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WASHINGTON, Dec 21 — Donald Trump kicked off Christmas vacation yesterday after a series of legislative victories gave him one of his best weeks in office — apart from becoming only the third US president ever impeached.
Surprisingly, for a capital paralysed by Democratic-Republican gridlock and a presidency mired in scandal, a whole string of breakthroughs came through at once.
While Democrats and Republicans tussle over how his Senate impeachment trial will unfold, possibly in January, Trump is fighting to refocus voters’ minds on the brighter side of his presidency ahead of the 2020 election.
And as he packed his bags for a golf holiday through the New Year at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Congress handed him ammunition.
Trump signed a giant US$1.4 trillion spending deal that the Senate passed on Thursday, ahead of a deadline to avoid leaving the federal government with empty coffers.
Also Thursday, the House of Representatives, where the Democratic majority had voted for impeachment a day earlier, finally approved a new US-Mexico-Canada free trade deal, known as USMCA.
That will go to the Republican-controlled Senate and on to Trump.
To top it all off, just before departing for Florida Trump signed a US$738 billion defence spending bill that includes funding for the creation of one of his pet projects — a new branch of the military called Space Force.
“Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital, and we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, but very shortly we’ll be leading by a lot,” he said.
“The space force will help us deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground.”
Economic boom, election boost?
One more slice of seasonal cheer was delivered yesterday with the White House accepting a formal invitation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of Trump’s leading Democratic foes, to deliver his annual State of the Union speech to Congress on February 4.
Impeachment and the still-to-come trial were not even mentioned.
Not bad for a president who some 48 hours ago was being pilloried by Democrats in the House for betraying his oath of office and impeached on two counts.
Republicans exasperated by Trump’s erratic foreign policy, bombastic style and habit of insulting people in public have long wished he would stick to touting the country’s roaring economy.
Unemployment is rock bottom, the stock market is hitting record highs and, usually, an incumbent president with a good economy gets a straightforward path to re-election.
The fact that despite these advantages Trump’s approval rating is stuck in the low 40 per cent range and almost half the country backs impeachment shows his inherent weaknesses.
But Trump appears to be making more effort to stay on message since his impeachment.
‘Doing the best’
At a rally on Wednesday in the swing state of Michigan — held as the House was voting his impeachment — Trump said the economy would be his shield against any assault from the eventual Democratic challenger in 2020.
“When I’m on the debate stage with one of these characters and they try and say negative stuff, I’ll just say, ‘Well, here’s the story: In the history of our country, this group is doing the best, and that group is doing the best, and the women are doing the best,’” he told the crowd.
“The whole country is doing the best.”
Democrats, who are yet to pick a candidate from the big field of hopefuls, say Trump’s economic boom and the rosy macro-economic statistics ignore reality for swaths of the country.
At the candidates’ latest debate, Thursday, entrepreneur Andrew Yang said his party should focus on those voters, not the drama in Washington.
“We have to stop being obsessed over impeachment, which unfortunately strikes many Americans like a ballgame where you know what the score is going to be,” he said.
Democrats should “start actually digging in and solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place.”
While Democrats limber up to try and bring down Trump, he suffered a rare crack in the wall of his right-wing, evangelical support base when Christianity Today declared him “morally lost.”
Trump angrily denounced the magazine, saying it wanted “those of the socialist/communist bent, to guard their religion.”
“The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!” Trump said in a tweet that illustrated the deeply politicized nature of the US evangelical movement. — AFP
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