Email #117, Subject: “wiretapping”?

You asked FBI Director James Comey for any evidence that President Obama wiretapped Donald Trump’s offices during the election, and the Justice Department answered your request, reporting that there is “no evidence to confirm Trump’s claims that the Obama administration had wiretapped him or the Trump Tower.”

Although the President alleged wiretapping specifically, and although the Breitbart.com article that fueled his unfounded accusation discussed only wiretapping, the White House has since retroactively claimed that the President’s original tweet had actually meant surveillance in general.  He is now claiming that “wiretapping” includes even untargeted “incidental collection.”

The President similarly reverse-engineered his intentions after his erroneous reference to events in Sweden. He said: “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden,” referring to a Fox News segment that had aired the night before. The segment itself was misleading, but the President still credited it and his claim as accurate.

Time magazine later asked him: “you said look at what happened on Friday in Sweden. But you are now saying you were referring to something that happened the following day.”

The President responded: “No I am saying I was right. I am talking about Sweden. I’m talking about what Sweden has done to themselves is very sad, that is what I am talking about. That is what I am talking about. You can phrase it any way you want. A day later they had a horrible, horrible riot in Sweden and you saw what happened.”

Regarding his wiretapping allegations, Time asked: “But so incidental collection would not be wiretapping of you, it would be wiretapping of…”

President Trump: “Who knows what it is? You know, why, because somebody says incidental. Nunes is going to the White House.”

Time: “Nunes has also said that he has no evidence that your tweet was right, previously.”

President Trump: “Well, he just got this information. This was new information. That was just got. Members, of, let’s see, were under surveillance during the Obama Administration following November’s election. Wow. This just came out. So, ah, just came out.”

The interview was on March 23, and nothing had just come out. There was no “new information.”

Reading the entire interview transcript is unnerving. Donald Trump’s rationalizations—claiming that his incorrect references to past events are accurate predictions of future events—is unique in Presidential history. I am not qualified to assess the President’s mental health, nor can I determine to what degree he does or does not take his own statements literally, but I can judge the effects his statements have on the American political climate.

While the word “politician” has had pejorative connotations for decades, suggesting someone who will make intentionally false statements for political gain, the President has expanded that meaning to exponential proportions.

Given the damage the President is doing to the norms of American government, will you please put to rest your own stated concerns over his “wiretapping” allegations? Director Comey has answered your query with an unqualified no. Will you now join him and other leading members of the GOP and demand the President withdraw his unfounded accusation against President Obama?

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Email #116, Subject: “We can have both”?

Thank you for your letter about the Stream Protection Rule. You wrote earlier in your e-newsletter: “the flawed Stream Protection Rule … would annihilate America’s coal industry and threaten thousands of good paying jobs.” You included the statement under the banner “Rolling Back Red Tape” and implied that the only issue was over-regulation.

I wrote to you about the rule on February 14th and received your response last weekend. You now write:

“It is good to hear from you and we agree on the importance of clean water and a healthy environment.” You stated your claim that the rule was “too broad and too costly” and citied evidence: “In a report compiled by the National Mining Association, it was estimated that the proposed rule would eliminate 40,000-78,000 coal mining jobs.” I don’t know if the industry’s association is adequately objective, but giving them the benefit of the doubt, that figure is troubling. You also argued that the agency that produced the rule “did not comply with the requirement to engage in meaningful consultation with the impacted state governments during the yearlong development of this rule.” The adjective “meaningful” is intentionally vague but implies that the OSM did consult, but not in a sincere manner, which, if true, is also troubling. You concluded that “regulations should be carefully crafted to protect public health, safety, and the environment.  However, they must not be allowed to decimate entire industries. We can have both a healthy economy and a healthy environment, but such a balance will not be achieved with costly, overly broad regulations that do not take into account the real-world impacts of their implementation.”

Although I may disagree with it, your letter presents a reasonable argument crafted in a thoughtful manner. Your newsletter, however, does not. Why do you use such different forms of communication for your different constituents? I understand that my concern about stream protection triggered your form letter, but why don’t your newsletter readers deserve the same, thoughtful treatment?

You have stated repeatedly that you prioritize communication with constituents. But your newsletter does not communicate — it exploits. It assumes that readers hold certain positions and plays to those prejudices. Rather than acknowledging how extremely difficult it is to balance protecting jobs in an already-decimated industry over the long-term needs of the environment and the fairness of requiring companies to repair the damage they do, you just dismissed the rule as “red tape.” You played to the conservative stereotype that all regulations are bad regulations.

This is a disservice to your conservative constituents. Instead of educating them about complex issues, you reduce their knowledge to slogans. All of your constituents deserve and need better from you. We are in a profoundly divisive political moment. You can help to repair the damage that has already been done or you can continue to exploit that damage and make our political environment even worse.

Bob Goodlatte replies about stream protection

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts regarding H. J. Res. 38, a resolution to disapprove of the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the “Stream Protection Rule.” It is good to hear from you and we agree on the importance of clean water and a healthy environment.

As you may know, on July 27, 2015, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) released its proposed Stream Protection Rule, which revised current regulations governing the impact of surface mining on surface water and natural resources. After more than a year of discussion, on December 19, 2016, OSM released its final version of this rule.

Unfortunately, both the proposed rule and the final rule were too broad and too costly. In a report compiled by the National Mining Association, it was estimated that the proposed rule would eliminate 40,000-78,000 coal mining jobs. Most troublesome of all, OSM did not comply with the requirement to engage in meaningful consultation with the impacted state governments during the yearlong development of this rule. In fact, several states dropped out of the rule development process altogether due to frustration with OSM.

It is my belief that regulations should be carefully crafted to protect public health, safety, and the environment.  However, they must not be allowed to decimate entire industries. We can have both a healthy economy and a healthy environment, but such a balance will not be achieved with costly, overly broad regulations that do not take into account the real-world impacts of their implementation.

In response to this final rule, Representative Bill Johnson of Ohio introduced H. J. Res. 38, which would annul the Stream Protection Rule. On February 1, 2017, the House of Representatives passed this legislation, with my support, by a bipartisan vote of 228-194. Subsequently, the United States Senate passed the bill by a vote of 54-45 on February 2, 2017. The President signed H. J. Res. 38 into law on February 16, 2017.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I feel it is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. I hope you will be in touch as the 115th Congress debates issues of importance to the United States.

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

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Email #115, Subject: “repeal” or “build”?

Following the defeat of the American Health Care Act, you wrote in your e-newsletter: “Congress must continue working to come to a consensus on legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.” You said this is necessary because of “unaffordable premiums, higher deductibles, and lack of choice and access that far too many folks in the Sixth District and across the country have experienced firsthand.”

While your statements might seem to oppose President Obama, he expressed some of the same concerns following the defeat of the AHCA too: “I’ve always said we should build on this law, just as Americans of both parties worked to improve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid over the years. So if Republicans are serious about lowering costs while expanding coverage to those who need it, and if they’re prepared to work with Democrats and objective evaluators in finding solutions that accomplish those goals — that’s something we all should welcome.”

Though your core difference is obvious—you want to “repeal and replace Obamacare” and he wants to “build on” it—your shared goals are obvious too. You just state them in negative terms: “unaffordable premiums, higher deductibles, and lack of choice and access,” while he states them in positive terms: “lowering costs and expanding coverage.” You and President Obama also seem to agree on a path forward. You say Congress must “come to consensus,” and he says Republicans should “work with Democrats.” The result would be the same.

When I called your office to ask you to oppose the flawed ACHA, your intern asked me if I supported the ACA. I told him I was neutral toward it. If the choice is between the ACHA and the ACA, or the ACA and nothing, I prefer the ACA. But I would much rather have a new health care bill that improved on the ACA. I don’t care if that means “repeal” or “build on.” I don’t support the ACA because it’s been branded as Obama’s legacy. I support the ACA because I believe in its goals.

You said you are “interested in any health care proposal that lowers health care costs for all Americans.” The AHCA failed to pass because it would have failed to achieve those goals.  As you have argued so forcefully in the past, the status quo is not good enough. Because the Republican party controls both houses of Congress and the White House, it remains the Republican party’s responsibility to find a path forward.

What steps are you taking to build bipartisan legislation that will correct the flaws of the ACA?

Bob Goodlatte replies about the American Health Care Act

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me about the high cost of health care and your thoughts regarding the American Health Care Act.  It is valuable for me to hear how Congress can better reform our health care system, and I will be sure to share that information with my colleagues who sit on committees with jurisdiction over health care reform.

Seven years ago, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, became law. With it came unaffordable premiums, higher deductibles, and lack of choice and access for far too many folks in the Sixth District of Virginia and across the country. It is clear that Obamacare is collapsing. Many insurers are leaving the exchanges, leaving parts of the country, including in Virginia, with just one or two insurers on the exchange. Additionally, costs for families continue to rise.  Premiums in most states have increased by double digits.

That’s why I have voted dozens of times to defund, dismantle, or repeal Obamacare and have supported alternative health care proposals. There is a better way to enact health care reform than Obamacare – one that repeals onerous mandates, invites competition and choice, and lowers costs.  In the 115th Congress the proposed alternative to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient centered reforms was H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

At its most basic, the AHCA would take steps to ensure that health care remains affordable, and accessible. Notably, under the AHCA, individuals who do not have access to health insurance through their employer or a government health insurance program would receive an age and income adjusted advanceable, refundable tax credit for the purchase of state-approved, major medical health insurance coverage and unsubsidized COBRA coverage.  The bill would expand the use of Health Savings Accounts by increasing the maximum contribution levels by nearly 100 percent and would repeal a number of taxes imposed by Obamacare, including a tax on medical devices. Certain patient protections would also be carried over, including protecting access to coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions and allowing dependents under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ plans. In addition, this legislation would transition federal Medicaid payments to a per-capita allotment system and eliminate individual and employer mandate penalties.

As you may know, the AHCA was considered by three House committees and scheduled for a vote by the full House of Representatives on Friday, March 24th.  However, the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, removed the AHCA from the schedule and the bill did not receive a vote.

While I am disappointed that legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare did not receive a vote, this process is far from over. Congress must continue working to come to a consensus on legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all. Crafting a new system that works for Americans is of the utmost importance and is something Congress has taken very seriously. I believe that you should be in charge of your health care, not the federal government and I don’t believe that the government should force Americans to buy a plan that they don’t want.  I understand that there are folks in the Sixth District who like their coverage under Obamacare. There are many others who have suffered under the law through high deductibles, unaffordable premiums, and lack of access. Once a new health care system is agreed upon, for the approximately five percent of Virginians who enrolled in an Obamacare Marketplace plan, we will need a transition period to help them find a new plan.

While I was planning to vote for the AHCA, a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, I am interested in any health care proposal that lowers health care costs for all Americans and ensures that the important choices in healthcare are made by individuals, not big government mandates.  As long as Obamacare continues to fail, I will continue to work in the House to maintain my commitment to the people of the Sixth District to repeal Obamacare and support patient-centered health care reform. Obamacare must not remain the law of the land.

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 #114, Subject: “conducive to conversation”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham deserves some credit. He scheduled a town hall meeting the day after the AHCA was defeated and faced a packed auditorium of mostly Democratic constituents in Columbia, South Carolina. An article described him having to shout to be heard over the angry boos.

You have said you will not hold your own town halls for exactly this reason. You claim “traditional” town halls are not “shouting matches.” This of course is not true. As I’ve written to you previously, YouTube videos of your 2009 town halls document shouts and boos directed at questioners who spoke in support of the ACA. Still, I understand your excuse. I would not want stand in front of hundreds of angry voters either.

That’s why I would like to invite you to Lexington. I am a co-organizer of a local activist group here that started up in December before any of us heard about the Indivisible movement. You have complained that Indivisible is controlling anti-Republican protests nationally, instructing members to boo and shout at their Representatives. That is not the case in Lexington. We are fully grassroots and independent. Though we attract predominantly Democrats, our County Unity subcommittee exists solely to find ways to bridge political divides. We want bipartisan solutions—something you have said you seek too.

Your chief-of-staff Pete Larkin attended Debbie Garrett’s last Open Door Meeting in Lexington. Like Debbie, Pete seems like an upstanding person. I was sitting quietly grading papers before the meeting started and he came up and introduced himself with a friendly handshake. Like Debbie, he listened respectfully to me when it was my turn to speak before the room. I asked him to encourage you to hold a town hall here in Lexington, and he said he would. I think he can vouch for all the community members who spoke that Thursday. There were no boos, no shouting. A request was made that no one hang signs on the walls, and it was obeyed without a word of complaint.

We are reasonable people who would like to have a reasonable conversation with our Representative. You said that recent town halls in other states were not “conducive to conversation.” I agree. I invite you to Lexington to have a literal conversation with me and other constituents, a polite back-and-forth in which we can ask you fair questions and follow-ups, giving you as much time and silent attention as you need to answer them thoughtfully and thoroughly. If any attendee should boo or shout or wave a sign, I will stand on the stage beside you and address them myself.

Please come to Lexington and have a conversation with us.

Email #113, Subject: “Nothing could be further from the truth”?

You recently wrote to me about the President’s immigration bans, stating that “there are some who believe the United States should overlook national security concerns and admit anyone who seeks to enter our country.”

That obviously is not true. No American wants to “admit anyone.” No American wants to overlook “security concerns.” All Americans are seeking a careful balance — especially in the cases of Syrian refugees in dire need of humanitarian aid. This is a bedrock American principle, literally chiseled into the base of the Statue of Liberty. Please do not mischaracterize it with a strawman argument that intentionally reduces a vexingly complex issue into absurdly false simplifications.

You also stated: “Some people have interpreted these actions as a “ban” on Muslim immigration.  Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Actually, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson, the Judge who struck down the President’s second attempt at the ban, pointed out that, by the Trump administration’s own estimates, the six countries targeted by the ban “have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to 99.8%.” While that may or may not constitute a “Muslim ban,” it negates your simplistic answer.

Finally, you stated in your letter: “These executive orders were drafted to close gaping holes in our nation’s visa screening programs, the refugee resettlement program, and other components of our immigration system.”

But you do not identify any these “gaping holes.” President Obama said last September: “Refugees are subject to more rigorous screening than the average tourist in the U.S.” PolitiFact.org researched his claim and concluded that it is true: “Reviewing the government’s vetting protocols confirms that refugees face a far stricter and longer process than tourists for entering the United States. The experts we consulted agreed that the refugee protocol is strictly enforced and more difficult than the screening process that tourists go through.”

Why do use your letters to constituents as opportunities to make misleading statements? You are the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, not your political party’s PR agent. Immigration policy is already a complex and emotionally fraught topic without inflammatory rhetoric. Our nation needs responsible, thoughtful leadership now more than ever.  Please respect the dignity of your office and stop making political ad pitches in the reductive language of a salesman.