Barack Obama returns to the US political arena

Former US President Barack Obama has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017

Barack Obama returns to the US political arena

RICHMOND, United States: Barack Obama is returning to the political arena for the first time in months after keeping a low profile and avoiding direct confrontation with his White House successor.
The 56-year-old former president is scheduled to attend campaign rallies in New Jersey and Virginia on Thursday to support Democratic party candidates for governor.
Voters in both states will decide the gubernatorial contests on November 7, one year after Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton and stormed into the White House on a wave of anti-establishment fury.
The races are a potential indicator of voter sentiment ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, which will be a major test for Trump and his Republican party.
“There are only two big elections this year, for governor in NJ and VA,” political science professor Larry Sabato said.
“What’s at stake is bragging rights headed into the 2018 midterm elections,” Sabato said.
It is unclear what Obama’s message will be. The former US leader has remained largely detached from the political debate since leaving office on January 20, in keeping with presidential tradition.
Trump has meanwhile used his first nine months in the White House to methodically demolish key Obama administration policies.
After three months of vacation Obama began writing his memoirs. He has said little in public and granted almost no interviews.
The few times Obama broke his silence was to comment on issues of national importance, such as immigration, health care and climate change.
But the 44th president may be tempted on Thursday to take aim at Trump, who has frequently and publicly excoriated his predecessor.
In New Jersey, the post of governor will almost certainly go to Democrat Philip Murphy, who would succeed Chris Christie, a Trump ally whose popularity has plummeted to record lows.
New Jersey “is a runaway win for the Democrats, so Virginia is the only competitive contest. Obama is needed much more in Richmond than Trenton,” said Sabato, referring to the capitals of the two states.
Virginia is a pivotal state and the only southern US state that Clinton won in 2016. Its importance is amplified by its proximity to the US capital.
“If the GOP loses in Virginia, Trump will be widely blamed since he is so unpopular in a state carried by Hillary Clinton,” Sabato said.
“Should the Republicans win Virginia’s governorship, then Trump will not be viewed as such a liability for the GOP in 2018.”
In Richmond, Obama will back Ralph Northam, a former military doctor who was credited Wednesday with a slight lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in a Quinnipiac poll.
Obama’s impending arrival in the city of over 220,000 people sparked long lines of people seeking tickets to the campaign event.
Well aware of the importance of the vote, Trump has backed Gillespie and accused Northam of “fighting for the violent MS-13,” a Hispanic gang, as well as “sanctuary cities” that offer shelter to illegal immigrants.
Gillespie, a former adviser to president George W. Bush who has become a millionaire lobbyist, has so far kept a cautious distance from the mercurial Trump, whose backing recently failed to ensure the election of his pick in a Republican Senate race in Alabama.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 October 2019

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.