Trump’s tri­umph

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - Am­bas­sador B. RO­MUALDEZ

From the very start, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s mes­sage has re­volved around im­mi­gra­tion re­forms, propos­ing sweep­ing changes aimed at curb­ing the en­try of il­le­gals to the United States. While this has gen­er­ated a lot of con­tro­versy, Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­lent­less cam­paign­ing for the midterm elec­tions – stag­ing huge ral­lies all around the US which have been likened to rock con­certs – gal­va­nized the Repub­li­can voter base that re­sponded to his warn­ings against the en­try of “un­de­sir­ables” into the United States. Even Amer­i­cans of His­panic and Asian de­scent agree, say­ing that while Amer­ica is a na­tion of im­mi­grants, they be­lieve in the sovereignty of the state and the need to up­hold the rule of law.

Although the Democrats man­aged to take con­trol of Con­gress, it was not the sweep­ing “blue wave” that Trump crit­ics have pre­dicted or ex­pected as the Democrats only man­aged to flip 28 Repub­li­can-held seats (for a 225-197 tally as of this writ­ing) – a far cry from the re­sults of the last “wave” in 2010 when the Repub­li­cans man­aged to wrest con­trol of Con­gress by cap­tur­ing 63 Demo­crat-held seats, ob­servers noted. His­tor­i­cally, too, an in­cum­bent pres­i­dent usu­ally loses the House dur­ing the midterm elec­tions.

But what is very sig­nif­i­cant is that the Repub­li­cans held on to their Se­nate dom­i­nance – prompt­ing com­men­ta­tors and even Trump op­po­nents such as lawyer Michael Ave­natti to con­cede that Democrats should not have un­der­es­ti­mated Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign­ing skills.

Trump sup­port­ers say that while the Repub­li­cans lost Con­gress, keep­ing con­trol of the Se­nate is more crit­i­cal as it could pro­vide a strong bar­rier against any fu­ture at­tempts at im­peach­ment since a two-thirds vote from the Se­nate would be needed.

In the last 105 years, there have been only five in­stances when a rul­ing party has won ma­jor­ity of seats in the Se­nate dur­ing midterms, said econ­o­mist and The

Cap­i­tal­ist Code au­thor Ben Stein, who called the pres­i­dent “a magic man” and mar­veled at the way Trump pulled off th­ese “enor­mous wins” de­spite the at­tacks he has been get­ting from me­dia ev­ery day, Stein said.

It’s also worth not­ing that Demo­cratic sen­a­tors who voted against Pres­i­dent Trump’s Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh lost their seats. The con­tentious de­bate in­volv­ing Ka­vanaugh who suf­fered from al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse dur­ing the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings was a hot is­sue that Pres­i­dent Trump took to the cam­paign trail. As one po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor noted, “those Demo­cratic sen­a­tors paid the ul­ti­mate po­lit­i­cal price.”

On a pos­i­tive note, Demo­cratic Con­gress­woman and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is a strong can­di­date for the Speak­er­ship, said Con­gress will pur­sue a bi­par­ti­san leg­isla­tive agenda, adding that Amer­i­cans have had “enough of divi­sion.”

As al­ways, ev­ery­one in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. es­pe­cially my ASEAN diplo­matic col­leagues and I will be watch­ing de­vel­op­ments, as we will be work­ing with both the Democrats and Repub­li­cans to bring across our con­cerns. One of th­ese is on im­mi­gra­tion with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­ing un­der­stand­ably tough against il­le­gals, although there are also plans to limit even the en­try of le­gal mi­grants. But hope­fully, we can help Filipinos with pend­ing ap­pli­ca­tions be­cause of the pos­i­tive im­age and good rep­u­ta­tion FilipinoAmer­i­cans have in the United States.

Amer­ica’s BUILD Act

Repub­li­cans and Democrats may be di­vided on many is­sues, but they all agree that the Bet­ter Uti­liza­tion of In­vest­ments Lead­ing to De­vel­op­ment or BUILD Act is an im­por­tant piece of leg­is­la­tion that strength­ens the US agenda of ad­vanc­ing a free and open Indo-Pa­cific.

Dur­ing the re­cent fo­rum en­ti­tled “Build­ing the In­doPa­cific: ASEAN Stake­holder Fo­rum” held at the Stim­son Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. where I was one of the pan­elists (see pho­tos in This Week on Peo­pleA­sia at the Al­lure Sec­tion of the Philip­pine STAR to­day), Deputy As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for the Bu­reau of East Asian and Pa­cific Af­fairs Wal­ter Dou­glas em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of pri­vate sec­tor-led de­vel­op­ment which is key to the eco­nomic com­po­nent of the US Indo-Pa­cific Strat­egy.

The bi­par­ti­san bill signed into law by Pres­i­dent Trump last month will es­tab­lish the In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion with a $60 bil­lion fund­ing to in­vest in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries and help them be­come more self-re­liant, bring­ing in more jobs that would help lead to sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity.

The BUILD Act is of course a “soft power” ap­proach of the US in strength­en­ing its pres­ence in the re­gion. At the same time, it is also Amer­ica’s re­sponse to the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive of China that is widen­ing its global in­flu­ence through loans that crit­ics say come with “strings at­tached.”

In my open­ing com­ments dur­ing the fo­rum, I spoke about the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mas­sive “Build, Build, Build” in­fra­struc­ture ini­tia­tive to make growth more in­clu­sive, with a goal of in­vest­ing $170 bil­lion in six years into the Philip­pines’ in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment.

I also shared that “Build, Build, Build” is gath­er­ing mo­men­tum, with in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing from Jan­uary to July this year in­creas­ing by 47 per­cent com­pared to the same pe­riod in 2017. Over the next few years, the Philip­pines will be mak­ing heavy in­vest­ments to­ward up­grad­ing ports and air­ports, cre­at­ing new rail lines, im­prov­ing mass trans­porta­tion, and pro­vid­ing bridges to link is­lands and road sys­tems that would bring farms closer to cities.

We are for­tu­nate to have the full sup­port of our friends in the re­gion such as Ja­pan, China, and Korea that have all com­mit­ted bil­lions of dol­lars in in­vest­ments and of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance that com­ple­ment sup­port from mul­ti­lat­eral de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tions.

Def­i­nitely, the pas­sage of the BUILD Act is also a very en­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ment which, hope­fully, will see more Amer­i­can com­pa­nies in­vest­ing in in­fra­struc­ture es­pe­cially with gov­ern­ment re­forms that would make do­ing busi­ness in the Philip­pines eas­ier. Email: babeseye­

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