Trump crows over bitter Supreme Court justice victory

US President Donald Trump is greeted by Florida Governor and Republican US Senate candidate Rick Scott as he arrives in Orlando, Florida, October 8, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 08 October 2018

Trump crows over bitter Supreme Court justice victory

  • Kavanaugh’s Saturday confirmation in one of the closest such Senate votes in history showcased Americans’ polarization ahead of November 6 congressional midterm elections
  • Boarding the Marine One helicopter at the White House, he branded the sexual assault allegations that threatened to derail Kavanaugh’s path to the top court a hoax and all made up

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump reveled Monday in arguably the biggest — and hardest fought — victory of his controversy-strewn presidency ahead of a ceremonial swearing-in for new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh’s Saturday confirmation in one of the closest such Senate votes in history showcased Americans’ polarization ahead of November 6 congressional midterm elections where Democrats hope to end Republican dominance.
But far from using the aftermath to try and heal the nation, Trump piled into even fiercer attacks.
Boarding the Marine One helicopter at the White House, he branded the sexual assault allegations that threatened to derail Kavanaugh’s path to the top court “a hoax” and “all made up, fabricated.”
Democrats, Trump said, “tortured him (Kavanaugh) and his family. I thought it was a disgrace.”
The president — whose Republicans fear losing at least the lower house of Congress in November — angrily predicted that the Kavanaugh row would backfire on Democrats.
“I think a lot of Democrats are going to vote Republican,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of things happening on November 6 that wouldn’t have.”
Democrats fought tooth and nail to stop Kavanaugh’s candidacy, claiming that the accomplished, conservative-minded judge was not suited to the Supreme Court, which will now tilt decisively to a more Republican-friendly panel.
Then, just as his confirmation seemed inevitable, 11th hour allegations emerged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl while at high school and exposed himself to a female classmate at an alcohol-fueled dorm party at Yale University.
No evidence was produced to back up the searing accusations. Then an extra FBI probe — which media reports say was drastically curtailed by the White House — also found nothing new and Kavanaugh was finally voted in.
Late Monday, Trump will be able to rub salt into opponents’ wounds when he hosts a formal swearing-in ceremony.
Kavanaugh took the oath in a more hurried procedure Saturday, but the White House version will be a chance for the Trump administration to celebrate publicly.
Kavanaugh’s two-vote margin of victory in the Senate made it the closest Supreme Court confirmation vote since 1881 — and by far the most contentious since Clarence Thomas in 1991. Only one Democrat voted for Trump’s nominee.
Kavanaugh’s nomination as a replacement for retiring justice Anthony Kennedy was controversial from the start.
The initial focus of opposition was solely on the conservative views held by the married father of two. Then came bombshell testimony from university research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were in school.
Now that Kavanaugh is confirmed, the nine-justice court, which rules on constitutional questions, is expected to take a more reliably conservative approach.
Trump has repeatedly said that putting conservatives on the court — Kavanaugh is his second appointment — was among the top goals of his presidency. Since justices serve lifetime appointments, the political consequences are likely to last long beyond Trump’s administration.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 22 January 2020

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.