iraq War a few years later once again split the country apart, and our political differences have only sharpened since the elections of Barack Obama and his successor, Donald Trump. 

Differing perceptions 

There are numerous examples on the local level of Americans coming together to battle the coronavirus pandemic. On the national level, though, our tribal differences still pull us apart. The public is even divided on the seriousness of the crisis. 

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 59 percent of Democrats see the outbreak as a serious threat to public health, while 33 percent of Republicans agree. 

President Donald Trump speaks with Fox News Channel Anchor Bill Hemmer during a Fox News Channel virtual town hall, at the White House, in Washington, March 24, 2020.

On Monday, Trump hinted he soon may loosen federal guidelines for social distancing, with an eye toward jolting the economy back to life. ”America will again and soon be open for business,” he told reporters at the White House. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” 

Two recent polls show at least half the country approves of Trump’s response to the coronavirus crisis.  And his overall approval rating now averages 44 percent, according to assessments by two non-partisan analytical sites, RealClear Politics and

Despite the polling bump, Democrats have less faith than Republicans in Trump’s ability to handle the crisis. A recent survey by polling company Civiqs found 90 percent of Democrats dissatisfied with the Trump administration’s response, while 85 percent of Republicans approved. 

Last week, a Washington Post article quoted one unidentified voter in Kansas as describing the pandemic as “mass hysteria caused by the liberal media. They want to take Trump and our economy down,” the person said. 

Test for Trump 

Dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak now looms as the greatest challenge of Trump’s presidency. Many analysts criticized the president for what they saw as a slow and, at times, skeptical response to the emergency early on, with numerous statements either downplaying the seriousness or making exaggerated claims of preparedness. 

In recent days, the president often has adopted a more serious tone in dealing with the outbreak and some recent polls show a slight uptick in his approval rating. Overall, though, it is still early to make a judgment on how the public views the president’s response. 

Trump is now actively seeking the spotlight in the daily coronavirus briefings from the White House. Last week, Trump said he now sees himself as a “wartime president,” and the daily TV briefing has quickly become a sort of substitute for his political rallies where he can give wide-ranging answers on the coronavirus and other issues that come to mind. 

Recession dangers 

As economists warn of a recession, Trump must be mindful of history. Economic downturns are not kind to presidents seeking reelection, as Herbert Hoover found out in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1992. All three lost reelection bids. 

The Double Check man is seen on a nearly empty Broadway in the financial district, as the coronavirus disease outbreak continues, in New York City, New York, March 23, 2020.

Trump may be able to rally support if he remains focused on stemming the spread of the coronavirus and finding bipartisan solutions to the economic upheaval sweeping the country. But the political risks are evident for a president who has been more unpopular than popular during his time in office. 

Political expert Alan Abramowitz wrote in a report published by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics that if the president faces a severe recession with low approval ratings in November, “the result could well be a defeat of landslide proportions.” 

2020 campaign 

The coronavirus pandemic has frozen the U.S. presidential campaign in place with former Vice President Joe Biden holding what looks to be an insurmountable delegate lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the battle for the Democratic Party nomination. 

The Sanders campaign continues to hold internal discussions about whether to continue to fight or officially back Biden. Several primaries have been put off until early June and there are questions as to whether the party nominating conventions will go ahead as planned in July and August. 

Biden has decided to ramp up his messaging on the pandemic, perhaps realizing that the president is seizing the spotlight daily at the White House. In a digital video release Monday, Biden said Trump has been “behind the curve” in his response to the crisis. ”Stop swerving between overpromising, buck-passing, and start delivering protection to our people.” 

Biden and the Democrats also walk a fine line. In criticizing Trump’s response, they also must find ways to put the public good ahead of politics during a national crisis. 

A house divided 

In the early ’90s, when covering Congress, I watched as Democrats lost the House of Representatives after 40 years of control in 1994. From there it was on to coverage of the militia movement in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and more recently the rise of the Tea Party during the presidency of Barack Obama. 

One of the enduring themes from those Tea Party rallies I often heard was “no compromise,” a desire to end bipartisan dealings that these voters often felt betrayed their interests. 

As political polarization has grown over the decades, so, too, has the challenge of overcoming that split during a time of national crisis, especially with competing ideological media echo chambers that coarsen the political debate. 

We are in the midst of a public health crisis and if history is any guide, the American public often has shown it can rally and rise to the occasion — even when our national political divide gets in the way. 

The months ahead may present the greatest challenge yet for a democracy riven by partisanship: Find the will to put people, their health and the country ahead of politics during a presidential election year. 

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The two most divisive events in US politics are about to take place at the same time – CNN



The US President now plans to make a third pick for the nine-person bench on the highest court in the land. He will almost certainly enshrine an unassailable 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which means that political change launched by any future Democratic presidents and Congress could be undone by the Court’s constitutional interpretations — no matter what the majority of the nation wants.
Appointed for a lifetime, justices can change over the years, sometimes in a way that surprises and annoys the presidents who nominated them. They are also supposed to respect precedent, so it’s impossible to say how the high court will behave on all issues.
But there is now a very real prospect that a woman’s right to an abortion, guaranteed by the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, could be overturned or limited. A conservative-dominated Supreme Court could also roll back future attempts to regulate gun laws, hinder attempts to regulate polluters in the fight against climate change, and embolden challenges to legislation on voting rights and outlawing racial discrimination. And fear is growing among supporters of same sex marriage, only legalized in 2015.
Former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which allowed millions to buy insurance plans, already looks to be in trouble. The court will hear the Trump administration’s attempt to kill it off after the election. Even if Trump’s latest pick is not yet in place and Chief Justice John Roberts votes to save the law for a third time, a potential 4-4 tie among justices would mean a lower court ruling invalidating it would stand.
Demographic trends in the United States look unappealing for Republicans; there is a strong argument that the country will become more secular, urban, socially liberally, and racially diverse in the next few decades. But a conservative Supreme Court could be a bulwark against political change — one reason why conservatives have spent several generations working toward building this majority and why Democrats will long curse their failure to beat Trump in the 2016 election that opened the way to this extraordinarily important moment.

‘What was then a hypothetical is now a reality’

Two Republican senators so far have said they would oppose taking up a Supreme Court nomination before Election Day — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed,” Murkowski said Sunday. “I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice (Antonin) Scalia. We are now even closer to the 2020 election — less than two months out — and I believe the same standard must apply.”

Battles ahead

The two most divisive, tumultuous events in American politics — a Supreme Court nomination battle and a presidential election — are about to take place at the same time.
The President is expected to name his nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week. He has promised to name a woman, and Republicans will rush to try to get her onto the bench either before November’s election or shortly afterwards.
Democrats are furious, rightly accusing Republicans of gross hypocrisy: In 2016, when conservative Justice Scalia died in February of that year —months before the election — Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to even consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, saying voters should ultimately decide who should get to fill the vacant seat. Now, with a Republican in the White House and the election just 44 days away, McConnell is refusing to apply the same principle.
The Kentucky senator’s power play four years ago turned out to be one of the shrewdest and most ruthless moves in modern American politics, paving the way for the court’s conservative majority. There’s little Democrats can do to stop McConnell pressing ahead. Even if Joe Biden wins the election and Democrats win back the Senate in November, McConnell could still plow onward to confirm Trump’s pick in a lame duck session of Congress before new lawmakers arrive in January.
That prospect has some Democrats — who believe the chance of building a liberal majority on the nation’s top bench has been stolen from them, are thinking of nuclear options — like expanding the size of the court itself if they win back the Senate.
The sudden Supreme Court fight could also have unpredictable knock-on effects on the election itself. It will allow Trump to try to take the focus off the pandemic and to solidify his standing among evangelical and socially conservative voters who might frown at his morals — but for whom a conservative Supreme Court is a life and death voting issue. But reviving the fight over abortion in the nominating battle may alienate suburban women voters Trump needs to win a second term (they are already moving away from him) and vulnerable Republican senators might prefer not take a stand on an issue that could anger the moderates they need for survival. Meanwhile, the vacancy has already electrified the left and could drive more Biden voters to the polls.

‘Nobody’s buying this’

Sweeping UN sanctions have now been placed on Iran — according to the US and literally nobody else. As other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal point out, the Trump administration’s invocation this weekend of sanctions from the JCPOA holds little legal power, since the US quit that very same deal more than two years ago. “The whole world is saying that nothing special has happened. Mr. (US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo’s fantasy, he is fantasizing this. He wants to make everyone believe this but nobody’s buying this,” said Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh at a Sunday press briefing in Tehran. But the question is how far the US might go to enforce that “fantasy.”

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Vaughn Palmer: 'The best way forward is to put politics behind us,' says Horgan – Vancouver Sun



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“This has not been a time of instability in government,” she told reporters in blasting Horgan for calling an election that was as unnecessary as it was irresponsible. “This has been a time of unbelievable co-operation and collaboration for the people of B.C.”

The Greens (including Weaver) provided the NDP with the necessary support on every confidence measure over three years and counting.

“We have adhered to every part of that (CASA) agreement,” insisted Furstenau. “But what that agreement didn’t stipulate was absolute total obedience to the NDP.”

Absolute total obedience to the NDP.

There, I suggest, is what Horgan actually seeks with this election call: an obedient legislative majority that he can bend to his will, as surely as he has already stifled those skeptics in the party and government who questioned the wisdom of an early election.

“The final decision rests with me and me alone,” Horgan told reporters Monday. “I take full responsibility for it.”

In one breath, he insisted that he wasn’t presuming he would win the landslide suggested by the opinion polls: “I am not taking anything for granted.”

In another breath, he made it sound as if victory was already in the bag: “I have never been more confident that this is the time to ask British Columbians where they want to go.”

Then came a real thigh-slapper: “The best way forward is to put politics behind us,” said Horgan.

Right. Nothing like double-crossing your allies and springing an unnecessary election in the midst of a global pandemic to put politics behind us. 

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AGAR: SCOTUS debate's bitter politics makes its way up to Canada – Toronto Sun



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Anything else is opinion, and that opinion is shrill and self-centred.

There is nothing that says a president has to give up the responsibility even a day before being replaced.

Precedent is that 14 presidents have appointed judges in their last year and it has happened that a president has made an appointment after losing an election but before leaving office.

The issue should not be based on what one thinks of Trump. The issue is bigger than that.

So many Canadians weighed in on this in a partisan fashion that it is alarming how much the supposedly “American style” of bitter partisan politics has taken stronghold here.

That some politicians have a different position and a supposedly whole new set of principles (this is from both the left and the right) that they expressed when Obama was president is no reason to give up on what is right.

Because Senator Mitch McConnell argues that Obama shouldn’t and Trump should appoint in similar circumstances is an opportunity for us all to point out what a hypocrite he is, not to try to use him to frame our own partisanship.

Politicians are what they are and by nature they are partisan. Shouldn’t the rest of us at least try to be better than that?

The point of law is that it has to be as clear and unequivocal as it can be.

There is a process to change law. We can lobby our elected representatives. We can vote.

But it seems that the more we in the public insist that politics is a team sport outside political parties, the more the “us and them” mentality is free territory for our leaders to act in the interest of themselves and their supporters even more than they always have.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is guilty of various ethical breaches but to his supporters that is just noise from complaining conservatives because Justin is their guy.

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Who cares about character when your team is winning?

It is the sort of thinking that leads people to believe that because they have a strong moral sense – a subjective thing – that they are right, that burning and looting and general law-breaking is not only justified but called for.

Perhaps we are not so much increasingly partisan as we are narcissistic. Sounds a lot like Donald Trump.

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