Editorial Roundup: United States
Aug 8, 2023, 1:32 PM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on a threat to PEPFAR
President George W. Bush could not have foreseen how successful the outcome would be when he told aides in 2002 he wanted a “game changer” to fight the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa and elsewhere. But that is what he accomplished with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which he launched in 2003. To date, it is credited with having saved more than 25 million lives.
So it now makes little sense that this impressive public health achievement is being disrupted by political wrangling on Capitol Hill. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), a longtime backer of PEPFAR, is threatening to block a five-year reauthorization to make a tangential point about abortion funding, and some conservative groups are vowing to count the issue in their scoring of members’ voting records — which means supporting the program could be used as a weapon against them at election time. The current authorization expires Sept. 30. A failure to reauthorize PEPFAR would not immediately curtail the provision of drugs and health-care services to those suffering from AIDS, but it would undermine the structure of what has been a signature U.S. foreign policy success. A short-term reauthorization — say, a year — is far from ideal.
PEPFAR has spent more than $100 billion to fight AIDS across more than 50 countries. It has enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress. According to KFF, a health policy organization, PEPFAR is the largest global health program devoted to a single disease, and it helped change the trajectory of the HIV epidemic. In a report last September, the program said it had supported antiretroviral treatment for 20.1 million people; enabled 5.5 million babies to be born HIV-free to mothers living with HIV; provided critical care and support for 7 million orphans, vulnerable children and their caregivers; and helped train 340,000 health-care workers to deliver and improve HIV care and other health services. And there is more.
Also significant: PEPFAR is a banner for benevolent U.S. global leadership, like the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program that extended a helping hand to others abroad in a time of trouble and uncertainty.
Mr. Smith, who chairs a key foreign affairs panel overseeing PEPFAR, sent a letter to colleagues in Congress on June 6 complaining that President Biden has “hijacked” PEPFAR “to promote abortion on demand” through what he calls “bad actor nongovernment organizations” that provide abortion services. Although PEPFAR is barred by U.S. law from supporting abortion, some organizations working with PEPFAR provide abortion services backed by separate funding from other sources. Mr. Smith is seeking restoration of the GOP’s “Mexico City policy,” which would bar foreign organizations that receive U.S. funding from supporting abortion access. Mr. Smith’s letter effectively froze progress on the reauthorization, The Post’s Dan Diamond reported.
Mr. Smith surely can find another venue or legislative vehicle to fight the abortion battle. PEPFAR should not be disrupted by such politicking. Congress shares in the bipartisan credit for making PEPFAR a success story and should not now undo the progress it has achieved.
The New York Times on Donald Trump and the 2020 election
Of all the ways that Donald Trump desecrated his office as president, the gravest — as outlined in extraordinary detail in the criminal indictment issued against him on Tuesday — was his attempt to undermine the Constitution and overturn the results of the 2020 election, hoping to stay in office.
The special counsel Jack Smith got right to the point at the top of the four-count federal indictment, saying that Mr. Trump had knowingly “targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
Bedrock. It’s an apt word for a sacred responsibility of every president: to honor the peaceful transfer of power through the free and fair elections that distinguish the United States. Counting and certifying the vote, Mr. Smith said, “is foundational to the United States democratic process, and until 2021, had operated in a peaceful and orderly manner for more than 130 years,” since electoral counting rules were codified. Until Mr. Trump lost, at which point, the indictment makes clear, he used “dishonesty, fraud and deceit to impair, obstruct and defeat” that cornerstone of democracy.
The criminal justice system of the United States had never seen an indictment of this magnitude. It’s the first time that a former president has been explicitly accused by the federal government of defrauding the country. It’s the first time a former president has been accused of obstructing an official proceeding, the congressional count of the electoral votes. Mr. Trump also stands accused of engaging in a conspiracy to deprive millions of citizens of the right to have their votes counted. This fraud, the indictment said, led directly to a deadly attack by Mr. Trump’s supporters on the seat of American government.
It’s the third criminal indictment of Mr. Trump, and it demonstrates, yet again, that the rule of law in America applies to everyone, even when the defendant was the country’s highest-ranking official. The crimes alleged in this indictment are, by far, the most serious because they undermine the country’s basic principles.
The prosecution’s list of false voter fraud claims made by Mr. Trump and his associates is extensive: that 10,000 dead people voted in Georgia, that there were tens of thousands of double votes in Nevada, 30,000 noncitizens voting in Arizona and 200,000 mystery votes in Pennsylvania, as well as suspicious vote dumps and malfunctioning voting machines elsewhere.
After presenting this list, the indictment makes its case with 12 simple but searing words: “These claims were false, and the defendant knew that they were false.” Mr. Smith points out how many people told Mr. Trump that he was repeating lies. He was told by Vice President Mike Pence that there was no evidence of fraud. He was told the same thing by the Justice Department leaders he appointed, by the director of national intelligence, by the Department of Homeland Security, by senior White House attorneys, by leaders of his campaign, by state officials and, most significantly, by dozens of federal and state courts. The indictment emphasizes that every lawsuit filed by Mr. Trump and his allies to change the outcome was rejected, “providing the defendant real-time notice that his allegations were meritless.”
Demonstrating Mr. Trump’s knowledge that he was lying will be central to the prosecution’s case when it comes to trial, because Mr. Smith wants to make clear that Mr. Trump wasn’t genuinely trying to root out credible instances of voter fraud. The indictment doesn’t charge him with lying or speaking his mind about the outcome of the election, and it notes that he had the right to challenge the results through legal means. But the charges show in detail how, after all those methods failed, his “pervasive and destabilizing lies” set the table for the criminal activity that followed, specifically fraud, obstruction and deprivation of rights. As much as defense lawyers are trying to frame the case as an attack on Mr. Trump’s free speech, the indictment makes clear that it was his actions after Election Day that were criminal.
That “criminal scheme” began, the indictment says, on Nov. 14, 2020, when Mr. Trump turned to Rudy Giuliani ( acknowledged by his lawyer to be “co-conspirator 1”) to challenge the results in the swing state of Arizona, which Mr. Trump had lost. “From that point on,” the charges state, “the defendant and his co-conspirators executed a strategy to use knowing deceit in the targeted states,” which also included Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In an example cited in the charges, Mr. Giuliani sent a text to the Senate majority leader in Michigan on Dec. 7 demanding that the legislature pass a resolution saying the election was in dispute and that the state’s electors were not official. That demand was refused, but Mr. Trump continued to claim that more than 100,000 ballots in Detroit were fraudulent.
The scope of Mr. Trump’s plot touched every level of American political life. While the four federal crimes charged by Mr. Smith all relate to the same set of facts, three of those crimes, one for fraud and two related to obstruction of a proceeding, are crimes against the U.S. government. The fourth crime is against the American people, millions of whom Mr. Trump sought to deprive of their right to have their vote counted. This crime carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
It appears increasingly likely that Mr. Trump will soon face charges for crimes against yet another level of American government — the states — as the district attorney in Atlanta reaches the final stages of a grand jury investigation into his pressure campaign to get Georgia to reverse its certified vote count and award its 16 electors to him instead of Joe Biden.
The former president responded to this latest and most serious indictment in his customary style, denouncing it as “corrupt” and invoking, among other things, the “Biden Crime Family” and Nazi Germany. Mr. Smith, a veteran prosecutor on the International Criminal Court who has prosecuted far more brutal and popular leaders than Mr. Trump, has surely heard it all before. But that does not excuse the support Mr. Trump is receiving from his Republican allies in Congress, who insist that this prosecution is political and have helped damage the respect for the criminal justice system in the minds of so many voters. Yes, some in Mr. Trump’s party, including his former vice president, have stood up for democratic norms in the wake of these indictments, and yet it is impossible to ignore those who have not. These attacks are dangerous and have led to death threats against prosecutors, judges and other civil servants for doing their jobs.
If Mr. Smith’s previous indictment of Mr. Trump is any indication, we have not heard the end of the charges in this case. In that earlier case, which charged Mr. Trump with illegally hoarding and refusing to return highly classified documents after he left office, the special counsel issued a superseding indictment last week, adding serious obstruction charges against the former president and one of his aides at Mar-a-Lago. It would not be surprising if Mr. Smith has more coming in the new case as well, whether additional evidence of Mr. Trump’s lawbreaking or charges against his co-conspirators, who are not named in the indictment but who are readily identifiable. Several are lawyers who advised or worked for the former president, including Mr. Giuliani, Sidney Powell and John Eastman.
In many ways, the indictment continues the work of the House Jan. 6 committee, which uncovered many of the same allegations. Several of the committee’s members had urged this prosecution, particularly after the Senate failed to convict Mr. Trump after he was impeached for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. After he voted to acquit Mr. Trump, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said there were other ways to bring Mr. Trump to account. “We have a criminal justice system in this country,” he said. “We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.”
In that, at least, Mr. McConnell was right. A former president is now being charged with extreme abuse of office and will eventually be judged by a jury. Mr. Trump tried to overturn the nation’s constitutional system and the rule of law. That system survived his attacks and will now hold him to account for that damage.
The Wall Street Journal on VP Biden, family business and Ukraine diplomacy
As soon as Devon Archer’s closed-door sit-down with the House Oversight Committee ended Monday, New York’s Daniel Goldman emerged to give the Democratic spin: President Biden’s conversations with his son’s business partners were innocent discussions about the weather or other niceties. That was exposed as false on Thursday when the committee made the complete transcript public.
Mr. Archer is a former business partner of Hunter Biden and served with him on the board of Ukrainian energy giant Burisma. Mr. Archer described the value-added that Hunter brought to the business as the “brand,” which was the Biden name. When Hunter put his father on speakerphone with his business clients, “there was (a) brand being delivered.”
He further clarified that it was Joe Biden “that brought the most value to the brand.” In other words, Hunter was selling his father’s power in Washington. That is what Burisma was paying for, and it looks like it got its money’s worth. “Burisma would have gone out of business if it didn’t have the brand attached to it,” Mr. Archer said.
Joe Biden famously bragged of his role in using $1 billion in U.S. aid to get Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin fired during his December 2015 visit to Kyiv. Mr. Archer says Mr. Shokin, who was investigating Burisma, was not “specifically on my radar,” and that he was spun a tale how of Mr. Shokin was actually “good for Burisma.” But he also said he wasn’t on the phone with Hunter, Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky and Burisma exec Vadym Pozharski when they “called D.C.” after a meeting in Dubai to discuss how Washington might alleviate the pressure on them.
All of this underscores Joe Biden’s horrendous judgment in blending his son’s business with his duties as Vice President. Mr. Biden was the Obama Administration’s point man for Ukraine, which was fighting Russia’s first invasion, and he can’t claim ignorance about his son’s dealings.
Amos Hochstein, a senior energy official in the Obama Administration, warned the Vice President in 2015 that Russia-backed media were using Hunter’s presence on the Burisma board to “undermine” the U.S. anti-corruption message. The following year a top diplomat in Kyiv, George Kent, was even more blunt in a message to State.
“Ukrainians,” Mr. Kent said, “heard one message from us and then saw another set of behavior, with the family association with a known corrupt figure whose company was known for not playing by the rules in the oil/gas sector.”
Mr. Archer also explained how Hunter received $142,300 from Kazakh oligarch Kenes Rakishev to buy an “expensive car”—either a Fisker or a Porsche. Mr. Rakishev attended a spring 2014 business dinner at Washington’s Cafe Milano with the Vice President and his son. Also in attendance was Elena Baturina, the wife of Moscow’s mayor, who wired $3.5 million to a company linked to Mr. Archer. The House Committee says it will provide more details when it releases its next tranche of related financial documents.
When the public first learned of Hunter’s sleazy deals, Joe Biden denied ever discussing his son’s business with him. But Mr. Archer has also released a letter from Mr. Biden—on official vice presidential stationery—saying how “happy” he was that Mr. Archer was in business with his son. The letter was written right after a lunch he and Mr. Archer attended with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao.
It’s one thing to develop relationships in office that turn into business opportunities later, the way Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, did in the Middle East. It’s another to leverage the office while in office to promote the family business. As Mr. Archer said, the advantage of the Biden brand is that legally “people would be intimidated to mess with them.”
Whether or not Joe Biden took a dime from these dealings, this is a form of political corruption. Covered up by the press in 2020, it will be an issue in 2024. Democrats should worry that as more facts emerge about the Biden mix of politics and business, it could help Mr. Trump neutralize his many legal vulnerabilities.
The Los Angeles Times on federal disaster relief for climate catastrophe
When communities are hit by hurricanes, floods and wildfires they can often count on receiving federal disaster relief to help respond to the unfolding crisis and recover from its effects.
But no U.S. president has ever issued an emergency or major disaster declaration for extreme heat, even though it’s the deadliest weather-related hazard. That means that local communities and states are mostly on their own as they deal with events like this summer’s stifling, weeks-long spell of dangerous heat.
As temperatures continue to break records, it makes little sense to exclude life-threatening heat waves from federal relief. That’s why Congress should get behind the Extreme Heat Emergency Act, straightforward and common-sense legislation introduced in June by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).
It would amend the Stafford Act, the law that governs federal disaster relief, to include extreme heat along with 16 other types of major disasters spelled out in the law, including hurricanes, fires, landslides, drought, and high water. Though it has bipartisan support and the backing of groups such as the National League of Cities and U.S. Conference of Mayors, its prospects in the Republican-led House are unclear.
Changing the law is necessary because the Federal Emergency Management Agency has shown little interest in using its disaster relief authority for heat waves. In its history, the agency has only received three requests for extreme heat declarations — the last one was in 1995 — and denied all on the grounds that they did not demonstrate that response was beyond the capabilities of state and local government.
Nothing in the law precludes an emergency or disaster declaration for extreme heat, according to the agency, but FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell has also suggested it is restricted by the law, telling the Washington Post that “we don’t necessarily have the authorities right now within the Stafford Act.”
Though applications for heat emergency relief may be harder to visualize than the rebuilding that happens after fires or hurricanes, there are many ways heat-stricken communities could benefit from federal assistance.
For example, federal funds could be used to offset the cost to local governments of responding to the surge in heat-related medical emergencies and for expanding and operating cooling centers and other shelters for the elderly, unhoused people and other vulnerable populations. Disaster relief could support hospitals and healthcare providers strained with an influx in patients, to repair or strengthen electrical and cooling infrastructure. And at the individual or household level, it could fund the installation of air conditioning and help those who do have it pay for the sky-high energy bills they’ve racked up.
FEMA says that the costs of responding to extreme heat are usually low compared to other hazards and that it’s unlikely they would reach the level that would meet the law’s requirement that a federally declared disaster be of such severity and magnitude that local and state governments can’t effectively respond on their own.
But tell that to authorities in Phoenix, where people endured a record-shattering 31 consecutive days above 110 degrees and hospitals filled up with patients with heat-related illness and even burns from touching the 180-degree pavement. The city had to deploy air-conditioned buses as mobile cooling stations, and the Maricopa County medical examiner’s office was so over capacity last month it was forced to bring in refrigerated coolers to store bodies for the first time since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who months earlier called for adding extreme heat to FEMA’s list of major disasters, said in an interview this week that communities across the country could use federal relief dollars to repair and strengthen power generation and backup power systems as protection against blackouts, open more cooling centers and offer financial help to people struggling to cool their homes.
“Federal assistance could save lives,” she said. “We have only so many folks in the workforce to open up and operate cooling centers. Many people in my community will have their highest ever electricity bill in the next month that will be financially devastating for some folks.”
Federal disaster assistance has evolved in the past, like during the COVID-19 pandemic when it was used to send billions of dollars in aid to local government and individual households, even though disease is not among the catastrophes listed in the Stafford Act. There’s no reason it can’t also adapt to accommodate the toll of extreme heat on public health and safety, especially as climate change plays an increasing role.
If used to their full potential, these disaster declarations could provide another important tool for local officials, especially in smaller communities that don’t have the resources of places like Phoenix or Los Angeles or are less accustomed such severe and long-lasting heat.
A portion of federal funding made available after a disaster declaration can also be used on projects that make communities more resilient to future disasters. That seems especially appropriate for heat waves, where there is so much work to be done to increase access to air conditioning, insulate homes, plant trees to reduce the urban heat island effect and more to address the deadly consequences of a warming planet.
The great emergency underlying all of this, of course, is climate change and the pollution causing it. President Biden and his administration need to be doing much more to restrict the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and to protect Americans from the rapidly worsening effects. That includes speeding up the development of federal workplace safety standards to protect workers from extreme heat, which is likely to take years to complete because of bureaucratic delays and industry resistance.
In the meantime, federal leaders should update the law to treat severe heat waves like the disasters they are.
The Guardian on Donald Trump’s most recent indictment
The indictment payment of hush money to a porn star. But the gravity of the four counts outlined by the special counsel, Jack Smith, is of a different order of magnitude.
Mr. Trump stands accused of conspiring, in office, to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. Following Joe Biden’s victory, the indictment states, Mr. Trump “knowingly” used false claims of electoral fraud in an attempt “to subvert the legitimate election results”. A bipartisan congressional committee report last year came to similar conclusions and provides much of the basis for the charges. But this represents the first major legal attempt to hold Mr. Trump accountable for events leading up to and including the storming of the Capitol by a violent mob on Jan. 6, 2021.
The stakes could hardly be set higher. Democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power are the cornerstones of the American republic. The testimony given to Congress indicates that Mr. Trump used his authority to try to bully federal and state officials into supporting his claims that the election had been “stolen” from him. Repeatedly told that his assertions were baseless, he then mobilized a hostile crowd on Jan. 6 to intimidate lawmakers charged with ratifying Mr. Biden’s victory.
It is inconceivable that Mr. Trump should not be made to answer for actions that imperiled the constitutional and democratic functioning of the United States. The prosecutors’ case will hinge on their ability to prove that he knew his claims of a stolen election were bogus. But beyond the trial itself, it would be foolish to underestimate Mr. Trump’s ability to turn even this situation to his own political advantage.
The legal fronts on which Mr. Trump is now engaged will drain his financial resources. But a narrative of victimhood and persecution has become, and will remain, the galvanizing theme of his campaign. Two previous criminal indictments saw his poll ratings lift, helping him to establish a huge lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination for 2024. Whatever the evidence to the contrary, a sizable proportion of American voters will continue to back Mr. Trump’s self-serving version of reality.
One of the most dangerously polarizing elections in US history thus looms as, over the next 15 months, Mr. Trump uses political cunning to evade the legal net that is closing around him. Through his lawyers, he will do all he can to delay matters, hoping eventually to dictate the course of events from the White House. For his part, Mr. Smith said on Monday that the justice department will seek “a speedy trial”.
It is in the interests of American democracy, to which Mr. Trump represents a clear and present danger, that the justice department gets its wish. A healthy body politic cannot allow its founding values and core principles to be trashed with apparent impunity. Prosecutors will need to proceed with care and be alert to the complex political dynamics. But this climactic reckoning in court needs to take place before Mr. Trump gets the chance to besmirch the country’s highest office all over again.