Guaido Ally, Under Spanish Protection, Forming Shadow Venezuelan Cabinet

Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is forming a shadow government from his refuge at the Spanish Embassy in Caracas, despite an agreement that prohibited him from engaging in political activity when the embassy granted him asylum five months ago.

Lopez sought the protection of Spain’s diplomatic mission after he led a failed coup against embattled President Nicolas Maduro in April. He was backed in the effort by parliamentary president Juan Guaido, who is recognized as the transitional head of state by the United States and 50 other countries.

Guaido says that he has named Lopez to form a “center of government,” or shadow cabinet, to prepare for an eventual takeover by the opposition, as U.S. sanctions bite into Maduro’s remaining lifelines.

Spain says the conditions under which they took in Lopez have not changed. But Maduro’s growing isolation and Venezuela’s deteriorating economy may be forcing the hand of EU governments, which have been trying to broker a deal between Maduro and his opponents on terms for new elections.

FILE – Venezuelan opposition leader and parliamentary president Juan Guaido addresses lawmakers of the National Assembly, in front of an image of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept. 3, 2019.

“The conditions on which protection was granted have not varied nor are they affected by the decision of president Juan Guaido to name Lopez General Coordinator for the creation of a center of government,” Spain’s foreign ministry told VOA in a written statement.

In what opposition spokesmen say could be a fatal blow for the Maduro administration, China’s national oil company announced this week that it is suspending oil production in Venezuela due to growing logistical complications and tightened U.S. sanctions. China and Russia have been Maduro’s largest customers.

The Spanish Embassy does not allow Lopez to give interviews. Nor is he permitted to hold political meetings. But he is in daily contact with his father, Leopoldo Lopez Gil, a Spanish national and member of the European Parliament. Speaking to VOA by phone from Brussels, Lopez Gil said his son is busy online with other members of the “shadow cabinet” appointed by Guaido.

“He receives reports and interfaces electronically with economists, jurists, engineers and other experts formulating plans to deal with the desperately urgent problems that a new government would face,” Lopez Gil said.

“We want to be positioned to take the bull by the horns without falling in the mud as happened in Panama,” he said, referring to the days of heavy fighting that followed the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama to topple Gen. Antonio Noriega.

FILE – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro leads a rally condemning U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela, in Caracas, Aug. 10, 2019.

Exiled Venezuelan retired admiral Ivan Carratu, who maintains a network of contacts inside Venezuela’s military, says that Lopez’s project is unlikely to attract support from Venezuela’s armed forces, who hold the key to any peaceful transition of power.

“The main purpose of the shadow government is to project the figure of Lopez as future president in whatever scenario unfolds,” Carruto said.

Even if Maduro is ousted, Lopez Gil said, outside military assistance may be needed to counter armed resistance that is likely to develop from radical pro-Maduro “colectivos” headed by Cuban advisers and linked with Colombian leftist guerrilla groups controlling vast chunks of Venezuelan territory.

Lopez Gil said a “reactivation” of guerrilla activity announced last week by FARC leader Ivan Marquez — who is based in Venezuela — is “highly worrying.”

Colombian security analyst Jose Marulanda Marin believes the effort to form a parallel government is likely to have “little effect,” but he worries about attempts to assassinate key participants who are now living in exile in Colombia. Those include former parliamentary speaker Julio Borges, who was named last week as foreign minister in the shadow cabinet.

U.S. coordination with the shadow government is being handled through a Venezuelan Affairs Unit (VAU) at the American Embassy in Colombia. The unit is directed by U.S. diplomats who were expelled from Venezuela after being accused of supporting coup plots last year.

“The VAU will continue to work for the restoration of democracy …the security and well-being of the Venezuelan people …interacting with the government of interim president Juan Guaido,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.

 

Afghan Forces Retake Taliban-Held Key District After 5 Years

Officials in Afghanistan Saturday announced that security forces have recaptured a key northeastern district from the Taliban after five years, as heavy clashes raged in provinces elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has intensified attacks even as its representatives are engaged in a fresh round of peace negotiations with the United States in Qatar for ending the 18-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest overseas military intervention.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said the fighting for renewed control over Wardoj in Badakhshan province killed about 100 Taliban insurgents, including their key commanders. It claimed Afghan security forces “carried out this operation successfully without sustaining any losses.”

The ministry asserted in its statement that the Taliban’s so-called shadow governor, Qari Fasihuddin, was among the dead. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied government claims, telling VOA that fighting was still raging in the district and rejected as “enemy propaganda” the claim that Fasihuddin had been killed. It was not possible to verify from independent sources claims made by either side.

Badakhshan borders three neighbors of Afghanistan, including China, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

The Taliban has, meanwhile, continued attacks in surrounding provinces of Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan, overrunning new territory and killing scores of government forces.

Afghan security forces take position during a battle with Taliban insurgents in Kunduz province, Afghanistan, Sept. 1, 2019.

Mujahid said in a statement Saturday that Taliban fighters have besieged Qala Zal district center in Kunduz a day after capturing nearby Khanabad district. He said the insurgents have also made advances in Baghlan’s capital, Pul-e-Khumri, tightening days of siege around the city.

Afghan officials have so far not offered any comments on Taliban battlefield claims.

Heavy fighting, meanwhile, has been raging in western Farah province near the Iranian border. Both Afghan officials and the Taliban have made conflicting claims about the ongoing fighting in the provincial capital, also named Farah.

On Thursday, a Taliban suicide car bomber attacked a foreign military convoy in the national capital of Kabul, killing more than a dozen people. An American soldier and a Romanian soldier were also among the dead, bringing the total number of U.S. military fatalities this year to 16.

Controversy over prospective peace deal

Taliban and American negotiators say they have drafted a framework agreement after nearly yearlong negotiations that could lead to withdrawal of all U.S.-led NATO troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees the Islamic insurgents will not allow transnational militant groups to use the country again for international terrorism.

The Taliban said Friday its negotiators have over the past two days held fresh meetings in Qatar with U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad accompanied by American commander of international forces, Army General Scott Miller, in Afghanistan.

FILE – U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad attends Afghan peace talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, July 8, 2019.

“Both meetings were positive and resulted in good progress,” said insurgent political spokesman Suhail Shaheen without discussing further details.

Shaheen told VOA “not a single soldier” from U.S. and NATO missions will stay in the country under the withdrawal timetable outlined in the framework agreement with American negotiators. In return, he said, the Taliban has promised not to allow anyone to use Afghan soil against other countries. Shaheen, however, would not disclose the deadline for foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.

Khalilzad told an Afghan television station earlier this week the deal finalized with the Taliban “in principle” will have to be approved by U.S. President Donald Trump before it is signed. The document, he said, would require 5,000 American troops to leave five Afghan bases within 135 days.

However, the Afghan-born American diplomat would not say when the residual roughly 8,600-member U.S. military force will withdraw from the country. He stressed that the Taliban will also be required to participate in intra-Afghan negotiations over a permanent ceasefire and the political future of the turmoil-hit country.

The Afghan government, however, has expressed serious reservations and concerns over the perspective U.S.-Taliban deal after Khalilzad discussed its “key details” with President Ashraf Ghani during his visit to Kabul earlier this week.

Presidential aide Waheed Omar told reporters Friday the government believes the framework agreement does not effectively bind the Taliban to abide by their commitments. He said Afghanistan needs a permanent, not temporary, peace to avert another war in the country. Omar did not elaborate further.

 

US Defense Delegation Travels to Pakistan Next Week

A high-level U.S. defense delegation is scheduled to visit Pakistan and Afghanistan next week.  Randall Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, made the announcement Thursday evening at the Pakistani embassy in Washington. Schriver, appointed to his current position by President Donald Trump in January 2018, attended the embassy’s annual celebration of Pakistan’s Defense Day.  
 
Shriver said his intent “and our team’s intent, is to be aspirational,” saying the parties will be “talking about where we can go in the future, how we can strengthen and improve cooperation, all the challenges notwithstanding.”
 
Shriver cited Pakistan’s contribution in several of the U.S.-led security initiatives, citing “the very important work in trying to achieve peace in Afghanistan,” as well as Pakistan’s participation in a maritime security initiative known as Combined Task Force 150, a multi-nation effort led by the United States designed to “deter, disrupt and defeat attempts by international terrorist organizations” that seek to use the maritime domain as venues for attack or as a means to transport personnel, weapons and other materials.  CTF 150 is based in Bahrain.

Randall Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, is seen in an official U.S. Defense Department photo.

 
While U.S. and Pakistan relations, including, if not especially, military relations, have been turbulent in recent years, both sides seemed ready to look at the positive as Schriver announced his plans to visit Islamabad.  Shriver cited “the shared sacrifices we’ve made as our two countries have been involved in the long war on terror,” adding “we have strong foundation for this relationship” and “we jealously guard our special role in this relationship between our defense establishments and our militaries; we think it is one of the strongest pillars in the foundation for this relationship.”
 
Schriver described ongoing negotiations with the Taliban as being “at a critical junction,” stating “we’re hopeful but we have not crossed the finish line yet,” adding “we appreciate everything Pakistan has done to get us to this point.”
 
For his part, Pakistani ambassador to the United States Asad M. Khan told VOA that “this will be the highest exchange on the defense side after the prime minister’s visit, it is significant; as the assistant secretary himself said, defense is a key pillar of the relationship; I’m sure his visit will provide a good opportunity to both sides to review where we stand on the defense relationship and what more can be done.”  Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan paid a high-profile visit to Washington and met with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in July.  Asked if Schriver would be meeting with Khan while in Islamabad, Khan replied that “I still don’t have all the details of the program; he’s an important visitor, we will try to get as many meetings as we can.”

FILE – President Donald Trump gestures as he greets Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan as he arrives at the White House, in Washington, July 22, 2019.

 Nolan Peterson, an incoming visiting fellow in unconventional warfare at the Heritage Foundation whose exclusive interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Afghanistan and Iran was published in The Daily Signal on Friday, told VOA in a phone interview that Schriver’s trip signals U.S. intention to stay engaged and maintain a strategic interest in the region even as talks are ongoing that could result in significant U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan.  
 
That interest, he said, also has to do with “not letting China have free reign” in the region as the latter seeks to deepen its footprint through the “One Belt, One Road” economic and strategic initiative.
 
Peterson also pointed out that although the United States has not openly taken sides on the tension between Pakistan and India surrounding the Kashmir region, Pakistan “is going to be excited about having any U.S. visits,” which he thinks will “certainly play in their favor.”  “Anytime a visiting U.S. official arrives in a country, countries like to use that as evidence that they’re being supported by the U.S.”
 
Ultimately, U.S. official visits to foreign capitals are designed to “keep us engaged and show the countries that we care,” Peterson said.
 
Pentagon officials told VOA that in addition to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Schriver will also be visiting Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on his trip next week.
 
Meanwhile, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson on Friday announced that China’s foreign minister Wang Yi will lead a delegation to Islamabad from September 7-10 for the third trilateral dialogue between China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as visits to Pakistan and Nepal.  Wang’s visit, the spokesperson said, is designed to further solidify bilateral friendship and mutual trust, and tighten the shared “common fate” between the two countries, including pushing for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to move forward “in a high quality manner.”

US House Panel to Vote on Parameters for Trump Impeachment Probe

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is planning to vote to determine the parameters for conducting an impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.

Politico first reported the development, saying its report was based on “multiple sources briefed on the discussions.”

The committee is expected to vote on the details next week.

A draft of the resolution is expected to be released Monday morning, according to Politico.

The article said Democrats are “hopeful that explicitly defining their impeachment inquiry will heighten their leverage to compel testimony from witnesses.”

It is doubtful, however, that the probe will lead to any charges against the president.

Articles of impeachment would have to be voted on by the full House and it is doubtful that the Republican Senate would vote to remove the president from office.  

Various legislative committees are looking into a number of matters concerning the president, including his failure to release his tax returns, his payment of hush money to stop embarrassing stories becoming public, and the spending of taxpayer money at the president’s hotels and properties.

 

Russia-Ukraine Prisoner Exchange Underway

A major prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine is underway — with multiple reports citing the transfer of prisoners out of Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison as well as the arrival of a Ukrainian state-emblemed plane to Vnukovo airport in the Russian capital Saturday morning.  

While the exact number, list, and timing of the exchange is not yet publicly known, the leaders of both countries have insisted a significant exchange was imminent in recent days.  

“We will finalize our talks on the exchange, and I think it will be rather large-scale,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin while addressing the issue at an economic forum in the far eastern city of Vladivostok on Thursday.  

“And also it will also be a good step forward toward the normalization” of relations, added Putin.

Putin’s comments followed Ukraine’s release of Volodymyr Tsemakh, a former commander of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, by a court in Kyiv on Thursday.  

The release was not without controversy: Ukrainian security services have identified Tsemakh as a key witness to the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over east Ukraine in July of 2014, killing all 298 people aboard.

Dutch prosecutors investigating the tragedy had urged the government in Kyiv to prevent Tsemakh’s extradition, saying he is “a person of interest” in their work.

Yet recently elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy came to power promising to bring Ukrainian prisoners in Russia home and end the conflict in East Ukraine.

In July, Putin and Zelenskiy held their first phone talks since the new Ukrainian leader took office.

At the time, a Kremlin spokesman said the two leaders discussed a stalled peace agreement for Ukraine’s Donbas region as well as the possibility of prisoner exchanges “from both sides.”

 

As Sudan Rebuilds Its Government, Flood Victims Rebuild Their Towns

KHARTOUM — As Sudan awaits formation of a new government following a landmark political deal, hundreds of thousands of houses across the country remain under water.

The rainy season, which causes the Nile to flood every year, hit particularly hard this year. And fuel shortages — the main motivation behind the initial protests last year which ousted longtime President Omar al Bashir — have continued to exacerbate the problem.

“The main issue is draining the water — the pump needs diesel all the time and there’s no diesel,” said Abdul el-Azzem Majid, a resident of the flooded Al Azoozab suburb of Khartoum.

“We need it more than — we can provide everything else but not the diesel,” said Majid.

People carry their belongings as they wade through flood waters near the River Nile, on the outskirts of Khartoum, Sudan, Sept. 2, 2019.

While the one pump functioning in Al Azoozab drains water out of the town, residents and volunteers fill sandbags in an attempt to reinforce a cracked barricade that, in previous years, had kept flooded Nile waters out of their homes.

According to U.N. numbers released last week, 62 people have been killed in the recent floods.  State news agency SUNA reported that 35,000 homes in 17 out of Sudan’s 18 states had been affected.

On Aug. 17, Sudan’s opposition coalition Forces for Freedom and Change signed a historic political agreement with members of the military. A prime minister and cabinet have been named, but the government is still forming a legislative body.

The power-sharing agreement calls for a three-year transitional period leading to elections for a civilian-led government.

As Sudan’s new government continues to settle, local aid organizations are unsure how and when state aid will be made available.

A bus is seen partially submerged in flood waters near the River Nile, on the outskirts of Khartoum, Sudan, Sept. 2, 2019.

“Sadly this happens every year — it’s a problem of infrastructure, city planning, and sanitation,” said Hassan Mustafa, a volunteer at local aid organization, Nafeer.

“Government intervention is still very slow,” he added. “Political turmoil has already affected the process, and as there’s no government formed yet, that also changes the situation.”

Nafeer, which means collective or community aid, is made up of volunteers who assess damage, collect water and medicine, and sometimes help evacuate victims out of affected areas.

Though Nafeer was created a few years ago, some victims like Mohamed Salah say that as the country waits for its legislative body to be formed in the wake of months of protests, the general sense of community in the country has increased.

“The political change that occurred had resulted in social change — we’ve seen a more collaborative approaches and an increase in younger volunteers as an alternative to our government,” Salah said, standing outside his flooded home as his wife and children look on from the top floor.

“They have been opposing the regime but they can fulfill the government’s role in its absence. The youth have done great work in this chapter of our history.”

American Values Shifting in a Big Way

The values that Americans view as important have shifted over the last two decades, as younger Americans place less significance on patriotism, religion and having children.

A recent poll shows that 42% of Millennials and Generation Z (ages of 18-38) view patriotism as “very important” compared to almost 79% of people over age 55. 

Hard work is the attribute all Americans value the most with 89% of respondents saying it’s a very important quality. Tolerance for others, financial security and self-fulfillment also topped the list.

Overall, about half of people — 48% — say religion is very important to them, down from 62 percent in 1998. While 67% of older Americans view religion or a belief in God as very important, just 30% of the younger group felt the same.   

Click on graphic to enlarge

When it comes to having children, 43% say it’s very important. That’s down from 20 years ago, when 59% of people said that becoming a parent was very important.

Forty percent of people say increasing diversity and tolerance of different cultures and races is a step forward, 14% see it as a step backward, while the biggest majority, 43%, say it is both a step forward and a step backward.  

Issues like religion and patriotism have traditionally been politically important. However, the changing views of the emerging generation suggest those topics might not be at the forefront in the coming years and politicians will have to adjust their platforms and strategies accordingly. 

The NBC News Wall Street Journal survey of 1,000 adults was conducted from August 10 to August 14.

Main photo courtesy of Flickr user Rob Briscoe via Creative Commons license.

 

House Democrats Probe Use of Taxpayer Money at Trump Hotels

House Democrats are demanding information on the use of taxpayer money at President Donald Trump’s hotels and properties, including during Vice President Pence’s trip this week to Doonbeg, Ireland. The push is part of an expanded effort this fall to investigate the president’s financial entanglements and business practices.

The House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees announced Friday that they sent a series of letters regarding “multiple efforts” by the president, vice president, and other Trump administration officials to spend taxpayer money at properties owned by Trump. They say the spending could violate the Constitution and bolster the case for Trump’s impeachment.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the spending is “of grave concern” to his committee, which is investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment to the full House. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said that his panel “does not believe that U.S. taxpayer funds should be used to personally enrich President Trump, his family, and his companies.”

FILE – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, prepares for a television interview at the Capitol in Washington, July 26, 2019.

The letters come after Pence stayed at Trump’s resort in Doonbeg , Ireland, this week. Doonbeg is on the other side of Ireland from Dublin, where he had meetings. The Democrats also sent letters to the White House and Secret Service about Trump’s suggestion earlier this month that his Miami-area golf course host next year’s Group of Seven summit with foreign leaders. The Democrats say those instances, among others, could violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans the president from taking gifts from foreign governments.

The push comes as Democrats are trying to keep public attention on their investigations of Trump. They have spent much of the year probing episodes detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. But lawmakers say they think the American public may have even more interest in Trump profiting off of his presidency as they weigh whether to move forward on impeachment.

“We have been focused on the Mueller report and that is a very small part of the overall picture,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the Judiciary panel. “We must get America focused on the ongoing violations against basic Constitutional principles.”

In addition to looking at Trump’s use of his properties, two House committees are continuing to investigate his relationship with banks with which he did business. And the Judiciary panel is also expected to investigate hush money payments that Trump paid to kill potentially embarrassing stories.

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, another Democrat on the Judiciary panel, says he believes that the misuse of public funds or financial corruption make Americans especially angry. And while people have heard a lot about the Mueller report, he says they may know less about the emoluments clause.

“I think you’ll see a lot more of that in the coming months,” Cicilline said.

 

Kansas’ Pompeo Could Swing Senate Race, but Will He Run?

Many attending U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s college lecture Friday in his home state of Kansas listened for clues about whether he might run for the Senate next year, though it could be many months before anyone finds out. 
 
Three Democrats and four Republicans are already actively running for the seat held by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who isn’t seeking a fifth term, and several others are expected to join them. Weeks after Pompeo said a run is “off the table,” though, he is still creating a buzz and looming over the race, as only he has enough name recognition and support among Kansas conservatives to afford to wait until next June’s filing deadline to decide. 
 
If he does run, Pompeo would enter the race as the favorite. 
 
“It’s the Pompeo decision, and then everything else trickles down,” said Joe Kildea, a vice president for the conservative interest group Club for Growth. 
 
Other candidates don’t have the luxury of waiting and the field is likely to grow, with GOP Representative Roger Marshall of western Kansas expected to announce his candidacy Saturday at the state fair. 

FILE – Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, right , Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, speaks Nov. 5, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Pompeo wasn’t expected to directly address the speculation about his interest in running during his speech Friday at Kansas State University, but that hasn’t stopped others from suggesting he’s the person for the job. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell identified Pompeo as his preferred candidate shortly after Roberts announced in January that he wasn’t seeking re-election. 
  
The GOP hasn’t lost a Senate race in Kansas since 1932, but many Republicans worry about a repeat of the governor’s race last year. Kris Kobach, a nationally known advocate of tough immigration policies, narrowly won a crowded primary, alienated moderates and lost to Democrat Laura Kelly. He launched his Senate campaign in July. 
 
For Kobach’s GOP detractors, Pompeo would solve their perceived problems. His entry would likely clear most of the Republican field, and GOP leaders believe Pompeo would have no trouble winning in November 2020, making it easier for Republicans to retain their Senate majority. 
 
And WDAF-TV reported that Kansas’ other senator, Republican Jerry Moran, told reporters Wednesday at a Kansas City-area event that he didn’t know Pompeo’s current thinking “but I wouldn’t be surprised if he entered that race.” 
  
Fellow Republicans concede that Pompeo, a former congressman and CIA director, has reasons not to run, including the prestige that comes with being the nation’s top diplomat. He’s currently dealing with weighty issues such as new sanctions on Iran from the Trump administration, a tariff war with China and questions about whether hopes for nuclear talks with North Korea are fading. 
 
“I think he can’t say that he’s wanting to run for Senate now,” said Tim Shallenburger, a former two-term state treasurer and Kansas Republican Party chairman. “He’s got to wait, and I think he can afford to wait.”  

FILE – Then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is pictured in Lenexa, Kan., June 8, 2017.

Kobach, who served as Kansas’ secretary of state but first built his national profile on immigration issues, has argued that as a Senate nominee, he’d benefit from the higher turnout that normally comes with a presidential election year and a greater focus on issues such as immigration. Some local Republican leaders agree and feel less anxious about Kobach’s possible nomination victory. 
 
Other GOP candidates include Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle; Dave Lindstrom, a Kansas City-area businessman and former Kansas City Chiefs player; and Bryan Pruitt, a conservative gay commentator. Also, Marshall has been flirting with running for months, and other potential Republican candidates include Alan Cobb, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and Matt Schlapp, the American Conservative Union’s president. 
 
The Democratic candidates with active campaigns are former federal prosecutor Barry Grissom, former Representative Nancy Boyda, and Usha Reddi, a city commissioner in the northeast Kansas city of Manhattan. 
 
Don Alexander, a manufacturing firm owner who is the GOP chairman in Neosho County in southeastern Kansas, said it’s early to be trying to size up the race, almost 11 months before the August 2020 primary. He said he and other Republicans trust Pompeo to “know where he’s needed most.” 

President’s support seen
 
“I’m sure the president doesn’t want him to leave,” said Helen Van Etten, a Republican National Committee member from Topeka. 
 
But Van Etten said comments from Pompeo that he’ll stay on as secretary of state as long as Trump will have him leave an “open door” for a Senate bid. 
  
Some Republicans, such as Alexander, take Pompeo at his word that he won’t run. Others, including Shallenburger, read Pompeo’s statements as meaning he isn’t interested right now but that he may reconsider if he doesn’t like how the race develops. 
 
“He can announce on the filing deadline and cause most of the people in there to get out,” Shallenburger said. 

Italy’s Salvini Bides His Time

Italy’s far-right populist Matteo Salvini has had his plans dashed to become the country’s prime minister. His poll numbers have dropped since he precipitated a political crisis, hoping he could engineer a snap election, win and emerge, in his words, with “full powers.”

But he has been out-maneuvered.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte arrives at Rome’s Quirinale Presidential Palace, Sept. 4, 2019.

Salvini had not expected the outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to emerge as a surprise rival. Nor that his erstwhile partners in a short-lived and troubled coalition government, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), would forge a deal with the left wing Democratic Party (PD) and agree on a replacement coalition midweek with Conte as the new prime minister.

But will the sidelined Salvini be denied for long?

His loyalists scoff at the idea that Il Capitano, as they nickname him, will be kept at bay for long. They say that the old-school political maneuvering by the PD and the M5S — once sworn enemies — has merely planted the seeds for his return.

As the new cabinet of seven women and 11 men was sworn in, Salvini, the leader of Lega Party, accused dark forces of being behind the formation of the new government, saying “strong powers” within Europe were behind the new coalition.

“It won’t last long,” he tweeted. “Opposition in parliament, in town halls and in the squares, then finally we will vote and win.”

Salvini says those who fear elections might escape a ballot for “three or six months,” but in the end will have to face a Lega that is ready to give Italy a “strong and coherent” government and not one manipulated by the elites or foreign governments. His loyalists lap up the bellicose language.

But Salvini populist threats aside, it is hard to see how the new government will be less troubled than its predecessor.

The marriage between the PD and M5S is not one made in heaven and it is not clear how long they can cohere to bring some respite to the political drama. The one thing they have in common is fear of Matteo Salvini and a determination to halt the momentum Salvini, still the country’s most popular politician, has been building electorally thanks partly to his adeptness in dominating news cycles.

M5S, founded by the quirky comic and blogger Beppo Grillo, built much of its success at the expense of the PD and has focused especially on the traditional strongholds of the left in the country’s so-called Red Belt across central Italy and in the south. Until this week it has gone out of its way to humiliate the PD, linking it tirelessly to corruption and cronyism and accusing it of being out of touch with the working class.

And for months, PD leaders have said they would never enter a coalition government with the M5S.

Vincenzo Amendola, left, shakes hands with Italian President Sergio Mattarella as he is sworn in as Italy’s European affairs minister during a ceremony in Rome, Sept. 5, 2019.

A coalition between the two risks being another oddball alliance paralyzed by internal disputes, warn analysts. While the PD is pro-European Union, M5S is skeptical and at one time wanted to ditch the Euro currency, although it has now agreed with the PD to tone down its criticism of the EU. The new EU affairs minister, Vincenzo Amendola, a PD member, said, “the parties in this government will do their utmost not to quarrel with Brussels, not to have pointless fights or rows.”

The new government — it still has to win confirming votes next in the Italian parliament — will only have a slender majority in Italy’s upper house, the Senate, and that could cause major problems for the new coalition, say analysts, especially when it comes to sensitive legislation.

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio attends the new cabinet’s first meeting at Chigi Palace in Rome, Sept. 5, 2019.

But the idea of a watching and waiting Salvini, who is ready to pounce, has lost some of his sheen. His triggering the crisis that led to his exclusion from the corridors of power was a strategic misstep for the normally sure-footed tactician, who throughout the 14-month-long coalition he served in as deputy prime minister was credited with catching his partner and rival Luigi Di Maio of the M5S, off guard, artfully using social media to do so.

Ambition and ebullience got the better of him, say commentators. And his rising poll numbers may have gone to his head: his far-right League party in Italy was nearing 39 percent in the opinion polls when he announced his party could no longer serve in government with the M5S. The Lega has dropped six percent in the past few days.

He now will be forced into “waiting for a mistake by the new majority,” said Massimiliano Panarari, a politics professor at Luiss University in Rome. Italian publisher and commentator Alberto Castelvecchi, says he said an election has just been delayed. “The question is not if we go to elections, but when and how,” he said.

The biggest surprise is that he was out-maneuvered by Giuseppe Conte, a relatively unknown lawyer who was plucked from obscurity to head the Lega-M5S government.

Outside of government another danger looms for Salvini. Milanese prosecutors probing allegations that the Lega party solicited covert Russian funding are likely to redouble their investigative efforts. Salvini shrugged off the accusations when they surfaced earlier this year, stepping up the tempo and fervor of his anti-migrant broadsides in rallies and on his social media sites, linking migration to crime and to joblessness and warning of threats to Italy’s traditional Christian culture.

Other legal challenges could wound the Lega leader.

On Thursday Salvini was placed under investigation by prosecutors in Rome on suspicion of defaming Carola Rackete, the German captain of the NGO rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, who broke a naval blockade imposed by Salvini to land rescued migrants at Lampedusa. The inquiry follows a complaint filed by Rackete in July in which the ship’s captain claimed Salvini defamed her and sought to stoke hatred against her.