Email #231: “partisan rhetoric”?

After receiving an outpouring of bipartisan praise and condolences after being diagnosed with brain cancer last week, Senator McCain said yesterday on the Senate floor: “What have we to lose by trying to work together to find solutions? We keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. We are getting nothing done, my friends, we are getting nothing done.”

You also wrote to me recently about “the need for elected leaders to put the interests of the country ahead of politics,” assuring me that you strongly agree “that Congress must rise above the partisan rhetoric that threatens to debilitate us and do what is right for the country in these trying times.”

While I appreciate your bipartisan rhetoric, it seems to be only that: talk. I looked up your rating by the Lugar Center, a non-profit organization led by former Republican Senator Richard Lugar and “committed to thoughtful analysis and civil dialogue that facilitate bipartisan governance.” They give you a bipartisan rating of 37%.

While that is better than Senator Bernie Sanders’ 3% or your Republican colleague Rep. Steve King’s 13%, it is far below the Senate’s top four most bipartisan members: Republican Senator Collins (100%), Democratic Senator Donnelly (91%), Republican Senator Grassley (76%), and Democratic Senator Manchin (76%). Your score is also far below the House’s top four most bipartisan members: Republican Rep. Pete King (91%), Democratic Rep. Simena (90%), Democratic Rep. Waltz (85%), and Republican Rep. Donovan (81%).

Appropriately those top eight bipartisan members of Congress divide equally between Republicans and Democrats. They are rising above partisan rhetoric by rising above partisan action. They are doing what you say needs to be done and actually putting the needs of the country ahead of politics.

Your fellow Virginians, Democratic Senators Warner and Kaine, both scored better too. Warner, who is co-chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee, received a 64%, and even Kaine scored 44%. How can you be more partisan than the Democrats’ nominee for Vice President?

Unlike the “partisan rhetoric” you claim to oppose, your partisan actions aren’t merely a threat to our country. Your hypocrisy is actively debilitating us.

Email #230: “troubled about the President’s Twitter”?

Thank you for your recent letter regarding President Trump’s use of Twitter. I have written to you about this topic before, but I see now that your office has developed a new form letter. Most of it repeats your other letters verbatim, but the middle paragraph does contain new content:

“One of the ways he has chosen to communicate with the nation is through the use of social media, specifically Twitter. It is my hope that he will use that to share his vision for the future and plans for economic growth to show that America continues to be the greatest nation in the world.  I do understand why some folks have been troubled about the President’s Twitter statements and activity.  Please know that I appreciate those concerns and I hope he will use this platform to convey a positive message.”

While that is hardly a condemnation, it is the most critical statement you have made regarding President Trump yet. Though you don’t express feeling “troubled” yourself, you do “understand” why others have been; you “appreciate” such concerns; and, most importantly, you twice “hope” the President will use Twitter to “share his vision” and “convey a positive message,” implying that he is currently doing neither. It is also possible to infer that his Twitter messages, since they’re apparently not “positive,” are therefore negative. It’s even possible to read your letter as stating the opinion that the President, by not using his messages “to show that America continues to be the greatest nation in the world,” is therefore lowering our nation’s greatness.

But that’s if you read very carefully, since your statements are also the rhetorical equivalent of frowning while looking at your feet. Little wonder The Roanoker called you “mild mannered.” Often that’s a good thing. Your fellow Virginian, Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott said you’re “a perfect gentleman” and “someone who can conduct himself with dignity.” The irony is that you are expressing a dignified and gentlemanly criticism of an individual who is neither gentlemanly nor dignified. The President is a vulgar, ill-tempered, misogynistic bigot whose Twitter messages betray a level of myopic, narcissistic paranoia never before seen in the White House.

While I appreciate even your comically understated attempt to implore the President to behave better, your excessive indirection is self-defeating, even absurdly so. But I am happy to say that for once you and I do share the same hopes.

Bob Goodlatte replies about President Trump’s Twitter activity

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me about President Donald Trump’s Twitter activity.  I appreciate you sharing your concerns.

As your congressman here in the Sixth District, I take the responsibility of being your elected representative very seriously.  Whether it is by my votes, my public statements, or my actions, I strive each and every day to uphold the values and ideals of Virginia’s Sixth District.

President Trump was sworn into office on January 20, 2017 and assumed the responsibilities of the nation’s highest elected office at that time.  As President, he has the “bully pulpit” to advance his agenda to the American public.  One of the ways he has chosen to communicate with the nation is through the use of social media, specifically Twitter.  It is my hope that he will use that to share his vision for the future and plans for economic growth to show that America continues to be the greatest nation in the world.  I do understand why some folks have been troubled about the President’s Twitter statements and activity.  Please know that I appreciate those concerns and I hope he will use this platform to convey a positive message.

I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me and hope you will stay in touch as the 115th Congress continues to debate issues important to our country. I believe it is vital to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance to you and your family.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Email #229: “our shame”?

Congressman Caldwell Butler represented Virginia’s District 6 from his special election victory in 1972 to his retirement ten years later. Like you, Butler was a Roanoke lawyer and a loyal member of the Republican party. According to the Washington Post: “if anyone could be counted on during the agonies of Watergate, it was surely Rep. M. Caldwell Butler.”

But then Butler surprised his party and his country, announcing that he would vote for President Nixon’s impeachment: “For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct … But Watergate is our shame. I cannot condone what I have heard, I cannot excuse it, and I cannot and will not stand still for it.” Butler was a member of the House Judiciary Committee and his vote received national attention because it signaled a shift in the GOP away from their own President. Nixon resigned two weeks later.

Butler made his announcement on July 24, 1974—forty-three years ago today. You now occupy his Congressional seat. You are not only a member of the House Judiciary Committee, you are its chair. And if anyone has been counted upon so far during the agonies of the Trump scandals, it’s certainly been you.

And yet you have campaigned against corruption and misconduct too. Speaker Ryan complimented you in 2012 for working hard “to keep watch over the executive branch.” The first House Speaker you served under, Newt Gingrich, said your “basic approach is to try to bring everyone together to get to a solution.” You also weild far more power and responsibility than your predecessor. As Gingrich said: “As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has a lot of influence because he really does run the committee. In Bob’s case there’s no question he is in charge.”

When Butler died, he was eulogized as a maverick. While there’s little chance that you will be remembered similarly, there is still a chance you will be remembered well. But your reputation will rise or fall based on your actions toward the Trump administration. History will either record you as a Representative who upheld the honor and independence of Caldwell’s congressional district seat or as a party toady who buried his head at the moment of his career when his nation needed him most.

Will you use your influence to continue the Republican party’s shame or to end it?

Email #228: “outstanding oversight questions”?

When you wrote to Attorney General Sessions on Friday you told him: “you lead a Department over which the House Judiciary Committee has primary oversight jurisdiction” and “Congressional oversight is not a responsibility that we take lightly.” Although I am pleased to hear you reiterate these two essential facts, I am confused by how you are responding to your primary oversight responsibility.

In a New York Times interview last week President Trump accused the Justice Department of a wide range of inappropriateness. Regarding Special Counsel Mueller, the President said:

“Because I have done nothing wrong. A special counsel should never have been appointed in this case.”

He also accused Mueller of having a conflict of interest because Mueller applied for the position of FBI Director after the President fired James Comey:

“The next day, he is appointed special counsel. I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts?”

Regarding acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the President said:

“We have a director of the F.B.I., acting, who received $700,000, whose wife received $700,000 from, essentially, Hillary Clinton. ’Cause it was through [Virginia Governor] Terry [McAuliffe]. Which is Hillary Clinton…. McCabe’s wife. She got $700,000, and he’s at the F.B.I. I mean, how do you think that?”

Regarding Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, the President said:

“he gives me a letter, O.K., he gives me a letter about Comey. And by the way, that was a tough letter, O.K. Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, O.K. But he gives me a very strong letter, and now he’s involved in the case. Well, that’s a conflict of interest.”

Regarding Attorney General Sessions, the President said:

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else…. It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”

He also criticized Sessions’ Senate hearing:

“So Jeff Sessions, Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers…. he gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.”

Those simple answers included: “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.” But the Washington Post reported on Friday that U.S. intelligence intercepted Russian Ambassador Kyslak’s communications to Moscow in which he describes speaking to Sessions about “campaign-related matters.” If the report is true, then the Attorney General committed perjury.

Finally, the President said of the entire Justice Department:

“Look, there are so many conflicts that everybody has.… There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”

Each one of these allegations is concerning, and since your committee has primary oversight jurisdiction for them all, I would expect your letter to the Attorney General to have addressed at least some of them. And yet you did not mention any. Instead your letter focused not on the current administration but on the Obama administration: ­

“the Judiciary Committee sent letters to your predecessors as Attorney General, and to individual DOJ components, requesting answers to a multitude of questions concerning various issues of interest stemming from Judiciary hearings and oversight responsibilities.  Many of the inquiries remain unanswered, with some outstanding requests approaching two years overdue…. we write now asking you to rectify this situation, by helping the Judiciary Committee obtain answers to outstanding oversight questions.”

Though I admire your thoroughness in wishing to close two-year-old inquiries, is it appropriate to thank Attorney General Sessions for “giving this request priority”? What about your current oversight responsibilities? What about obtaining answers to current oversight questions? Is this how you demonstrate that oversight is not a responsibility that you take lightly–by ignoring current concerns while prioritizing inconsequential ones?

Email #227: “That’s politics!”?

On July 22, 2016, one year ago today, WikiLeaks released emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. The DNC had contacted the FBI about the hacks in April, and U.S. intelligence was already linking them to Russia. The emails revealed that Democratic party chair Debbie Wasserman favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and as a result Wasserman resigned two days later. The timing of the release—three days before the Democratic National Convention—was designed to damage party unity.

In response to the hacked emails, Rep. Pompeo tweeted: “Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by WikiLeaks.” Pompeo later deleted the tweet and is now serving as President Trump’s CIA Director. Donald Trump responded by encouraging Russia to hack Clinton’s emails next: “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” The FBI responded by opening an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

U.S. intelligence later concluded with high confidence that Russia had hacked not only the DNC but the Republican National Committee too. Russia had stolen similarly damaging emails by Republican officials but did not deliver them to WikiLeaks to be released publicly. Their goal was to aid Trump by harming Clinton—aid the Trump campaign accepted and encouraged.

During the previous election cycle, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney identified Russia as our “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Romney’s former adviser Stuart Stevens recently said: “The role of the Republican Party has been to tell the truth about what Russia and the Soviet Union was, not what it was pretending to be. Now some conservatives have gotten into the ‘let’s give Russia the benefit of the doubt’ business.”

Are you one of those conservatives? Do you, like the President and his supporters, want to downplay the findings of the U.S. intelligence community and continue to ignore Russia’s interference in the election?

Last week President Trump tweeted: “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!”

Do you agree with the President? Are you also one of those politicians who would have gone to a meeting to receive documents stolen by Russian operatives? By saying nothing in response to the President’s tweet, your silence confirms your complicity. When our grandchildren read about these events in their American history textbooks, will they see the actions of the Trump campaign as a reflection of today’s political norms or as violations of those norms?

Email #226: “honor the American people with the truth”?

“The irresponsible rhetoric of our President, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone.”

Although that may sound like a criticism of President Trump, the statement was directed at President Obama a year ago today. Donald Trump said it during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016.

While hindsight makes the irony severe, even surreal, it isn’t even the most striking example. Mr. Trump also said: “We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone,” and: “We will be a country of generosity and warmth.” He promised that “there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else.” And perhaps most implausibly: “Millions of Democrats will join our movement because we are going to fix the system so it works for all Americans.”

Obviously none of these statements proved true. Millions of Democrats are not supporting the Trump administration. The President is not honoring the American people with the truth, and under his leadership, our country is not compassionate, considerate, generous, or warm.

In fact, all of these promises have produced opposite results. Democrats are united in resistance against the Trump administration, the President routinely and flagrantly lies on a nearly daily basis on his Twitter account and elsewhere, and our country has become significantly less compassionate, less considerate, less generous, and less warm.

Although he also claimed to stand against violence, saying “Anyone who endorses violence, hatred or oppression is not welcome in our country and never will be,” he has endorsed violence himself—even posting a video of himself assaulting professional wrestling promoter Vince McMahon with a CNN logo superimposed over McMahon’s face.

If the President had lived up to the other promises of his acceptance speech, many Democrats would have joined him. Instead his approval ratings continues to erode and his vision of America is further away now than ever. Given the failures of this past year and the continuing failures of you and the GOP to face the mounting challenges created by President Trump, I am frightened to imagine what our country will look like a year from today.