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Washington’s Christmas crush & the grinches who want to steal it

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Members of Congress want to get home for Christmas, but it’s going to be a long sleigh ride

While they shocked themselves and many critics by approving two essential measures – keeping the US government funded and raising the US debt limit– there is still a huge December agenda that may yet find America’s lawmakers in session and voting on Christmas Eve – and beyond.

This is what has to get done

  • Passage of President Biden’s $2 trillion mega legislative program – known as Build Back Better – that would provide support to families across the county for children, pre-k programs, lower prescription drug costs, more access to less expensive health insurance, senior housing subsidies, financial aid for college – and the largest funding program to accelerate the move to renewable energy.

To pass this bill, the culmination Biden’s first-year agenda, all 50 Democrats in the Senate must vote for it

You have heard the name “Joe Manchin” ad nauseum in accounts of where the Senator will land and either make or break the legislation – and you will hear much more from Manchin and Biden before December is done.

What is crucial is this:  if this bill dies, if the Democrats do not unite and pass it, the president’s legislative program is effectively over in this Congress, and the tectonic plates will be aligning for Republican sweep of the House and Senate next November

So it is all on the line for President Biden, what he wants to achieve, and what his legacy will be.

Biden will insist that Congress stay in session, no matter if it is Christmas or New Year’s, to get this bill passed.

Here is what is up in the air at home

  • The House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack that is investigating the Trump mob insurrection on the Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The committee is determined to find out definitively what happened that day and in the days leading up to the attack, who in the White House knew what was unfolding and how they participated in the events, and how the police and military authorities responded and what they failed to do. 

There are multiple subpoenas for key players to testify, including Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff and Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department official involved in attempts to steer the Justice Department to support the goals of the insurrection.  

But the most important issue right now is whether the committee will have access to all the relevant White House records that document those events. 

Two courts have ruled with no equivocation that Trump does not have and cannot exercise “executive privilege” over those documents and withhold them from the committee. 

Only President Biden can do that, and he wants the materials released in the public interest. The case is headed to the Supreme Court, and how it rules will seal the fate of this unique exercise of congressional oversight. This is a moment of supreme accountability for the proper functioning of America’s democracy.

  • Abortion.  The Supreme Court last week allowed Texas’ massively restrictive abortion law to remain in effect.

This was a bitter disappointment to supporters of abortion rights. 

Yes, the Supreme Court lets the law’s opponents challenge it further in lower courts, but it did not suspend this law – which makes abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy illegal – which is so blatantly contrary to the constitutional right to abortion services established by Roe v Wade in 1973.

Even the Chief Justice wrote that his court had now enabled a law whose “clear purpose and actual effect has been to nullify this Court’s rulings” to stay on the books!

This is a further sign that in 2022 the Supreme Court will overturn Roe and leave an issue so fundamental to the health and welfare of tens of millions of women to the 50 state legislatures across the country. 

If Roe is thrown out, two dozen states will likely move immediately outlaw abortion altogether within their boundaries.

Here is what is up in the air abroad

  • Ukraine.  Will Putin invade or not?  Will Biden’s very clear threats of massive sanctions and economic isolation of Russia, coupled with the prospects of massive weapons deliveries to Ukraine and more US troops rotating through the NATO partners in Eastern Europe, cause Putin to stand down or not?

If Russia invades, Biden will be seen to have failed to stop Russia and to have “lost” Ukraine

WOLPE ON UKRAINE

A new Cold War will sweep over Europe in 2022.  And in Beijing, President Xi and his military chiefs will be asking themselves, “Well, if Putin could take Ukraine without a war with the US, why can’t we take Taiwan at the same cheap price? And what are we waiting for?”

  • Iran.  The talks over the US and Iran reviving the agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons are stalled, with no visible progress on Iran’s returning to the deal and the US lifting sanctions on the country.

If the talks fail, there will be immense pressure from Israel for a military solution – an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities – to end the nuclear threat that Iran poses.  Will – can – the US veto an Israeli strike?  And if Israel does strike, what does Iran do in response? Is there war throughout the Middle East?

There is more at stake than an Iran nuclear breakout in 2022.  In Pyongyang, President Kim Jong-un will be asking himself, “If Iran can get away with it, I can continue my program too.”

What will we get for Christmas? 

A president who is strong and successful at home, and a resolute leader who can solve crucial foreign policy issues abroad?  Or a presidency plagued by Grinches who sap his political power at home and let America’s adversaries play deadly games in Europe, the Middle East and Asia?

Oh yes:  and happy new year.

Bruce Wolpe is a Ticker News US political contributor. He’s a Senior Fellow at the US Studies Centre and has worked with Democrats in Congress during President Barack Obama's first term, and on the staff of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He has also served as the former PM's chief of staff.

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Are U.S. lawmakers more worried about protecting gun rights than children? | ticker VIEWS

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Yet another mass shooting in America, and the world is reeling because change is unfortunately unlikely

As a human being, as a woman, as a Journalist, as a daughter, and as a friend, I was wholeheartedly saddened to hear of the Texas mass shooting in Uvalde, at Robb Elementary School.

I was, and still am angry, sad, and horrified, but unfortunately, not surprised.

Guns are woven into the fabric of America, in particular, Texas.

It’s becoming clearer after each senseless murder, that lawmakers are more worried about protecting their gun rights than they’re innocent people.

Enough is enough.

It’s almost ten years since the Sandy Hook mass shooting where 20 children were murdered.

You would assume that particular massacre would’ve been enough to ignite change in American gun rights, but it wasn’t.

Now, another group of children has been slaughtered in their classrooms. So what is the threshold before something is done?

Children shouldn’t have to live in fear. The kids of Uvalde were just two days out from summer vacation, where they should be just that- kids.

Now, the selfish and barbaric actions of one 18-year-old individual, who had easy access to an assault rifle, stole their futures away.

Moments of silence are not enough, condolences are not enough.

This does not happen as frequently in any other country in the world. So why is the political appetite for change in America so low?

“You cannot separate the fabric of gun ownership from the reality of being American”

megran pratz, cheddar
Megan pratz, cheddar

Gun law overhaul

Here’s what’s being discussed in Congress, in regards to making a change to gun rights.

Currently, federal law does not require unlicensed gun sellers to conduct background checks prior to the purchase of arms. 

Dubbed the H.R. 8 bill, it would step up the required background checks before a gun is purchased.

However, it continues to be stalled in the Senate, where it needs ten Republican votes to get through.

It’s now in the process of getting on the upper chamber’s calendar, with many pushing for an urgent vote, even if it’s doomed to fail by Republicans.

They argue that background checks tarnish gun rights and will take away guns.

“You see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,”

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will also push for a gun safety bill to be voted on in June.

The proposed bill would “allow family members and law enforcement to obtain an extreme risk protection order to temporarily remove access to firearms for those who are deemed a danger to themselves or to others by a federal court.”

Red flag laws are also in place, but they prove ineffective far too frequently.

They only alert a problem if someone has a criminal history or has been previously deemed mentally ill.

Meaning cases like the 18-year-old suspect in the Uvalde mass shooting slipped through the cracks.

Most regulations on gun rights vary from state to state, because gun regulation cannot pass at the Federal level, with no majority support.

Therefore, it leaves gun use and availability up to the leaders of each state.

At this point in time, gun control will not stop every horrific attack, but it will make a difference.

If you keep doing the same process in life, you will get the same outcome. A mass shooting nearly every week in America is surely enough reason to make a change?

“The President should demand that the Senate meet right now on the gun control bill and let the votes fall where the children die”

Bruce wolpe, U.s studies centre

National Rifle Association meeting

And most distastefully, the National Rifle Association convention is scheduled for this weekend in Houston, Texas.

Attendees at this convention are prohibited from “bringing firearms, firearm accessories, knives, and other items.”

So no guns are allowed at the NRA meeting but an 18-year-old can walk into an elementary school with an assault rifle and massacre innocent people.

The irony in that. As the NRA essentially continues to hold America hostage.

“You’ll see a very paradoxical messaging strategy, where NRA will talk about guns for everyone, everywhere, all the time, while not allowing guns in its own events”

mega pratz, cheddar
megan pratz, chedda

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Joe and Albo already talk the same language | ticker VIEWS

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The morning after the election here, President Joe Biden, in Seoul on the first leg of his first major trip to Asia to engage with the US’s principal allies in the Indo-Pacific, was on the phone to Anthony Albanese:

“President Biden spoke with Australian Prime Minister-Designate Anthony Albanese to congratulate him on his election as Australia’s 31st prime minister. President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ steadfast commitment to the U.S-Australia alliance and his intent to work closely with the new government to make it stronger still. President Biden expressed deep appreciation for the Prime Minister-Designate’s own early commitment to the alliance, reflected in his decision to travel almost immediately to Tokyo to attend the Quad Summit—a vital opportunity to exchange views and continue to drive practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. President Biden looks forward to a close partnership between our administrations that will benefit the American people, the Australian people, and the world, starting with consequential meetings in Japan this week.”

Bruce Wolpe on ticker NEWS

The foundations of the alliance are exceptionally strong, capped last year with the announcement of the AUKUS strategic partnership.  

AUKUS ALLIANCE

At any summit meeting between leaders, or when they get on a video call, what becomes so important is the resonance, the chemistry between them. 

That deeper personal chemistry has informed the quality of the ties between several prime ministers and presidents:  Bob Hawke and George H W Bush in the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait; Paul Keating and Bill Clinton to establish APEC; John Howard and George W Bush on 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the US-Australia free trade agreement; Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama to get Australia into the G20;  Julia Gillard and Obama stationing Marines in Darwin and the pivot to Asia; Scott Morrison and Donald Trump in alliance against China and exempting Australia from Trump’s trade wars.  

Tony Abbott and Barack Obama

It has not been all sweetness and light:  Tony Abbott and Barack Obama famously disagreed on global warming, especially on its endangerment of the Great Barrier Reef.  Their discussions were chilly while the globe warmed.

The new PM’s relationship with Biden will have a special dimension.

In Anthony Albanese, Biden will see someone very close to his life experience and values

  • They both come from poorer backgrounds, and they know what it means for families to pull themselves up. 
  • They are both Catholic.
  • They both strongly support unions and good union jobs. Biden is pro-union, pro-worker and pro-manufacturing.  So is Albanese.
  • They are both huge on infrastructure.  It is Biden’s strongest achievement in Congress so far, and Albanese served as Infrastructure Minister for 6 years.  They can talk planes, trains and broadband.
  • Albanese has taken a Biden-style agenda to his campaign.  Biden won office with Build Back Better and Albanese’s hopes are with A Better Future.  
  • They both support policies that have at their core helping working families not only with higher wages and good jobs, but also helping them shoulder the cost of living for childcare, education, medicines, and care for seniors.
  • Labor is simpatico with Biden on climate, electric vehicles and renewable energy.  In fact, an Albanese government can get more enacted on climate than Biden can in this or the next Congress.

Joe and Anthony will find themselves talking the same language.  They already do. When they shake hands, the Prime Minster will say, “Everyone calls me Albo.” And Joe will.

U.S. President Joe Biden hosts a ‘Quad nations’ meeting at the Leaders’ Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein – RC2IWP9759ZQ

At the end of the Tokyo talks, we should expect Biden to invite Albo to Washington, and for the PM to invite the President to come to Australia.  They will want to spend more time together.

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Climate Change

Australia set to bid for COP29, despite lack of climate action

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Australia is set to bid for the opportunity to host the COP29 climate conference, despite its lack of climate action recently

Australia’s opposition Labor party says it will bid to host the 2024 COP29 climate conference if they win the upcoming Federal Election.

They say it will be in partnership with the Pacific and Soloman Island Nations ‘if they want to.’

Australia has never hosted a United Nations climate conference but it could set them on the global stage as a leader in climate change action. 

However, Australia has been dubbed a laggard on its climate change action and may not be equipped to host such a significant event.

 

“This is a real shift in Australia’s policy…For 30 years in the history of the United Nations Climate negotiations Australia hasn’t hosted a meeting… Instead it usually shys away from them”

richie merzian, the australia institute
Richie merzian, australia institute

Australia’s rocky relationship with the Solomon Islands will make the deal even more uncertain.

A recent security pact between China and the Solomon Islands has been finalised, meaning China will build a military base just Kilometres from Australia’s borders.

Australia has recently cristicised the Solomon Islands for its friendly ties to China and how that will negatively impact Australia’s national security.

Now the biggest question is do the Pacific, and the Solomon Islands, even want to partner with Australia at COP29?

“It’s a real opportunity for Australia to gear up it’s diplomacy, to demonstrate leadership of the global stage and hopefully shake of its reputation as a laggard on climate action”

richie merzian, the australia institute
richie merzian, the australia institute

Deadly heatwave

Climate change has reared its head more frequently over recent years, including wildfires, ravaging floods, and extreme weather events.

This comes as millions of people in India and Pakistan experience a brutal heat wave that has left hundreds dead.

The high temperatures have been surfacing for the last two months, with the Government unprepared to handle it.

The heatwave is causing wide sweeping water shortages, heat stroke, and power outages.

The region has reached its highest April temperatures in 122 years.

Photo credit: New York Times

“Global warming means more extreme heatwaves, and longer heatwaves… It’s a sign of things to come.”

richie merzian, australia institute
richie merzian, australia institute

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