Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. Bill Clinton has passed judgement on the Republic field of candidates, offering praise for Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and even Michele Bachmann. On Romney, Clinton said:

Romney's a much better candidate than he was last time, because he's not apologizing for signing the health care bill. He's got another creative way of saying we oughta repeal Obamacare, but that's prob'ly the price of gettin' the nomination.

On Huntsman, the former president said:

"Huntsman hasn't said what he's for yet, but I just kinda like him. [laughter] He looks authentic -- he looks like a real guy. [laughter] I mean, a real human being. I like his family, I like his kind of iconoclastic way. And he was a pretty good governor. And he wasn't a right-wing ideologue.

Clinton also offered surprising praise for Bachmann, and argued that her main strengths are her backstory and the support she gets from the right of the party:

Bachmann's been a better candidate than I thought she'd be, and I don't agree with her on nearly anything. But she's got a very compelling personal story, and she gotta lot of juice, and she turns [on] a lot of those anti-government crowd.

2. A Twitter feed belonging to Fox News announced the assassination of Barack Obama after being hacked by members of the hacking collective Anonymous. The hackers sent out tweets that said: "BREAKING NEWS: President @BarackObama assassinated, 2 gunshot wounds have proved too much. It's a sad 4th for #america. #obamadead RIP". (Just to be clear, he's not dead.)

3. Happy 4th of July! The US is 235 today. To celebrate its birthday, the US is teetering on the edge of default, but there is some good news. The US debt impasse moved forward an inch, when a number of prominent Republicans agreed to the principle of some "revenue raisers" (or tax increases, as they used to be called). John Cornyn, a Senator for Texas, and John McCain, a Senator for Arizona, both revealed that they would happy to see some tax perks removed in order to increase government revenues. Congress has until 2 August to decide whether or not it will increase the US's debt ceiling. If the ceiling is not increase, the US will default. This is bad news if you or your company are reliant on any of the 80m bills the US government pays every month.

4. The Obama administration has made a push for greater fuel efficiency, arguing that US cars made in 2025 should be able to do 56.2 miles to the gallon. The auto industry, however, is less keen on these stringent targets. Obama had previously pushed through targets of 35.5 miles to the gallon as a condition of an industry-wide bailout. As car makers have recovered, their willingness to listen to government diktat has reduced.

5. Herman Cain has joined Newt Gingrich and become the latest Republican candidate to face a spate of resignations from his campaign team in the crucial first caucus state of Iowa. Cain's team is putting an optimistic spin on the walk outs, claiming that it is not a "Newt Gingrich situation" (charming). Cain spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael said: "We look forward to staffing up, and not just there. We're in a great financial position to continue to expand." Y'see, staff walkouts aren't a blow, they're an opportunity. I suppose you have to be an optimist by nature on Cain's campaign.

 

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Emmanuel Macron offers Theresa May no comfort on Brexit

The French presidential candidate warned that he would not accept "any caveat or any waiver" at a press briefing in London.

Emmanuel Macron, the new wunderkind of French politics, has brought his presidential campaign to London. The current favourite to succeed François Hollande has a natural electoral incentive to do so. London is home to 300,000 French voters, making it by France's sixth largest city by one count (Macron will address 3,000 people at a Westminster rally tonight). But the telegenic centrist also took the time to meet Theresa May and Philip Hammond and to hold a press briefing.

If May hoped that her invitation would help soften Macron's Brexit stance (the Prime Minister has refused to engage with his rival Marine Le Pen), she will have been left disappointed. Outside No.10, Macron declared that he hoped to attract "banks, talents, researchers, academics" away from the UK to France (a remark reminiscent of David Cameron's vow to "roll out the red carpet" for those fleeing Hollande). 

At the briefing at Westminster's Central Hall, Macron quipped: "The best trade agreement for Britain ... is called membership of the EU". With May determined to deliver Brexit, he suggested that the UK would have to settle for a Canadian-style deal, an outcome that would radically reduce the UK's market access. Macron emphasised that he took a a "classical, orthodox" view of the EU, regarding the "four freedoms" (of people, capital, goods and services) as indivisible. Were Britain to seek continued financial passporting, the former banker said, it would have to make a significant budget "contribution" and accept continued immigration. "The execution of Brexit has to be compliant with our interests and the European interest".

The 39-year-old avoided a nationalistic tone ("my perspective is not to say France, France, France") in favour of a "coordinated European approach" but was unambiguous: "I don't want to accept any caveat or any waiver to what makes the single market and the EU." Were the UK, as expected, to seek a transitional arrangement, it would have to accept the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Elsewhere, Macron insisted that his liberal economic stance was not an obstacle to his election. It would be fitting, he said, if the traditionally "contrarian" France embraced globalisation just as its counterparts were rejecting it. "In the current environment, if you're shy, you're dead," he declared. With his emotional, straight-talking approach (one derided by some as intellectually threadbare), Macron is seeking to beat the populists at their own game.

But his views on Brexit may yet prove academic. A poll published today showed him trailing centre-right candidate François Fillon (by 20-17) having fallen five points since his denunciation of French colonialism. Macron's novelty is both a strength and a weakness. With no established base (he founded his own party En Marche!), he is vulnerable to small swings in the public mood. If Macron does lose, it will not be for want of confidence. But there are unmistakable signs that his forward march has been halted. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.