There has been a lot of drama lately in American politics. A Congressional committee is accusing former President Trump of inciting the riots of 6 January 2021. The Supreme Court has ruled on two very hot political topics: it struck down a gun-restriction law in the state of New York, and it reversed its own so-called Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973.
The latter ruling ended federal protection of abortion, returning responsibility for abortion laws to the states. It could have spillover effects on the public discourse in Europe.
Another issue, which has mostly flown under the radar so far, could be even more consequential for Europe.
The gun-rights ruling, decided on June 23rd, has to do with what restrictions a state government can put in place on people’s right to carry a concealed firearm. The law in New York that the Supreme Court struck down required applicants for a conceal-carry license, or CCW permit, to explain why they need it. According to the Supreme Court, that restriction places too narrow a limit on a citizen’s right under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Gun rights are a major voter issue here in America. Getting a permit is easy: in half of all states, private citizens who have never been convicted of a crime are allowed to carry a concealed weapon without a permit if they meet the criteria for a CCW permit. (Think of it as your government allowing you to drive a car without a driver’s license, if you could legally obtain one.) Furthermore, a total of 35 states allow people from other states—with CCW permits in their states—to carry a concealed weapon in their state, too.
It is difficult to find any numbers on how many Americans carry a concealed weapon on a regular basis, but estimates say that there are at least 16.5 million active CCW permits in the country. Millions more own firearms for the protection of their homes and their businesses, which means that gun-rights issues directly affect probably 50-60 million voters. Furthermore, as the riots in 2020 showed, when public unrest reaches a certain level, even citizens who would never consider owning a gun, start buying them.
Politicians representing the Democrat party have reacted negatively to the Supreme Court’s ruling. Governor Hochul of New York, who was directly affected by the ruling, has vowed to fight back with all means at her disposal. She may not be affected in public opinion—the electorate in New York is heavily Democratic—but if Democrats in more centrist, or even conservative states copy her resentment vs. the Court’s ruling, they will in all likelihood suffer in the November election.
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on concealed-carry rights for gun owners is unlikely to have any influence on Europe, the Court’s other much-publicized ruling probably will. The case, known as Dobbs v. Jackson, concerns abortion rights, but unlike what some analytically challenged outlets try to imply, abortion has not become illegal in America. Women who want to kill their babies in utero can still do so.
All that happened as a result of Dobbs v. Jackson is that abortions lost their federal protection. It is now up to the states to decide whether or not they want to allow abortions.
This decentralization of power is motivated in good part by the fact that there is no explicit mention of abortions in the U.S. Constitution. The Court makes a point about this in its opinion on Dobbs v Jackson. Furthermore, by returning the abortion issue to the states, the Supreme Court complies with the 10th Amendment of the Constitution. This amendment says that the federal government only has a set of enumerated powers that the Constitution grants it. In this case, since there is no mention of abortions in the Constitution, and since states have not granted such powers to Congress and the president, by default the states maintain jurisdiction over the issue.
In short: all that the Dobbs ruling did was call upon the states to take responsibility for an issue that they by default already have in their hands.
That is not to say abortions will not be restricted going forward. They will: there are laws on the books in 13 states that automatically ban abortions in the event that the Supreme Court would rule as it did here. These so-called trigger laws are now taking effect.
Other states may follow with their own abortion bans, but many states will also proceed to codify the right to abortion or even extend it. Prior to the Dobbs ruling from the Supreme Court, California and Maryland were considering giving mothers the legal right to kill babies for weeks after birth.
The controversy around the Dobbs case is not primarily about abortion itself. The main controversy is actually about the jurisdictional line between states and the federal government. However, many proponents of the practice are trying to make it about abortion. That is likely how Europe will get to know the Supreme Court’s ruling.
President Kamala Harris—this year?
While these big-drama issues make their way through the news cycle, an even bigger news story is quietly gaining speed. It is about President Biden and his weakening health.
He was recently caught sitting in a meeting with a cheat note in his hand. The note contained detailed instructions telling him to enter the room, sit down, give brief comments, who to ask a question, and so on.
There can be no doubt anymore that the president’s mental capabilities are deteriorating. His speeches have slowly become more incoherent and, frankly, embarrassing. Back in March, Dr. Ronny Jackson, who served as White House physician under both Presidents Obama and Trump, called on President Biden to resign immediately. According to Dr. Jackson, the president is “not cognitively capable” of leading the country.
Up until now, Democrats have not worried about the president’s mental ineptitude. Now, though, when opinion polls are consistently showing overwhelming support for Republicans, the tone is changing. A recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll gave President Biden a low 36% approval rating. He has been below 50% since August last year, and there are growing worries among Democrats that they will lose the Congressional election in November thanks to him.
Things are so bad, in fact, that leading Democrats and donors may try to convince the president to resign.
This idea has been gaining momentum for a while. Already back in December, less than a year into Biden’s first term in office, CNN ran a story about “11 Democrats who could replace Joe Biden” in the 2024 election. Being heavily slanted in favor of the Democrat party, normally CNN would never run a story like this about an incumbent Democrat president.
A Lifezette article from June 12th this year suggested that Biden may resign soon after the November election. The apparent reason would be that Democrats could blame him for having lost them the election.
It would be unprecedented for a political party in America to convince their own president to resign after a bad election. However, if we assume that the discussion is already underway to convince Biden to step down for mental health reasons, it is only a matter of time before it happens.
The timing, in turn, would depend on how badly the Democrat party believes he is hurting their chances; if they think they can win by ousting him before the election, then that will happen. When it does, current Vice President Kamala Harris becomes America’s first female president.
That alone is big news—but even bigger news would be who her successor as vice president could be.
Republican Liz Cheney may be the prime candidate.
Currently, Cheney sits in the House of Representatives for Wyoming. She is the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, who served under George W. Bush in 2001-2009. After working with U.S. foreign policy for many years, Liz Cheney ran successfully for the House in 2016. She was re-elected in 2018 and 2020.
Cheney has profiled herself as a conservative—though with some of her recent votes many Wyomingites have started questioning that—and she is a hawk on foreign policy. Before the Capitol Hill riots on 6 January 2021, her only big policy fight with Trump was over his desire to reduce America’s military engagement around the world, including Afghanistan.
Since then, however, she has confronted Trump over the January 6th events and agreed to serve as vice chairman of the committee that Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed to investigate those events.
Cheney is a capable politician with all the leadership skills necessary for a president. She is very intelligent, she has a strategic acumen like few other politicians, and she absorbs complex information with both speed and accuracy. She also has personal integrity. While a president’s ideology matters, his or her leadership skills matter more. It is the exact opposite with Congress.
It is debatable whether or not Cheney’s committee has found anything on Trump and the January 6th events that could get the former president convicted. Until a court has tried the committee’s accusations against him, Trump must be presumed innocent. However, regardless of the substance in the committee’s findings, it is a fact that Cheney’s support within the Republican party has dwindled badly. She has a very small chance of getting re-elected to Congress, and at least for now her chances of becoming the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 look dim at best.
There is, however, another path for her into the White House. By serving on the January 6th committee, Cheney has done the Democrats a big favor. While she herself is convinced that she is protecting the integrity of the Constitution, Democrats see her work as sowing division and discord among Republicans.
This is where a door to the White House may open up for Liz Cheney. Assuming that Biden resigns later this year, President Kamala Harris gets to nominate a candidate for vice president. Under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that person is then approved by both chambers in Congress.
It may seem outlandish to suggest that President Kamala Harris would want a Republican for vice president, but the scenario is not that crazy. The Democrats owe Cheney substantially for what she has sacrificed in order to go after President Trump. Cheney, in turn, very likely asked for something in return before she agreed to make that sacrifice (she was the third highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives).
Now: when Dr. Jackson stated back in March that Biden was unfit for office, he did not do so out of the blue. His statement was probably scripted in order to be part of a slowly growing effort by insiders in Washington to convince Biden to resign. Therefore, Washington insiders have probably been aware for some time of the “schedule” for his replacement.
I should point out that all of this is purely theoretical as far as I am concerned. I have no substantive knowledge of what is happening in the ‘insider circles’ in Washington, D.C.; all I have is my 16 years of experience working with American politics, and my opportunity as a constituent of Liz Cheney’s to study her as a politician for about a decade.
With that said, suppose I am correct about Biden’s coming, premature resignation. If Liz Cheney has played her cards well, she has secured herself a path to the White House under the 25th Amendment.
With her strong leadership skills, and the fact that Kamala Harris, like Biden, seems to have problems with coherence and following a line of thought, Cheney’s appointment to vice president could provide some real political ballast to a floundering ship of state.
Sven R. Larson is a political economist and author. He received a Ph.D. in Economics from Roskilde University, Denmark. Originally from Sweden, he lives in America where for the past 16 years he has worked in politics and public policy. He has written several books, including Democracy or Socialism: The Fateful Question for America in 2024.