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Event Summaries
November 16, 2017

Event Summary: After Charlottesville: The State of American Politics

Henry Jackson Society

By Julian James

On the 9th November 2017, the Henry Jackson Society was delighted to welcome the 72nd and current Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, to the House of Lords for an event chaired by Viscount Waverley. The event came just a couple of days after the recent Virginia gubernatorial elections in which Ralph Northam, the Democrat nominee, defeated Republican nominee Ed Gillespie with a decisive margin. Governor Terry McAuliffe, limited to serve only one term because the Virginia Constitution prohibits a governor from serving consecutive terms (Virginia is the only state that has this ruling), was thrilled for Governor Elect Ralph Northam and was riding high on the success of Tuesday 7th. McAuliffe has been Governor since 2014, and was formerly chairman of the Democratic National Committee (2001-2005). He was also chairman of both President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008. The event preceded the governor’s trip to the UN Climate Change meeting in Germany.

The event consisted of a short speech by the governor in which he outlined his thoughts on the recent Democrat victory in Virginia, his successes as governor – including achieving vital trade deals that created considerable numbers of jobs – and his thoughts on the future of American politics. The floor was then opened up to a Q&A session. When prompted to discuss Charlottesville, the governor took a very different line to President Trump, and was critical of the President’s approach to the crisis. The governor did not view both sides as equally to blame, and said that the President should have condemned the far right, antisemitic and racist protesters at the rally, and that he had advised the President as such when discussing Charlottesville over the phone. The governor, in unequivocal terms, stated that he “condemned the President for not condemning the racists”. He said that they had been aware that the rally could get violent and that he had mobilised the police in preparation, but there is little one could do about the weaponisation of vehicles, which, in this case, tragically led to the death of Heather Heyer, aged 32.

The governor did not hold back in criticising other aspects of President Trump’s policies. When Lord Waverley inquired about the governor’s views on immigration, McAuliffe stated “the wall will never be built”, and that the rhetoric and policies that Trump has employed, both during his campaign and presidency, have damaged trade deals and US interests abroad. Governor McAuliffe is one of the most pro-trade Democrats in the US, and because he frequently goes on trade missions he has regularly found himself spending much time calming worries from potential trade partners about the travel ban that the president has enforced. He said that he has lost trade deals that would benefit Virginia and the US directly because of the president’s travel ban and rhetoric. He also talked about the US being a country of immigrants, and that there should be secure borders but also a better pathway to citizenship for immigrants.

The governor supports investigations into the Russia hacking scandal and said that if some of the allegations against the president’s campaign members were true, it would be treasonous. When confronted with concerns over the death penalty in Virginia, he indicated that he opposed the death penalty, but that he doubted the ruling would change in the state for some time and that as elected governor he had to enforce the law. Last year he refused the suggestion that the electric chair be brought back to the state due to a lack of the lethal drugs required for normal executions. When asked if he saw challenges within the Democratic party, he suggested that the largest issue the party faced was the lack of focus on succeeding at the local level. He proposed that real change comes about at the local level rather than the state level, and that the party should adapt to this.

The event concluded with a question concerning trade post-Brexit for the UK. The governor promoted fair trade deals that protect workers’ rights and the environment, and outlined his concern about the negative impact on US interests now that the TPP trade pact is moving forward without the US. Governor Terry McAuliffe will hand over the governorship to Ralph Northam in January 2018.