Grab a stool and join us for the start of another crazy week in Washington. Today, Jim and Greg salute the Iranian protesters risking life and limb to protest the regime they despise and applaud President Trump’s very appropriate tweets in support of the demonstrators. They also welcome the news that Sen. Cory Booker is ending his 2020 presidential campaign and discuss why he never took off. And they slam House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her exceptionally weak answers as to why she pushed impeachment forward rather than fighting the Trump administrations over subpoenas in court.
While impeachment politics and other headlines often overshadow it, the pro-freedom demonstrations and the increasingly violent crackdowns by the Hong Kong police continue.
Just this week, a police officer shot an unarmed demonstrator at close range. There is also much greater tension at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as students fortify the campus and prepare to defend their positions.
Protesters insist they aren’t going anywhere until their five demands for freedom are met. China says it will not allow it’s control over Hong Kong to be weakened.
Why are things continuing to escalate? How will this impasse ever be resolved? And what should the U.S. be doing to side with freedom?
We cover those questions and much more as Greg Corombos visits with East Asia expert Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China.”
Join Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America as they serve up some strong martinis to start the week. First, they find an odd appreciation for Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign admitting it needs to raise $1.7 million by the end of the month to have any chance at being competitive for the Democratic nomination – and it makes Jim wonder why several other weak candidates haven’t already closed up shop. They also shake their heads as a lot of House Republicans don’t want to be there anymore. Many of them understandably hate being in the minority but Jim offers another, more serious reason for why a lot of conservatives want out of Washington. And they have no patience for the Shut Down DC climate protesters who snarled traffic in Washington this morning by demonstrating on several critical roads and intersections.
Two days into confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Judicial Crisis Network Chief Counsel Carrie Severino believes Kavanaugh is proving himself to be a brilliant, thoughtful jurist while Democrats look ridiculous by trying to throw up roadblocks and encourage protesters.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding three days of hearings this week. Before the proceedings began, more than forty Senate Democrats announced their opposition to the Kavanaugh nomination. Severino agrees with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, about how that makes Democrats look.
“If this were 20 years earlier, he would have gotten 90-plus votes. Judge Kavanaugh is someone who has a dozen years on the bench, 300-plus opinions to his name. He’s so smart that he’s recognized as being one of the leading federal judges by litigators across the spectrum,” said Severino.
On Tuesday, Democrats on the committee interrupted Republicans dozens of times to protest the late release of more than 40,000 pages of documents. Severino says Americans need to realize the documents have nothing to do with why Democrats are trying to stall.
“Don’t be confused. This is not the reason they want to postpone it. They had a conference call earlier in the day that Sen. (Richard) Durbin admitted to, talking about what they were going to do. ‘Are we going to walk out of the hearings?’ Ultimately, they decided to disrupt the hearings.
“It’s actually been really shameful. There were 70 people arrested yesterday for disrupting the hearings, not just the senators interrupting 44 times. These are people standing up, shouting, being dragged out of the room. You even had some of the senators encouraging them and rooting them on. This is so disrespectful to the process,” said Severino.
She says the Democrats are making a spectacle about ancillary issues because they have no good reason to oppose Kavanaugh and some are trying to boost their own political ambitions.
“They’re going for ratings. They’re going for get out the vote efforts. Three of the people on the committee are running for president in 2020. They’re interested in cutting campaign video, not in finding out about the nominee,” said Severino.
Even when Democrats got down to asking questions Wednesday, Severino says it was clear that many were looking to grandstand than listen to Kavanaugh’s responses.
“Especially Democrat senators, they just want to ask the question and then go, ‘Mic drop’ and walk away. You can’t just do that. [Kavanaugh] was saying, ‘No, there’s an answer to that question. You might think that was quite witty, but there really is an answer,'” said Severino.
In fact, Severino was most impressed by Kavanaugh’s thoughtful and thorough explanations about the various cases he has considered.
“I think he really shines when he’s explaining his logic. He doesn’t try to hide and tell them what he thinks they want to hear. He’s happy to explain carefully,” said Severino.
Listen to the full podcast to hear Carrie Severino’s analysis of how Kavanaugh handled Democrats trying to pin him down on various issues and what she thinks the vote on Kavanaugh is likely to be at this point.
President Trump is giving the Iran nuclear deal another four months but also warned Congress that will not happen again without lawmakers passing major changes to the agreement, and leading Iranian dissidents urge the U.S. to stop trying to save a fatally flawed deal in the first place.
In addition, the Trump administration announced new sanctions aimed the Iranian regime in connection with its crackdown on protesters in recent days.
Officially, Trump is waiving nuclear sanctions against Iran until May. He did not say what type of changes would meet with his approval at that time.
For the Iranian dissidents, there’s no way to salvage this deal.
“The main problem is that the entire nuclear structure of the Iran regime has remained intact, and the fact that there’s no real access to the key centers and locations that are actually engaged in weaponization, which is a critical part of building nuclear weapons.
“There’s no access for the [International Atomic Energy Agency] to the military sites where the real deal is. Then there is a sunset clause. At some point down the road, all of those restrictions are going to be gone and the Iranian regime will be free to continue its development of nuclear weapons,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is allied with the main internal resistance group in Iran, Mojahedin-e-Khalq. The group is also known as the MEK.
Jafarzadeh says modifications to the nuclear deal will be fruitless because the regime will never abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. He says there’s only one effective modification for Iran.
“The Iranian regime is intent on building the bomb so the real solutions to all of the problems is to see fundamental change in Iran to change the regime,” said Jafarzadeh.
The Iranian resistance is also very pleased with the Trump administration’s actions, through the Treasury Department, to issue sanctions against 14 different Iranian individuals and entities, largely in response to the repression of protests over the past couple of weeks.
One figure targeted financially is he head of the Iranian judiciary, Sadeq Larijani.
“He’s the one who implements all the repressive measures of the Iranian regime. He’s the one who has been prosecuting and putting people in jail. at least 8,000 demonstrators in the past two weeks. He has already instructed the other judges to be very, very harsh against the demonstrators,” said Jafarzadeh.
“Another entity was the Rajai Shahr prison. It is a very notorious prison that is known for torture and horrible things they have done to prisoners. A number of people who have been detained during the demonstrations are now in Rajai Shahr prison,” said Jafarzadeh., who says the head jailer there is also named in the sanctions.
Others targeted by sanctions on Friday include elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, specifically for cutting off internet access that prevented protesters from communicating with each other and the outside world. Individuals and entities assisting the Iranian ballistic missile program are also being targeted.
Jafarzadeh says Trump is paying attention.
“The president showed Friday that while he is so unhappy with the nuclear deal, he’s even more unhappy with the other aspects of the Iranian regime’s behavior, namely their domestic repression, their censorship and threatening their neighbors in the region,” said Jafarzadeh.
He also says the pressure is getting to the regime. This past week, Ayatollah Ali Khameini gave a speech vowing to crackdown on the protests even more and blaming them on a “triangle” of organized resistance – namely the United States, hostile Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, and the MEK. He also vowed a fierce crackdown on all elements of the triangle within Iran.
Jafarzadeh does not think the threats will work because they don’t change the reality of economic misery in Iran.
“No matter how much you repress them, the disconnect of the people will not go away. The economic situation is not going to get any better. There’s no plan for the government to resolve the issues. There are workers who have not been paid for eleven months.
“Even doctors who used to get regular pay haven’t been paid for 9-10 months. A lot of factories are not working,” said Jafarzadeh.
Jafarzadeh says the protests swelled to 141 different cities of all sizes.
“This is absolutely unprecedented since the ayatollahs came to power in Iran,” he said.
The bottom line, says Jafarzadeh, is that pressure from inside and outside Iran is working.
“The more pressure the United States builds against the Iranian regime, the more the regime’s forces get frightened and the more encouraged the people will get,” he said.
The Three Martini Lunch is on vacation for the week and will return on Monday, September 11. Please enjoy this encore presentation of a recent podcast.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America cheer UN Ambassador Nikki Haley in her firm-handed approach to the security threat posed by North Korea, specifically regarding China’s refusal to cooperate with UN resolutions against the isolated nation. They also express frustration with national media over their lack of coverage of Rep. Steve Scalise’s condition as he returns to the ICU. Finally, they highlight that most of those protesting Trump’s presidency are among the most wealthy in the DC area.
President Donald Trump’s inaugural address sends a clear signal that business in Washington is about to change and his vow of action has an eager Congress ready to work, according to Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla.
Yoho, who gained headlines two years ago by challenging sitting Republican House Speaker John Boehner, says the shift from President Obama to President Trump is huge and needed.
“It is a new day in America and I think Donald Trump did a good job just talking about making America great again at the end of his speech. It’s goodbye to the old and hello to the new,” said Yoho.
Trump began his inaugural address by proclaiming his presidency served as the moment the power in the United States returned to its rightful owners.
“Today’s ceremony, however, has a very special meaning because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” said Trump.
What does that look like? Yoho says it means a government who remembers who it works for.
“The way I took that is you’re going to see a government that’s much more responsive to the people,” he said.
In his speech, Trump also slammed the business as usual approach of Washington.
“In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it,” said Trump. “The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”
Yoho says that’s the message the American people have been sending for years.
“If you look at the progression of the tea party from 2009 forward, the people being elected now – me being one of them – are from people who were fed up with the status quo and they wanted people outside of the Beltway. Donald Trump is the epitome of that,” said Yoho.
But one message emerged strongest of all from the Trump speech.
“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” said Trump.
Trump’s “America First” approach to the presidency is drawing a wide variety of reactions. Yoho is encouraged by it.
“Whatever we do from government, we need to do what’s best for America. If we do that, that’s bringing power back to the people. Let’s treat this country first and foremost,” said Yoho.
One of Yoho’s greatest frustrations is how important legislation, such as appropriations bills, are often derailed or delayed by unrelated issues. He expects that to stop now that the GOP has the power in Washington.
“Two years ago we got that whole process stopped on the confederate flag issue. This last year, in 2016, it got stopped over the LGBT issue. I’m not saying they’re not important issues, but they should not be a distraction to getting our legislative work done,” said Yoho.
Trump has made it clear to Congress he expects them to be very productive in the early days of this administration. Yoho says Vice President Mike Pence put lawmakers on notice.
“Mike Pence came into our conference twice now and he goes, ‘I hope you guys are holding on because Mr. Trump is ready to get going. He has boundless energy and he doesn’t accept failure. He’ll be pushing the cart rather than waiting for somebody else to lead. He’s going to lead,” said Yoho.
And Yoho says Republicans on Capitol Hill are eager to get to work on much of the Trump agenda.
“The optimism that we see, not just in America but up here in the legislative body, there’s just a whole new atmosphere up here and it’s all positive,” said Yoho.
The top of the legislative agenda is clear.
“In the first 100 days, I think you’re going to see a push for the replacement of Obamacare. Following that you’ll see a push for tax reform. We’ve already got a good product teed up for tax reform,” said Yoho.
While Trump assumed the presidency Friday, scores of protesters were arrested for violence ranging from vandalism to arson. Yoho says the demonstrators fail to appreciate the source of their right to protest.
“The American dream comes from opportunity. The opportunity comes from our founding principles, our core values that’s held together and protected by the Constitution. Those ideas are neither Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, white or black. Those are American ideologies,” said Yoho.
“Even these lackluster protesters should have the common sense to say, ‘We have something bigger than a party or a political belief. We better all work together to preserve what made this country great,” said Yoho.
While Yoho hopes the protesters eventually realize the unique opportunities they have in America, he says America itself has some excellent opportunities in the coming days.
“Seems like we were always running away from President Obama or trying to undo what he’s done. We’ve got a president now in the White House who will be leading the charge and I think it’ll be a lot easier to get things done in a positive direction for this country,” said Yoho.