Essential Politics: Is Kamala Harris taking a bet in Honduras?

vice president Kamala Harris was optimistic when she left Honduras last week. In one five-minute barter with journalistsshe used the word “optimist” and “optimism” while raving about how impressed she was with the passion with which the country’s new president spoke about the fight against corruption during his inauguration speech.

That’s a lot of excitement for a leader who threatened to expel 18 elected lawmakers before taking office and is now embroiled in a constitutional crisis.

Hello and welcome to Essential Politics: Kamala Harris Edition. Today I’ll explain what’s at stake in Harris’ latest overseas trip and why the Biden administration feels it needs to bet on Xiomara Castrothe new Honduran president, warts and all.

As voting rights failed, Harris turned south

First, a little primer on Harris. She has two important items on her portfolio: passing voting rights legislation in Congress and fighting migration in Central America. The Senate killed a voting rights bill last month, ending that quest. A week later, Harris got back to work on the second issue, tackling the root causes of migration, which is far from resolved.

The root cause strategy is to direct aid and private investment to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, three countries known collectively as the Northern Triangle. They have been major sources of migration due to extreme poverty, crime, violence, COVID-19 and a series of natural disasters.

The administration agrees with many experts and activists who believe that reducing corruption in these countries is key to ensuring that investments and aid reach the people. Harris, however, was reluctant to deal with the region’s leaders due to a general turn towards authoritarianism.

Last year, Harris focused on Guatemala. But weeks after meeting the president Alejandro Giammattei in June, the country’s government fired its top anti-corruption prosecutor. The New York Times reported that the prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval, came to Washington with evidence allegedly implicating Giammattei in a bribery scheme.

This and other actions by the Guatemalan government, including the passing of new laws that could target journalists and nongovernmental organizations, underscore the risks of putting too much huevos in one basket.

In southern Honduras, meanwhile, the former president Juan Orlando Hernandez had been banned because he was involved in drug trafficking by US courts which convicted his brother, Tony, drug trafficking. When Castro defeated Hernandez in an election late last year, the Biden administration decided it had a chance to find a partner who could help solve the migration problem.

In a background call with reporters last week before Harris attended the inauguration, administration officials stressed that fighting corruption takes time. But they said they were impressed by Castro’s promises to work with the United Nations to bring in an outside body to fight corruption, a strategy that has already been tried in the region.

But as my colleague Kate Linthicum wrote last week, Castro’s inauguration was marred by a crisis, with two groups of lawmakers claiming they were the rightful representatives in Congress as they held dueling assemblies. Castro was furious that her party lawmakers undermined a pre-election deal she struck that helped her get elected. Instead of voting for his coalition partner at the helm of Congress, as expected, they backed a rival candidate.

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“A worrying question”

All of this raises questions about how much control Castro will have over her government and whether, if her side loses in court, she will respect the role of the legislature.

“It’s a matter of concern,” said Lisa Kubiskewho served as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 2011 to 2014. “All of those are sort of rule of law issues.”

Despite those glaring concerns, Kubiske said she believes Harris’ decision to kiss Castro wasn’t so much a gamble as an opportunity.

“If you’re a diplomat, any diplomat, you’re usually trying to see what you can accomplish. And starting by berating the other side usually doesn’t help,” she said.

Harris’ hug is getting a lot of attention in the area. Linthicum, who reported from El Salvador this week, told me that Castro is seen by many as a direct rival to the Salvadoran president. Nayib Bukele. Many people she meets see Harris’ budding relationship with Castro as a rebuke to Bukele, whose authoritarian tendencies have made him a persona non grata in Washington.

Castro is also a leftist, which could cause political problems for Harris, especially if Castro forms an alliance with Venezuela. Nicola Maduro, a socialist. Maduro is particularly unpopular in the battleground state of Florida.

Kubiske, a former career diplomat who spent most of her term in the Western Hemisphere, said there was an opening for the White House in Honduras because Castro had multiple goals that coincided with American interests. These include pledges to fight corruption and plans to provide free electricity to the country’s large, extremely poor population.

“All the root causes are a common goal,” she added. “How you may or may not get there. I don’t think inauguration day is the day to go into detail.

These are difficult things to accomplish, both logistically and politically. And the United States still doesn’t really know what it’s getting with Castro. But Kubiske thinks losing a seat at the table to a country at risk of becoming a failed state is a far worse alternative.

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Washington’s view

– Nolan D. McCaskill spoke to the rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) on recent progressive defeats and how they see Biden’s presidency.

– From Tracy Wilkinson: A stormy and angry session at the United Nations on Monday exacerbated deep global divisions over Russian troop buildups around Ukraine, with the American and Russian sides harshly accusing each other to escalate the conflict.

– A bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to place metrics on the nation’s biggest tech companies has found new support in recent weeks. But as Jennifer Haberkorn writes, it also divides the Democrats as they face a long campaign commitment.

– In 1980, Ronald Reagan promised to appoint the first female Supreme Court justice if elected president — much like Biden’s pledge to appoint a black woman. The architect of Reagan’s campaign pledge said it was all politicalwrites columnist Mark Z. Barabak.

– Erin B. Logan and Anumita Kaur report that Biden met with two key senators in the Oval Office on Tuesday as the White House sought congressional support for his eventual Supreme Court nominee.

— David G. Savage writes that the United States Court of Appeals judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the favorite for the next seat on the Supreme Court since Biden won the 2020 election. She graduated with high honors from Harvard College, was editor of the Harvard Law Review and legal assistant to retired Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

– Originally from Los Angeles County and Justice of the Supreme Court of California Leondra Kruger is also among the top contenders for the seat. Her resume spans the nation’s top universities, elite law firms and the federal Department of Justice, writes Hannah Wiley.

The latest from California

– From Melody Gutierrez: Lawmakers declined to vote Monday on a sweeping effort to overhaul California’s healthcare system, end a proposal which would have guaranteed medical coverage to every resident by levying billions in new taxes.

– As the midterm elections approach, new financial reports show that California congressmen continue to rake in millions, Seema Mehta Reports. house tenant Nancy Pelosiminority leader Kevin McCarthy and representatives. Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff are among the most prodigious fundraisers in the country.

— Almost three years later Governor Gavin Newsom halted executions in California, the state is accelerating its efforts to get inmates off death row and in other prisons write Wiley and Richard Winton.

— In his campaign for mayor of Los Angeles, mike feuer enjoys telling constituents about his family’s dedication to public service. But the Los Angeles City Attorney’s benefactor profile for two terms took a beating in a 2019 scandal, writes James Rainey. Will voters care?

Subscribe to our California Politics Newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state policy reporting.

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