Email #321: “a political bind”?

Regarding President Trump “Great Wall,” you said last Wednesday:

“One of the issues there, of course, is how much wall do you need. We’re not going to build a wall that’s 30 feet high along the entire 2,000 miles of our southern border, but walls in particular places, particularly where there’s high-trafficked areas, where there’s lots of criminal cartel activity on the other side, where there are major urban areas, walls are appropriate.”

I agree that a 2,000-mile is not appropriate. There are 653 miles of wall already in the kinds of high-traffic, high-activity places that you indicated. So could you please specify how many more of the remaining 1, 347 miles you feel require additional construction?

Also, how much are you willing to spend on such construction? We have already spent $7 billion since 2001. The current wall cost $3-4 million per mile. Even without purchasing the privately owned land where the wall would need to extend, employing construction workers, and paying for annual maintenance of upwards of $750 million, the materials for just an additional 1,000 miles would cost $15 billion. Do you consider that the best use of taxpayer money?

President Trump of course promised the wall would cost Americans nothing. He explained in April 2016:

“Mexico currently receive $24 billion in remittance payments annually from the United States. This provides substantial leverage for the United States to obtain from Mexico the funds necessary to pay for a border wall. It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.”

Though as a candidate the President threatened to change a Patriot Act rule that would cut off money Mexico receives through wire transfers, he has taken no such action. When President Trump did attempt to negotiate with Mexico in August, he did not mention wire transfers and remittance payments. According to published White House phone transcripts, the President only asked that Mexico’s President Peña Nieto stop saying he would refuse to pay:

“The only thing I will ask you though is on the wall, you and I both have a political problem. My people stand up and say, “Mexico will pay for the wall” and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language. But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period. So what I would like to recommend is … we should both say, “we will work it out”… because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out.”

But although President Peña Nieto agreed to “stop talking about the wall,” the Trump administration and Mexico are not “working it out.” Peña Nieto was absolutely clear:

“my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.”

President Trump was only concerned with how that would make him look, telling Peña Nieto:

“But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”

So the President is in, as he said, “a political bind.” He has a “political problem.” That is very different from having an actual border security problem. He wants a wall not because it is vital for security but because he campaigned on the impossible promise of a Mexico-funded “Great Wall” that encapsulated his simplistic anti-immigration platform.

I know you share many of his immigration attitudes. I also know you are a fiscal hawk—though now with disturbing selectivity. If the current 653-mile wall isn’t sufficient, why have you never sponsored wall-expansion legislation during your previous terms? Why only now is there a sudden need? How many billions of deficit-expanding dollars are you willing to spend bailing the President out of his “political problem”?

What happened to the Bob Goodlatte who wanted to “put an end to deficit spending”? What happened to the Bob Goodlatte who said: “Families all across our nation understand what it means to make tough decisions each day about what they can and cannot afford and government officials should be required to exercise similar restraint when spending the hard-earned dollars of our nation’s citizens.”

Where is your restraint now?

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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 #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 #287: “we cannot fix the DACA problem”?

“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”

Do you disagree with that opinion? If so, you disagree with Ronald Reagan. He said it during a presidential debate in 1984, but he began promoting the policy during his first year in office. It became law through the bipartisan Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which increased security along the U.S.-Mexican border and also allowed undocumented immigrant who entered the country before 1982 to become citizens.

“The vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives… there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record. I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, … to pay their taxes, … to learn English … and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship.”

Do you disagree with that too? If so, then you also disagree with President Bush. He announced his immigration reform plan in 2006, one that would have combined amnesty with increased border security. The bill died in the Senate the following year.

Now even President Trump—easily the most anti-immigration President of the modern era—has vowed to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children from deportation and to provide a path to legal residency. Though the President’s commitment to replacing DACA with legislation falls far below his Republican predecessors, you have not expressed support of even this limited gesture. You said last week:

“President Trump has called on Congress to address this issue the right way through legislation. However, we cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place.”

Does this mean you will vote against a DACA-replacing bill endorsed by the President? He has given Congress only six months to fix DACA, but “fixing all of the issues” related to immigration will take considerably longer. Rather than tackling this task in stages, will you block the President’s first, bipartisan step?

Email #282: “a bad bill”?

In December 2010, you voted against the DREAM Act, a bill that would have legislatively accomplished what President Obama later established through DACA, providing protections for Dreamers, undocumented immigrant children striving for citizenship.

You said the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act was “a bad bill”:

“The American people have recently demonstrated their strong opposition to amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, yet the DREAM Act offers amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before they were 16 years old. It grants them permanent residence and then citizenship once they have completed 2 years of college or have served in the armed services, unless the Department of Homeland Security waives these requirements because of hardship.”

Apparently a lot has changed in seven years. Because now the American people overwhelming support DACA. According a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted this month: “Just 24 percent of Republicans, 12 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats say that Dreamers should be deported… Two-thirds of self-identified Trump voters think the Dreamers should stay.”

And this week President Trump and Democratic leaders Senator Schumer and Rep. Pelosi have crossed the aisle and “agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” This is an extraordinary bipartisan move that achieves what the vast majority of the American people want.

President Trump tweeted yesterday: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!”

In 2010, your answer was yes. Do you still want to throw them out now? Do you still insist that Dreamer legislation is “bad”?

Email #277: “bona fide relationship”?

A federal court has yet again blocked aspects of President Trump’s travel ban. Last Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that any refugee who has received formal assurances from a U.S. refugee resettlement agency may still enter the country. The 9th Circuit judges explained:

“Resettlement agencies will face concrete harms and burdens if refugees with formal assurances are not admitted. In the same way that the Court considered the harms of the U.S. citizen who wants to be reunited with his mother-in-law and the permanent resident who wants to be reunited with his wife, the employer that hired an employee, the university that admitted a student, and the American audience that invited a lecturer, the district court correctly considered the resettlement agency that has given a formal assurance for specific refugees.”

The Supreme Court decided in June that anyone with “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” is exempt from the ban.  A resettlement agency is an “entity in the United States” and a formal assurance establishes a “bona fide relationship,” and so the 9th Circuit’s ruling seems self-evidently correct. And yet the Justice Department argued oppositely.

The 9th Circuit also rejected the Trump administration’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s requirement that someone with a “close familial relationship” is exempt from the ban. And yet the Justice Department argued that grandparents do not have a “bona fide relationship” with their grandchildren. The 9th Circuit judges agreed U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson who blocked that aspect of the ban in July.

Since you oversee both the Justice Department and immigration policy, these issues should be receiving your special attention. And yet you have issued no press releases about the President’s travel ban since March. Do you agree or disagree that grandparents and refugees with bona fide assurances from U.S. resettlement entities should be exempt?

Email #276: “Let’s do it fast”?

For once we have a bipartisan reason to compliment the President on his use of Twitter. On Thursday the President tweeted:

“For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about — No action!”

House Democrat leader, Rep. Pelosi, had requested the President to ease the fears of young undocumented immigrants currently protected by DACA. She said afterwards: “This is what I asked the president to do and, boom boom boom, the tweet appeared.”

Pelosi also reported the President’s desire for Congress to act quickly in replacing DACA with similar legislation: “He said, ‘I want to sign it. Let’s do it fast. Let’s do it soon. And I said, ‘All the better. We don’t want to take six months, and we don’t even want to take three months.’”

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration policy in the House, you are responsible for that fast action. Fortunately, you have legislation ready and waiting in your own Committee. Your fellow Republican, Rep. Coffman, introduced the Bridge Act in January. The bill would extend DACA’s protections for three years.

You of course could have brought the bill forward for a Committee vote and moved it to the House floor at any time in the last eight months. I assume you were waiting for President Trump to indicate his preference on the issue—which he now has. He wants DACA replacement legislation passed quickly.

Will you therefore bring the Bridge Act forward for an immediate vote?