Email #139: “ridiculous”?

Next Saturday is a huge day. It’s the deadline for Congress to avoid a government shutdown, and it marks President Trump’s 100th day in office. The two dates coincide because the Trump administration asked for a delay on passing a 2017 spending bill—even though the 2017 fiscal year officially began October 1. The President seems to be asking for an extension on his first 100 days too, now calling it a “ridiculous standard,” even though his campaign promoted the idea with a “contract” listing all the accomplishments he promised by April 29th.

The President’s most repeated and most popular campaign promise was to build a “Great Wall.” His “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” called for an Act that “Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.” Even polls in January showed only 19% of Americans believed him, but according to him: “The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!” Even Senate leader McConnell contradicted that claim.

The President also claimed it would cost far less than the widely estimated $25 million: “I am reading that the great border WALL will cost more than the government originally thought, but I have not gotten involved in the design or negotiations yet. When I do, price will come WAY DOWN!” But General Kelly, President’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, says it will actually cost way more: “A physical barrier, in and of itself, will not do the job. If you were to build a wall from the pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, you’d still have to back that wall up with patrolling by human beings, by sensors, observation devices.” That means that cost isn’t just construction. A wall would also require additional sensors, cameras, and patrollers, which, on top of maintenance, would add continuing annual costs too.

I fear the President is so desperate for the appearance of accomplishment that Congress will use the budget deadline to try to push through a rushed and ill-advised spending bill that includes wall construction. That attempt will shut the government down as the GOP shut it down in 2013 and twice in 1996. Those times Congress had Clinton or Obama in the White House to rally against. This time Republicans control every branch of government, making it impossible to blame Democrats for another unpopular shutdown.

Other deficit hawks have signaled they will not support adding deficit-deepening wall construction in the next appropriations bill. You, however, said in January that you support the President’s “Great Wall” plan. If you still do, I hope you recognize how “ridiculous” it would be to attempt to enact it this of all weeks.

Please vote to maintain current spending levels in the continuing resolution that Congress must pass by Saturday.


Email #138: “Hire American”?

This week I received a “White House Memo” mass email that began:

“‘Buy American and Hire American’ is more than just a slogan, it is the cornerstone of President Donald J. Trump’s vision for a government that, for the first time in decades, answers to the American workers who built this country.”

It’s ironic then that Trump Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia is hiring foreign workers. The winery is owned by the President’s son Eric Trump, who requested 29 temporary workers through a federal visa program designed to fill jobs that employers are unable to fill with American citizens.

Why don’t Americans want to work for Trump’s son? The winery is paying $10.72 an hour. If these were year-round, 40 hours-a-week positions, each would yield an annual income of $22,298. The poverty line is $24,600.

In what sense is “Hire American” a cornerstone of an administration that answers to American workers, if one of the President’s own family businesses relies on jobs that require its workers to toil in poverty? Rather than exploiting foreign workers so desperate to reach the U.S. that they will take any job no matter how impoverishing, why doesn’t the President use his family business as a model for the worker-focused vision he claims to have?

You wrote in February: “When the American economy is thriving, there are more job opportunities, higher wages, and lower prices for consumers. I will seek to restore accountability for, and provide relief from, the excessive red tape facing our nation’s small businesses and job creators.”

Does that include the red tape facing Trump Winery when it applies for H-2A visas, a program signed into law by President Reagan? Should Trump Winery not be required to complete “the excessive red tape” of first advertising those jobs in Charlottesville area newspapers? Because opportunities for abuse of workers is so high, Trump Winery and similar H-2A agricultural employers are some of the most regulated employers in the country. Do you intend to provide “relief” from their having to provide housing, meals, and transportation? Why not strike the requirement that workers must return home after three years? Shouldn’t years of poverty wages for a job that no Americans want make someone eligible for citizenship?

Since Trump Winery is a Trump family business located in Virginia, I would think both you and the President would want to make it a beacon of GOP economic and immigrant policies. Instead it demonstrates how the government colludes with businesses to maintain below-poverty-level wages by importing desperate workers instead of raising wages to employ Americans.

This isn’t answering “to the American workers who built this country.” It’s ignoring and insulting them.



Email #137: “the road of chronic deficits”?

President Trump said yesterday that he would unveil his tax plan next week. He said it would be a “massive tax cut,” “bigger than any tax cut ever.”

Despite Republicans like you claiming to be deficit hawks, the national debt increased between 2003 to 2007. That was the last time the GOP controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. The debt increased because of the tax cuts introduced by President Bush and voted into law by you.

Those cuts made the tax system less fair. Before the Bush cuts, those in the highest income bracket paid 39.6%. After the cuts, they only paid 35%. As a result, high income taxpayers kept far greater percentages of their earnings than middle and low income taxpayers. The cuts were modeled on the Revenue Acts of 1921, 1925 and 1926, which resulted in income inequality hitting a high mark in 1929—just before the American economy plunged into the Great Depression. When President Bush left office, the American economy was plunged into the Great Recession.

Now with the GOP once again controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, we face the same dangers. President Trump will release the details of his plan on Wednesday, but he previously said he wants $1 trillion tax reduction once again targeted disproportionately at high income taxpayers. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Centers estimates it will add $7.2 trillion to the deficit over ten years. The conservative Tax Foundation says it will only add $4.4 trillion. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says $4.5 trillion.

Currently the national debt is about $20 trillion. The President’s Budget Director has called this a “crisis.” You have warned against going “further down the road of chronic deficits and leave our children and grandchildren saddled with debt that is not their own.” For these reasons, may I assume that you will not be supporting the President’s fiscally irresponsible tax proposal?

Or do you intend once again to vote for deficit-expanding tax cuts as you did multiple times during the Bush administration? If, as you have said so many times, deficit reduction is such a priority to you, why do you ignore it when it comes to taxes cuts? Especially cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans such as yourself?

In addition to expanding the long-term debt, the Trump tax cuts would also make balancing current budgets impossible. Will you oppose the cuts on those grounds, or has your career-long championing of a balanced budget amendment only been political theater? Does your commitment to fiscal responsibility only apply when there’s a Democrat in the White House?

Email #136: “as soon as possible”?

I received the following automated email yesterday morning:

“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’ve read that same email every morning since mid-February. Before mid-February I didn’t know whether my meeting requests were even being received. I wrote to you asking that your office send auto-confirmations so that at least I would know the form on your website was functional.

I now request that you delete the third sentence. It is untrue. Staff has not been in touch with me, nor is there any reasonable expectation that they ever will.

What does “as soon as possible” mean? That first “soon” was relative to February 17th. It’s now nearly May. The definition of “soon” is: “in or after a short time.” Its synonyms include: “shortly, presently, in the near future, before long, in a little while, in a moment, in a bit, in no time, before you know it, any minute now, and any day now.” Note that “any week now” and “any month now” are not synonyms.

Of course “soon” is modified by “as possible,” an inherently ambiguous term, but one that you have also abused past credibility. The phrase means “at the earliest possible moment.” Am I to understand that it was literally impossible for any of your staff members to have responded to any of my dozens of requests over the past three months? Was it literally impossible for someone to send me an email or pick up the phone and tell me the obvious truth: no, Representative Goodlatte will not meet with you.

Clearly I cannot compel you to meet with me. But at minimum I ask that you not insult me every morning with an automated email that repeats a self-evident lie. It is demeaning to me, and, more importantly to you, it communicates a mocking disregard for truth and civility.

Email #135: “the least transparent President”?

Donald Trump tweeted in 2012: “Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President — ever — and he ran on transparency.”

The claim is, like so many of the President’s claims, unfounded hyperbole. But the principle it evokes is still important and one we can all agree about:

Government should be transparent.

Despite Trump’s complaint, the Obama administration was comparatively transparent. It released literally millions of names of visitors to the White House, including those of lobbyists and big donors. Anyone could see them listed on the White House’s online visitor log—though only after a three-month delay.

President Trump has been in office for three months, but that website log is no longer being maintained. Worse, the administration stated in early April that it will not continue the Obama transparent practice of disclosing names—except when legally compelled to. Instead of looking at the log online, Americans now have to file Freedom of Information Act requests. Even then the administration need only comply if the visitors are meeting not in the Oval Office but with a subordinate agency like the Management and Budget Office.

The new Trump policy has already triggered lawsuits demanding the release of the visitor log—something the Obama administration did voluntarily. The Trump administration claims not posting the log online saves taxpayers over $20,000 a year, but how much is the White House spending on lawyers to defend against the lawsuits?

Costs and hypocrisy aside, how is a less transparent White House a better White House? Why shouldn’t Americans know which lobbyists and big donors are meeting with the President? As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, oversight of the executive branch is one of your primary responsibilities.  When are you going to speak against the administration’s backward shift toward reduced transparency? Or is your oversight of the executive branch guided solely by partisan politics?

Email #134: “division will do nothing to benefit our country”

You said on November 11th:

“After this election, it would be easy to retreat to separate corners and allow the divide between friends, neighbors, and family members with different political beliefs and values to sharpen. However, that kind of division will do nothing to benefit our country. It is not what we need today.”

I strongly agree.

Which is why I’m confused by so many of the statements you’ve made and actions you’ve taken since. Your political strategy seems to be to sharpen differences and exploit divisions that benefit your personal standing but worsen our country overall.

Why do you continue to call the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare,” a name coined solely for the purpose of stoking opposition to it?

Why do you support President Trump’s universally rejected claim that he lost the popular vote due to massive voter fraud?

Why do you downplay the significance of allegations made against the Trump administration while highlighting other, less significant allegations—including the President’s universally rejected claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the election?

Why do you continue to highlight rapes and murders committed by immigrants in order to condemn the previous administration’s now irrelevant immigration policies?

Why do you reflexively oppose gun regulations of any kind, even in cases where individuals do not have the mental capacity to responsibly own them?

Why do you discredit all grassroots opposition groups as “fronts” for national organizations, even local groups that formed before Indivisible?

Why do you ignore the Trump administration’s conflicts of interest after having so vigorously challenged the Obama administration on all ethics issues?

Why do you applaud President Trump’s military response to the “evil” of Syria when you criticized President Obama on the same issue?

Why do you cite the importance of balancing the budget and reducing the deficit when opposing liberal issues such as the ACA Medicaid expansion but ignore it when you support conservative issues such as increased military spending?

Why did you support the American Health Care Act despite the harm it would cause to your constituents in both the Democratic and Republican parties?

You are not simply retreating to your corner. You are not simply allowing the divide to sharpen. You are actively promoting division by using your safe political corner to engage in constant, hypocritical attacks that do nothing to benefit our country.

You are exactly the opposite of what we need today.

Email #133: “war against the Constitution”?

You wrote in 2014:

“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 by passing the Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act.”

That bill, which you enthusiastically voted for, stated that it would:

“prohibit the executive branch from exempting from removal categories of aliens considered under the immigration laws to be unlawfully present in the United States.”

The issue, you argued, wasn’t just about immigration, but the Constitution itself:

“it is the role of Congress to make all laws, the Judiciary to interpret the laws, and the President to enforce the laws. This system was wisely set into place by our country’s framers over 200 years ago because they knew first hand that the concentration of power in the same hands was a threat to individual liberty and the rule of law. President Obama’s decision to ignore the limitations placed on his authority and claim legislative power threatens to undo our system of government.”

The principle, you insisted, was preventing “the President from changing our laws unilaterally.” But where is that principle now that a Republican President is waging a new “war against the Constitution”?

On January 20, President Trump signed an executive order requiring agencies to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the [Affordable Care] Act that would impose a fiscal burden …” If the meaning of the order was unclear, Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway clarified it two days later when she said the President would “stop enforcing the individual mandate,” the tax penalty that is part of the ACA law and that was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

As a result of the executive order, the IRS is no longer enforcing the penalty. Although all Americans are still legally obligated to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty administered by the IRS, the IRS is ignoring the law. Taxpayers can simply leave blank the line on their return requiring them to disclose whether they have insurance.

According to the Constitution, it’s the President’s job to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” President Trump is doing the opposite. His executive order prevents provisions of the ACA from being executed.

When you objected to President Obama’s selective implementation of immigration laws, you called it “war against the Constitution.” But because you personally agree with President Trump’s selective implementation of the Affordable Care law, you say nothing.

If Obama’s actions threatened to “undo our system of government,” then so do Trump’s. This would be obvious to you if the U.S. Constitution were more to you than a political prop and if your own actions were guided by principle rather than convenience.