GOP Hostage Taking With Debt Limit In Washington Costs Diplomatic Efforts By President Biden On World Stage

Beijing’s artificial island bases in the South China Sea

I lamented online Tuesday the loss to international efforts to deal with a growing threat from China due to Republican hostage-taking moves over the debt limit increase. President Joe Biden said he would end his overseas trip early to fly back to tend to the manufactured crisis from Congressional Republicans who think they can defy the rules of acting like grownups on this matter.  Had he stayed with his itinerary meetings with India, Japan, and Australia would have been held and a strong united message would have emerged in regard to threats ranging from shipping lanes to China’s bellicose military maneuvers.

As we know, federal law requires Congress to authorize the government to borrow any money that is needed to pay for the programs that Congress has passed.  Congress has increased or suspended the debt limit 78 times since 1960. We also know that Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling three times when Donald Trump was in the Oval Office. (As they should have.) Making it now a political football for the basest of reasons is a tactic the GOP has latched onto, and one that must be rejected if one is interested in the process of how government operates.  We do not accept hostage-taking as a means for anyone on the world stage to extract what they wish, and we must not entertain that concept for domestic purposes, either. Raising the debt limit is the only path forward, and anything less is both reckless and irresponsible. 

Not doing so has undermined our nation on the world stage.

As we are aware there has been a strong and consistent theme from the Biden Administration, one that has also been promoted and advocated by key foreign policy hands over the years, of countering China’s growing influence across the western Pacific.  One of the problems from Washington over the years has been not paying attention to the needs and concerns of many countries. Beijing did take notice of that troubling matter and set up a variety of programs and funding to insert themselves into international equations. It is the use of that soft power that has been of great concern in the West to foreign policy thinkers. Rather than have an American president step foot in the next few days, and for the first time on a Pacific Island country, Biden instead needs to head back to Washington to hold Speaker McCarthy’s hands. The world is watching and saying things this family-friendly blog will only infer.

Forget that in Papua New Guinea, the host nation for this meeting scrambled to mobilize 1,000 security officers and invited the leaders of 17 other countries but that was then upended due to conservative members of Congress not understanding what the debt limit is, or the significance of unifying national interests against Chinese desires at usurping supply lines and attempting to expand their territory with the creation of islands. People who deal with these growing issues and confront them in their countries daily wonder what must be wrong with the Republican caucus to not be able to see real-world geo-political threats and not grasp they are of more importance than the whims of raising campaign money from a letter to the base about thwarted efforts at stopping an increase to the debt limit. The theatrics of the debt limit from the GOP is generated to garner campaign cash.

The Republicans play partisan games through their demands about paying for America’s debt.  Meanwhile, the international community looks at this absurd attempt at blustering, undermining a president on a foreign trip, and the damage it does to the actual policy needs requiring Washington’s attention and wonders what has happened to the powerful nation they once knew.  Republicans use their dysfunctional nature to make our nation look unreliable and weak on the world stage.  That must be called out and shut down.

President Biden should invoke his constitutional authority under the 14th Amendment to raise the nation’s debt limit without having to pass legislation through Congress.  There can be no hostage-taking if the would-be-victim refuses to be tied down or forced to kneel. Meanwhile, as this partisan mess spins and spins in D.C. we know there is growing evidence, as reported by U.S. surveillance, that some of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea are now “fully militarized”.

Those Not Seated At Weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner: Austin Tice, Evan Gershkovich

It was the annual event that this household looks forward to each spring. No, not the Mifflin Street Party, which was tempered by cool temperatures and at times drizzly weather on the Madison isthmus, but rather the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington. For decades, this event is one that has captured the attention of the nation as there are always memorable moments as the First Amendment is honored and the Fourth Estate recognizes superior journalism with a number of prestigious awards. While much political rancor shrouds this nation it was correctly noticed Saturday night that no free press in China or Russia holds a similar dinner with pointed humor while sitting alongside the national leadership.

The tone of the night regarding the importance of reporters and journalists and the role they serve in our nation was perhaps best summed up when President Biden stated how he drew a sharp contrast with his predecessor, who had called the news media “the enemy of the people”. The president told the 2,000 people gathered that “The free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar of a free society — not the enemy.” While watching and listening I thought of one of the best newspaper editorials about this matter. The reason it came to mind was that it was quite starkly presented and directly to the point. Here then, from The Philadelphia Inquirer, is what they published in the summer of 2018.

The part of the evening that hit hardest was the recognition that two chairs that otherwise might be filled were empty as journalists remain as captives abroad. Freelancer Austin Tice has been held by the Assad regime in Syria for 11 years while the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Russia last month. I note for readers the latter action has not been seen in that nation since the Cold War. Everyone well understood the efforts underway to secure their freedom when Biden said “I’m working like hell to get them home”.

US President Joe Biden gestures as an image of US journalist Evan Gershkovich appears onscreen during the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC, April 29, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Between the words of the Association’s leadership about the work required of professional news reporters and journalists and the perfectly toned words of Biden, who gets covered and also at times roasted by the press, is the awareness that process works best when both sides are robustly engaged with the issues of the day in governing and news gathering. No one should be surprised that reporters would take that same stance with them as they tuck their visas into travel bags and head to the airport to write about or photograph international events. With these highly laudable purposes, it underscores how egregious the attempts are by some autocratic or criminally driven governments to curtail this essential work by reporters. Reporters do the work in places like Syria and Moscow as they know it is a foundational fact that truth matters. Events and government officials need to be reported on so the world knows what is happening. For those like Tice and Gershkovich who work in places where rights are fewer and the dangers higher meant last night was a reminder to those governments that they must be aware that the rest of the world is watching. Last night was a very powerful demonstration that there is a universal truth–whether or not it is applied in practice in each nation–that there must be a commitment to press freedom.

We need to care about these people who are held captive and think of them as individuals. Also, we need to realize that too many leaders of dictatorial, authoritarian, or populist governments do all they can, day in and day out, to bend and break journalists. We witnessed that play out in our own nation when Trump stated the press was “the enemy” of the people. That was simply horrifying. The reason that is so true comes from history books. Under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, out-of-favor artists and politicians were designated enemies and many were sent to hard labor camps or killed. Others were stigmatized and denied access to education and employment. In China, Chairman Mao was also known to use the phrase enemies against anyone who opposed him, which then resulted in terrible consequences. So it was very troubling when Trump used the same words as Russia’s “Man of Steel” about members of the American press. The efforts to undermine reporters are clear for all the see, as it is the use of power to suppress information.

Therefore, it is vital we stand up for independent journalism and the fine women and men who undertake that most noble of professions. Our government must be tenacious in efforts to bring Austin Tice and Evan Gershkovich back to these shores and their jobs. We must keep them in our thoughts and press for their return.

President Joe Biden: Steady, Measured Campaigner In Era Of Over-Charged Politics

Opening my email Tuesday morning brought me the headline I had heard on NPR when I woke up.  President Joe Biden made it official; he is seeking a second term in the White House.  It was not a surprise moment akin to 1968 when a sitting president announced a bombshell of not running again.  It was also not a take-to-the-podium event where family and top supporters gather in some hometown high school gym or public square and as the words of another term are spoken loud applause is registered and captured on film by a bevy of news reporters gathered around.  A digital recording was offered instead to the nation.  Just like that the 2024 presidential race was engaged by a man who has proven campaigns and governing is a one-day-at-a-time way of operating. 

As I looked at the video of Biden speaking to the nation it seemed so calm and ordered and structured.  Yes, it was a professional script and tone for the candidate but there was something more to be seen.  Or rather, not seen.  There were no hair-on-fire chaotic statements or crudeness or red meat that was planted to roil the base or add incendiary partisans into overdrive. It was a normal type of campaign statement that shows deportment and gravitas about the role we want from a president–of any party–being on full display. Voters can discuss the age of the man, the conduct of foreign affairs, or the domestic policies that have been implemented or planned. But what will also be noted and perhaps even more important to voters, felt by voters, is the steady and normal way Biden’s White House operates.  The way Joe Biden lives his life and operates as president.

I believe that people understand the way a president–of any party–conducts himself and offers service to the nation is hard to measure in polls.  Polls can evaluate snapshots of concern about guns or interest rates or progress with changing over to green energy and there can be a strong sense of where the nation stands.  But knowing that there is a strong even-tempered person in the White House, even if one disagrees with this or that policy, is far harder to measure but I argue vital to the success of an election than many heated partisans care to admit.

As I read the other headlines of the day in quick fashion while enjoying my first cup of coffee, I noted Donald Trump’s rape trial starts today, charges against Trump will likely be forthcoming this summer in Georgia over election issues in 2020, and some Proud boys are nearing the end of their trial that will surely end in convictions.  As the nation takes in all the harsh headlines and political and legal turmoil they will also see a soft-spoken guy who looks like his temperament and style matches the way our politics played for most of this nation’s history.  That mood and recognition may not make people honk their horns and rush into the office today to measure their fellow worker’s reactions but it is that steady calm from Biden that will secure him another term.

Thanks To Dr. Susan Rice For Intellect, Candor, Leaving Biden White House In May

While many are talking today about the firing of Tucker Carlson and the removal of Don Lemon I turn attention to a truly remarkably gifted and intelligent woman. A Rhodes Scholar with a heart for public service.

It was reported today that President Joe Biden’s domestic policy adviser, Dr. Susan Rice, is stepping down from her post in May. I am mindful that the work of these top staff members in the White House is filled with daunting hours and laser-focused attention seven days a week. At the same time, Rice has been one of the brightest lights in Washington for decades on international policy so having her on the sidelines in just weeks is sad. I have been one of her biggest supporters over the years because she is smart on the issues, driven to policy-oriented outcomes, and ethical. She was my first choice for the vice-presidential nomination in 2020.

Many in the country who follow international events and the faces who make up presidential administrations will recall Rice for the eight years she served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser starting in 2009. She was often labeled–and this is one of the reasons she is elevated in my thinking–for being an exception to the Washington rules of backhanded compliments and passive aggression. She came to working relationships with what is often missing in Washington. Candor and upfront honesty.

One of those areas of great need on the international stage which Rice was most candid about concerned the deplorable and ghastly genocide which in Darfur. While she proved an ability with measured diplomacy on the public stage, she also demonstrated during the Obama years to have blunt appraisals of Sudan and situations when it mattered for policy discussions. She will always have my genuine appreciation for knowing and saying what was required regarding Darfur. (A topic that this blog has been vocal about.)  I had hoped, like many others, that Rice’s views would prevail, and policy with teeth would result.  She correctly called the actions in Darfur “genocide” and was ready to invest the full weight of  American policy into this nation.  History will long judge her perspective to have been a correct and moral one. The international lack of action is one history will severely judge, and rightly so. Over the years she has always been a strong-willed and intellectual asset, knowing the necessity of international commitments being constructed with unity, and having a moral component to our actions.

This will certainly not be the last we hear of this woman, as she has years ahead to work for the issues and policies our nation needs to confront. I say that with much confidence as her life story is as refreshing as her career while an adult. Her father was a governor of the Federal Reserve, and her mother helped craft the Pell Grant program to help students pay for college. She knows that results from pushing forward with convictions and purpose. After all, Rice at the age of forty-four was the second-youngest ambassador to the United Nations, she earned a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University, a member of President Clinton’s National Security Council staff in 1993 before rising to assistant secretary of state for African affairs at age 32. 

I so admire her service to the nation. I ask that Rice get some serious vacation time and then immerse herself again in our national policy discussions.

President Biden Continues Protecting Nature’s Beauty

Amidst all the harsh headlines comes news that uplifts today, and promises to do the same for generations to come.

Texas’s Castner Range is now a national monument, as President Biden made it official today. (The photo below with yellow flowers.) Also, Nevada’s Avi Kwa Ame became a national monument. Together that is protecting a total of nearly 514,000 acres of public lands from development. Something we can all applaud, an outcome that is rare in these hyper-political times.

The words from Biden today were accurate when stating these natural places “define our identity as a nation.” Ever since President Teddy Roosevelt defined the necessity of preserving such places across the nation do we firmly pledge ourselves to the larger goal at hand.

The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”
– Speech by Theodore Roosevelt in Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910.

Avi Kwa Ame is part of the creation story of many tribes and is sacred to indigenous groups including the Mojave, Chemehuevi, and some Southern Paiute people. Species to be found in this treasured area include Joshua trees, desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and Gila monsters.  

Castner Range, on Fort Bliss in the El Paso area, was a testing and training site for the Army during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The area, with both hills and desert plains, also contains archeological sites significant to Indigenous tribes “that inhabited the area since time immemorial.”

The long summer road trips that our family took to see such sites provided reasons to be introspective about nature’s gifts. Dad would stand alongside me as we gazed out at rock formations or gushing waterfalls and at times comment on those who first saw the wonders. With awareness about their power to enhance life and our power to prevent such places from being marred and stained by people many more generations of young people will also thrill to the grandeur of America.

President Biden Strongest When Nonideological, Leaning Into Effective Governing

As we know during the 2020 primaries, Joe Biden stressed deficit reduction and proved most comfortable with staking out moderate positions on issues such as crime and immigration. Throughout his career, he always had a far more pragmatic sense of politics and policymaking than his political opponents ever wanted to acknowledge.  While it is true progressives never felt overly warm towards his policy goals and perspectives on the issues it must be stated the broad swath of the nation could agree with his approach to crime in the 1990s, as an example, and then his understanding in recent years that American troops needed to leave Afghanistan.  It can be argued from a political view that Biden has aligned himself over the decades with the mood swings and the mindset of the citizenry.  That may seem to some not being moored to any position or too easily swayed.  Or it can mean Biden fully grasps what leadership requires in a democracy and how best to address the needs of the times in which we live.

On Friday that political agility was proved once again. Known as the Willow project, Biden officials are reportedly set to approve a major oil drilling project by ConocoPhillips in Alaska. It could eventually yield 180,000 barrels of crude daily, which would mean about 1.6% of current domestic production. No small undertaking given the international chaos resulting from Russin aggression against a sovereign country. One can absolutely have a robust dialogue over climate change, environmental needs, and green energy, along with a bevy of connected issues regarding this policy proposal. But what is again clear and being fully demonstrated with this policy is the pragmatic governing side of Biden is very much front and center. Presidential historians 50 years from now will not only be analyzing the policy results from what we have come to know about Biden’s actions but also his style of leadership and insistence that government actually work, and function.  That last point is mighty important. Governing matters far more than the political bombast.

This week we read in the newspapers about Biden’s proposed budget which was focused on reducing deficits in the neighborhood of $3 trillion over 10 years. Recently he was most reasoned and wide-eyed with his resolve to not veto a resolution killing the D.C. Council’s overhaul of the city’s criminal code. The issue centers on reduced maximum penalties for some violent crimes. When it comes to immigration Biden proved to be forthright about his views that curbing access to asylum for some migrants and reconsidering implementing a policy of detaining families who cross the border illegally would be policy moves strongly considered. In all the lather of politics that this nation often enjoys, far more than the nuance and deeper understanding of issues beyond the headlines or the sappy memes on social media, it is then easy to miss a most salient point.  The central fact to Biden’s over 4 decades of political involvement demonstrates he has always had a very real strip running through him that is nonideological and leans towards effective governing. Those of us–such as myself–who became a ‘Biden man’ in 1987 and remain that way due to his moderate approach and interest in making government work are pleased.

It takes 50 years to start to make proper assessments regarding history, but scholars and writers will doubtless view affirmatively what we read about Biden this week from the newspapers, the first record of history. The anger of politics is all too easy to find, in fact, most times it is nigh impossible to avoid. What we often do not see, however, are the ones earnestly striving to make government work. We must applaud that desire. In this era of too many openly dysfunctional personalities who have warped and twisted our political culture into shame and embarrassment, Biden stands out. Just as he has demonstrated his entire political life.

Americans Cheer President Biden On President’s Day, Democracy Emboldened With Kyiv Trip

On Presidents Day our nation takes time to reflect on those public servants who have shined in positive ways while demonstrating their abilities as leaders. Schoolchildren learn about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in their classrooms.  This year we all are holding Jimmy Carter close in our thoughts as he deals with the rigors of aging and illness.  But very early this morning we were presented with a major headline-making move that proves why President Joe Biden is the man we are most thinking about on this holiday. He became the first modern president to travel to a war zone not under the control of American forces and make a proud stand for democracy in the world.

Upon awakening, we learned Biden made a most impressive trip to underscore our national commitment—along with the Western allies—in standing forthrightly alongside the people of the sovereign nation of Ukraine.  Apart from the stunning optics of a president in a war zone after taking a most incredible journey from Washington across the ocean and then by train to Kyiv, the whole world can truly rejoice in a solid display that shows democracy and personal freedom still outshine autocrats and the attempt to dismantle international law.  Without a doubt, it was the most powerful and timely message that could be sent on such a day.

“Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin’s war of conquest is failing,” President Biden said. “Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. … I don’t think he’s thinking that right now.”  The verbal slaps that Putin took today were much softer than the military blistering his troops are suffering as reports of mounting casualty rates come in from eastern Ukraine.

What intrigued me from the early hours today were the logistics of Biden getting to Kyiv. The security apparatus that surrounds a president traveling just to DeForest, Wisconsin is remarkable, so the moves made to get Biden to the place where so many hearts have turned to in the past year are beyond staggering. Perhaps the best short version of the events that unfolded was reported by CBS News.

Before dawn on Sunday, Mr. Biden and his team boarded an Air Force plane that had its shades drawn and sat in a dark hanger at Joint Base Andrews. Instead of flying on the usual 747, Mr. Biden flew on a smaller C-32. The plane’s call sign was changed from “Air Force One” to “Special Air Mission 60.” 

The group traveling with Mr. Biden was also kept to a minimum and sworn to secrecy. Instead of the larger group of press that travels with the president, two journalists were allowed to document the trip — Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Siddiqui and Associated Press photographer Evan Vucci. 

The plane stopped briefly in Germany — still with its shades down — to refuel before the aircraft’s transponder was turned off for the next flight to a Polish airbase near the Ukraine border. 

From there, Mr. Biden, his aides, security apparatus and the press drove about an hour to Przemyśl Główny train station, located near the border of Poland and Ukraine. The motorcade of at least 20 vehicles did not use sirens — as the president’s motorcade usually does — to avoid drawing attention to itself. 

The motorcade pulled up to a train that also had its shades mostly drawn and the occupants boarded for a 10-hour journey to Kyiv. Along the way, the train stopped a handful of times, at least once to pick up more security. All the while, U.S. surveillance flights kept watch from Polish airspace. 

A couple of hours before Mr. Biden arrived in Kyiv, the U.S. gave Russia a heads up in a brief and “very straightforward way” through a “deconfliction channel,” Sloat said. 

The train pulled into the Kyiv-Pasazhyrsky station after sunrise Monday. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink awaited Mr. Biden and his staff on the platform. 

“It’s good to be back in Kyiv,” Mr. Biden said after stepping off the train. 

Mr. Biden was then ushered away in another motorcade to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He spent about six hours in Kyiv before heading to the train station for the 10-hour journey back to Poland

It was noted here as we watched coverage of the trip that it stands in stark contrast to another person once in the Oval Office who was not able to attend a WWII ceremony in Paris because it rained. Today President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were on the streets of Kyiv even as an air-raid siren sounded. The historically relevant message, both in words and images, from Biden to the Russian autocratic thug in Moscow was supremely important as too often some in the world get mixed messages about the durability and sustainably of liberal democracy.

Russia has upped the ante and escalated hostilities in Eastern Ukraine as Putin pushes forward with a continuing desire of projecting his revisionist history on a world that has read a few books of factual accounts about the past. While he wishes to portray his war as somehow ‘patriotic’ and perhaps even will increase mobilization in a nation that has suffered tremendous loss of lives on the battlefield comes an awareness, surely, that his grip on power is weakened by this horror. What he is doing to Ukraine will not be allowed to succeed, and history will record his downfall. There will be no revised version in any library.

Since Putin does not allow free and unfettered journalism in Russia let me place here what the newspaper headline would read if able to be published in Red Square.

West Marshals Forward In Ukraine, Not To Relent When Confronted By Tyrant

Just so Putin need not ask for a translation I used an online service.

Маршалы Запада продвигаются по Украине, чтобы не смягчаться при столкновении с тираном

Either way, it means the same thing. American Resolve.

All Americans Can Cheer SOTU Speech

Tuesday evening, while watching the State of the Union address, I again recognized how much I enjoy the optics of the annual event. The night before I had been thrilled with the epic-sized A Passage To India, where director David Lean solidly proved how Hollywood can package a tremendously powerful movie. With a much-lower budget for a one-night SOTU production, however, the House Sergeant-at-Arms starts off by loudly announcing, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States” followed by the strong desire of House members to have an aisle seat so to be seen greeting the leader of the free world, while the military brass is assembled near to the Justices of the Supreme Court as the nation’s political leaders are primed either for partisan approval or utter disdain.  And the whole shebang is done in one take!  Is it any wonder we come back year after year for the show?

There is clearly an uplift to the night when the nation’s leader is of the same party as the one watching. But I can still much recall the genuine interest in watching President Reagan deliver many a SOTU speech that, agree with him or not, hit them out of the Capitol dome. But when it came to peer drama and newsroom maneuvering at each of the major networks nothing compared with President Bill Clinton in 1997 fighting for his half of the split television screen as his SOTU speech had to compete with a California jury handing down its verdict in the much-watched civil trial of O.J. Simpson. 

When handing out the calm and composure award, and since this is the awards season after all, the winner must be Clinton who on that same night got to the point where he was to start speaking and became the first to know the entire text on the teleprompter was one single, indigestible paragraph.  The computer snafu created no paragraph breaks, but the night was saved by aides who inserted the breaks and had the speech land with a success.

It would be hard to imagine the full drama of that event via radio, but that is how President Calvin Coolidge delivered his SOTU to the nation in 1923.  The famed Missourian, President Harry Truman, ushered in modern technology by being the first to have his SOTU broadcast on television in 1947.

Sure, it is easy to get agitated with politics, and grouse about the leaders on the other side of the aisle, especially when they are in power. But if we take just a minute to step back and see the grandeur of the SOTU, the process of how our government operates, and the attempts at decorum (minus the ones who acted boorishly with outbursts), all while robust policy disputes stew below the surface, we then can understand the power of this tradition. In so understanding, it is another reason every president is then correct in saying the state of our union is strong and secure.

P.S. For the first time after watching a SOTU I called the White House switchboard and said, “As an American, I want to say how much I appreciated the mood conveyed by the President that we are all Americans, and need to act as one to solve the issues we confront.”