Day 55 (3/15/17)—President Trump faces a challenge that may come to define the early trajectory of his administration. His (in)ability to save the Republican healthcare bill will demonstrate his ability to wield influence in Washington. Multiple Republicans say that Trump’s attempt to guide the bill, which is facing opposition on many fronts, through Congress is becoming an important test of his command of political savvy. With tougher tasks ahead, a win for Trump on such a divisive issue like healthcare would represent a rallying cry for the GOP (Grand Old Party). Republicans are relying on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act in order to free up budget to deliver on the administration’s other promises, such as the border wall (to be paid for by Mexico through visa and port entry fees), a new system of tariffs to encourage companies to manufacture within the United States, and a crackdown on immigration. During the campaign, Trump promised to work with Congress to cut taxes and inject $1 trillion into national infrastructure projects to bolster bridges, roads, and highways across the nation. Thus arises the importance to the administration of successfully navigating Trump’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) through Congress. Read more
Last week, a “jus soli”—meaning “right of the soil,” commonly referring to birthright citizenship—bill emerged on the agenda of the Italian Senate. Such a bill, should it pass, would allow all children born to foreign, non-EU parents who have have a valid residence permit for at least five years in Italy and can pass an Italian language test to become citizens. The law already passed in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower chamber) and has been sitting in the Senate for over a year. There are Senators pushing for a vote on citizenship reform by the end of March in the upcoming plenary session. MPs in the Senate were unable to reach any compromise while the legislative proposal was in the Constitutional Affairs Committee, and therefore want to bring it to a vote. Those in favor of the reform are the MPs from the PD, the Movimento Progressisti Democratici, the centrists and the Italian left. They believe they have the numbers to pass the bill regardless of the number of undecided voters and 5-Star voters who may abstain from voting (which, in the Senate, equates to a “no” vote). Read more
The Trump administration continues to be mired in scandal. On Monday, President Trump signed his second sweeping immigration Executive Order, now barring entry to the United States to citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries. Meanwhile, Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions officially recused himself from the Russia inquiry and any further investigation into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has been busy trying to refute alleged ties to Russia by creating allegations against House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). He resurfaced old pictures of the two meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian President Vladimir Putin respectively, and is calling for an investigation into the Democrats for their ties to Russia. He then accused former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in the months leading up to the election without offering any evidence. Read more
Day 39 — President Trump took the first steps to radically shifting the allocation of the federal budget Monday, calling for a $54 billion increase in defense and security spending. Trump’s proposal will focus national security spending on boosts to the military, local law enforcement, and Border Patrol. To balance out these increases, he plans to cut spending on virtually every federal agency, as well as on foreign aid. His plan will not cut spending to Medicare or Social Security. The President announced that “this budget follows through on my promise of keeping America safe, keeping out terrorists, keeping out criminals and putting violent offenders behind bars or removing them from our country all together.” While the White House has yet to define the extent of cuts to various programs, it is expected to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that currently has an $8.1 billion budget. Throughout Trump’s campaign, he promised to “get rid of it [meaning the EPA] in almost every form.” His proposed cuts to foreign spending are also justified by an Office of Budget and Management official, saying that “this budget expects the rest of the world to step up in some of the programs this country has been so generous in funding in the past.” One such program is NATO, and this sentiment follows up on Defense Secretary Mattis’ recent ultimatum to NATO. Trump has also pledged to increase infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and tunnels across the nation.
Day 36 — Last Friday the President’s criticism of the media reached its peak. He took to Twitter to blast the New York Times and CNN, stating that “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country.” He then escalated his assault on the media by banning reporters from the NYT, CNN, and other news organizations from attending Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Friday press briefing. This decision demonstrates the administration’s use of presidential authority to undermine those who may check Trump’s decisions, while awarding sources it deems “friendly.” Dan Baquet, executive director of the NYT, expressed his dismay over the decision, saying “free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” Ironically, it was Mr. Spicer who two months ago advocated for open access for the media, saying that it is “what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship” and who now seems to follow the President’s directives.
The immediate future is uncertain for Italy’s Democratic Party. Matteo Renzi formally stepped down as head of the party Sunday, February 19. This decision comes as a consequence of Renzi’s weakening power, starting with the Italian public’s rejection of his proposals in the recent Constitutional Reform referendum. Following the results of the referendum, Renzi resigned as Prime Minister. His defeat strengthened the minority within the PD and pressure on him mounted until he stepped down this week, opening the door to a party leadership battle, which may exacerbate divides within the PD. The party, while enjoying its current parliamentary control in the lower chamber, is increasingly vulnerable to the rising 5-Star Movement. With the next General Election taking place by 2018 at the latest, the PD cannot afford a party schism. Read more
Day 33 — Since President Trump’s recent Executive Order banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations was denied by a federal judge, Trump has been busy formulating a new order. The Department of Homeland Security issued guidelines that reveal the President’s plan to create new detention facilities, strip illegal immigrants of privacy protections, deploy local law enforcement officials as enforcers, and accelerate the deportation process.
A rejection of immigration policy of past administrations, Trump’s agenda allows for the government to employ the full force of government resources to track down and eventually expel all illegal immigrants. This is an escalation of the policy under the Obama administration that instructed agents to prioritize the removal of illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes. Now, the President will allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to subject any person in the United States illegally to arrest, detention and potentially expulsion from the country. This policy will certainly strike fear into the hearts of illegal immigrants. It may also discourage people from seeking asylum in the United States. Sanctuary cities—select cities that allow for certain procedures to shelter illegal immigrants, like denying municipal funds or resources to be employed in further enforcement of federal immigration policy—are conflicted because Trump’s new directives would enlist local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to help with the deportation process, which directly contradicts their welcoming stance.
Suggesting that last week was turbulent for the White House is an understatement. The Trump administration faced reports of Trump aides maintaining contact with Russian intelligence throughout the election. Meanwhile, the President himself slammed leakers on Twitter for “illegal” activity coming from Washington regarding Michael Flynn, recently departed National Security Advisor, that revealed his engagement in discussions with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. potentially concerning sanctions against the country. He additionally failed to communicate to Vice President Pence the contents of his communication. Meanwhile, President Trump knew of these conversations for weeks and failed to inform Mr. Pence of Flynn’s communications. Read more