WHAT a dramatic week this past one has been in the US capital! After writing about the POTUS last week I had no intention of getting back to Trump politics this week, but given all the hullaballoo, excitement and even the nervousness with all the major news events unfolding, I simply could not ignore revisiting the subject.
For years the Republicans have been trying to put the death nail to the affordable healthcare act — more popularly known as the Obamacare, named after the past president. And if anyone could have resuscitated the troubled Obamacare repeal and replace bill, it was Mitch McConnell, the senate majority leader with a track record of getting tough things done within the Senate.
But after years of pleading, months of negotiating, and weeks of just barely edging the contentious bill forward, it suddenly died. And it happened in a dramatic way. According to the CNN, the end was unexpected, as McConnell watched Senator John McCain — his long time friend and occasional political rival — walk to the centre of the Senate floor and turn his thumb down to vote ‘no.’
McCain’s was a signature statement about what’s wrong with the Trump administration. ‘We should not make the mistakes of the past that has led to Obamacare’s collapse, including in my home state of Arizona where premiums are skyrocketing and health care providers are fleeing the marketplace,’ McCain said in a statement.
All 48 Democrats voted no, along with three Republican senators — McCain, as well as senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.
McCain had returned to Washington for the health care vote on Tuesday, nearly a week after his office announced he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. The Arizona senator delivered a powerful speech from the Senate floor Tuesday, focusing on a need to return to a more bipartisan approach.
From the published news reports, it appeared that Republican leaders attempted to convince McCain to change his vote before the ‘skinny repeal.’ Senator Mitch McConnell and vice president Mike Pence were seen before the vote speaking with McCain, but the senator stuck with his ‘no,’ effectively killing the bill.
From the TV images, one can see McConnell’s face ashen; he stood still and silent for few minutes before he could air his disappointment with a cracked voice. As vice president Pence walked out of the senate podium, the senate minority leader, senator Chuck Schumer delivered an emotional speech thanking senator McCain for his inspirational speech and vote. He stressed the importance of bipartisanship moving forward in dealing with the plethora of problems facing the nation. Later on Friday while speaking with reporters, Schumer said, ‘I have not seen a senator who speaks truth to power as strongly, as well and as frequently as John McCain. The very same courage he showed as a naval aviator during Vietnam he showed last night and has shown time and time again.’
Schumer also praised Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who along with McCain voted down the GOP bill. They both have been critical ‘no’ votes in halting the senate GOP’s legislative efforts on health care. ‘They were amazing and women are in so many instances stronger than men,’ he said. ‘They brag less about it, but they are.’
This past week also saw the nasty infighting within the White House where the newly appointed communications director Anthony Scaramucci trashed the White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. In an interview with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, Scaramucci said, ‘Reince is a f***ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.’ If you had thought that you had heard enough of trash talk from the candidate Trump wait for his communications chief who seemingly is destined to take it to new lows.
‘In my many years as a White House watcher, as a federal employee, as a Presidential Schedule C appointee, as a very proud public servant during 14 years as a staff member in the House and the Senate, I cannot recall a more frightening, more disturbing spectre of a debauched human being than White House chief of communications, Anthony Scaramucci from whose mouth emerge the demonic toads of inhumanity,’ Jim Moore writes in the Huffington Post.
Priebus is known as a Washington DC insider with lots of political connections. He was, however, suspected as the one leaking out sensitive information to the press, which he squarely denies. He submitted his resignation on Thursday and was replaced by ex-General/secretary John F. Kelly, which was announced via a tweet on Friday afternoon by who else but the president.
Kelly since January has been secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, after Trump nominated him for the position. The 67-year-old Kelly is a retired marine corps general who held senior command positions in Iraq and served as the combatant commander of the United States Southern Command. He was also senior military assistant to two secretaries of defence, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.
In the meantime, president Trump has expressed his disdain for his ‘beleaguered’ attorney general Jeff Sessions who refuses to take the hint and resign honourably before perhaps getting fired by his boss. Many lawmakers have come to the defence of Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia-gate.
‘I understand [Trump’s] feelings about it, because this has been a big distraction for him,’ Sessions told in an interview with Fox News.
The US Senate had voted almost unanimously (98-2) on Thursday to slap new sanctions on Russia. The vote will force Trump to choose between a tough position on Moscow and effectively dashing his stated hopes for warmer ties with the country or to veto the bill amid investigations in possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.
By signing the bill into law, Trump cannot ease the sanctions against Russia unless he seeks congressional approval.
Russia took its first steps on Friday to retaliate against proposed American sanctions for Moscow’s suspected meddling in the 2016 election, seizing two American diplomatic properties in Russia and ordering the United States Embassy to reduce staff to 455 matching the number of Russian diplomats in the United States by September 1. This retaliation with echoes of the Cold War would affect hundreds of staff at the US embassy and far outweigh the Obama administration’s expulsion of 35 Russians in December.
Late on Friday, the White House issued a statement saying Trump would sign the bill after reviewing the final version. The statement made no reference to Russia’s retaliatory measures.
On Friday North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that appears to have the ability to hit Alaska and major US cities. South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said they estimate that the intercontinental ballistic missile tested Friday is more advanced than one launched earlier in July based on the range it travelled.
A combination of US, South Korean and Japanese analyses of the launch from Mupyong-ni, near North Korea’s border with China, shows the missile flew about 45 minutes, going 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) high and for a distance of 1,000 kilometres (621 miles). If the missile were fired on a flatter, standard trajectory, it would have major US cities like Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago well within its range, with possibly the ability to reach as far as New York and Boston, according to David Wright, a missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. However, early analysis of Friday’s test cannot determine how heavy a payload the missile was carrying in its warhead, Wright said. Obviously, the heavier the payload, the shorter the range.
Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, however, estimated a range of at least 9,500 kilometres (5,900 miles) for the North Korean missile, according to Reuters, less than that estimated by Wright, but still potentially putting Los Angeles within reach.
The ICBM test prompted a fresh round of condemnation from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea. US president Trump condemned the missile launch and said the US would act to ensure its security. ‘Threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people,’ Trump said in a written statement. ‘The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region.’
According to Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s leader Kim is quoted as saying ‘the whole US mainland’ is now within North Korea’s reach. He called Pyongyang’s weapons program ‘a precious asset’ that cannot be reversed nor replaced. Many of his countrymen are convinced that developing the missile program as a nuclear deterrent is absolutely necessary.
They may be right. After all, with such a deterrent, American experts tell us that the USA will not have the stomach to pre-emptively attack Pyongyang.
In the wake of the test, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General Joseph F Dunford Jr, and Adm Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, called the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General Lee Sun Jin, to express ‘ironclad commitment’ to the US alliance with South Korea and discuss military response options. Hours after that call, the US and South Korean military conducted a live-fire exercise as a show of force in response to the test, according to Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis. The exercise included firing missiles into the ocean.
Less than six years in power, Kim has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. He is absolutely committed to the missile program and not interested in tempering its activities. Threats from Trump have not been able to sober him.
The latest test has spurred calls for a response from the Trump administration. Administration officials have warned that ‘all options are on the table’ but a clear path forward has yet to materialise. Trump may find himself in a situation with no good choices.
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion