Little New Year’s Cheer for Troubled White House
Donald Trump rang in 2019 mired in a partial government shutdown that cast a pall on Washington this holiday season. New Year’s Day brought the U.S. president’s latest Twitter barrage against now-familiar targets, as Trump stares down what could be the most difficult phase of his presidency yet.
Here’s a look at the top challenges Trump is facing:
- Democrats in power: Congress returns to Washington tomorrow with a new Democratic House majority gaining leverage. Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to become speaker this week, will guide her party’s opposition to Trump, possibly leading to impeachment efforts, Billy House and Laura Litvan write.
- Shutdown: Fresh signs of how Trump will contend with Democrats could emerge today following a meeting with House and Senate leaders at the White House that could provide an opening to resolve the shutdown, now in its 12th day.
- Crunch time overseas: Trump, who ended 2018 dramatically by ordering U.S. troops out of Syria and accelerating his defense secretary’s resignation, faces an equally tumultuous first quarter of 2019, Nick Wadhams reports. From China to Iran, Trump has set deadlines that will help reveal if his “America First” foreign policy is working.
- Republican opposition: Members of Trump’s own party are increasingly willing to openly question his fitness for office. Incoming Senator Mitt Romney – the 2012 presidential nominee – scathingly criticized Trump in a Washington Post op-ed, calling his character shortfalls “glaring” and saying his “words and actions have caused dismay around the world.”
Taiwan overture | Xi Jinping suggested that China and the democratically run island of Taiwan enter talks and work toward unification, the clearest sign yet that the Chinese president wants to resolve the 70-year split during his tenure. Xi’s offer was rejected by his Taiwanese counterpart Tsai Ing-wen, who said unification under Xi’s term would mean an end to the island’s sovereignty and freedoms.
Kim’s invite | North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was willing to meet Trump anytime but would take a “new path” in nuclear negotiations if the U.S. refused to ease sanctions. In his New Year’s address, Kim showed continued focus on direct diplomacy with Trump, even as their countries disagree over disarmament and sanctions relief. Trump’s response was positive. He tweeted, “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”
Spying claims | The family of a U.S. citizen detained in Moscow on suspicion of espionage said he was a former Marine in Russia for a wedding. The Dec. 28 arrest of Paul Whelan, the director of global security for Michigan-based auto-parts supplier BorgWarner Inc., came two weeks after Russian gun enthusiast Maria Butina pleaded guilty in the U.S. to conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent. President Vladimir Putin said last month Russia wouldn’t “arrest innocent people simply to exchange them.”
Damage control | Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is seeking to reassure Israel that the U.S. remains committed to its security and broader Middle East stability after Trump provoked concerns of chaos with his Syria troop-withdrawal order. Trump’s decision “in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said yesterday as he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brazil.
Fear factor | The National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, may be about to reap a bounty from an unlikely source: congressional Democrats. If history is any guide, a push for firearms-control measures from the new House majority would send money pouring into the group’s coffers before the 2020 election. It couldn’t come at a better time for the NRA, Bill Allison reports.
What to Watch
- Italian Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio said there’s plenty more to be done on the populist agenda, including cutting the wages of the nation’s lawmakers, who are reported to be among the EU's best-paid. Italy’s manufacturing sector also shrank for a third straight month, the latest sign that Europe’s third-largest economy is on the brink of a new recession.
- Sudan’s central bank governor said the country is seeking funding from unidentified friendly nations to ease its economic crisis, as protests continue against President Omar al-Bashir’s government.
- Former Army captain Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in as Brazil’s president yesterday with the promise to tackle rampant crime, corruption and economic malaise — marking a nationalist wave that’s sweeping Latin America’s largest country. Click here for a look at who is in Bolsonaro’s cabinet.
And finally ... Nobody at the Pentagon can quite figure out why U.S. taxpayers bought a Dacia Sandero Stepway 2 for the Romanian Defense Ministry. The Dacia isn’t a fighter jet, a missile system or a tank – it’s a compact hatchback. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who just resigned, approved it in a $2.9 million payment to contractors for a road around a base in Romania that houses the U.S.’s top ground-based missile defense site in Europe.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.