Email #170: “cannot go unchecked”?

You said in March about the President’s travel ban:

“The Ninth Circuit was wrong on the first executive order, but I am pleased that President Trump is moving forward with a revised plan to keep Americans safe.”

Like the first, the President’s revised order has since been blocked and yesterday that block was upheld by a Virginia appeals court in a 10-to-3 decision.

When you wrote to me in January about the possibility of then President-elect Trump abusing his power, you assured me that you would “continue to uphold our Constitution” and that its “three co-equal branches of government” prevents “one branch from assuming too much authority without a challenge from the other branches of government.”

I see now that you were right. Judge Gregory reasoned similarly:

“Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation.”

You also said that courts “have the power to review the constitutionality of statutes and presidential actions.” Judge Wynn agrees with you, arguing that judges shouldn’t “blindly defer” to executive action:

“because it is the particular province of the judicial branch to say what the law is, but also because we would do a disservice to our constitutional structure were we to let its mere invocation silence the call for meaningful judicial review.”

I am disappointed that no challenge came from you though, especially since you have repeatedly stated that “checking the executive branch” is one of your top priorities.

You have, however, described the President’s ban in reasonable terms, arguing that “it’s sensible to hit pause on admitting foreign nationals and refugees from countries where adequate screening cannot occur.” But Gregory and the other nine judges viewed it in light of the President’s anti-Muslim campaign statements and concluded that it “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.” The judges who blocked both versions of the executive order reasoned similarly. Do you still disagree with them?

I understand that the President may appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Would you advise him to do so? I read that such an appeal needs to show that the government would suffer irreparable harm if the 90-day ban was not reinstated. But more than 90 have passed since the President issued the first executive order. The administration said it needed that much time to change their vetting process, and presumably that’s what they’ve been doing.

So isn’t the ban now obsolete? The moment “to hit pause” has come and gone. Why should the Justice Department continue to spend tax-payer dollars defending the 90-day ban in court when the ban’s intended 90 days have already passed?

While I of course agree that the government should “keep Americans safe,” the battle over the ban seems to have devolved into pure politics, with supporters of the President supporting the out-dated executive order only because he issued it. So I urge you not to comment on yesterday’s ruling and focus instead on approaches to national security with bipartisan support. Keeping Americans safe is a unifying issue. Please don’t use it to divide us further.

Email #169: “fiscal sanity”?

When Mick Mulvaney was appointed budget director in February, you said he would bring “fiscal sanity to Washington.” Mulvaney has now released a full version of the President’s proposed budget. It balances if the U.S. has a continuous 3% GDP growth rate over the next decade.

“It used to be normal,” he said. “Ten years ago it was normal.” But ten years ago it was not normal. It hasn’t been normal for decades. He said the average has been 3.2% since 1948. But the average since 1980 is only 2.6%. Is it “fiscal sanity” to build a budget on the assumption that a four-decade norm will suddenly change?

It is also true that the U.S. normally has individual 3% years. But the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that we just went a record-breaking decade without one. From 2007-2015, the highest peak was only 2.7. That’s never happened before in the 85 years that the BEA has been keeping records.

Perhaps Mulvaney’s 3% projection might make some sense if recent indicators suggested a new upward trend. They don’t. The last quarter of 2016 the GDP increased 2.1%, and in the first quarter of 2017 it increased only 0.7%. That means the odds of 2017 hitting an average of 3% are around zero. Since the budget year begins in October, Mulvaney’s projection is wrong from the start.

Mulvaney’s 3% is also much higher than projections from your own Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Reserve, and the International Monetary Fund. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said the budget was “ludicrous” and Mulvaney’s 3% projection a “logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course.”

Republican Rep. Mark Sanford was equally direct yesterday:

“It’s not only a myth, it’s frankly a lie… we have to base it on real numbers… if you’re wrong on these numbers, it means all of a sudden we’ve created a $2-plus trillion dollar hole for our kids and grandkids here going forward.”

I’ve never taken an economics course, but even I can see that Mulvanehy’s reasoning is circular. He said “if you don’t” use 3%, “the budget will never balance. If you assume 1.9 percent growth, my guess is you’ll never see a balanced budget again.” This is exactly right. Trump’s tax cuts cannot be balanced.

But in Mulvaney’s defense, 3% is not strictly impossible. It’s just overwhelmingly unlikely. Mulvaney is a high-stakes gambler, and he’s placing all of our chips on the likelihood of a perfect roll of the President’s economic dice.

Are you still calling this “fiscal sanity”?

Email #168: “Save … Medicaid”?

The White House email I received yesterday announced:

“The President’s Budget does not cut core Social Security benefits. And the President is fulfilling his presidential campaign promise not to cut Medicare benefits.”

But what about his promise not to cut Medicaid? He said it in the same sentence in May 2015:

“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.”

He tweeted it too:

“I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”

And he said it again a month later when he officially declared he was running for President:

“Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it.”

But the President’s budget would cut over $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade. Medicaid provides health care for the neediest Americans. The President also cuts $272 billion from welfare programs, including $193 billion from food assistance. Even Rep. Mark Meadows, leader of the House Freedom Caucus, was disturbed:

“Meals on Wheels, even for some of us who are considered to be fiscal hawks, may be a bridge too far.”

In exchange, the budget eliminates the estate tax, which only affects estates worth more than $5.5 million and raised $19.3 billion in 2014. The President would also reduce the tax rate for those with the highest incomes and eliminate the alternative minimum tax. Instead of paying 39.6%, people earning over $418,400 would pay only 35%. The Atlantic calculates that the wealthiest 1% of Americans would save over $1,000,000 each. According to his 2005 tax records, the President would personally save over $31,000,000.

People who receive Medicaid and food stamps are at or below the poverty level. That’s $27,821 for a family of three.

How can the President submit a budget that offsets tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest through cuts to programs that benefit the most needy? Budget director Mulvaney calls this “reform.”

I call it repulsive.

It is your moral duty to reject this budget.

Email #167: “pay for itself”?

“The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth.”

That’s what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says about the President’s proposed corporate tax rate cut from 35 percent to 15 percent.

In theory, the cut will convince U.S. companies to bring their worldwide profits back home rather than keeping them abroad to avoid paying U.S. taxes.  In theory, those companies will then hire more Americans and invest more in our economy, producing the growth the White House says will pay for its massive tax cut.

But the former chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation disagrees:

“The administration has embarked in a very dangerous direction. If it is going to rely on the principle that tax cuts can pay for themselves, history has demonstrated that tax policies move the growth needle a bit but no more than that.”

So does the Pavilion Financial Corporation:

“Tax breaks to encourage firms to repatriate their foreign cash holdings have tended to overwhelmingly benefit shareholders, largely through share buybacks. Conversely, these deals have had little impact on long-term investment or employment. Going forward, we question the efficacy of another tax break and think take-up could in fact be low.”

After President Bush signed the American Jobs Creation Act in 2004, U.S. companies brought home about half of their foreign cash holdings to be taxed at 5.25% instead of 35%. But the huge break didn’t increase investment in the economy as President Bush promised. President Trump is making the same promise now. Why should we believe him when history says he’s wrong?

Cutting the corporate tax rate will overwhelmingly benefit corporations and their wealthy shareholders, while doing little for American workers and the American economy overall. But the Trump cuts will do a lot to the deficit. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates they alone will raise the national debt by $2.4 trillion over the next decade and that Trump’s entire tax cut plan will raise it by $7.2 trillion.

You’ve been a deficit hawk during your quarter century in Congress. Will you demonstrate that your previous fiscal positions have been based on principle and not political convenience by opposing the President’s tax plan now?

Email #127: “not good stuff”?

Republican Senator Jeff Flake said earlier this month:

“I expect people want someone who will say, ‘I’m voting with Trump on the good stuff and standing up to him on the not good stuff.’”

The senator expects correctly. And right now the top of “the not good stuff” list includes: 1) the disclosure of highly classified information to a country the U.S. intelligence community unanimously determined interfered in the election, 2) the firing of the FBI director for conducting an investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion in that interference, 3) and an attempt to end the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn through a direct request to the FBI director.

Like Senator Flake’s constituents, many of yours are waiting for you to stand up to the President on “the not good stuff” too. According to the director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, President Trump cannot be prosecuted for revealing sensitive intelligence:

“Instead, reckless disclosures by the president of classified information that damaged the national security, if they occurred, might be grounds for impeachment.”

Are you prepared to stand up to and impeach the President if investigations into the disclosure finds them to be reckless?

According to Harvard professor of law Mark Tushnet:

“Trump’s firing of Comey is not an obstruction of justice, so long as there is somebody to step in and continue the investigation.”

But this was before Director Comey released his February memo, documenting the President’s request to end the investigation:

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Are you prepared to impeach the President if investigations find that his request to Comey was an obstruction of justice?

White House officials have denied Comey’s memo:

“This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey… The president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn.”

The denail means someone is lying. If it’s shown to be the President, what actions will you take?

This stand-off and the rest of “the not good stuff” places the nation in general, Congress specifically, and GOP leaders especially in a difficult position. Secretary of State Tillerson was asked on NBC:

“What’s the line between service to the president and service to the country, sir? For you.”

Tillerson answered:

“I will never compromise my own values, Chuck. And so that’s my only line. And my values are those of the country.”

What is you answer?

Until now that line has been blurry. It was possible for you and other Republicans to serve President Trump and the country simultaneously. But the escalation of the President’s alarming actions undermines that possibility. As Professor Tushnet said:

“Maybe people didn’t realize this, but in fact the legal checks are not very strong. But there are also political checks on what the president can do, and we’re learning in real time whether those checks are effective.”

Are you willing to stand up to the President and show that political checks are effective? Republican Senator Rubio said over the weekend:

“If any president tries to impede an investigation — any president, no matter who it is — by interfering with the FBI … it would be not just problematic. It would be, obviously, a potential obstruction of justice that people have to make a decision on.”

What decision will you make? Which do you value more: your president or your country?

Email #166: “this important step”?

Thank you for your form letter regarding the President’s firing of Director Comey and the investigations into Russia’s interference in the election.

Like you, I also “support Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel to lead an impartial investigation.” I am confused though why your May 17 press release, which is dated two days before your letter to me and uses some of the same language, includes the sentence: “I applaud the Trump Administration for taking this important step ….” As you stated above, the decision to appoint a special counsel was the Deputy Attorney General’s, not the President’s. According to news reports, Rosenstein did not even inform the White House prior to the announcement. The President also sharply criticized Rosenstein decision, telling reporters:

“I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country.”

He also tweeted:

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”

“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Your letter also states that “the House Judiciary Committee will continue to exercise oversight over this investigation as necessary.” Since you previously stated that calls for oversight by the Democratic members of your Committee were “unnecessary,” I’m not sure what you now mean. The only action regarding the investigation that you have taken as chair was to co-write a letter to the Justice Department about leaks of Michael Flynn lying. You were not concerned with the investigation itself but with the disclosure of details to news agencies. Is this what you mean when you say you “will continue to exercise oversight”?

It is also difficult to take seriously your ending promise: “Rest assured I will work to ensure this investigation is conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner.” While I am hopeful that Robert Mueller will behave as impartially and appropriately as he did as FBI Director under Presidents Bush and Obama, I do not understand how you will “work to ensure” that. Your May 17 press release shows the opposite. After falsely applauding the Trump Administration, you characterize the appointment of a special counsel as a step that “the previous Administration repeatedly declined to do in other matters.” Using the investigation of the Trump administration as an opportunity to criticize President Obama months after he has left office is hardly “impartial.”

We do, however, appear to agree that “Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and alleged ties with Trump campaign personnel” need “a fair and independent investigation in order to root out the facts.” But it is in part because of your failure to meet the constitutional responsibilities of your office that such an investigation is only now underway.

Bob Goodlatte Replies about President Trump

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me about President Trump’s decision to dismiss James B. Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and your concerns about ongoing investigations into Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  I appreciate hearing from you.

The FBI is the premier law enforcement agency in the world and it is critical to have a director who holds the trust of the American people. It is clearly the President’s prerogative to remove the FBI Director, as was recommended by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

However, I believe Comey’s dismissal should not impede an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and alleged ties with Trump campaign personnel.

I support Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel to lead an impartial investigation. I believe Robert Mueller, who served as FBI Director and federal prosecutor for Republican and Democratic presidents, will carry out a fair and independent investigation in order to root out the facts. That is precisely what needs to happen.

Along with the special counsel’s independent investigation, Congress and the House Judiciary Committee will continue to exercise oversight over this investigation as necessary. on behalf of the Department of Justice, the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence are pursuing separate investigations to determine what level of interference the Russians did play in attempting to influence the 2016 election and what, if any, connections exist between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

Rest assured I will work to ensure this investigation is conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner.

I appreciate you taking the time to contact me. It is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. I hope you will continue to be in touch as Congress debates issues of importance to the United States.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress