Biden willing to ‘compromise’ on US border policy as Senate Republicans block Ukraine aid

As Senate Republicans blocked the advance of tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance for Ukraine Wednesday, President Joe Biden berated their tactics as “stunning” and dangerous. Yet he also signaled an openness to what GOP lawmakers ultimately want: border policy changes.

Biden at the White House warned of dire consequences for Kyiv – and a “gift” to Russia’s Vladimir Putin – if Congress fails to pass a $110 billion package of wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel as well as other national security priorities. Hours later, Senate Republicans defiantly voted to stop the package from advancing, something that they had threatened to do all week.

“They’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process,” Biden said.

But even as he lashed Republicans for their stance, Biden stressed that he is willing to “make significant compromises on the border,” if that’s what it takes to get the package through Congress. 

That statement has raised at least some hope that progress can be made in the days ahead as the Senate grinds through negotiations on border security, one of the most fraught issues in American politics. Biden’s remarks Wednesday were his clearest overture yet to Republicans and came at a critical time, with a path through Congress for the emergency funds rapidly disappearing and America’s support for multiple allies in doubt.

“If we don’t support Ukraine, what is the rest of the world going to do?” Biden added.

The president’s statement came hours after he huddled virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and leaders of the Group of Seven advanced democracies, which have staunchly supported Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

“We need to fix the broken border system. It is broken,” Biden said, adding that he’s ”ready to change policy as well.” He did not name specific policy proposals and accused Republicans of wanting a political issue more than bipartisan compromise.

Sen. James Lankford, the Oklahoma Republican who has been leading Senate negotiations over border policy, was encouraged by what he heard, saying it seemed like the president is “ready to be able to sit down and talk.”

Senators of both parties acknowledged they will need to move quickly if a deal is to be struck. Congress is scheduled to be in Washington for just a handful more days before the end of the year. The White House, meanwhile, has sounded the alarm about what would happen if they don’t approve more funding soon, saying Ukraine’s military would be stalled, or even overrun. 

“When deadlines come, everybody’s undivided attention is there and we realize: ’OK. Now it’s time to actually solve this,’” Lankford said.

Democrats involved in the negotiations also said a direct hand from the president, as well as from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, could be helpful.

“This kind of thorny, difficult problem is exactly what Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell have worked on before. And we could use their help and their leadership on this,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., another negotiator. 

So far, McConnell, while an ardent supporter of Ukraine aid, has sided with Republicans who are holding firm against the security package unless it includes changes to America’s border policies. Every Republican voted against it advancing Wednesday evening.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the failed test vote a “a sad night in the history of the Senate and our country.” He urged Republicans to present a border proposal that is “serious, instead of the extreme policies they have presented thus far.”

Republican negotiators were expected to send a new proposal to Democrats after the failed vote. 

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been involved in the negotiations, said the Republicans’ hard-charging bargain left little room for agreement and he remained skeptical that a deal can be struck.

“They have to figure out whether they want to negotiate or whether they want to make take-it-or-leave-it demands,” Murphy said.

Republicans argue the record numbers of migrants crossing the southern border pose a security threat because border authorities cannot adequately screen them. They also say they cannot justify to their constituents sending billions of dollars to other countries while failing to address the border at home.

So far, senators have found agreement on raising the initial standard for migrants to enter the asylum system. But they’ve been at odds over placing limitations on humanitarian parole, a program that allows the executive branch to temporarily admit migrants without action from Congress. 

But Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said the Senate talks were “never going to be able to negotiate the kind of meaningful substantive policy changes” that Republicans want. He called Biden’s remarks “positive” and said the negotiations should next include the president, McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson.

The president’s willingness to directly engage on the issue comes at a political risk. Immigrant advocates and some Democratic senators have sounded alarm about curtailing the asylum system. 

Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat who led a statement with 10 other senators last month calling for an increase in legal immigration to be included in negotiations, said he would be watching closely what Biden agrees to on border security.

“Devil’s in the details,” Padilla said, adding that the direction of the Senate talks have been “concerning from day one.”

Even if the president and senators somehow find a way forward on border security, any agreement would face significant obstacles in the House. Hardline conservatives who control the chamber have vowed to block it unless it tacks to a broad set of forceful border and immigration policies.

Johnson, who as speaker has already expressed deep skepticism of funding for Ukraine, has signaled he won’t support the aid package if it does not adhere to H.R. 2, a bill that would remake the U.S. immigration system with conservative priorities. 

“The American people deserve nothing less.” Johnson said in a statement.


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Essequibo referendum: Is Venezuela about to seize part of Guyana?

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is organising a referendum on Sunday to decide whether to create a new state in the Essequibo territory, an area currently under the control of neighbouring Guyana. Does Caracas have the means for its territorial ambitions, or is it just political grandstanding?

On December 3, Venezuelans vote for or against the creation of a new Venezuelan state in the Essequibo region. In the eyes of Venezuelan authorities, it is a “consultative” referendum designed to put an end to over 200 years of territorial conflict. 

However, there is one big problem: the land Venezuela wants to potentially extend control over is recognised by the international community as a part of neighbouring Guyana – a sparsely populated country with some 800,000 inhabitants.

The issue has become an obsession for populist President Nicolas Maduro, who often repeats the phrase “El Essequibo es Nuestro” [The Essequibo is ours] in his speeches.

Among four other questions, the referendum asks citizens whether they favour “the creation of the Essequibo state and the development of an accelerated plan for comprehensive care for the current and future population of that territory”.

The outcome of the vote is hardly in doubt according to French daily Le Monde, which reported Thursday that the referendum “will take place without observers” and that no one dared to campaign for the “no” vote.

This situation is causing concern for Guyana’s leaders. Caracas is threatening to deprive its eastern neighbour of more than half of its territory and to make the approximately 200,000 inhabitants of Essequibo Venezuelan citizens.

“The long-term consequences of this referendum could be Venezuela’s de facto annexation of a region which covers 160,000 square kilometers, a significant portion of Guyana [215,000 km²],” says Annette Idler, associate professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford and a specialist in international security.

On top of significant gold, diamond, and aluminium deposits, the Essequibo has become an offshore paradise for oil and gas interests. Since Exxon discovered hydrocarbon deposits off the coast, black gold has given an unprecedented boost to the economy, raising Guyana’s GDP by no less than 62 percent in 2022.

© Guillermo Rivas Pachecor, Paz Pizarro, Jean-Michel Corbu, Patricio Arana, AFP

Writing in 2015, an American specialist in Latin America, Jose de Arimateia da Cruz, argued the discovery of these underwater oil reserves “strengthened Venezuela’s determination to support its territorial claims on this region”.

The Venezuelan government has been particularly angered by Exxon’s choice to negotiate exclusively with the Guyanese government, suggesting that the US oil giant recognised Guyana’s sovereignty over these waters and the Essequibo region.

A territorial dispute dating back to 1811

The territorial dispute over Essequibo dates back to the colonial era. In 1811, when Venezuela proclaimed its independence, it believed the region was part of its territory. Despite the claims, the United Kingdom, which occupied the territory of present-day Guyana, placed the region under the authority of the British crown. In 1899, an arbitration court ruled in favour of the UK, even though the United States had supported Caracas.

The dispute resurfaced in 1966 when Guyana gained independence. The Geneva Agreement, signed by the UK, Venezuela, and British Guiana, urged countries to agree to a peaceful resolution through dialogue, but Guyana has since sought a resolution through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – a procedure which Venezuela rejects. 

If the Venezuelan government is pushing for a referendum now, it is partly “because the International Court of Justice declared itself competent in April to settle the dispute”, says Idler.

Maduro does not want to recognise the ruling of the ICJ – a branch of the UN with nonbinding legal authority. He even called on United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mediate between Venezuela and Guyana.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro casts his vote during a consultative referendum on Venezuelan sovereignty over the Esquiba region controlled by neighbouring Guyana, in Caracas on December 3, 2023
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro casts his vote during a consultative referendum on Venezuelan sovereignty over the Essequibo region, controlled by neighbouring Guyana, in Caracas on December 3, 2023. © Venezuelan Presidency via AFP

There is also – perhaps most importantly – a domestic political element to the referendum. “We must not forget that the presidential election takes place in a year, and Nicolas Maduro is trying to rally support around him by playing to the national sentiment of voters,” explains Idler.

By presenting himself as the champion of nationalism, “he puts the opposition in a delicate position”, she adds. What’s more, “some observers believe he could escalate the situation with Guyana to declare a state of emergency and cancel the presidential election if necessary”.

Faced with the Venezuelan threat, Guyana is relying heavily on international law. A case was referred to the ICJ on October 3 to prevent Caracas from proceeding with its referendum. 

On Friday, the ICJ called on Caracas to take no action that would modify the disputed lands – but it did not mention the referendum.

Is Maduro bluffing?

The risk is that Venezuela may want to take advantage of international attention being focused on two major conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. Venezuelan troops are already on the border with Guyana “carrying out anti-illegal mining activities”, reports the Financial Times.

If Venezuela were to genuinely attempt to annex Essequibo, “it could destabilise the entire region”, says Idler. Countries like Brazil or Uruguay could be forced to choose sides in this territorial conflict.

But the annexation threat could also be a bluff. Venezuela may not have the means to seize the territory, says Idler. “The authorities exercise limited control over the border regions from where Caracas would need to launch troops to take possession of this region.”

Venezuela’s president knows that such a move would prompt the United States to reimpose the sanctions that Washington has just lifted on oil exports, says Idler. Economically very fragile, Venezuela may think twice before taking such a risk.

Regardless of how the roughly 20 million eligible Venezuelans vote, little will change in the short term – the people of Essequibo are not voting, and the referendum is nonbinding.

Either way, says Idler, Maduro can hardly afford to act on his nationalist impulse.

“He will then have to choose between discrediting himself in the eyes of voters and facing new American sanctions.”

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Facebook shuts thousands of fake Chinese accounts masquerading as Americans

Someone in China created thousands of fake social media accounts designed to appear to be from Americans and used them to spread polarizing political content in an apparent effort to divide the U.S. ahead of next year’s elections, Meta said Thursday. 

The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts was attempting to build an audience when it was identified and eliminated by the tech company, which owns Facebook and Instagram. The accounts sported fake photos, names and locations as a way to appear like everyday American Facebook users weighing in on political issues.

Instead of spreading fake content as other networks have done, the accounts were used to reshare posts from X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that were created by politicians, news outlets and others. The interconnected accounts pulled content from both liberal and conservative sources, an indication that its goal was not to support one side or the other but to exaggerate partisan divisions and further inflame polarization.

The newly identified network shows how America’s foreign adversaries exploit U.S.-based tech platforms to sow discord and distrust, and it hints at the serious threats posed by online disinformation next year, when national elections will occur in the U.S., India, Mexico, Ukraine, Pakistan, Taiwan and other nations.

“These networks still struggle to build audiences, but they’re a warning,” said Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into inauthentic behavior on Meta’s platforms. “Foreign threat actors are attempting to reach people across the internet ahead of next year’s elections, and we need to remain alert.”

Meta Platforms Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, did not publicly link the Chinese network to the Chinese government, but it did determine the network originated in that country. The content spread by the accounts broadly complements other Chinese government propaganda and disinformation that has sought to inflate partisan and ideological divisions within the U.S.

To appear more like normal Facebook accounts, the network would sometimes post about fashion or pets. Earlier this year, some of the accounts abruptly replaced their American-sounding user names and profile pictures with new ones suggesting they lived in India. The accounts then began spreading pro-Chinese content about Tibet and India, reflecting how fake networks can be redirected to focus on new targets.

Meta often points to its efforts to shut down fake social media networks as evidence of its commitment to protecting election integrity and democracy. But critics say the platform’s focus on fake accounts distracts from its failure to address its responsibility for the misinformation already on its site that has contributed to polarization and distrust.

For instance, Meta will accept paid advertisements on its site to claim the U.S. election in 2020 was rigged or stolen, amplifying the lies of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans whose claims about election irregularities have been repeatedly debunked. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence that the presidential election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, was tainted.

When asked about its ad policy, the company said it is focusing on future elections, not ones from the past, and will reject ads that cast unfounded doubt on upcoming contests.

And while Meta has announced a new artificial intelligence policy that will require political ads to bear a disclaimer if they contain AI-generated content, the company has allowed other altered videos that were created using more conventional programs to remain on its platform, including a digitally edited video of Biden that claims he is a pedophile.

“This is a company that cannot be taken seriously and that cannot be trusted,” said Zamaan Qureshi, a policy adviser at the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an organization of civil rights leaders and tech experts who have been critical of Meta’s approach to disinformation and hate speech. “Watch what Meta does, not what they say.” 

Meta executives discussed the network’s activities during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, the day after the tech giant announced its policies for the upcoming election year — most of which were put in place for prior elections. 

But 2024 poses new challenges, according to experts who study the link between social media and disinformation. Not only will many large countries hold national elections, but the emergence of sophisticated AI programs means it’s easier than ever to create lifelike audio and video that could mislead voters. 

“Platforms still are not taking their role in the public sphere seriously,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a Syracuse University professor who studies digital media. 

Stromer-Galley called Meta’s election plans “modest” but noted it stands in stark contrast to the “Wild West” of X. Since buying the X platform, then called Twitter, Elon Musk has eliminated teams focused on content moderation, welcomed back many users previously banned for hate speech and used the site to spread conspiracy theories.

Democrats and Republicans have called for laws addressing algorithmic recommendations, misinformation, deepfakes and hate speech, but there’s little chance of any significant regulations passing ahead of the 2024 election. That means it will fall to the platforms to voluntarily police themselves.

Meta’s efforts to protect the election so far are “a horrible preview of what we can expect in 2024,” according to Kyle Morse, deputy executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a nonprofit that supports new federal regulations for social media. “Congress and the administration need to act now to ensure that Meta, TikTok, Google, X, Rumble and other social media platforms are not actively aiding and abetting foreign and domestic actors who are openly undermining our democracy.”

Many of the fake accounts identified by Meta this week also had nearly identical accounts on X, where some of them regularly retweeted Musk’s posts.

Those accounts remain active on X. A message seeking comment from the platform was not returned.

Meta also released a report Wednesday evaluating the risk that foreign adversaries including Iran, China and Russia would use social media to interfere in elections. The report noted that Russia’s recent disinformation efforts have focused not on the U.S. but on its war against Ukraine, using state media propaganda and misinformation in an effort to undermine support for the invaded nation.

Nimmo, Meta’s chief investigator, said turning opinion against Ukraine will likely be the focus of any disinformation Russia seeks to inject into America’s political debate ahead of next year’s election.

“This is important ahead of 2024,” Nimmo said. “As the war continues, we should especially expect to see Russian attempts to target election-related debates and candidates that focus on support for Ukraine.”


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Former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dies at 100

Henry Kissinger, a controversial Nobel Peace Prize winner and diplomatic powerhouse whose service under two presidents left an indelible mark on US foreign policy, died on Wednesday at age 100, Kissinger Associates Inc said in a statement. He died at his home in Connecticut.

Kissinger had been active past his centenary, attending meetings in the White House, publishing a book on leadership styles, and testifying before a Senate committee about the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. In July 2023 he made a surprise visit to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the 1970s, he had a hand in many of the epoch-changing global events of the decade while serving as secretary of state under Republican President Richard Nixon. The German-born Jewish refugee’s efforts led to the diplomatic opening of China, landmark US-Soviet arms control talks, expanded ties between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam.

Kissinger’s reign as the prime architect of US foreign policy waned with Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Still, he continued to be a diplomatic force under President Gerald Ford and to offer strong opinions throughout the rest of his life.

While many hailed Kissinger for his brilliance and broad experience, others branded him a war criminal for his support for anti-communist dictatorships, especially in Latin America. In his latter years, his travels were circumscribed by efforts by other nations to arrest or question him about past US foreign policy.

His 1973 Peace Prize – awarded jointly to North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, who would decline it – was one of the most controversial ever. Two members of the Nobel committee resigned over the selection and questions arose about the US secret bombing of Cambodia.

Ford called Kissinger a “super secretary of state” but also noted his prickliness and self assurance, which critics were more likely to call paranoia and egotism. Even Ford said, “Henry in his mind never made a mistake.”

“He had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew,” Ford said in an interview shortly before his death in 2006.

With his dour expression and gravelly, German-accented voice, Kissinger was hardly a rock star but had an image as a ladies’ man, squiring starlets around Washington and New York in his bachelor days. Power, he said, was the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Voluble on policy, Kissinger was reticent on personal matters, although he once told a journalist he saw himself as a cowboy hero, riding off alone.

Harvard faculty

Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born in Furth, Germany, on May 27, 1923, and moved to the United States with his family in 1938 before the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jews.

Anglicising his name to Henry, Kissinger became a naturalised US citizen in 1943, served in the Army in Europe in World War Two, and went to Harvard University on scholarship, earning a master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1954. He was on Harvard’s faculty for the next 17 years.

During much of that time, Kissinger served as a consultant to government agencies, including in 1967 when he acted as an intermediary for the State Department in Vietnam. He used his connections with President Lyndon Johnson’s administration to pass on information about peace negotiations to the Nixon camp.

When Nixon’s pledge to end the Vietnam War won him the 1968 presidential election, he brought Kissinger to the White House as national security adviser.

But the process of “Vietnamization” – shifting the burden of the war from the half-million US forces to the South Vietnamese – was long and bloody, punctuated by massive US bombing of North Vietnam, the mining of the North’s harbors, and the bombing of Cambodia.

Kissinger declared in 1972 that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam but the Paris Peace Accords reached in January 1973 were little more than a prelude to the final Communist takeover of the South two years later.

In 1973, in addition to his role as national security adviser, Kissinger was named secretary of state – giving him unchallenged authority in foreign affairs.

An intensifying Arab-Israeli conflict launched Kissinger on his first so-called “shuttle” mission, a brand of highly personal, high-pressure diplomacy for which he became famous.

Thirty-two days spent shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus helped Kissinger forge a long-lasting disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In an effort to diminish Soviet influence, Kissinger reached out to its chief communist rival, China, and made two trips there, including a secret one to meet with Premier Zhou Enlai. The result was Nixon’s historic summit in Beijing with Chairman Mao Zedong and the eventual formalisation of relations between the two countries.

Strategic arms accord 

The Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign barely grazed Kissinger, who was not connected to the cover-up and continued as secretary of state when Ford took office in the summer of 1974. But Ford did replace him as national security adviser in an effort to hear more voices on foreign policy.

Later that year Kissinger went with Ford to Vladivostok in the Soviet Union, where the president met Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and agreed to a basic framework for a strategic arms pact. The agreement capped Kissinger’s pioneering efforts at detente that led to a relaxing of US-Soviet tensions.

But Kissinger’s diplomatic skills had their limits. In 1975, he was faulted for failing to persuade Israel and Egypt to agree to a second-stage disengagement in the Sinai.

And in the India-Pakistan War of 1971, Nixon and Kissinger were heavily criticized for tilting toward Pakistan. Kissinger was heard calling the Indians “bastards” – a remark he later said he regretted.

Like Nixon, he feared the spread of left-wing ideas in the Western hemisphere, and his actions in response were to cause deep suspicion of Washington from many Latin Americans for years to come.

In 1970 he plotted with the CIA on how best to destabilize and overthrow the Marxist but democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende, while he said in a memo in the wake of Argentina’s bloody coup in 1976 that the military dictators should be encouraged.

When Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, in 1976, Kissinger’s days in the suites of government power were largely over. The next Republican in the White House, Ronald Reagan, distanced himself from Kissinger, who he viewed as out of step with his conservative constituency.

After leaving government, Kissinger set up a high-priced, high-powered consulting firm in New York, which offered advice to the world’s corporate elite. He served on company boards and various foreign policy and security forums, wrote books, and became a regular media commentator on international affairs.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush picked Kissinger to head an investigative committee. But outcry from Democrats who saw a conflict of interest with many of his consulting firm’s clients forced Kissinger to step down from the post.

Divorced from his first wife, Ann Fleischer, in 1964, he married Nancy Maginnes, an aide to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1974. He had two children by his first wife.


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‘El Loco’ at the helm: What next for Argentina under outsider president Javier Milei?

A former TV personality-turned political maverick, Argentina’s president-elect Javier Milei has promised no half-measures as he bids to make his stricken country “great again”. Riding a wave of anti-establishment rage, the far-right outsider known for his foul-mouthed outbursts will have no time to bask in his stunning victory as he inherits an economy mired in crisis, with no experience and few allies to implement his radical agenda for change.

For years, Argentina’s discredited ruling class has been sitting on a powder keg, unable to lift the country out of a seemingly intractable crisis that has sowed anger and despair in South America’s second-largest economy.

On Sunday, the long-simmering anger boiled over, carrying to power a chainsaw-wielding political outsider who has promised to “blow up” the system and whose own supporters call him “El Loco” (the madman).

Milei, a former economist and TV pundit with almost no political experience, has surged to power on a wave of anger over decades of economic mismanagement. He has vowed to “put an end to the parasitic, stupid, useless political caste that is sinking” a country crippled by triple-digit inflation, where the poverty rate has reached 40%.

The self-styled “anarcho-capitalist” handily defeated his Peronist opponent, Finance Minister Sergio Massa, in a runoff election on Sunday – defying forecasts of a close race in a contest analysts had described as a tussle between two deeply flawed candidates.

“Argentinians were forced to choose between two very unappealing options,” said Benjamin Gedan, head of the Washington-based Wilson Center’s Latin America Program and director of its Argentina Project. He cautioned against reading the result as a wholehearted endorsement of Milei’s personality or agenda.


“On one side, you had the current finance minister who has presided over an utterly failing economy,” Gedan explained. “On the other, a very radical outsider figure who offered something extraordinarily different: who wants to dolarise the economy, close the central bank, liberalise gun ownership and the sale of organs, a quirky individual who has cloned his dog and claims his pets are his senior advisers.”

Trump, Bolsonaro – and Wolverine

Milei’s astonishing rise to power is a measure of the frustration of Argentinian voters, laying bare the depth of resentment at the ruling class and the country’s state of affairs. It is also a product of television channels plugging provocative talking heads to boost their ratings, mirroring the rise of extremist pundits-turned politicians elsewhere.

Read morePushing far-right agenda, French news networks shape election debate

Argentina’s next president made his name by furiously denouncing the “political caste” on television programmes, while also rambling on about inflation and his sex life. His anti-establishment rage resonated with Argentinians yearning for change, while his dishevelled mop of hair – inspired by X-Men anti-hero Wolverine – and profanity-laden rhetoric only contributed to his notoriety.

Two years ago, Milei’s rising television stardom helped him secure a lawmaker seat in Argentina’s lower house of Congress. He was seen as a very long shot for the presidency only months ago – until he scored the most votes in August primary elections, upending the political landscape.

Before entering the public spotlight, Milei was chief economist at Corporación America, one of Argentina’s largest business conglomerates that runs most of the country’s airports. His flagship economic policies include “dollarising” the economy by 2025 to halt the “cancer of inflation”, meaning he would drop the peso – Argentina’s battered currency – and thereby relinquish control over monetary policy.

Milei has cast himself as a fierce adversary of the state, which he accuses of curtailing people’s freedoms and emptying their pockets. At campaign rallies he often appeared on stage revving a chainsaw to symbolically cut the state down to size. He has vowed to slash public spending by 15%, privatise state companies and reduce subsidies on fuel, transport and electricity.

The president-elect, who is due to take office on December 10, started to outline some of his planned policies in a radio interview on Monday morning, saying would quickly move forward with plans to privatise state-run media outlets that gave him negative coverage during the campaign, describing them as “a covert ministry of propaganda”.

“Everything that can be in the hands of the private sector will be in the hands of the private sector,” he told Bueno Aires station Radio Mitre, adding that the state-controlled energy firm YPF would be revamped so it can be “sold in a very, very, very beneficial way for Argentines”.

Javier Milei brandishes a chainsaw at a campaign event in La Plata on September 12, 2023.
Javier Milei brandishes a chainsaw at a campaign event in La Plata on September 12, 2023. © Natacha Pisarenko, AP

An admirer of former US president Donald Trump, Milei has likewise embraced his maverick status, commanding unrivalled attention throughout the campaign with his provocative statements. He has not shied away from lashing at revered compatriots, including Pope Francis, whom he branded an “imbecile” for defending social justice.

It is no surprise that he has adapted Trump’s best known slogan, promising to “Make Argentina Great Again”.

Like Trump and his Brazilian ally Jair Bolsonaro, Milei has appealed to the conservative vote by promising a crusade against progressive politics. He has described sex education as a Marxist plot to destroy the traditional family unit and has proposed a plebiscite to repeal abortion, which Argentina legalised in 2020. He also rejects the notion humans have a role in causing climate change.

All of this is “very worrying not only for women, but for minorities in general, because Milei is waging the same cultural wars that the far right is waging elsewhere”, said Juan-Pablo Ferrero, a senior lecturer in Latin American politics at the University of Bath.

“He is also rolling back on the human rights agenda that has gained Argentina international recognition” since the transition to democracy, Ferrero added. “Minorities will have to resist his moves in parliament and on the streets.”

Taking another page from the Trump and Bolsonaro playbooks, Milei also made unfounded claims of election fraud before Sunday’s runoff, raising concern about his respect for democratic norms. His victory also means the rise of Victoria Villaruel, his controversial running mate who has minimised the number of victims of Argentina’s brutal 1976-1983 dictatorship.

A ‘stress test’ for Argentinian democracy

In the run-up to the vote, Massa and his allies had warned Argentinians that Milei’s plans would sharply curtail hard-won rights and the public services and welfare programs many rely on. Their margin of defeat suggests the strategy – which Milei had dismissed as a “campaign of fear” – may ultimately have backfired.

“Despite Milei, despite all his campaign mistakes, despite all his peculiarities that raise doubts, concerns (…) despite all of that, the demand for change prevailed,” Lucas Romero, the head of Synopsis, a local political consulting firm, told the Associated Press.

Having cast himself as the “only solution” to Argentina’s woes, Milei will have little time to bask in his victory. Even before his election, analysts had already shed doubt on the feasibility of many of his campaign pledges, starting with his much-touted “dolarizacion”.

Ditching the peso in favour of the dollar requires a hefty stock of greenbacks, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that Argentina’s dollar reserves are dangerously low. Analysts have flagged the risk of a run on the peso as people panic believing dollarisation is imminent.

“Milei is someone who promises big new ideas but maybe too big and maybe not feasible,” said Gedan, noting that the president-elect has no parliamentary majority to back him and even less of a foothold in local government. “It’s far from clear he can implement his agenda, given his fledgling party, his few allies in Congress, the small and inexperienced group that surrounds him, and the fact that he controls none of the country’s provinces,” he added.

Milei’s Liberty Advances party counts just seven seats out of 72 in the Senate and 38 out of 257 in the lower Chamber of Deputies. He will be hoping to win support from the mainstream right of former president Maurico Macri, which threw its electoral weight behind him ahead of Sunday’s runoff in a bid to ensure defeat for the incumbent Peronist camp.

“It remains to be seen whether this electoral support will translate into a political agreement,” said FRANCE 24’s Argentina expert David Gormezano. “Will some of Macri’s circle join the government? Will conservative lawmakers offer their support? It’s too early to know.”

The lure of power, and a common detestation of Peronism, could be enough of an incentive.

“One can imagine the conservative camp going a long way to back Milei, including in some of his excesses, in order to get their revenge over the Peronist camp,” Gormezano added, though noting that Milei would still be short of a majority in Congress even with conservative support.

According to Ferrero, Milei’s election signals the “biggest stress test” for Argentina’s democracy since the end of military rule. Under the country’s constitution, “presidents have the power to rule by decree in exceptional circumstances – but that tests the system,” he explained. “We will see to what extent he makes use of those powers.”

There will be plenty of scrutiny of Milei’s first steps on the international stage, too. The Argentinian provocateur has already raised alarm bells in a number of Latin American countries and said he would seek to reduce trade with China, Argentina’s second-biggest trading partner after Brazil.

While Trump and Bolsonaro were quick to hail the election result on Sunday, neither is currently in power. The centre-left leaders of Argentina’s two largest neighbours, Brazil and Chile, have been noticeably more guarded in their response.

Brazil’s President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva on Sunday extended his best wishes to the newly elected president, but did not make direct mention of Milei. He had previously expressed his hope that Argentinian voters would choose a president who supports democracy and the Mercosur trading bloc – which Milei has suggested Argentina should leave.

Milei has criticised Brazil’s president multiple times and labelled him an “angry communist” with a “totalitarian” bent. On Monday, a close Lula aide said Argentina’s president-elect must apologise to the Brazilian leader before talks between the two can be organised.

“He freely offended President Lula,” Social Communications Minister Paulo Pimenta told reporters. “It’s up to Milei, as president-elect, to call and apologise.”

Whether at home or on the international stage, Argentina will be sailing through uncharted – and choppy – waters with “El Loco” at the helm.

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Rosalynn Carter, former US first lady and mental health activist, dies at 96

Former US first lady Rosalynn Carter, who President Jimmy Carter called “an extension of myself” owing to his wife’s prominent role in his administration even as she tirelessly promoted the cause of mental health, died on Sunday at age 96, the Carter Center said.

Rosalynn Carter, who in recent days had entered hospice care at home in Plains, Georgia, died with her family by her side, according to a statement released by the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization founded by the couple.

Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, served as president from 1977 to 1981. He and his wife were the longest-married US presidential couple, having wed in 1946 when he was 21 and she was 18.

After his single term as president ended, he also enjoyed more post-White House years than any president before him, and she played an instrumental role during those years, including as part of the Carter Center and the Habitat for Humanity charity.

Her family in May disclosed that she had dementia but was continuing to live at home. Jimmy Carter, 99, himself is in hospice care after deciding in February to decline additional medical intervention. 

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” the former president said in the statement. “She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”

She was seen as unassuming and quiet before coming to Washington in 1977 but developed into an eloquent speaker, campaigner and activist. Her abiding passion, which carried far beyond her White House years, was for the mentally ill, not because of any personal connection but because of a strong feeling that advocacy was needed.

“The best thing I ever did was marry Rosalynn,” Carter told the C-SPAN cable TV channel in 2015. “That’s the pinnacle of my life.”

Before her husband was elected president in 1976, Rosalynn was largely unknown outside of Georgia, where he had been a peanut farmer-turned-governor. He lost his 1980 re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, a Republican former California governor and Hollywood actor.

In Washington, the Carters were a team, with the president calling her “an extension of myself” and “my closest adviser.” She was often invited to sit in as an observer at cabinet meetings and political strategy discussions. In a 1978 interview with magazine editors, Carter said he shared almost everything with his wife except top-secret material.

“I think she understands the consciousness of the American people and their attitudes perhaps better than do I,” he said.

She also was sent on important official missions to Latin America and was part of the unsuccessful campaign for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ensure equal treatment of women under the law.

The Iranian hostage crisis – in which American diplomats and others were held captive in Tehran after the Islamic revolution – occurred when Carter was seeking re-election. The crisis contributed to the downfall of his presidency as he refrained from campaigning while trying to resolve the standoff.

During that time, Rosalynn Carter sought to support her husband by speaking in 112 cities in 34 states during a 44-day tour. Her speeches and forays into crowds were credited with helping Carter defeat Democratic challenger Ted Kennedy in the 1980 primaries, although he went on to lose overwhelmingly to Reagan.

First lady Jill Biden on Sunday paid tribute to Carter during an event in Virginia. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, in a statement called Carter “a woman of dignity and strength.” Former President Donald Trump in a social media post called her “a great humanitarian.”

Mental health interest 

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born Aug. 18, 1927, in Plains to Edgar and Alice Smith, and married Carter on July 7, 1946. They went on to have four children.

Her interest in mental health issues stemmed from the early 1970s when she began to realize, while helping her husband campaign for governor, the depth of the problem in her home state of Georgia and the reluctance of people to talk about it.

As first lady of Georgia, she was a member of a governor’s commission to improve services for the mentally ill.

In the White House, she became honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, key to passage of a 1980 act that helped fund local mental health centers.

After leaving Washington she pursued her work through the Carter Center, which the Carters founded in Atlanta in 1982. She continued to advocate for mental health, early childhood immunization, human rights, conflict resolution and the empowerment of urban communities.

“I hope our legacy continues, more than just as first lady, because the Carter Center has been an integral part of our lives. And our motto is waging peace, fighting disease and building hope. And I hope that I have contributed something to mental health issues and help improve a little bit the lives of people living with mental illnesses,” she told C-SPAN in a 2013 interview.

Speaking about her 1998 book “Helping Someone With Mental Illness,” Carter said she longed for the day when the mentally ill would be free from discrimination.

In their post-Washington years the Carters were also key figures in the Habitat for Humanity charity, helping build homes for needy families. Their humanitarian efforts were crowned in 2002 when Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I am especially grateful to Rosalynn, who has been a part of everything I’ve done,” a teary-eyed Jimmy Carter said in a speech in Plains after learning he had won the award.

Both Carters were active members of the Plains community, including at the Maranatha Baptist Church where Rosalynn served as a deacon and the former president as a deacon and long-time Sunday school teacher.

The Carter Center said she also is survived by her four children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.


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Establishment insider or political provocateur? Argentina faces stark presidential choice

Amid skyrocketing poverty and inflation, Argentinians face a stark choice on Sunday between two wildly different presidential candidates. Libertarian Javier Milei has led a disruptive campaign that has galvanised voters and won support from a faction of the traditional far-right. But a shock first-round victory for current Economy Minister Sergio Massa has set the scene for a down-to-the wire race in the final round of voting on Sunday.

As the results for the first round of voting were announced on October 22, cheers and hugs broke out in the campaign headquarters for government minister Massa.

Two months earlier Massa – who has overseen triple-digit inflation in Argentina – had achieved a mediocre result in the open primaries, which determined the first-round candidates. The economy minister brought in 27.3 percent of the vote, placing him third behind the leader of the far-right coalition Patricia Bullrich (28 percent) and first-round victor, political outsider and self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist” Milei (30 percent).

But, weeks later, the tables had turned dramatically. Massa, representing Union for the Homeland (UP), defied the polls and stormed to a spectacular first-round victory with 36 percent of the vote, pushing Milei into second place with 29.9 percent, and third-place Bullrich out of the race.

The return of Peronism

Political magazine Nueva Sociedad said the 51-year-old’s victory was a form of protest against his main opponent, writing “in the face of Javier Milei’s chaotic utopia, support for Massa ended up being a sort of defensive vote by a section of society”.

While Milei’s campaign was characterised by fiery outbursts and stunts such as wielding a chainsaw onstage, “Massa emerged as ‘the adult in the room’”, it said, “position[ing] himself as the only politician capable of managing the Argentine state. In short, he donned the suit that suits him best: that of a pragmatic politician”.

With an unexpected leap from 27.3 percent of the vote to 36 percent in just two months, Massa seems to have succeeded in convincing Argentinians worn out with incessant inflation that a Milei victory would mean a dangerous leap into the unknown both economically and democratically.

Positioning himself as the first line of defence against an opponent who wants to ditch the peso for the US dollar, privatise health and schooling and make it easier to buy guns and human organs has been no easy feat for Massa.

As the current economy minister, he is a figurehead for the unpopular outgoing administration, which has left Argentina in dire financial straits with poverty rates soaring and inflation jumping 143 percent.

Argentine congressman and presidential pre-candidate for La Libertad Avanza Alliance, Javier Milei (left) and and Argentine Economy Minister and presidential pre-candidate for the Union por la Patria party, Sergio Massa (right). © Alejandro Pagni, Luis Robayo, AFP

Crushing the right

Massa’s victory has also thrown Argentina’s political right into chaos.

Three days after being eliminated in the first-round vote, Bullrich, from center-right coalition Together for Change (JC), threw her support behind outsider Milei, urged on by former centre-right president Mauricio Macri.

“Javier Milei and I had our differences, that’s why we ran against each other,” she told the press. “However, we are faced with a dilemma: change or continue with mafia-style governance in Argentina. We must put an end to … the domination of corrupt populism which has led Argentina towards total decadence [of the Peronist government]. We have an obligation to not remain neutral.” 

In doing so, Bullrich, who formerly held the post of security minister, also re-endorsed one of the pillars of her own campaign: the “eradication” of Peronism, an Argentine political ideology embodied by the current government, including deeply unpopular vice-president and Massa supporter Christina Fernandez de Kirchner.

That evening, former rivals Bullrich and Milei shared a warm exchange on a television programme, while social media showed images of Milei as a lion holding Bullrich, depicted as a goose, in his clutches.

But other figures on the political right refused to follow Bullrich in endorsing Milei and accused ex-president Macri of having played into the far-right populist’s hands throughout the campaign.

Gerardo Morales, president of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) party, a longstanding part of the coalition on the right, called Milei a “puppet”, “emotionally unbalanced” and “a very dangerous figure for Argentine democracy”.

The implosion of the political right and the spectacular rise of Massa has redrawn the political landscape in Argentina and left its political class facing difficult questions.

Milei has denounced the right as a “parasitic political caste” – if it’s politicians were now to endorse the outsider candidate, would it help or harm his campaign?

“The problem of support is that it contributes to the dislocation, or at least the toning down, of Milei’s anti-system rhetoric,” said Gaspard Estrada, executive director of Sciences Po’s Political Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean (OPALC).

“Before the first round, Milei criticised the political class,” he said. “The fact that, from one day to the next, he made an alliance with an establishment figure will dilute the strength of his message.”

But at the same time, there is “a real desire for change and to turn the tables” among Argentine voters, said FRANCE 24’s correspondent on the ground Mathilde Guillaume.

“Most poor workers that we have been speaking to in working-class neighbourhoods want to see change and Javier Milei has managed to channel that desire,” she said. “Support from Mauricio Macri, who is a favourite among the establishment, gives [Milei] a sheen of respectability and increases his chances of being elected.”

Controversy vs national pride?

Even so, the desire for change at any cost that many in Argentina are feeling often clashes with Milei’s radical ideology.

During a debate held between two rounds of voting the provocative candidate had warm words for an old Argentine adversary, ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who led Britain during the Falklands War.

Thatcher was “a great leader in the history of humanity,” Milei said.

Directly to Massa he added, “Thatcher had a significant role in the fall of the Berlin Wall and it seems that its fall and the crushing of the left bothers you. That’s your problem.”

“Yesterday, today and forever, Thatcher is an enemy of Argentina,” came Massa’s stinging response, reaffirming Argentine sovereignty of the Falklands, which Argentina claims as Islas Malvinas, and honouring the memory of the soldiers who lost their lives in the 1982 conflict.

Argentinian presidential candidates Sergio Massa and Javier Milei take part in a debate in Buenos Aires, Argentina on November 12, 2013.
Argentinian presidential candidates Sergio Massa and Javier Milei take part in a debate in Buenos Aires, Argentina on November 12, 2013. © Reuters Luis Robayo

Falklands war veterans have strongly criticised Milei’s proposals to open negotiations with the British government to bring the chain of South Atlantic islands back under Argentine jurisdiction.

Massa has also played on another source of national pride during his campaign, saying that he would be in favour of a visit to Argentina by Pope Francis, who was born in Buenos Aires.

In doing so Massa has made a direct appeal for the Catholic vote and further differentiated himself from Milei, who shocked some supporters when he said the Catholic leader was “representative of the evil one on Earth” and an “imbecile who defends social justice”.

If taking a provocative stance on Thatcher and the Pope may have harmed Milei’s standing with voters, his running mate, Victoria Villaruel, has done little to calm their fears.

As Argentina celebrates 40 years of democracy this year, Villaruel has been a staunch defender of military personnel convicted of active participation in the the country’s military dictatorship from 1976-1982.

Villaruel, a colonel’s daughter, is a long-term advocate of the “two demons theory”, which blames both the revolutionary left and the military dictatorship for political violence committed in the 1970s.

During a debate between the two vice-presidential candidates, Villaruel contested the widely accepted estimate that 30,000 people were disappeared by the military during the dictatorship as “a lie” propagated by the left.

The 2005 annulment of Argentina’s amnesty laws, which had previously blocked the prosecutions of crimes committed under the country’s military dictatorship, has never been called into question.

Read moreMy father, the war criminal: Children of Argentina’s dictatorship grapple with dark past

Villaruel’s adversary Agustín Rossi accused her of trying to destabilise Argentinian politics by “breaking the democratic pact that all political forces had concluded”.

But imprisoned military personnel convicted of crimes against humanity have expressed public support for the Milei-Villaruel ticket.

Change or continuity?

On Sunday, Argentina will make its choice between a libertarian provocateur with outlandish solutions to its economic crisis or a member of the political establishment who symbolises painful economic realities.

So far, opinion polls show Massa and Milei are neck-and-neck in a presidential race that is too close to call.

Awareness that Milei is using tactics similar to successful populists such as former US President Donald Trump and former Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro is no guarantee that Arentina “will avoid an extreme right government,” said Argentine historian Ezequiel Adamovsky.

It is extreme economic distress – for which Massa as minister for the economy holds responsibility – that has pushed Argentina to embrace Milei as an outsider candidate.

And it is Milei who has created a seemingly formidable opponent out of an unpopular establishment figure.

“Sergio Massa has not found himself in this position [of winning the first round] because of his own merits as a candidate, and even less so because of the merits of the government, but because of the enemy he faces,” said Adamovsky. “It takes two to tango, as the old proverb goes.”

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

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Biden tells Asia-Pacific leaders US ‘not going anywhere’ as it looks to build economic ties

President Joe Biden on Thursday made America’s case to national leaders and CEOs attending the Asia-Pacific summit that the United States is committed to high standards in trade and to partnerships that will benefit economies across the Pacific.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he declared.

Fresh off his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden also told business leaders that the US was “de-risking and diversifying” but not “decoupling.” from Beijing.

But he did not mince words in suggesting the US and friends in the Pacific could offer businesses a better option than China.

He also noted that US economies had invested some $50 billion in fellow Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies in 2023, including in clean energy technologies, aviation and cybersecurity.

“This is not all kumbaya but it’s straightforward,” Biden said. “We have real differences with Beijing when it comes to maintaining a fair and level economic playing field and protecting your intellectual property. ”

Biden sought to send a clear message about American leadership as business leaders grapple with the risks of doing businesses in the midst of wars in the Middle East and Europe and a still shaky post-pandemic economy.

He was also spending time on Thursday letting Indo-Pacific leaders know that the US is committed to nurturing economic ties throughout the region.

Biden later posed for the traditional “family photo” with other leaders of APEC, the group that includes 21 economies.

Biden in his remarks to the CEOs sought to highlight his administration’s efforts to strengthen ties with the region. APEC members have invested $1.7 trillion in the US economy, supporting some 2.3 million American jobs.

US companies, in turn, have invested about $1.4 trillion in APEC economies.

Later, during talks with APEC leaders at a working lunch, Biden spoke about efforts funded by his Inflation Reduction Act to improve sustainability, climate change and clean energy infrastructure in the US.

“I encourage everyone around this table to also take strong national actions,” Biden said. “It will take all of us to meet this moment.”

The US hasn’t hosted the annual leaders’ summit — started in 1993 by President Bill Clinton — since 2011. The group met virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders did gather in Bangkok last year, but Biden skipped the summit because his granddaughter was getting married, and he sent Vice President Kamala Harris in his place.

The annual leaders’ conference brings together heads of nations and other top economic and diplomatic leaders.

Biden told those who gathered Wednesday evening at a welcome party — including Russia’s representative, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk — that today’s challenges were unlike those faced by previous APEC leaders.

Biden also sought to underscore that he was seeking to responsibly manage the United States’ strained relationship with China one day after he and Xi sat down for more than four hours of talks at bucolic Filoli Estate outside of San Francisco.

“A stable relationship between the world’s two largest economies is not merely good for the two economies but for the world,” Biden said. “A stable relationship. It’s good for everyone.”

Demonstrations in and around APEC continued on Thursday. Hours before leaders were to gather at the Moscone Center for the summit, protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war were detained by police after shutting down all traffic over a major commuting bridge heading into San Francisco.

After decades of trade built on the premise of keeping prices low, accessing new markets and maximizing profits, many companies are now finding a vulnerable global economy.

The Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts aren’t helping matters.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed frailties in their supply chains. Climate change has intensified natural disasters that can close factories.

The Israel-Hamas war and Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion have generated new financial risks, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence could change how companies operate and displace workers.

Xi too, met with American business leaders — at a $2,000-per-plate dinner Wednesday evening. It was a rare opportunity for the business leaders to hear directly from the Chinese president as they seek clarification on Beijing’s expanding security rules that could choke foreign investment.

“China is pursuing high-quality development, and the United States is revitalizing its economy,” he said, according to an English language translation.

“There is plenty of room for our cooperation, and we are fully able to help each other succeed and achieve win-win outcomes.”

He signaled that China would send the US new giant pandas, just a week after three from the Smithsonian National Zoo were returned to China, much to the dismay of Americans.

There are only four pandas left in the United States, at the Atlanta Zoo.

Biden and Xi understand that the complicated ties between the two nations have major global impacts. Their meeting Wednesday at a Northern California estate was in part an effort to show the world that while they are global economic competitors, the US and China aren’t rivals seeking conflict.

With his characteristic optimism, Biden sketched a vision of leaders who manage competition “responsibly,” adding, “That’s what the United States wants and what we intend to do.”

Xi, though, was gloomier about the state of the post-pandemic global economy. China’s economy remains in the doldrums, with prices falling due to slack demand from consumers and businesses.

“The global economy is recovering, but its momentum remains sluggish,” Xi said. “Industrial and supply chains are still under the threat of interruption, and protectionism is rising. All these are grave problems.”

White House officials said Biden has been bolstered by signs the US economy is in a stronger position than China’s and that the US was building stronger alliances throughout the Pacific.

Part of that is through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, announced during a May 2022 trip to Tokyo. It came six years after the US unilaterally withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that was signed by 12 countries.

The new framework has four major pillars: supply chains, climate, anti-corruption and trade. There won’t be any official trade deals to announce — the “framework” label allows Biden to bypass Congress on any agreements reached with the 13 countries. Work on three of the four pillars had been completed.

While US allies are still are looking to hammer out comprehensive trade agreements with Washington, Biden administration officials are underscoring that IPEF has helped the US and partners take action at a far faster clip than traditional trade deals.

“Most trade negotiations take years to complete,” said Mike Pyle, Biden’s deputy national security adviser for international economics.

“The issues that are at the cutting edge of the global economic conversation, issues like supply chains, clean energy, good government —- we have struck agreements around them in just 18 months, with a full set of IPEF partners.”


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Pence quits the presidential race after struggling to gain traction

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday dropped his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, ending his campaign for the White House after struggling to raise money and gain traction in the polls.

“It’s become clear to me: This is not my time,” Pence said at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual gathering in Las Vegas. “So after much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to suspend my campaign for president effective today.”

“We always knew this would be an uphill battle, but I have no regrets,” Pence went on to tell the friendly audience, which reacted with audible surprise to the announcement and gave him multiple standing ovations.

Pence is the first major candidate to leave a race that has been dominated by his former boss-turned-rival, Donald Trump, and his struggles underscore just how much Trump has transformed the party. A former vice president would typically be seen as a formidable challenger in any primary, but Pence has struggled to find a base of support.

Pence did not immediately endorse any of his rivals, but continued to echo language he has used to criticize Trump.

“I urge all my fellow Republicans here, give our country a Republican standard-bearer that will, as Lincoln said, appeal to the better angels of our nature, and not only lead us to victory, but lead our nation with civility,” he said.

Pence’s decision, more than two months before the Iowa caucuses that he had staked his campaign on, saves him from accumulating additional debt, as well as the embarrassment of potentially failing to qualify for the third Republican primary debate, on Nov. 8 in Miami.

But his withdrawal is a huge blow for a politician who spent years biding his time as Trump’s most loyal lieutenant, only to be scapegoated during their final days in office when Trump became convinced that Pence somehow had the power to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep both men in office — a power Pence did not possess. 

While Pence averted a constitutional crisis by rejecting the scheme, he drew Trump’s fury, as well as the wrath of many of Trump’s supporters, who still believed his lies about the election and see Pence as a traitor.

Among Trump critics, meanwhile, Pence was seen as an enabler who defended the former president at every turn and refused to criticize even Trump’s most indefensible actions time and again.

As a result, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research from August found that the majority of U.S. adults, 57%, viewed Pence negatively, with only 28% having a positive view.

Throughout his campaign, the former Indiana governor and congressman had insisted that while he was well-known by voters, he was not “known well” and set out to change that with an aggressive schedule that included numerous stops at diners and Pizza Ranch restaurants.

Pence had been betting on Iowa, a state with a large white Evangelical population that has a long history of elevating religious and socially conservative candidates such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum. Pence often campaigned with his wife, Karen, a Christian school teacher, and emphasized his hard-line views on issues such as abortion, which he opposes even in cases when a pregnancy is unviable. He repeatedly called on his fellow candidates to support a minimum 15-week national ban and he pushed to ban drugs used as alternatives to surgical procedures.

He tried to confront head-on his actions on Jan. 6, 2021 , explaining to voters over and over that he had done his constitutional duty that day, knowing full well the political consequences. It was a strategy that aides believed would help defuse the issue and earn Pence the respect of a majority of Republicans, whom they were were convinced did not agree with Trump’s actions.

But even in Iowa, Pence struggled to gain traction.

He had an equally uphill climb raising money, despite yearslong relationships with donors. Pence ended September with just $1.18 million in the bank and $621,000 in debt, according to his most recent campaign filing. That debt had grown in the weeks since and adding to it would have taken Pence, who is not independently wealthy, years pay off.

The Associated Press first reported earlier this month that people close to Pence had begun to feel that remaining a candidate risked diminishing his long-term standing in the party, given Trump’s dominating lead in the race for the 2024 nomination. While they said Pence could stick it out until the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses if he wanted — campaigning on a shoestring budget and accumulating debt — he would have to consider how that might affect his ability to remain a leading voice in the conservative movement, as he hopes.

Some said that Hamas’ attack on Israel in October, which pushed foreign policy to the forefront of the campaign, had given Pence a renewed sense of purpose given his warnings throughout the campaign against the growing tide of isolationism in the Republican Party. Pence had argued that he was the race’s most experienced candidate and decried “voices of appeasement” among Republican, arguing they had emboldened groups such as Hamas.

But ultimately, Pence concluded that he could continue to speak out on the issue without continuing the campaign. He chose the Las Vegas event to announce his decision, in part, so he could address the topic one last time before formally leaving the race.

He is expected to remain engaged, in part through Advancing American Freedom, the conservative think tank he founded after leaving the vice presidency and that he envisions it as an alternative to the The Heritage Foundation.

Pence’s group is expected to continued to advocate for policies that he supported in his run, including pushing for more U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion and proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare to rein in the debt. Such ideas were once the bread-and-butter of Republican establishment orthodoxy but have fallen out of a favor as the party has embraced Trump’s isolationist and populist views.


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Argentine economy minister bags surprise win over chainsaw-wielding populist in presidential poll

Economy Minister Sergio Massa produced a big surprise by finishing first in the opening round of Argentina’s presidential election, reflecting voters’ wariness about handing the presidency to his chief rival, a right-wing populist who upended national politics and pledged to drastically diminish the state.

Massa’s victory over Javier Milei, a chainsaw-wielding economist and freshman lawmaker, came despite the fact that on his watch inflation has surged into triple digits, eating away at purchasing power of salaries and boosting poverty. Still, he wasn’t punished in Sunday’s voting. 

With nearly all balots counted early Monday, Massa had 36.7% of the vote and Milei had 30%, meaning the two will go to a Nov. 19 runoff. Most pre-election polls, which have been notoriously unreliable, had given Milei a slight lead over Massa. Former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, of the main center-right opposition coalition, got 23.8% to finish third in the field of eight candidates. 

Massa has been a leading figure in the center-left administration in power since 2019. He successfully focused messaging on the way Milei’s proposals to slash the size of the state — from halving the number of government ministries to deep spending cuts — would affect everyday life for Argentines, said Mariel Fornoni of the political consulting firm Management & Fit.

That “had a significant impact and evidently instilled more fear than anything else,” Fornoni said.

Andrei Roman, CEO of Brazil-based pollster Atlas Intel, whose latest survey had been one of few putting Massa ahead, said one key to the result was lower abstention than in the primary elections held in August. Around 78% of the electorate voted Sunday, some eight points higher than in the primaries that Milei won. 

Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist who admires former U.S. President Donald Trump, built a groundswell of support while calling for elimination of the Central Bank, replacement of the local currency with the U.S. dollar, and a purge of the corrupt establishment that he called the “political caste.” 

His radical proposals and fiery, profanity-laden rhetoric caused some Argentines to vote for Massa, even if less than enthusiastically. Cristian Ariel Jacobsen, a 38-year-old photographer, said he voted for Massa to prevent Milei’s “project that puts democracy at risk.”

A sense of apprehension was evident on the streets of Argentina in the days before the election. People with any disposable income snapped up goods in anticipation of a possible currency devaluation, recalling that the government devalued the peso by nearly 20% the day after the August primaries. Argentines also bought dollars and removed hard currency deposits from banks as the peso accelerated its already steady depreciation.

Massa’s campaign this year follows another eight years ago, when he finished a disappointing third place and was knocked out of the running. This time, he will have his shot in the runoff. That contest will determine whether Argentina will continue with a center-left administration or veer sharply to the right. 

Massa, 51, finished first in Sunday’s vote despite inflation surging to 140% on his watch and the currency tanking. He told voters that he inherited an already-bad situation exacerbated by a devastating drought that decimated the country’s exports, and reassured them that the worst was past. 

He focused much of his firepower in the campaign’s final days on warning voters against backing Milei, painting him as a dangerous upstart. He argued that Milei’s plans could have devastating effects on social welfare programs, education and health care. The health, education and social development ministries are among those Milei wants to extinguish.

Right-wing support was split between Milei and two other candidates, whereas Massa had already consolidated nearly all support from the left, Atlas Intel’s Roman said. 

Massa sent a signal Sunday night that he would seek to appeal to members of other parties for the runoff.

“I’m going to call for a government of national unity — a government of national unity built on the foundation of summoning the best individuals, regardless of their political affiliation,” he said.

He also could find common interest with other longserving public servants, many of whom have bristled at Milei’s candidacy and the threats it posed. 

Milei, who turned 53 on election day, has characterized Massa and others as part of the entrenched and corrupt establishment that brought South America’s second-largest economy to its knees. 

“Today is historic because two-thirds of Argentines voted for change,” Milei said in a speech Sunday night at his campaign headquarters. “They voted for an alternative to this government of criminals who want to mortgage our future to stay in power.” 

He also has cast himself as a crusader against what he calls the sinister forces of socialism at home and abroad. He opposes sex education, feminist policies and abortion, which is legal in Argentina. He rejects the notion that humans have had a role in causing climate change. 

That may have turned off some voters, said Benjamin Gedan director of the Latin America Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center. 

Running as an anti-establishment candidate, Milei was the undisputed star of the campaign. So many people surrounded his vehicle as he approached his polling station that he needed a phalanx of bodyguards. Groups of supporters threw flower petals on his car. 

“There was this sense of inevitability around Javier Milei in the media, but he scared too many voters and ended up with the exact same level of support he had two months ago,” said Brian Winter, a longtime Argentina expert and vice president of the New York-based Council of the Americas. “And now I think we have a really uncertain race. It’s going to be really tight.”

In his speech Sunday night, Milei appeared to try to appeal to those who may have trembled at his bombastic speeches, and regain his edge.

“We didn’t come here to take away rights; we came to take away privileges,” he said. 

Whatever the results, Milei has already inserted himself and his libertarian party into a political structure dominated by a center-left and a center-right coalition for almost two decades. He was celebratory at his campaign headquarters, saying the preliminary results indicated his party gained 40 seats in the lower house of Congress and eight in the Senate. 

Still, supporters outside expressed disappointment.

“I won’t lie; I feel a certain bitterness,” said Gaston Yapur, a 35-year-old coffee importer. “But, well, it’s a runoff; we mustn’t give up. He who fights isn’t defeated, and we must keep fighting the battle.”


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