Email #76, Subject: “dictatorial shenanigans”?

I was disturbed to read that you prevented Rep. Luis Gutiérrez from meeting with the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If I understand correctly, Mr. Gutiérrez was asked to leave by your staffers, even though he was the one who requested the meeting? The ICE director was originally going to meet with Mr. Gutiérrez and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, but cancelled. The meeting was then rescheduled with you running it and Mr. Gutiérrez and eight other Democrats barred from attending. You then announced that all future meetings with the ICE would have to be cleared by you first.

Mr. Gutiérrez stated afterwards:

“In 20-plus years, I have never heard of the Republicans controlling what meetings Democrats can have with officials of the Executive Branch and never had a staffer ask me to leave a meeting to which I am entitled to attend.  … The new mass deportation executive orders are unprecedented, but so are the lengths to which the Speaker and Chairman Goodlatte are going to control the information being disseminated to Members of Congress.  I expect such dictatorial shenanigans from the Trump Administration, but not from competent, compassionate legislators like Speaker Ryan or from legislators like Bob Goodlatte.”

Mr. Gutiérrez is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration policy in the House, and a member of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, as well as the Chairman of the CHC Taskforce on Immigration. Who better to meet with ICE? On what grounds are you excluding him? Although you chair the House Judiciary Committee and so oversee immigration policy in the House, you are not a member of the executive branch and so cannot give orders to ICE. The ICE director does not need your permission to schedule meetings. Your assuming that authority violates the Constitution’s three-branch system.

It would appear that you are excluding Mr. Gutiérrez solely because he is not a member of the Republican party. If so, this is a disturbing abuse of your power and a further erosion of the democratic norms of our government. If I have misunderstood the facts of the situation or the explanation for your behavior, please correct me immediately. Otherwise, your Virginia constituents, as well as Americans in general, deserve an apology.

And Rep. Gutiérrez deserves his meeting.

Email #75, Subject: my multiple meeting requests

Thank you so much for updating your website software to send automated form letters to anyone who makes a meeting request. I received my first this weekend:

“Thank you for contacting Congressman Goodlatte’s office with a scheduling request. Your request has been received. Staff will be in touch with you as soon as possible regarding your inquiry.”

I now know that my requests are being recorded by a machine. This is literally the least you can do.

Thank you also for holding a telephone town hall last week. While no substitute for a face-to-face meeting, this is at least a step in the right direction. However, since you did not give any warning when the conference call would take place, I was finishing dinner with my family and so ignored my phone when it rang. After cleaning up, I checked my messages and was able only to catch the last five minutes. This was extremely and unnecessarily frustrating. I called several of your offices afterwards to ask whether the lack of an announcement was an oversight or was intentional, but no one would give me any kind of answer.

As I told your Communication Director Beth Breeding when I spoke with her in your DC office the previous week, it is very difficult to take seriously the multiple assurances I’ve received that you are interested in communicating with constituents. Whenever I phone, someone always takes down my contact information and tells me that someone else will call me back. No one does.

When I spoke to your District Scheduler Jennifer Faulkner about scheduling a meeting with you, I asked when I should I expect her to call me back with an update. She said two weeks. I waited slightly over two weeks before calling again. When I did, it was clear that she’d had no intention of ever calling me. Her estimate had only been a means to get me off the phone. I tried to press politely, but she would not comment on any steps she had taken to arrange a meeting on my behalf, and she indicated no intention of taking any future steps.

I asked Jennifer other questions, but she would not answer those either. When I posed similar questions to Beth, she said she could not answer any of them too. Debbie Garrett said the same thing when I spoke to her in person last month and again last week during her open door meetings in Lexington. Every person I’ve ever spoken to on the phone or in person has said they can’t answer any of my questions or speak for you in any way. Only you can speak for yourself, and you are never available.

As I’ve said so many times before, I don’t care if it’s a private meeting, a small group meeting in a conference room, or a town hall that could accommodate the increasingly large number of constituents who, like me, want answers to legitimate questions. But your staff appears to have been instructed to insulate you, and no amount of my telephoning or emailing or even traveling three hours to DC has gotten me any closer to speaking with you.

I have tried to be polite, patient, and persistent. In exchange I have been put off, misled, and given empty rhetoric. While your various staff members usually respond with a pleasant tone and even a smile, the accumulated effect says the opposite. It appears you have no intention of ever meeting with your constituents and are unwilling to admit it for PR reasons. If that impression is false, correct it by responding personally to my many, many meeting requests. Since Congress is away from DC this week for district work, could I have a few minutes of your time?

Chris Gavaler

Email #74, Subject: “Better Way”?

Thank you so much for your recent letter in response to my concerns regarding your intended ACA repeal. However, because your letter once again failed to address the specific details I raised, your continuing pattern of avoidance and contradiction increases my overall concern.

While you state that nothing “can resuscitate Obamacare from its failures,” your “Better Way” plan “notably includes proposals to protect access to coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions, allows dependents under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ plans, and removes lifetime limits on coverage.” These are three signature elements of the ACA. Since your plan recreates them, in what sense is the ACA a failure? Is this political battle just about naming rights?

You also once again state that there needs to be “a stable transition period between repealing Obamacare and the new health care solution.” This is in direct opposition to the President’s promise. President Trump assured the country that the new health care program would be signed into law the same day or even the same hour that the ACA would be repealed. Why are you instead insisting that “it’s important that we have a transition period”? How long do you intend this period to last? In what sense will it be “stable” for those families who will lose their ACA coverage and have no other means of getting insurance during your transition? You state that you “want the families who are hurting under Obamacare to feel relief as quickly as possible,” but your “transition period” would accomplish the opposite. Why exactly is this period “important”? Is it, like naming rights, designed to bolster the appearance of the eventual replacement bill? The longer the period between plans, the more desperate and willing Americans will be for anything — no matter how inferior it may be to the ACA.

I commend your stated goal to “improves access to affordable health care for all Americans.” But if, as you also state, the replacement does not involve what you term “big government mandates,” it is unclear how you will pay for it. Since you have built your career as a deficit hawk, I can’t believe you will endorse radically unbalanced budgets. And yet without an ACA-like mandate, how can you provide health care “for all Americans.” Because your professed goals are so contradictory, could you please clarify to your constituents what exactly you intend to do?

Chris Gavaler

Bob Goodlatte replies about Obamacare

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the high cost of health care and your thoughts regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.  It is valuable for me to hear what parts of Obamacare have been beneficial to you, and I will be sure to share that information with my colleagues who sit on committees with jurisdiction over health care reform. To be clear, the 115th Congress has not yet voted to repeal Obamacare, but instead has begun a legislative process to craft a new health care policy that is fair and improves access to affordable health care for all Americans.

I know Americans are frustrated by rising health care costs, and I share in this frustration.  I have talked with folks all across the 6th District, those under employer-sponsored health insurance plans, those providing employer-sponsored insurance, those self-insured, and even those uninsured. Their message remains the same: health care is becoming unaffordable.  In just 30 years, from 1980 to 2014, health expenditures in the United States saw a tenfold increase, rising from $256 billion to $3.03 trillion.  We can all agree that something must be done.

Unaffordable premiums, deductibles through the roof, losing a doctor you’ve had for years, being dropped from the coverage you need – these are just some of the ways Obamacare isn’t working for Virginians. The calls, letters, and emails I’ve received about what families, seniors, and businesses have experienced only emphasize this fact. Since the implementation of this law, Americans have seen their insurance premiums increase and their access to care decrease.  No amount of patches or delays can resuscitate Obamacare from its failures. That is exactly why Congress is getting to work on the process to repeal and replace this law.

Before Congress can implement a new health care system that truly works for the American people, Congress must review and repeal law that is not working today. To achieve this first step, the House and Senate passed a resolution to initiate a procedure called reconciliation, the means by which committees can draft legislation to evaluate and repeal portions of Obamacare within their jurisdiction. In the House, once legislation is approved by the relevant committees, it will be put together into one, straightforward bill. Once the House and Senate pass the bill resulting from reconciliation, it would then go to the President for his signature. Reconciliation is simply a step in the process of reforming our health care system, and Congress has not yet voted on a final repeal of Obamacare. Rest assured, an important part of this process is ensuring that there is a stable transition period between repealing Obamacare and the new health care solution. While I want the families who are hurting under Obamacare to feel relief as quickly as possible, it’s important that we have a transition period.

Many are asking what a new health care system will look like. Crafting a new system that works for Americans is of the utmost importance and something Congress is taking very seriously. House Republicans have shared numerous ideas over the past several years that would create a health care system focused on patients, not the government. The “Better Way” agenda, developed last fall, is our starting point for a replacement system that promotes more choices and lower costs. This plan notably includes proposals to protect access to coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions, allows dependents under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ plans, and removes lifetime limits on coverage. Committees are already hard at work on plans and taking input from lawmakers and constituents from across the country. You may read more about the “Better Way” agenda by visiting better.gop.

As the United States welcomes a new Administration, now is the time to reverse the flawed policies of Obamacare and implement real, patient-centered health care reforms. In the coming months, I look forward to advancing the health care reforms the American people have demanded. Never before has Congress had a better opportunity to act and clear a path for health care reforms that put patients first, not big government mandates.

Again, thank you for the benefit of your comments. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance.

With kind regards.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

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 #72, Subject: “sanity”?

You expressed your support of President Trump’s choice of Congressman Mick Mulvaney to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Other Republicans have recently spoken against him, and his confirmation vote appears to be up in the air this week.

While I certainly agree with you that “bringing fiscal sanity to Washington” sounds like a good thing, I’m seeing the opposite with the Congressman. Does your “applauding” Mulvaney mean that you also think we don’t “really need government-funded research at all?” In response to major scientific questions about the Zika virus, he argued that eliminating scientific research was the most sensible choice.

When I first read about this, I assumed some liberal media group was spinning his words out of context to give a misleading impression. So I went to his actual statement and read it in full. It’s true. Mulvaney cites the deadly Zika epidemic as a reason to end federally funded research—exactly the opposite of a sane choice. We need more research not less to understand and control the disease. He argues that, because some Zika studies have produced different findings, all Zika studies are a waste of money. This suggests that Mr. Mulvaney does not understand the most basic tenets of scientific research. It would of course be more cost-effective if a single study could provide all of the information needed on a given topic, but, as I’m sure you are aware, scientific progress is far far more complex. And when the topic is a deadly virus, different findings is a reason to increase not eliminate research.

This seems so self-evident that I find it difficult to believe Mr. Mulvaney was speaking sincerely. But the alternate interpretation, that he was intentionally misrepresenting the basic nature of scientific research, is even more disturbing. If Mulvaney uses Zika an excuse to defund government, what other kinds of “sanity” will he bring to Washington? Were you just cheerleading a fellow party member, or will you actually vote to strip life-saving scientific research from the budget too?

Chris Gavaler

Email #71, Subject: town hall meetings?

Another constituent visited your DC office at the same time that my son and I did. I believe her name was Polly. She was from Roanoke, and she said that it was once common for you to be seen outside there. She said people used to regularly greet and speak to you on the streets, but that you are never seen in the open like that anymore. Why has your behavior changed so drastically?

I read in the Staunton paper that you haven’t held a town hall since 2013. When I asked Beth Breeding whether that was true, she said she didn’t know. That surprised me since town halls would seem to fall under the job description of Communications Director. But Beth did acknowledge that she had been working in your office for several years and that she could recall no town halls taking place during that period. Of course she also insisted that you are very interested in meeting with constituents—though she kept replacing “town hall” with the term “outreach.” I’m not entirely sure what “outreach” is, but it does not seem to include visits to places where you are likely to encounter voters who do not already agree with your legislative positions.

The only hope Beth could give me was that you might start holding town halls by telephone. I’m not sure if you can accurately call that a town hall, but hearing your voice on the phone would at least be an improvement. She said the group calls might accommodate as many as a thousand listeners. I would love to be involved in one. It wasn’t entirely clear how callers and their questions would be selected and screened though. Also, since these group calls would take about an hour of your time and eliminate any traveling, I thought she was going to say that you would be holding them weekly. Instead she said she hoped to schedule two or three this year.

While I appreciate any step in the right direction, this is not an especially promising one. Group calls in themselves sound fine. Do please add them to your regular roster of outreach activities. But do not pretend they are a substitute for actual meetings. There is something wrong if you and your constituents can’t look each other in the face.