VIF News Digest: International Developments (US) 01-15 Feb 2020
Bernie Sanders Scores Narrow Victory in New Hampshire Primary
11 Feb 2020

Senator Bernie Sanders narrowly won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, consolidating support on the left and fending off a late charge by two moderate rivals to claim his second strong showing in two weeks and establish himself as a formidable contender for the Democratic nomination.

Mr. Sanders had about 26 percent of the vote with 90 percent of the ballots counted, while former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., was a close second. Mr. Buttigieg split the centrist vote with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who surged in New Hampshire to finish in third.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mr. Sanders’s progressive rival, finished a distant fourth in her neighboring state, and in a stinging blow to his candidacy, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. finished fifth.

The results raised immediate questions about how much longer Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren, onetime front-runners, could afford to continue their campaigns. Both had already cut back their advertising because of financial strain. Click here to read...

US Justice Department backtracks on Roger Stone sentence after Donald Trump intervenes, prompting lawyers to quit
12 Feb 2020

All four prosecutors running the criminal case against a former adviser to Donald Trump have stepped down after the US President intervened in the case. Federal prosecutors had recommended seven to nine years in prison for Mr Trump's former adviser Roger Stone, after he was found guilty of obstructing justice and witness tampering.

Mr. Trump criticised the proposed sentence as a "miscarriage of justice" early on Tuesday. He later told reporters that he did not speak to the Justice Department, but added: "I'd be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things. I thought the recommendation was ridiculous".

Within hours the Justice Department backed away from its recommended jail time.

In a new court filing, a Justice Department official who had not previously worked on the case called the previous recommendation "excessive and unwarranted", and said the department would not make a formal recommendation on how much time Stone should serve. Click here to read...

Trump submits $4.8tn budget proposal despite no chance of it passing
10 Feb 2020

The Trump administration has submitted to Congress its 2021 budget proposal, a $4.8tn plan which has no chance of passing into law and is instead a purely political exercise, designed to put daylight between the Republican president and whichever Democratic candidate he will face at the polls in November.

To Donald Trump, every event on the presidential stage is now a re-election pitch to voters. Democratic presidential contenders will pick over his budget proposals for lines to attack on the stump.

Trump’s wish list includes a $700bn increase over federal spending in 2018 and represents as clear a statement of Republican priorities as the administration is likely to produce. It includes billions more for defense and a mission to Mars alongside deep proposed cuts to foreign aid and environmental protection and new restrictions on social welfare programs.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted a promise that “we will not be touching your Social Security or Medicare in Fiscal 2021 Budget”.
The proposal released on Monday would nonetheless cut Medicaid spending by about $920bn over 10 years, a reduction in the rate of growth critics warn could effectively reduce funding to dozens of social welfare programs. Click here to read...

Bloomberg’s Blunt Defense of Stop-and-Frisk Policy Draws Scrutiny
11 Feb 2020

A recording of Michael R. Bloomberg in 2015 offering an unflinching defense of stop-and-frisk policing circulated widely on social media Tuesday, signaling that the former New York City mayor is about to face more intensive scrutiny as he rises in the polls as a Democratic presidential candidate.

While Mr. Bloomberg apologized for his administration’s law-enforcement tactics in November just before he entered the race, he had previously spent years insisting that the policy was justified and effective, showing no indication that he had developed serious misgivings about stop and frisk. The policing tactic was used disproportionately against black and Latino people across New York City for years.

He offered a particularly blunt defense at the Aspen Institute in 2015: The Aspen Times reported then that Mr. Bloomberg said that crimes were committed overwhelmingly by young, male minorities, and that it made sense to deploy police in minority neighborhoods to “throw them up against the wall and frisk them” as a deterrent against carrying firearms. Click here to read...

Andrew Yang ends 2020 presidential campaign
11 Feb 2020

Andrew Yang suspended his political campaign on Tuesday in New Hampshire, ending the upstart run that vaulted the businessman from complete obscurity to a Democratic contender backed by a devoted following known as the Yang Gang.

"While there is great work left to be done, you know I am the math guy, and it is clear tonight from the numbers that we are not going to win this race," Yang told supporters in Manchester.

He continued: "I am not someone who wants to accept donations and support in a race that we will not win. And so, tonight I am announcing I am suspending my campaign for president."

Yang said he did not make the decision lightly, and that he had every intention of staying in the race until the very end. But, he said, he was "persuaded that the message of this campaign will not be strengthened by my staying in this race any longer." Click here to read...

Def Expo 2020: US wants security partner India to purchase its arms
5 Feb 2020

The US ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, has pitched strongly for India buying American military equipment because, as security partners, it would be useful for the country's weaponry and command and communications networks to be interoperable with those of the United States'.

“We believe that India must ultimately move toward systems that are interoperable with the equipment and networks of its security partners,” said Juster.

The US envoy was interacting with the media on the eve of DefExpo 2020. With DefExpo 2020 featuring all-time high participation by US firms, Juster minced no words in urging India to buy American weaponry. “US firms at this exhibition… have supplied modern land- and sea-based fighter aircraft, ballistic missile defence systems, the most advanced, networked avionics equipment, and secure communications equipment for the United States and our partners. They are poised to offer the same to India,” he stated. Click here to read...

Trump’s approval rating hits highest mark since becoming president
4 Feb 2020

President Trump’s job approval rating soared to its highest point since he entered the White House in 2017, according to a poll that was conducted amid the Senate impeachment trial.

It found that 49 percent of registered voters approve of the job the president is doing, while 50 percent disapprove and only 1 percent are undecided, the Gallup poll released Tuesday showed.

Trump’s previous job-approval high was 46 percent in April 2019.

Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating hit 94 percent — a 6-point increase from Gallup’s results early last month.

Independents gave Trump a 42 percent approval rating, up ¬5 points.

Democrats’ approval of the president fell to 7 percent from 10 percent.

The 87-point gap between Democrats and Republicans surpassed the highest rate for both Trump and former President Barack Obama by one point.

Obama hit that milestone in November 2012.

Trump achieved the 86-point differential level five times since taking office. Click here to read...

5 takeaways from Donald Trump's State of the Union address
5 Feb 2020

Twenty-four hours after the first contest among the Democrats seeking to replace him in November and 24 before he will be formally acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial, President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union address to a bicameral session of Congress on Tuesday night.

It was a decided departure from Trump's freewheeling campaign speeches and Twitter talk, a more measured recitation of his accomplishments in his first three years in office as he looks to run for and win a second term this fall.

Partisanship at every turn: On the same day a new Gallup poll came out showing an 84-point gap between Republican and Democratic approval of Trump, the bitter divide in Congress -- and the country -- was visible everywhere during the President's speech.

Trump snubbed Speaker Nancy Pelosi's attempt to shake his hand before beginning his address. (The two reportedly haven't spoken in months.) Pelosi could be seen shaking her head -- albeit only slightly -- at several points during Trump's speech, including when he said his health care plan would protect all people with preexisting conditions. Click here to read...

Pete Buttigieg keeps narrow lead in Iowa caucuses with 100% of precincts reporting
7 Feb 2020

Pete Buttigieg holds a slim lead over Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses with the Iowa Democratic Party announcing on Thursday night that 100% of precincts are reporting.

The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor leads the Vermont senator by one-tenth of one percentage point in the all-important state delegate equivalent count. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are trailing behind Buttigieg and Sanders.

The Democratic candidates have until 1 p.m. ET/12 p.m. CT on Friday to file a request for a recanvass or a recount. If there are no challenges by that time, CNN plans to report a winner.

"That's fantastic news," Buttigieg said during a CNN town hall on Thursday. "First of all, I want to say, Sen. Sanders clearly had a great night too and I congratulate him and his supporters."

The news came after another day of chaos in the wake of Monday's caucuses. Click here to read...

US Army wants to expand pre-positioned stock in Pacific
4 Feb 2020

The U.S. Army wants to expand its pre-positioned equipment in the Indo-Pacific region, Gen. Gus Perna, the head of Army Materiel Command, told reporters during a Feb. 4 Defense Writers Group event in Washington.

While the service believes the Army pre-positioned stock — or APS — is adequate in Europe as it heads into a major division-level exercise there this year, the service is “already working on ways to expand APS out in the Pacific,” he said.
Both the Defender Europe and Defender Pacific series of exercises this year will help determine if the APS stock in each theater is right-sized and correctly based.

After his predecessor laid some groundwork, the new U.S. Army Pacific Command chief Gen. Paul LaCamera, who assumed the positioned in November 2019, is working through a strategy, Perna said — “in combination, of course, with support of the [combatant command] commander out there.” Click here to read...

Donald Trump 'apoplectic' over Boris Johnson giving green light to Huawei
7 Feb 2020

Donald Trump was "apoplectic" with fury in a phone call with Boris Johnson over the prime minister's decision to back involvement by Chinese phone giant Huawei in the UK’s 5G mobile network, it has been claimed.

According to the Financial Times (FT), the US president expressed his anger "in livid terms" in a call on the day the British government announced its controversial decision, which is opposed by many senior Conservative MPs.

The report of Mr. Trump's anger and clash with the prime minister in a transatlantic call emerged a day after Mr Johnson was challenged on the decision in PMQs by former cabinet ministers Damian Green and David Davis.

Responding to the FT claim, a senior Downing Street source told Sky News: "It's not an account I recognise."
But the FT also quotes a second official claiming the Trump-Johnson phone call was "very difficult".

On the day of the phone call last Tuesday, first revealed by the president in a news conference with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both Downing Street and the White House gave bland accounts of the conversation. Click here to read...

Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen killed by US forces, Donald Trump confirms
7 Feb 2020

The leader of Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen was killed in a US airstrike ordered by Donald Trump, the White House confirmed last night.

Qassim al-Rimi, who leads Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was tracked for several months using aerial surveillance and other intelligence sources before the airstrike was carried out. The strike was reported last week and is thought to have been carried out early in January, but this is the first official confirmation of al-Rimi's death.

Al-Rimi was leader of one of the most powerful branches of the terrorist network, becoming a key target for the US government which put a $10 million bounty on his head. The jihadist's death is a major blow for the terror group, which has plotted several attacks on targets in the US and Europe.

In a statement released late last night, Mr Trump's spokesperson said al-Rimi's "death further degrades AQAP and the global Al-Qaeda movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security".Click here to read...

U.S. steps up warnings on Russia over Syria's Idlib, military de-confliction
6 Feb 2020

The United States on Wednesday stepped up warnings to Russia over its Syria policy, saying Moscow was trying to challenge the U.S. presence in northeastern Syria by violating the terms of a de-confliction agreement and was also helping escalate the fighting in the northwestern province of Idlib.

James Jeffrey, U.S. special envoy for Syria engagement and fight against Islamic State, said the United States was “very very worried” about the Syrian government assault, backed by Russia, on Idlib, and he repeated calls on Moscow to stop it.

“This is a dangerous conflict. It needs to be brought to an end. Russia needs to change its policies,” Jeffrey said.

The United States, France and the United Kingdom called for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation in Idlib.

President Donald Trump softened his plans to pull out U.S. troops from Syria after backlash from Congress, and has kept around 600 troops, largely in northeastern Syria to continue the fight against Islamic State. Click here to read...

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov hits out at U.S. 'provocations' in Venezuela
7 Feb 2020

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday denounced U.S. foreign policy in Venezuela, criticizing U.S. “provocations” and attempts to create what he called a pretext for military intervention.

Lavrov’s censure of Washington, on a low-profile visit to Mexico, came at an awkward time for the host nation. Mexico’s government has been going out of its way avoid antagonizing the Trump administration, meeting its demands over immigration and other issues to avoid punitive U.S. measures.

Russia and the United States have repeatedly clashed over Venezuela, where Russian oil companies and military advisers are playing a key role in support of the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

The United States and dozens of other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been trying to oust Maduro, as Venezuela’s rightful president. Washington has imposed sanctions in a bid to dislodge Maduro.

Lavrov condemned attempts to remove Maduro as not “useful,” and said Washington’s threats against Venezuela were counterproductive.Click here to read...

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