The ​impeachment big picture

The ​impeachment big picture

This week, the process of impeaching President Trump entered the critical phase as the House of Representatives held its first public hearings. The battle lines are now drawn.

The Democrats say that there is compelling evidence that Trump withheld badly needed military to aid to an ally at war to pressure that country's government to provide him with personal political benefit by helping him discredit a political rival.

The Republicans say that the evidence comes mainly from witnesses with little or no direct contact with the president, and that the military aid was delivered to Ukraine without the Ukrainian president taking the actions Trump is alleged to have demanded.


The big picture: In coming days and weeks, there will be much public discussion of new details in the investigation and of unfamiliar characters in this drama. It will be easy to become lost in the weeds.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as we try to separate what matters from what doesn't.

The drama now unfolding on American television is part of a political process, not a legal one. This oft-repeated phrase reminds us that words like extortion, bribery, obstruction, and crimes will be determined not by judges but by lawmakers who answer to voters. The question of whether to remove the president from office will be decided by political calculation of costs and benefits.

Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives, and they see political benefit in voting to impeach the president. Republicans control the Senate. They do not see political benefit in removing the president from office. That's why the House remains likely to impeach the president, and the Senate remains highly unlikely to convict him.

Wildcards? Are there developments that could alter this very basic analysis of political reality?

  • Some have argued that if the evidence presented by Democrats proves compelling enough to significantly change public attitudes about President Trump, Senate Republicans may abandon him.
  • That scenario becomes more likely if Democrats gain access to headline-making new evidence of presidential misconduct. For example, some point to the possibility of access to files of Trump's calls with other world leaders, including Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
  • There has even been speculation that Republican Senators might seek political safety by agreeing to vote by secret ballot on whether to remove Trump from the White House.

All these scenarios remain unlikely.

  • By historical standards, President Trump's approval ratings have proven remarkably stable. Perhaps that's because conservatives and liberals in the United States get their news from cable channels and websites that align with their political views. Whatever the cause, the dramatic events of the past three years have done little to change public perception of Trump.
  • Any damning new evidence, if it exists, is unlikely to surface soon, because the president can pursue legal action to delay its release. Democrats want the impeachment process finished before the 2020 election campaigns move into high gear.
  • Republicans know that many voters will see any move to hold a final vote on Trump's fate in secret as an act of political cowardice. They also know the vote wouldn't remain secret for long. Those who vote to support Trump will say so publicly; it won't be difficult to match final vote totals with the number of Republican senators who refuse to say how they voted. Thus, there's no political safety in this strategy.

The bottom line: The fate of Donald Trump will likely remain in the hands of American voters, not their elected officials. And the outcome of the next election is still more likely to be determined by the Democrats' choice of a presidential candidate, the state of the US economy in 2020, and the enthusiasm that each side's voters feel about the election than by anything now happening under the klieg lights in congressional hearing rooms.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

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This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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Iran was involved in two naval incidents in the Gulf of Oman in recent days. The US, UK, and Israel have blamed Iran for a drone attack that killed two European nationals. Iran has rejected the accusations. Iran is also suspected in the "potential hijack" of a tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

These provocations are happening just as Iran inaugurates a new president, Ebrahim Raisi, and as talks continue over the possible US re-entry into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. What's the connection between these events? We asked Henry Rome, Eurasia Group's deputy head of research and a director covering global macro politics and the Middle East.

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Whenever Burkina Faso is in the news, it's often about how the crisis-ridden country has got caught up in the crosshairs of horrific jihadist violence plaguing the Sahel.

But this week, the nation of 20 million was celebrating because Hugues Fabrice Zango won its first-ever Olympic medal after finishing third in the men's triple jump in Tokyo.

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Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

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80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

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On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

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Does alcohol help bring the world together?

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