Email #246: “civility in Washington”?

Republicans and Democrats have found something to agree about. An NPR poll last month asked how “the overall tone and level of civility in Washington between Republicans and Democrats” has changed “since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.”

73% answered: “Gotten worse.”

While that figure included 83% of liberals, 71% of moderates agreed, and even 69% of conservatives did too. Compare that to July 2009 when the poll asked the same question about Barak Obama. Then only a total of 35% thought civility had gotten worse. President Trump has doubled that figure even among Republicans.

Would you say partisan civility has gotten worse too? You said just days before the poll was taken that “we have seen a decline in civil discourse.” Why exactly do you think that is? Do you, like 73% of Americans, see it happening as a result of President Trump?

You also said: “it is more important now than ever that we as a nation work even harder to maintain a civil discourse.” So what hard work are you doing to achieve that important goal?

Email #234: “we all agreed”

I want to thank you for voting for the Russian sanctions bill that passed both the House and the Senate this week. Speaker Ryan said on Thursday:

“The message coming from Congress on a bipartisan basis is these are hostile regimes and sanctions are warranted — sanctions are called for. And we want to make sure that they’re tough sanctions and that they’re durable sanctions. It took us a while to figure this out and come together to get the policy right . . . and we all agreed we believe these tough hostile regimes deserve sanctions and this is the bipartisan compromise that produces that.”

When Speaker Ryan said “we” and “us,” for once he meant the entire House, not just its GOP members. In addition to twice using the adjective “bipartisan,” he even echoed the Hillary Clinton campaign slogan “Stronger Together.” And the rhetoric was accurate. The bill passed in the House 419-3 and in the Senate 90-2 where even its opposition was peculiarly bipartisan with Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders joining against it.

While it is easy for Democrats to defy President Trump, I am more impressed by how the GOP resisted White House efforts to weaken the bill, especially the absurd assurance that the President needs the freedom to “negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.” Instead the bill increases Congressional review, requiring the President to notify Congress in advance of making any changes to the sanctions and giving Congress thirty days to block them.

This is Congress’ first, clear statement of distrust in President Trump’s ability to deal meaningfully with Russia after its interference in the election. In a form letter your office sent me last January, your assured me: “Our constitutional system of three co-equal branches of government and a Bill of Rights … prevent one branch from assuming too much authority without a challenge from the other branches of government.” This is the first instance of the GOP-controlled legislative branch challenging President Trump’s executive authority.

As a loyal Republican, you voted with your party because your party was voting against the President. While this makes you nothing like the Republican Senators McCain, Collins, and Murkowski who joined with Democrats to defeat all of the flawed health care bills in the Senate last week, it does mean you place party loyalty above Trump loyalty. While I would hope for more from you, this does suggest that as the GOP turns increasingly against the President, at least you will not block their efforts. You are no leader, but you are an obedient follower, and so you are bipartisan when your party tells you to be bipartisan.

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 #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 #224: “door to bipartisanship”?

Thank you for your form letter regarding the American Health Care Act. Though it mostly repeats your earlier statements, I do appreciate one tiny revision. You first refer to the ACA as “the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare,” instead of simply calling it “Obamacare,” a pejorative term coined by Republicans to attack the law. Although I hope this is a step toward a more reasonable common ground, it also coincides with “Obamacare” no longer being an easy target. A recent poll reported that the ACA has a 50% approval rating, making it a little more than twice as popular as either of the GOP replacement bills, which are polling at only 24%.

Now that two more Republican Senators have refused to support the Senate version of the AHCA, I have heard renewed talk of repealing but not replacing the ACA. President Trump tweeted earlier this week: “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!”

But prospects for a repeal-only bill are even worse. Republican Senator Capito has already rejected the possibility and on good grounds: “Repealing without a replacement would create great uncertainty for individuals who rely on the ACA and cause further turmoil in the insurance markets. We can’t just hope that we will pass a replacement within the next two years. I will only vote to proceed to repeal legislation if I am confident there is a replacement plan that addresses my concerns.”

But the President is right about starting over and working with Democrats this time. Senate Minority Leader Schumer is saying the same thing: “Rather than repeating this same, failed partisan process again, Republicans should work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the insurance markets and improves our health-care system. The door to bipartisanship is open now.” Senator Manchin has already begun that process, contacting eleven other Senators who have served as governors like him and inviting them to “sit down and start bipartisan talking.”

I hope you will help to lead the same process in the House. Congress has been in session for six months and is no closer to passing a new health care bill. It’s time for a bipartisan, centrist approach. This is what our country needs right now.

Email #210: “Republicans are Delivering”?

You have told constituents in private meetings that you’re involved in a lot of bipartisan work behind the scenes. If so, why do you then negate that work in your public statements and in your legislative approach?

Before the House passed your immigration bills last Thursday, your press release headline read: “Goodlatte: House Republicans are Delivering on Promise to Strengthen Immigration Enforcement.” While your anti-sanctuary bill did receive almost exclusive GOP support (I didn’t check names, but 195 Representatives voted against it, and 193 Representatives in the House are Democrats), your so-called “Kate’s Law” passed with the help of 24 Democrats. That’s about 1/7th of the Democrats in the House, so not a resounding bipartisan effort, but still, I applaud the movement in a centrist direction. Why aren’t you?

So you wrote one bill that hardens the Democrat-Republican divide and one that begins the more difficult and important job of building bridges. Which of the two bill do you think has any chance in the Senate?

Similar bills were defeated there last term when the GOP held 54 seats. Now they hold 52. And that slim margin applies only if eight Democrats join all of the Republicans to reach 60 votes to end any filibusters. Maybe Kate’s Law will achieve those thresholds. But why did you write and promote it in such a partisan way knowing that you needed Democratic support for it to reach the President’s desk? Why not craft bills with Democrats in mind? Or at least in such a way that doesn’t intentionally repel them? Why not take advantage of the vast middle ground instead of always pandering to the far right?

I understand why you might feel the need to waste so much legislative time and effort making pointless political statements on an election year, but six months into a new session is a bipartisan opportunity you’re squandering for no reason.

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.