Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Aug. 8

The Wall Street Journal on Trump’s Senate nominees:

Donald Trump now has the Senate nominees he wanted to win Republican primaries. We’ll soon learn if they can win in November, or if candidates with little experience and a focus on Mr. Trump’s 2020 grievances will cost the party majority control for another two years.

The GOP dodged one potential Senate debacle last week when Eric Schmitt, the state attorney general, defeated former Gov. Eric Greitens in Missouri. Mr. Greitens carried more baggage than the Queen Mary, but the GOP had to spend some $10 million in advertising to keep him down in the polls lest Mr. Trump endorse him. In the end Mr. Trump played for laughs by endorsing “ERIC” the day before the election.

In Arizona, current Gov. Doug Ducey would have been the strongest GOP Senate candidate. But Mr. Trump vowed to defeat Mr. Ducey if he ran after the Governor refused to help overturn the former President’s 2020 defeat in the state. Govs. Larry Hogan in Maryland and Chris Sununu in New Hampshire would also have had to navigate Mr. Trump’s vendetta politics, and they also chose not to run despite entreaties from current GOP Senate leaders.

The Republican Senate winner in Arizona was venture capitalist Blake Masters, a novice candidate who won Mr. Trump’s endorsement after he backed the former President’s stolen election claims. This backward-looking focus won’t help with swing voters in November, and Mr. Masters is now the underdog to Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.

This follows the pattern of other Trump-blessed Senate nominees who are struggling since their primary victories. Mehmet Oz is trailing badly in Pennsylvania after a brutal primary campaign, even though Democrat John Fetterman is still recuperating from a stroke. Republican voters haven’t united behind Mr. Oz’s candidacy, and defeat would cost the seat now held by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey.

In Georgia Mr. Trump helped to clear the GOP field for Herschel Walker, the football great. But Mr. Walker has never been vetted during a political campaign. He’s trailing incumbent Raphael Warnock in the polls in a state that should be ripe for a GOP sweep this year. And that’s before Democrats unload a mountain of negative advertising on Mr. Walker.

Mr. Trump won Ohio by eight points in 2020, and the state is trending Republican. But the nominee he helped to win the GOP Senate primary, former venture capitalist J.D. Vance, is also struggling. Instead of taking on Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan after he won his primary, Mr. Vance attacked Karl Rove. Maybe unite the party instead?

Mr. Vance has been having a hard time raising money from Republicans who dislike his attacks on free-market policies. Meanwhile, Mr. Ryan is running a shrewd campaign targeting Mr. Trump’s voters on economic issues and avoiding woke cultural themes. Mr. Vance may have to be rescued by the establishment GOP donors he has disdained.

The tide of public opinion could still sweep one or all of these GOP candidates to victory. This is probably the best national mood for Republicans since 2010, given inflation, falling real wages, U.S. adversaries on the march, chaos at the border, and President Biden’s deep unpopularity. Democratic incumbents and Mr. Ryan in Ohio have all voted with Mr. Biden’s preferences more than 90% of the time.

But candidate quality also matters, and this year’s GOP nominees are revealing the downside of Mr. Trump’s meddling in primaries. The former President’s priority is always personal—whether candidates show enough fealty to him and to his claim of a stolen 2020 election. That self-preoccupation cost the two special Georgia elections in January 2021 as Mr. Trump’s war on his own party leaders reduced GOP turnout.

The stakes in this year’s Senate races are large. The Senate is now evenly split, 50-50, and the GOP needs 51 seats to take the majority and have leverage over Mr. Biden’s nominees for the judiciary and government. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas are in their 70s. What if Joe Biden can nominate a replacement in 2024?

There’s no denying Mr. Trump’s influence with millions of GOP voters. But his chaotic and self-serving brand of politics cost Republicans the House in 2018, the White House in 2020 and the Senate in 2021. It could cost them the Senate again in November.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-nominees-and-the-senate-elections-gop-mehmet-oz-blake-masters-herschel-walker-11659632719

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Aug. 6

The New York Times on the United States’ relationship with China:

China, economically ascendant, has become increasingly assertive in pressing its economic, political and territorial claims. The United States, which long treated the country as something of a charity case, now regards it as a rival and, increasingly, as a threat. While some tension is inevitable, the rhetoric in both nations has taken a bellicose turn. There is little trust or cooperation even on issues of clear mutual interest, like combating the COVID-19 pandemic or addressing climate change.

The hardening on both sides was on full display this week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a provocative visit to Taiwan to underscore America’s support for its democratic government, and China mounted an overheated response, staging military exercises that encroached on Taiwan’s airspace and territorial waters to emphasize its determination to establish sovereignty over what it regards as its own. China announced on Friday that it also would suspend communication with the United States on a number of issues, including climate change and efforts to prevent drug trafficking.

It is in everyone’s interest for the two most powerful nations on Earth to find ways of easing these tensions. Over the past half century, beginning with President Richard Nixon’s seminal visit to China in 1972, the leaders of the United States and China have repeatedly chosen to prioritize common interests above conflict. Building this relationship, for all its flaws, has contributed much to the world’s stability and prosperity.

The Biden administration has ditched the xenophobic rhetoric of the Trump White House, but it has not offered its own vision for striking a balance between competition and cooperation. Instead, it has conducted America’s relationship with China largely as a series of exercises in crisis management, imposing sanctions for China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong while seeking its cooperation on COVID, climate change and the war in Ukraine.

There are several concrete steps the United States could take that might help improve relations.

First, instead of relying on punitive trade policies rooted in fear of China as an economic rival, the United States needs to focus on competing by investing in technical education, scientific research and industrial development. It is past time for President Biden to make a clean break with the Trump administration’s failed gambit of bullying China into making economic concessions by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden is expected to sign the CHIPS Act, which includes nearly $53 billion to support domestic production of semiconductors, the building blocks of the digital age. This might be described as taking a page from China, except the United States was the first great practitioner of this kind of industrial policy.

The United States also needs to move past the old idea that economic engagement would gradually transform Chinese politics and society. Instead of trying to change China, the United States should focus on building stronger ties with China’s neighbors. Fostering cooperation among nations with disparate interests — and in some cases, their own long histories of conflict — is not an easy task, but recent history teaches that the United States is more effective in advancing and defending its interests when it does not act unilaterally.

Taiwan is an important part of that project. Ms. Pelosi’s visit was ill timed. The Biden administration’s most urgent foreign policy priority is helping Ukraine to defeat Russia’s invasion, and the Taiwan contretemps makes it only harder to persuade China to limit support for Russia. The substance of Ms. Pelosi’s message to Taiwan, however, was on the mark. The United States has long supported the maturation of Taiwan’s democracy, and it is in America’s interest to treat Taiwan as a valued ally.

The United States has long maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” with regard to Taiwan, selling arms to its government while declining to make any outright security commitments. Arming Taiwan remains the best way to help. But clarity could help, too.

Tensions over Taiwan are rising for three interlinked reasons: The self-governing island has become more democratic and defiantly autonomous; China, under the authoritarian leadership of Xi Jinping, has become more bellicose; and the United States has responded to both trends by offering Taiwan stronger expressions of support.

When Mr. Biden said bluntly in May that the United States would defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack, aides insisted he didn’t mean to shift American policy.

But the White House should be clear that America’s commitment to recognize only a single Chinese state — the “one China policy” — has always been premised on the mainland’s peaceful conduct toward Taiwan.

Neither of these efforts — strengthening the American economy and building stronger alliances — is meant to isolate China. To the contrary, they offer a stronger basis for the Biden administration and its successors to engage China on issues where there are real differences but also real possibilities for progress, especially climate change.

Treating China as a hostile power is a counterproductive simplification. The two nations occupy large chunks of the same planet. They do not agree on the meaning of democracy or human rights, but they do share some values, most important the pursuit of prosperity.

The uncomfortable reality is that the United States and China need each other. There is no better illustration than the cargo ships that continued moving between Guangzhou and Long Beach, Calif., during Ms. Pelosi’s visit — and will continue long after her return.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/06/opinion/pelosi-taiwan-biden-china-policy.html

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Aug. 8

The Washington Post on the Inflation Reduction Act:

The Inflation Reduction Act may not reduce inflation — one sign that Senate Democrats’ reconciliation package, now that most of the drama is over, deserves a dispassionate accounting.

The deal President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had been laboring to strike for months finally passed Congress’s upper chamber on Aug. 7. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on Friday, yet the legislation’s fate is finally close to certain. The bill is obviously not Build Back Better — whose child tax credit, universal prekindergarten and broad-based tax hikes on the wealthy have all fallen by the wayside — but there is still a lot to like. But even the provisions that remain might not achieve everything their biggest boosters might hope.

To claim the Inflation Reduction Act will, on its own, transform the economy would be foolish. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the proposal will change the inflation rate by less than one tenth of a percent over the next two years, and that’s in either direction. Even economists more sanguine about the bill’s effects believe its impact will mostly be felt further into the future. Similarly, the reduction to the deficit, whether the $300 billion over the next decade its drafters promise or the just over $102 billion the CBO expects, adds up to little in the grand scheme of trillions in national debt.

The macroeconomics of the bill, in the end, are less interesting than its policy particulars: in prescription drug pricing, health care, climate and taxes. In all of these areas, the Inflation Reduction Act makes impressive improvements on the old status quo. And in all of them, the new status quo still isn’t satisfactory.

The most important parts of the pharmaceutical reform, such as allowing Medicare to directly negotiate the prices of certain medicines and placing a $2,000 per year cap on out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, won’t kick in for years. That leaves reason to worry that a more conservative Congress might snatch back this crucial change. On health care, the extension of pandemic-era subsidies to help people afford Affordable Care Act plans merits celebration — but the failure to close the Medicaid coverage gap means the most vulnerable will get the least help.

Climate involves a similar story. The legislation will purportedly contribute to lowering the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions by about 40% below their 2005 peak within 10 years. But whether the bill can really prompt so dramatic a change depends on how fast consumers really switch to clean-energy options, as well whether regulatory, logistical and political obstacles get in projects’ way. An agreement to boost oil and gas leasing that sweetened the pot for swing-voting Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) also sours the outlook for the transition away from fossil fuels.

Then there are the proposal’s tax revisions, which moved further from ideal in the last days of negotiations — this time, largely to please potential holdout Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). Rules to narrow the carried-interest loophole, which enriches hedge-fund managers by taxing their income from investment profits at a too-low rate, are no more. The 15 percent corporate minimum was chipped away at last week, and then again this weekend, most recently to resolve purported concerns from small businesses that experts believe were ill-founded.

The Inflation Reduction Act is a laudable achievement for the Democratic Party, and a boon to the country. But there’s plenty more to do.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/08/08/what-inflation-reduction-act-does/

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Aug. 5

The Los Angeles Times on Biden’s approach to climate change:

Last week’s unexpected Senate deal on a $369-billion climate spending package is bound to ease pressure on President Biden. Days earlier, when it looked like opposition from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III had killed Biden’s climate agenda, the president vowed to take “strong executive action” if the Senate would not act.

Facing increasing calls from activists to break the glass and declare a national climate emergency, Biden said in a speech on July 20 that “climate change is an emergency. And in the coming weeks, I’m going to use the power I have as president to turn these words into formal, official government actions.”

That was before the breakthrough with Manchin. With congressional action now looking more likely, will Biden’s promise to confront the climate crisis with presidential proclamations, executive orders and regulatory power go unfulfilled?

Let’s hope not. Of course, we don’t need the president to tell us the overheating climate is an emergency; our planet is making the effects of our pollution loud and clear, hitting us with severe drought, deadly heat waves, devastating wildfires and flooding. The threat now is so dire that we need Biden to deliver on his pledge. That means using every executive and administrative power legally available to him to protect Americans from climate-fueled disasters, boost renewable energy and shift away from fossil fuels. And because declaring a national emergency would unlock additional tools and resources, he should do it.

Yes, the Inflation Reduction Act agreed to by Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would be the biggest climate action ever taken by Congress. But the bar is low, because Congress has never passed significant climate legislation, despite more than three decades of warnings about the perils of inaction. Signing it into law will only get us part of the way to Biden’s goal of slashing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, leaving our nation’s pledge under the Paris climate agreement out of reach without more action by his administration.

Dozens of national emergencies have been declared since the 1970s and used against an array of threats, including weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, disaster and disease, and some remain in effect decades later. They’ve been declared by President George W. Bush in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, by President Trump in 2020 against the COVID-19 pandemic and, controversially, in 2019 to divert funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But unlike Trump’s misuse of that authority for his wall, there is actually a legitimate legal basis for calling climate change a national emergency, as Dan Farber, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, wrote recently. The U.S. would join nearly two dozen other national governments, and the European Union, which have declared a climate emergency in recent years, along with a growing list of cities and other local governments.

There is well-placed skepticism about these pledges, which some environmentalists have criticized as wholly symbolic because they’re seldom followed with the bold actions required in an emergency. Some suggest such a declaration by Biden would be an empty, performative gesture, or an inappropriate use of presidential authority.

We’re more concerned about the risks of Biden doing too little, especially in light of his uneven and contradictory climate record. The president is moving forward with leases for oil and gas drilling on federal land and offshore waters, despite pledging not to during his campaign. He set a climate target that’s more ambitious than California’s, but has slow-walked greenhouse gas-cutting regulations to avoid offending Manchin and the fossil fuel industry.

More important than the symbolic power of a presidential proclamation is whether Biden uses that emergency status to marshal new resources and effect real change. The Center for Biological Diversity, in a February report, laid out numerous meaningful climate actions the president could take under the National Emergencies Act, the Stafford Act and other federal laws that give the president executive authority to respond to disasters, emergencies and threats to national security.

An emergency declaration, for instance, could unlock additional funding for climate resilience projects by the Pentagon, which has long identified climate change as a threat to national security. Under the Stafford Act, which governs disaster preparedness and relief, Biden could direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build climate-ready infrastructure in low-income communities of color that are hit hardest by disasters. The president could use his executive authority to accelerate renewable energy projects and manufacturing of electric vehicles and appliances, or go bolder and use it to restore a ban on crude oil exports and stop investment in fossil fuel projects abroad.

Biden has already started using his executive powers. In June, he invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to boost domestic production of solar panels, heat pumps and other clean energy resources, a step that environmentalists, and this editorial board, urged as a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But the president also needs to get serious about slashing greenhouse gas emissions the tried-and-true way: Through federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, which has not yet completed a slew of regulations to cut pollution from power plants, trucks, buildings and heavy industry. It doesn’t take an emergency declaration to get those things done.

It’s time Biden adopted an all-hands-on-deck approach to this spiraling catastrophe. There’s little chance we’ll look back decades from now and say the president did too much, or that our alarms about the imperiled planet rang too loud. We’ll only regret that we didn’t act more aggressively or sooner.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-08-05/climate-emergency-biden-executive-powers

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Aug. 9

The Guardian on the FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago:

The FBI’s search of and seizure of documents from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is not only dramatic and serious, but unprecedented: no other former president has faced such an action. Yet Mr. Trump’s ability to survive and thrive politically on similar moments is also without precedent. Even when damaging evidence emerges, he has walked away largely unscathed in the eyes of his base, while the U.S. itself has been diminished. Nor has he yet experienced legal consequences for his actions in office.

Monday’s search was reportedly part of the ongoing investigation examining his potentially unlawful removal and destruction of White House documents. Accurately recording the actions of a country’s executive is part of democratic accountability. But this investigation will also help to determine the future: first, and most importantly, because upholding standards maintains the difference between honest and transparent systems and dishonest and unaccountable ones, and second, through its electoral impact.

Mr. Trump has long been known for extreme carelessness at best regarding records. Earlier this year, a senior official said that “he never stopped ripping things up”, and a new book will report that White House staff believed he clogged toilets by attempting to flush away wads of paper. In February, 15 boxes of documents and other items were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago by the National Archives. The legal requirements for a search such as Monday’s are substantial, and the likely fallout such that it was almost certainly approved by the attorney general, Merrick Garland, who is known for his caution. It is hard to imagine that mementoes of office were all that was at stake.

Moreover, this is only one of multiple investigations involving Mr. Trump, and not the most important. The Department of Justice has expanded its investigation into the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 to cover his statements and behavior, as well as requesting evidence from the House select committee’s inquiries.

The search comes on top of a welcome streak of good news for Joe Biden, albeit not yet enough to provide the kind of shift in polling that Democrats need before November’s midterms. Yet Mr. Trump has prospered by weaponizing such moments. (It is typical that he should invoke Watergate, thinking not of presidential wrongdoing, but the illegal break-in at Democratic headquarters.) Just as worryingly, senior Republicans have again rallied to him as a Maga martyr pursued by a “witch-hunt”, with no shame about their desire to “lock her up” when the FBI investigated Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Beyond that, 6 January was horrifying evidence of the peril of deep political divides mutating into outright violence and attacks upon democratic institutions.

It is surely not narcissism alone which impels the former president to signal that he wants to run again. A campaign would not prevent him being prosecuted (and it is far from clear that conviction under the law on removing official records would bar him from office, as some hoped). But it would raise the political stakes, and might lead to him enjoying presidential immunity again. If he believes he is in a race with investigators, he may be prompted to make an early announcement.

Nonetheless, pursuing Mr. Trump over serious allegations is essential. To simply ignore potential crimes because the investigations might be exploited politically would amount to granting de facto immunity to those who stir up the most turmoil. Worse, if action is not taken now, it could become impossible in a second Trump term, under a president and aides who have already shown their eagerness to eradicate the country’s checks and balances, and who will have learned better how to do so.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/aug/09/the-guardian-view-on-the-fbi-search-of-trumps-mar-a-lago-whats-past-is-prologue

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