Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. Almost half a million donors have contributed to President Barack Obama's campaign, according to a "thank you" sent from his official Twitter feed. It has not been confirmed whether he has reached the goal of raising $60m by the end of the second quarter (which ended on 30 June). Democrats claim they will easily hit this target.

Barack Obama's donors

2. In the Republican camp, speculation about donations is rife, although results won't be public until 15 July. Mitt Romney's campaign is expected to have raised around $20m in the quarter, less than the £30-40m some had forecast. However, he is still likely to far outpace everyone else in the Republican presidential field.

Jon Huntsman -- who has been an official candidate for just nine days -- is the first to leak his figures, which are reportedly around $4.1m. However, according to ABC, "less than half" came from Huntsman himself, meaning that he actually raised around $2m. Ron Paul announced on his Facebook page that he's raised $4.5m -- double the amount he raised at this point in the last election cycle.

Details about the others are less forthcoming, although Michele Bachmann is expected to have had a good quarter following all the publicity she has received in recent weeks.

Mitt Romney

3. Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner, appeared to back-pedal from his claims that Obama has made the recession worse. In early June, he said that Obama "didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer." He said the same thing on Monday.

However, when an NBC producer asked him yesterday to explain why Obama's policies hurt the economy, he said "I didn't say that things are worse", adding:

What I said was that [the] economy hasn't turned around, that you've got 20 million Americans out of work, or seriously unemployed; housing values still going down. You have a crisis of foreclosures in this country. The economy, by the way, if you think the economy is great and going well, be my guest. But the president of the United States, when he put in place his stimulus plan and borrowed $787 billion, said he would hold unemployment below 8% -- and 8% seemed like an awfully high number. It hasn't been below 8% since. That's failure. We're over 9% unemployment. That's failure. He set the bogie himself at 8% ,which strikes me as a very high number and we're still above that three years later.

4. Thaddeus McCotter, a Michigan congressman, will file paperwork to enter the 2012 presidential race today. The little known Republican spent four days in Iowa this week, and reportedly left "feeling positive". The former Iowa House Speaker, Chris Rants, will serve as his senior adviser in the state, although he previously endorsed Romney. Despite McCotter's low profile amongst Republicans across the country, Politico notes that he is popular with the conservative media crowd. The commentator Andrew Breitbart told the publication that McCotter was "blunt, sarcastic, pop-culture-savvy, constitutionally sound and an authentic voice."

Not sure who he is? Here is a vintage video of him explaining "How to speak Democrat" in 2008. Suffice to say comic timing isn't his forte.

 

5. Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, will leave his job in the autumn if economic conditions improve and the debt ceiling debate is resolved, according to a senior administration official. The news has been reported by several US media outlets, including Bloomberg.

While it is too early to say whether he will definitely depart (and indeed, there are too many caveats to be sure), it would be a significant loss. Geithner is the last member of Obama's original economic team still with the administration. Possible replacements are already being touted, with the list said to include Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, and Roger Altman, a top investment banker and former deputy Treasury secretary.

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

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Donald Trump's threats give North Korea every reason it needs to keep nuclear weapons

The US president's warning that he may “totally destroy” the country is a gift to Kim Jong-un's regime. 

Even by Donald Trump's undiplomatic standards, his speech at the UN general assembly was remarkably reckless. To gasps from his audience, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it persisted with its threats and branded Kim Jong-un "rocket man". In an apparent resurrection of George W Bush's "axis of evil", the US president also declared: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph". 

For North Korea, Trump's words merely provide further justification for its nuclear weapons programme. Though the regime is typically depicted as crazed (and in some respects it is), its nuclear project rests on rational foundations. For Kim, the lesson from the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was that tyrants pay a price for relinquishing their arms. The persistent threats from the US strengthen the regime's domestic position and reinforce a siege mentality. Though North Korea must be deterred from a pre-emptive strike, it must also be offered incentives to pursue a different path. 

As Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked last month: "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel. We are not your enemy... but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."

The present nadir reflects the failures of the past. In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear programme in return for economic and diplomatic concessions. A communique declared that neither state had "hostile intent" towards the other. But this progress was undone by the Bush administration, which branded North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and refused to renew the communique.

The subsequent six-party talks (also including China, Russia South Korea and Japan) were similarly undermined by the US. As Korea expert Mike Chinoy records in the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration provocatively "designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia, where North Korea maintained dozens of accounts, as a 'suspected money-laundering concern.'" When a new agreement was reached in 2007, "Washington hard-liners demanded that Pyongyang accept inspections of its nuclear facilities so intrusive one American official described them a 'national proctologic exam'".

For North Korea, the benefits of nuclear weapons (a "treasured sword of justice" in Kim's words) continue to outweigh the costs. Even the toughened UN sanctions (which will ban one third of the country's $3bn exports) will not deter Pyongyang from this course. As Tillerson recognised, diplomacy may succeed where punishment has failed. But Trump's apocalyptic rhetoric will merely inflate North Korea's self-righteousness. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.