Trump Readies His Pick to Replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg
With Senate Republicans firmly behind him, the president said a decision will come Saturday.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Trump’s Supreme Court justice pick is imminent, Mali swears in its new interim president, and China continues to expand its internment camps in Xinjiang.
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Senate Republicans Back Trump as Democrats Consider Options
U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce his nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday, setting up a major battle in Congress just over a month before the presidential election.
Top of the shortlist. Trump has already pledged to nominate a woman for the seat, and a handful of names have emerged as frontrunners since Ginsburg’s death last weekend. One of the names being floated is 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whose devout Catholic faith has made her a favorite among social conservatives but has raised concerns among liberals that she could roll back protections for women’s health.
After passing on Barrett to replace retiring justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, Trump reportedly told people close to him that he’s “saving her for Ginsburg.”
Trump is also considering 11th Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa, who doesn’t command the same level of support from the ideological conservatives surrounding Trump that Barrett does. However, as a Cuban-American from Florida, Lagoa has the support of Republican strategists who believe she could give the president a needed boost in the swing state.
Senate support. There was some initial speculation over whether Republicans would hold a vote on the pick in the Senate, after refusing to facilitate the nomination process for President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 because it was an election year. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins both released statements opposing a vote before the election.
But Trump cleared a crucial hurdle after a statement released by Sen. Mitt Romney, one of Trump’s most consistent and vocal Republican critics, said he would vote on the nominee if it reached the Senate floor. With Republicans holding a slim majority in the Senate, Democrats would only need four senators to cross the aisle to oppose the pick, but it now appears that enough Republicans will back Trump’s nominee.
What to do, what to do. Democrats have been left scrambling over how to respond. Some have pushed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to initiate impeachment proceedings against Attorney General William Barr or seek to impeach Trump again to stall the confirmation process after Trump nominates a replacement, while others have called for Democratic nominee Joe Biden to add new justices to the court if he wins the presidency in November. “We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now,” Pelosi said in an interview.
The shadow of violence. The drama surrounding the Supreme Court nomination is occurring against the backdrop of a new round of protests in U.S. cities. The decision by a judge not to charge three out of four officers involved in the police killing of Breonna Taylor in March has incited unrest in Louisville, where the shooting took place, and in other cities across the country.
On Wednesday, when asked by reporters to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, Trump refrained, saying “we’re going to have to see what happens,” before adding ominously that “there won’t be a transfer, frankly … There’ll be a continuation.” As Timothy Naftali wrote in Foreign Policy, the transfer of power during presidential transitions has always been a weak spot in the U.S. constitutional system; if Trump loses the election, the January 2021 handover could be the most chaotic yet.
What We’re Following Today
Progress in Mali. Former Malian Defense Minister Bah Ndaw will be sworn-in as interim president today to lead the transition back to civilian rule after last month’s military coup ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Ndaw, a retired colonel, will be joined by junta leader Col. Assimi Goita as vice president, a sign that the military will retain significant influence over the transitional government despite demands from opposition leaders and regional powers that civilians be appointed to both positions.
But regional powers have sent signals that they might approve of the move. On Thursday, Ndaw met former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on a mission for the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which imposed crippling sanctions on Mali after the coup. Although ECOWAS has not yet expressed its stance on the appointments, Jonathan praised the developments in Mali and suggested that sanctions could be lifted.
Sanctions against Belarus. International pressure on Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko is growing after he was inaugurated in a secret ceremony on Wednesday, leading to a new round of protests in Minsk as thousands rallied against the move. On Thursday, sources told Reuters that the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada were all prepared to impose sanctions against key Belarusian individuals over allegations of widespread electoral fraud in last month’s presidential election that handed Lukashenko a landslide victory. The United States and Canada have each already said they don’t recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus.
The response from international actors has been slow in part due to concern surrounding Russia’s position. Late last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against foreign actors getting involved in Belarus, and later formed a reserve police unit that could be deployed to the country if Lukashenko requested it.
Palestinian elections. Fatah and Hamas, the two largest political factions in the occupied Palestinian territories, have agreed to hold elections for the first time in almost 15 years. The last elections, held in 2006, resulted in a landslide victory for Hamas, leading to bloody clashes between the two sides and a de facto split within Palestine, with Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) retaining control of the West Bank. Leaders said a vote will be held within six months.
The move follows an unprecedented show of unity among Palestinians in opposition to recent moves by several Arab states to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has called Israel’s recent deal with Bahrain a “betrayal of the Palestinians and Jerusalem,” echoing a widely held sentiment toward that and the earlier deal with the United Arab Emirates.
Keep an Eye On
Detention centers expanding in Xinjiang. Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said they found more than 380 suspected internment camps in China’s Xinjiang province, 40 percent more than previous estimates, refuting claims from Chinese officials that Beijing is winding down its “re-education” program of the country’s ethnic Uighur population. The research also found that at least 61 of the detention centers had been expanded since July, further evidence that the program is still in full operation. “Available evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities,” lead researcher Nathan Ruser wrote.
As Azeem Ibrahim argued in Foreign Policy in December 2019, the evidence pointing to cultural genocide in Xinjiang is now overwhelming, and the international community has a responsibility to act on behalf of human rights in China.
Constitutional vote pushed off in Thailand. Thailand’s parliament opted to postpone a vote on constitutional changes until November, defying one of the key demands of anti-monarchy protesters who have been demonstrating in the streets for more than two months. Pro-government lawmakers have said the vote is being delayed to allow for the formation of a committee to determine how a constitutional amendment could be implemented in the country.
But opposition leaders say this is little more than a ploy to push off the vote indefinitely. “If the process is delayed by a month to set up this committee, and if the motion is rejected then, it will mean members of parliament cannot propose another such motion again until next year,” said Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, a member of the opposition Move Forward Party.
Odds and Ends
Bibi’s dirty laundry. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family routinely bring bags of their dirty laundry on official visits to Washington to take advantage of free laundry services offered to foreign dignitaries. Although the service is available to all foreign leaders visiting the United States, Netanyahu is reportedly unique in how frequently he uses the service.
“The Netanyahus are the only ones who bring actual suitcases of dirty laundry for us to clean,” said one U.S. official. “After multiple trips, it became clear this was intentional.” Netanyahu’s office has pushed back on the claims, calling them “absurd.”
That’s it for today.