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It's shaping up as another messy week for Donald Trump – and the outlook only gets murkier in 2019.
The U.S. president is poised to potentially end the year with a repeat of the partial government shutdown in January that coincided with the first anniversary of his inauguration. Once again, a partisan divide over Trump’s Mexican border wall funding demand is at the center of the dispute.
Another example of the personnel turmoil that’s accelerated again since Republican losses in the Nov. 6 midterms came Saturday when the president announced that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has been besieged by ethics investigations during his tenure, is stepping down.
Complicating matters further, an explosive court ruling to wipe out Obamacare has revived the acrimonious health-care battle in Washington and tossed a political bomb in Trump’s lap. The case may not be resolved in the courts before 2020, legal experts say, which could make it a defining issue in upcoming races for the White House and Congress.
With Democrats set to take control of the House on Jan. 3, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian election meddling probe drawing ever closer to the president, the stakes will soar for Trump in 2019 as his bid for a second term begins in earnest.
Humbled West | With lame-duck leaders in the U.K. and Germany, France rocked by the “Yellow Vest” revolt and the U.S. profoundly divided over its global role, the world’s wealthy democracies are gripped by an acute leadership vacuum, Marc Champion reports. That, said former NATO Secretary General and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has given Russia and China “room for maneuver” and raises the question of whether “the West” is still a meaningful entity.
Populist pact |Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte won the backing of his euroskeptic deputies Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio for a revised budget proposal with a lower 2.04 percent deficit target for next year that now goes to the European Commission. The clock is ticking for Italy, with senior commission officials set to meet Wednesday when they could decide whether to start a disciplinary process leading to possible fines for the euro area’s most-indebted nation in real terms.
Leadership crisis | Looks like only fresh elections will resolve Sri Lanka’s months-long political standoff. There was a brief suspension of hostilities over the weekend when former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned and the president reinstated Ranil Wickremesinghe – the prime minister he fired in October. But there’s already renewed tension between the leaders, indicating more must be done to resolve the government’s gridlock.
Orban backlash | For the fourth time in five days, thousands of people took to the streets of Budapest to protest against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s regime and demand a return to the values of liberal democracy, including independent courts and a free press, Zoltan Simon writes. Yesterday’s rally, the biggest of the week, highlighted the backlash against Orban’s centralization of power. Today opposition lawmakers were forcibly removed from state media headquarters where they tried and failed to get their demands read out on air.
Diplomatic challenge | United Nations representatives are worried that coping with Trump’s “America First” agenda will get tougher in 2019. That’s because Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton are expected to have more sway over State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, Trump’s pick to replace departing Ambassador Nikki Haley, who reported directly to the president.
What to Watch
President Xi Jinping is expected to use a speech tomorrow in Beijing to argue that the four-decade-old reform process that transformed China’s economy is continuing, at a time when increasing state control and confrontation with the U.S. fuel skepticism. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will attack supporters of a second Brexit referendum today as she explains to Parliament why European Union leaders rebuffed her attempt to make her divorce deal more attractive to lawmakers. The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee will release a report this week that was the first to study the millions of social media posts provided to Congress detailing Russian efforts to help elect Trump, the Washington Post reports.
And finally… Ukrainian Orthodox Christian priests elected the 39-year-old Metropolitan of Kiev and Ukraine, Epifaniy, also known as Serhiy Dumenko, to lead their newly independent church, cementing a split from the previous Russian hierarchy. The move, sanctioned by the Ecumenical Patriarchy in Istanbul in October, is the latest effort by Ukraine to free itself from Moscow’s orbit. “This is a church without Putin,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told crowds gathered outside Kiev’s St. Sophia Cathedral.
--With assistance from Anthony Halpin, Ruth Pollard, Zoltan Simon and John Follain.
To contact the author of this story: Kathleen Hunter in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
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