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.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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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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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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