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Global Power

WESTERN DEMOCRACY’S NO GOOD, VERY BAD WEEK: Western democracies hurtled toward an intercontinental train wreck this week, with protests erupting throughout France and a partial government shutdown looming in the United States, all while Britain's Brexit battles rages on.

“Instability appears to be the order of the day, whether in the United States or in Europe,” The Post's Dan Balz wrote earlier this week. “Traditional politics, of the kind practiced in Western democracies for decades after World War II, is on shaky ground nearly everywhere, struggling to find the point of equilibrium that can satisfy populations fractured by economic, cultural and social changes.”

  • She lives: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May beat back a humiliating “no confidence” vote on Wednesday “triggered by rebels in her Conservative Party who oppose her compromise deal on how to leave the European Union,” according to The Post’s William Booth, Karla Adam and Michael Birnbaum.  
    • The parliamentary brawling and challenge from May's Tories, captured for all to see on Parliamentary TV’s livestream, “leaves May a wounded leader . . . now immune to a leadership challenge by her party for a year, but she faces lawmakers hostile to her Brexit deal, which remains broadly unpopular,” The Post reports.
    • “A no-deal Brexit could result in chaos at ports, a freeze in trade, empty grocery store shelves, grounded aircraft and the threat of recession, economists have warned,” according to Booth, Adam, and Birnbaum.
  • France’s “Gilets Jaunes”: Anti-government protesters wearing reflective yellow jackets took to the streets around the Champs-Elysees again this past weekend, decrying French President Emmanuel Macron as “president of the rich,” The Post James McAuley reported from Paris.  
    • “What began as opposition to a carbon tax designed to curb climate change has morphed into a working-class revolt against Macron, who now faces the first major test of his presidency and whose approval ratings have plummeted to all-time lows,” McAuley writes. 
    • “Most protesters tend to be white and many are from the provinces — sharing anxiety over dwindling purchasing power and what they see as Macron’s aloof style,” reported McAuley. 
    • Is it too late now to say sorry?: Macron delivered a mea culpa from a gilded room in the presidential palace earlier this week, along with a handful of concessions, like raising the minimum wage. He “acknowledged the anger of 'the couple who earn salaries that do not finish the month, and who get up every day early and come home late.' He sympathized with 'the single mother, a widow, a divorcée,' whose life is no longer worth living, he said, and 'has no more hope,'" reported the New York Times's Alissa J. Rubin. 
  • The Wall: President Trump now owns a “nightmare scenario for congressional Republicans as they race to avert a partial shutdown of the federal government at the end of next week,” per The Post’s Erica Werner, Sean Sullivan, and Seung Min Kim because of his push to execute his single biggest campaign pledge — to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
    • But Trump’s own party remains confused by his declaration that he’d be “proud” to shutdown the government if he doesn't get $5 billion in wall funding before the Dec. 21 deadline in a made-for-television confab with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
    • “I don’t understand the strategy, but maybe he’s figured it out and he’ll tell us in due course,” said John Cornyn (Tex.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “But I don’t understand it.”

Not just the wall: Robert Mueller's Russia probe is adding another layer of instability inside the United States. NBC News's Carol Lee, Kristen Welker and Nicolle Wallace report that “Despite President Donald Trump's public declaration that he isn't concerned about impeachment, Trump has told people close to him in recent days that he is alarmed by the prospect, according to multiple sources."

This week’s international headlines sharply illuminate the challenge facing Western democracies: the gaining clout of nationalist movements often based on a nativist desire to shut down borders and keep out global problems vs. open societies and the issues that come with them.

  • “People feel the nature and identity of their country is changing pretty quickly and there are populations that have accepted and celebrated that,” Yascha Mounk, a Harvard University lecturer and author of “The People Vs. Democracy”  told Power Up. “And then there are others who think it’s time to put a stop to that in various forms. You see that being true in all of these movements — it’s true with Trump, true with a Brexiteer who talks about returning to the 1960s … And it’s true of the yellow vests.”

Brookings senior fellow William Galston wrote in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year: “Elites’ enthusiasm for open societies is running up against public demands for economic, cultural and political stability. Battered by economic dislocation, demographic change, and challenges to traditional values, many less-educated citizens came to feel that their lives were outside their control. National and international governing institutions seemed frozen or indifferent. Many people lost confidence in the future and longed for an idealized past, which insurgent politicians promised to restore.”

A poll released by Pew Research Center this week pointed to immigration as a key factor in the tension:

  • “As the number of international migrants reaches new highs, people around the world show little appetite for more migration — both into and out of their countries, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 27 nations conducted in the spring of 2018,” write Phillip Connor and Jens Manuel Krogstad.
  • “Across the countries surveyed, a median of 45% say fewer or no immigrants should be allowed to move to their country, while 36% say they want about the same number of immigrants. Just 14% say their countries should allow more immigrants,” per Pew Research.

Mounk said that while discontent in western democracies has manifested itself in different cultural and economic ways, “it adds up to not trusting political elites, not thinking existing institutions are delivering for them, and being willing to take pretty extreme measures to shake things up … There’s a basic sentiment of: We don’t have so much to lose. How bad could things get?”

We shall see.


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At the White House

DEPT. OF THIS IS NOT NORMAL: A federal judge sentenced Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime fixer, to three years in prison for a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct.” Cohen, who is now estranged from the president, told a New York courtroom that he felt duty-bound to cover up Trump's “dirty deeds.”

Cohen offered an emotional apology for crimes that included “tax violations, lying to a bank and, during the 2016 campaign, buying the silence of women who claimed that they once had affairs with the future president,” reported The Post's Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett. More from their story: 

  • “The downfall of the hard-charging, high-profile lawyer has potential consequences far beyond Cohen, as authorities have alleged that Trump directed him in violating campaign finance laws.”

  • “Cohen laid plenty of the blame at the president’s feet, and his lawyer said he would continue to cooperate with the ongoing special counsel investigation of the president’s campaign.”

  • Step back:” Wednesday’s hearing marked another milestone in the FBI investigations that have engulfed the president and led to criminal convictions for his former campaign chairman, former national security adviser, and two other campaign aides.”

Oh, also: “Publisher of the National Enquirer admits to hush-money payments made on Trump’s behalf” from The Post's Sarah Ellison and Paul Farhi.

  • The key quote: “The admission came as federal prosecutors announced Wednesday that they would not prosecute the company, American Media Inc. (AMI), for its role in a scheme to tilt the presidential race in favor of Trump. In the agreement, AMI said it would cooperate with prosecutors and admitted it paid $150,000 to Karen McDougal before the 2016 election to silence her allegations of an affair with Trump.”
  • Bottom line: “The deal signaled the unraveling of the deep relationship Trump and AMI chief executive David Pecker had forged over decades. The deal also made clear that Pecker, whose tabloid strongly supported Trump’s candidacy, has turned on the president.

From a CNN reporter covering the special counsel and Southern District of New York probes:

On The Hill

THE ART OF THE DEAL: After cutting a deal with a group of insurgent Democrats hungry for new leadership, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is set to reclaim the gavel as House speaker — but, in exchange for her colleagues' support, Pelosi agreed to serve no more than four years in that role. The pact caps off an intraparty struggle over the future of House Democrats that saw Pelosi jostle  with the group of holdouts trying to unseat her.

In the end, both sides conceded. “After weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiating, Pelosi backed off her resistance to setting a date for her departure but avoided becoming an immediate lame duck,” wrote The Post's Mike DeBonis

  • Making history: “Already the first woman to serve as speaker, Pelosi would cement her place in history by joining a small group of lawmakers who regained the speakership after losing it,” DeBonis wrote. “She would be the first speaker to do so since Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn took the gavel back in 1955. No other two-time speaker has reclaimed the gavel after more than four years out of power.”
  • What a week: Per DeBonis: “The deal with the rebels was a capstone to a remarkable 48 hours for Pelosi, who sparred with President Trump on Tuesday at the White House over his demand for U.S.-Mexico border wall funding. She challenged the Republican president and explained the legislative process to him — a clash that highlighted the stakes of the speakership race and Pelosi’s bid to be the most powerful woman in American politics.”

  • The dissenters who flipped: Reps. Bill Foster (Ill.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Linda T. Sánchez (Calif.), Seth Moulton (Mass.), Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Filemon Vela (Tex.) and Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros (Calif.)

CONFIRMATION CONSTERNATION: When senators this week confirmed Justin Muzinich as deputy secretary of the Treasury Department, they ended a process that had dragged on for eight months and filled a key vacancy in the upper rungs of Trump's economic team. They also helped Muzinich avoid a bureaucratic headache — triggered by an arcane Senate rule — that could've completely restarted the confirmation process in 2019. Not every nominee may be so lucky.

  • Nearly 200 nominees are awaiting confirmation, a backlog that could become even more problematic once the clock strikes midnight on the 115th Congress. At that point, a provision is triggered of Senate rule XXXI and all pending nominations are returned to the administration. That may give the new Congress a fresh start, but it will also drag out the amount of time key leadership roles remain officially vacant in an administration that is already struggling to fill some of them.
  • Silver lining: “This obscure rule may have a silver lining — the president can choose not to resubmit nominees who are stalled in the Senate and unlikely to win confirmation,” said Kristine Simmons, a VP at the Partnership for Public Service, which tracks presidential nominees in collaboration with The Post. “This gives the president the opportunity to consider other candidates, with less embarrassment for the unsuccessful nominees.”
  • A convenient exit strategy: “If a nomination cannot be salvaged — or if a nominee wants out, which has happened — Rule XXXI provides a convenient exit strategy,” Simmons told Power Up.

FINALLY, CONGRESS GETS A NEW SEXUAL HARASSMENT POLICY: It's been more than a year since the start of the #MeToo movement and more than a half dozen members of Congress have been ousted after allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct surfaced. But not until Wednesday had lawmakers agreed on a new policy for congressional members and staff. The bill is likely be adopted quickly and take effect when the new Congress convenes in January.

  • The startling status quo: “While exact legislative language was not released, the Senate Rules Committee confirmed that lawmakers will be required to reimburse the Treasury Department for settlements and awards resulting from harassment or retaliation they commit. Under the current system, settlements are paid for by taxpayers,wrote The Post's Elise Viebeck.
  • 'Long overdue' changes: The new policy is the first major step Congress is taking to address sexual harassment and advocates say the changes are long overdue. "In addition to taxpayer-funded settlements, the current process involves mandatory counseling, mediation and 'cooling off' periods for accusers," Viebeck wrote. 
  • Changes to come, per Viebeck: “Awards and settlements would be publicly reported, including whether a member of Congress was held personally liable, and a staff survey would be conducted each Congress about workplace culture.

    The compromise would extend protections to unpaid staff, including interns and fellows, and provide opportunities for accusers to work remotely or request paid leave.”

In the Media