Friday News Roundup — April 26, 2019: The West’s China Dependency; Trump vs. the House; Getting a Sense of the Census; Trump’s Immigration Illiteracy; Plus News You May Have Missed
Greetings from Washington, where the early playoff exit by the Washington Capitals has the town thinking of the Caps of playoffs past, rather than last year’s championship. (Even with the NHL playoffs afoot, Dan was more worried about avoiding an ulcer as the Cubs tried to move beyond their abysmal start.)
Even with this setback, we’ve been abuzz with analysis and predictions regarding Game of Thrones (Bran is the Night King, anyone?) alongside our usual watchfulness over the world of politics and public policy. Former Vice President Biden declared his candidacy for President of the United States yesterday, which has dominated the news cycle ever since and has resurfaced debates about the soul of the Democratic Party. This battle between far-left progressives, moderates, and old school liberals will be the true brawl of this primary season, and don’t expect the old guard to go down without a fight.
Although the election is on the minds of many Washingtonians, we here at CSPC maintain our usual devotion to those issues that truly deserve the public’s attention. This week, Dan covers how our dependence on China thwarts an easy return to Cold War mindsets, Michael discusses the Trump administration’s contentious relationship with the House of Representatives, and Chris takes on the complex world of citizenship and the U.S. Census. In addition, our intern Zachary Pendolino analyzes how the Trump administration’s immigration policy and foreign aid policy are working at cross-purposes, and we end with some news you may have missed.
The Challenge of the “China Choice”
In terms of the global competition in innovative technologies, the debate surrounding foreign allies’ decisions regarding Huawei components in 5G networks continues to roil both their relations with the United States and their domestic politics.
The UK has been the most prominent case in recent headlines. For Britain looking at a post-Brexit future, the importance of the economic relationship with China cannot be understated. At the same time, as one of the members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing partnership with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, Huawei components in the British 5G network would be a major cyber and information security concern. For U.S. officials, it has become time to return the advice that this is “no time to go wobbly.”
Given the weight of the 5G decision, there was the unprecedented leak of information about the discussions of the British National Security Council — considered the secretive discussions of the British cabinet. While there is little in the way of Brexit bonhomie among the normally-leaky cabinet members, this disclosure to the press was considered beyond the pale. One British senior minister described the leak of these discussions as, “extraordinary…the security council is the holy of holies.”
What ultimately leaked to The Telegraph was that Prime Minister May was seeking a Solomon-esque decision, in which Huawei components would be put into the British 5G network, but not into “core components.” Therefore, in the eyes of Her Majesty’s Government, the security risks of Huawei technology could be placed at the periphery and controlled. However, any expert on 5G technology — or someone who understands the meaning of the word “network” — will tell you that the idea that such components pose less of a risk on the periphery is pure codswallop and tommyrot (to speak directly to our transatlantic cousins).
While the UK has been at the forefront of the discussion, other U.S. allies have faced the decision of whether or not to allow Huawei equipment. Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have joined the United States in banning Huawei; Canada continues to discuss whether to implement such a ban; and Germany and South Korea are moving ahead with 5G networks using Huawei hardware.
Beyond just 5G networks, decisions on managing the scope of Chinese hardware purchases and broader economic interdependence is becoming more complicated. As Michael Schuman points out in The Atlantic this economic interdependence between China and the West makes the idea Cold War-style blocs and containment of China impossible. At the same time, though, the true nature of the Chinese regime is becoming more and more apparent. Be it China’s increasingly muscular military posture, tech-dystopia internal controls, or strategy for global economic engagement, nations around the world face the challenge of navigating and prioritizing their relationships, interests, and values in a multipolar world where the United States and China are dependent upon each other, while also in competition. Furthermore, the complications grow when you consider that expansion of the cyber domain, the growth of networked application, and the value of data all create an economic impact for security decisions — and vice versa.
For too long, the West has believed that economic engagement would change the Chinese political structure. At the same time, the Chinese were happy to engage western investment to match — and ultimately surpass — western political, economic, and security leadership. One could easily see there being some truth in the quote apocryphally attributed to Lenin, “the capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.” This becomes evident when presented with the quiescence of U.S. companies when faced with evidence of Chinese hacking and intellectual property theft, as they did not want to risk their access to the Chinese market. As much as our capitalists were happily selling said rope, our politicians also share the blame, as they heeded the cues of the electorate and seemed more concerned about who used what bathroom, while China invested in infrastructure, sought to reshape the global order, and looked to cement its dominance in key industries and supply chains.
However, attitudes are evolving as companies look to reduce their reliance on China for manufacturing, and the U.S. and key partners seek to set common standards for investment review, data governance, and other policies related to China’s economic heft. Political attitudes are evolving too.
The Trump administration’s largely unilateral approach to these issues, and its tough line on China, have helped, even though it has had its own moments of wobbly-ness. Beyond this direct U.S.-China approach, a broader, multilateral consensus on these issues is needed to keep allies onside and reduce economic dependence on China’s nationalistic technology goals. This will require better coordination with the European Union, Japan, India, and other major economic partners and allies.
Now, if only there were some kind of “Trans-Pacific Partnership” that the United States could embrace to start to harmonize these approaches with key trading partners and regional allies…
Subpoena Showdowns and the House of the Future
According to one (fictional) former senior White House official, the House of Representatives is “perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight,” and a group whose investigatory oversight of the Executive Branch amounts to a desire to “kill us just to watch us die.” When the party in opposition to the president controls the House majority, it is often an appealing strategy to fight them tooth and nail. Since the Democratic majority took power in January, and especially since the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the Trump administration has dialed up its fight with the House to eleven. The House has little incentive to undertake normal business, considering their narrow zone of agreement with the Republican-led Senate and the president, and the Democrats have their own reasons to want this fight. As a result, there is a growing likelihood that this dispute will continue to escalate into a damaging, long-lasting political showdown between the two parties.
On Monday, the White House Counsel’s office sent a letter to Carl Kline instructing him not to comply with a subpoena from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Mr. Kline was the White House personnel security director and was called to testify about allegations that the Trump administration had been recklessly granting security clearances to aides and advisors who security professionals had deemed to be potential security risks. In response, Representative Elijah Cumminngs, the Chairman of that committee, began procedures to hold Mr. Kline in contempt. President Trump and the Trump Organization also sued Chairman Cummings to seek a permanent injunction against the release of the president’s tax returns. The Justice Department said that an official in the Civil Rights Division would not comply with a subpoena to testify about the census (related to the matter described by Chris below). On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration would also seek to prevent former White House Counsel Don McGahn from testifying about instances described in the Mueller Report and, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did not say that he would not allow the Internal Revenue Service to comply with the — likely legal — request from the House Ways and Means Committee for the president’s tax returns, he did say that he was not ready to allow it yet.
All told, according to Politico, the Trump administration has refused or delayed 30 separate requests for documents from House committees and several senior officials have similarly refused to appear before or be interviewed by Congress. Speaking to reporters, President Trump echoed C.J. Cregg’s view, saying, “We’re fighting all the subpoenas. These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.” If President Trump and Ms. Cregg are correct, there may be something to this strategy and it dovetails well with what the president has called “Presidential Harassment.” From a legal standpoint, however, what limited precedents exist for questions of executive privilege suggest that the courts will eventually order the administration to comply with at least some of these requests. It could take a while, though. In March 2011, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subpoenaed the Justice Department and eventually Attorney General Eric Holder for information related to Operation Fast and Furious, a gun-running investigation [mis-]managed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. A federal judge did not rule against the Obama administration’s claim of executive privilege on the information until January 2016.
The long delays involved in actually compelling testimony usually puts a limit on the extent to which Congress actually utilizes subpoenas and goes to federal court to enforce them. Similarly, every administration pays a cost in negative press coverage when fighting Congressional oversight because, in general, the media also views itself as providing oversight and transparency of Executive Branch actions. As former Associate White House Counsel Andy Wright argues in Just Security, Congressional investigations are a Sisyphean task and the hue and cry we are hearing now could be merely one stage that ultimately leads to a political compromise.
There are reasons to believe that might not be the case this time. One escalatory step that past Congresses have taken in oversight investigations is holding up appointments, reauthorizations, and appropriations bills until the White House is willing to come to terms. This is a great example of how emerging trends in federal practice are combining to the detriment of good governance: there are just fewer bills becoming law these days and, as such, fewer opportunities for the House to subsume oversight into other business. The last time one party controlled the House of Representatives while the other controlled the Senate and Presidency was the 113th Congress (2013–2015). During that period, only 296 bills introduced in Congress became enacted laws. In the 99th Congress (1985–1987), when there was a similar setup, there were 687. We appear to be drifting towards a setup where, except in periods when one party controls both houses of Congress and the White House, the only bills that will pass are the National Defense Authorization Act, increases to the debt limit, and a continuing resolution or (hopefully) an omnibus appropriations bill. Those bills will then have to prevent default on Treasury securities, reenact all sundowning laws, and keep the federal government funded, while also functioning as the loci of Congressional oversight. Truly, a tall order for future Congressional investigators facing a oppositional administration.
SCOTUS on the Census
This Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case regarding citizenship and the U.S. Census. Although the Census, the decennial enumeration of all people living in the United States, may not seem like a case that would draw national attention, it has acquired notoriety in relation to Trump administration policy. Department of Commerce vs. New York is a disagreement between the Department of Commerce, under Secretary Wilbur Ross, and various Democratic state governments represented by the State of New York. At the core of this dispute lies one proposed question to be added to the 2020 census: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” The Court seeks to determine whether or not the inclusion of this question lines up with the Constitution and with federal law.
While the colonies conducted censuses at various points during British rule in North America, the first truly national census of the United States was conducted in 1790. This was mandated by the Constitution in Article I, Section 2, which states that:
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”
In sum (and after eliminating the blight of slavery and the three-fifths-compromise from the clause), this means that the purpose of the census is to ascertain the total number of people living in the United States.
This process has continued faithfully every decade, at first controlled by the Department of State but then eventually transferred to the Department of Commerce in 1913. One of the questions consistently asked for the lion’s share of this history in one form or another has been that of citizenship. In every short-form census from 1830 to 1950, all respondents were asked to indicate whether or not they were citizens of the United States. From 1950 to 2000, the question was still posed, albeit only to those select respondents asked to complete the long-form version of the questionnaire. When the long-form was abandoned after 2000, the Census Bureau moved the citizenship question from the standard decennial enumeration to the American Community Survey, a smaller-scale questionnaire that is used to gather demographic information in years between standard censuses.
As mentioned above, Department of Commerce vs. New York revolves around Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to revive the citizenship question on the main 2020 census questionnaire. The federal government argues that this is important to graner a more complete picture of how many non-citizens reside within the nation. They also make the argument that the data is necessary to effectively enforce the Voting Rights Act by providing the Department of Justice with an accurate count of exactly how many persons are contained in the Citizen Voting Age Population. As their last line of defense, the Solicitor General argued on Tuesday both that federal law empowers the administration with a large degree of discretion in the questions presenting on the survey, and that the respondents do not have standing to sue due to lack of injury.
Lawyers for the respondents (led by New York) argue that the citizenship question flies in the face of the constitutional purpose of the census. Although the Secretary of Commerce does have a degree of autonomy in creating the questionnaire, his discretion is not unlimited in the minds of the respondents. He is limited, they argue, by the constitutional guarantee that all persons will be counted through the process, which would be jeopardized if this question were to be posed. In essence, one assumes that illegal immigrants, millions of whom reside in the United States, would either dishonestly answer that they are citizens or else not answer the questionnaire at all for fear that the government will use their responses against them. To buttress their case, they cite Title 13 § 6 of the U.S. code, which states essentially that the census should not ask for information that is available from other official sources. Since data on citizenship is available from other governmental agencies, this would mean that re-adding the citizenship question would be extraneous and detrimental.
On Tuesday, the justices seemed willing, along the Court’s “partisan” ideological lines, to allow the citizenship question on the 2020 census. The crux of the split has proven to be the degree of discretion justices believe appropriate to grant the Secretary of Commerce in directing the information gathered. It is also noteworthy that the justices largely did not refute the argument that posing the question would likely skew the results, but rather that the law did not prevent asking the question if the government could demonstrate that it was posed for a reasonable purpose. Since the U.S. Census is one of the oldest and most critical functions of our government, the decision the Court ultimately renders will prove consequential without a doubt.
Solving the Immigration Crisis at the Source
There is a crisis at the southern border, but it is not the kind that a wall will help. President Trump has demonstrated that he is not interested in addressing the underlying problem with his persistence to fulfill the promise of tougher border security. The number of migrants seeking asylum in February was a 560% increase over the previous year and the immigration enforcement system is currently overflowing. According to reporting in the New York Times, President Trump’s hostile rhetoric has been a rallying call of sorts for potential migrants to leave now or risk not being able to get into the U.S. in the future. Recently, smugglers have been buying radio ads in Central American countries saying, “If you ever want to go to the United States… go now!”
President Trump’s decision to cut off 450 million dollars in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and focus on solving immigration through his “campaign promised” wall is only a temporary solution which doesn’t help to stabilize these Central American countries in the long term. With positive effects of international aid to Central America having been recorded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the evidence shows that foreign aid does provide much needed humanitarian assistance and it seems that President Trump’s wall is a waste of financial resources in comparison. Nearly 3 million people people rely on the United States’ aid and the surge of migrants can and most likely will only become more extreme if that aid is cut off. Those 3 million people who rely on aid could find that their only solution is to migrate from their homes to a country where the promises of safety, survival, and increased opportunity are the desired outcome — the American dream. These desired outcomes are currently being overshadowed in their home countries due to extreme poverty, violence and lack of opportunity dominating Central America and are problems that foreign aid seeks to address.
In interviews with the UN Refugee Agency, members of a recent migrant caravan cited long standing political, social and environmental crises as reasons for attempting to immigrate to the United States. Effective foreign aid targets these issues and directly addresses them at the source. American financial aid decreases violence and corruption and increases financial opportunities. USAID reports that El Salvador has seen a 61 percent decrease in homicides for communities where aid has been focused, a much greater decrease than visible in regions that did not receive funding. El Salvador has also seen a decrease in migrants due to 22,000 jobs created nationwide and a measured increase in transparency in the Salvadoran government thanks to U.S. aid. Similar effects have been seen in Honduras with a 90 percent decline in homicides for one of the country’s most violent neighborhoods, a 97 percent increase in incomes for approximately 30,000 families, and a stronger anti-corruption force within the judicial system. Guatemala, which receives the largest portion of U.S. aid, has seen a 51 percent increase in income for one of the highest migration areas and has benefited from notable reductions in corruption and crime for the region.
There are many programs that provide opportunities for people in their home countries that can help reduce the impetus for migration. These organizations cannot function without U.S. aid. One of El Salvador’s programs, “Bridges for Employment” seeks to provide training for civic organizations that employ at-risk youth. If similar programs are nonexistent, opportunity can be scarce and violence can rise, leading to increased migration. Instead of immigrating, these people can experience their own opportunity through these programs in their home country.
With the cuts in U.S. aid that President Trump is proposing, the progress that has been made in Central America would cease. The U.S. can provide the tools to fend off hunger, unemployment and violence, or it can allow the conditions to deteriorate further and force migrants to flee. The data shows that foreign aid for specific programs works and people would rather stay in their homeland, so it is important to maintain our support for these countries. Foreign aid is helping to solve the immigration crisis at its source, while President Trump is making it worse with his anti-immigrant sentiment and archaic idea of putting up a fence. It almost seems that Trump doesn’t actually care about solving the issue after calling to cut off aid to Central America, but is more focused on using the immigration crisis as a rallying cry to get reelected in 2020.
Stories You May Have Missed
While the news cycle of 2019 so far has covered a tableau of significant and attention-grabbing events, a fascinating and historically significant conversation on reparations has also been playing out, largely under the radar. While conversations pertaining to racial reparations have gained little traction in the past, the climate of the conversation feels different this time around. This renewed exploration of reparations policies appeared to start this January, when little-known Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson initially announced as part of her campaign a call for $100 billion in reparations, to be distributed over 10 years. In the time since, the list of Democratic presidential candidates who have expressed varying levels of support for reparations has grown to include Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Beto O’Rourke (TX). Cory Booker (NJ) has introduced legislation to have the granting of reparations studied, while Bernie Sanders (VT) and Pete Buttigieg (IN) have demurred on the subject. Going into 2020, this conversation around the issue of reparations is likely to put Democratic presidential candidates in a position of having to strike a delicate balance between mobilizing their increasingly diverse and progressive base of voters while also appealing to more moderate white voters who left the party in 2016.
According to Interpol, more than 150 children and 220 people were rescued in West Africa from labor and sex trafficking rings. Many of the children, some as young as 11, were beaten, abused and told they would never see their families again. The rescued victims came from the Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo. The rescue operation began in 2018 with help from local law enforcement. After months of work, the 220 people were handed over to officials from the Republic of Benin and Nigeria where some were reunited with their parents or transferred to shelters.
According to an investigation from Amnesty International, coalition air and artillery strikes that were carried out against the Islamic State in the city of Raqqa, Syria killed over 1,600 civilians in 2017. With over 34,000 strikes in Syria and Iraq being carried out by the US, UK and France since 2014, the coalition’s estimate of 180 civilian casualties seems to be wrong. Amnesty International’s investigation consisted of building a database of the civilians that were reportedly killed and was assisted by the monitoring group Airwars, who supports their findings. They call on the U.S. coalition to “end almost two years of denial” over the large amount of civilian deaths they have caused.
The views expressed by contributors are theirs and not the view of CSPC.