Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. Mitt Romney will travel to Pennsylvania today -- the same as President Barack Obama -- in a clear attempt to cement his position as the frontrunner in the Republican presidential field.

The former Massachusetts governor will attack Obama's economic record, by holding a press conference outside Allentown Metal Works, a closed down factory which Obama visited in 2009 while promoting his stimulus pacakge.

Romney also released a new web video today which contrasts Obama's visit to the plant with local media reports of its closure. It uses his tagline -- borrowed from the Tories in 1979 -- "Obama isn't working".

 

 

Meanwhile, Obama will attend two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee during his visit. Voters in Pennsylvania appear to be quite equally split on the president -- according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 48 per cent approve of his performance as president, while 48 per cent disapprove.

2. Republican voters are not satisfied with any of the current presidential field, if the latest poll by the New York Times/CBS is to be believed. So far, nine candidates have put themselves forward. About 70 per cent of Republican voters said they wished there were more candidates, with only 23 per cent expressing satisfaction with the current field.

Asked to name a presidential candidate they were enthusiastic about, two-thirds of GOP voters said they were not excited by any of them. Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann fared best, each named by 7 per cent.

However, it is not all bad news for the Republican cohort -- past example indicates that these numbers will increase as the primaries approach. Before the last election, polls showed a similar lack of interest.

3. The former president Bill Clinton shared his thoughts on the current field of GOP candidates -- with the big caveat that he will be "very surprised" if Obama is not re-elected.

Of the former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, he said:

[He] did a very nice, a good job for America as ambassador to China. I think he's quite an impressive man. He's got an impressive family. I had the honor of meeting one of his children once and having a conversation with her. I think that he's refreshingly, kind of, unhide-bound. Just comes across as non-ideological -- conservative, but non-ideological, practical."

He was more reserved in his assessment of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and current frontrunner:

[He] doing a better job as a candidate this time than he did four years ago. [He] comes across as more relaxed and more convicted about what he did do, less willing to just be forced into apologizing for it because it violates some part of his party orthodoxy.

And he said that the early success of Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Representative, he said:

I've been watching her speak at some of these conventions on ESPN, you know, she comes across as a real person. ... The story that they tell is pretty compelling, all those foster children she's taken in, and children she's raised and the work she's done.

4. Herman Cain's latest campaign video appears to owe more than a little something to the Fox News school of thought. As one blogger puts it: "this video proves beyond ANY doubt Obama is a Leftist Marxist".

 

5. There is no rest for the wicked. Senator Harry Reid announced today that the Senate will sacrifice its scheduled week long break for the week of 4 July so that it can continue work on cutting the deficit. "It is often said that with liberty comes responsibility," said Reid, Democratic Senator of Nevada. "We should take responsibility seriously. I'm confident we do. That's why the Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, the day after the Fourth. We'll do that because we have work to do."

This follows calls by Republicans yesterday to postpone the recess. Republicans and the Democrats are trying to reach a deal on raising the government's current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by the start of August.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”