AMERICA’S BIG CHOICES

AMERICA’S BIG CHOICES

Yesterday, Americans turned out in droves to vote in midterm elections, returning control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats for the first time since 2010 and leaving Republicans with a narrow majority in the Senate. The vote was widely seen as a referendum on President Trump’s first two years in office.


Well, the verdict is in. Democrats have picked up at least 26 seats in the House – more than the 23 needed to take back a majority there. The Republicans won at least 2 seats in the Senate, which they will continue to control, but the loss of the lower house is a major setback. As Republicans retreat to lick their wounds and Democrats prepare to use their restored House majority to check the president’s agenda, here are the three big questions they now face.

Run to the center, or cultivate the fringe? With the midterms in the bag, both parties will now start to position for 2020. In doing so, Democrats must choose between striving to pick up disaffected moderates or embracing the activist wing of the party. While the activists may have energized turnout this week, it was suburban moderates who helped to expand the map for Democrats. In 2016, Trump won independent voters by four points. Last night, independents broke for Democrats by a margin of 13 percentage points. The choice of which group to cultivate in 2020 is a fundamental question about the Democratic Party’s future.

Republicans in Congress face a similar dilemma: facing an electoral setback, do they double down on Trump’s America First agenda and divisive brand of identify politics? Or are major setbacks in purple states viewed as an inducement to try to win back the middle?  It may depend on whether the election ends up being perceived as a referendum on Trump’s governing style or on the specific policies backed by Republicans in Congress. The question of who controls the post-election narrative, the White House or Capitol Hill, will also be important in determining how the results are interpreted.

Who is our standard bearer? Democrats have until the beginning of the next Congress in January to agree on their party’s nominee for speaker of the House, and numerous candidates are already jockeying to position for presidential bids in 2020. The Democrats’ debate over speaker will be an early indicator of whether the party will go down an establishment or more activist path.

The Republican leadership, for its part, now faces the crucial decision of whether to hew more closely to Mr. Trump or to try to extricate the party from its president. Moderates may now see good reason to resist the president’s more controversial pronouncements and policies — having achieved the objectives of passing a major tax cut and appointing two Supreme Court justices. But other Republicans will have won re-election by embracing the president, and they may elect to follow his lead instead. We will soon find out whether an establishment Republican is willing to pose either a primary or third-party challenge to President Trump in 2020.

What about Trump? If the question for Republicans is whether to run from Trump, for Democrats, it’s how aggressively to pursue him. As fellow Signalista Alex Kliment noted yesterday, the House’s return to Democratic control gives them broad subpoena and investigatory authority, and it’s likely to result in a slew of investigations into Trump and his family. The results of the Mueller investigation will only add fuel to that fire, depending on what the special counsel finds.

This all means that once the new Congress is sworn in, Democrats will have a wide array of political levers to pull to go after the president. In the extreme, Democrats could even push for impeachment – although the high bar for conviction by the Republican-controlled Senate virtually assures that any attempt to oust the president from office would fail. But that strategy isn’t risk-free: push too far and it could re-activate the Trump voters who stayed home during the midterms when it comes time to vote again in 2020.

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A controversial new World Health Organization report on the origins of the coronavirus that suggests it likely originated from a bat but transferred to humans via an intermediary animal. Could the virus have emerged from a Chinese lab, as former CDC Director Robert Redfield recently suggested? That's the least likely scenario, says the WHO's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan. "The betacoronaviruses are very, very common in bats and there's a lot of genetic similarity between the SARS-CoV2 and many of the viruses in the...bat species," Dr. Swaminathan told Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

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Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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