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Democratic lawmakers alarmed by Open Skies Treaty pullout

Democratic lawmakers alarmed by Open Skies Treaty pullout
  • The White House’s abandonment of the Open Skies Treaty was widely condemned by Democratic lawmakers and national security experts.
  • Michael Hayden, a retired US Air Force general and former National Security Agency director, described it as “insane.”
  • Countries that sign the treaty can conduct short-notice observational flights over other signatories to verify the status of each other’s military forces, but the US has accused Russia of restricting its access.
  • Some Republicans applauded the withdrawal and called it a “positive step to end America’s dependence on dysfunctional and broken treaties.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The White House’s move to abandon the Open Skies Treaty, an agreement with European allies and Russia, was widely condemned on Thursday by Democratic lawmakers and national security experts.

The State Department announced it would submit its notice of withdrawal, which starts a six-month countdown until “the United States will no longer be a party” to the treaty with 34 countries that includes Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Netherlands, and Norway. All of these countries can conduct short-notice observational flights over other signatories to verify the status of each other’s military forces, but the US has accused Russia of restricting its access.

Democratic lawmakers from the House Armed Services Committee described the move as “a slap in the face to our allies in Europe” that would leave “our deployed forces in the region at risk”

“This decision weakens our national security interests, isolates the United States since the Treaty will continue without us, and abandons a useful tool to hold Russia accountable,” Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the committee’s chairman, and Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee said in a joint statement.

The lawmakers added that the decision was made without any consultation with Congress and in “blatant violation” of a federal law that requires the Trump administration to signal its intent to withdraw at a minimum of 120 days beforehand.

“This is insane. I was the director of CIA,” Michael Hayden, a retired US Air Force general and former National Security Agency director, said in a tweet.

The 1992 Open Skies Treaty was initially signed by the US, Russia, and 22 other countries in an effort to promote security transparency among nations. Countries that are part of the treaty must notify other nations 72 hours in advance of missions to conduct an observational flight for security-related assurances. The host country has one day to respond.

Tupolev Tu 154M Russia Spy Plane

A Russian Tupolev Tu-154M.


Alexander Mishin



In 2019, a Russian Tu-154 aircraft conducted an observational mission over Great Falls, Montana, and took aerial photographs for several days. The year prior, the US also flew a plane over Ukrainian territory as part of the treaty.

There has been tension between the US and Russia over claims from both countries that the other is violating the treaty.

In 2018, Russian officials accused the US of violating the spirit of the agreement by not approving its aircraft to conduct observational missions, according to Defense News. Russian media outlets also said the US had withdrawn from the treaty, which US officials denied.

The US, in turn, has accused Russia of restricting its flight access. US officials previously accused Russia of violating the treaty by restricting flights in Kaliningrad, a heavily militarized area that is home to short-range missiles.

The State Department said in its statement on Thursday that it may “reconsider our withdrawal” if Russia returned to “full compliance” with the treaty.

“For years, Russia has used the Open Skies Treaty to collect intelligence on civilian infrastructure and other sensitive sites in America, posing an unacceptable risk to our national security,” William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the outspoken supporters of the US withdrawal, described it as a “positive step to end America’s dependence on dysfunctional and broken treaties.”

“The Open Skies Treaty started life as a good-faith agreement between major powers and died an asset of Russian intelligence,” Cotton said in a statement. “For Mr. Putin, the treaty was just another scheme to snatch a military and surveillance advantage over the US and NATO.”

Proponents of the treaty have argued that the flights provide the US and its allies, who do not have the same surveillance capabilities, valuable information about Russian military activities.

“Today’s announcement is part of a troubling pattern,” Arms Control Association Director Daryl Kimball said. “The Open Skies Treaty is not the first and may not be the last nuclear- or conflict-risk reduction agreement this administration has withdrawn from without a viable strategy for replacement.”

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Ex-Marine wins Democratic primary for Joe Kennedy III’s seat

Jake Auchincloss has won a packed primary to become the Democratic nominee in the race to fill the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Joe Kennedy III in Massachusetts. The Newton city councilor, a former Marine, edged out six other Democratic candidates in the crowded field for the open 4th Congressional District – a…

Ex-Marine wins Democratic primary for Joe Kennedy III’s seat

Jake Auchincloss has won a packed primary to become the Democratic nominee in the race to fill the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Joe Kennedy III in Massachusetts.

The Newton city councilor, a former Marine, edged out six other Democratic candidates in the crowded field for the open 4th Congressional District – a contest that took until early Friday to decide because of a deluge of mailed-in ballots that overwhelmed several cities and towns.

Nearly 1 million voters, skittish over the coronavirus pandemic, used the mail option for Tuesday’s primary. A state judge late Wednesday had approved a petition from Secretary of State Bill Galvin asking for more time for cities and towns to complete their vote tallies.

After graduating from Harvard College in 2010, Auchincloss served as a captain in the U.S. Marines. He commanded infantry in Afghanistan in 2012 and led an anti-narcotics platoon in Panama in 2014. He was elected to the Newton City Council in 2015. He also worked at a cybersecurity startup and as a senior manager at Liberty Mutual’s innovation lab.

Auchincloss, a moderate, was also briefly registered as a Republican in part of 2013 and 2014 while he worked to help elect GOP Gov. Charlie Baker – a background his primary rivals had publicly questioned.

He listed among his priorities making “health care a right, not a job perk,” protecting reproductive rights and combating the pollution that causes climate change. During the campaign, Auchincloss also said he wanted to help rebuild the country that sent his grandfather – “a poor Jewish kid” – to college during WWII.

Auchincloss narrowly defeated fellow Democrats Jesse Mermell, Becky Grossman, Alan Khazei, Natalia Linos, Isshane Leckey, Ben Sigel and Chris Zannetos.

State law allows campaigns to ask for recounts in specific precincts or city wards, and it wasn’t immediately clear if Mermell, a former aide to ex-Gov. Deval Patrick, would pursue that option. She had until Friday to decide, and Auchincloss held an unofficial 1,800-vote advantage, or just under 1.2%.

Kennedy opted not to seek reelection so he could challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Edward Markey in the Senate Democratic primary, but lost that bid Tuesday, becoming the first member of the Kennedy political dynasty to lose a congressional race in Massachusetts.

Auchincloss will face Republican Julie Hall, an Air Force veteran who defeated David Rosa on the GOP ticket Tuesday, in the Nov. 3 general election for the right to represent the heavily Democratic district.

The district winds from the Boston suburbs of Newton and Brookline south through Attleboro, Taunton and Fall River.

The few other members of Massachusetts’ all-Democratic congressional delegation who had faced primary opponents – Reps. Richard Neal, Stephen Lynch and Seth Moulton – all breezed through Tuesday’s runoff.

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6 Minnesota Democratic mayors endorse Trump, slam Biden as ‘out of touch’

Six Democratic mayors from Minnesota’s Iron Range endorsed President Trump’s reelection Friday, signing an open letter that praised the president as a champion for working-class people and slammed Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden as “out of touch.” “Today, we don’t recognize the Democratic Party,” the mayors wrote. “It has been moved so far to the…

6 Minnesota Democratic mayors endorse Trump, slam Biden as ‘out of touch’

Six Democratic mayors from Minnesota’s Iron Range endorsed President Trump’s reelection Friday, signing an open letter that praised the president as a champion for working-class people and slammed Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden as “out of touch.”

“Today, we don’t recognize the Democratic Party,” the mayors wrote. “It has been moved so far to the left it can no longer claim to be advocates of the working class. The hard-working Minnesotans that built their lives and supported their families here on the Range have been abandoned by radical Democrats. We didn’t choose to leave the Democratic Party, the party left us.”

“Lifelong politicians like Joe Biden are out of touch with the working class, out of touch with what the country needs, and out of touch with those of us here on the Iron Range and in small towns like ours across our nation,” the mayors wrote.

The mayors included Chris Swanson of Two Harbors, John Champa of Chisholm, Larry Cuffe of Virginia, Chuck Novak of Ely, Robert Vlaisavljevich of Eveleth, and Andrea Zupancich of Babbitt.

The letter coincided with a visit Friday by Vice President Mike Pence to the Clure Public Marine Terminal in Duluth, where Mr. Swanson and Mr. Cuffe joined Mr. Pence onstage outside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection warehouse.

“There’s many people in northern Minnesota who truly are Republicans,” Mr. Swanson said, describing a blurring of what had once been solid Democrat country, the Duluth News Tribune reported. “They truly understand what’s going on.”

“Joe Biden did nothing to help the working class,” Mr. Cuffe said, the newspaper reported.

“I’m seeing people come our way every single day,” Mr. Pence reportedly told the crowd.

The president and vice president also thanked the mayors on Twitter.

Trump Lands Major Endorsements From Democrat Mayors in Minnesota https://t.co/ZmZgqwlimn Thank you so much. I will never let you down!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2020

Thank you, Mayor Larry Cuffe, Mayor John Champa, Mayor Chuck Novak, Mayor Chris Swanson, Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich and Mayor Andrea Zupancich! https://t.co/ERahtLHeny
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) August 28, 2020

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Democratic Party platform includes federal judiciary overhaul, court-packing agenda

Liberal activists made an overhaul of the federal judiciary, including court-packing, part of the 2020 platform adopted this week at the Democratic National Convention. The platform’s call for “structural court reforms” is short on specifics, but advocacy groups have begun recruiting liberal judicial candidates for a court-packing agenda in a potential Biden administration next year.…

Democratic Party platform includes federal judiciary overhaul, court-packing agenda

Liberal activists made an overhaul of the federal judiciary, including court-packing, part of the 2020 platform adopted this week at the Democratic National Convention.

The platform’s call for “structural court reforms” is short on specifics, but advocacy groups have begun recruiting liberal judicial candidates for a court-packing agenda in a potential Biden administration next year.

Every president appoints federal judges to fill vacancies, but liberal activists have lobbied for years to expand the number of federal judges when Democrats take the White House, enabling them to tilt the federal bench markedly to the left.

In 2016, the Democratic Party platform made a fleeting reference to the federal judiciary. It said Democrats would install judges defending “liberty and equality for all,” particularly on the issues of abortion and billionaires’ purported influence over elections.

Buckling under pressure from liberal activists, who are furious about President Trump’s 200-plus judicial appointments, Democratic Party officials incorporated the court-packing agenda.

“Since 1990, the United States has grown by one-third, the number of cases in federal district courts has increased by 38 percent, federal circuit court filings have risen by 40 percent, and federal cases involving a felony defendant are up 60 percent, but we have not expanded the federal judiciary to reflect this reality in nearly 30 years,” reads the 2020 platform document. “Democrats will commit to creating new federal district and circuit judgeships consistent with recommendations from the Judicial Conference.”

Liberal activists celebrated the Democrats’ commitment to creating more judgeships as the party establishment finally accepted calls for court-packing.

Brian Fallon, executive director of liberal judicial advocacy group Demand Justice, labeled the move a “historic call” and took credit on Twitter for helping to push Democrats to the left on efforts to pack the federal judiciary.

Mr. Fallon, who was a top aide to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, called for expanding the Supreme Court and other federal courts and led attacks on Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court in 2018.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris, the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee, is a close ally of Mr. Fallon and has rallied with him in opposition to Mr. Trump’s judicial picks.

To ensure that the liberal court-packing agenda does not disappear after the convention and coming elections, the liberal activists at Alliance for Justice have developed a “Building the Bench” initiative focused on creating a leftist farm system of judges for a Democratic president to use.

“It is painfully obvious that Republicans weaponize the courts to do their dirty work in an attempt to dismantle health care protections, civil rights and more,” Nan Aron, Alliance for Justice founder, said in a statement. “With any future legislation that strengthens access to healthcare or civil rights, Republicans will again turn to this dirty trick, so any progressive agenda must prioritize the judiciary to safeguard this progress. Our Building the Bench initiative is identifying and assisting in the confirmation of judges under the next administration who will serve the cause of justice for all people, not just the wealthy and powerful.”

The group’s efforts are being guided by a council led by lawyers from law schools such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford, from large law firms such as Arnold & Porter, and from the activist community including the Transformative Justice Coalition.

The Building the Bench initiative is “prioritizing demographic diversity” and promises to “help prospective judicial nominees navigate their way through the process.”

While presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden has pledged to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court whenever a seat opens, liberal activists also want Mr. Biden to remake the demographics of the federal bench.

Alliance for Justice’s activists are concerned that the courts will not always be front-and-center during the party’s national convention this week. The convention’s largely virtual format makes it more difficult for liberal activists to pressure Democratic Party leaders, so the group is organizing its grassroots activists on social media around #CourtsMatter to show that liberals care about the issue.

Courts have recently mattered more to conservative voters. President Trump leveraged the politics of the federal judiciary and a Supreme Court vacancy to win over skeptical conservatives in 2016.

Mike Davis, president of the conservative Article III Project that supports Mr. Trump’s judicial picks, said he is considering buying ads that point out the Democratic Party Platform. The left’s “radical court-packing scheme” would motivate Mr. Trump’s base for the November election, he said.

“Republicans need to see, and maybe the Democratic platform will do it, that there is a clear threat to a conservative majority on the [Supreme] Court,” Mr. Davis said. “Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s vice-presidential pick, has endorsed a radical scheme to add at least two more justices to the nine on the Supreme Court, something that even [President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] failed to accomplish and now the Biden-Harris ticket is explicitly endorsing court-packing in their platform.”

With no current Supreme Court vacancy, pro-Trump conservatives have gossiped that one of the justices appointed by a Republican president may retire soon in hopes that such fears will galvanize conservatives. Fears of a liberal court-packing scheme, however, may prove to be a more potent argument for conservatives this year.

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