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 #192: “nobody wants to hurt each other anymore”?

I want to thank you for your response to the shooting of Rep. Scalise. You said in a press release on Wednesday:

“This morning’s tragic incident has reverberated throughout the Capitol. My prayers are with Congressman Steve Scalise, a good friend, and all of those injured in this vicious attack. I ask that you also lift them up in your prayers. I thank the law enforcement officers who stand guard over the Capitol complex and protect Members of Congress, our staff, and visitors each day.”

Former Democratic Rep. Giffords, who was near-fatally shot in the head by a Tea Party activist in 2011, agreed when she announced the same day:

“My heart is with my former colleagues, their families and staff, and the US Capitol Police — public servants and heroes today and every day.”

I am also pleased that when Speaker Ryan said, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” the House rose to applaud. Even more importantly, Senator Sanders condemned the attack from the Senate:

“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be, violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.”

President Trump issued a statement too:

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected.”

Thankfully, the President did not mar his statement of sympathy as he did in response to the ISIS attack in Iran earlier this month, when he said: “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” but then he unfortunately added: “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”

While I appreciate the President’s sentiment regarding the Alexandria shooting, I am also aware that it contrasts his previous rhetoric. “Part of the problem,” he said at a rally during his campaign, “is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.” He mimed punching a protestor as he said, “I’ll beat the crap out of you.”

He repeated the point at another rally: “You know, part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right?” After a fight between protestors and supporters, he said: “The audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.”

At yet another rally, he said he wanted to “knock the crap out of them” and that he regretted “we’re not allowed to punch back anymore” like in the “old days” when a protester would “be carried out on a stretcher.”

While Rep. Scalise was literally carried out in a stretcher, I’m glad that the Congressional Baseball Game was still played the following day, selling twice as many tickets as planned and raising over $1 million for charity, with one of the injured police offers receiving a standing ovation after throwing out the opening pitch despite his crutches.

I also appreciated how you described the event in your e-newsletter column yesterday:

“At the Congressional Baseball Game, Members of Congress stood together on the field of Nationals Stadium as one and as an example for our country that our differences do not divide us. Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or your beliefs fall somewhere in between, we are all on the same team. We are all Americans.”

Thank you also for reminding your constituents of Rep. Giffords:

“As word of this incident and feelings of shock reverberated throughout the Capitol, many of us were reminded of just a few years ago when another colleague, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was attacked while meeting with her constituents in Arizona. The feelings of both of these days are a stark reminder that we, as a nation, must stand as one.”

Thank you for the even-handedness of your response. You expressed concern and grief for the injured without attacking Sanders, Sanders supporters, or any political opponents, while instead calling for bipartisan unity and strategically acknowledging a very similar attack to a Democratic Representative by a Tea Party member.

I hope this horrible event can serve as a positive turning point in American politics. While I am uncertain whether President Trump is temperamentally capable of leading us toward such positive change, I hope that you will continue to address the needs of our divided nation.

Email #184: “Main Street first”?

I read that the House passed the Financial Choice Act late yesterday afternoon. Speaker Ryan said:

“This legislation comes to the rescue of Main Street America. The Dodd-Frank Act has had a lot of bad consequences for our economy, but most of all in the small communities across our country.”

In March of last year, you spoke more ambiguously about Dodd-Frank:

“The 2008 financial crisis illustrated that the financial system and existing laws were not adequately prepared for the insolvency of certain institutions, which threatened the very stability of the global economy and our financial industry. There has been considerable debate over whether Congress’ main response to the financial crisis—the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act—is adequate to respond to a future crisis.”

But in January, you spoke strongly in favor of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, a deregulatory bill that you said was a “much-needed tool to check the one-way cost ratchet that Washington’s regulatory bureaucrats too often turn” and would stop the “endless avalanche of major new regulations that impose burdens and crush jobs.”

These are unnecessary exaggerations that unhelpfully promote the political cliché that all regulation is bad and all deregulation good, a mindset that pointlessly complicates the already strained communication between Republicans and Democrats. At minimum, I ask that you tone down your rhetoric and stop using your public statements as salesman-like PR pitches rather than opportunities for conversation.

If I understand correctly, many aspects of the Financial Choice Act are focused on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some of the changes are insignificant, like renaming it the Consumer Law Enforcement Agency. Although I think the CFPB needs some independence, I don’t necessarily object to the President being able to fire its director or its budget being part of the congressional appropriations process. But other changes confuse me because they remove consumer protections but without the benefit of improving the economy.

Why do you wish to eliminate the CFPB’s education campaigns? Educated consumers are key to a healthy market. Any business that is hurt by better educated consumers is a bad business and should be punished by market forces. Education helps that shared goal. The bill would also stop the CFPB from making consumer complaints public. Again, how does this help a free market? Consumers should have as much knowledge as possible. And neither of these changes have anything to do with regulations.

But some of the changes are deregulations–but not ones that will help the economy. The bill would let credit card companies charge more for transactions. How will higher prices stimulate the economy? The bill would also stop the CFPB from overseeing payday lenders. That is a particularly abusive industry and so one that needs close monitoring. Letting payday lenders take advantage of their clients doesn’t stimulate the economy either.

The bill is flawed in ways that Republicans and Democrats should agree on, and yet yesterday’s vote split along party lines (except for one Republican voting against it), obscuring both its good and bad qualities. I wish you had taken a more nuanced approach and offered amendments that would have improved not only the bill but also bipartisanship in the House.

In the press statement you released after the bill was passed you focused almost exclusively on small town credit providers:

“Virginia businesses need access to capital to grow and create jobs. For many folks, this means working with a small community bank or credit union. However, much of the red tape created by Dodd-Frank, the massive finance law put into place by the Obama Administration, is holding these financial institutions back. In fact, it is estimated that under Dodd-Frank the United States is losing, on average, one community bank or credit union each day. Instead of helping folks access the capital they need, Dodd-Frank has made it more difficult by piling on the red tape all while failing to hold Wall Street accountable and protect consumers. I’ve heard from small financial institutions in the Sixth District that Dodd-Frank’s policies only increase the cost of credit and that no one is helped by these rules – only hurt.”

You say not a word about consumer protection. Your second paragraph emphasizes small towns too, before briefly listing other elements of the bill:

“The Financial CHOICE Act puts Main Street first. This legislation levels the playing field by eliminating the onerous regulations that are holding back job creators and stifling access to credit and capital. Unlike Dodd-Frank, the CHOICE Act finally ends taxpayer-funded bailouts and ‘too big to fail.’ It also repeals the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule that makes it harder for Americans to save for retirement. The CHOICE Act is just one more way that the House is working to grow America’s economy and create opportunity for hardworking Americans.”

Do you not mention they ways that the bill curtails consumer protection because you don’t agree with those elements but voted for the bill anyway? Or do you agree with them but know they are unpopular with you constituents and so intentionally obscured them? Either way, we deserve better from our Representative.

 

Email #180: “Getting Things Done”

As I was leaving your DC office after a helpful conversation with your chief of staff last Tuesday, Charlie asked if I was aware of the bipartisan bills that you had voted for in May. I was embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t. I’d just been expressing my concern over the lack of bipartisanism in Congress, yours particularly. Looking it up now, I see the list is substantive.

The Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act passed with only one nay in the beginning of the month. The Honoring Hometown Heroes Act, which allows the flying of the flag at half-staff when first responders die in the line of duty, also passed with only one nay in mid-month. And in the last week of May, the Private Act, which amends the military code to prohibit the wrongful distribution of intimate images, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, and the VA Scheduling Accountability Act all passed unanimously. The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act also passed with only three nays, and two other bills, the Global Child Protection Act and the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act, passed with strong bipartisan support, with 30 and 51 nays.

As Charlie said, this seems like solid bipartisan work. But that is why I’m disappointed by how you characterized it. One reason I didn’t know was your newsletter column, “The House is Getting Things Done,” ignored the bipartisanism. You wrote on May 26:

“Of the many bills that have passed the House so far this year, most haven’t made headlines. But they have covered a host of issues that are important to the American people. Over the past week, the House passed a series of bills to help protect children from exploitation and trafficking and bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. The House recently passed the VA Scheduling Accountability Act, geared toward ending delays for veterans waiting for care, as well as measures to improve the appeals process for veterans filing disability claims and to modernize the way the Department of Veterans of Affairs serves veterans. The House has responded to threats on the international stage by approving bills to impose sanctions on supporters of Syria’s brutal Assad regime and enhancing sanctions on North Korea.”

Here and nowhere else in the column or elsewhere that I can find do you acknowledge let alone emphasize that this work unified the House. This is a wasted opportunity. Our country is horribly divided. Our elected officials should be working to bridge that divide, and as the party in power, the duty falls disproportionately on the GOP. In this case you could have made a positive gesture with no negative consequences to your agenda. If Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on child rape, veterans, and the danger of North Korea, how can they hope to tackle more divisive issues?

I ask that in your next press release or newsletter column you draw much needed attention to this and other important bipartisan legislation.

Email #134: “division will do nothing to benefit our country”

You said on November 11th:

“After this election, it would be easy to retreat to separate corners and allow the divide between friends, neighbors, and family members with different political beliefs and values to sharpen. However, that kind of division will do nothing to benefit our country. It is not what we need today.”

I strongly agree.

Which is why I’m confused by so many of the statements you’ve made and actions you’ve taken since. Your political strategy seems to be to sharpen differences and exploit divisions that benefit your personal standing but worsen our country overall.

Why do you continue to call the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare,” a name coined solely for the purpose of stoking opposition to it?

Why do you support President Trump’s universally rejected claim that he lost the popular vote due to massive voter fraud?

Why do you downplay the significance of allegations made against the Trump administration while highlighting other, less significant allegations—including the President’s universally rejected claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the election?

Why do you continue to highlight rapes and murders committed by immigrants in order to condemn the previous administration’s now irrelevant immigration policies?

Why do you reflexively oppose gun regulations of any kind, even in cases where individuals do not have the mental capacity to responsibly own them?

Why do you discredit all grassroots opposition groups as “fronts” for national organizations, even local groups that formed before Indivisible?

Why do you ignore the Trump administration’s conflicts of interest after having so vigorously challenged the Obama administration on all ethics issues?

Why do you applaud President Trump’s military response to the “evil” of Syria when you criticized President Obama on the same issue?

Why do you cite the importance of balancing the budget and reducing the deficit when opposing liberal issues such as the ACA Medicaid expansion but ignore it when you support conservative issues such as increased military spending?

Why did you support the American Health Care Act despite the harm it would cause to your constituents in both the Democratic and Republican parties?

You are not simply retreating to your corner. You are not simply allowing the divide to sharpen. You are actively promoting division by using your safe political corner to engage in constant, hypocritical attacks that do nothing to benefit our country.

You are exactly the opposite of what we need today.

Email #73, Subject: “FAKE NEWS”?

In his press conference yesterday, the President said: “The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.” While the circularity is stunning, I am actually more concerned by another of his recent statements on the same subject, a tweet in which he linked to an article published at TheFederalist.org: “16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won.” I had never heard of the website before, so I read the article and then researched the site. AllSides.com gives it a “Lean Right” rating, and MediaBiasFactCheck.com a “RIGHT BIAS”:

“These media sources are highly biased toward conservative causes. They utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes. Sources in this category may be untrustworthy.”

To make sure the rating sites were not themselves biased, I also checked the bias of Mother Jones, which AllSides called “Left” and MediaBiasFactCheck “LEFT BIAS”:

“These media sources are highly biased toward liberal causes.  They utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes. Sources in this category may be untrustworthy.”

Since Mother Jones and TheFederalist.org appear to be oppositely but equally untrustworthy, my concern is that the President is using such a site to make an argument that mainstream news sources such as CNN publish “FAKE NEWS.” AllSides gives CNN a “Center” rating, and MediaBiasFactCheck.com a “LEFT-CENTER BIAS”:

“These media sources have a slight to moderate liberal bias.  They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor liberal causes. These sources are generally trustworthy for information, but may require further investigation.”

While any bias is concerning, CNN appears to be within a reasonable margin of error similar to other highly reputable news sources. For example, AllSides ranks the Wall Street Journal as “Center,” and MediaBiasFactCheck gives it a “RIGHT-CENTER BIAS”:

“These media sources are slightly to moderately conservative in bias. They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor conservative causes. These sources are generally trustworthy for information, but may require further investigation.”

Why then is the President using a “highly biased” and “untrustworthy” source to discredit a “generally trustworthy” and slightly biased source?

I ask you because as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you are an influential member of the Republican Party on matters of ethics. Have you attempted to counsel the President on the use of sites such as TheFederalist.org? Are you concerned that the President is being influenced by such biased information?

You said that you believe in bipartisan solutions, but how is any bipartisanism possible if the White House is so verifiably misinformed? If your call for bipartisanism is more than empty rhetoric, I ask that you take tangible steps to achieve it. I suggest beginning with a condemnation of biased sources such as The Federalist and Mother Jones, and an endorsement of centrist sources such as CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

Chris Gavaler

Email #41, Subject: “strengthening” ethics?

Thank you so much for your lengthy response to my questions regarding your failed attempt to alter the Office of Congressional Ethics. I’ve never received a 1,327-word letter from an elected official before. Clearly this issue is of great concern to you and your many constituents who have also contacted you. But despite the apparent effort you and your staff have exerted, your defense of your actions is surprisingly flawed.

You state that your amendment would have “strengthened the existing OCE by maintaining its primary area of focus – accepting and reviewing complaints from the public.” To “strengthen” requires making a change; to “maintain” requires not making a change. This is your central defense, and it is self-contradicting. You use the word combination again: “The amendment sought to strengthen each of these needs while maintaining the basic core of the OCE’s functions.” Though you avoid the contradiction the second time, you instead reveal that “maintain” applies only to the OCE’s purpose, and that “strengthen” applies to something outside that purpose. The “needs” are those of the “Members and staff having gone through review by the OCE.” You wished to strengthen their “due process rights.” But doing so cannot be construed as “strengthening” the OCE’s “basic core” or “primary area of focus,” which is investigating not protecting those who are accused of unethical behavior.

In order to strengthen the rights of the accused, you would have eliminated the anonymity of complainants and kept the OCE’s investigations in a “private, confidential setting.” While these changes would benefit the accused, they would not “maintain” the OCE’s basic functions since those functions require the protection of whistleblowers and the transparency of investigations.

You also argue that the rights of the accused are greater than the OCE’s functions by evoking the “basic tenets of American Law.” And yet you begin your defense by stating the opposite: “The men and women elected to represent the American people should be held to the highest standards.” But for elected officials to be held to the highest standards, the OCE’s procedures cannot be “basic.” So while it is true that in civil courts “the accused have the right to confront their accuser,” the OCE holds members of Congress to a higher standard, one that you explicitly, though contradictorily, endorse.  As you state, “literally anyone from anywhere in the world can send” a complaint to the OCE. Whether such complaints have “a basis in fact” is the job of the OCE to determine. Preventing the OCE from receiving such complaints because they could “potentially disparage the reputation of a Member” would not maintain the OCE’s primary functions; it would undermine them.

Your amendment would have also moved the OCE under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Ethics. You argue this change is necessary because “all parts of the federal government … should be subject to proper oversight.” But you do not show that the OCE is not already properly supervised. Instead you state that the OCE is a “nonpartisan, independent office … founded partially to add an additional layer of review over Members and staff of the House of Representatives.” The Committee on Ethics, in contrast, is partisan. It is controlled by whichever party holds a majority in the House. How then would your amendment have “strengthened” the OCE’s non-partisan independence by making it subject to partisan control?

It is not surprising that your “amendment was supported by a majority of the House Republican Conference” in a vote that excluded Democrats. That fact and your contradictory defense deepen my concerns. Rather than persuading me that your intentions were ethical, you letter is evidence of your skill at rhetorical doublespeak and an Orwellian approach to governance. If anything, you have demonstrated the imperative of keeping the OCE independent and nonpartisan, since even you, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is so ready and willing to place the “needs” of House members above the “highest standards” they are supposed to uphold.

Chris Gavaler