Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump faces early resistance

US President Donald Trump can hardly be said to have come to power on a wave of euphoria, with Congress struggling to confirm his choices for Cabinet positions

Trump faces early resistance
Trump faces early resistance

With four former US presidents attending his inauguration ceremony to maintain the tradition of a peaceful transition of power, newly elected Republican President Donald Trump immediately pulled the trigger to confirm that business as usual is a thing of the past in Washington DC.

“Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another— but we are transferring power from Washington, DC and giving it back to you, the American people,” Trump said.

He added, “for too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost… The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs.”

In a direct jibe at his predecessors, the controversial billionaire noted, “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

On foreign policy, the new president stated clearly that, “we will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”

He also sent an extremely worrying signal to American Muslims and Muslims worldwide, stressing that, “we will reinforce old alliances and form new ones, and unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”

His Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who left office with the highest popularity rating ever for a departing president, had firmly rejected the use of the term “Islamic terrorism,” fearing this would send the wrong signal to more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.

However, with dozens of right-wing extremists and white supremacists in his cabinet, Trump, who once called for a total ban on all Muslims from entering the United States, decided to adopt an aggressive language, creating fears among observers that he might get his country involved again in needless wars and military adventures under the claim of eradicating terrorism.

And in his first day in office, Trump and the White House declared war against “the most dishonest human beings on earth” — in Trump’s eyes, the media. The new president was clearly unhappy with television coverage of his inauguration ceremony, showing a relatively smaller crowd, and comparing that to the massive celebrations that followed Obama’s victory eight years ago.

In his first briefing to reporters, the new White House Spokesman, Sean Spicer, delivered what sounded more like a military statement. Without taking any questions, Spicer scolded reporters and made a series of false statements. He accused news organisations of deliberately misstating the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration last Friday, warning that the new administration would hold them to account.

Spicer claimed that the crowds that attended Trump’s inauguration were the largest ever in US history, “period.” When told that this was clearly in contradiction to what everybody could see on television, a senior White House adviser said that Spicer was trying to provide “alternative facts”, raising many eyebrows, considering that the alternative to fact is simply fiction.

The White House spokesman also avoided any comparison between the crowds who attended the inauguration ceremony and the massive protests that took place one day later against Trump, and led by women activists. He dubbed such comparisons as “attempts to create division” while the new US president was hoping to move forward and improve the living standards of the American people.

Hardly a few hours after his ceremony, Trump rushed to the White House to sign an executive order that was seen as the first step towards fulfilling his election promise to dismantle the trademark of Obama’s domestic agenda providing healthcare coverage to all Americans (known as Obamacare).

On Monday, Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, distancing America from its Asian allies, as China’s influence in the region rises.

Fulfilling a campaign pledge to end American involvement in the 2015 pact, Trump signed an executive order in the Oval Office pulling the United States out of the 12-nation deal.

Trump, who wants to boost US manufacturing, said he would seek one-on-one trade deals with countries that would allow the United States to quickly terminate them in 30 days “if somebody misbehaves”.

“We’re going to stop the ridiculous trade deals that have taken everybody out of our country and taken companies out of our country,” the Republican president said as he met with union leaders in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.

The TPP accord, backed heavily by US business, was negotiated by former Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration but never approved by Congress.

Obama had framed TPP, which excluded China, as an effort to write Asia’s trade rules before Beijing could, establishing US economic leadership in the region as part of his “pivot to Asia” strategy.

Meanwhile, the US Senate confirmed Representative Mike Pompeo as President Trump’s CIA director Monday, after a delay tied to some lawmakers’ worries he might expand surveillance or allow the use of certain interrogation techniques widely considered as torture.

Sixty-six senators backed Pompeo and 32 voted against. All the opposition was from Democrats, except for Senator Rand Paul, a leading Republican advocate for strict control of surveillance. Shortly afterward, Pompeo was sworn in by Vice-President Mike Pence.

Some senators felt Pompeo, 53, had not pledged strongly enough to allow only the use of interrogation techniques included in the Army Field Manual, as required by law, rather than return to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) used by the CIA in the years after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Obama, signed an executive order in 2009 banning waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, and other EITs, which are denounced by many lawmakers and rights groups as torture.

In response to written questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pompeo said he was open to changing policy under certain circumstances. “I will consult with experts... on whether the Army Field Manual uniform application is an impediment to gathering vital intelligence to protect the country,” Pompeo wrote.

Trump promised during his presidential campaign to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse”.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden spoke for more than an hour in the Senate in opposition to Pompeo’s nomination, saying he had provided inconsistent answers on surveillance and interrogation tactics, making it impossible to know how he would implement policy at the CIA.

Wyden cited an op-ed Pompeo co-authored last year that called for restarting the bulk collection of domestic telephone metadata and combining it with financial and lifestyle information into one searchable database.

Wyden accused Pompeo of having proposed “the most sweeping new surveillance programme I have ever heard of”.

Paul wrote in an op-ed: “I voted against the new CIA director because I worry that his desire for security will trump his defence of liberty.”

Trump’s choice for secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil Corp chairman Rex Tillerson, also narrowly won approval from a Senate committee Monday, but is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 11-10 to approve Tillerson, with every Republican backing the former oil executive and every Democrat opposing him.

His approval by the panel, a victory for Trump, had been in doubt until earlier on Monday when Senator Marco Rubio, a committee member who had been Tillerson’s most vocal Republican critic, said he would back the nominee.

Tillerson’s confirmation by the 100-member Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats, is not expected before next week. Democrats want more time for debate and the chamber may not be in session at all this week.

Rubio’s backing had been in doubt after his tough questioning during Tillerson’s confirmation hearing, focusing on concerns about Tillerson’s support for human rights. Rubio ultimately decided he would approve the nominee in deference to Trump, as well as to fill a critical top job.

Democrats said they voted against Tillerson over fears he might lift sanctions on Russia, where he did business for years, questions about his views on human rights and his refusal to recuse himself from matters related to his former employer during his complete term as the top US diplomat. Tillerson pledged to recuse himself only for the year required by law.

Amid Democratic anger over allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election, Tillerson also raised committee hackles by saying he did not know Exxon Mobil lobbied against sanctions on Russia while he was running the company.

Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, said Tillerson’s “business orientation” and responses at his hearing “could compromise his ability as secretary of state to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years”.

The Senate confirmed only two of Trump’s Cabinet nominees Friday, Inauguration Day, a relatively low number among recent presidencies.

Democrats have been unable to block any of his choices because they changed Senate rules in 2013 to allow nominees to be confirmed with a majority, not 60 votes. Instead, they used Senate rules to slow the confirmation of nominees they say hold extreme views, are unqualified, or have not completed ethics disclosures.

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