Email #308: “different standards for the well-connected”?

White House advisor Ivanka Trump was investigated for fraud in 2012 for misleading prospective Trump SoHo condo buyers by intentionally inflating sales numbers. According to ProPublica, prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office spent two years building a case against Ms. Trump and her brother Donald Trump Jr. that included emails revealing their awareness that their figures were false. But District Attorney Vance dropped the case after meeting with President Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz. Kasowitz, who had already donated $25,000 to Vance’s election campaign, then made a second donation of $50,000 after the case was dropped. Vance is now returning both donations. Kasowitz claims: “I have never made a contribution to anyone’s campaign, including Cy Vance’s, as a ‘quid-pro-quo’ for anything.”

While it is entirely possible that the district attorney dropped the case for reasons other than bribery originating from President Trump on behalf of his children, the appearance of bribery and obstruction is troubling. You have also said that you feel “troubled” when “there seems to be a different standard for the well-connected.” Since there is no one more well-connected than a member of the Trump family, and since the dropped fraud case suggests a very different standard for them, you must feel troubled now too.

Will you therefore fulfill your responsibility to oversee the executive branch and hold a House Judiciary Committee hearing to investigate these allegations? Or are you not troubled by different standards when the well-connected are fellow Republicans?

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Email #307: “Staff does them”?

You must be outraged that your fellow House Pro-Life Caucus member Rep. Murphy pressured his mistress to have an abortion. Ms. Edwards, a woman half Murphy’s age, told him by text: you had “zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week.”

Murphy texted back that he was not responsible for his own anti-abortion messages: “I’ve never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don’t write any more.”

Though Murphy has announced that he will not be running for reelection, he remains a voting member of the House. Like you, he voted for the recent so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

While I am shocked by Murphy’s hypocrisy, I am also disturbed by the fact that he took no responsibility for the messages released by his office under his own name. Is this common practice among Representatives? Did you, for instance, write the statement on your website that justifies your support of the “Pain-Capable” bill by citing a single researcher who concluded that 20-week fetuses can feel pain? Did you also write this sentence: “The scientific data provide unambiguous evidence that unborn children are living, feeling human beings”?

I ask because the statement is wincingly false. The scientific data is overwhelming ambiguous, and there is absolutely no scientific consensus at how many months of development a fetus is “feeling.” This not to argue that 20-week fetuses cannot feel pain. It is simply unknown. While I know that you believe life begins at conception, you harm your pro-life position by lying to support it.

But I assume you did not personally write the false statement, and I assume you also did not review all of the scientific data yourself. You must rely on your staff to do the majority of your research and drafting. While this seems reasonable, it leaves you vulnerable.

In this case, you may have been given false information because members of your staff thought the false information sounded rhetorically effective. Most lies do. When you signed-off on it, you made it your own regardless who originally drafted it. You presumably trusted that the statement was true. It was not, and so you now appear ignorant. Alternatively, you knew the statement was false, and you signed-off on it anyway, making yourself a liar.

Your colleague Rep. Murphy told his mistress he was ignorant. What would you like to tell your constituents?

Email #306: “a great HealthCare Bill”?

President Trump tweeted Saturday:

“I called Chuck Schumer yesterday to see if the Dems want to do a great HealthCare Bill. ObamaCare is badly broken, big premiums. Who knows!”

Schumer responded:

“The president wanted to make another run at repeal and replace and I told the president that’s off the table. If he wants to work together to improve the existing health care system, we Democrats are open to his suggestions. A good place to start might be the Alexander-Murray negotiations that would stabilize the system and lower costs.”

I wrote to you about the Alexander-Murray bill last month, predicting that if it passes:

“the President will describe it as ‘essentially’ a repeal of the ACA anyway and so claim to have accomplished a campaign promise.”

His phone call to Senator Schumer on Friday is the first tangible step to that increasingly likely outcome. If the President makes a deal with Democrat leaders, moderate Republicans will join, and the country will get a law that will “increase access to care and deliver affordable health insurance options.” Those are the two goals you emphasized in July, and so I assume you still prioritize them.

You also said last December that you were “working towards a bi-partisan solution to solve the problem of unaffordable health care.” So you must be pleased that the President is now working towards a bi-partisan solution too. Since a majority of your constituents will applaud any legislation that President Trump calls “a great HealthCare Bill,” are you prepared to cross the aisle and pass a Trump-ObamaCare bill that improves but does not repeal the ACA?

Since partisan repeals have proven impossible, the only other alternative is a permanent but increasingly ineffective ACA. The Congressional Budget Office’s original projections were based on the assumption that over 20 million people would enter the ACA market, but less than half as many actually did. As long as enrolments remain low, the ACA will remain affordable only for those receiving subsidies. But those subsidies will also prevent a complete collapse, locking the system in permanent dysfunction.

Despite this, the Trump administration is cutting the next ACA sign-up period from twelve weeks to only six, and the sign-up website will be shut down on all but one of those Sundays, even though Sunday is one of the most popular sign-up days. The administration has also cut funding to enrollment assistance groups by 40% and the advertising budget by 90%, even though many Americans are unaware that the ACA is still available or that they need to re-up to maintain their coverage. The end result will be even fewer enrollees and so even higher premiums.

If President Trump has a strategy it must be to further weaken the ACA so greatly that a bipartisan repair bill will so drastically improve the system that the result will “essentially” be a repeal and replacement. If that’s the President idea of “a great HealthCare Bill,” I’ll grudgingly support it. Will you?

Email #305: “demigod of gentlemanly virtue”?

At 7:45 last night, white supremacist leader Richard Spencer and a group of three dozen supporters held a fifteen-minute “flash mob” in Charlottesville, once again carrying torches around the statue of Robert E. Lee. The group sang “Dixie” and chanted: “You will not replace us,” “We will be back,” and “The South will rise again. Russia is our friend. The South will rise again.”

Spencer said before the group: “We are about our heritage. Not just us Virginians. Not just as Southerners. But as white people . . . we’ll take a stand.” He added to reporters afterwards: “Our identity matters. We are not going to stand by and allow people to tear down these symbols of our history and our people – and we’re going to do this again.”

The event returns attention to the “Unite the Right” rally last August when white supremacist James Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd of anti-protestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring nineteen others. It also draws further attention to Robert E. Lee as an icon of the white nationalist movement. I live about an hour from Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park, formerly named Lee Park, where Lee’s statue has stood since 1924. But I live only five minutes from the campus of Washington and Lee University where I work and where a statue of Lee occupies the altar in Lee Chapel.

Do you agree with Richard Spencer that Lee symbolizes not just the heritage of Virginians or Southerners but of all white people? How would you advise your alma mater to handle its own heritage and relationship with its namesake?

Your fellow Washington and Lee University alumnus Charles Correll wrote in the National Review in August that “even with his faults, Lee deserves to be honored,” criticizing Lee’s critics for dwelling exclusively on Robert E. Lee’s “faults” while ignoring his “virtues” and so failing “to distinguish between the commendable and the condemnable.”

Washington and Lee University’s “Our Namesakes” webpage devotes about five hundred words to Lee’s five-year presidency of Washington College, including his addition of the law school which you attended a century later. The statement credits Lee as a “creative educator whose curricular innovations transformed the classical college” and who “established a lasting tradition of student self-governance.” I believe it would be accurate to list these under what Mr. Correll calls “the commendable.” But paralleling Mr. Correll’s criticism of Lee critics, the namesake statement dwells exclusively on his virtues while ignoring his faults.

Perhaps an institution should not be expected to discuss “the condemnable” of a namesake. Or perhaps an institution, especially an educational institution, bears a greater responsibility to do so since, in Washington and Lee University’s case, it continuously honors Robert E. Lee through its name. This violates Mr. Correll’s implied virtue of balance.

The trustees of Washington College changed their school’s name after Lee’s death so that he would “be forever hereafter associated indisputably, as … Restorer of our beloved College!” But the trustees looked beyond just the commendable of Lee’s role as college president. They described Lee and George Washington as “two of the most renowned names of their respective centuries.” Since Lee served only five years at what was then an obscure and collapsing school, he was renowned only for his role in the Civil War as general of the Army of Northern Virginia. Rather than distinguishing whether this role is commendable or condemnable, Mr. Correll ignores it by mentioning only that “he fought against the Union.” That understatement is akin to saying Donald Trump works in the federal government. It is literally true while comically inexact.

Because the trustees’ wish for Lee’s indisputable association has come true, it has produced a further imbalance. Washington and Lee’s 1924 president called Lee a “secular saint.” That attitude has continued into the current century. As Mr. Correll writes: “it will be impossible for Washington and Lee to preserve General Lee’s vaunted status as a demigod of gentlemanly virtue.” Mr. Correll is a recent graduate and so he is describing Lee’s current status among students. Since vaunted demigods are an extreme example of “the commendable,” Mr. Correll has indirectly criticized his and your alma mater for ignoring Lee’s faults and dwelling exclusively on his virtues.

You graduated in 1977. Did you also see Lee as a “secular saint” and “demigod of gentlemanly virtue”? When you think of your alma mater, do you associate the name only with Lee’s brief presidency or with Lee overall?

Mr. Correll compliments Washington and Lee’s current president: “Rather than rashly react to the demands of the mob, Washington and Lee has resolved to understand the contributions of its namesakes and discuss their virtues and shortcomings openly, in the name of truly open dialogue.”

As an alumnus of Washington and Lee University’s law school, will you join this dialogue and help to achieve the balance Mr. Correll advocates? Since Washington and Lee has honored Lee as a saint and demigod for a century and a half, is it time we discuss his shortcomings?

Or are you content with Richard Spencer and other white supremacists speaking about Lee for you?

Email #304: “62%”?

According to Suffolk University-USA Today polling, last March the GOP had a 48% unfavorable rating. According to Real Politics poll averages, President Trump had the same. In June, the President’s and the GOP’s unfavorable ratings both rose to roughly 55%. The President later peaked at 57% and now has settled back to its current 55%. But the GOP’s unfavorable rating has continued to rise, now hitting 62%.

That’s not the GOP’s worst polling news. According to the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, last April 47% wanted Democrats to control Congress while 43% wanted Republicans. Now 57% of those polled by USA Today want the next Congress to stand against President Trump while only 33% want a Congress that shares his agenda.

The 4% gap of six months ago has widened to 14%.

Fortunately for the GOP, you and the rest of the House of Representatives are not up for reelection this November. You have a year to correct course. You could heed the public and move toward a moderate, bipartisan agenda. Or you could continue on the path you’ve been on, pushing legislation that appeals to your far-right base.

As a Democrat, I’m torn too. A part of me would like to see you continue exactly what you’ve been doing because it raises the already high probability of a mid-term landslide in 2018. But I also wish to see our two parties work from the center together. Democracy is possible only through compromise. Our current political climate is anti-compromise, and I sincerely believe that political polarization is damaging our country. Prioritizing that principle, I can see that achieving a unifying centrist agenda would do more overall good right now–even though it would fall short of and at times violate my own progressive preferences.

You have a cynical reason to support moderate legislation too. It’s the best chance you and your party have of remaining in power. But you have no interest in my opinions, and so you will almost certainly continue promoting a divisive, right-wing agenda. Though that short-sightedness will benefit Democrats in November 2018, I regret the long-term damage it inflicts on our country as a whole.

Email #303: “our constitutional freedoms”?

The death toll in Las Vegas was so high because the killer used a bump stock conversion kit to make his assault rifle function like a machinegun. Republican Rep. Flores said Wednesday: “I think they should be banned. There’s no reason for a typical gun owner to own anything that converts a semiautomatic to something that behaves like an automatic.”

Republican Rep. Curbelo is already introducing a bipartisan bill that would ban the conversion kits.  Republican Rep. Meadows, who heads the highly partisan Freedom Caucus, said he is considering supporting it. Republican Senators Graham, Hatch, Rubio, and Cornyn are too. Cornyn said Wednesday: “I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that’s our right as Americans, but I don’t understand the use of this bump stock. It seems like it’s an obvious area we ought to explore and see if it’s something Congress needs to act on.”

Cornyn has also called on Senator Grassley, Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to hold a hearing on the kits and other legislative concerns stemming from the Las Vegas mass shooting. You of course are chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Will you be holding a hearing too? Or is this a matter you will use your position to block?

You said the day after your reelection that protecting “our constitutional freedoms” was one of your top six priorities. Based on your high NRA rating, I presume you were referring to the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

You have interpreted that statement so broadly that you opposed limiting the size of ammunition magazines after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 and the expansion of background checks after the mass shooting of school children in Newton, CT in 2012. And after the mass killing in Orlando last year, you even opposed preventing the sale of guns to individuals on terrorism watch lists.

Now that we are once again at a massacre-triggered moment of bipartisan compromise, will you oppose even this mild regulation banning machinegun kits? Fortunately for you, the NRA has already endorsed a change. They said yesterday: “devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

But you have said nothing on the topic. No press releases, no newsletter columns, no interview statements. You have expressed no opinions since last weekend’s mass killing while instead waiting to see how the issue plays out nationally before committing yourself to any principles. As a result, you have shown yourself to be an even less capable leader for common-sense gun regulation than the national organization most opposed to it.

Will you now hold a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Las Vegas shooting? Or do you need permission from the NRA for that too?

 

Email #302: “My biggest regret”?

Caleb Keeter is a member of a band that performed at the Las Vegas country music festival where 59 people were killed and 527 injured last weekend. He said the day after the mass shooting:

“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with CHL licenses, and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless… one man laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power… There rounds were powerful enough that my crew guys just standing in close proximity of a victim shot by this fucking coward received shrapnel wounds.”

That fire power was provided by a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle, a large capacity weapon that was illegal to manufacture for civilian use between September 1994 to September 2004 due to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. You voted against that bill during your freshman term.

In 2013, President Obama called on Congress to renew the ban, specifying weapons that can “pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible, to do as much damage, using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.” That describes the assault rifles  and ammunition used in Las Vegas. If the ban had still been in place, the shooter would not have been able to purchase them, and the fatalities would have been lower.

But you blocked the renewal of the ban because you insisted: “Most modern hunting rifles and handguns of all kinds are semi-automatic, and therefore to attempt to say you’re going to ban them based on how they look … that doesn’t draw any distinction between that and other semi-automatic-type weapons. So I don’t think that’s a meaningful way to address the problem.”

You also opposed universal background checks and a gun-owner registry because, you argued, such measures would inconvenience law-abiding citizens. Now that the law-abiding victims in Las Vegas have been inconvenienced by the worst mass shooting in the history of our nation, what in your opinion would be “a meaningful way to address the problem”?

Caleb Keeter says: “We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.”

What is your biggest regret?