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Most Democrats Embrace Iran Deal During Debate

The large field of Democratic candidates held their first debate last night, with a variety of issues being discussed. One thing where nearly all candidates agreed was reviving the nuclear deal with Iran. Everyone on stage except Sen. Cory Booker raised his or her hand when asked if they supported the deal.

 

In 2015, President Barack Obama entered the U.S. into a multinational agreement that was aimed at keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Many on the right criticized him for this, saying that it would ultimately lead to a nuclear-armed Iran. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from this deal, saying it was “disastrous.”

 

The question about the U.S. once again joining this agreement came during a period of increased tensions with Iran. That nation shot down a U.S. drone last week. President Trump considered retaliating with a military strike, but ultimately did not do so. He imposed sanctions, instead. The president has verbally sparred with the Iranian leadership during the course of his term, at times threatening war with the nation. He recently ordered more military personnel to the Middle East.

 

Senator Cory Booker broke with his fellow Democratic candidates in supporting the Iran deal. He backed it in 2015, but now says that conditions have changed. He said he supported some kind of agreement with Iran, but it would differ from the one agreed to by President Obama.

 

Do you think the U.S. should re-enter the multinational nuclear deal with Iran? Should the U.S. take military action against Iran?

Trump Threatens China Tariff Hike

President Trump is escalating his trade war with China, threatening to increase tariffs to 25% on thousands of that nation’s products.

 

The U.S. and China are in the midst of trade negotiations, but there have been disagreements over intellectual property and technology transfers. There have been some signals that a trade agreement could be reached by Friday. If it isn’t, then the president is saying he may react by a dramatic tariff hike.

 

The president’s proposal would affect nearly 6,000 products. These are used by consumers and businesses in the U.S., which would face higher prices for the imported goods. Economists worry that such a large and sudden spike in tariffs would disrupt the U.S. economy and cost jobs. The president says that is necessary to combat unfair trade practices from China.

 

Both before and after his election as president, Donald Trump has complained about the U.S. trade deficit and what he perceives as unfair trade deals. He has used his time as president to push for renegotiation of trade deals and impose news tariffs. Economists say that free trade, not restrictions such as those supported by the president, lead to job creation and economic growth. The president, however, sees the trade deficit as a bigger threat.

 

Do you support higher tariffs on Chinese goods? Will higher tariffs hurt American consumers and workers?

Trump Vetoes Yemen War Resolution

A bloody civil war is raging in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia backing one side and Iran the other. The U.S. is assisting Saudi Arabia in this conflict, and will continue to do so thanks to a veto issued by President Trump on Tuesday.

 

The House and Senate both passed Senate Joint Resolution 7, which directs the president to stop U.S. military involvement in the Yemeni civil war. President Trump vetoed the resolution, arguing that the U.S. is not involved in the Yemeni hostilities. However, the military does provide technical assistance and refueling for Saudi forces that are battling rebels in the country.

 

Proponents of military assistance to Saudi Arabia argue that this is necessary to prevent the Iranian-backed rebels from taking over Yemen. Opponents counter that the U.S. should not involve itself in a Yemeni civil war that has led to atrocities and a high civilian death count.

 

The Senate voted 54-46 in favor of the resolution, while the House voted 247-175 to support it. Neither votes reached the 2/3 majority to overcome a presidential veto.

 

Do you think that the U.S. military should be involved in the Yemeni civil war?

House Rebukes Trump on Transgender Military Ban

By a vote of 238-185, this week the House of Representatives expressed its opposition to the Trump Administration’s ban on openly transgender troops serving in the Armed Forces.

 

House Resolution 124 states that the House of Representatives:

 

(1) strongly opposes President Trump’s discriminatory ban on transgender members of the Armed Forces;

 

(2) rejects the flawed scientific and medical claims upon which it is based; and

 

(3) strongly urges the Department of Defense to not reinstate President Trump’s ban on transgender members of the Armed Forces and to maintain an inclusive policy allowing qualified transgender Americans to enlist and serve in the Armed Forces.

 

Every Democratic member of the House who voted supported this resolution, and they were joined by 5 Republicans.

 

In 2017, President Trump issued a memorandum that prohibited openly transgender individuals from serving in the armed forces. This reversed a 2016 action by the Obama Administration which allowed such individuals to serve. President Trump’s ban has been tied up with legal challenges, although the Supreme Court did rule 5-4 in January to lift one of the injunctions against it.

 

This resolution does not have the force of law, but it does signal the disagreement of the House of Representatives with the president's action.

 

Do you think openly transgender individuals should be allowed to serve in the military?

“ISIS Bride” Puts Citizenship Dispute at the Forefront

Who is a citizen and what duties does the government owe a citizen – these are the questions at the center of a new lawsuit.

 

The case is being brought on behalf of Hoda Muthana, a woman who left the U.S. to marry an ISIS fighter in Syria. She is seeking to return to the U.S. but the Trump Administration is barring her, arguing that she is not a citizen. President Trump has waded into the fray, tweeting that he instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bar her from re-entry.

 

The case hinges on a few key disputes. One is whether Muthana is a citizen or not. She claims that because she was born in the U.S., she is a citizen via birthright citizenship. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is for children born who are not “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” That is generally interpreted to pertain to children of diplomats. Muthana was born to a Yemeni diplomat, but her lawyers argue that her father had resigned his diplomatic position prior to her birth. The Trump Administration counters that this resignation did not become effective until after her birth.

 

A follow-up dispute occurs if indeed Muthana is determined to be a citizen. Her lawyers contend that the government cannot block any citizen from returning to the U.S. They say that if this happens, it would be a violation of the Constitution for a president to unilaterally disregard citizenship protections.

 

If Muthana returns to the U.S., she expects to face criminal charges for her interactions with ISIS.

 

Do you support birthright citizenship, the constitutional practice of recognizing anyone born on U.S. soil as a citizen? Can the government prevent citizens from returning to the U.S.?

Senate Reauthorizes Israel Aid, Rebukes Trump Syria Policy

This week the U.S. Senate passed S. 1, legislation that dealt with military aid to both Israel and Jordan.

 

Here is how VoteSpotter describes that bill:

 

Reauthorize military aid to Israel and Jordan

To reauthorize military assistance and arm sales to Israel and Jordan. The bill also authorizes state and local governments to pass measures to remove investments from entities that boycott or sanction Israel.

 

Senators supported it by a vote of 77-23.

 

As part of that bill, senators incorporated this amendment offered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

 

Oppose troop withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan

To amend a Middle East defense bill express the sense of the Senate that there continues to be terrorism threats in Syria and Afghanistan and that the sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from those nations will put U.S. national security at risk.

 

Senators supported it by a vote of 70-26. It was a clear rebuke of President Trump’s recent announcement that he would withdraw troops from Syria. While this may be a significant symbolic vote, it was merely a “senate of the Senate” vote that had no force of law.

 

Do you approve of the Senate voting to reauthorize military aid to Israel and Jordan? Do you support President Trump’s removal of troops from Syria?

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Gains U.S. Recognition

Grappling with economic crises and protests, the socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro now faces a new problem – a rival claim to power by National Assembly Leader Juan Guaido. After announcing that he was the legitimate head of state, Guaido received swift recognition by the United States, Canada, and other governments. With Maduro refusing to step down, it is unclear what is in store for the future of this oil-rich nation.

 

Venezuela’s economy has been deteriorating for years, with hyperinflation, extremely high poverty rates, and a crisis in the health care sector. Millions of Venezuelans have fled. Many observers point to the socialist policies begun by Hugo Chavez two decades ago and continued under Maduro as the reason why the economy has collapsed. Maduro says that these socialist policies are not the problem, but instead the collapse in the price of oil is to blame.

 

There have been popular protests against the Maduro regime, but he won a presidential election vote last year. However, observers from 60 countries have said that this vote was plagued by corruption. Many consider it illegitimate. There are also widespread reports of the Maduro government violating civil liberties.

 

After Guaido’s announcement, Venezuelans took to the streets to protest Maduro’s continued hold on power. These protests were the largest in two years. Maduro says that he will stay, and the Supreme Court is remaining loyal to him. One of the criticisms of the Chavez and Maduro regimes is that they have packed courts and many other government institutions with loyalists.

 

Guaido is calling for a new election that will be free from corruption.

 

Do you think that the U.S. is right to recognize the opposition government of Juan Guaido in Venezuela?

Trump Visit to Iraq Spurs Calls for Troop Withdrawal

Over the Christmas holiday, President Trump made a surprise visit to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. This move prompted several members of the Iraqi parliament to call for the expulsion of American military personnel, an idea that has support across the Iraqi political spectrum.

 

Facing criticism that he was not spending Christmas with members of the military, President Trump flew to Iraq the day after Christmas to spend three hours at an Iraqi air base meeting with some of the 5,200 troops stationed in the country. This was the president’s first visit to a military zone. As part of the visit, he did not meet with any Iraqi officials, something the prime minister called a breach of diplomatic norms.

 

In response to this visit, members of the Iraqi parliament called for the expulsion of U.S. troops. This proposal is uniting a diverse group of Iraqi politicians who are divided on other issues. These lawmakers have promised to call a special session of the parliament to debate this issue. An Iraqi militia leader even threatened to expel the troops by force if the government did not vote to expel them.

 

President Obama withdrew U.S. military personnel from Iraq in 2011, but returned a few thousand to the country in 2014 to help Iraq defeat ISIS. President Trump recently announced that he was withdrawing the U.S. troops in Syria who had been fighting ISIS. The president has said that he has no plans to withdraw the troops in Iraq.

 

Do you think that U.S. troops in Iraq should return home?

President Trump Orders Troops out of Syria

The 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria will be coming home soon, President Trump announced yesterday. That news came as a surprise to many people, including members of his own administration.

 

The military personnel are in Syria to assist efforts to combat ISIS, which has largely been driven from territory in that nation. This has led the president to declare the U.S. mission accomplished and return the troops home. However, this decision appears to have been made unilaterally by the president without involving either the Department of Defense or the Department of State in how to accomplish it. As commander-in-chief, the president is ultimately in charge of where and how U.S. troops are deployed.

 

Supporters of this decision argue that it was unwise to involve U.S. troops in Syria. They say that since ISIS is not occupying territory there today, these troops should certainly come home. Opponents argue that without the U.S. military presence, ISIS may return. They say that removing U.S. troops will only empower Russia and Iran.

 

Syria is still in the midst of a civil war, with dictator Bashar al-Assad holding onto power. While he appears to have the upper hand, and is supported by Russia, there does not seem to be an end in sight for the war. This has caused a significant death toll and a refugee crisis that has destabilized the region.

 

While the president announced the U.S. troop withdrawal, he has not yet set a timetable for their return.

 

Do you think the U.S. should withdraw its military personnel from Syria? Are U.S. troops needed in Syria to prevent a resurgence of ISIS?

Senate Advances Anti-Saudi Resolution

President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress usually agree on legislative issues. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, however, there is a growing rift between the president and members of Congress from both parties. That was never more evident in a recent Senate vote on a resolution over U.S. military involvement in Yemen.

 

With the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian forces and increasing evidence of atrocities by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni civil war, members of Congress are breaking with President Trump’s support for the Saudi regime. They are pushing for a stronger response to these Saudi actions, steps that President Trump has so far resisted.

 

In response, the Senate voted 63-37 to bring a resolution to remove all U.S. military support from Saudi forces fighting in Yemen. From the text of Senate Joint Resolution 54:

 

Congress hereby directs the President to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces, by not later than the date that is 30 days after the date of the adoption of this joint resolution … and unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces has been enacted.

 

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, sponsored SJ Resolution 54. It has 18 cosponsors from both parties. This resolution notes that U.S. military personnel are involved with aiding the Saudi government in aerial targeting, intelligence, and other military activities in Yemen.

 

The Trump Administration has pushed back against withdrawing U.S. military assistance, saying that it is necessary to fight terrorism. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argues that weakening the U.S.-Saudi alliance would only strengthen Iran. Those who support the resolution say that the U.S. should not be aiding forces that kill civilians and commit other war crimes. They also note that there has been no declaration of war on Yemen or even an authorization to use U.S. military force in this conflict.

 

Some senators, such as Rand Paul of Kentucky, have long been pushing the Senate to act against Saudi Arabia. These efforts gained support with the weak reaction by President Trump to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Senators have requested that CIA Director Gina Haspel brief them on the murder, but she has yet to appear. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, has said he will not support the president on any major votes until this briefing occurs.

 

The timetable for debating the Yemeni resolution is still unclear. The lame duck session of Congress will continue through December.

 

Do you think that the U.S. should stop assisting the Saudi military’s actions in the Yemeni civil war?