Thursday, August 31, 2017

Attack in Charlottesville Causes Tragedy, Political Headaches

A white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend turned violent Saturday as twenty year old man, James Fields, drove his car into a crowd filled with counter-protesters, killing a woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 more. Fields was taken into custody shortly after.

The protests began last Friday, as marchers including white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. A night march was led by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist and a self-proclaimed leader of the “at-right,” a movement which contains white supremacist elements. In the march, the demonstrators carried tiki torches and shouted chants, such as, “Jews will not replace us.”

The more violent clashes happened the next Saturday, as counterprotesters, including anti-racist demonstrators and far-left elements engaged in melee with the far-right. The police in Charlottesville has been criticized for not doing enough to ensure that the demonstrations did not give way to violence. While the cohort led by Spencer and his allies had a permit for the rally, the police attempted to disperse the protesters just prior to the car attack. The violence came to a head with the car attack, which is believed to been motivated by racism and likely a terrorist attack in itself. In addition, two Virginia State police officers died when their helicopter crashed while providing support to control the violence during the rally.

In response to the attack, President Donald Trump issued an initial statement, blaming the violence on both sides, saying “many sides” were at fault. Facing criticism from many, especially from fellow Republicans, he gave another statement the next day explicitly denouncing the “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists.” Trump faced further criticism for a press conference on Tuesday, in which he implied there were good people on both sides of the demonstrations, and that the left-wing protesters, which he called the “alt-left,” shared as much blame for the violence as the far-right demonstrators.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Scaramucci Removed from White House Role

Scaramucci, pictured here in 2016, seemed to be bringing
a more cordial attitude to the White House communications
office before revealing his animosity towards then
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in profane
Credit: Gage Skidmore
Anthony Scaramucci, a financier with a history of political involvement, was removed Monday by from his White House job as communications director before even formally stepping into the role. In a twist of fate, he was reportedly removed at the behest of the new White House chief of staff, former general and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who replaced Reince Priebus, who Scaramucci wanted gone.

Scaramucci's tenure coincided with a major shakeup in White House staff. Sean Spicer, who had been serving as acting White House communications director after his rocky tenure as press secretary (now filled by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee), resigned in protest following Scaramucci's hiring. Scaramucci played tribute to Spicer, and seemed to enjoy engaging with the White House press corps in his first press conference following the announcement of his hiring by the White House.

Scaramucci's profane rant to a reporter, in which he accused Priebus of being a leaker of confidential information and would be fired soon, no doubt contributed to his political demise. In addition, Scaramucci had boasted that he would only be reporting to Trump, and not to the chief of staff. Though Priebus was removed on Friday, Scaramucci was not far behind.

Scaramucci's actions and attitude simply proved too much for Kelly, who is seeking to exert control over the chaotic administration, which has suffered controversy after controversy relating to its relationship with the press, allegations of collusion with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign, and failure to pass a Republican-sponsored health care overhaul, a mainstay of Republican electoral promises for the past seven years.

GOP Health Care Effort Flounders

Republican efforts to repeal the Obama’s signature health care law, or at least make changes to it, has continued to fail to produce fruit as Democrats continue their steadfast opposition and Senate Republicans cannot reach a consensus on the path forward.

GOP moderates, especially Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), and conservatives such as Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have considered elements of the other side’s plans untenable in getting them for a final bill. Plans that would have repealed parts of the bill and replace them with GOP plans have failed, as have plans to repeal the plan without a replacement one waiting.

On early Friday morning, the Senate rejected a so-called “skinny repeal,” which would have repealed the individual mandate, the most hated part of Obamacare by many Republicans, and eliminated certain taxes. The bill was notable in that House Speaker Paul Ryan gave assurances to some senators that the House will not pass that bill, giving them clearance to vote for it without having to be held fully accountable if made law. Still, it failed, with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joining Collins and Murkowski in voting it down.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Trump Open to Opening More of Atlantic, Arctic to Drilling

The White House has sent signals that it could open up more of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans to oil exploration, which would reverse prior Obama administration policy prohibiting petroleum drilling in those areas. The Interior Department is also exploring opportunities to allow more drilling off the coast of most of the US mainland.

These steps comes as Trump aims to make the US a greater player in the world oil market, though the possible expansion in supply comes at a time when oil prices are at a low point. Additional increases in supply could translate into reduced costs in the rest of the economy, but greater losses for many oil producers.

Senate Republican Health Care Bill Faces Uncertainty

Senate Republicans have unveiled their version of the GOP plan to repeal, or at least, rollback Obamacare, though getting a bill through the Senate, let alone getting it enacted into law, is far from certain.

The plan leaves a large chunk of the framework of Obamacare in place, such as the subsidies for those seeking to purchase private insurance. However, it repeals the individual and employer mandates, cuts Medicaid spending, and reduces the amounts of available subsidies.
The bill has encountered public opposition, with only 17% supporting it, according to a NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll (though 24% reported not knowing enough to make an opinion of it).

The opposition has led to Senate Republicans seeking to change the bill, with some suggesting that certain proposed tax cuts, which are projected to benefit more wealthy Americans, could be rolled back to provide greater assistance though subsidies and Medicaid spending. Such a tax that could be left in place is a 3.8% tax on investment income on individuals making more than $200,000 per year.

Any compromises are likely to alienate many of the senators needed to push the bill to final passage through the Senate. Too many cuts to social spending could dissuade moderates such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to oppose the bill, while leaving too much of Obamacare’s structure could dissuade some like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) from opposing it. Moderate Democrats, most notably Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), have ruled out supporting the bill in its current form, but have remained open to working with the Senate GOP on another proposal that does not attempt an Obamacare repeal.