Special Briefing: How Trump, Boris and Bibi All Ended Up on the Ropes

Why you should care

Because the moment of truth may have arrived.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? What a difference a week can make. Accusing President Donald Trump of violating the U.S. Constitution by seeking help from a foreign leader to tarnish a political opponent, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that the House of Representatives would finally launch an impeachment inquiry against him. A transcript released early Wednesday by the White House confirmed Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden — and offered U.S. assistance. Meanwhile, Great Britain’s Supreme Court has slapped down Boris Johnson’s attempt to disband Parliament to strengthen his Brexit hand. And Israel’s Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is struggling to form a power-sharing agreement with rival Benny Gantz, after Israeli voters dealt him a blow in elections last week.

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U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the media at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019

Source Getty Images

Why does it matter? While not the end by any stretch, these are turning points for each of these disruptive leaders who have captured the world’s attention. Trump probably has the best staying power of the three, as the chances of the Republican-run Senate removing him from office are remote, but the episode could prove highly damaging to his re-election next year. Meanwhile Johnson, who could face a no-confidence vote, and Netanyahu, who has his own corruption investigation nipping at his heels, are on the brink. Leaders for whom a rule-breaking attitude has worked so far are now facing simultaneous pushback — not from new movements, but from time-tested institutions and mechanisms of democracy.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Courts still matter … Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks — which was seen as a way to force through his own vision for Brexit — was “unlawful, void and of no effect.” That dealt a major blow to his two-month-old premiership, and while rushing back from the U.N. General Assembly in New York after the verdict, Johnson said he disagreed “profoundly” with the court. But his opponents have smelled blood: His chances of securing any Brexit deal by an Oct. 19 deadline stand severely diminished, experts say, meaning he could face a no-confidence vote. Now it’s clear that Johnson’s political gambit, widely criticized as tampering with democracy, has seriously backfired.

… and so do voters. In Israel, meanwhile, Netanyahu also faces what could be the most serious political challenge of his three-decade career. The country’s longest-serving prime minister was punished during last week’s elections when voters gave the opposition Blue and White Party one more seat. Netanyahu, whose hard-line rule has yanked Israel decisively  away from searching for a two-state solution with the Palestinians, is a master at coalition building. But this time, his only chance at political survival is to strike a deal with Blue and White. And it gets worse: Failure to stay in power could expose Netanyahu to prosecution for major corruption charges.

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Johnson’s decision to shut down Parliament amid the Brexit crisis has been deemed “unlawful, void and of no effect,” by the British Supreme Court.

Source Getty Images

But what about Congress? The White House this morning released a transcript of the call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — based on Situation Room notes and not a verbatim account — which shows Trump saying “I would like you to do us a favor” right after Zelensky brings up buying more Javelin missiles from the U.S. The favor? Trump’s meandering ask is hard to follow, but involves investigating the firm CrowdStrike, which connected the 2016 hack of Democratic National Committee servers to Russia. Trump then goes on to ask Zelensky about investigating Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, saying he’ll have both Attorney General Bill Barr and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani talk to Zelensky further. Department of Justice officials told reporters that they had reviewed the July 25 call and determined that Trump didn’t commit a crime because help with a government investigation wasn’t a “thing of value” to his campaign. Next up in the nascent impeachment probe, Congress is demanding to see the full whistleblower report that started this whole affair, and likely have the whistleblower testify. The aim is to get to the bottom of how a request for dirt on a political foe played into Trump’s decision to hold up nearly $400 million in taxpayer-funded military aid to Ukraine.

WHAT TO READ

Inside Trumpworld, Public Defiance vs. Private Anxiety Over Impeachment, by Nancy Cook in Politico

“The White House is betting Trump can ride out this ‘outrage du jour,’ as one senior administration official called it, and move on just as he has skated through the release of the Mueller Report … and dozens of other threats to his presidency.”

Democrats’ Double Standard on Ukraine, by Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post

“So, it’s okay for Democratic senators to encourage Ukraine to investigate Trump, but it’s not okay for the president to allegedly encourage Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden?”

WHAT TO WATCH

Supreme Court Ruling: What Now for Boris Johnson?

“His position is untenable, and he should have the guts for once to do the decent thing and resign.”

Watch on BBC Newsnight on YouTube:

How Likely Are Lawmakers to Actually Vote to Impeach President Donald Trump?

“Right now… there’s enough wiggle room for Donald Trump to continue spinning this.”

Watch on MSNBC on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Call waiting. Impeachment inquiries can often go in unexpected directions: Remember Ken Starr’s probe of Bill Clinton started out with Whitewater land deals and ended up with Monica Lewinsky. Are there other world leaders beyond Zelensky who had troubling conversations with Trump, and how much of those will come out?

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