Author Archive: Economist

Trump Removes Intel Watchdog Who Revealed Whistleblower Complaint That Led to Impeachment

U.S. President Donald Trump has removed the U.S. intelligence community watchdog from office.Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson informed Congress about the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment earlier this year.Trump officially notified the intelligence committees of both houses of Congress on Friday that Atkinson’s firing would go into effect in 30 days.He said in a letter that he “no longer” had “the fullest confidence” in Atkinson. Trump said he would name a replacement for Atkinson “at a later date.”The move was quickly criticized by top congressional Democrats.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Atkinson’s firing as “shameful,” calling it “a brazen act against a patriotic public servant who has honorably performed his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath.”“Michael Atkinson is a man of integrity who has served our nation for almost two decades,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. “Being fired for having the courage to speak truth to power makes him a patriot.”The move was also criticized by the top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees.“At a time, when our country is dealing with a national emergency and needs people in the Intelligence Community to speak truth to power, the President’s dead of night decision puts our country and national security at even greater risk,” House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement. “President Trump’s decision to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson is yet another blatant attempt by the President to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.”Sen. Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement, “In the midst of a national emergency, it is unconscionable that the President is once again attempting to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community by firing yet another intelligence official simply for doing his job. … We should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation’s intelligence agencies.”

Trump Fires Watchdog Who Handled Ukraine Complaint

President Donald Trump has fired the intelligence watchdog who handled the complaint that triggered his impeachment.
Trump informed the Senate intelligence committee Friday of his decision to fire Michael Atkinson, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.This is a breaking story. Check back with VOA News for further developments. 

Coronavirus Concerns Challenge Biden Campaign

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s journey to the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination just got a little longer and a lot more complicated. Biden’s recent call for his party to delay the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee to later in the summer reflected the growing concern that the massive gathering of thousands of politicians and party faithful would accelerate the spread of the coronavirus. The Democratic National Committee announced Thursday that the event nominating the presidential and vice presidential candidates and formally kicking off the general election campaign would begin August 17. That is three weeks later than originally scheduled and a week before the Republicans convene in Charlotte, North Carolina, to nominate President Donald Trump for a second term.  The abrupt convention schedule shift marks one more disruption in Biden’s presumptive path to becoming his party’s nominee.  Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to the press after loosing much of super Tuesday to former Vice President Joe Biden the previous night, in Burlington, Vermont on March 11, 2020.State primaries that could have delivered Biden the decisive number of delegates needed to end rival Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the nomination have been rescheduled because of coronavirus quarantine measures.  Biden holds a commanding lead in the race, with 1,217 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 914 delegates. But he is still short of the 1,991 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination, and Sanders has refused to concede.Now both men are in a kind of campaign limbo, deprived of the chance to hold in-person rallies of voters while Trump holds daily White House briefings on the national public health crisis. “There is a real disadvantage here. President Trump gets to get on TV every night and surround himself with experts and officials and look very authoritative, as though he is in charge.  And that’s what the nation wants during a time of crisis,” said Todd Belt, the director of the political management program at George Washington University.  “This sort of scenario with Biden and Trump is a natural advantage of an incumbent,” said Matt Gorman, a strategist who worked on Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign as well as Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign. Gorman noted that during that 2012 campaign, Obama traveled to areas of New York and New Jersey battered by Superstorm Sandy in his role as commander in chief.  “That is something a candidate cannot replicate,” Gorman said.  Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration, speaks about the coronavirus in the White House, April 2, 2020, as Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin listen.In an unprecedented national emergency, Biden and Sanders run the risk of appearing crass and undermining national safety if they go too far in criticizing Trump.  “Anything that they would do more than they’re doing now might look mean-spirited,” Belt said. “Could you imagine if they did something like the [Democrats’ negative] response to the president’s State of the Union? If they did a response completely undermining all the efforts of the nation’s response to it?”Alex Wall, who was director of social media for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, notes that Biden’s digital campaign strategy has included pushbacks against Trump’s coronavirus response. Wall singled out the Biden campaign’s use of surrogate Ron Klain, a former Obama administration official who led government efforts to address the Ebola epidemic, in digital outreach.  “The whiteboard explainer that they released across their channels last week from him was really effective,” Wall said. “Regular, consistent updates, whether it’s from Ron Klain, whether it’s from the candidate, I think those are going to be really critical to just give people sort of the facts on how do we combat this crisis.”  At a time when millions of Americans are housebound and on their phones more than ever, Biden has had to pivot to digital campaigning when his strength has always been with in-person interactions on the campaign trail. Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden, left, and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with a safe elbow bump before the start of the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, March 15, 2020.The Biden campaign spent five days refitting a room in his Delaware home as an ad-hoc studio for television broadcasting following tightened coronavirus shelter-in-place procedures. That delay noticeably contrasted with the Sanders campaign, which has been broadcasting out of the candidate’s home for over a year and often re-creates the enthusiasm of his in-person rallies with well-attended Facebook Live events.  Wall says Biden has strengths as a candidate that can be matched to this moment on social media.  “In some of the Facebook Live video livestream events that he’s done or even interviews on cable, he really sort of meets people where they are in terms of loss and struggle,” he said. Biden lost his wife and 1-year old daughter in a car accident in 1973 and lost an adult son, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015.  Instagram Live, Facebook Live and even his recently launched podcast can provide Biden with important opportunities to connect with voters.“People really need to hear and see a leader across channels that is empathizing with them, that is talking about what it’s like to lose a loved one or lose a job or be facing some of these hardships,” according to Wall.This is one way Biden can try to overcome Sanders’ social media strength and challenge Sanders’ call for Medicare for All, which is resonating in the face of huge gaps in health care amid the coronavirus crisis.  While both men are bound by social distancing procedures that rule out in-person interactions on the campaign trail, the pressure is on Biden to eliminate his one remaining primary rival and then take on the president.  “The longer this gets drawn out, the more difficult it will be for Biden to bring over Sanders’ voters,” Belt said.   Supporters of Democratic presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden cheers as he speaks at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, on March 10, 2020.That makes this summer’s Democratic National Convention – when Biden likely will have that long-denied moment of cementing his nomination – so important.  “A convention is basically an infomercial for the candidate,” Belt said, noting that with any change in the convention, “you’re losing that whole block of time to present the candidate on a national stage.” Neither is there a chance to show the delegates, who serve “as visual props, holding up their signs. I really think we underestimate how important that is to generate enthusiasm as well.” But even that rescheduled convention start date in August is uncertain. There’s no guarantee the nation will be out of the coronavirus crisis and fully back to normal in a way that could allow such a large gathering to draw all attention back to the presidential election.

Democrats Want FCC to Reject Trump Campaign Threat to Broadcasters 

Two top Democrats in Congress on Thursday asked Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai to reassure broadcasters the agency will not revoke their licenses for airing advertisements critical of President Donald Trump.On March 25, Trump’s campaign sent letters to broadcasters in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin demanding they stop airing an ad critical of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and suggested continued airings “could put [the] station’s license in jeopardy.” The states are all expected to be battleground states that could prove decisive in November’s presidential election. Such states are hotly contested because their populations can swing either to Republicans or Democrats.FILE – Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., speaks during a hearing of the Committee on Energy and Commerce on Capitol Hill, May 8, 2018.Democratic Representatives Frank Pallone, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Mike Doyle, who chairs the subcommittee overseeing the FCC, said the law prohibits the commission from interfering with programming decisions to air legally protected content. “At a time when autocratic governments around the world are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to suppress press freedoms, we must reaffirm – not undermine – America’s commitment to a free press,” Pallone and Doyle wrote. “By remaining silent, the FCC sends a disturbing signal that it sanctions these threats and that broadcaster licenses could be in jeopardy.” Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., speaks at a news conference about net neutrality in Washington, May 16, 2018.Last week, Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, which created the ad, said it planned to expand its use despite the Trump’s campaign’s cease-and-desist letters. The ad plays verbatim quotes from the president, including, “We have it totally under control” and “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” as a graph shows the rising number of coronavirus cases. In the opening, the ad includes his quote that “this is their new hoax.” Trump’s re-election campaign said that quote was referring to Democratic “criticisms and politicization of the federal response to the public health crisis” and demanded the ad be taken down for falsely asserting he used the term to describe the coronavirus. Trump has faced criticism for initially playing down the seriousness of the coronavirus. The FCC declined to comment, saying it is reviewing the letter.The Trump campaign did not immediately comment. The White House declined to comment. In October 2017, Pai rejected Trump’s suggestion that the FCC could challenge the license of NBC, a unit of Comcast, after Trump suggested it reported stories that were not true. The FCC, an independent federal agency, does not license broadcast networks, but issues licenses to individual broadcast stations that are renewed on a staggered basis for eight-year periods. 

New Era of US Campaigning in Time of Coronavirus 

The congressional district Lindsey Boylan is running to represent is eerily quiet.  New York’s 10th Congressional District takes in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn and includes one of the nation’s makeshift hospitals converted to handle the growing coronavirus crisis: the Javits Center.  “You don’t see the lights of the city that you would usually see. People really try to be respectful of the shelter-in-place rule, aside from grocery stores,” says Boylan, a former deputy secretary of economic development for Governor Andrew Cuomo who is running as a primary challenger to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler. “It’s just a really quiet, quiet city.”  Boylan is one of thousands of candidates up and down the ballot across the nation who have had to adapt their campaigns to the new realities of self-isolation and shelter-in-place orders.  Online replaces door-to-doorCandidates who usually at this time in an election year would be knocking on doors and holding face-to-face town halls have migrated online to Instagram Lives and Zoom meetings.  Campaigning is always difficult but this dramatic shift is occurring early in a crucial election season that will determine if Democrats retain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives while Republicans are looking to hold on to control of the U.S. Senate. The makeup of the nation’s legislative body will be determined by these candidates’ success or failure.  “There’s an old saying in electoral politics – there are those that walk and those that lose. You want to get out there and do the door knocking,” says Todd Belt, director of the political management program at the George Washington University School of Political Management.  The Empire State building is seen in the distance from an empty street, April 2, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.First-time candidatesThe challenge is even greater for first-time candidates like Boylan, who need to increase their name recognition with voters and take on incumbent politicians. While presidential campaigns and high-profile congressional races have media recognition and large staffs, the majority of candidates are operating on much tighter margins.  “A campaign is like a small business that ends on election day,” says Amanda Litman, executive director and co-founder of Run for Something, an organization that helps first-time political candidates. The organization has compiled resources to help those first-time candidates figure out how to move an entire operation including volunteers, events, and information-sharing completely online.   “We’re encouraging people to try and replicate the relationships they have with voters, or at least replicate the intimacy. You can’t recreate the way that knocking on someone’s door and going into their home really feels. However, we can try and build on that trust and at least try and build some of that trust online,” Litman says.  “We’ve had to pivot entirely to digital at this point,” Boylan says of her campaign. “But we’re doing things every day to accommodate that. So I did my first Instagram Live last night with the only other mom of young children who’s running for Congress in New York State.”  Online office hours Boylan says hundreds of people joined in virtually and that she would begin replicating that experience with online office hours throughout the campaign, answering the flood of questions about federal and state assistance for those impacted by the coronavirus.  “Technology has been a tremendous equalizer in our campaign because I can immediately hear about the issues that are really problematic for people in the community,” Boylan said.  But Belt said interactions on social media do not fully replace the in-person interactions candidates often do in voter town halls and in visits with civic groups as they seek endorsements.  “It’s just not the same thing as being able to talk to people and listen to their concerns and to show your empathy and to explain in detail what your policy proposals are,” he said.  Congressional races also rely on more traditional forms of paid media – the candidate advertisements that run on local radio and television stations. Those ads cost money at a time when campaign fundraising is a tough task for candidates who risk appearing crass during a national emergency  “It’s going to be more expensive,” Belt said of the cost of paid advertisements. “Now you have less money coming in. And because the amount of money you have to pay for an advertisement is pegged to the rating that they’re getting, the ratings are going to be up because everybody’s home. It’s going to make it even more expensive at a time of declining contributions.”   Influence of local media has changed In past election years, candidates have always been able to turn to interviews with local media – from TV appearances talking about local issues to interviews with newspaper editorial boards considering endorsements. Matt Gorman, the former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, notes even this element of campaigning has been changed by the coronavirus.   “It’s extremely rare where not only is national media dominated by a story but local media is as well,” said Gorman. He said he would advise candidates, “Don’t swim against the stream – talk about coronavirus. That’s what people want to talk about, that’s what the press wants to cover but a smart candidate uses that to branch out to other pertinent issues.”  A pedestrian walks by The Family Barbershop, closed due to a Gov. Gretchen Whitmer executive order, in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., April 2, 2020.Medical school background a plusSolomon Rajput is a progressive challenger to Rep. Debbie Dingell, in the Michigan 12th Congressional District, an area identified as one of the national hotspots for the coronavirus. He says his medical school background figured heavily in a recent online town hall with voters.  “Having that health care background, a background in science and recognizing the lack of science in our federal administration and how that has gotten us to the terrible point we’re at,” Rajput said of the concerns conveyed to him by voters.  Rajput had to reassess his campaign strategy of building an army of committed young volunteers who could go out into the community to talk about his concerns about climate change. Now he says his campaign is making the most of the time voters are stuck inside, recruiting for online internships.  Discussions start with coronavirusBoylan says that in her campaign the consequences of the coronavirus have started discussions with voters about access to testing, hospital overcrowding and the issues created for families now that schools are closed and some students do not have access to computers and other resources.  “Our campaign really had focused on the fact that our district and our communities are the most unequal in the country,” says Boylan. “It’s not as if these issues have changed. It’s simply that this public health crisis that we’re living through really has exacerbated a lot of these problems.” Boylan says one of her signature campaign issues is receiving more attention lately due to the crisis: access to affordable mental health care. She can still bring those concerns – and the plans she has to address them – to voters.  Like all the candidates on the ballot in this unusual election year, Boylan is finding new ways to campaign in an historically bad situation. Later in the day, she’s booked for a podcast interview on mental health in the time of the coronavirus.  

US Democrats Delay National Convention 

The U.S. Democratic Party postponed its national presidential nominating convention from July to August on Thursday because of the uncertainty created by the ravaging coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial event, where Democratic activists are likely to nominate former Vice President Joe Biden to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November national election, had been scheduled for mid-July in Milwaukee, in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin, but now will start Aug. 17. The party, in announcing the delay, said that even then the size and shape of the event is uncertain, with officials saying they will rely on the advice of medical and emergency responders about the coronavirus closer to the time of the event to protect the thousands of people who normally would attend the convention. Every four years, the Democratic and Republican national presidential nominating conventions are a showcase of American democracy in action, even though for years the eventual outcome of the parties’ presidential contests have been known for weeks ahead of the actual conventions. The conclaves have, however, served as rallies for the party faithful, with thousands of flag-waving political activists ready to cheer four days of speeches denouncing their opponents. Joe Solmonese, chief executive of the Democratic National Convention Committee, said, “In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention.” He said that because “the scope and scale of the pandemic and its impact remain unknown, we will continue to monitor the situation.” Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, speaks before a Democratic presidential primary debate, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta.Tom Perez, the Democrats’ national chair, said, “Ultimately, the health and safety of our convention attendees and the people of Milwaukee is our top priority. And we will continue to be in contact with local, state, and federal health officials as we monitor this fluid situation.” He said Democrats are “ready to defeat Donald Trump, the American people are ready to elect a Democratic president, and I have absolute confidence that our team is ready to deliver a successful convention for our nominee.” In keeping an eye on the state of the pandemic closer to August, Democrats said they could adjust the convention’s format, limit the crowd size and change the schedule. With the new convention date for the Democrats, the two national parties will be staging back-to-back conventions in two successive weeks, which usually does not occur. Republicans are slated to acclaim Trump’s nomination for a second four-year term in the White House at their convention in Charlotte, in the Atlantic coastal state of North Carolina, starting Aug. 24. 

Pelosi to Form Select Committee to Oversee US Coronavirus Relief

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she would form a bipartisan select committee on the coronavirus crisis to oversee the spending of $2.3 trillion that Congress has approved to respond to the pandemic.In a conference call with reporters, the California Democrat also said she believed the administration of Republican President Donald Trump was “more inclined to be supportive” than Senate Republican leaders of her push for infrastructure spending as part of a fourth major bill in response to the coronavirus crisis.Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration have been clashing over how to implement the massive coronavirus rescue bill, the largest financial relief bill in U.S. history. When he signed the bill, Trump questioned whether he had to adhere to restrictions on his powers included in it.Pelosi said lawmakers must ensure aid already approved gets to those who need it most, and a committee was needed to ensure funds “are spent wisely and effectively.”The top House Republican, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, raised several objections to the idea of a select committee, including that it could not be created without a vote and Congress is out until April 20. “It raises questions to me, what the speaker is trying to do with that,” McCarthy told reporters on a conference call.McCarthy said there is already oversight from congressional committees and the new coronavirus laws.Review favoredPelosi, whose party has enough votes in the House to create a select committee if it wants, said she also favored an “after action review” later to examine the handling of the pandemic, but the select committee will be for the “here and now.” It will have subpoena power, she said. “We want to make sure there are not exploiters out there. … Where there is money, there is also frequently mischief.”Pelosi said she spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday about tax matters, but “they know that I want to go forward” on infrastructure spending.”Whatever communication we need to move forward, that will be happening, whether I talk to the president or not,” said Pelosi, who has a strained relationship with Trump.McCarthy said he was open to more infrastructure spending but wanted to focus on implementing coronavirus-related legislation already passed before embarking on more.Democrats have outlined a $760 billion, five-year infrastructure bill that would fund road repairs, water system improvements, broadband and other projects. They also want $10 billion for community health centers.

Trump Sees His Handling of COVID-19 as Path to Reelection

With the coronavirus death toll mounting in the U.S., the presidential election in November 2020 is now shaping up potentially as a referendum on how President Donald Trump is handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The president has not shied away from being political during this time of national crisis, and his campaign is seeking to capitalize on the image of the commander in chief holding forth during White House coronavirus briefings. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this story.

 Coronavirus Virtually Transforms US Political Campaigns

Social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 is changing the tactics for political campaigns, especially for candidates running for president of the United States. VOA’s Steve Redisch examines the changing strategies and endangered traditions.

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