On Politics: The Biggest Stories of the Week

From rising tensions with Iran to the still-growing Democratic presidential field, it’s been a busy week in American politics. Here are some of the biggest stories you might have missed (and some links if you’d like to read further).


White House warnings of a threat from Iran

The State Department on Wednesday ordered “nonemergency United States government employees” to leave Iraq, responding to what the Trump administration said was a threat linked to Iran. To people on Baghdad’s streets, the warnings paralleled those heard before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The intelligence behind the Trump administration’s warnings came from photographs of missiles aboard small boats in the Persian Gulf, some of which were loaded by Iranian paramilitary forces.

President Trump told the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he did not want war with Iran, sending his hawkish aides a message that the administration’s pressure campaign must not escalate into open conflict.

To contain Iran, the White House wants a “breakout” period — the time it would take Iran to make fuel for a bomb — of more than a year. That same time frame was at the heart of the 2015 deal negotiated by President Barack Obama, which Mr. Trump pulled out of last year.

Additional Reading

Skeptical U.S. Allies Resist Trump’s New Claims of Threats From Iran

White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War

Trump Said He Would Tame Rogue Nations. Now They Are Challenging Him.

Bracing for a long trade war with China

President Trump’s chief economic adviser said on Sunday that American consumers would face pain from the trade conflict with China, contradicting Mr. Trump’s claim that his tariffs amounted to a mostly one-way payment from China to the Treasury.

On Monday, the trade fight escalated as China raised tariffs on $60 billion worth of American goods, retaliating for the president’s decision to raise tariffs on many imports. The round of Chinese levies includes beer, wine, swimsuits, shirts and liquefied natural gas.

Anxiety spread to Wall Street, with stocks falling sharply as investors dealt with a painful new reality: The trade conflict with China could go on indefinitely.

On Friday, Mr. Trump delayed a decision on whether to impose tariffs on imported cars from Europe, Japan and elsewhere, stepping back from opening another front in his trade wars.

Additional Reading

How Xi’s Last-Minute Switch on U.S.-China Trade Deal Upended It

Fed Officials Sound an Alarm, Worrying Weak Inflation Could Last

Trump’s Love for Tariffs Began in Japan’s ’80s Boom

Trump’s Tariffs, Once Seen as Leverage, May Be Here to Stay

More Democrats join the 2020 race

The first presidential caucus in Iowa is always important, but with more than 20 Democrats running in 2020, it’s more important than usual to make a strong showing. Most contenders are bound to depart the Des Moines airport next February damaged or dispirited, if not politically dead.

Responding to a series of restrictive abortion laws aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade, several Democratic candidates have called on Congress to codify abortion rights, a newly aggressive approach in a debate whose terms have long been set by conservatives.

Still more Democrats entered the White House race. Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana vowed to elevate the issue of campaign finance and, more implicitly, to make Democrats competitive again across the country’s interior.

And Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, declared his candidacy on Thursday, aiming to show that his brand of urban progressive leadership can be a model for the rest of the nation. Here's where he stands on the issues.

Additional Reading

Mayor and ‘Foreign Minister’: How Bernie Sanders Brought the Cold War to Burlington

Warren Calls Fox News a ‘Hate-for-Profit Racket’ and Refuses an Appearance

Pete Buttigieg Confronts Race and Identity in Speech to Gay Group

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joe Biden Spar Over Climate Policy in Intraparty Spat

More maneuvering over the Russia inquiry

House Democrats, frustrated by President Trump’s efforts to stonewall their investigations and eager to stoke public anger about his behavior, are pinning their hopes on testimony from Robert S. Mueller III. Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that Democrats could obtain documents and testimony by opening an impeachment inquiry.

Earlier this week, Attorney General William P. Barr appointed the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, John H. Durham, to examine the origins of the Russia inquiry. Mr. Durham is said to be conducting a review, not a criminal inquiry.

Mr. Barr said he had been asking whether officials who opened the Russia inquiry “abused their power,” adding new fuel to the president’s narrative that the investigation was unjustified.

Mr. Trump said on Friday that he would have fired his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, sooner had he known Mr. Flynn was under federal investigation. But he was warned about Mr. Flynn two days after the election, by President Barack Obama.

Additional Reading

Donald Trump Jr. Strikes Deal for ‘Limited’ Interview With Intelligence Committee

House Panel Investigates Obstruction Claims Against Trump Lawyers

White House Again Rejects Democrats’ Requests for Documents in Corruption Inquiry

Here’s what else happened this week:

States are passing some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in decades. This week, Alabama passed a law effectively outlawing the procedure, raising the question of whether the Supreme Court will use it to strike down Roe v. Wade. But the court’s conservatives may prefer to chip away at that landmark decision.

A new plan by the Trump administration to overhaul parts of the nation’s immigration system would vastly scale back family-based immigration and increase education and skill requirements.

Steven Mnuchin rejected a House subpoena to hand over President Trump’s tax returns, probably the last step before the matter heads to the courts.

Revenues were mixed in 2018 at some of Mr. Trump’s major properties — from Mar-a-Lago to the Trump International Hotel in Washington — as the Trump family faced a barrage of scrutiny from government investigators.

A provision in Mr. Trump’s new tax law treats middle- and low-income college students like trust-fund babies, taxing sizable financial aid packages at a rate initially established to keep wealthy parents from funneling money to children in lower tax brackets.

The president issued an order banning foreign telecommunications gear that poses a threat to national security. That escalated a battle against China by effectively barring sales by Huawei, the country’s leading networking company, and targeting its ability to do business anywhere in the world.

During a visit in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump lavished praise on Viktor Orban, the authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, brushing aside concerns about Mr. Orban’s tough immigration policies and warming ties with Russia.


Today’s On Politics briefing was compiled by Margaret Kramer in New York.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].

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