In a surprise move just as expectations were high for a China trade deal, President Donald Trump slapped China with higher tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods on May 10. In response, China increased tariffs on about $60 billion in US goods. It had already imposed tariffs on US commodities including soya beans in addition to reducing imports, harming US farmers. The prospect of an escalating trade war unsettled markets.
Senator Lindsey Graham appealed for an explanation of the nature of the threat from Iran that prompted the withdrawal of US diplomatic personnel from Iraq on May 15. ‘A lot of people in my shoes are going to support standing up to Iran, but they need to understand what the threat is.’ His comments come amid accusations that John Bolton, his national security adviser, – a longstanding advocate of regime change in Iran – was marching Trump towards war in defiance of his isolationist tendencies. CNN’s Peter Bergen wrote: ‘Bolton is Trump’s war whisperer’.
Democrats on board
Some Democrats are supporting Trump’s stance on trade with China, if not his tactics. On May 6, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer urged Trump to ‘hang tough on China’. Some of the Democratic presidential contenders are arguing the same, while exhorting him to win the support of allies rather than alienating them. On May 15, Trump delayed for six months the imposition of tariffs on imported cars to avoid raising tensions with the European Union and Japan.
A redacted version of the Special Counsel’s 448-page report into Russian interference in the 2016 election was released to the public on April 18. A summary by Attorney General William Barr, above, was criticized by Democrats for giving the impression that the Special Counsel had cleared the president of all charges of misconduct. In a letter, Mueller wrote that Barr ‘did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance’ of the investigation, leading erroneous press coverage. In a controversial move, Trump exercised his executive privilege to block the release of the full report.
On April 26, President Trump made a plea to parents to vaccinate their children in the midst of the largest measles outbreak in the country since the disease was declared eliminated in the early 2000s. Critics were quick to point out that Trump has made several claims in the past that inoculations caused autism in young children.
The Trump administration signalled on May 7 that it would consider lifting sanctions on defectors from Nicolás Maduro’s government who support Juan Guiadó, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly and self-proclaimed interim president. The United States has imposed sanctions on more than 150 Venezuelan government officials and state-owned companies. Maduro survived an attempted coup by Guiadó, largely thanks to the support of military leaders who remained loyal to him.
Stephen Moore, a former economic adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, withdrew from the process to join the Federal Reserve Board after criticism of his lack of experience, political loyalties and past opposition to equal pay for female athletes. Earlier, businessman Herman Cain failed to win support from the Republican base due to his lack of economic experience.
The White House escalated its campaign against Chinese tech firms by issuing an executive order on May 15 declaring a ‘national emergency’ that blocks US companies from using equipment that could pose a national security risk. The commerce department added Huawei to a list that requires US companies to apply for a licence – usually denied – to sell technology to them. The Huawei ban is likely to sharpen tensions with Britain and other European allies that oppose a complete ban on using Huawei equipment for their superfast 5G networks.
Alabama became the latest state to restrict abortion, passing a law on May 15 to outlaw it in almost all cases, including rape and incest. The law is expected to be challenged in court, and supporters of the ban hope it will come before the Supreme Court to test the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion. The court now has a conservative majority thanks to two new judges nominated by Trump.