Embattled Trump Seeks Wins on World Stage
Donald Trump’s State of the Union address could be encapsulated in two words: No retreat.
White House aides had promised a gentler Trump in his first address to a Congress partially controlled by Democrats, but the president made clear last night he'd seek bipartisanship only on his terms.
He showed no sign, either, of backing away from a foreign policy approach that has spurred criticism from fellow Republicans and alienated allies. Trump doubled down on his pledge to end military deployments in Syria and Afghanistan, mere hours after the Republican-controlled Senate rebuked him by passing legislation calling for the U.S. to avoid any “precipitous withdrawal.”
Trump announced the date and location of a second summit with Kim Jong Un, again touting his relationship with the North Korean leader even though little progress has been made toward getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
There are also reports that a meeting with Xi Jinping may happen when the U.S. president is in Asia later this month, fueling fears from even Trump’s own aides that he could be outmaneuvered by the Chinese president on trade.
With a potentially damaging second government shutdown looming in 10 days and Trump hardening his position at home amid negotiations with Democrats, the risk is that Trump could go into talks with the Asian leaders primed to accept anything he can spin as a win.
Counter point | Nancy Pelosi offered a vivid response to Trump’s speech — without saying a word. The House speakers’s gestures and expressions — an open scoff, the occasional grimace, a slight shake of her head when Trump delivered the usual presidential line that “the state of our union is strong” — provided the next chapter in a standoff that’s defining divisions in Washington. Click here for more on the official Democratic rebuttal from Stacey Abrams.
Warning signs | A long-term supporter of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Russia is starting to show signs that it doubts his ability to survive. As Henry Meyer and Ilya Arkhipov exclusively report, Moscow increasingly recognizes that the disastrous state of Venezuela’s economy is draining what remains of Maduro’s public support, and the army’s reluctance to crack down on its own citizens limits his ability to crush the challenge to his rule.
Nationalist nonstarter? | The European Union’s right-of-center old guard has dismissed a push by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini to forge a united front of upstart nationalist parties for May’s European Parliament elections as “theater and circus.” Antonio Lopez-Isturiz, secretary general of the European People’s Party, said in an interview that Salvini’s failure to recruit like-minded politicians means it’s “very unlikely” nationalist groups will join forces.
Losing ground | With U.S. sanctions piling up and the nuclear deal under threat, windows to the outside world are closing in on Iran’s millennials. Ladane Nasseri reports that the economic optimism of 2015 has given way to rising unemployment, inflation and sporadic protests, putting the brakes on the country’s social progress.
Weak hand | South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s drive to rebuild confidence in the economy and tackle corruption is being undermined by his tenuous hold over the ruling party. While he can use his second state-of-the-nation address tomorrow to celebrate successes in replacing top managers in failing state companies, his bid to trim a bloated cabinet and set a land reform policy that doesn’t spook investors remains a tough slog.
What to Watch
- NATO states signed off on membership for the Republic of Macedonia under a new name, a move the Balkan country hopes will boost living standards after a decade of stagnation.
- The 2020 Democratic presidential field could soon get larger: Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said she plans a “big announcement” on Sunday, boosting speculation she’ll launch a bid, while former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke said he’ll decide by month’s end whether to join the race.
- Siemens AG and Alstom SA suffered the final killer blow to their rail merger plans after EU antitrust regulators refused to cave in to warnings about the looming threat of Chinese competition.
And finally ... President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t think his generosity toward the Turkish people can be measured in today’s lira alone. He's been touting government expenditure into the quadrillions while on the campaign trail. But the numbers are in old lira, ignoring a decision made on his own watch in 2005 to knock six zeros off the currency. Erdogan isn’t alone in making references to old money — his opponents are doing it too.
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