Biden Takes Limited Action Against Saudi Prince: Decision Stirs Controversy Within Biden’s Own Party
by Eileen Cooney ’23
On Friday, Feb. 26, the Biden administration released a report implicating Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a 59-year-old U.S. resident and an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family who was killed and later dismembered inside the Saudi consulate.
Democrats and former Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan have overtly criticized President Joseph Biden for not directly punishing or speaking out against the Saudi Arabian crown prince. Biden did sanction a top aide to the prince, but he did not explicitly punish MBS, even though it is widely acknowledged that the prince ordered the killing of Khashoggi.
Since the Saudis are primary buyers of American-produced guns, arms, and other military weapons, the kingdom largely escaped retaliatory sanctions during Donald Trump’s presidency, and this pattern seems to be continuing under the Biden administration.
Many Democrats and members of the human rights community are outraged at the Biden administration’s response, especially after Biden himself called Saudi Arabia a “pariah state with no redeeming social value” during his 2020 campaign. Many of these people are pressing Biden to at least impose some travel sanctions against the crown prince.
In response, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, announced plans to add a “Khashoggi ban,” which would restrict visas to all who are deemed to be participating in state-sponsored actions to hurt journalists and other dissidents around the globe. This is part of the State Department’s efforts to create a novel category of human rights abuse known as “extraterritorial repression,” which has become a growing issue in countries such as Russia, China, and Turkey.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, defended the Biden administration’s actions saying, “Historically and even in recent history, Democratic and Republican administrations, there have not been sanctions put in place for the leaders of foreign governments where we have diplomatic relations and even where we don’t have diplomatic relations.” She says that Biden and his foreign relations team think there are more effective ways to make sure that an atrocity like this does not happen again, and that they want to leave room to work with the Saudis and to come to an agreement that serves the interests of both sides.
This controversy comes in the wake of Biden announcing the end of U.S. support for offensive operations in Yemen earlier this month. Last month, Biden also froze sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, announcing that he wanted to assess the potential human rights abuses that were occurring.
On 60 Minutes back in October 2018, former President Trump said that there are other ways to impose penalties on the Saudis and that he would not want to see the U.S. take actions that “hurt jobs…or lose an order like that.”
It remains to be seen what implications this will have on Biden’s future dealings with Saudi Arabia. For now, the administration has announced that Biden will conduct relations solely through King Salman, the crown prince’s father.
From Scranton, PA to Pennsylvania Avenue: Biden, Harris Enjoy Historic Victory
by Eileen Cooney ’23
On Saturday, Nov. 7, after four long days of counting votes from key swing states including Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, presidential candidate Joseph Biden obtained 290 electoral votes, surpassing the 270 threshold needed to take the White House.
Early Friday morning, Joe Biden took the lead in Pennsylvania, a very promising sign for the Biden campaign, as Biden sought to turn the state blue after Hillary Clinton failed to do so in the 2016 presidential election. With Biden winning Pennsylvania and leading in Georgia, President Donald Trump’s hopes at reelection were squashed—without Georgia or Pennsylvania, he could not gain enough electoral votes to win reelection.
In a speech given on Thursday, Nov. 5, President Trump indicated his intentions to preserve the integrity of the election by bringing the results to the courts, saying there would be “a tremendous amount of litigation,” and that he would not “allow anyone the ability to steal such an important election.” He also urged officials to stop counting votes, tweeting “STOP THE COUNT!”
On Nov. 6, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito temporarily granted a GOP request to have mail-in ballots received after Nov. 3 in Pennsylvania separated, but he did not prohibit them from being counted.
Many prominent Republican Senators publicly defended President Trump’s claims of election corruption. Senator Lindsey Graham, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was one of many who said that he stands with President Trump. Similarly, Senator Ted Cruz has also affirmed his support for President Trump, voicing his opinion that the Justice Department, state legislatures, and the Supreme Court should get involved to make sure that voting laws have been followed properly. Others, notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have remained largely mute on the subject, with McConnell only tweeting, “Every legal vote should be counted.”
While it was largely expected that a winner would not be determined on election night due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge in absentee voting, Democratic leaders and the Biden campaign were not expecting President Trump to declare victory prematurely.
On election night, Trump gave what seemed to be a victory speech, where he claimed victory in Georgia and North Carolina, even though ballots were still being counted. He also contested the results in Arizona, calling upon officials to overturn their decision to give Biden those electoral college votes at the time.
In the days following election night and the pronouncement of Joe Biden as the winner, President Trump has vehemently attacked the integrity of the election, claiming that “if you count the legal votes, I easily win,” and calling mail-in voting “a corrupt system.” He has accused Democrats of trying to steal the election from him, claiming that the voting apparatus of those states key swing “are run in all cases by Democrats.”
This statement is false, as in the key states of Georgia and Nevada, the top elections officials, Secretary Brad Raffensperger and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, respectively, are both Republicans. Again, President Trump and his campaign team have publicly announced their intentions to pursue legal action to ensure that all election laws were followed.
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign remains confident in the results of the election, with Joe Biden giving a victory speech that focused on his administration’s next steps and attempted to bridge the divide between Biden and Trump supporters. Biden said, “For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight. I’ve lost a couple of times myself. But now, let’s give each other a chance.”
Biden also announced on social media, “I am humbled by the trust and confidence you have placed in Kamala Harris and I. We’re reminded tonight of all those who fought so hard for so many years to make this happen. It is long overdue, but once again, America has bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.” This election will certainly be one for the history books, as Mr. Biden received the most votes ever cast for a U.S. president and Ms. Harris became the first woman, first Black American, and first South Asian American to be elected to the office of vice president.
No Love Lost in Nashville: Trump and Biden Spar in Final Presidential Debate
By: Hannah Langley ’21
On Thursday, Oct. 22, the United States waited in anticipation for the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Compared to the first debate, which CBS News called “a chaotic series of bitter exchanges and name-calling,” this debate actually presented arguments and was “civil, calm, sedate, substantive (at times) and, almost, even normal,” as stated in the New York Times.
Shannon Sullivan ’21, co-president of PC Democrats, stated her concerns for the final debate, saying, “I really do hope that this debate is productive and engaging. However, I feel discouraged after watching the first debate because it felt more like a reality TV show than a presidential debate.”
Kristen Welker of NBC News moderated the debate, making her just the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate alone. Many praised Welker’s handling of the debate as she was able to control the conversation well, despite initial fears of a repeated presidential shouting match. In addition to Welker having good control over the conversation, Trump and Biden’s microphones could also be muted during their opponent’s responses to avoid frequent interruption.
Welker began the debate on the topic of COVID-19. Trump emphasized that the country’s mortality rate has gone down drastically since the beginning of the virus’s spread in the U.S. He believes the actions he took early on in the pandemic, such as closing America’s borders to China and other countries, as well as closing the economy, helped save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. He also stated there will be a vaccine released very soon, even as shortly as in the next few weeks, claiming, “We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away soon.”
Biden refuted these claims, arguing, “Anyone who’s responsible for [the deaths of 220,000 Americans] should not remain as President.” He also argued against Trump’s claim that the virus will go away soon, saying that an estimated 200,000 additional people will die of the virus by the end of this year. “There’s not another serious scientist that believes this is going to end soon,” said Biden.
Trump also claimed that Americans are learning to live with the virus at this point, while Biden refuted, saying that people are not learning to live with the virus, but die with it, and encouraged the American people to continue wearing masks in order to prevent a greater spread.
The second topic of the debate was foreign relations, and specifically foreign interference with the current upcoming election. Biden stated, “Any country that interferes with American elections will pay the price.” Trump said that Russian interference would not be tolerated and that “there has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”
The conversation then shifted to both Trump and Biden’s own personal relationships with countries such as Russia, China, and the Ukraine, to which both men accused one another of embezzling money secretly. Trump admitted to having foreign bank accounts from before his presidency, but claimed that these accounts were closed. He also stated that the records of his tax returns would be released soon, and that the search for them has been a “phony witch hunt.”
Trump also spoke about the United States’ relationship with North Korea. While Trump argued that the Obama administration has an unstable relationship with the North Koreans, he said the United States’ relationship with North Korea is now very good and clearly there is no war, while Biden argued that Trump has been “pok[ing] his finger in the eye of all our friends” around the world.
Following this conversation, Welker shifted the debate towards health care. Trump claimed that the Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare, needs to be remodeled, which is what he has been doing for the past four years. Although Trump has not been able to terminate Obamacare, he has been able to do several things, such as eliminate individual mandates for those who pay for health care. Trump also claimed that no one with pre-existing conditions would lose their health care.
Trump called Biden’s plan for healthcare a socialized program that would cause the stock market to crash, but Biden argued against this claim. He stated that everyone should have the right to affordable health care.
Biden also stated, “I don’t see red states and blue states. What I see is American, United States.”
In their discussion about immigration and deportation, Trump made the argument that undocumented immigrants enter the country through illegal drug cartels, coyotes, and gangs, and only about 1% of those who are supposed to return to the border actually do so. Trump claimed that Biden did nothing to help immigrants except for building cages during the Obama Administration, but Biden promised to build a better immigration system, reminding viewers, “I’ll be president of the United States, not vice president of the United States.”
On the topic of race, Trump claimed, “Not since Abraham Lincoln has anybody done what I’ve done for the Black community” and that he was probably “the least racist person in the room.” He cited how he has invested a “tremendous” amount in the Black and Hispanic communities and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Biden, on the other hand, discussed how he recognized his white privilege, saying he never had to teach his children that they are “the victim no matter what.” He also stated that the infamous 1994 crime bill was a mistake. While Trump argued that Biden did not do anything to fix the bill during his eight years as vice president, Biden gave his thoughts on punishment: “No one should be going to jail for a drug problem, they should be going to rehabilitation.”
In regards to climate change, Trump claimed the U.S. has “done an incredible job environmentally” and that Biden’s plan is “an economic disaster.” Trump stated that Americans, especially Blacks and Hispanics, are “employed heavily” in the oil industry and removing these jobs, as Biden wants to do, would hurt the economy. Biden refuted this claim, however, saying his environmental plan has been backed by several environmental and labor groups, and his plan would create millions of jobs and trillions of dollars.
To conclude the debate, Trump stated that Biden’s election would cause “a depression the likes of which you’ve never seen.” Biden stated, “I represent all of you, whether you voted for or against me.”
Both Sullivan and Charlie Dumon ’21, president of PC Republicans, agreed that this debate went much more smoothly than the first one held back in September. “The President did a great job in Thursday’s debate, and I think the moderator was much better as well,” said Dumon.
Sullivan was also happy with the outcome of the debate, saying, “I think this debate was a lot better than the first in all aspects.” She continued, saying, “I think I got much more out of this one and actually learned something about the candidates.”
While this was the final debate before the official election on Nov. 3, Americans still have time to decide whether they will vote for Trump or Biden, either in-person or by mail-in ballot.
Candidate’s Corner: Mail-In Voting Concerns
by Nicole Silverio ’22
With the 2020 presidential election less than two months away, the nominees are preparing to enter the final stages of their campaigns. Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican nominee President Donald Trump have both officially selected their running mates; Biden will be on the ballot with California Senator Kamala Harris, and Trump will be on the ballot once again with Vice President Mike Pence.
Although Election Day is on Nov. 4, early and mail-in voting are available options in many states. Early voting begins as early as September in several states, including Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, and Michigan. Many other states open for early voting in October. In addition to early voting, the majority of Americans are eligible to vote by mail.
To vote by mail, the United States Postal Service (USPS) recommends that voters request their ballots by Oct. 19 in order to ensure that they are delivered on time. Some states, however, have earlier deadlines for voters to request their ballots (including Rhode Island, which has a deadline of Oct. 13). Specific deadlines and guidelines for early and mail-in voting for individual states can be found online at states’ websites or at Vote.org.
There has been some national discourse on the validity of mail-in voting. President Trump has raised concerns about the security of the process, tweeting: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” (July 30) and “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone…” (May 26).
Despite these concerns, the evidence seems to show that mail-in voting does not tend to lead to or allow for more fraud. The USPS and several other independent organizations, including the New York Times, NPR, and the Associated Press, have released findings stating that mail-in voting is largely safe, secure, and valid. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states with the highest rates of mail-in voting report low rates of voter fraud. Judd Choate, director of elections in the Colorado Department of State, says, “There’s just very little evidence that there is more than a handful of fraudulent (vote-by-mail) cases across the country in a given election cycle.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the voting process for many Americans. With widespread uncertainty on the safety of in-person voting due to the pandemic, the demand for safe and secure early and mail-in voting is far higher than it has been in previous elections. While submitting votes might be more complicated this year, the country has still made voting accessible to all people regardless of the circumstances, giving all Americans the ability to vote this upcoming November.
Voters should request mail-in ballots by Oct. 19 to ensure timely delivery. Photo courtesy of kunr.org.