Email #201: “I promised wrong”

“As one conservative let me say any person in the United States who requires medical attention and cannot provide it for himself should have it provided for him.” Ronald Reagan said that in 1961, and it’s as true now as it was then.

The Affordable Care Act attempted to achieve Reagan’s goal. The American Health Care Act that you voted for and the Better Care Reconciliation Act before the Senate now abandon it by eliminating health care for millions and instead cutting taxes on corporations and the highest income earners by $592 billion. USA Today, the most centrist major news source in our country, called the Senate’s BCRA a “tax cut masquerading as a health care plan.”

Centrist Republicans agree. Ohio Republican Governor Kasich said last week: “I have deep concerns with details in the U.S. Senate’s plan to fix America’s healthcare system and the resources needed to help our most vulnerable, including those who are dealing with drug addiction, mental illness and chronic health problems and have nowhere else to turn.”

Nevada Republican Governor Sandoval said: “While the current healthcare system needs improvement, it remains my priority to protect Nevada’s expansion population to ensure our most vulnerable, especially individuals with mental illness, the drug addicted, chronically ill, and our children, will always have access to healthcare.”

Massachusetts Republican Governor Baker said: “this version falls short and will result in significant funding losses for our state.”

Maryland Republican Governor Hogan said: “Congress should go back to the drawing board in an open, transparent and bipartisan fashion to craft a bill that works for all Americans.”

Centrist Republicans in the Senate agree. Republican Senator Heller said: “I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans.” Republican Senators Collins, Murkowski, Portman and Capito expressed similar criticisms.

If Ronald Reagan were alive, he would stand with them and the vast majority of Americans who oppose these “Trumpcare” bills.

In May, NBC and the Wall Street Journal found that only 23% of Americans thought the AHCA was a “good idea.” Last week that number dropped to 16%. But according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 74% have a “favorable opinion” of Medicaid, which the GOP bills would deeply cut. The same survey also found that 70% oppose the new bills’ waivers allowing insurers to charge people with pre-existing condition more, while 66% want to keep the ACA’s essential benefits protection.

The only good thing about the GOP bills is entirely partisan: they would fulfill the GOP promise to repeal “Obamacare.” But what good is keeping that promise if the replacement fails? Governor Kasich said it best: “I don’t think campaign promises that leave millions of people without the help they need are any excuse. Sometimes you make a promise, and you have to be big enough to say maybe I promised wrong.”

“Trumpcare” is wrong. Should the Senate, like the House, defy the wishes of the vast majority of Americans and pass their bill, reconciling the AHCA and BCRA into a single version will be Congress’s last chance to get health care right. If that happens, I ask that you please look back to President Reagan’s original vision and pass a plan that will help the Americans who need it most.

Email #200: “fishing expedition”?

I am pleased that the President voluntarily submitted a new, 98-page financial disclosure form months before he was legally required to and that the Office of Government Ethics released the form publicly this month. The inexactness of the form, however, emphasizes the continuing need for the President to release his tax records or provide other more detailed reports.

The form allows open-ended ranges, such as “over $50 million” for the value of one of the President’s golf courses. As a result, it reveals that the President owes at least $311 million in mortgages and loans, but possibly far more. (Of the 16 loans he reported, three are below $1 million, seven are below $25 million, one is below $50 million, and the remaining five loans are each above $50 million; how far above is unknown.) More importantly, the form does not reveal the identities of the President’s financial partners. We still do not know what individuals and institutions here and abroad have invested this money in his businesses. As a result, it is impossible to determine what business-related conflicts of interest the President has.

Although you previously identified oversight of the executive branch as one of your top priorities, you have refused requests by members of your own House Judiciary Committee to write to the White House requesting the President’s tax records. You said you could not support such a “fishing expedition.”

I appreciate that reasoning. Kenneth Starr turned the Whitewater real estate investigation into a “fishing expedition” when he deposed President Clinton regarding his unrelated affair with Monica Lewinsky. The House committee on Benghazi used its investigation to disclose Secretary Clinton’s inadequate email security, a topic which soon eclipsed the purpose of the probe.

Although you supported both of those previous “fishing expeditions,” I agree with your newly stated principle opposing such free-ranging probes. For that reason I ask that you lead a compromise approach to President Trump’s finances.

Could you request that the White House release copies of the President’s most recent taxes only to the House Judiciary Committee and only for a very limited period of time? The taxes would only be viewed by Committee members and with the explicit requirement that their content not be revealed publicly except in regard to specific topics identified in advance. More minimally, you could request the identities of all of the President’s business partners. This would avoid a “fishing expedition” while still accessing the most essential information for overseeing the President’s financial activity.

If you are unwilling to make these specific requests, what alternative approaches are you pursuing to oversee the executive branch regarding the President’s business conflicts of interest?

Email #199: “interested to know”?

Thank you for your form letter regarding the Older American Act. I’m glad that you are “committed to making sure the government keeps its promise to our nation’s seniors,” especially since they “have spent a lifetime earning a living, paying taxes and preparing for their retirement with the understanding that they will be taken care of by our federal government.”

I didn’t write to you specifically about the OAA, but I did write about the President’s proposed budget and its deep cuts into such programs. It is unclear to me how your stated commitment above relates to your strong belief “that the federal government needs to take a close look at every federal program and determine where and how the budget can be cut.” How exactly does the government keep its promises to older Americans while also cutting its ability to do so?

But I’m more confused by your comments regarding H.R. 244, the Consolidated Appropriations Act which keeps the government running through September. You said that I may “be interested to know” that it “provides $838 million in FY 2017 for nutrition programs administered by the ACL, which includes Congregate Meals, Home Delivered Meals, and the Nutrition Services Incentive Program.” You’re right; I am very interested. These are precisely the sorts of programs the President would cut.

You then go on to give the dates on and votes by which the bill passed the House and Senate to become law. Your detailed attention to the bill implies that you supported it, but when I looked it up, I was surprised to find that you were not among the 131 Republicans and 178 Democrats who voted for it. You instead joined 102 Republicans and 15 Democrats to vote against it. Among Virginia’s 11 Representatives, you were also in the minority of 5 Republicans who opposed it, since Republicans Barbara Comstock and Scott Taylor voted with Virginia’s 4 Democrats.

So why are you highlighting a bill that was passed into law against your wishes? And not just any bill. From January through April, you voted in 100% agreement with the Trump administration on 26 separate bills. You broke with the administration for the first and only time in May when you opposed the appropriations act, though the next day you were back in line, voting for “Trumpcare” and bringing your average to just under 97%.

But when it came to providing $838 million for food assistance, you actually voted against the President. So, yes, I am “interested to know.” Since other constituents writing to you about the OAA and related programs will be “interested to know” too, please correct your form letter to clarify that you voted against this essential funding. The omission, while not an overt lie, is intentionally misleading and creates the impression of manipulative dishonesty.

Email #198: “I thank the law enforcement officers”?

After the Alexandria shooting last week, you wrote: “I thank the law enforcement officers who stand guard over the Capitol complex and protect Members of Congress, our staff, and visitors each day.”

Vice President Pence agreed, tweeting: “The courageous actions of officer Crystal Griner, and that of Officer David Bailey, saved lives and prevented an even great tragedy.”

The President agreed too: “Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault.”

The President and the First Lady also visited Crystal Griner in the hospital and gave flowers to her and her wife, Tiffany Dyar. Griner and Dyar were married in 2015 in Maryland, a state that legalized same-sex marriage by referendum in 2012. It is of course ironic that Griner was shot while assigned to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s security detail since Rep. Scalise opposes same-sex marriage.

Like Rep. Scalise, you have opposed gay rights too. You voted for amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in 2004 and to define marriage as only “the union of a man and a woman” in 2006. If those amendments had passed, Officer Griner’s wife would still be legally unrelated to her and so would have been prevented from being with her during the critical period of her recovery in the hospital.

You also voted against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2007, a law that would protect Officer Griner’s right to pursue her career as a police officer regardless of others’ prejudices. Even more disturbingly, you voted against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and you voted against extending the Violence Against Women Act to include lesbians like Officer Griner in 2013.

Attitudes toward gay people have changed radically in your lifetime, most especially in just the last decade. I hope that your voting record from 2004, 2006, 2007, and even 2009 and 2013 reflect opinions that you have since reconsidered. If not, then I hope that your praise of Officer Griner’s heroism now leads you to understand her and people like her in very different terms.

Imagine the “great tragedy” if she had undergone the kind of conversion therapy the Vice President has advocated. In 2000 he wrote:

“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

He also expressed the other anti-gay attitudes you shared at that time:

“Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage.”

“Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.”

But unlike you, Vice President Pence, and Rep. Scalise, Griner does not discriminate. She risked her own life to protect the life of someone who believes her life is wrong.

You owe her far more than a thank you.

Email #197: “closer than it should be”

I’ve been hearing a lot about special elections this spring.

In April, Kansas’s 4th congressional district seat was open because the President appointed Mike Pompeo CIA Director. Republican Ron Estes won it by a 7% margin. While that’s a comfortable victory, it received news because President Trump won the district by 27% last fall.

Also in April, Democrat Jon Ossoff took 48% of the run-off vote in Georgia’s 6th congressional district. That’s Newt Gingrich’s old seat, open because Tom Price also joined the Trump administration. Like Georgia, the district is reliably “red.” Price won it by a 23% margin last fall. If all of Ossoff’s Republican opponents were a single candidate, they would have won by less than 4%.

In May, Republican Greg Gianforte was running for Montana’s state-wide seat to replace Ryan Zinke who is now Secretary of the Interior. President Trump won the state by 21%, but Gianforte said the day before the election: “This race is closer than it should be.” He won by 6%, but only after the stress got so extreme that he assaulted a reporter for aggressively questioning him about his support of the American Health Care Act.

And this week, Republican Karen Handel defeated Ossoff by slightly under a 4% margin–so the same as the combined Republican vote from April, making Handel’s margin of victory 19 points smaller than Price’s in November.

It’s strange hearing Democrats brag about elections they didn’t win. But all of their candidates were competing in districts that heavily lean Republican, and they all shaved their opponents down 15-20%. Also none of these districts are on the list of 47 Republican seats that Democrats have identified as weak. That’s a lot of battlegrounds. A Wall Street Journal and NBC News poll in April found a 47% majority want Democrats to control Congress over 43% who want Republicans. 4% is no landslide, but Democrats only need to flip 24 of the 47 battleground seats to retake the House.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the party not in the White House has gained House seats in every midterm election but two since 1934. Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama had approval ratings at or lower than their disapproval ratings, and their parties suffered the three biggest losses. President Trump’s approval rating has been steadily dropping over his first six months. He entered office with an average of 44%, and he currently has an average of 40%. His disapproval rating has also gone from 44% to 55%.  While these numbers could improve, every president since Eisenhower has seen his disapproval rating increase by at least 20 points by midterm, and it’s the disapproval rating that correlates with the loss of House seats.

Also, no other President has had as many investigations into his administration during his first year in office. It’s unknown when any of these investigation will be completed and their reports released, Senator King of the Senate Intelligence Committee said: “Maybe the end of the year.” It’s likely then that they will extend into the 2018 primary season. If the reports reflect negatively on the administration, the results will be felt even more in the general election. The Republican party lost 48 House seats in November 1974, three months after President Nixon resigned and Vice-President Ford took over.

The GOP-controlled Congress is currently polling even lower than the President, with a job approval rating just under 18% and a disapproval of 68%. After you voted for the extremely unpopular American Health Care Act, the Cook Political Report shifted 20 seats away from Republican domination: “House Republicans’ willingness to spend political capital on a proposal that garnered the support of just 17 percent of the public in a March Quinnipiac poll is consistent with past scenarios that have generated a midterm wave.”

When asked about midterm prospects, Speaker Ryan responded: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah is what I think about that stuff.”

What do you think?

Email #196: “generous, kind, with heart”?

The President said in April: “in business, you don’t necessarily need heart, whereas here, almost everything affects people… You’re providing health… You have to love people. And if you love people, such a big responsibility.”

He reiterated that point last week when addressing Senate Republicans working on a new health care bill: “I really appreciate what you’re doing to come out with a bill that’s going to be a phenomenal bill to the people of our country: generous, kind, with heart.”

But I’m confused in what sense the Senate bill is any of these things, since it still cuts millions from Medicaid—it just does so over a slightly longer period of time. It also does so while lowering taxes for high income earners, the opposite group of Americans most in need of generosity and kindness.

According to White House budget director Mulvaney: “you have to have compassion for folks who are receiving the federal funds, but also you have to have compassion for the folks who are paying it.” Do the highest income earners—people making at least hundreds of thousands a year—do they need the same compassion as families at and below the poverty line, the people who actually receive Medicaid? Is this what the President meant when he described the big responsibility of loving people and providing them health?

Although no Democratic Representatives were included in the drafting, amending, and passing of the American Health Care Act, and no Democratic Senators are currently included the drafting of the Senate health care bill, the Democratic governors of Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Montana and the Republican governors of Ohio, Nevada, Massachusetts and Louisiana wrote to the Senate leaders of both parties requesting a bipartisan approach to health care:

“as Governors from both sides of the political aisle, we feel that true and lasting reforms are best approached by finding common ground in a bipartisan fashion. To that end, we remain hopeful that there is an opportunity to craft solutions to these challenges that can find support across party lines, delivering improvements to result in a system that is available and affordable for every American.”

Like the President, who recently called the House’s bill “mean,” the governors criticized the AHCA:

“Improvements should be based on a set of guiding principles … which include controlling costs and stabilizing the market, that will positively impact the coverage and care of millions of Americans, including many who are dealing with mental illness, chronic health problems, and drug addiction. Unfortunately, H.R. 1628, as passed by the House, does not meet these challenges. It calls into question coverage for the vulnerable and fails to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out, while shifting significant costs to the states. Medicaid provisions included in this bill are particularly problematic.”

Despite this bipartisan appeal from governors who will have to implement the next health care law, the Senate appears to be readying to pass a bill that, like the House bill, falls significantly short of meeting the nation’s needs.

Although I know that you voted for the AHCA,  I ask that you reconsider your decision and not vote for the new Senate version when it comes before the House, unless it meets the bipartisan principles identified by the governors. They “stand ready to work with you and your colleagues to develop a proposal that is fiscally sound and provides quality, affordable coverage for our most vulnerable citizens.” That offer and attitude are exactly what our nation needs right now. You have expressed a desire for “bipartisan solutions” in the past too. But now I ask that you move past rhetoric, set aside party skirmishes, and deliver on that goal.

Email #195: “disagree without being disagreeable”

I used to listen to Ted Nugent as a high schooler. I can still name and more-or-less sing a half dozen of his songs (“Wango Tango,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Great White Buffalo,” etc.). But I out grew him long before 2007, when he said on stage holding two machine guns: “Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”

Nugent of course is not the only political advocate to use violent rhetoric. I assume you recall Sharron Angle’s comment in 2010: “I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.”

Or Jesse Kelly’s 2011 fundraiser pitch: “help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office, shoot a fully automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Although I would hope that the near-fatal shooting of Rep. Giffords would have ended the use of such violent rhetoric, in 2012 Nugent said to an NRA convention: “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” A Secret Service spokesperson responded: “We are aware of the incident with Ted Nugent, and we are conducting appropriate follow-up. We recognize an individual’s right to freedom of speech but we also have a responsibility to determine and investigate intent.”

While the Secret Service and law enforcement agencies recognize that rhetoric can lead to actual violence, some politicians still employ it. Donald Trump said last August about Secretary Clinton: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

While I might have hoped that his earlier meeting with the Secret Service would have been a turning point for Mr. Nugent, I am pleased that he has now finally expressed regret for his dangerous rhetoric. The day after Rep. Scalise was shot, Nugent said in a radio interview: “I’m not going to engage in that kind of hateful rhetoric anymore.” He promised to “avoid anything that can be interpreted as condoning or referencing violence” and to encourage “friends [and] enemies on the left in the Democrat and liberal world that we have got to be civil to each other, that the whole world is watching America, where you have the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we have got to be more respectful to the other side.”

I mention this because of the statements you made the same day:

“In a time when politics can pit neighbors against neighbors and social media has changed the way Americans communicate, we have seen a decline in civil discourse. That is why it is more important now than ever that we as a nation work even harder to maintain a civil discourse. We can have strongly held beliefs and passionately debate the issues. But, we can disagree without being disagreeable. I know from many years of working closely with Members of Congress on the other side of the aisle that this is the best approach to resolving our differences.”

I agree with you and the reformed Mr. Nugent and have been following that approach since I began writing to you last December. If you review the content of my roughly 200 letters, I believe you will find nothing “disagreeable,” and certainly nothing condoning or referencing violence. 50 Ways Rockbridge, the grassroots activist organization I helped co-found, made our policy explicit two months ago:

“Protests organized by or affiliated with 50 Ways-Rockbridge
“Will aim at the edification of the community or remediation of present wrongs
“Will be non-violent
“Will avoid the destruction of property”

We said this before the shooting, and we’ll keep saying it after the shooting. We unequivocally renounce violence and any statement promoting violence.

I hope then that you and other Republican members of Congress will not use the shooting of Rep. Scalise to reduce contact with your Democratic constituents. You did not stop holding town halls until 2013, two years after Rep. Giffords was shot, so based on your own precedent, the recent shooting should have no effect on your public appearances. As you said above, our country needs more civil discourse–which is precisely why 50 Ways Rockbridge and the Rockbridge Republicans proposed a joint and carefully limited town hall here in Lexington, one designed for real conversation. The shooting is further evidence of the necessity for exactly this kind of civil exchange.

You said “it is more important now than ever” that we “work even harder.” We in Lexington are doing exactly that. I hope you will now turn your agreeable rhetoric into agreeable action and show the rest of the nation what civil discourse between a Representative and his constituents should look like.