Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. Tim Pawlenty became the first Republican White House hopeful to start showing television adverts in Iowa, the state that holds the first contest in the presidential caucus and primary calendar. The 30-second advert was aired today, and will run til 3 July at a cost of $50,000.

Pawlenty is concentrating a lot resources in Iowa, where he needs a strong finish in February to win the GOP nomination. He formally announced his bit for the presidency at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, last month. He will spend about 15 days in the state next month ahead of an important straw poll in Ames on 13 August.

 

2. Michele Bachmann will also be descending on Iowa, where she will officially launch her presidential campaign on Monday. Several weeks of keeping a low profile mean that Bachmann is still riding the positive wave of her strong performance in last week's primary debate.

Her conservative credentials as the grassroots Tea Party candidate mean she is likely to do well in Iowa. The fact that she was born in the state and lived there until she was 12 will also help. The announcement might even take place in Waterloo, the place of her birth.

3. Republican women rushed to defend their party after a prominent Democrat said the party was waging "a war on women". Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida representative and the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said last month that the opposition's anti-woman stance would "not only restore but possibly help us exceed the president's margin of victory in the next election."

It is obviously a sore point for a party whose top ranks are dominated by white men. Women -- notably not including Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann -- jumped to defend the GOP.

"The Republican agenda is indeed pro-woman," said Kristi Noem, representative for South Dakota. "It is pro-woman because it is pro-small business, pro-entrepreneur, pro-family and pro-economic growth."

Expect the battle for the female vote to heat up.

4. Predicatbly, the love-in between Jon Huntsman and President Barack Obama is coming to an end. Huntsman wrote that Obama was a "remarkable leader" after he was appointed to serve as ambassador to China. He distanecd himself from these words on Fox News' Hannity show last night:

 

Asked if he still thinks the president is a "remarkable leader", Huntsman said: "No. I think he has failed in a number of ways both in terms of economic governance and stewardship and also internationally."

He added: "I wrote that after I was appointed. I thought he was a remarkable leader for appointing a Republican to a position as important and sensitive as the U.S. ambassadorship to China."

5. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in January, is to release a joint memoir with her husband, Mark Kelly.

They will collaborate with author Jeffrey Zaslow, who worked on Randy Pausch's bestselling The Last Lecture. The book will focus on their separate careers (Kelly is a Nasa astronaut) and their relationship, including the moment that Giffords was shot as she spoke to consituents in Tucson, in an attack which killed six people and injured 12. Kelly said:

After thinking about it, and talking about it, we decided it was the right thing to do to put our words and our voices on paper and tell our story from our point of view. It's been really touching to us to see how much support there is for Gabby and her recovery, and how much interest there is in how she's doing and her story.

Giffords, pictured below before and after the shooting, is undergoing outpatient treatment after being released from a Houston hospital last week.

giffords

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

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The Randian Republican who could rein in Trump isn’t a coward – he’s much worse

Paul Ryan's refusal to condemn Trump is not caused by terror or fear; rather, it is a cynical, self-serving tactic.

Poor ol’ Paul Ryan. For a few brief hours on 27 January, a week after the inauguration of Donald Trump, the Wikipedia entry for “invertebrates” – which defines them as “animals that neither possess nor develop a vertebral column (commonly known as a backbone or spine)” – was amended to include a smiling picture of the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The online prank reflected a growing consensus among critics of Ryan: confronted by a boorish and authoritarian president plagued by multiple conflicts of interest, the House Speaker has behaved in a craven and spineless manner. Ryan, goes the conventional wisdom, is a coward.

Yet as is so often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Ryan’s deafening silence over Trump’s egregious excesses has little to do with pusillanimity. It’s much worse than that. The House Speaker is not a coward; he is a shameless opportunist. His refusal to condemn Trump is not caused by terror or fear; rather, it is a cynical, self-serving tactic.

Long before Trump arrived on the scene with his wacky “birther” conspiracies, Ryan was the undisputed star of the GOP; the earnest, number-crunching wunderkind of the right. He was elected to Congress in 1998, aged 28; by 2011, he was head of the House budget committee; by 2012, he was Mitt Romney’s running mate; by 2015, he was Speaker of the House – and third in line for the presidency – at the grand old age of 45.

The Wisconsin congressman has been hailed in the conservative media as the “man with a plan”, the “intellectual leader of the Republican Party”, the “conscience” of the GOP. Yet, again and again, in recent years, he has been singularly unsuccessful in enacting his legislative agenda.

And what kind of agenda might that be? Why, an Ayn Rand-inspired agenda, of course. You know Rand, right? The hero of modern-day libertarians, self-described “radical for capitalism” and author of the dystopian novel Atlas Shrugged. As one of her acolytes wrote to her: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

Ryan is an ideologue who insists on giving copies of Atlas Shrugged to interns in his congressional office. In 2005 he told a gathering of Rand fans, called the Atlas Society, that “the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand”.

Rolling back the evil state while balancing the budget on the backs of the feckless poor, in true Randian fashion, has always been Ryan’s primary goal. Even Newt Gingrich, who served as Republican House Speaker for five years in the 1990s, once decried Ryan’s proposals to privatise Medicare ­– the popular federal health insurance programme that covers people over the age of 65 – as “right-wing social engineering”.

These days, Ryan has a useful idiot in the White House to help him pull off the right-wing social engineering that he couldn’t pull off on his own. Trump, who doesn’t do detail or policy, is content, perhaps even keen, to outsource his domestic agenda to the policy wonk from Wisconsin.

The Speaker has made his deal with the devil: a reckless and racist demagogue, possibly in cahoots with Russia, can trample over the law, erode US democratic norms and embarrass the country, and the party, at home and abroad. And in return? Ryan gets top-rate tax cuts. To hell with the constitution.

Trump, lest we forget, ran as an insurgent against the Republican establishment during the primaries, loudly breaking with hard-right GOP orthodoxy on issues such as infrastructure spending (Trump promised more), health-care reform (Trump promised coverage for all) and Medicaid (Trump promised no cuts). It was all a charade, a con. And Ryan knew it. The Speaker may have been slow to endorse Trump but when he did so, last June, he made it clear that “on the issues that make up our agenda, we have more common ground than disagreement”.

A year later, Ryan has been vindicated: free trade deals aside, Trump is governing as a pretty conventional, hard-right conservative. Consider the first important budget proposal from the Trump administration, published on 23 May. For Ryan, it’s a Randian dream come true: $800bn slashed from Medicaid, which provides health care to low-income Americans, plus swingeing cuts to Snap (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme, aka food stamps), Chip (the Children’s Health Insurance Programme) and SSDI (disability insurance).

In Trump, Ryan and his fellow anti-government hardliners in Congress have found the perfect frontman to enact their reverse-Robin Hood economic agenda: a self-declared, rhetorical champion of white, working-class voters whose actual Ryan-esque policies – on tax cuts, health care, Wall Street regulation and the rest – bolster only the billionaire class at their expense.

Don’t be distracted by all the scandals: the president has been busy using his tiny hands to sign a wide array of bills, executive orders and judicial appointments that have warmed the cold hearts of the Republican hard right.

Impeachment, therefore, remains a liberal fantasy – despite everything we’re discovering about Russia, Michael Flynn, James Comey and the rest. Does anyone seriously expect this Republican-dominated House of Representatives to bring articles of impeachment against Trump? With Paul Ryan in charge of it? Don’t. Be. Silly.

Mehdi Hasan is a broadcaster and New Statesman contributing editor. He is based in Washington, DC

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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