Hello and welcome to the Top 5 by Sam Jenkins. The Top 5 consists of the top five things happening right now in politics. Be sure to click that like button, leave a comment, or let me know if I’m #FakeNews. Thank you for reading!
1 Big Thing: Peace on the Peninsula?
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stepped into South Korea for the first time to exchange pleasantries with South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of their diplomatic discussions. While many promising and peaceful developments are underway like this greeting, both sides and the world are “cautiously optimistic” as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders stated.
- From 1950 to 1953, North Korea and South Korea clashed in a long, devastating and emotional war, which ended in a ceasefire. However, on Friday, the leaders agreed to negotiate a formal peace to this persisting conflict that never really ended.
- The North and the South both expressed their desire for a nuclear-free peninsula. However, the details of this goal will be key: withdrawal of troops from the Demilitarized Zone, the disputed western sea border, North Korean infrastructure, lifting sanctions and a timeline of denuclearization.
- The X-factor in these negotiations are the two superpowers, China and the United States, which sit behind each respective side. On one hand, China, which has been sidelined on the negotiations thus far, will ultimately play an important role as a North Korean ally and protector of its own interests. On the other hand, President Trump and the United States are preparing for talks of their own with Kim Jong-un in a decisive summit meeting.
Underneath the State Visit
On Monday, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump hosted their first official state visit as they welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron. However, underneath the elegant state visit, deep policy divisions exist between the two leaders:
- On the table was the Iran Nuclear Deal, which Trump has lambasted and threatened to leave by May 12th. However, Macron sought to mend fences as he and his European counterparts negotiate a supplemental agreement with Iran to keep Trump and the U.S. in the deal.
- On Tuesday, Macron addressed a Joint Session of Congress and spoke highly of the Paris Climate Accord. He insisted the U.S. will rejoin the Accord because “there is no Planet B.”
- Macron also implicitly contrasted Trump in his speech to Congress as he criticized nationalism and fear mongering while lauding democratic values such as journalism and international cooperation.
This week was a busy one for Trump’s cabinet. For example, one of the biggest stories of the week was the nomination of Ronny Jackson for Veterans Affairs Secretary. Jackson, the White House doctor, withdrew his nomination after allegations surfaced of his hostile work environment, generous pill prescriptions and drunken habits. He denies the allegations and claims they are “false and fabricated.”
- On Thursday, Mike Pompeo was confirmed as Secretary of State by the U.S. Senate as he received more votes than Rex Tillerson.
- Also on Thursday, Environment Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testified before two committees on Capitol Hill. He faced a barrage of questions about his conflicted ethics such as his lavish expenses and firings.
On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on President Trump’s Executive Order 13780, which bans travel from eight countries. Since Trump’s first Executive Order (13769) in January of 2017, it has been edited twice. However, the basic premise of the Executive Order (banning travel to the U.S. from certain countries), has meandered through the lower courts.
- On one hand, the Trump administration claims the ban is legal because of the president’s wide authority over national security. On the other hand, critics say it violates the First Amendment because it discriminates based on religion.
- Some other central questions of the discussion included: 1) Should Trump’s campaign statements be disregarded because they occurred before he took the oath of office? 2) What were Trump’s motives for the Executive Order? 3) Does this Executive Order allow for reviews and exceptions on a case by case basis?
- This case will likely be a divisive vote with Justice Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. Kennedy’s line of questioning appeared to align with the Trump administration’s argument of the president’s authority over national security, although the final vote won’t be announced until later in the summer.
Drain the Swamp…Whoops
This week Mick Mulvaney, a former Congressman, said, “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.” While a congressman, Mulvaney received $63,000 for his campaigns from payday lenders. Now, Mulvaney is the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) where he is returning the favor for the payday lenders as he dilapidates the power of their enemy and the agency he leads, the CFPB. This is great: big money corrupting politicians. So much for draining the swamp…