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Democrats And Trump Prepare For Reset in 2019

Given the political reset between Congress and the White House and the uncertainty of what the Russia investigation will find, what happens in 2019 could go a long way

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The U.S. Capitol building at night. VOA

The year 2018 proved to be one of change in U.S. politics. Opposition Democrats won back control of the House of Representatives in the November midterm elections, and that could have a profound impact on the next two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

A preview of what the year ahead could look like came in the December 11 Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer.

The verbal jousting over the president’s demand for a border wall with Mexico is likely the first of many partisan showdowns ahead given that Democrats will hold the majority in the House beginning in early January.

“Democrats will certainly use their majority to highlight some differences with Donald Trump and to investigate the Trump administration,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a recent guest on VOA’s “Encounter” program. “And then we will be spending this year leading into the presidential election of 2020, so it is a transition year.”

Investigations ahead

Democrats fueled their midterm victory with opposition to President Donald Trump spurred by a strong turnout from women and progressive voters on behalf of candidates like Massachusetts Democrat Ayanna Pressley.

“We have affirmed that while this could go down as the darkest time in our history, we will not let it be. And instead, we will be defined by our hopes, not our fears,” Pressley told supporters on election night.

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President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. VOA

 

Democrats picked up 40 House seats but Republicans bolstered their majority in the Senate and will hold a 53-to-47-seat edge in January.

Even though Trump now faces the prospect of a stalled legislative agenda and numerous oversight investigations launched by House Democrats, he remains defiant.

“Almost from the time I announced I was going to run, they have been giving us this investigation fatigue. It has been a long time,” the president told a White House news conference shortly after the election. “They have got nothing. Zero. You know why? Because there is nothing. But they can play that game but we can play it better.”

 

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Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, Democrat-Massachusetts, listens during a news conference with members of the Progressive Caucus in Washington, Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

 

Deal or no deal?

But Democratic control of the House will force the president to adjust to a new political reality, according to University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato.

“Trump has faced relatively few problems in dealing with Congress [in his first two years] at least compared to other presidents who were dealing with one or both branches being controlled by the opposition party,” Sabato told Associated Press Television.

Trump can boast of his tax cut passed by a Republican Congress and his two Supreme Court appointments approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

But next year, without full Republican control of Congress, and with an eye on an approaching re-election campaign, Trump could be more interested in cutting some deals with Democrats.

Jim Kessler is with the center-left policy group Third Way.

“At this point we have not seen Donald Trump really have the ability to work with Democrats to cut any sort of deal in the first two years,” Kessler told VOA. “So, Mr. ‘Art of the Deal’ has really fallen short and we will see if that is possible this time.”

 

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President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House complex, Dec. 20, 2018, in Washington. VOA

 

Russia probe looms

Also looming on the horizon for the Trump White House in 2019, though, is the Russia investigation, which could move toward a conclusion in the coming months.

“This is a watershed year coming up for President Trump,” said Tom DeFrank of the National Journal, who has covered Washington politics for 40 years. “I mean, he [Trump] is going to have to confront whatever it is that Robert Mueller says about him or alleges, and I think it is going to be a difficult year for him.”

Trump will be increasingly focused on the next presidential election, but so will scores of Democrats who hope to defeat him in 2020, said University of Virginia analyst Guian McKee.

 

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Special counsel Robert Mueller, in charge of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, departs Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 21, 2017. VOA

 

“You know, I think the reality is that the 2020 campaign has begun. That is probably unfortunate, but that shapes everything going forward,” said McKee.

Also Read: Democrats Believe That Donald Trump is Plunging US into Chaos

Given the political reset between Congress and the White House and the uncertainty of what the Russia investigation will find, what happens in 2019 could go a long way to determining whether Donald Trump is a one-term or two-term president. (VOA)

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Advance Of Summit, NATO Pacify Trump

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal

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Flags of NATO member countries are seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. VOA

As Britain prepares for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London December 3-4, the alliance said Thursday it had agreed to redistribute costs and cut the U.S. contribution to its central budget.

NATO’s central budget is relatively small at around $2.5 billion a year, mostly covering headquarters operations and staff, and different than its defense budget. U.S. President Donald Trump often complains of inequitable burden-sharing, with only nine of the 29 member countries meeting the 2%  of gross domestic product target for the alliance’s defense spending.

Regarding the central budget, “The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris Thursday.

The United States currently pays about 22% of NATO’s central budget. Beginning 2021, both U.S. and Germany will contribute about 16%.

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal to create a working group of “respected figures” to discuss reform in the alliance and address concerns about its future.

The announcement to reduce the American contribution is seen as a move to placate Trump, who has considered withdrawing from the alliance but has since taken credit for its promised reforms.

“In 2016, only four allies spent 2%  of GDP on defense,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, adding that there are now nine countries, including the U.S.,  meeting the 2% target, with 18 expected to do so by 2024.

“This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the president’s diplomatic work,” he said.

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A convoy of U.S. vehicle is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

Internal strife

Leaders of the 29 member states will attempt a show of unity during the summit but the alliance is facing questioning about its relevance and unity, particularly after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO.

“It’s exactly in the wake of that decision that you had [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron say what he said about the alliance being ‘brain-dead’ and referencing the lack of American leadership in the sense of leading in a community and not just going out on your own,” said Gary Schmitt, a NATO analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria prompted Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The move spurred Macron to vent his frustration over what French diplomats say is NATO’s lack of coordination at a political level, and triggered fear among allies that the assault will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.

Meanwhile, a simmering war between Russia and Ukraine has become the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment, with the American president allegedly having withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Trump. Kyiv needs the aid to counter Moscow’s aggression.

The two conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern flank further complicate Washington’s already-strained relations with other NATO members. Meanwhile, despite American efforts to reassure European leaders of Washington’s continuing commitment, anxiety about U.S. neglect of NATO under Trump persists, said Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. VOA

Kundnani noted a series of American officials who have come to reassure Europeans not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously and focus on what is happening on the ground, particularly the military reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Still, Kundnani said that in the last year Europeans have started to realize it’s “not really good enough” and they’re now facing the “reality of the of the crisis in NATO.”

“Some of them are hoping that Trump will be out of office in in a year’s time but the real fear is that Trump wins a second term,” said Kundnani, adding that some Europeans are hoping that “U.S. gradual withdrawal from Europe” might “snap back to the status quo ante if Trump is not re-elected.”

Diverging European responses

“The upcoming celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary will be marked by important divisions within the alliance — not just across the Atlantic, but also within Europe,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In Paris, the view is “strategic autonomy,” said Donfried, with many in France concluding that Washington’s security guarantee can no longer be relied on. Warsaw is promoting “strategic embrace”  developing close bilateral relationship with Trump to guarantee its own security, while Berlin is advocating “strategic patience.”

Germany in the middle is a little bit divided between the “Atlanticists” and the “post-Atlanticists,”   Kundani said, adding that “Europeans are very much arguing” about these approaches.

Donfried said that against this backdrop, NATO allies are approaching the London summit with a sense of foreboding, knowing that they carry the responsibility to articulate alliance’s common purpose and ongoing relevance.

“If they don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be raising a glass in Moscow to the fraught state of the alliance at 70,” she said.

Another summit goal for most European leaders, is to simply avoid a Trump flare-up, like those that have happened in past meetings.

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President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, New York. VOA

Many have discovered this can be achieved through flattery. “They can talk about all the things that they’ve done and very smartly suggest that President Trump has generated the kind of pressure to make those things happen,” Schmitt said.

“They can actually praise President Trump, even though this is very hard for them to do because of the personality clashes.”

Many will be watching Trump’s encounters with Macron, including their bilateral meeting, as well as with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson has pleaded for Trump to stay out of the upcoming British election during his London trip.

The senior administration official said that Trump is “aware of this” and “absolutely cognizant of not wading into other countries’ elections.”

ALSO READ: Trump Secure The Higher Ground On Criminal Justice Issues in 2020 Campaign

Other potential clashes are simmering too. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s NATO “brain-death” warning reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”

The French foreign ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest the statement. (VOA)