Email #242: “joking”?

I saw that President Trump mentioned you by name in his speech to Long Island police officers late last month:

“We’re also working with Chairman Bob Goodlatte on a series of enforcement measures — and he’s a terrific guy — to keep our country safe from crime and terrorism — and in particular, radical Islamic terrorism. A term never uttered by the past administration. Never uttered. Did anybody ever hear that term? I don’t think so. But you heard it from me.”

The speech received negative attention because a paragraph earlier the President told the officers “please don’t be too nice” when making arrests:

“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”

New York police commissioner James P. O’Neill responded: “To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public.” Other law enforcement officials and organizations condemned the remark too, but Blue Lives Matters tweeted, “It was a joke,” and Tom Rogan of the Washington Examiner also said, “Trump was clearly joking.” What is your opinion? Was the President making a joke, and if so, was the joke irresponsible?

Regarding President Trump’s reference to you, I was not aware that you were working on radical Islamic terrorism. Could you please explain what the President meant? He did go on to mention legislation that you are working on:

“That includes cracking down on sanctuary cities that defy federal law, shield visa overstays, and that release dangerous criminals back into the United States’ communities. That’s what’s happening. They’re releasing them. So many deaths where they release somebody back into the community, and they know it’s going to end that way. That’s the sad — they know it’s going to end that way.”

While we disagree about whether jurisdictions should have a choice to allocate their local tax dollars to make their police serve as federal immigration officers, the President’s argument is one of the worst I’ve heard in favor of your legislation. Sanctuary cities are not releasing dangerous criminals. They are simply not investigating the immigration status of the people they arrest. And what does the President even mean when says “they know it’s going to end that way”? Does he believe these cities release murderers knowing that they are going to commit more murders? Or was he just joking then too? Joking or not, if the President tries to use this argument to persuade the Senate to pass your anti-sanctuary legislation, it is doomed to the same fate as the American Health Care Act.

I presume you continue to support President Trump because you still imagine he’s the best chance you have of advancing your own legislative agenda, but he is proving counterproductive even at that.

But at least he thinks you’re “a terrific guy.”

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 #209: “50,000”?

Your House Judiciary Committee approved the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act last week and sent it to the House floor. Although you are one of the bill’s sponsors, I ask that you reconsider your support.

As you of course know, the bill lowers the annual refugee cap from 110,000 to 50,000, the same limit as in the President’s travel ban. Since as of May 26th, 45,732 refugees already entered the country this year, I assume the new proposed limit was reached last month. So the bill would halt the entire program, barring the tens of thousands currently on the waitlist and reneging on the government’s assurances that they would enter. At minimum, the U.S. should honor its commitments to these specific individuals.

But the U.S. should be doing more, not less. In the fiscal year that ended last September, the U.S. resettled 84,995 refugees, the cap then imposed by President Obama. Compare that to the Germany’s 442,000, Hungary’s 174,000, and Sweden’s 156,000 in 2015. These nations are also much smaller than. According to the Pew Research Center, Sweden saw the percentage of its immigrant population grow by 1.5% in 2016. Norway and Austria grew by about 1%. But the U.S. percentage grew by only 1% over the entire decade of 2005-2015.

While that annual 0.1% increase is an inhumane response to the international refugee crisis, it is also un-American. Compare today’s GOP cap to President Reagan’s in 1980. During Reagan’s first year in office, our country took in 210,000 refugees in response to the humanitarian crisis created by Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia. While catastrophic, that crisis was smaller than the one facing the world right world. And yet you would reduce our response to less than a quarter of President Reagan’s.

I understand how motivated you are to reverse any policy or regulation associated with President Obama. Since Obama raised the cap from 85,000 to 110,000 in his last year in office, could Congress instead place the limit back at 85,000 or at an intermediate compromise figure of 97,000? While either of those figures is grossly inadequate and pales in comparison to refugee policy under President Reagan, they are at least more reasonable than your bill’s proposed cap. They might also attract some Democrats’ votes in both the House and Senate, without which your bill is doomed. Or are you not interested in governing, but only in making anti-immigrant gestures to stoke your rightwing base?

Email #208: “conversation and collaboration”?

Republican Senator Collins tweeted on Wednesday: “I want to work w/ my GOP & Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA. CBO analysis shows Senate bill won’t do it.”

Democratic Senator Carper also said he’s “reaching out to Republicans who would like to find a principled compromise to fix what needs to be fixed in the Affordable Care Act.” He wants to “foster an environment in which conversation and collaboration could begin in earnest and continue over the Fourth of July recess.”

This is exactly the bipartisan approach our country desperately needs right now. It’s also the approach you have repeatedly claimed to prefer, and yet you have done little to foster it yourself. When it looked like the AHCA wasn’t going to pass in the House, you wrote in one of your newsletters:

“As the health care debate continues, let’s take a look at one aspect of the health care system that has the support of many in both parties. Community Health Centers (CHCs) have long been recognized as a proven and nonpartisan solution to primary care access…. While Community Health Centers existed long before Obamacare, when this law was passed in 2010 it recognized the value of these facilities and made a substantial investment in them. The good work done by CHCs continues to be recognized now. As we work on a new health care solution to replace Obamacare, it is important that CHCs receive support for their work to expand services and access.”

While you continued to insist that the ACA be replaced, you did so without vilifying it or its supporters. This is exactly the approach the GOP should have taken from the start. Yet a month later when the amended AHCA moved to the divided Senate, you returned to your divisive rhetoric about the “death spiral” of “Obamacare.”

The ACHA/BCRA is now finally moving in a centrist direction. Republican Senator Corker said: “The initial draft bill really didn’t provide an opportunity for low-income citizens to buy healthcare that actually covered them, so that equation is going to change.”

That likely means an amendment preserving the ACA’s tax on high-income earners. If that happens, the bill is going to lose support from the far right in both the Senate and the House. But those lost votes can be offset by centrist Democrats—unless the GOP’s relentless partisan attacks on the ACA continue to push both sides away from that middle ground.

If the Senate abandons the BCRA in its current form and instead begins to work on a centrist solution to our country’s healthcare needs, will you pledge to support their efforts?

Email #207: “Integrity Restoration”?

You say your so-called Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act “empowers state and local communities.” According to your House Judiciary Committee press release:

“Currently, states or localities that do not want refugees resettled within their communities have no recourse. The bill remedies this issue and prevents the resettlement of refugees in any state or locality that takes legislative or executive action disapproving resettlement within their jurisdiction.”

And yet your anti-sanctuary bill removes power from local communities. Under the so-called No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, localities that do not want their police using local tax-funded resources enforcing federal immigration laws within their jurisdictions will have no recourse.

The anti-sanctuary passed the House on Thursday. Your House Judiciary Committee approved the refugee bill on Friday. So within 24 hours you argued that local communities should choose for themselves how to handle immigration issues and also that local communities should be stripped of that power.

Since all of the Judiciary Committee’s Republican members also voted for both bills, it seems the Republican party does not care about the contradiction. You are treating a core conservative principle like a prop, holding it up when it makes for good advertising, and ignoring it when it contradicts your legislation-of-the-moment.

While your casual hypocrisy is startling, it seems you do have one principle when it comes to immigration: always take the position most inhumane to the immigrant. You could pose that in positive terms and argue that you are enacting an “America First” policy and so always favoring citizens against non-citizens. But when citizens take pro-immigrant stances you vote to take that power away from them, and when citizens take anti-immigrant stances you vote to further empower them. So your actions aren’t motivated by citizens.

You are “Anti-immigrant First,” a policy that seems both inhumane and un-American.


Email #204: “limited government”?

I thought conservatives believed in limiting the powers of the federal government in favor of local control.

Paul Kengor explains in “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative”:

“Reagan felt … the federal government had subsumed far too many roles and duties that should have been left to the private sector or to local and states governments.”

The American Conservative Party expresses the same attitude:

“American Conservatism stands for small, limited government … where individuals take on duties to take care of their own communities, and where Government is the resource of last resort.”

And Gene Veith writes in his essay “Big state government vs. little local government”:

“In classic conservative political theory, the most significant form of government is what is closest to the people; that is, local governments in which the people select their neighbors to govern the community.  As levels of government get farther and farther away from the people who elected them, political involvement becomes ever more abstract and the distant government gets potentially ever more problematic, especially when it usurps power from the officials closer to the people.”

So why have you introduced a bill that reverses that principle?

Your No Sanctuary for Criminals Act would take power away from local governments and give it to the federal government. You say that the bill “withholds certain federal grants from jurisdictions that violate federal law by prohibiting their officers from communicating with ICE,” but these local governments are not violating any federal laws. Your bill expands the federal government, removing decision-making from local communities. Currently jurisdictions have the power to decide whether they should spend their resources enforcing federal immigration laws. Some jurisdictions feel that approach undermines effective policing.

Democratic whip Rep. Hoyer argues: “If you have crime and people who are victims of crime are afraid to come forward and report that, then law enforcement believes it is undermining its ability to keep safe neighborhoods and safe communities.”

You may personally disagree with Rep. Hoyer, and you may personally disagree with each local jurisdiction that has adopted a sanctuary policy. But the conservative pillar of limited federal government requires you to step back and allow those differences in opinion to stand. It’s not up to you and Congress to tell local governments how to run their police departments. That’s a local choice.

You said  Tuesday: “I believe the overwhelming majority of people of any ethnicity support the government being able to get cooperation to enforce the law because after all, it’s in these communities that people will be kept the most safe if those who commit crimes are sent out of the United States or put in jail.”

But if doesn’t matter what you “believe” local communities do or do not support. These communities are telling you directly. You and other members of the GOP have criticized “big government” for decades, and yet you move to expand federal power now because it happens to suit you. If you can cast aside one of the most central conservative principles so easily, in what sense is it a principle at all?

I know the House is scheduled to vote on the bill today, and I know you will be voting for it. But I hope you will at least pause a moment first and recognize how contradictory and literally unprincipled your action is.

To Beth Breeding, Mr. Goodlatte’s Communications Director

Dear Beth,

I want to thank you for speaking to me again when I stopped by the Congressman’s office on Tuesday. Though my daughter had a great time visiting the Impressionists exhibit on her own, I wish she could have spoken to you about her trip to Russia next month. I’m impressed by anyone who can learn such a challengingly unfamiliar langauge.

I also wish it were possible for Mr. Goodlatte’s constituent form letters to communicate such an open and friendly tone. I realize written documents aimed at a necessarily wide audience can never achieve that effect, but as I said on Tuesday, the Congressman’s statements in his letters, press releases, and newsletter columns often seem unnecessarily antagonistic, simplistic, or inaccurate.

I have no idea to what extent you as his communications director shape these documents, but please understand that impressions of the Congressman’s character are largely defined by them. If a document contains an inaccuracy, the Congressman appears untruthful. If one contains a reductively simplistic argument, he seems simple minded. If his words strike an antagonistically partisan tone, he seems like some one who puts party loyalty above all else.

Those are all vague abstractions, so please let me walk through one concrete example. We spoke briefly about Mr. Goodlatte’s stance on sanctuary cities. While I largely disagree with his position, my point is about how he communicates it. According to his May 24th press release, his co-sponsored Davis-Oliver Act “contains many tools to enhance the safety of our communities, such as cracking down on sanctuary jurisdictions that needlessly jeopardize Americans’ lives.”

As you obviously know, sanctuary cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston instruct their police officers not to ask about the immigration status of people they arrest. If individuals are arrested for other reasons and these cities know they’re also in the U.S. illegally, the cities don’t automatically turn them over for deportation. The federal government has to make a request, and that request, according to multiple courts, is only a request. The Department of Homeland Security acknowledges that compliance is optional. So sanctuary cities are breaking no laws.

They do comply when they’ve jailed someone who is on a terrorist watch list or has prior felonies, but an undocumented immigrant isn’t going to get deported for a speeding ticket. As a result, immigrant communities are more likely to cooperate with their local police instead of fearing them, and local police in turn can better serve and protect. That cooperation enhances everyone’s safety.

Or at least that’s the idea. These cities are trying to reduce crime by exercising their legal option not to serve as front-line enforcers of federal immigration laws but instead focus on what they deem to be more immediately critical needs. A reasonable person could disagree. But the Congressman expresses opinions unreasonably and misleadingly. He wrote in October:

“So-called sanctuary cities are one of the worst examples of people thumbing their nose at the rule of law. These communities needlessly endanger American lives by adopting public policies refusing to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in its enforcement of federal immigration laws. As a result, thousands of criminal aliens have been released back into our neighborhoods to commit more crimes instead of being detained.”

While the Congressman is welcome to have negative opinions of sanctuary Cities, he is wrong to misrepresent them. They do not thumb “their nose at the rule of law.” They obey all laws. The phrase is designed to imply without overtly stating that these cities are violating “the rule of law.”

They also do not “endanger American lives.” Some illegal immigrants commit crimes, but that fact is unrelated to sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities did not allow immigrants into the country, legally or illegally, and they do not allow them to commit crimes once here. Like legal immigrants and native born citizens, some illegal immigrants do “endanger American lives.” And, like anywhere else, if they commit dangerous crimes in sanctuary cities, those cities do everything in their power to arrest them. And, like anywhere else, they comply with ICE to deport them.

The Congressman also uses the misleading phrase “criminal aliens” to imply that all undocumented immigrants, who are by this definition “criminal aliens,” are free to commit “more crimes.” That logic is circular. It also implies that all crimes of any kind somehow endanger lives. He then follows these misleading statements with a verifiably false statement:

“These sanctuary cities are known to become magnets for gangs, drug dealers, and other criminal aliens as safe havens to avoid apprehension, detention, and deportation under our immigration laws.”

There is no evidence that supports this statement and there is evidence that refutes it. I left a phone message for the Congressman in early March after his second mass conference call during which he said twice that sanctuary cities “have more crime.” Though he promised to respond to my message, he did not, so I will repeat what research has found. According to Highline College, Riverside, and the University of California:

“We find no statistically discernible difference in violent crime rate, rape, or property crime across the cities. Our findings provide evidence that sanctuary policies have no effect on crime rates, despite narratives to the contrary…. There is no generalizable or statistical evidence that crime increases after a city becomes a sanctuary.”

The researchers also state:

“In past statements, Trump has cited individual instances of crime, such as the Kathryn Steinle shooting in San Francisco, rather than any evidence that sanctuary cities ‘breed crime.'”

I believe this is the example that you brought up on Tuesday with me. I believe you said that the killer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was an illegal immigrant who should never have been in country “endangering American lives” in the first place. I thoroughly agree. But that fact is unrelated to sanctuary cities and the Congressman’s claims about them.

These are complicated, divisive issues. I wish the Mr. Goodlatte’s would address them with the nuance they deserve and in a manner that did not breed more division. I do not object to different opinions, but I strongly object to misrepresentations, intentional or otherwise. And please also understand that Mr. Goodlatte’s words are his character for all of us who can’t know him personally. The above arguments do not paint a flattering picture of him.

Thank you so much for hearing me out. And don’t worry, I won’t be flooding your inbox with daily emails now. I wanted to follow-up on this one point since we had discussed it in person and because you welcomed me to when you kindly offered me your business card afterwards. I apologize for going on so long.

Many thanks,

Chris Gavaler