It was another surreal day in Trump’s World. From China to Iran, the US President set the global diplomatic tone on Thursday and moved markets along the way.
Markets in the United States and Europe were still bathing in the afterglow of Trump’s remarks on easing tensions between the US and Iran.
All three major US indices finished at all-time highs, with the broad-based S&P 500 increasing 0.7% as haven investments such as gold and the yen faltered.
The gains in New York marked a second straight session of advances on rising confidence about the US-Iran crisis following statements by US President Donald Trump and Iranian officials earlier in the week.
“Assuming Iran-US tensions continue to simmer rather than boil, markets are likely to refocus on the global growth outlook and on trade, with the interim US-China trade deal expected to be signed on 15 January,”Tapas Strickland, of the National Australia Bank, said.
Markets were also cheered by China’s announcement that Vice-Premier Liu He will travel to Washington next week to sign the “phase one” deal with the US.
Frankfurt led European gains as the DAX closed up 1.3% with London and Paris, which at one time brushed a 13-year high, posting gains of around a quarter of one percent.
But not all of Trump’s comments on Iran have played well, especially the one urging Washington’s allies to abandon the 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran.
Within hours, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, one of Trump’s closest international friends, was on the phone with Iran’s president. His message? That, according to Downing Street, the nuclear deal remains “the best arrangement currently available.”
The January 3 drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful general and a longtime US nemesis, has only exacerbated tensions between the United States and Europe in a showdown that has turned into a crisis.
But the episode could paradoxically offer a new chance for the Europeans to attempt what they have sought for three years – to broker peace between Iran and Trump.
“It’s pretty unfathomable to me that European allies are going to jump and follow Trump into this abyss that he seems to be sending us in,” Rachel Rizzo, an expert on trans-Atlantic security at the Center for a New American Security, said.
Trump also received a mild, slap on the wrists from the UN Security Council. But the gesture was more embarrassing than painful.
The 15 members said the Security Council “reaffirms its commitment to the Charter of the United Nations, including the purposes and principles of the Charter, and an international order based on international law.”
A record 111 countries, including several ministers, had signed up for the marathon debate on peace and security that will bring US and Iranian officials into the same room for the first time since the two countries came to the brink of war.
“The Security Council reaffirms its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” it said.
In the week since tensions flared between the US and Iran, no member nation of the Security Council has called for an emergency meeting of the body to address the crisis that has brought the Middle East to the verge of open war.
What do you do with a President named Donald? Well, a posse of US lawmakers hopes to rein in his ability to take military action, especially against Iran.
The resolution was introduced by Democrats after Trump’s order to kill an Iranian commander and retaliatory missile strikes by Tehran dramatically escalated tensions and raised fears of a devastating war between the two foes.
The mostly symbolic but politically charged vote, 224 to 194, was largely along party lines, with three members of Trump’s Republican Party joining Democrats in approving the measure demanding the president not engage in military action against Iran unless authorized by Congress.
Among them was Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress who noted in a floor speech that the measure did not criticize Trump, but said that “engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision.”
“If the members of our armed services have the courage to go and fight and die in these wars, as Congress we ought to have the courage to vote for them or against them,” Gaetz said.
Rebranding Nato has become a recurring theme from the US President. Trump came up with another scenario in a move to solve the Middle East deadlock.
Trump called for NATO to take a greater role in the region, later even coining the mission “NATOME,” a neologism for NATO and the Middle East that he called “beautiful.”
Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of NATO, using the Western alliance’s 70th-anniversary last month to press for greater funding by Europeans whom he has cast as freeloaders.
Julie Smith, an expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and former advisor to Vice-President Joe Biden, said it was unclear what Trump wanted – with no one envisioning an Afghanistan-style NATO deployment of tens of thousands of troops.
“[The Europeans likely] appreciate the irony of a president who has repeatedly criticized the NATO alliance and individual NATO allies and then turns to them in a crisis,” Smith said.
Look out Davos … ‘The Donald’ is heading to the Swiss luxury resort later this month to rub shoulders with the business and political elite.
A senior administration official has confirmed that Donald Trump will make the trip, even though several other major world leaders are expected to stay away.
Last year, he pulled out of Davos, which attracts wealthy business people, celebrities and politicians, in the midst of a budget battle with Congress that saw the US government shut down.
The White House said that Trump’s delegation will include his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband and top presidential adviser Jared Kushner.
A high-level economic team will include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
On the domestic front, Trump has come under fire for proposing rule changes to the environmental law.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act, signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1970, all major infrastructure projects must be subject to an environmental impact assessment by federal agencies.
NEPA was the US’s first major environmental law and designed “to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.” It has proved an obstacle to Trump’s efforts to accelerate fossil fuel extraction.
The Environment Protection Agency raised an objection to the Keystone XL pipeline, planned to bring oil from Canada to the US, during a NEPA review under the Obama administration, with the former president canceling the project as a result – only for it to be revived under Trump.
The executive branch doesn’t have the power to change the act of Congress, but, as it has previously done for the Endangered Species Act, it can change rules about how it is applied – and it was these proposed changes that were announced Thursday.
Oh, and we must not forget the Trump impeachment saga after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ramped up the pressure.
The top Democrat in Congress reiterated her call for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to lay out the rules for the historic trial so she could “see the arena” in which the impeachment managers – prosecutors in the Senate trial – will operate.
“Is that too much to ask?” she challenged.
Trump was impeached last month for abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations of Democrats including possible election rival Joe Biden; and for obstructing Congress’s subsequent investigation.
Pelosi has played a waiting game since, declining to transmit the articles until McConnell provides assurances of a “fair” trial in which Democrats can call key witnesses and subpoena documents.
“I’m not holding on to them indefinitely,” Pelosi said. “I’ll send them over when I’m ready, and that will probably be soon.”
Congress is in uncharted territory. Neither of the other two impeachment trials – of Andrew Jackson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1999 – were so delayed.
With the impasse dragging into its fourth week, McConnell announced Tuesday he had the necessary Republican votes to conduct a trial without acceding to Democratic demands.
“There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure,” he said Wednesday.
McConnell wants to set initial trial parameters first, then address possible witnesses once the procedure has begun.
Democrats want to hear from four administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who have direct knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine dealings.
Both were blocked by the White House from testifying in the House inquiry.
Finally, there was another brick placed in that wall. Trump’s campaign pledge to build a wall between the US and Mexico received a welcome boost from the American courts.
“Entire Wall is under construction or getting ready to start!” the president tweeted following the ruling by the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals.
A lower court had temporarily blocked the use of the Department of Defense funds for the construction of the wall that Trump pledged to build during his campaign for the White House.
Trump’s efforts to build a wall along the southwest US border with Mexico to stem illegal immigration have been met with numerous court challenges.
The president declared a national emergency last year and turned to the Pentagon for funding after the House of Representatives refused to allocate all of the money he sought for construction of the wall.
In a statement, the White House described the ruling by the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit as a “victory for the rule of law.”
“The Fifth Circuit has lifted an illegitimate nationwide injunction entered by a lower court, and in doing so has allowed vital border wall construction to move forward using military construction funds,” it said.