Editorial Roundup: United States

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Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

April 18

The Los Angeles Times on Mike Johnson's Ukraine aid bill

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has been maddeningly slow in pushing the House to approve badly needed aid for Ukraine as it resists Russian aggression. But this week he said he would move forward on separate measures that would provide aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan along with a fourth bill that includes the so-called REPO for Ukrainians Act providing for the diversion of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.

The proposals, which include about $61 billion for Ukraine, are similar in scope to a bill passed by the Senate in February. Assuming that they aren’t saddled with crippling amendments, these measures should be approved by the House in a vote expected on Saturday. Significantly, President Biden has endorsed the package.

Given the dire situation in Ukraine, where the nation is running out of munitions to fight off the Russian invasion, it would have been preferable if the House had expeditiously approved the Senate-passed bill. But Johnson has had to reckon with opposition from members of his conference, some of whom want aid to Ukraine to be linked to measures to secure America’s Southern border. Johnson said that there would be a separate new border-security bill.

Johnson also has had to contend with threats that he might be targeted for removal by some far-right members in his party. This week Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) signed on to a motion by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to “vacate the chair,” the parliamentary maneuver that was used to depose former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield. (Massie also called on Johnson to resign.)

To his credit, Johnson said that “my philosophy is you do the right thing and you let the chips fall where they may.” He added that “if I operated out of fear over a motion to vacate, I would never be able to do my job.”

It’s easier for Johnson to take that position because he can count on Democratic votes for the aid package and perhaps even for keeping the speaker’s chair. But that probably would have been the case if he had endorsed the Senate-passed bill rather than wasted time trying to come up with with “ innovations ” that might placate some of the Republican hard-liners.

But, better late than never, the speaker has moved to help Ukraine defend itself, which will send the message to Vladimir Putin that Russian aggression in Ukraine or elsewhere will not be tolerated. The House should swiftly approve aid so that the Senate can act and Biden can affix his signature.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-04-18/mike-johnson-ukraine-israel-aid-plan

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April 17

The New York Times on Donald Trump and American justice

The former and possibly future president of the United States is now on trial in Lower Manhattan, the first criminal prosecution of an American elected to the nation’s highest office. Donald Trump, who relentlessly undermined the justice system while in office and since, is enjoying the same protections and guarantees of fairness and due process before the law that he sought to deny to others during his term.

A jury of Americans will ultimately decide Mr. Trump’s legal fate. It may be the only one of the four criminal cases against the former president that comes to trial before the November election. Though the election interference charges are not the most serious of those he faces, the case will determine whether 12 of his fellow Americans find him guilty of a felony — a result that most voters say they would consider to be serious.

In the first two days of this trial, Mr. Trump has offered a defense of himself to the public, in brief appearances between his courtroom table and the television cameras: He portrays himself as a victim of an unfair and politically motivated prosecution. That defense is built on lies. Mr. Trump is no victim. He is fortunate to live in a country where the rule of law guarantees a presumption of innocence and robust rights for defendants.

A guiding principle of the American experiment is that the law applies to everyone equally. At the same time, prosecuting any current or former elected official requires vigilance against bias and awareness about how the case will be perceived by the public. For this reason, judges and prosecutors have an obligation to hew to stringent standards of fairness, to reduce the risk that they appear to be interfering in electoral politics by using criminal cases to damage or favor one candidate over another.

The former president refers to the four prosecutions he faces as “witch hunts” motivated by partisanship and part of a nefarious scheme to keep him from returning to the White House. He has repeated this narrative even though the prosecutions have been brought by different prosecutors around the country, and even though different grand juries, each composed of a random selection of regular citizens in different states, handed up indictments that now total 88 felony charges against him.

In the weeks leading up to the start of this trial, Mr. Trump has argued, dishonestly, that the judge and the prosecutor have treated him unfairly, and that it will be impossible for him to get a fair trial in Manhattan because New Yorkers are biased against him. But the opening days of the trial, devoted to jury selection, have already demonstrated the great care and respect with which everyone involved in the trial, except for Mr. Trump, has treated the process. Joshua Steinglass, a member of the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, told potential jurors on Tuesday that the case “has nothing to do with personal politics.”

“We don’t suggest you need to have been living under a rock for the last eight years, or the last 30 years,” he said. “We don’t expect you not to have heard about this, or not to have discussed this case with friends. What we do need is for you to keep an open mind.”

Dozens of potential jurors took those instructions seriously and admitted they could not be impartial. One man was excused from service after telling the judge that it was “going to be hard for me to be impartial,” since many of his family members and friends were Republicans. Justice Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing the trial, excused him, as other potential jurors stepped up. So far, seven jurors have been seated. At least two potential jurors were dismissed by the judge because of social media posts.

If anything, Justice Merchan has exhibited an extra degree of tolerance for Mr. Trump’s strategy of systematically attacking the legitimacy of the courts and court officials through repeated verbal outbursts and countless legal motions and other attempts to delay his trials. In the New York case, Mr. Trump received a short extension last month when federal prosecutors found a tranche of documents that had not been turned over to the defense team. In the week before the start of the trial, he filed three emergency appeals in three days, as The Times reported, including a civil action against the judge, which were quickly rejected by an appeals court.

The fact that he was able to have each of these motions fully considered is evidence of the justice system operating as it should, with deliberation and due process. Especially in criminal prosecutions, courts take the legal rights of litigants very seriously, to ensure that defendants receive fair trials. An appeals court is still considering Mr. Trump’s request to throw out a gag order that prevents him from verbally attacking witnesses, prosecutors or the judge’s family, but it will not delay the trial before the ruling. (Mr. Trump is not prevented from publicly criticizing the judge.)

In the other criminal cases against him, Mr. Trump has also been able to take full advantage of every legal protection available to him as a defendant.

He appealed his federal prosecution related to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol on the grounds that he enjoys absolute immunity for actions he took as president. This argument has been rejected by every judge to consider it. Still, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal later this month, delaying the start of his trial in that case indefinitely, and possibly until after the election. While the Supreme Court weighs his immunity claim, the trial judge in the federal Jan. 6 case, Tanya Chutkan, put the proceedings on hold. In the other federal prosecution, on charges of illegally withholding highly classified national-security documents, Mr. Trump has had numerous favorable rulings from the judge handling that case.

The election-interference case out of Georgia was delayed by an extensive hearing on a possible conflict of interest for the lead prosecutor, Fani Willis, who had been in a romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, an outside prosecutor she hired to lead the case. After taking testimony from a series of witnesses, the judge decided Ms. Willis could remain on the case, but not with Mr. Wade. (Mr. Wade ultimately withdrew.) Mr. Trump appealed that decision, which the Georgia Court of Appeals is now considering.

The ability to file such appeals, successful or not, is essential to how the law functions in the United States. Despite having benefited from its protections, to Mr. Trump, the rule of law is nothing more than an obstacle to be overcome, an instrument of power to use at will.

Mr. Trump’s vision of an American legal system that protects his interests goes beyond his trial, of course, and extends in particular to the Justice Department. He has been explicit about his desire, if elected in November, to bring the Justice Department more fully under his control, to use it to protect his friends and, more important, punish his enemies. As president, Mr. Trump had an unparalleledrecord of abusing presidential pardons, and if he is re-elected, he appears likely to order the Justice Department to drop the criminal cases against him or to try to pardon himself for potential crimes. To Mr. Trump, independent prosecutors and Justice Department officials are precisely the problem. They will say no to him when he wants to do things that are illegal or unconstitutional, choosing to be faithful to the Constitution rather than to him. This Mr. Trump cannot abide.

Mr. Trump has said he intends to find a prosecutor to “go after” Mr. Biden and his family, suggesting that he intends to pursue prosecution with little regard to evidence or facts. According to The Washington Post, he also wants to investigate figures in his administration whom he perceives as being disloyal to him, including John Kelly, his former chief of staff; William Barr, his former attorney general; and Gen. Mark Milley, the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Mr. Trump has separately suggested General Milley should be executed for treason.)

As Mr. Kelly told The Post, “There is no question in my mind he is going to go after people that have turned on him.”

Mr. Trump has also repeatedly said that his prosecution is like no other. In fact, there are numerous examples of politicians, of both parties, who faced prosecution, and in some cases were convicted, during their candidacies. The former Texas governor Rick Perry, a Republican, ran for president in 2016 while under indictment for abuse of power. (Those charges were later dismissed.) Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat of New Jersey, was indicted on federal bribery charges, and may run for re-election as an independent.

The former president is singular in one respect: As much as he accuses others of warping the justice system, he is the one who consistently demeans and disparages the role of the courts and the exercise of due process. The leaders of the Republican Party, echoing the views of Mr. Trump’s fervent base of followers, have fallen in line behind him, indicating that they will continue to support his candidacy even if he is a convicted felon.

While a Manhattan jury weighs the evidence of Mr. Trump’s alleged crimes, it’s the American people who will weigh the evidence of Mr. Trump’s actions. His party has allowed him to act with impunity, but voters still have the power to deliver accountability. They should consider not only the facts presented during the trial — the details about his judgment, his character and the way he conducted his life and his business — but also his disregard for the rule of law and his willingness to demean American justice when it suits his interests. Those actions render him manifestly unfit for office and would pose unique dangers to the United States during a second term. The greatest of those dangers, and the one that Americans should be most attuned to, is the damage that a second Trump presidency would inflict on the rule of law.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/17/opinion/donald-trump-trial.html

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April 21

The Wall Street Journal on GOP isolationist caucus

The U.S. — and the Republican Party — dodged a geopolitical disaster on Saturday with the House passage of military aid to allies in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. But the moment shouldn’t pass without noting the Members who voted against U.S. help for any allies, anywhere, and against replenishing American weapons stocks.

Fourteen Republicans voted against all four bills on the House floor, including the one that would force a sale of TikTok from Chinese ownership. Here’s the dishonor roll in alphabetical order: Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Andrew Clyde (Ga.), Elijah Crane (Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Harris (Md.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Troy Nehls (Texas), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.), Chip Roy (Texas).

These Members are in heavily Republican districts, so they would be difficult for Democrats to defeat. But Ms. Boebert and Mr. Good face competitive primaries that could end their destructive Congressional careers.

The unavoidable meaning of the votes is that these Members don’t believe the U.S. should support allies threatened by authoritarians on the march. Like Republicans in the 1930s who slept while Hitler and Tojo advanced, these Republicans apparently think America can sit out these fights in splendid isolation. But history suggests that if they prevail, American sons and daughters would eventually have to fight. Better to help allies who want to help themselves.

The isolationist caucus lost this round, but this GOP tendency is dangerous. Another 17 Members voted for arms for Israel but not for Taiwan and Ukraine. Do they want to encourage a Chinese invasion? Perhaps if Florida is attacked, they’ll awaken to the reality of the world’s growing dangers.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-gop-isolationist-caucus-ukraine-taiwan-israel-aid-46c4dbdb?mod=editorials_article_pos1

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April 19

The Washington Post on SCOTUS and public camping

Of the 653,000 people who experience homelessness in the United States, 41 percent live in the nine westernmost states, according to the most recent federal survey. That includes the five states with the highest rates of unsheltered people. There are many reasons for this, from patterns of poverty and drug addiction to the benign weather in California — 68 percent of whose 181,000 homeless people were unsheltered, more than any other state. A little-known but crucial factor, however, is that all these states are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, whose unique legal doctrine has effectively barred most enforcement of local public camping bans.

Though started with good intentions — to prevent “criminalization” of poverty and to incentivize cities to offer shelters — the 9th Circuit approach has shown itself to be counterproductive. Without a credible threat of sanctions against public camping, officials have little leverage to induce people to take shelter beds when they are available. Arguably, this has undermined quality of life not only for those who live or work near unsafe encampments but also for the homeless people themselves.

That’s why a broad bipartisan coalition including leaders from big blue cities and small red towns in the 9th Circuit, and elsewhere, is begging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Grants Pass, Ore., a small city in the south of the state whose civil fines for public camping were invalidated last year by the 9th Circuit. Oral argument is Monday, and we, too, hope the justices side with Grants Pass.

The 9th Circuit’s position is that a city can penalize public camping but only when there are enough beds in suitable shelters inside the city limits to accommodate everyone who is “involuntarily” homeless. Otherwise, it is guilty of cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. However good this might sound in theory, in practice, the 9th Circuit and its component district courts have defined the terms of acceptable shelter so narrowly and confusingly that few places can comply.

Federal judges shouldn’t be in the business of issuing injunctions while assessing the quantity and quality of shelters. Phoenix, in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Grants Pass, said judges are acting “as homeless policy czars” rather than “applying discernible rules of law.” Compounding the problem is the 9th Circuit’s notion that shelters operated by church groups may not count as available space because a faith-based milieu can create a possible unconstitutional establishment of religion. Grants Pass ran afoul of this remarkable requirement because 138 of its beds were at the Gospel Rescue Mission.

To read the Oregon town’s brief, and those of its supporters at the Supreme Court, is to marvel at the gap between the 9th Circuit’s vision and the real-world damage that comes from federal-court supervision of this traditionally local responsibility. In Grants Pass, people camping by the Rogue River use it for bathing, as a bathroom and for drinking water. Last May, one homeless man killed another in a park. The bigger the city, the bigger the problems. San Francisco saw more than 800 fires started by people cooking or warming themselves in homeless encampments last year. Diseases have spread, along with dangerous waste such as discarded syringes and needles.

A brief from California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) acknowledged that people shouldn’t be punished for sleeping outside when they genuinely lack an alternative but noted that the 9th Circuit has left local officials “trapped, at risk of suit for taking action but also accountable for the consequences of inaction.” He also remarked on the contradictory fact that a federal agency, the National Park Service, could clear a homeless encampment in McPherson Square, federal property near the White House, but that communities in his state cannot.

The framers of the Eighth Amendment adapted it from the English Declaration of Rights, whose drafters, in turn, were responding to the barbarism of King James II. The original intent was to prevent punishments like branding, burning at the stake, public dissection, or drawing and quartering. The Supreme Court updated this in 1958 to allow for “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

Throughout history, however, courts generally distinguished between society’s power to impose consequences for unlawful conduct, which the Eighth Amendment regulated, and society’s power to define unlawful conduct, which it does not. In this instance, the 9th Circuit blurred that basic distinction. Fortunately, the Supreme Court can help restore order, to constitutional law and to parks, streets and sidewalks across the West.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/04/19/supreme-court-homeless-ninth-circuit-grants-pass/

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April 22

The Guardian on U.S. aid to Ukraine

In chaos theory, the flapping of butterfly wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. This weekend, Ukraine experienced a butterfly moment. Donald Trump’s efforts to conceal the fact that he bought the silence of a porn star before the 2016 election landed him in court, facing charges that preoccupy him enough for congressional Republicans to reject his policy of prematurely ceding territory to Russia in return for peace in Ukraine. Kyiv will now get billions of dollars to buy the weapons crucial for it to defend against, and push back, the Russian advance. It is fitting that Mr Trump’s divisive appeasement has been defeated — for now — by a bipartisan defence of democracy.

The presumptive Republican nominee had, in an election year, counted on using his mendacious, inflammatory rhetoric to further convert his party into a truth-denying sect prepared to abandon the rule of law for the rule of revenge. Instead, he is required to attend every day that the Manhattan court is in session, for a trial expected to last at least six weeks. The proceedings will be closely followed around the world. But they will not be televised. It will be a circus, but without its ringmaster. Deprived of the camera’s attention, the former president won’t be able to bully Republican lawmakers or rally his followers so effectively.

Mr Trump’s diminished status was not lost on many Republicans in Congress. President Joe Biden had first called on them to back Ukraine with arms and cash last October. However, it was not until Mr Trump’s attention was elsewhere that the House on Saturday passed the $61bn aid bill for Ukraine. The vote was 311 for and 112 against, with all the Democrats and 101 Republicans voting in favour of the bill and 112 Republicans voting against. It can only be good news that there are still Republicans who want America to be governed effectively. It also signals that Ukraine should deal with Russia from a position of strength not weakness.

In the last two months, most Democrats and a sizeable number of Republicans have voted to pass bills to avoid government shutdowns and commit to traditional national security priorities. This governing coalition is on the right side of history. But it may not last. Mr Trump faces four separate indictments. The current case is about sex, money, deception and blackmail. It’s more tawdry than the other, weightier trials about alleged election interference and the mishandling of classified documents. However, only the jury in New York is likely to produce a verdict before the election in November.

Mr Trump is an unscrupulous demagogue without the slightest qualification to be president. The US, under his presidency, was maintained at the edge of chaos, between too much and too little control. The long-festering problems in the GOP gave rise to a leader only nominally affiliated with it.

By being the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose the House, the Senate and the presidency in a single term, Mr Trump has gained a reputation for being a loser. But the billionaire is not interested in restoring Republican dominance, only shaping it into a cult of personality. He will only fail if he faces active, sustained opposition. Mr Biden has done that by highlighting the choices that divide congressional Republicans. But challenging Mr Trump also means challenging the system that produced him. Mr Biden still has work to do on that score.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/apr/22/the-guardian-view-on-arming-ukraine-us-congress-votes-against-appeasement