BREAKING: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) signed into law "one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, making it even more difficult for women to get abortions in a state where only one clinic still operates,” my colleague Reis Thebault reports. “The bill, set to take effect in July, bans abortions after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat during an ultrasound, unless the mother’s health is at extreme risk. Heartbeats can be heard just six weeks after conception — before some women even know they are pregnant.”
A PURIM GIFT: President Donald Trump gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a victory — just three weeks before his country votes on whether to reelect him — by abruptly endorsing Israel's permanent control of the disputed Golan Heights. Trump reversed long-standing U.S. policy in a tweet yesterday: “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
While “the statement has no immediate practical effect,” it puts the Trump administration squarely in Israel’s camp in deciding who controls the area seized from Syria in the 1967 Arab War, Anne Gearan, Loveday Morris and Carol Morello report.
The symbolic reversal of U.S. neutrality is also at odds with most of our allies and the United Nations, “which has declared the annexation of Golan Heights an illegal occupation under international law.”
Netanyahu “warmly welcomed” the news “as a 'miracle' on the Jewish holiday of Purim,” per AP's Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann.
Timing is everything: The announcement comes days before the Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Trump in Washington. He will attend a private dinner at the White House next week, putting the prime minister in the perfect place to extol his close relationship with the U.S. president. Bibi’s chief rival, former Israeli military chief of staff Benny Gantz, is neck and neck in the polls and has also made permanent control of the Golan Heights a key campaign issue.
Power Up spoke with The Post's bureau chief in Jerusalem, Loveday Morris, about how the announcement is playing on the ground:
- “Even before Trump's announcement, [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo's visit to Israel less than three weeks before the elections was seen as a nod of support to Netanyahu who is fighting for a new term, his fifth, from under a cloud of corruption allegations. U.S. officials went to lengths to deny that it was anything other than a visit to discuss ongoing regional issues,” Morris wrote us.
- “But standing side-by-side with Netanyahu at the Western Wall — a move other senior U.S. diplomats have avoided so as not to imply support for Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem — provided Bibi with a perfect pre-election photo call, before his Purim gift from Trump.”
- “Israeli commentators and analysts went as far as to call it 'election interference.' It's hard to tell how much Trump's perceived endorsement will help. Netanyahu has certainly been keen to present the Israel friendly moves of the White House, from scrapping the Iran deal to recognizing Jerusalem. This latest move will no doubt give him a boost, in what has been a tight race.”
But many experts and former diplomats believe that the political move is a nail in the coffin for the Trump administration's Middle East peace plan.
- “Politically, it helps Bibi, but comes at the cost to the administration’s own peace plan,” Dennis A. Ross, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator, told Al-Monitor's Laura Rozen. “It will make it harder for Arab leaders to respond favorably to it. They will not want to look like they are acquiescing in the surrender of what they see as Arab land.”
- “The other big thing is the precedent it sets when the US is still arguing with the Russians over Crimea,” Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration Pentagon and State Department Middle East official told Rozen. “It is legitimizing the acquisition of territory by annexation.”
- Surprise!: “No formal U.S. process or executive committees were initiated to review the policy before Trump’s decision, and the diplomats responsible for implementing the policy were left in the dark,” McClatchy's Michael Wilner reports.
TWO PEAS IN A POD: The parallels between the two leaders are on full display, as my colleagues Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash wrote this week. Accused of pandering to far-right elements and sowing discord to win votes, exploiting the term “fake news” to attack traditional press, and under investigation — “They are twins,” Ben Caspit, author of 'The Netanyahu Years,' told my colleagues. “It’s unbelievable. You see it in their style, you see their behavior, even their language.”
- “During his campaign, Netanyahu has been keen to stress his strong relationship with Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there,” Morris and Eglash report. “Huge campaign billboards alongside Israeli highways show the two men shaking hands. 'Netanyahu, in a different league,' they read.”
- “When the prime minister appeared on national television hours after the attorney general announced that he would proceed with the indictment process, Netanyahu’s first point was to mention his strong relationship with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
- Sound familiar? “How biased it is. How false it is. I know how much it infuriates you,” Netanyahu said after Israeli attorney general's recommended Netanyahu be indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three criminal cases.
2020 BAIT: Trump's policy change also comes in the wake of his newest wave of attacks on Democrats going into 2020.
- “Democrats hate Jewish people,” Trump apparently told Republican donors in the aftermath of the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D-Minn.) comments on Israel.
- Controversy sure to continue: A handful of 2020 Democratic candidates announced that they would not be attending AIPAC's annual conference in D.C. next week.
- “Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, are among the 2020 contenders who have decided not to attend. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is considering an independent bid for president, will also avoid the AIPAC conference,” the AP's Juana Summers and Elana Schor report.
- “It comes as the liberal advocacy group MoveOn has called on Democratic presidential candidates to skip this year’s policy conference, saying AIPAC had tried to thwart the Iran nuclear deal and had employed 'anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric.'"
In an effort to reinforce their party's support for Israel, two Jewish House Democrats introduced a resolution sponsored by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Bradley Schneider (D-Ill.) that “strongly rejects the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS. That movement aims to apply economic pressure to compel Israel to change its policy toward the Palestinians” and reaffirms support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, my colleagues Mike DeBonis, Sean Sullivan and Rachael Bade report.
Trump's latest gift to Bibi Netanyahu's re-election campaign is a careless, needless undermining of US national interests, in Arab-Israeli peacemaking and also well beyond the Middle East. It also signs the death warrant for Jared's long-awaited peace plan. A thread. 1/— Tamara Cofman Wittes (@tcwittes) March 21, 2019
NORTH KOREA UPDATE: In another indication that Kim Jong Un is preparing to pull back from diplomacy and denuclearization, he withdrew staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in North Korea. The move comes a month after talks between the U.S. and North Korea collapsed in Hanoi.
- “Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Friday that North Korea informed South Korea of its decision during a contact at the liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong.”
- The decision comes after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on North Korea since the failed summit “on two Chinese shipping companies it says helped North Korea evade sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, the first such steps since a U.S.-North Korean summit collapsed last month,” Reuters' David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick reported on Thursday.
The Cheollima Civil Defense, the revolutionary group trying to overthrow Kim that carried out a daytime raid of North Korea's Embassy in Spain last month has shared information about the incident with the FBI, John Hudson reports.
- “Any substantive ties between the group and U.S. authorities could complicate the nuclear negotiations given the organization’s stated mission of overthrowing and replacing North Korea’s Kim dynasty,” per Hudson.
WHERE DO 2020 DEMS REALLY STAND ON REPARATIONS?: For almost three decades, former Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers fought (unsuccessfully) for what became H.R. 40 — a bill that would form a commission on experts to study and suggest proposals on reparations for the descendants of slaves. The legislation was given the number 40 in a nod to the massive land redistribution that Union General William T. Sherman promised free slaves at the end of the Civil War --- where the phrase 40 acres and a mule comes from. That first attempt at reparations was rescinded by President Andrew Johnson and the land was returned to white land owners.
But in a sign of just how much presidential candidates can change the conversation, H.R. 40 and the topic of reparations is receiving renewed attention after Sen. Kamala Harris was asked about it on the 105.1 FM show “Breakfast Club.”
In examining where the field stands on reparations, Power Up found that no major contenders are explicitly promising financial payments to the descendants of slaves.
- However, candidates are endorsing H.R. 40 or something like it.
- Some presidential hopefuls are billing broader policies as a way to address both the legacy of slavery and the years of legalized discrimination that followed.
- Even supporting studying the topic is a major sea change given that just three years ago Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders preferred to skirt the subject entirely. President Barack Obama questioned the practicality of reparations in 2016.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose seminal 2014 essay reinvigorated the conversation around reparations, recommended that political candidates handle the issue by supporting H.R. 40 in an interview with Eric Levitz published earlier this week.
- “You study was damage was done from slavery, and the legacy of slavery, and then you try to figure out the best ways to remedy it. It’s pretty simple. I think that’s [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s position at this point.” [Coates is correct, Pelosi has endorsed H.R. 40]
- “There’s a whole line of thinking that says the recommendation for a study is somehow like a cop-out or weak. I don’t really understand why that would be the case. Look, if you have a sickness, you have an illness, you probably start with diagnosis. The first step is to get some idea of what actually happened. We’ve never really done that. You’re talking about an epic crime that literally has its origins before there was a United States of America, and carries all the way up to this very day,” Coates writes.
Funny how it’s never the right time to fix a problem. Gun control? Too soon. Global warming? Too far away. Reparations for slavery? Too long ago. pic.twitter.com/fS2oohF2Or— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) March 22, 2019
Here's what we know about Democratic candidates' stances on the issue:
- Joe Biden*: While the former Veep has not officially announced and his representative did not respond to our questions, our colleague Matt Viser recently uncovered comments Biden made in an 1975 interview with a Delaware newspaper where he questioned the very reason for reparations: “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers.”
- Cory Booker: “Believes that we must take corrective action to atone for the economic harm inflicted upon African Americans … beginning with slavery,” a campaign spokeswoman told Power Up. This would be addressed through “baby bonds,” a proposal that would give every child $1,000 at birth and each year children could receive up to $2,000 more, depending on family income. While the policy is not race-specific based on the current racial wealth gap, black families would disproportionally receive more of the benefits.
- Pete Buttigieg: He previously said he not seen a workable proposal “for a cash transfer that people would be come together around,” but does “believe that we need to have some kind of accounting for the persistent racial inequities today …”
- Julián Castro: He said on CNN that the country “should address the original sin of slavery, including by looking at reparations.” This would be accomplished by a presidential commission or task force, which is very similar to H.R. 40.
- John Delaney: In a statement to Power Up, Delaney said “cash reparations are impossible to calculate and are not the right approach to moving forward on this issue,” while calling for a “focus on policies that address racial injustice and systemic racism.”
- Tulsi Gabbard: She is a co-sponsor of H.R. 40, which was reintroduced in January by Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Texas). Her campaign did not respond to our questions.
Kirsten Gillibrand: Her campaign also did not respond, but in 2007, when she was in the House, Gillibrand was one of 120 co-sponsors of a resolution that formally apologized for slavery. When it passed a year later, the resolution marked the first time that a branch of the federal government had apologized for slavery. It did not mention reparations.
Kamala Harris: She suggested in an interview with the Grio that her “LIFT the Middle Class Act,” a proposal that would provide middle class families with up to a $6,000 tax credit a year, would also help black families. She made clear that she does not support a policy to exclusively help black families.
John Hickenlooper: His campaign did not respond to our questions, and he does not appear to have ever substantively addressed the topic.
Jay Inslee: He said Wednesday on PBS' “NewsHour”: “I think that we have a history in this country that we need to remedy, and I think we should look at things that have the broadest applications to do that.”
Amy Klobuchar: She said on NBC's “Meet the Press” last Sunday: “It doesn't have to be a direct pay for each person” rather broader investment in those communities. She added this should be coupled with acknowledging what's happened.
Beto O'Rourke: In a town hall in New Hampshire last week, he said that he had been studying the issue and talking to Bryan Stevenson, the civil rights activist who was instrumental in the creation of National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama, one of the country's first memorials for lynching victims.
Bernie Sanders: His campaign did not respond to our questions, but during a Feb. 25 CNN town hall he said: “As a result of the legacy of slavery, you have massive levels of inequality, it has to be addressed and it has to be addressed now.” While questioning what reparations means, Sanders supports a bill introduced by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Booker that includes a 10-20-30 plan that would require “a minimum of ten percent of federal funds of a particular federal spending account go to communities in which the poverty level has been twenty percent or higher over the past thirty years.”
Elizabeth Warren: She said Monday at a CNN town hall: “I believe it's time to start the national, full-blown conversation about reparations in this country.” She explicitly mentioned her support for H.R. 40 as the way to do achieve this.
At the Pentagon
AN “UNACCEPTABLE RISK”: Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said in two internal memos that Trump’s decision to deploy troops to the border before the midterms last fall, combined with budgetary impacts of costly hurricane damage and other unexpected costs, have posed an “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency,” Molly O’Toole reports for the Los Angeles Times.
- “In two internal memos, [Neller] said the “unplanned/unbudgeted” deployment along the border that [Trump] ordered last fall, and shifts of other funds to support border security, had forced him to cancel or reduce planned military training in at least five countries, and delay urgent repairs at bases.”
- Independent experts who reviewed the memos for the Times found it was striking and unusual for a commander to so bluntly question the top political priorities of the commander in chief: “It’s pretty unusual for the commandant to be raising concerns that . . . a top political priority for the president is undermining the ability of the Marine Corps to do the training they need,” said Mandy Smithberger, a defense expert at the Project for Government Oversight, a nonpartisan independent watchdog group.