• Urjasvi Ahlawat and Kamakshi Belwal

THE SENATE, BARRETT, COVID TASKFORCE: EVERYTHING ABOUT THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS 2020

With the election day just a week away, the excitement and curiosity about the US Presidential Elections rises! Urjasvi Ahlawat and Kamakshi Belwal, students of BAGA'19 and BAGA'18, interviewed Prof Dr Kenneth Holland, a professor in JSIA. The interview took place right after the final presidential debate. Professor Holland explained the judicial aspect

and gave his views on various topics ranging from Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to Trump’s criticization about Obamacare. Prof Holland’s academic interests lie in the role of the judiciary in democratic regimes.


What are your views on the final presidential debate? With respect to the first presidential debate, was there something which you expected to see in the final presidential debate?


Professor Dr. Holland: The final presidential debate was much more watchable than the first one and came closer to being a real debate. In a real debate, the candidates outline their policy positions and as a listener, one can compare the two positions and make some reasoned judgement as to which position do they agree with. However, in the first debate, there was nothing like that because President Trump interrupted Biden so many times that it was difficult to understand where they stood on in any particular policy issue.


How is mail-in Ballot different and early voting different from voting on election day?


Professor Dr. Holland: There are three ways in which an American can vote: the first way is to show up in person on election day and go to a polling place. Each voter is assigned a particular place in their precinct. You can vote in the polling station of that precinct. The second way in which Americans can vote is that they can vote early. In mini states including Indiana, where early voting started from October 6th, you could go to the country courthouse and vote there early. The third way is by mail, which is absentee ballots for over a hundred years for example Americans who serve in the military or who work overseas, like me, also vote by mail.


What do you think about the legality of the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the Presidential election?


Professor Dr. Holland: In terms of the constitution, what President Trump has done is perfectly acceptable and consistent with the requirement of the constitution. The constitution states that when a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court, the President shall nominate someone to fill that vacancy, and the senate shall vote to confirm the nomination by a majority vote. The actions of President Trump, Sen Lindsey Graham, the Chairman of the Senate Committee, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader are consistent with the constitution, so I myself have no problems with what they are doing.


What is your view on the democrats boycotting the judiciary committee hearing on Barrett’s confirmation? Will it have any impact on the final decision?


Professor Dr. Holland: In terms of impact, there is no impact at all. Instead of being a 12-10 vote to recommend Judge Barrett to the full Senate for confirmation, it becomes a 12-0 vote. Senator Grahams said that it was a unanimous vote in favour of judge Barrett recommendation, so the Democrats did not accomplish anything by boycotting the committee vote.


Judge Barrett avoided answering whether Roe v Wade was a wrong decision, but through her articles and journals, it is evident how she is against this landmark judgement. What are your views on this?


Professor Dr. Holland: There are two different ways in which Judge Barrett can respond to Roe v Wade. The first one is where she can argue that the Supreme Court wrongly decided the question back in 1973 and she can vote to overturn it. The second way in which she can respond is by saying that she may disagree with the court’s constitutional reasoning in Roe v Wade, but that decision has stood for 47 years, and so it would be unfair and unwise to reverse it and overrule the President; millions of American women have come to rely on the courts’ decision. She can point to the importance of consistency and stability in the law and of the British practice of judges abiding by the previous decisions, which is called the rule of precedent or stare decisis.


What effect do you think Barrett’s nomination would have on the legacy RBG left behind in the Supreme Court given Barrett’s originalist and regressive ideologies?


Professor Dr. Holland: Yes, she is likely to have a major impact on the court because she will be the 6th republican appointee on a nine-judge court. Justice Roberts, the Chief Justice, is playing a more moderate role recently, and many conservatives are not happy with him, but having Judge Barrett on the court as a committed conservative cements the Republican majority on the court. Therefore, even if Justice Roberts moves towards the left, it won’t make a difference because it will still be a five-judge conservative majority. It will be very interesting to see what she says about the legality of the affordable care act. Hence, I predict that she will have a major impact.


Why do you think that the Indian American community in the US voted for trump on 2016 and do you think that they will vote for him again in the 2020 elections considering Kamala Harris, an Indian Jamaican, is on the Democratic VP ticket?


Professor Dr. Holland: Many of the Indian-Americans are involved in business; they either own small businesses or work in large corporations. Thus, everyone says that in terms of economy, Trump is better as he favours low taxes and low government regulation, and he emphasized these points in the debate last night, so if you are involved in the private business, then you are going to get attracted to President Trump and the Republican party. In terms of this year’s election, I think that the same imperatives are applied here. However, there are some Indian Americans especially female Indian-Americans who are pleased with Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris, thus I think they will vote for the Biden-Harris ticket. I expect that the percentage of Indian Americans voting for Trump will be lower than it was in 2016.


Why do you think that the COVID 19 Task Force headed by VP Pence has been quiet lately, especially after the super spreader event and the infection of President Trump? Do you think that the Task Force being quiet will hurt Trump's reelection especially in swing states?


Professor Dr. Holland: Trump and his advisors take a different position on the coronavirus pandemic than his scientific advisors. There is a huge gap between the political views of Trump and his campaigning advisors and the scientific views of people of CDC and Dr Fauci. It’s now Trump’s intention to marginalize the scientists. He said it in the debate that he thinks Fauci is a democrat, hence, is disloyal to him. The coronavirus has really become a political issue; for Trump, it is no longer a medical or scientific issue so that is why he is marginalising the COVID taskforce.


Do you believe that Biden will actually implement a much-needed plan to slow the spread of COVID-19 or that the vaccine will come out by then and such a plan will not be needed?


Professor Dr. Holland: All of the evidence suggests that the US is about to undergo a third wave of infections and it is going to be severe, and another 200,000 Americans will die between now and January 2021, hence it is going to be worse. It will be one of the major issues on November 3rd, especially for the undecided voters who will ask themselves am I gonna be safe under President Biden or am I gonna be safe under President Trump. All the evidence is that the pandemic is going to get worse in the United States.


How do you think Trump has benefited and will continue to benefit India if he is re-elected in terms of Bilateral Relations since both country leaders are right-wing populists?


Professor Dr. Holland: India is a member of the quadrilateral security dialogue, a grouping of Japan, Australia, US and India. Its primary purpose is to come up with a strategy to check up China’s aggression. President Trump has taken a tough position on China, thus, I believe if Trump were re-elected, India US would probably draw even closer together because they see China as an aggressor, and China is trying to gain the upper hand in Asia and is threatening India’s geopolitical position.


Biden, on the other hand, will also be tough on China but he will be more open to dialogue and cooperation with China than Trump will be so the Chinese issue is critical for India.


How do you expect the make-up of the Congress to be by 2021? Which party will dominate the governors?


Professor Dr. Holland: President Trump in the debate predicted that the Republican will regain a majority in the House of Representatives, but I don’t think that will happen; I think the Democrats will increase their majority in the House of Representatives so then the issue becomes the Senate- I predict that the Republican will hold on to their majority in the Senate which will be very slim 51-49, and I think it is impossible to predict if Trump or Biden will win, the public opinion polls show Biden is ahead, but we all think about what happened in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was ahead in the polls, so I don’t want to predict who will win the Presidency, but I do predict that Democrats will retain control of the House and Republicans will retain the control of the Senate. In terms of governments, the Democrats may pick a few governors because there is a trend across the US for more and more state legislatures and state governors to be Democrat.


Source: Associated Press


Trump continues to state the overturn of Obamacare and impose a plan of his own; do you think advocating the repeal of Obamacare which provides health insurance to many lower-income households, at such a crucial time, is the right thing to do?


Professor Dr. Holland: Well, I think it is important to understand why Trump took that position; he has to see what is at stake. He is mainly opposed to Obamacare because of the role of the federal government in organising that program. He’s afraid that under the Biden plan, which would be an extension of the Obamacare, the US government will be in direct competition with private health insurance companies, which are one of the biggest donors to the Republican party in the US and they are very powerful not only in Washington but also in the state capital; this is about the future of the private health insurance companies because the greater role that the government plays in providing insurance under the Biden plan, the lesser the role will be there for private insurers.


When you have a system on private insurance, then that’s also based upon employment because the way in which most Americans acquire their health insurance is through their employer, but not all employers provide health insurance as a benefit and then if you are unemployed, then you don’t have access to employer-provided insurance. What Trump argues is that this is acceptable to him that millions of Americans have no health insurance so the people (lower-income households) will be left out in the cold because they have no insurance.


Biden stated that he will reverse tax cut policies imposed by the Trump administration and increase corporate and capital gain taxes; is this going to benefit the economy? Which income group will it impact the most? Additionally, how did Trump’s policy on tax cuts benefit the economy?


Professor Dr. Holland: When President Trump cut the corporate tax rates and tic tax rates for middle-class Americans, then the major benefit went to large scale corporations. I think the average American family saved one thousand dollars in taxes, but corporations saved hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. It was a huge benefit to the largest US corporations in terms of the Biden plan. He would raise the corporate tax rate and would impose higher tax rates on everyone making four hundred thousand dollars a year. Then he would extend healthcare and move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. For example, through government subsidies so to fund these initiatives President Biden will have to redistribute wealth so again that is the Republicans' complaint about the Democratic plan that all their initiatives really rest upon the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor which they see as unfair and unjust.


Trump adopted the America First policy, and sort of isolated America from all its allies; it shifted from multilateralism to isolationism. Will Biden change this?


Professor Dr. Holland: One of his main points is that the US will try to win back the support of his closest allies which Trump has alienated which include Canada, Germany, France, Japan and South Korea, all of whom Trump has insulted. Trump has not only insulted our closest allies, but he has also made friendly gestures to the national enemies, which include the leaders of North Korea, Russia and China; what Biden would do is reverse those two policies. He would not make friendly overtures to dictators and secondly, he would win the confidence and trust back of the traditional allies. India is a new ally of the US and I am sure that President Biden will continue to develop closer relations with India.


How much time will it take to enter and achieve an influential position in these treaties?


Professor Dr. Holland: In personal relationships, once you lose the trust of your friend, it takes time to win that trust back so it will take at least two years before there are good relations again between the US and their allies. We need trust-building initiatives.


Cover Image: Agence France-Presse

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