Foreign Affairs and Defense

Commentary & Community

Trump Considers Troops, Closing Border in Response to Migrant Caravan

President Donald Trump has been focused in recent weeks over a caravan of migrants that is slowly making its way from Central America to the U.S./Mexican border. He has repeatedly made public comments about the problems he thinks this caravan will bring to the U.S. In response, he is weighing a variety of options, two of which include closing the southern border to migrants and deploying military forces to the border.


Many of the individuals in this caravan will presumably seek asylum in the U.S. once they reach the border. Fleeing gang wars or political oppression, these individuals can make asylum applications upon arrival. However, President Trump is considering a declaration that these migrants are ineligible for asylum under national security grounds.


In addition, the president is also considering using active duty military troops to provide support for border control activities. National Guard troops are already providing some of these services. It is a relatively rare move to use active duty military personnel to patrol the border.


President Trump is taking these actions because he claims the migrants in these caravans contain criminals and potentially even terrorists. He says that they should apply for U.S. citizenship from their home countries and not come to the U.S. expecting asylum.


The president’s words and actions have raised concerns from many who would like to see the U.S. welcome migrants who are fleeing war or crime. They point out there is no evidence that the migrant caravan contains any terrorists. The say the U.S. has an asylum system that can process and vet those with legitimate claims, and that the U.S. should not automatically deny these migrants the chance to have a safer life. These critics also raise alarms at using the military for operations inside the U.S.


While the president has been considering these options to deal with the migrant caravan, he has taken no formal steps to implement them yet.


Do you think that individuals in the migrant caravan should automatically be denied asylum? Should the U.S. military patrol the southern border?



Trump Urges Caution in Response to Journalist’s Killing by Saudi Agents

 The evidence continues to accumulate that agents of the Saudi Arabian government killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the nation’s consulate in Turkey. Some members of Congress are urging President Trump to punish the Saudi government. The president, however, is urging caution before taking any steps in response.


In early October, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never emerged. The Turkish government says it has evidence he was brutally murdered inside the embassy by agents employed by Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi is a Saudi national who had been living in the United States. He was a harsh critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi regime.


In response to this alleged killing, there has been international outrage against the Saudi government. In the U.S., senators such as Marco Rubio of Florida have said the U.S. needs to take steps to punish the Saudis. Rep. Justin Amash has introduced legislation to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia if it is found to played a role in Khashoggi’s murder.


President Trump, however, has resisted these calls. In fact, he has cast doubt that this could have been an official action of the Saudi government. He has floated the theory that rogue killers may have done it. The president notes that Saudi Arabia buys billions of dollars in military weapons from the U.S. and is a large supplier of oil.


Those pushing for action against Saudi Arabia say that this killing is only the latest example of the latest example of the kingdom violating human rights. They note that the Saudi actions in Yemen’s civil war have also been particularly brutal. These critics argue that Saudi Arabia may be an ally, but that does not give it a free pass to engage in murder or other human rights abuses.


Other observers note that Saudi Arabia plays a key role in supporting U.S. policy in the Middle East. Alienating the nation’s ruling family would weaken U.S. interests and could lead to further conflict in the area. They also note that if Saudi Arabia cut off oil supplies to the U.S., it could have a devastating effect on our economy.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has visited Saudi Arabia in an attempt to discern what the U.S. should do about the Khashoggi murder. It is unclear what, if anything, President Trump will order in response. Congress could also pass legislation that would impose sanctions on the kingdom.


Should the U.S. punish Saudi Arabia in response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Is President Trump right that the U.S. should consider Saudi’s arms purchases and oil supplies to the U.S. when deciding what to do?

Trump, Senate Exploring Russian Sanctions


Punishing Russia is the hot topic under consideration at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.


President Donald Trump is considering signing a new Russian sanctions order while the Senate Banking Committee is looking at the effectiveness of sanctions. As evidence of Russian misdeeds continues to emerge, both the president and Congress face pressure to increase U.S. punishment on this nation.


Through legislation and executive orders, Russia already faces a variety of sanctions. President Trump may sign an order today aimed at punishing individuals or companies that interfere in U.S. elections. Intelligence agencies would be empowered by this order to act if they determined that Russians or other foreigners were attempting to influence the electoral process.


In the Senate, the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing to assess the various tools used by the federal government are working to counter Russian activities. Experts testified about how sanctions should be shaped to exert maximum pressure on Vladimir Putin or other officials responsible for anti-U.S. actions.


These actions come on the heels of increasing amounts of information from U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian activities attempting to influence the 2016 U.S. election. With the 2018 mid-term elections approaching, there is a strong desire among some government officials to ensure that such meddling cannot occur once again.


Do you think that the U.S. should impose stronger sanctions on Russia for trying to influence the 2016 election? Are you worried that Russian or other foreign entities will attempt to meddle in this year’s election?



Defense Bill Targets China


Since 2001, the main priority for the Department of Defense has been stopping terrorism. Under the new Defense Authorization bill passed by Congress, however, our nation’s military will focus much more on China.


This legislation authorizes $716 billion in military spending over the next fiscal year while also making a variety of changes in how our nation approaches defense policy. Many of the biggest changes involve China.


Among other things, the bill imposes more government scrutiny on American technology sales to China and Chinese investment in the U.S. Under this bill, U.S. universities that host the Confucius Institutes, a Chinese funded center that is accused of spreading propaganda, would face limits on Defense Department funds. The bill also requires an annual report on how the Chinese government is influencing U.S. media, business, academic, and cultural institutions.


Notably, the bill did not prohibit American companies from selling technology to Chinese telecom firm ZTE. That is something that some conservative Republicans had pushed for but President Trump had publicly opposed.


Beyond these provisions, the bill also calls for adding 15,600 new members of the armed forces and 13 new ships for the navy.


President Trump is expected to sign this legislation soon.


Do you think that the U.S. military priorities should have a greater focus on China?


Senator Jeff Flake Tries to Take Down Trump’s Tariffs


It is no secret that Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and President Donald Trump have their differences. Among the long list of things that divides them is trade policy. The latest skirmish between the two involves actions by the Republican senator to seek a vote on an amendment to strip the president’s power to impose sanctions unilaterally. He is using his power to block the president’s judicial nominees to get it.


After President Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs, many U.S. businesses have announced how this would hurt them. In response, a group of senators, including Sen. Flake, have said they want to force a vote on an amendment that would prevent a president from imposing tariffs on national security grounds without congressional approval, which current law allows.


Two of Sen. Flake’s colleagues, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bob Corker of Tennessee, have been stymied in their attempts to offer such an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. Senator Flake, however, has decided to use his power as a member of the Judiciary Committee to force a vote. That committee is divided 11-10 in favor of Republicans. If Sen. Flake votes with the Democrats against the president’s circuit court nominees, he will assure that these nominations will not proceed.


Some of Sen. Flake’s Republican colleagues do not agree with the move. They say that these nominees are too important to be held up over a dispute over tariffs. Others say that they do not want to undercut the president on this issue.


Sen. Flake argues that the tariffs are hurting U.S. businesses, so Congress should act. He says that if the Senate wants to move forward on moving the president’s judicial nominees out of committee, all the GOP leadership has to do is promise him a vote on his amendment.


Do you think that the Senate should vote on an amendment that will prevent the president from unilaterally imposing tariffs? Is Senator Flake right to hold up judicial nominees to get a vote on his trade amendment?


Trump Imposes Tariffs, Other Nations Retaliate


Living up to his campaign rhetoric to be tough on trade issues, President Trump in late May imposed high tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. In response, a number of America’s trading partners said they would impose new tariffs on U.S. products.


Under federal law, the president has authority to impose tariffs on national security grounds. The president announced he would do so in March, but gave countries time to negotiate voluntary trade restrictions in order to avoid tariffs. The European Union, Canada, and Mexico did not enact such restrictions, so President Trump imposed a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum.


The law under which the president is operating allows him to impose tariffs if the Secretary of Commerce certifies that imports threaten national security. However, the president tweeted out “FAIR TRADE!” the day the tariffs went into effect and has generally justified them on economic, not national security, grounds.


This action to increase the price consumers pay for imported steel and aluminum has caused Canada, Mexico, and the EU to impose retaliatory tariffs on a variety of goods. While some domestic steel and aluminum workers may benefit from penalizing their foreign competitors, the reciprocal tariffs from other nations will hurt U.S. workers in those industries. U.S. businesses that use steel and aluminum in their products will also be harmed by this trade war.


While the president justifies his actions by saying it will help U.S. workers and national security, others point out that this action will have the opposite effect. Many critics from across the political spectrum expressed disappointment in President Trump’s actions. They note that these tariffs target strong U.S. allies, so they may undermine national security. They also point out that experts agree that these tariffs will end up costing far more jobs than they save.


Do you support President Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs?


Will Trump Tariffs Help or Hurt the Economy?

When Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency, his attacks on foreign trade drew big cheers from crowds. Now he’s taking steps to turn his “fair trade” rhetoric into reality.


On March 1, the president announced that he would be signing an order to impose a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum. His power to do this comes from a federal law that allows tariffs to be imposed on certain goods if the Commerce Secretary determines their importation undermines national security.


Such tariffs may boost domestic manufacturers of steel and tariffs, possibly even leading to a growth in these industries. However, U.S. businesses such as car makers rely on imported steel. They will be forced to pay higher prices for the inputs they need, as will U.S. consumers. Such tariffs could also provoke retaliatory trade barriers from foreign countries.


According to Christine McDaniel, an economist who works for George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, the president is hurting American workers with this action:


“Import taxes on steel and aluminum will raise the prices of those products, which in turn will raise the price of doing business for U.S. manufacturers. There are more people in U.S. manufacturing sectors that rely on steel than there are in the U.S. steel industry. In terms of the economics, the trade-off does not make sense.”


Other observers praised the move. Dave Burritt, president and CEO of U.S. Steel, said, “it's for our employees, to support our customers, and when we get this right it will be great for the United States of America. We have to get this done.”


The affected nations will likely take their case against these tariffs to the World Trade Organization once the president imposes them.


Do you think that President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum will help U.S. industry? Or will workers be hurt because consumers and the industries that rely on imported steel will be paying higher prices?


Should Congress Have a Role in Authorizing Military Force?

When four American soldiers were killed in Niger recently, many people were surprised to know that the U.S. military was operating in that country. Even though it is not widely publicized, there are U.S. troops conducting military operations in a variety of countries around the globe. Some members of Congress think that these operations call for a blessing from the legislative branch. The Trump Administration, however, rejects calls for Congress to pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).


The president is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but only Congress can declare war. After the September 11, 2001, attacks, Congress passed an AUMF that led to military operations in Afghanistan. Congress also passed an AUMF prior to the invasion of Iraq. Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump have used these authorizations of force to expand the U.S. military role far beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, however.


The presidential use of an AUMF to justify military action in numerous nations rankles some in Congress. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are pushing for a new AUMF to target al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. This AUMF would have a five-year sunset and would require congressional oversight if fighting occurs outside Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, or Somalia. Those pushing for a new AUMF contend that the original authorization passed in 2001 only targeted those who planned or aided the 9-11 attacks. As such, they say, it cannot also authorize the use of force against ISIS or other terrorist organizations.


There was debate in 2015 over an AUMF to fight ISIS (or ISIL) after President Obama had already committed military forces against that group. The president submitted a resolution for new authorization, and many members of Congress (including Sens. Kaine and Flake) pushed for consideration. However, Congress never passed an authorization and the president did not stop military action against ISIS.


President Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, rejects calls to pass a new AUMF. Testifying before Congress, he said, “The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force, or AUMF, remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat.” In general, presidents have opposed efforts by Congress to interfere with or place limits on the executive branch’s power to deploy military forces.


Do you think that Congress should vote on a new authorization to use military force against terrorist groups? Or does the 2001 authorization of force provide justification for President Trump’s military actions? 


Trump Puts Pressure on Iran


President Donald Trump is not a fan of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under President Obama. He has spent years criticizing it. Now he is saying that he won’t certify that Iran is complying with the agreement. What does that mean for the U.S.?


While President Trump can play a key role in determining the future of U.S. policy toward Iran, there are other nations involved in the agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear activities. The “Iran Deal,” as many call it, also involves China, France, Russia, the U.K., and Germany. These nations, in essence, negotiated with Iran to limit its program to acquire nuclear arms in exchange for the relaxation of sanctions. If the president and Congress both want the U.S. to act alone to ramp up these sanctions, however, that could do a lot of damage to this multi-party agreement.


By itself, the president’s announcement does not do anything to derail the deal. Under a 2015 U.S. law passed after the Iran deal was negotiated, the U.S. has the power to re-impose its sanctions only if Congress and the president agree. Under this law, every 90 days the president must certify that Iran is complying with its part of the bargain. If the president does not do this, Congress has 60 days within which it can re-impose sanctions on Iran.


President Trump’s announcement that he would not certify Iran as in compliance with the deal triggers that 60-day window in which Congress can choose to act. However, Congress does not have any obligation to re-impose sanctions. The Trump Administration has even said that it does not want to see sanctions put back in place; instead, it is calling for Congress to set forth new conditions under which these sanctions would be re-instated in the future.


There are a few vocal members of Congress who have long urged a harder line on Iran. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), for instance, is pushing legislation that would set in place a system for automatically re-imposing sanctions on Iran for noncompliance. It is unclear if this type of proposal has enough support in Congress to pass. There is also a chance that, once legislation is introduced, Congress could amend it to re-impose sanctions immediately.


The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran is dismantling its nuclear program in response to this agreement. If Congress and President Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran, many observers think that Iran would view this act as freeing it from the conditions of the multi-party agreement.


Do you think the U.S. should continue to be part of the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Or is President Trump right that this deal is bad for the U.S.?


Sanctuary City Issue Heating up at Federal, State Levels


Cities that have enacted so-called “sanctuary” policies for illegal immigrants are coming under fire by the Trump Administration and politicians at the state level. Will these efforts bring an end to “sanctuary cities” and force these cities to work with the federal government on immigration laws?


Sanctuary cities are localities that do not comply with requests from the federal government concerning illegal immigrants or who do not check the immigration status of individuals arrested within their jurisdiction. As explained in a previous blog post, cities and states are doing nothing illegal when they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. That does not mean that these local governments can undertake such actions with no repercussions, however.


Even though sanctuary city policies are not violating federal law, they are unpopular with many conservative politicians. Some states have moved to prohibit local governments from enacting such policies. The latest to consider this type of legislation is Michigan. Two bills being considered by legislators in that state would bar sanctuary policies. One bill would require local law enforcement officers to report illegal immigrants to federal immigration authorities, while the other bill would prohibit local governments from enacting policies that restrict communicating or cooperating with federal immigration authorities.


In Virginia, the Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie, has promised that if he is elected he will push for legislation barring local governments in the commonwealth from becoming sanctuary cities.


At the federal level, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that some federal grant money would be withheld from sanctuary cities. According to his statement, “the Department will only provide Byrne JAG grants to cities and states that comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.”


Some cities that have sanctuary policies have vowed to fight this action in court, contending that the attorney general does not have the authority to impose these restrictions.


Do you support state and federal efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities? Or do you think that this issue should be left to a city’s elected officials to decide?


Nevada Assembly Bill 2


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Nevada, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Assembly Bill 2, Expand Patriot Relief Act Payments for National Guard: Passed 21 to 0 in the state Assembly on March 27, 2017.


To make all National Guard members experiencing hardship eligible for payments from this state account, not just those on active duty, and to clarify that payment of benefits from the Account can be made only if there is money in the account.


Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Assembly Bill 2!

What to Do About North Korea?

North Korea – a key part of President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” – recently completed a successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. That is grave news for anyone concerned about what would happen if North Korea obtains a nuclear weapon that could deliver a nuclear blast as far away as Alaska). However, there is no consensus among United States, South Korea, China, and other nations about what can be done in response.


U.S. conflict with North Korea dates back to the 1950s, when North Korea invaded South Korea. The U.S. joined forces with the United Nations in military action to repel the invasion. In more recent times, American foreign policy towards North Korea has been aimed at preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons. President Clinton tried traditional diplomatic engagement, while Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama supported sanctions.


Regardless of U.S. policy, however, North Korea’s leaders continue the nation’s unique path on the world stage. North Korea is a highly isolated country ruled by the communist dictator Kim Jong-un, who replaced his father, Kim Il-Sung.


North Korea has consistently reneged on arms control agreements aimed at stopping its nuclear program, and it has made steady progress towards obtaining nuclear weapons technology and developing missiles capable of carrying these weapons.


Like his predecessors, Donald Trump has few good options for dealing with this rogue state. He has suggested that China should do more to handle North Korea because China is one of the few nations that has a relationship with the nation. But Chinese officials push back strongly against suggestions that they could do more to corral Kim.


What do you think the U.S. should do with North Korea? Do favor more diplomatic talks with the country? Should the U.S. undertake military action? Should President Trump and Chinese leaders work more closely together to see what can be done?


U.S. Senate Bill 722


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Senate Bill 722, Impose sanctions on Iran: Passed 98 to 2 in the U.S. Senate on June 15, 2017


To impose sanctions blocking the assets of individuals who contribute to Iran’s ballistic missile program or who sell military equipment to Iran. The bill also gives the president authority to impose sanctions on anyone in Iran who engages in torture or extrajudicial killings.


Comment below to share what you think of U.S. Senate Bill 722!


U.S. House Resolution 11: Disapprove of UN Resolution Condemning Israel


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. House, and check-in to the app to see how your legislators voted.


U.S. House Resolution 11, Disapprove of UN resolution condemning Israel: Passed 342 to 80 in the U.S. House on January 5, 2017


To express the sense of the House of Representatives that it opposes United Nations resolution 2334, which condemned Israel for building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. When the U.N. Security Council passed this resolution in December 2016, the U.S. representative to the U.N. abstained from the vote. This allowed the resolution to be adopted after many past votes brought by Israel opponents were defeated by a US veto. Since a future repeal effort can also be vetoed by other Security Council members including Russia and China, it probably means the resolution will remain in effect indefinitely.





Highlights of the First Presidential Debate


In the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the candidates clashed over a number of issues, including the economy, race relations, policing, and national security.


One of the main themes of the night for Trump was that the U.S. is being held back by bad deals, including trade agreements like NAFTA, defense agreements with nations like Japan, or national security agreements like the one negotiated with Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons. He said that he would bring his experience as a businessman to the office of president and negotiate better deals for the U.S.


Clinton stressed that she is prepared to be president, bolstering her case by focusing on policy specifics. She also made pointed appeals to minority voters and women voters.


The two candidates did not hesitate to attack one another. Clinton scored against Trump by going into a lengthy discussion of his refusal to release his tax returns and his questioning of whether President Obama was born in the United States. Trump hit Clinton on her e-mail server scandal. He also attempted to use the experience issue against her, saying that Clinton has been in politics for 30 years but has not used that time to address the problems she is discussing during the campaign.


Areas of agreement


While the debate mainly consisted of Trump and Clinton pointing out how they differed, there were some areas of agreement. While Trump strongly attacked free trade agreements such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, Clinton also took a skeptical view of many trade deals.


On gun control, Clinton called for stronger measures to restrict gun sales. One of the proposals she stressed was prohibiting individuals on the no-fly list from being able to purchase firearms. While Trump did not explicitly endorse this idea, he did suggest that he may agree with it.


Both Clinton and Trump agreed that the U.S. should concentrate more on cybersecurity issues.


Areas of disagreement


On the economy, Trump said that he would create jobs in the U.S. by re-negotiating trade agreements, cracking down on companies that invest overseas, lowering taxes so that the wealthy create jobs, and cutting middle class taxes.


Clinton laid out a plan for economic growth that consists of creating new government programs for things like paid family leave and college tuition subsidies. She also repeatedly called for raising taxes on the wealthy. She said that Trump’s tax cuts are “trickle down” and will not work, befitting Trump himself, not the American people.


On crime, Trump said, “We need law and order.” He vigorously defended the controversial stop-and-frisk practice that came under fire and was halted by a judge in New York City. Clinton said there was an epidemic of gun violence and called for more gun control


When it came to national security, Trump blames Obama and Clinton for creating a vacuum that led to ISIS. He said the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil to deprive ISIS of income. Clinton accused Trump of not caring whether other nations obtained nuclear weapons, but Trump countered that he believed nuclear weapons (not global warming) was the single greatest threat to the U.S.


On the nuclear issue, Clinton said, “The man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his finger near the nuclear codes…”


Their best lines?


Clinton: “I have a feeling by the end of this evening I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened.”

Trump: “Why not?”
Clinton: “Why not? Yeah, why not? Just join the debate by saying more crazy things.”


Trump: “I have a much better temperament than she does… my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament.”


Clinton: “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that's a good thing.”


Trump (on who may have hacked the DNC e-mails): “It could have been Russia. It could be China. It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”


What do you think?

Do you think Clinton or Trump won the debate? What do you think was their strongest moment against each other?

At VMI, Kaine makes renewed push for war powers vote against Islamic State

Sen. Tim Kaine is calling on Congress to authorize military action against the Islamic State, or ISIS. President Obama has already ordered some attacks on ISIS without congressional approval. Do you think Sen. Kaine has the right idea? Or should the U.S. end military action in this area?

Copyright © 2018 Votespotter Inc. All rights reserved.