Because Branstad always intended to serve only one term, his departure was expected, according to multiple administration officials and people familiar with his thinking. But as of a few weeks ago, Branstad was planning to remain in Beijing until after the election, according to two sources familiar. That changed when Trump asked Branstad to come back to the US and campaign for him after more than three years in Beijing.
“That is why he is ending it early — because the President asked,” said a source familiar with the request.
Branstad has been friends with Chinese President Xi Jinping since the 1980s, though his role as ambassador became increasingly fraught in recent months as the US-China relationship frayed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Branstad was ultimately never able to leverage the personal relationship to benefit the bilateral relations.
Trump referenced the outgoing ambassador and his son Eric Branstad — who is a senior adviser to Trump Victory 2020, the joint fundraising committee between the campaign and the Republican National Committee — during a phone call with Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.
‘He still plays well in the Midwest’
A source familiar with the move says Trump wanted him back in the US to help campaign in Iowa. Branstad had told the President in recent months as they discussed his departure that he wanted to stay on in his role through the agricultural purchases that happened over the summer.
The Trump campaign believes that Branstad could have an impact on voters in Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and even Minnesota, according to two sources familiar.
“He still plays well in the Midwest. He has high name ID and is probably the best person to talk about the China influence,” said a source close to the Trump campaign.
Biden and Trump remain in a very tight race in Iowa, according to polls over the last few months. Trump won the state by about 10% in 2016.
It is unclear if someone told Trump that it would be a good idea for Branstad to come back and campaign or if the President came up with the idea on his own.
Experts say that the repercussions are not expected to be major, given that Branstad was not a central player in the US-China policy space. While Branstad is not a leading voice in the Trump administration’s tough on China approach, he is expected to assume a “more forward leaning approach” when he hits the campaign trail, said the source close to the campaign.
“President (Donald Trump) chose Ambassador Branstad because his decades-long experience dealing with China made him the best person to represent the Administration and to defend American interests and ideals in this important relationship,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo didn’t give a reason for Branstad’s departure, or any announcement about a potential successor to the important diplomatic post.
One of Trump’s first ambassadorial picks
Branstad was one of then-President-elect Trump’s first ambassadorial picks in December 2016, shortly after Trump won the US Presidential election.
During that period, the two were believed to have maintained a friendship of sorts, with Xi meeting again with Branstad during a visit to the US in 2012 while still vice-president.
Originally Branstad’s appointment was welcomed by Beijing, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang lauding him as an “old friend of the Chinese people.”
But Branstad has overseen one of the rockiest periods of US-China relations in recent history. Since his appointment, the Trump administration has placed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods as part of a long-running trade war. It has also banned Chinese technology firms such as Huawei from the country’s communications infrastructure and receiving US components, and tightened visa restrictions on Chinese state media journalists working in the US.
“If you do wish to publish this op-ed in the People’s Daily, you should make substantive revisions based on facts in the principle of equality and mutual respect,” the state media publication said in its rejection letter.
Branstad, who has been largely out of the limelight despite being America’s top diplomat in Beijing during one of the most contentious moments in US-China history, has been viewed as loyal to Trump throughout his tenure. Those who know Branstad believe that he will do what the Trump campaign asks.
“He is a good soldier, especially if he is coming back to potentially play a role in a second Trump admin. He will talk about how taking on China was needed to save the farmers,” said Stephen Orlins, the president of the National Committee on US-China relations. “His message will be consistent with what the campaign asks him.”
Working-level State Department officials who focus on Asia were not aware of plans by the Trump administration to nominate a new ambassador between now and election day, but they were also largely surprised by Branstad’s departure at this moment in time, said two State Department officials.
In recent months, Branstad has assumed an even quieter role as in Beijing as tensions between the two countries have heated up. In one instance, he canceled an off-the-record Zoom appearance with Americans engaged in US-China relations in June, which was planned to take place just a week after the US shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston, according to a source familiar with the event.
“The unfortunate reality is that Branstad was never a key channel for communicating or negotiating with Beijing. While the symbol of the US ambassador is significant, in this instance he just did not play that role,” explained Evan Medeiros, a former National Security Council Asia director during the Obama administration. “China policy was being run by Pompeo. Washington did not use Branstad like ambassadors are traditionally used.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.
CNN’s Caroline Kelly, Vivian Salama and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.
Meet the senators who will be in charge if Dems win the Senate
Potential committee chairs include 79-year-old Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at Budget; 80-year-old Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) at Appropriations; 87-year-old Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at Judiciary; Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) at Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Mark Warner (D-Va.) at Intelligence; and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at Foreign Relations.
The disparate group shows how seniority pays off in the Senate, where if you last long enough, you can end up with a gavel.
Democrats will tackle a wide array of issues if they control the chamber come January. For starters, they are expected to begin rolling back many of the Trump administration’s actions — on everything from climate change to immigration, health care and taxes. And Democrats, likely with a fellow party member in the Oval Office, would push their own progressive agenda, including oversight of tech giants, infrastructure, energy and environmental programs.
Here’s who would have critical roles in a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Often an antagonist of the progressive left when it comes to foreign policy, Menendez would reclaim the Foreign Relations Committee’s gavel, which he held from 2013-15. The New Jersey Democrat was acquitted on federal corruption charges two years ago, and he has challenged the Trump administration on an array of national security crises that have arisen over the past four years, including the president’s decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria.
In an interview, Menendez said he wants to “restore the centrality of the committee and its importance in foreign policy” — the panel has largely taken a back seat in recent years — and will prioritize a “rebuilding” of the State Department, which has seen its budget reduced.
In a Democratic Senate, the Oregon senator would take the reins of the Finance Committee, a powerful panel that had a critical role in shepherding the GOP tax cuts through the chamber. Under a President Biden, Democrats would roll back many of those tax cuts— and Wyden will play a pivotal role in making that happen.
Wyden said in an interview that he has discussed the subject with Biden’s team. He also wants to focus on pandemic relief, which remains stalled.
“We’re going to make sure that the lesson of the Great Recession is learned — you don’t take your foot off the gas in the middle of an economic recovery,” Wyden said of his potential chairmanship.
Whether Feinstein is chair of the Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress is still an open question, although it seems unlikely at this point after her performance during the past several weeks.
The California Democrat infuriated progressive outside groups during the panel’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett for being civil and deferential to the nominee and Republicans when the left — furious over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rush to fill the seat before Election Day — wanted the exact opposite. There remains speculation about whether Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will replace Feinstein atop the committee, or whether she will step down of her own volition. Feinstein’s retirement is another possibility. Neither Feinstein nor her office would comment about her future on the panel.
If Feinstein does leave, Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is next in line, although Democratic Caucus rules may prevent him from serving in leadership and as a committee chair simultaneously. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-R.I.), a former U.S. attorney, is third in line.
This is a fascinating scenario. The most liberal senator and former White House hopeful, a lawmaker who has long espoused the dramatic expansion of the federal government’s role in average Americans’ lives, is set to take over the Budget Committee gavel. Yet the federal deficit topped $3 trillion this year and is the largest since World War II, and the U.S. economy remains in tatters due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sanders wants to reshape the focus of the Budget panel. “We’d create a budget that works for working families, and not the billionaire class,” Sanders said in a brief interview when asked about his agenda if he took over as chair. And if Schumer and the Democrats don’t get rid of the filibuster, Sanders’ committee would be involved in crafting reconciliation bills, allowing a potential Biden administration to push tax and spending bills through the Senate on a simple-majority vote.
However, if Biden wins, Sanders might not be in the Senate for long. POLITICO reported that Sanders has expressed interest in becoming Labor secretary in a possible Biden administration. But that’s far from certain, especially because Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, would be able to appoint a temporary replacement to Sanders’ seat.
As vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner has maintained strong relationships across the aisle with the previous chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and the current acting chair, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Even as the Intelligence Committee has been the epicenter of several Trump-related controversies over the past four years — most notably stemming from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — Warner has avoided the partisan jabs that have defined the panel’s counterpart across the Capitol, the House Intelligence Committee.
If he becomes chair, the Virginia Democrat will play a critical role in shepherding national security nominees through the Senate — including a director of national intelligence and CIA director — who are not loyal to a political party or a president.
The former tech industry executive, now in her fourth term, is in line to take over the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee if Democrats are victorious. Cantwell, of Washington state, is cautious about efforts to rein in Big Tech, or break up Google, Amazon or Facebook, and she wants to hear more on antitrust concerns surrounding the tech giants.
“I don’t care who’s in charge next time, I’m going to be talking about how we realize that we’re in an information age and we prepare for the future,” Cantwell said in an interview. “We have a president that basically is ignoring the fact, just like along with the pandemic, instead of realizing we’re in a global economy and an information age and we need to make some adjustments to make sure there are rules in the marketplace and that you invest in job training and education and disruption techniques — smoothing out disruptions.”
Cantwell added: “But I’m a believer we live in this age, not that you can deny it or put your head in the sand. So I don’t care who’s in charge, we’re going to focus on that.”
Cantwell and Commerce Democrats are releasing a report soon analyzing the impact the tech giants have had on local journalism. Hundreds of local and regional newspapers have disappeared as ad revenue has dried up, while Google and Facebook dominate the online ad market. This issue has become a major concern for those worried that the death of local papers is a threat to democracy.
Brown is an old-school blue-collar Democrat who has spent most of his life in public office. But it’s clear the financial services industry may not love Brown as chair of the Banking panel. In 2014, when it looked like the Ohio Democrat may become chair, industry officials called it “frightening.” Six years later, it may be just as scary to them, although progressive Democrats would love it.
Brown, who has made a focus of his career pushing for more affordable housing for the middle class, has called for dramatically ramping up rental assistance during the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. And he’s been outspoken on efforts by the Trump administration to weaken fair housing protections. Look for Brown to push both issues if he gets the gavel.
“First thing: We do a major emergency rental assistance. I mean it’s all about housing. The word housing has essentially been left out of that committee the last three or four years. So it’s all about that,” he said.
Brown clashed with Banking Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and moderate Banking Committee Democrats in 2018 over efforts to weaken Dodd-Frank, the landmark financial regulatory bill. Brown lost that fight, but he won’t lose many more as chair.
Another old-school politician, Leahy has been serving in the Senate since 1975. If Democrats retake the majority, Leahy would become yet again the Senate’s president pro tempore — the senior-most member of the majority party, a position that puts him third in line to the presidency behind the speaker of the House and vice president.
Perhaps most important, though, Leahy would become chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. He and his counterpart, fellow octogenarian Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), have a productive working relationship and have shown that they can cut bipartisan deals together.
Leahy’s ascension to the helm of the Appropriations panel also underscores the role of seniority in the Senate. With Leahy atop Appropriations and Sanders chairing Budget, a small state like Vermont would have an outsize impact on federal spending, and it would almost certainly guarantee additional funds for the state.
Murray, a member of Senate Democratic leadership, would take control of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the principal health care panel in the Senate. With the issue dominating recent elections — including this year’s cycle — the Washington state Democrat would be the face of the party’s efforts to protect and expand on the Affordable Care Act, which has come under assault from the Trump administration.
If Biden wins the White House, the Justice Department will likely drop its effort to invalidate the 2010 law in court, and Biden will work with Senate Democrats to develop a plan that vastly expands Obamacare, including the likely addition of a public option.
Facing his own reelection fight, the Michigan Democrat’s ascension to the chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is not yet certain. But Peters’ goals for the committee, if he becomes chair, are simple: restore bipartisanship.
The committee, the Senate’s chief bipartisan oversight body, has devolved into chaos and distrust over Chair Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) efforts to investigate Trump’s political enemies, including the Biden family and former top Obama administration officials.
Peters tends to lay low in the Senate and tout his bipartisan credentials, but he has been forced to take on a role of pushing back against Johnson’s investigations, which he says are politically motivated and intended to boost Trump’s prospects in the election.
“I take great pride in finding ways to work in a bipartisan way,” Peters said in a brief interview. “And the committee has traditionally always worked that way.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
Labour Frontbencher Yasmin Qureshi Is In Hospital After Testing Positive For Coronavirus
3 min read
A Labour shadow minister who tested positive for coronavirus a fortnight ago is in hospital being treated for pneumonia.
Yasmin Qureshi announced on Facebook she had been admitted to the Royal Bolton Hospital on Saturday after falling ill.
The 57-year-old MP for Bolton South East posted this morning: “Two weeks ago, I began to feel unwell.
“I then tested positive for Covid-19, so my family and I immediately self-isolated at home. I have not travelled to Westminster or anywhere else.”
My thoughts are with my friend @YasminQureshiMP who has been admitted to hospital after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
My thanks go to the staff caring for Yasmin at the Royal Bolton Hospital, along with NHS staff across the country who are on the frontline against Covid-19.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) October 19, 2020
The shadow international development minister added: “I continued to work as best I could remotely, attending virtual meetings and doing casework, but after 10 days, I began to feel much worse and on Saturday I was admitted to the Royal Bolton Hospital with pneumonia.
“I’m being very well looked after and have nothing but praise and admiration for the wonderful staff at the hospital.
“They have been amazing throughout the process and I would like to extend my thanks to everyone working here in such difficult circumstances.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “My thoughts are with my friend Yasmin Qureshi who has been admitted to hospital after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
“My thanks go to the staff caring for Yasmin at the Royal Bolton Hospital, along with NHS staff across the country who are on the frontline against Covid-19.”
Bolton has seen a surge in positive cases in recent weeks, moving from a seven-day average of fewer than 10 cases per day at the end of August to above 150 now and continuing to rise.
The region has been under extra lockdown restrictions for several months, and the government has been negotiating with local politicians about putting it into the highest tier of measures to try and drive down the spiralling infection rate, but is facing resistance from Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham over a financial aid package.
A former barrister who headed the criminal legal section of the UN Mission in Kosovo, Ms Qureshi was first elected in 2010 and served as a shadow justice minister for four years under Jeremy Corbyn, retaining her frontbench position when Sir Keir took over as Labour leader.
She is one of a number of MPs to have tested positive for coronavirus during the pandemic, including fellow Greater Manchester representative Tony Lloyd, who spent 25 days in hospital back in April with the disease.
US election 2020: What does it cost and who pays for it?
US election campaigns can start years in advance and cost billions of dollars. Due to coronavirus, this year’s cycle looks a little different, but huge sums are still being spent ahead of the election on 3 November.
In 2016, the US elections cost an estimated $6.5bn. BBC Reality Check breaks down who paid for it and looks at how much 2020 might cost.
Motion graphics by Jacqueline Galvin
Produced by Jake Horton and Soraya Auer
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