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U.S. Election Heats Up After Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death opens a new battleground in the U.S. election, Trump approves Oracle-Walmart deal to buy into TikTok, and Thai protesters take protests to the king’s doorstep.

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Trump Expected to Name a Replacement in the Coming Days

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday while undergoing treatment for cancer, leading to an outpouring of grief but instantly opening a new battleground in an already intense political fight between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden less than two months before the country’s presidential election. As Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh wrote, Ginsburg’s “replacement could crucially tilt the court” toward either its conservative or liberal wing.

Controversy awaits. With fewer than 50 days until the election, the timing of Ginsburg’s death leaves little time to complete the often long and cumbersome nomination process. There are also questions over how Senate Republicans will handle the situation. Republicans controversially blocked former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, Merrick Garland, arguing that a president shouldn’t have the power to appoint a new Supreme Court justice in an election year. 

Nothing guaranteed. Leading Republicans have already backtracked on the logic they used to block Garland, signaling that they will facilitate the nomination process once Trump selects a replacement. But with a small 53-47 majority in the 100-member Senate, Democrats would only need four Republicans to vote against Trump’s pick to push the appointment until after the election.

Wavering support. Two key Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, have already said that the decision to appoint a new justice should wait until after the election. “In fairness to the American people … the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd,” Collins said in a statement on Saturday.

On the docket. Trump is expected to nominate Ginsburg’s replacement in the coming days, and he has confirmed that he will choose a woman. “It will be a woman—a very talented, very brilliant woman,” Trump said at a campaign rally in North Carolina.

Justice-in-waiting? One of the names being floated as a frontrunner is Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the U.S. court of appeals for the seventh circuit. Barrett is popular among religious conservatives due in part to her strong Catholic faith, but pro-choice activists have raised concerns that she could help overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

In 2018, while considering his selection to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, Trump reportedly told several people that he’s “saving [Barrett] for Ginsburg.”


The World This Week

September 21. EU foreign ministers meet to discuss a variety of issues, including the ongoing crisis in Belarus.

September 21. Trump is set to speak at the U.N. General Assembly.

September 21. Washington is expected to announce plans on how to enforce “snapback” sanctions on Iran.

September 21-25. Brexit negotiations continue between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

September 21-26. Russia hosts the Caucasus 2020 military exercises.

September 22. The General Debate begins at the U.N. General Assembly.

September 24-25. EU leaders host a special summit on the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean.


What We’re Following Today

TikTok survives. U.S. President Donald Trump has granted approval “in concept” to a bid by Oracle and Walmart to buy a share of the popular video-sharing app TikTok from the Chinese tech company ByteDance, preventing the app’s ban in the United States, which was due to go into effect on Sunday.

Last week, Oracle and ByteDance agreed to enter into a “technical partnership” in relation to TikTok, giving Oracle and WalMart a 20 percent minority stake in the app but leaving ByteDance as the majority owner. According to Forbes, “Oracle will serve as TikTok’s ‘secure cloud technology provider’ and Walmart will be a commercial partner.” The companies agreed late last week to a series of terms laid out by the U.S. Treasury aimed at mitigating Washington’s national security concerns.

Trump was reportedly skeptical of the agreement at first, but the decision to restructure TikTok’s U.S. operations under companies headquartered in the United States seems to have satisfied his misgivings. ByteDance will continue to own a majority stake in the new company, TikTok Global.

Far-right gaining ground in Italy. Italian voters are going to the polls in the country’s first election since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s popularity has dipped in recent weeks as his government has struggled to tackle issues such as the reopening of schools and the country’s continued economic woes. The local elections are a crucial test for his governing coalition.

A right-wing coalition led by a candidate from the far-right Brothers of Italy party is expected to notch a victory in the region of Marche, bringing more than two decades of left-wing rule in the area to an end. Strong performances by other far-right candidates are expected across the country.

Airstrikes kill civilians in Afghanistan. The Afghan government launched a series of airstrikes in the Taliban-controlled village of Sayed Ramazan in the northern Kunduz province, killing 24 people and wounding six others. Witnesses told the Associated Press that most of those killed were civilians, but the Afghan defense ministry claimed that it killed 30 Taliban militants. This violence has occurred against the backdrop of the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar. 

A wave of killings across Afghanistan has been linked to the Taliban in recent days and weeks, and the United Nations’ top official in Afghanistan warned that continued violence in the country threatens to undermine the still fragile peace process.


Keep an Eye On 

Protesters take grievances to king’s doorstep in Thailand. Thousands of protesters in Thailand marched to the king’s palace on Sunday to make new demands for limits on his power, marking a dramatic escalation of the country’s months-long political crisis. Demonstrators laid a plaque near King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s official residence reading “This country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us,” before delivering a letter to a police commissioner outside the privy council expressing their demands. The move is considered especially daring in part because authorities have traditionally resorted to draconian measures to punish challenges to the power of the Thai monarchy.

Protests against the monarchy have gripped the country since February, with demonstrators calling for fresh elections and a new constitution that would put serious limits on the powers of the monarchy.

Opposition growing in the Ivory Coast. The political crisis in the Ivory Coast is escalating as opposition leaders have called for the public to engage in acts of civil disobedience to block President Alassane Ouattara’s bid for a third term. Critics of Ouattara, who was first elected president in 2010, argue that his candidacy violates the two-term limit set in the country’s constitution. His supporters, however, contend that Ouattara’s term count was reset because the constitution was ratified in 2016, after he took office.

Protests against Ouattara have gripped the country since last month, leaving more than 12 people dead and raising concerns that next month’s presidential election could plunge the country into another deadly civil war.


Odds and Ends

Russian expansionism goes extraterrestrial. Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of the Russian state-owned space company Roscosmos, called Venus “a Russian planet,” and that “resuming Venus exploration is on our agenda.” The surprise statement came during an announcement that Moscow plans to send an independent space mission to Venus, in addition to another one planned with the United States, potentially expanding the new space race to Earth’s nearest neighbor.

Researchers said last week that they have detected the gas phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere, a byproduct of some microbial organisms on Earth that live in oxygen-starved environments, leading scientists to believe that it could be a sign of life on Venus.


That’s it for today. 

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