Email #315: “reducing debt”?

Although I disagree with you on many issues, I consider you an expert on the national debt, and I share your concern regarding its continuing increase. The Congressional Budget Office reported this month that the deficit now stands at $20.38 trillion, up from $19.95 trillion in January. That’s a rise of nearly a half trillion in just the first nine months of President Trump’s term.

But the President says the debt is actually decreasing. He said on Fox News last week:

“The country, we took it over in 20 trillion you know the last eight years they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion. Right? And yet we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months. In terms of value. So you can say in one sense, we are really increasing values and may be in a sense, we are reducing debt.”

So even though the debt increased by $420,000,000,000, the President says it decreased by $5,200,000,000 because of the stock market. He also says that $5.2 trillion is “possibly” the whole $10 trillion.

I’m no mathematician, but I think 5.2 is roughly half of 10. I’m also not an expert on the national debt like you. So could you please explain in what “sense” we are reducing debt? What “value” is the President referring to? Is there any way that the stock market, which reflects private investor wealth through the fluctuating prices of corporate stocks, affects the debt accrued by the federal government?

Also, does the President’s statement give you any insight into why Secretary Tillerson reportedly called him a “fucking moron”?

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Email #314: “we’re being fiscally irresponsible”?

“What happened to him? He used to be the fiscal hawk.”

That’s what Republican Senator Corker said of your former House colleague, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. But Corker could have been talking about almost anyone in the GOP right now. After decades of a seemingly principled stance against deficit spending, many Republicans are suddenly abandoning that position in order to push through what apparently has always been more important to them: tax cuts.

Former fiscal hawk Rep. Womack said: “In order to make good on our campaign tax promise, there probably are going to be some sacrifices made from an ideological perspective.” Do you agree that abandoning your career-long opposition to deficit spending is a necessary “sacrifice”?

Some of your Republican colleagues are rationalizing it with predictions of extraordinary tax-cut-triggered economic growth, even though economists disagree. Senator Johnson said: “Just agree we’re going to lose money on a static scoring basis. I’m happy to live with a $2-3 trillion static loss.” Are you also “happy” with the national debt rising to $23 trillion?

At least some of your colleagues are resisting these optimistic predictions. Rep. Dent said: “I don’t want to be overly optimistic about how much growth will be generated.” And Senator Young said: “we can’t assume unreasonable rates of economic growth or we’re being fiscally irresponsible.”

But other former fiscal hawks now think fiscal irresponsibility is okay. Rep. Meadows said: “you have to mitigate the damage by being as aggressive as you can be on tax rates, which would lessen the damage of our lack of fiscal responsibility over time.” Do you also hope to lessen the damage of your lack of fiscal responsibility?

I wrote to you in September that your staff hasn’t updated the “Fiscal Responsibility” page of your website since President Trump took office. It still refers to Obama as our President. I guess you and your staff are too busy trying to pass deficit-expanding tax cuts to even pretend that you still care about your career-long commitment to eliminating the deficit?

Term limits and fiscal responsibility were your defining positions when you entered office a quarter century ago. What other core values are you willing to “sacrifice” next?

Email #313: “Americans will be hurt”

Last Friday, the attorney generals of 18 states filed a joint suit requesting a temporary restraining order and later permanent injunction preventing the Trump administration from halting ACA subsidy payments.

Those attorney generals have the support of their governors, Republicans included. Republican Gov. Sandoval says the President’s stopping payment is “going to hurt kids. It’s going to hurt families. It’s going to hurt individuals. It’s going to hurt people with mental health issues. It’s going to hurt veterans. It’s going to hurt everybody.” The bipartisan National Governors Association agrees: “We are deeply concerned that the administration has declined to continue these payments, further increasing uncertainty for state marketplaces.”

Doctors oppose the President too. The American Medical Association says: “Our patients will ultimately pay the price. We urge Congress to accelerate its efforts to reinstate these payments before further damage is done.” The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Osteopathic Association, and the American Psychiatric Association are all urging the subsidies to continue too, saying in a group statement: “This action will make it harder for patients to access the care they need. Costs will go up and choices will be restricted.”

Even many Republican law-makers agree. Republican Rep. Reed, co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, says: “It’s only going to get worse as this marketplace continues to destabilize. If we stay where we are and do nothing, I think this is going to be a pox on all of our houses.” Republican Senator Alexander said in August: “Without payment of these cost-sharing reductions, Americans will be hurt.”

You, however, have said nothing. I know many Republicans have argued that the subsidies are unconstitutional because Congress never appropriated money. A lower court agreed, but the appeal has not been settled, and until it is, the ACA and its subsidies remain the law. The Supreme Court has heard three different ACA challenges in the past, and three times it ruled in favor of the ACA. Even Bush-appointed Chief Justice Roberts declared: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

If the Court rules that the ACA subsidies are unconstitutional, so be it. But until then, they are the law, and the Trump administration has the Constitutional and moral responsibility of continuing them. You and all of Congress have the moral responsibility of passing legislation that stabilizes healthcare for millions of Americans. Since all of the GOP’s attempts to repeal and replace the ACA failed, that means working within the framework of the ACA. It means crossing the aisle and compromising. Cutting off subsidies only harms Americans who need them.

Email #312: “the very core of our system of government”?

You praised President Trump’s elimination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals because you said it was an “unlawfully-contrived program.” You said President Obama had “used his ‘pen and phone’ to overstep his authority and unilaterally rewrite our nation’s laws” in a manner that was “wholly unconstitutional” and compromised “the rule of law.”

Obama created DACA in 2012 after the nearly identical DREAM Act failed to pass in the Senate. The administration stopped deporting illegal immigrants who matched the proposed DREAM Act criteria anyway. You responded with the Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act, saying: “President Obama declared war against the Constitution by changing our immigration laws on his own and Congress today began its fight against this unprecedented power grab.”

When the courts blocked Obama’s immigration order, you applauded: “The case of United States v. Texas is fundamentally about preserving the separation of powers and its outcome will have drastic implications for our Republic… I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will stop President Obama’s lawlessness so that we protect the Constitution and the intent of the Founding Fathers that the legislative branch, which reflects the will of and is accountable to the American people, makes the laws, not the President.” Due to the death of Justice Scalia, the Court deadlocked in a 4-4 decision.

But you demonstrated your continuing commitment to this issue by creating the House Judiciary Committee’s Task Force on Executive Overreach last January, correctly noting that “presidents of both parties have aggrandized their power and usurped Congress to legislate from the Oval Office. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an American issue and touches the very core of our system of government.” You said the Task Force “will study this troubling trend and also look for solutions to prevent the executive branch from exceeding its constitutional authority. The separation of powers and its checks and balances are designed to protect individual liberty and we must ensure that it is preserved for future generations.”

And now President Trump has given the Task Force a lot more to study.

The President tweeted last week: “Since Congress can’t get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people – FAST.” He then used that power to issue executive orders that violate provisions of the Affordable Care Act. He said during the signing: “I just keep hearing repeal-replace, repeal-replace. Well, we’re starting that process.”

But as you have so forcefully argued in the past, no President has the power to create legislation and no President has the power to alter or repeal legislation once it’s been created by Congress–including in this case the Affordable Care Act. By the standards you applied to President Obama, President Trump’s “lawlessness” and “power grab” is usurping Congress too.

Fox News reported: “President Donald Trump is taking his first steps to fulfill his vow to dismantle Obamacare on Thursday, signing an executive order that … would allow consumers to buy short-term policies, which don’t have to comply with Obamacare’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”

The Wall Street Journal says the executive orders “initiate the unwinding of the Affordable Care Act, paving the way for sweeping changes to health-insurance regulations by instructing agencies to allow the sale of less-comprehensive health plans to expand.” The newspaper also said the President was “using his authority to accomplish some of what Republicans failed to achieve with their stalled congressional health-care overhaul.”

President Trump’s “Obamacare relief” orders follow the same steps and executive abuses that you so vigilantly opposed under President Obama. After his party failed to pass the legislation he wanted, the President is using his pen to overstep his authority and unilaterally rewrite our nation’s healthcare laws. According to you past arguments, President Trump’s directives to bypass ACA provisions and create unlawfully-contrived healthcare associations are wholly unconstitutional and compromise the rule of law.

The only difference is political. You opposed the DREAM Act, and so it was simple for you to oppose DACA. But you supported ACA repeal bills, and so you agree with the goals of the President’s executive orders. While I empathize with the difficulty and irony of your position, anything short of a condemnation of President Trump with the same vigilance and vigour that you condemned President Obama’s “war against the Constitution” will expose you as an unprincipled hypocrite.

As much as I have disagreed with so many of your past actions, I am sincerely hopeful that you will rise to this situation and place the Constitution before your political party. As you said, the very core of our system of government is at stake.

Email #311: “protecting our electoral system”?

Do you know who your Friends are?

Your Facebook page has 14,098 likes and 15,549 followers. Your Twitter account @bobgoodlatte6 has 1,758 followers. I would have assumed they were all legitimate supporters, the vast majority of them constituents living right here in Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. But the Senate Intelligence Committee warns otherwise.

Though its full report will not be completed for months, the Committee reinforced the federal intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia did attempt to sway last year’s election—and that they will continue to do in this coming election and next year’s too.

Republican co-chair Senator Burr said last week: “The Russian intelligence service is determined — clever — and I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously. You can’t walk away from this and believe that Russia’s not currently active.”

Virginia Senator and co-chair Warner added: “There needs to be a more aggressive whole-of-government approach in terms of protecting our electoral system. Remember, to make a change even in a national election doesn’t require penetration into 50 states. You could pick two or three states in two or three jurisdictions and alter an election.”

This is why Russia focused its Facebook ads so aggressively in Wisconsin and Michigan, two of the three upset states that elected President Trump by margins of 0.7 (22,748 votes) and 0.2 points (10,704 votes). You, in contrast, defeated your Democrat challenger with a total of 225,471 votes to his 112,170. If you add in the votes from the third upset state of Pennsylvania, the President’s margin of victory was still only 77,000 votes. Yours was 113,301. You took your single district by more votes than the President took the forty districts in the top three battleground states combined. That’s how close the election was and how vulnerable future elections remain.

There is now conclusive evidence that Russia used Facebook and Twitter through ads and fake user accounts. The Senate Intelligence Committee is examining over 3,000 Facebook ads purchased at a cost of $100,000 by Russian agents disguised as U.S. citizens to influence the election. After creating fake news websites to disseminate anti-Clinton propaganda, Russians then used social media to promote them. Their fake U.S. identities included Facebook user “Melvin Redick,” an apparent father in Harrisburg, PA who posted: “These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US. Visit #DCLeaks website. It’s really interesting!” Other Russian agents targeted Bernie Sanders’ Facebook page with comments like: “Those who voted for Bernie, will not vote for corrupt Hillary! The Revolution must continue! #NeverHillary.” Twitter is even more vulnerable with hundreds of fake accounts, including automated bots that drove the Russian propaganda hashtag “#HillaryDown” into a trending Twitter topic.

The Senate Intelligence Committee warns that many fake accounts are still active and new accounts are spreading across multiple social media platforms. What steps are you taking to ensure that your own Facebook pages and Twitter posts are not being used by foreign agents to heighten political discord? What steps are you taking to verify the legitimacy of your 15,549 followers? Facebook has removed “Melvin Redick” and dozens of other fakes. It’s a simple process. You look at the user’s homepage and if there’s something suspicious about it, you inform Facebook who sends a request to verify their identity. If the user ignores the request, as fake-identity users do, the account is closed. And, more importantly, our country is one more degree safer from foreign influences trying to profit from our political polarization.

Or are you disregarding the Committee’s warning because fake users would aid your election prospects as they aided the President’s last year?

Email #310: “it’s not ideology”?

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you have been vigilant about providing oversight of the executive branch’s investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed by immigrants. You have written multiple letters to the Justice Department and Homeland Security about the presence of MS-13 gang members in cities across the country. You argue that membership in MS-13 should be grounds for deportation regardless of whether an individual has been convicted of an actual crime. You say: “it is time to send the message that this behavior will simply not be tolerated.”

While I support your goal of protecting Americans against criminal violence, I am confused why you apply that goal so selectively.

A May 2017 Joint Intelligence Bulletin of the FBI and Homeland Security was titled: “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence.” The report is unclassified and now available online, but since you are chair of the House Judiciary Committee whose top responsibility is the oversight of the FBI and Homeland Security I assume you read it last spring. It warns that “small cells within the white supremacist extremist (WSE) movement likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.” It documents six attacks “that involved the opportunistic targeting of racial or religious minorities.” The crimes were committed by “members of racist skinhead groups” and “Klan members.” More alarmingly, “WSEs were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks” since 2000, “more than any other domestic extremist movement.”

New FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support in August, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that there are about 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations currently underway and that 176 domestic terror subjects have been arrested in the last year. He said: “Our focus is on violence and threats of violence against the people of this country. That’s our concern — it’s not ideology.”

Your focus on crimes committed by immigrants, however, does appear to be ideological. Last May, President Trump claimed that MS-13 has “literally taken over towns and cities of the United States.” But the White House, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not provide any evidence to support that claim. Instead, ICE reported in May that its annual anti-gang operation included the arrests of a total 104 MS-13 gang members nationwide. While I applaud those arrests and any other efforts to combat criminal organizations regardless of the immigrant-status of their members, 104 is a smaller number than 176. Yet your focus has been overwhelmingly on MS-13 with no attention on the WSE threats identified even the same month that the President lied about MS-13.

You responded to MS-13 by sponsoring the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, but what have you done in response to WSEs? Isn’t it time to send the message that this behavior will simply not be tolerated too? Or is your goal to fuel anti-immigrant fears within your voter base? If so, you must approve of the President’s tweet last week: “Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!”

While the President’s lie about MS-13 “literally” taking over town and cities in the U.S. might be called a mere hyperbole, his claim that Northam “is fighting for” MS-13 exceeds even that low bar. Worse, the President is not emphasizing “killer gangs” generally but a tiny subsection specific to Latino immigrants. MS-13 membership is estimated at 10,000, but the FBI documents a total of 33,000 street gangs in the U.S. with a total membership of 1.4 million.  Of the 1,378 gang members arrested by ICE, less than 1/13th belonged to MS-13. And 933 were U.S. citizens–even though you and the President highlight MS-13 in order to argue that illegal immigrant criminals are threatening our nation because our border security has failed. It hasn’t.

Unlike the FBI, which sets aside ideology to focus on all threats, you exploit MS-13 while ignoring the proportionately greater threat of the white supremacist extremist movement–one with far deeper roots right here in Virginia. You have said that the “primary duty of the federal government is to keep Americans safe.” If so, you are hypocritically failing that duty by placing politics above all else.

 

 

Email #309: “reality television show”?

“Reality TV is known for its humiliation tactics and its aggressive showmanship and also the idea that either you’re in or you’re out, with momentum building to the final decision on who stays and who goes,” University of Minnesota communications professor and reality TV expert Laurie Ouellette told the New York Times this week. “Absolutely, I see those techniques playing out [in the Trump White House].”

After his healthcare bill failed to pass and the cost of his jet travel triggered a scandal, Health Secretary Tom Price is out, while Secretary of State Tillerson is still teetering after he reportedly called the President a “fucking moron” and the President then challenged him to an IQ test on Twitter.

But even though Ouellette’s comparison seems apt, it isn’t new. Michael Moore wrote last year:

“Coming back to the hotel after appearing on Bill Maher’s Republican Convention special this week on HBO, a man stopped me. “Mike,” he said, “we have to vote for Trump. We HAVE to shake things up.” That was it. That was enough for him. To “shake things up.” President Trump would indeed do just that, and a good chunk of the electorate would like to sit in the bleachers and watch that reality show.”

Moore later wrote that reality TV was the primary reason Donald Trump ran for President:

“Trump was unhappy with his deal as host and star of his hit NBC show, “The Apprentice” (and “The Celebrity Apprentice”)… He had floated the idea before of possibly running for president in the hopes that the attention from that would make his negotiating position stronger… he soon forgot his mission to get a good deal for a TV show… He was the star of EVERY TV SHOW — and, soon, winning nearly every primary!”

CNN’s Dean Obeidallah expressed a similar opinion in July:

“President Donald Trump has finally done it. He has turned his administration into a B-level reality show… And while it may be fun to watch, it’s a travesty for our nation. We deserve a president who is thoughtful, informed and focused on working for all Americans. Instead we have Trump, who seems preoccupied with creating a televised spectacle… it’s increasingly apparent that Trump is following his “Apprentice” playbook in the White House.”

The New York Post continued the comparison:

“In the latest episode of “Survivor: White House,” the West Wing descended into chaos Thursday, as President Trump and his top aides turned on one another like vicious reality-show divas — with no one sure who would be the next to get a knife in their back.”

Perez Hilton, a former contestant on the reality show Celebrity Big Brother, commented too:

“Trump is treating his presidency like The Apprentice. He telegraphed this… I would totally survive in the Trump White House because I’m smarter than Donald. Much smarter than him!”

Actual Celebrity Apprentice All-Stars celebrity Omarosa Manigault has been a White House aide since the President included her in his transition team in December, but her resignation was announced in September. And that is of course after so many top White House staff members have been forced out: Flynn, Dubke, Priebus, Spicer, Bannon, Gorka, Scaramucci.

But I didn’t start to take the “reality show” criticism seriously until I heard it from Republican Senator Corker last week. When asked if the country is in jeopardy, Corker answered:

“Sometimes I feel like he’s on a reality show of some kind… it’s like it’s an act to him and sure that bothers me… it very much feels to me like he thinks as president he’s on a reality television show… I don’t think he understands that the messages that he sends out, especially when you take into account they’re being received in other languages around the world, what that does… I don’t think he appreciates that when the president of the United States speaks, and says the things that he does, the impact that it has around the world, especially in the region that he’s addressing… it’s concerning to me. A lot of people think that there’s some good cop, bad cop act underway, but that’s just not true… it’s like he’s doing “The Apprentice” or something. He’s just putting on an act. And it’s worrisome.”

Since Moore is a professional pundit who makes his living expressing progressive political commentary, his criticism of then candidate Donald Trump is not especially convincing. Although Obeidallah based his later opinion on President Trump’s actions as President, his commentary is still a professional op-ed designed to draw readers to the slightly left-leaning CNN.

Senator Corker, however, is in neither the entertainment nor the news industry. He, like you, is a member of the President’s own party, and, like you, he is a conservative who consistently votes against abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, the ACA, and sanctuary cities. Since, unlike Moore and Obeidallah, his politics align with the President’s agenda, he has reason to ignore the President’s flaws in order to promote that shared agenda.

So when a conservative Republican says President Trump behaves as if he is performing on a reality TV show, that criticism is difficult to ignore. As a fellow conservative Republican, do you agree with Senator Corker’s assessment? Or do you still wish to ignore the President’s flaws? If so, you must also be discounting the larger danger that Corker identifies:

“I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him… One of the reasons that I’ve supported Mattis and Tillerson and Kelly last week is, again, as long as there’s people like that around him who are able to talk him down, you know, when he gets spun up, you know, calm him down and continue to work with him before a decision is made. I think we’ll be fine.”

Do you think we’ll be fine too? Is there a point at which the President’s behavior would force you to set aside your political goals in order to help contain him?

If the President does think of himself as a star of a television show, what part do you think he’s casting you? Level-headed uncle? Obsequious butler? Comic minion? And how do you think this first season is going to end? Will the show be renewed or is the country tired of “shaking things up” yet? The President’s 39% approval rating doesn’t bode well for next year’s mid-terms either. How many of your fellow Republican Representatives do you think will be voted off?

And did you ever imagine American politics could devolve to this?