Divided Government Could Lead to Infrastructure Collaboration

 There has been lots of talk and even more anticipation over the last two years of a mammoth infrastructure initiative. The ascendancy of Democrats in control of the House will put Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio back in charge of the committee that deals with transportation and infrastructure. He wants a $500 billion package with “real money” sewed up in the first six months of 2019.

There has been lots of talk and even more anticipation over the last two years of a mammoth infrastructure initiative. The ascendancy of Democrats in control of the House will put Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio back in charge of the committee that deals with transportation and infrastructure. He wants a $500 billion package with “real money” sewed up in the first six months of 2019.

Infrastructure investment is one of the most promising areas of bipartisan collaboration in the new Congress. Oregon Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio is poised to explore the boundaries of that possibility.

With the Democratic takeover of the House, DeFazio is expected to assume the chairmanship of the House Transportation and infrastructure Committee. In that pending role, DeFazio is touting a $500 billion measure to fund highways, transit, airports and marine projects.

Unlike President Trump’s $1.5 billion infrastructure initiative that relied heavily on private investment, DeFazio is contemplating a measure backed by actual federal funding. Under DeFazio’s plan, Treasury would issue $500 billion in a new type of 30-year bonds that would be repaid by increased federal gasoline and diesel taxes to account for highway construction cost inflation and from lower fuel usage because of federal fuel-economy standards.

In 2017, the 30+year veteran on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a “Penny for Progress” bill that would pay for a $500 billion infrastructure package over 13 years. DeFazio says he isn’t wedded to that idea, but insists he wants to move an infrastructure investment bill before the middle of 2019. “I’m open to any and all options on how we get real funds for infrastructure. But it has to be real money.”

“Infrastructure has been delayed too long,” DeFazio says. “We’ve got to get it done. We’ve got to maintain it. We’ve got to modernize it and we’ve got to move people and goods more efficiently.”

DeFazio suggests airport improvements could be paid for by an increased passenger facility charge. The charge has been pegged at $4.50 per flight since 2000. He wants Congress to mandate spending the balance that exists in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to maintain harbors and shipping channels.

There has been a lot of post-election commentary favoring bipartisan collaboration. Infrastructure investment has the support of mainstream Republicans and Trump, so could be an early test case for finding common ground to pass meaningful legislation in a divided government.

Congressman Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican who could become the Ranking Member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has expressed interest in “presenting my vision for our transportation network” and might emerge as a partner to DeFazio in fashioning bipartisan legislation.

A wide array of transportation advocacy groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, have applauded the idea of a bipartisan infrastructure measure and federal funding to pay for it. 

“We see this as good timing if Congress and the President can come together,” said Bill Sullivan, American Trucking Association’s executive vice president of advocacy. “Everybody knows that we need to invest in infrastructure, but they just haven’t hit that magic moment that Congress is willing to do it.” Maybe that time has arrived.

DeFazio’s position should be the good break needed to revive conversations to replace the I-5 Columbia River Bridge as part of the 2020 reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Act, which his committee will oversee.

Dems Manage Only Blue Ripple in Midterm Election

 The projected blue wave was reduced to a blue ripple as Democrats regained control of the House, but Republicans retained their hold on the Senate, setting the stage for split government and potentially more partisan bickering.

The projected blue wave was reduced to a blue ripple as Democrats regained control of the House, but Republicans retained their hold on the Senate, setting the stage for split government and potentially more partisan bickering.

What was perhaps the most anticipated midterm election in recent memory went largely as polls and pundits predicted it would – a sharp contrast from two years ago. Democrats leveraged their fury over President Trump to recapture the House, while Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, a split verdict presaging divided government and partisan conflicts for the rest of Trump’s first term.

The campaign efforts of Trump and GOP members mobilized enough Republican voters to reduce a projected Democratic blue wave to something closer to a blue ripple. Presidential campaigning helped Republicans win hotly contested Senate races in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. Trump proclaimed the election outcome a “tremendous success” as Republicans held their grip throughout the South and in rural and exurban areas.

But Democrats – propelled by a rejection of Trumpism in the nation’s suburbs, and especially from women and minority voters – notched victories in areas that just two years ago helped Trump reach the White House. Incumbent Republicans fell in an array of suburban House districts, including one held by House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions in the Dallas area. And in West Virginia – where Trump is wildly popular and campaigned heavily for Republicans – the reelection of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin delivered a personal blow to the president.

In Washington’s 3rd District, 4-term GOP Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler squeaked out a victory over Democratic challenger Carolyn Long, who mounted a serious, well-funded challenge and sounded like she will try again in 2020.

Democrat Kim Schrier, a pediatrician making her first political run, defeated two-time GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi in Washington’s open 8th District. Republican Congressman Dave Reichert chose not to seek re-election. The Schrier-Rossi contest was one of the most expensive House races in the nation. Her victory bumps up the double-digit Democratic margin in the House and further increases the number of women who will serve in the 116th Congress. The 8th District has never sent a Democrat to Congress before Schrier.

In the high-turnout election, Democrats picked up at least seven governorships, performing well across much of the upper Midwest and even in ruby-red Kansas, where Laura Kelly was elected governor over the President’s handpicked candidate, Kris Kobach.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers bested Governor Scott Walker, once a Republican star who ran for president in 2016. Walker survived a hard-fought recall vote in 2012 and was reelected in 2014. Democrats failed to take over the Florida governorship left open by Rick Scott, who challenged incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson and held a slight edge in a tight race that may be headed for a recount. Trump-backed Ron DeSantis narrowly defeated progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum in a race that might be a preview of the 2020 presidential election if Trump faces one of the more left-leaning challengers eying the race. 

House of Representatives 

As expected, Democrats regained control of the House for the first time since Republicans took the majority in 2010. Returns early Wednesday show Democrats poised to pick up more than the 23 House seats they needed to gain a foothold in Congress from which to counter Trump.

Democrats were projected to flip at least 29 districts currently held by the GOP, while they were on track to surrender only a few seats in the chamber. As of now, Democrats have taken 220 seats (enough for the majority) and Republicans have 194 seats. That leaves 21 seats still on the board, including the two close races in Washington. 

With Democrats in charge, Trump will face a different set of committee chairmen who seem poised to investigate alleged administrative corruption and will have subpoena power to push their investigations. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff will ascend to the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, which will translate into more discerning oversight into the potential of Trump team collaboration with Russian operatives in the 2016 presidential election, a sharp turn from the sycophantic role of GOP Congressman Devin Nunes. The Mueller investigation also will have a solid firewall.

Maybe the biggest irony of the 2018 midterm election was that defending Obamacare may have propelled Democrats back into control of the House after costing them their majority in 2010 following its passage.

Senate 

In the Senate, the GOP was able to take advantage of a favorable map heavily tilted toward Republican-friendly states where Trump remains popular. The GOP scored a series of wins in those states, with only a few setbacks. Incumbent GOP Senator Dean Heller of Nevada was unseated by Jacky Rosen. And in West Virginia, a state Trump carried by 42 points in 2016, incumbent Democrat Senator Joe Manchin retained his seat. 

But with GOP pickups in Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, and likely Florida, the GOP expanded its grip on the Senate for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, increasing the GOP’s narrow 51-49 seat majority. We can expect McConnell’s Senate to retain a focus on confirming Trump’s appointments to the judiciary over the next two years and ignore legislation sent over from the Democratic House that would undermine the Trump agenda.

It’s important to note that in 2020, the Senate map is nearly the exact opposite of this year with 21 Republican-held seats up for election compared to just nine Democratic seats.

Oregon and Washington Elections

There were no shockers in Oregon. The state’s five incumbent members of Congress were swept back into office. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, who have served a collective 69 years in the House, will return for another two years, but in a House chamber markedly different than in the previous eight years.

Perhaps the most interesting result was in Oregon’s 2nd District where Republican Greg Walden won his 11th term by defeating Jamie McLeod-Skinner 57.5 percent to 38.06 percent. Though he still won comfortably, the tally was a sharp decrease from the 69.9 percent Walden posted in 2016.

Senator Maria Cantwell cruised to victory as did GOP Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and the remainder of Washington’s Democratic congressmen.

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler is expected to eke out a victory in the 3rd District, while Democrat Kim Schrier leads Dino Rossi by 53 to 47 percent margin.

Legislative Prospects in the Next Congress 

With little chance of getting major legislation through the Senate, congressional Democrats will remain on the sidelines for federal judicial confirmations in the Senate, play the role as pesky thorn in the side of Trump in the House and, in turn, serve as a predictable foil in Trump’s anticipated 2020 re-election bid. 

Democrats may get an early start on their fall-guy role with a vote to restore Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, who has become a familiar political piñata at Trump campaign rallies.

Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio is on track to become chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which raises hope of a more serious effort to push a major infrastructure package in the next Congress – one of the few possible bipartisan legislative projects in a split Congress. 

Strong voter interest in health care expressed in the midterm elections might prompt bipartisan efforts to shore up popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act. 

It seems less likely bipartisan common ground can be found in the next two years on Medicare and Medicaid and on immigration reform, which may be headed for the 2020 presidential election as political wedge issues.

Walden will lose his chairmanship of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, but will continue as the Ranking Member. Walden has a track record of advancing legislation in divided government and may look for bipartisan wins to shore up support back home. 

With the GOP retaining control of the Senate, Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley aren’t expected to take on any new committee assignments. But they will enjoy increased bargaining positions over appropriations and other legislation where they have a Democratic partner to dance with on the House side. 

The “lame duck” Congress now becomes very important to Republicans who will try to accomplish some political objectives before the 116th Congress convenes in January. An aggressive GOP push on contentious issues in the lame duck session could poison the well for any possible collaboration in the next Congress, but it could bolster Republican efforts to satisfy their political base.

  

Washington House Races Could Punctuate Blue Wave – Or Not

  fivethirtyeight.com  indicates a high probability of Democrats regaining control of the US House in next Tuesday’s midterm election. Three tightly contested House seats in Washington now held by Republicans could punctuate a Democratic blue wave or sustain GOP control.

fivethirtyeight.com indicates a high probability of Democrats regaining control of the US House in next Tuesday’s midterm election. Three tightly contested House seats in Washington now held by Republicans could punctuate a Democratic blue wave or sustain GOP control.

Three contested US House races in Washington that will be decided on Tuesday could punctuate a national Democratic blue wave or confirm continuing control of Congress by Republicans.

Flipping control of the House has emerged as a major storyline of the 2018 midterm election. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to regain control. More than half of the midterm elections since 1994 have featured a 24+ seat swing. In the 2010 midterm election that produced the current run of Republican control, 64 House seats went from blue to red.

Fivethirtyeight.com gives Democrats an 85.5 percent chance to win back control of the House with the highest probability gain of 39 seats. A Washington Post poll shows projected Democratic voters slightly outnumber Republicans in key House races.

However, elections are like football games. It matters who comes out to play. Voter turnout remains the key, especially in roughly 30 or so swing districts that either a Democrat or Republican has a chance to win. 

The three House races in Washington are all in Republican hands.

  • Four-term Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler faces a stiff challenge from Carolyn Long in the 3rd District, which includes Vancouver and Southwest Washington.

  • Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers is being tested in the GOP-dominated 5th District in Eastern Washington by a well-funded Democratic challenger, Lisa Brown.

  • In the open 8th District seat in the Seattle suburbs, former GOP candidate Dino Rossi is trying to hold onto the seat held for seven terms by fellow Republican Dave Reichert, but is being significantly outspent by Democrat Kim Schrier.

Herrera Beutler and McMorris Rogers won election in 2016 with decisive margins in their respective districts, but aggressive Democratic challengers have amassed sizable war chests to contest their re-election this year. As of October 17, Long had reeled in $2.7 million in mostly individual contributions while Brown secured $4.6 million against an entrenched incumbent. In the open House seat race, Schrier has raised $6.1 million compared to Republican Rossi’s $3.9 million.

What makes individual House races – and to a lesser degree Senate races – more competitive this year is the national character of the midterm elections, largely turning on the oversized personality of President Trump. In many ways, the midterm election in toss-up districts and states is being viewed as a referendum on Trump. Trump is campaigning in states and congressional districts where he hopes his popularity and political agenda persuade voters to retain Republicans.

Democratic control of the Senate is possible, but not likely. Of the 35 Senate seats up this year, 26 are held by Democrats or Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Democrats hold Senate seats in Montana, Indiana, West Virginia and Missouri, which are states Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election. Incumbent Democrats in Montana, Missouri and Indiana are trailing or are running neck-and-neck with their GOP challengers. Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson also is in a close race with his Republican challenger, current Governor Rick Scott. 

Democrats have mounted spirited Senate campaigns against GOP incumbents in Texas and Nevada and they are hopeful to pick up the Arizona Senate seat held by Jeff Flake who isn’t seeking re-election.

If Democrats manage to take control of one or both chambers, the lame duck Congress becomes very important to Republicans. The GOP will likely try to accomplish as much as possible between November and next January when the 116th Congress is sworn in and its majority dissolves.

After January, Democrats would likely exercise their newfound power to halt the Republican legislative agenda and initiate oversight investigations into Trump and his administration. There is some hope a Democratic House and the Trump administration could work together on one big major legislative item – an infrastructure package.

What If?

If Republicans retain majorities in the House and Senate, it will be full speed ahead. A new speaker of the House to replace the outgoing Paul Ryan will join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in tackling several remaining legislative initiatives Republicans weren’t able to accomplish in the last two years.

What About Earmarks?

We’ve heard for months of certain prominent House Democrats intentions to bring back earmarks if they regain the majority in the House. It’s unclear what it would look like, especially with a Republican Senate and Democratic House. Senate Republicans could resist a return to earmarks, but it’s entirely possible for the House to go it alone and Senate Republicans may be forced to go along. 

The new earmark system will likely be limited in scope compared to the old process, featuring stricter guidelines and requiring committed local match funding for any earmark project. Several popular grant programs would likely remain, but a return to earmarks would open up federal funding for an array of municipal and public-sector projects that don’t fit the guidelines of existing federal grant programs.

The Internet of Political Things

 The digital world undeniably has swamped the political world, resulting in what you might call the internet of political things – email hacks, Twitter feed, Facebook fundraising and unfiltered outreach to a political base.

The digital world undeniably has swamped the political world, resulting in what you might call the internet of political things – email hacks, Twitter feed, Facebook fundraising and unfiltered outreach to a political base.

Private email servers. Unsecured personal smartphones. Cyber-hacking. Online campaign fundraising. Streaming townhall meetings. Fake Twitter accounts. Fake Facebook accounts. No denying the digital world has swamped the political world and we now have an internet of political things.

That fact resurfaced this week with news reports President Trump persists in using his personal smartphone, despite US intelligence warnings that Russians and Chinese are listening in on his conversations. Trump has denied the report, but also has confirmed it.

The crack in confidential, sensitive information by Trump is ironic in light of his continuing attacks on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the chants of crowds at his political rallies of “Lock her up!”

For Trump, the digital world is his oyster. His Twitter account, he says, is his “megaphone” to speak, unfiltered, to his political base. Trump has more than 100 million Twitter followers. Newsweek points out as many as 15 million of his followers may be fake. Trump complained Twitter is trying to suppress the number of people following him. His complaint came in a tweet.

Barack Obama perfected the art of social media engagement and fundraising in his presidential campaigns. Now social media is a standard, integral part of campaigns for the presidency all the way down to local school board races. One of the top positions in big-time campaigns is digital director. Social media is a perfect vehicle to mobilize supporters, recruit new followers and disseminate a campaign’s key talking points. Social media also is a platform that can be used to test messages to see how they play with the political base.

Campaign budgets tell the story. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, major campaigns spent between 10 and 20 percent of the budget on digital. The Trump campaign spent 50 percent of its budget on digital. Big data, which can pinpoint people’s behavioral tendencies, has largely replaced paper voter registration lists that connect a Democrat or a Republican to a house address.

Based on US intelligence accounts, hacking into emails, setting up fake social media accounts, spinning conspiracy theories and conducting cyber dirty tricks are now common campaign practices. We have been led to believe Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have launched digital attacks aimed at US political figures, political parties and news media. There is less revealed knowledge about whether the United States engages in similar digital disruption in foreign countries.

Members of Congress who are stuck in Washington, DC – or want to avoid live appearances – have taken to virtual townhalls, often using live streaming as the medium.

Political polarization has lapped over to “news,” resulting in clusters of online outlets that cater to the views of people on the far opposite sides of the political spectrum. Some pose as news media even though they are principally political provocateurs. They would stick out on a TV channel guide, but they blend in as part of the vaster, unregulated cybersphere. 

Whereas people in the past conversed about political events of the day over coffee, they now engage in more highly caffeinated social media exchanges, sharing articles and trading insults in real time. You don’t have to wait for a daily newspaper to read your favorite (or most hated) commentator and offer your own follow-up comments. You can troll friends and foes alike online. You can associate with your political tribe and saber-rattle at your opposing political tribe. You can get – and give – political feedback on your smartphone virtually anywhere, anytime.

Like the internet of things, the internet of political things has created greater connectivity. In your home, you can remotely control your temperature and monitor your doorstep. In your political home, you can dial up whatever temperature you want and kick anyone to the gutter.

The internet of things can do a lot of good. You can monitor elderly parents living at home, reduce your energy bill and work without commuting. The internet of political things does good, too. You have more direct access to what political figures say and think. You have a wider range of political commentary at your fingertips. You can engage in political movements without leaving your own house.

For better or worse, the internet of political things is a reality. It is likely to become even more prevalent, though probably not to the point where you engage your refrigerator in a political debate. In Italy and other places, the internet of political things has evolved to electing representatives and giving them legislative direction via online direct democracy. That’s like inviting the legislative process for a sleepover on your computer. 

The good news is digital change occurs fast. You won’t have to wait long for the next big internet of political things.

A Peek at Midterm Election, World Series Probabilities

 News headlines follow waves while Nate Silver hunts for probabilities in elections – and sports. Silver likes the chances of Democrats recapturing the US House, Kate Brown remaining as governor of Oregon and the Boston Red Sox taking home another World Series trophy.

News headlines follow waves while Nate Silver hunts for probabilities in elections – and sports. Silver likes the chances of Democrats recapturing the US House, Kate Brown remaining as governor of Oregon and the Boston Red Sox taking home another World Series trophy.

If you want a sneak peek at how the 2018 midterm election will turn out, Nate Silver has a white board full of numbers, percentages and probabilities. Notably absent are any predictions.

Silver, founder of fivethirtyeight.com, is famous for looking at the bigger picture and blending a bunch of polls to reach a probability. His website is chocked full of probability. For example, he says, “Odds are, your next governor will be a Democrat” and “Democrats’ prospects worsen in Nevada and Arizona.”

His probabilities are more than hunches with percentages. He has closely followed the US Senate race in Texas in which incumbent Republican Ted Cruz is trying to fend off a determined challenge by Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Earlier, Silver forecast O’Rourke had a 35 percent chance of upsetting Cruz. Now he has reduced that forecast to around 25 percent. By this time in an election cycle, probabilities start baking into reality. 

Cutting to the chase, Silver says there is an 83.9 percent chance Democrats will regain control of the US House, while Republicans have an 80 percent probability of retaining control of the US Senate.

On governor’s races, Silver says a Democratic victory is likely in Oregon where incumbent Kate Brown is facing Republican Knute Buehler. He gives Brown nearly an 85 percent chance of winning with just slightly more than 50 percent of the vote.

Some political pundits believe midterm elections foreshadow who will run for president in the next election. Silver and his team show there is no clear evidence midterm elections presage anything in a subsequent presidential election year. Nothing exactly predicted Donald Trump would run in 2016 and few, including Trump, believed he would actually win. Few imagined Barack Obama would outshine Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination and the 2008 election. His keynote address in the 2004 Democratic National Convention was more telling than the outcome of the 2006 midterms.

For those weary of politics, fivethirtyeight.com also offers probabilities in sports. Boston has the best chance to win the World Series and Clemson and Alabama have a 65 percent chance to win a ticket to the NCAA National Football Championship.

Populism, Youth Stoke Moves Toward Direct Democracy

 With a contentious confirmation process just ended, it’s time to take a break and consider experiments around the globe with direct democracy and citizen engagement using online platforms to define public problems, suggest legislation and elect political leaders.

With a contentious confirmation process just ended, it’s time to take a break and consider experiments around the globe with direct democracy and citizen engagement using online platforms to define public problems, suggest legislation and elect political leaders.

With Brett Kavanaugh sitting on the Supreme Court and political ads flooding the airwaves before the November 6 midterm election, it’s time to take a deep breath and consider innovation in government, including the direct democracy experiment underway in Italy. It could be the next disruptive idea to invade our own political landscape.

Understanding the Italian political scene is not easy or obvious. At the moment, Italy’s ruling coalition government is led by a group of parliamentarians nominated and elected online under the political slogan, “Participate, don’t delegate.”  They are members of the Five-Star Movement (M5S), a political party started in 2009 by a comedian, a blogger and a web strategist.

In March elections this year, M5S won the largest share of votes (38 percent) because of its populist appeal and attraction to young voters. It is reportedly the first time an Internet-based movement has gained political power. Its success wouldn’t have been conceivable without the advance of technology

One of the new government’s first moves was to appoint Riccardo Fraccaro as perhaps the world’s first minister of direct democracy. As reported in the Washington Post, Fraccaro said, “Citizens must be granted the same possibility to actively intervene in the process of managing and administrating public goods as normally carried out by their elected representatives.” In a partyocracy, he added, elected officials hoard decision-making at the expense of the “public will.” 

Through referenda, public petitions and initiatives, Fraccaro sees direct democracy guiding policymaking alongside representative government “to give real, authentic sovereignty to the citizens.” The Five-Star Movement exists on an online platform called Rousseau, an Enlightenment-era philosopher who influenced the French Revolution and believed in citizen involvement in politics as a wedge against tyranny.

The Five-Star Movement appears to be more than a protest of governmental process, as reflected by its coalition partner, the right-wing League party, best known for its anti-immigration positions. The Five-Star Movement leader is Luigi Di Maio, who is 32 years old and the son of a member of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement.

The early months of the coalition’s time in power have unsettled more traditional political players with calls for both a tax cut and universal basic income for Italians, despite Italy’s long-term debt that stands at 130 percent of its GDP. However, the direct democracy experiment has spurred the European Union to reduce the signature threshold for citizen-proposed legislation. The next step would be to institutionalize a role for citizen engagement, possibly a Citizens’ Assembly with a role in reviewing what is passed by the European Parliament.

Nathan Gardels, editor of The World Post, notes other direct democracy experiments around the world. One is crowdlaw, an intelligence gathering platform intended to help government officials engage with citizens in use in diverse countries such as Iceland and India.

Taiwan has employed an online platform to form citizen working groups that define public problems and identify possible solutions. “In more than 80 percent of cases, publicly defined issues have led to government action. So far, 26 national issues, including the regulation of Uber, telemedicine and online education, have been discussed with more than 200,000 participants.”

Steps toward direct democracy would undoubtedly alarm another Enlightenment-era political thinker, James Madison. He believed populist passions could overwhelm the cool restraint of deliberative reason. “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason,” Madison wrote in one of the Federalist Papers. “A pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.”

Madison and other Founding Fathers lived in a time before telecommunications, jet airplanes and the internet, which have altered perceptions about representative government and direct democracy. The hot-plate Kavanaugh confirmation process, whether you view it as a circus or a sham, is likely to kindle more thoughts about the role of citizens in a government, of which George Washington once described the “senatorial saucer” to cool the passions of the directly elected members of the House. 

 

NAFTA with a New Name

 The Trump administration successfully negotiated an updated North American Free Trade Agreement with modernized provisions, concessions of value to farmers and automakers and, of course, a new name. However, politics could still undermine the deal when it goes to Congress and consternation remains among trading partners with continuing Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The Trump administration successfully negotiated an updated North American Free Trade Agreement with modernized provisions, concessions of value to farmers and automakers and, of course, a new name. However, politics could still undermine the deal when it goes to Congress and consternation remains among trading partners with continuing Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The Canadians agreed to final terms for a $1.2 trillion North American free trade agreement that gave President Trump a political triumph and NAFTA a new name. However, the deal doesn’t end a simmering trade war sparked by US tariffs on steel and aluminum and still faces a treacherous political road to passage.

Trade experts gave credit to the Trump administration for completing a three-way deal to update the 25-year-old trade that candidate Trump derided as terrible. Trump critics note the new trade pact is largely the same car with a rebranded nameplate to appease Trump. Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser, said the foundation remains, but the superstructure is superior. 

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) still must be approved by Congress, which seems more likely after cliffhanger negotiations with Canada prevented Trump from submitting just a bilateral agreement with Mexico. The agreement also must be ratified by the respective legislative bodies in Canada and Mexico.

Most everybody agreed NAFTA needed a refresher, if for no other reason to account for a phalanx of digital industries and e-commerce that didn’t exist when it was signed. There also was a push to strengthen intellectual property protections, the underlying issue that has sparked a Trump-inspired trade war with China. There are reportedly 63 pages worth of provisions that address patents and trademarks, including two additional years of protection for biologic drugs, which Trump hailed as a key to US medical innovation.

A major sticking point was Canada’s barrier that prevents US dairy farmers from penetrating their market. The Canadians traded some of that protection to retain a trade dispute resolution provision that Trump wanted to scrap. Somewhat ironically, Canadians had agreed to a similar sized dairy concession in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump abandoned when he took office.

Domestic car manufacturing was a core reason why Trump pushed for a better North American trade agreement. The agreement reached earlier with Mexico increases the North American auto content requirements and requires more content from higher paid autoworkers to qualify for duty-free treatment. AFL-CIO leaders withheld their support for the change, saying they doubted the higher wages and better working conditions in Mexico can be enforced. The USMCA effectively requires unionization of Mexican autoworkers, which runs counter to state-level right-to-work laws, which political conservatives have pushed for in the United States.

Economists fret that higher wages will make North American vehicles more expensive and less competitive against vehicles imported from overseas, which face a nominal tariff. Trump is pledging to address the import tariff and potentially replace it with quotas. There also is a side letter to the agreement that preserves Trump’s ability to impose tariffs on automobiles assembled in Mexico or Canada. 

Trump sought a 5-year sunset clause on the deal. In the final agreement, the USMCA has a 16-year life span, with a review after six years.

A key element of the deal for the incoming Mexican president is a clause that restates Mexico’s claim of ownership of all hydrocarbons in its subsoil. The provision doesn’t prevent foreign companies from producing oil in Mexico.

While agreement on NAFTA modernization brought sighs of relief, there is still consternation over steel and aluminum tariffs – and their rationale: protecting US national security. The pretense for the tariffs has irked Canadians who don’t view themselves as security risks to the United States.

Looming elections that could flip control of the House to Democrats might complicate approval of the USMCA. Democrats may not want to bless a Trump achievement before the 2020 presidential election and Republicans may decide to poke the eye of unions, which have been a major force behind revamping NAFTA. That could leave the USMCA an agreement without a country and further muddy the waters on US trade policy.

 

Constitutional Patriotism and the Threat of Tribalism

 Examples of political tribalism abound in today’s America, raising the question of whether our democracy can survive. Two law professors say it can if we return to ‘constitutional patriotism’ and defend the principles that united us as a country in the first place.

Examples of political tribalism abound in today’s America, raising the question of whether our democracy can survive. Two law professors say it can if we return to ‘constitutional patriotism’ and defend the principles that united us as a country in the first place.

As a contentious confirmation hearing for a US Supreme Court nominee grabs the national spotlight, a more serious question looms about the state of American democracy. Is it fading? Does anyone care? Can democracy survive?

A pair of Yale law professors say the way for democracy to survive is to return to “constitutional patriotism.” “We have to remain united by and through the Constitution, regardless of our ideological disagreements,” they write in an article published in the October 2018 issue of The Atlantic.

The challenge, according to Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, is that “Americans have come to view the Constitution not as a statement of shared principles, but as a cudgel with which to attack their enemies.”

That’s regrettable, they argue, because the Constitution was the vehicle that created a nation out of colonies, a mix of nationalities and diverse, often warring religions.

“The Constitution managed to overcome these divisions,” Chua and Rubenfeld said. “The way it dealt with religion is illustrative. Colonial America had not embraced tolerance; on the contrary, the dissenters had become persecutors. Virginia imprisoned Quakers. Massachusetts whipped Baptists. Government-established churches were common, and nonbelievers were denied basic civil and political rights.

“But in a radical act, the Constitution not only guaranteed religious freedom; it also declared that the United States would have no national church and no religious tests for national office. These foundational guarantees helped America avoid the religious wars that for centuries had torn apart the nations of Europe.” 

The Constitution created a republic, in large part because founding father James Madison feared “rule by mob” as much as rule by tyrant. The Constitution reflected the viewpoint of the Enlightenment that wise men (they were all men in those days), separated from “local passions,” would make wise decisions. That’s how we got the Electoral College.

Madison and other founding fathers also loathed partisanship, but the Constitution they created did little to prevent the formation of political parties and factions. The founders themselves became ardent partisans.

Many of the same animating issues of those days persist today: racial divisions, farm versus factory, South versus North, the elite versus working class. Tribalism seems more intense now, Chua and Rosenfeld say, because a white majority is coming to an end, income inequality is growing and the news media is omnipresent.

“In these conditions,” the authors explain, “democracy devolves into a zero-sum competition, one in which parties succeed by stoking voters’ fears and appealing to their ugliest us-versus-them instincts.”

Instead of serving as a uniting set of principles, the Constitution has become its own punching bag. Progressives attack it as “irredeemably stained” by its initial compromise over slavery. Martin Luther King Jr. demanded racial justice promised in the Constitution. Now, constitutional protections such as freedom of speech, religious liberty and property rights are dismissed as dehumanizing, discriminatory and structurally unjust.

Political conservatives are “beginning to reject core constitutional principles,” Chua and Rubenfeld note, pointing to President Trump’s declaration that the news media is the “enemy of the people.”

Even the concept of “being American” is up for debate. Some see national identity in racial, ethnic or religious terms, Chua and Rubenfeld observe. Birthright citizenship has been questioned. Being of European descent or being Christian are offered as marks of being American. Chua and Rosenfeld strongly disagree:

“This trend runs counter to the Constitution’s foundational ideal: an America where citizens are citizens, regardless of race or religion; an America whose national identity belongs to no one tribe.

“America is not an ethnic nation. Its citizens don’t have to choose between a national identity and multiculturalism. Americans can have both. But the key is constitutional patriotism. We have to remain united by and through the Constitution, regardless of our ideological disagreements.”

Chua and Rubenfeld say there are lessons for both the tribal right and tribal left. Defending the Constitution requires more than “flag-waving” by the right; it requires dedication to constitutional principles of equality. The Constitution can’t simply be dismissed by the left as a “smokescreen for oppression;” it must be seen as the “most inclusive form of governance in world history,” even if many of the Founding Fathers were also slaveowners.

The constitutional challenges facing the nation at this time are serious. But democracy’s only route to survival, Chua and Rubenfeld contend, may be through rededication to the constitutional principles that got us this far.

“For all its flaws, the United States is uniquely equipped to unite a diverse and divided society. Alone among the world powers, America has succeeded in forging a strong group-transcending national identity without requiring its citizens to shed or suppress their subgroup identities.”

You can be Irish American, Syrian American or Japanese American, but if you live in France or Germany, you can only be French or German. That’s a lot more than a semantic difference.

 

2018 is Turning into a Political Moment for Women

 A record-breaking 257 women will appear on the ballot this fall as candidates for House and Senate seats, forming what one observer calls a pink wave that could significantly alter the direction of key US policies going forward.

A record-breaking 257 women will appear on the ballot this fall as candidates for House and Senate seats, forming what one observer calls a pink wave that could significantly alter the direction of key US policies going forward.

With all state primaries concluded, there is a record-breaking 257 women running for the House and Senate. This is more of a movement than a blip.

Lisa Lerer, writing in The New York Times, calls this “A Moment for Women,” with millions of women marching and hundreds running for political office. They won’t all win, she says, but many will win.

There are 33 races in America that feature a woman running against another woman, including in Washington’s 3rd District where GOP incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler is facing a competitive challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long. 

Women have successfully run for office in Washington and Oregon. Washington’s two US senators and four of its 10 representatives are women. Oregon has only one woman in its congressional delegation, but women hold the governorship and lead the Oregon House. 

Nationally, many women candidates are vying for seats held by someone from the opposite and often dominant party in their districts or states. They face an uphill battle, but have in many cases succeeded by turning normally slumbering re-election races into combative contests. In the first midterm election after a new President is elected, the party out of power in the Oval Office typically picks up House seats. That could bode well for the 197 Democratic women candidates who are running.

Lerer observes this year’s batch of women candidates differs from the past when women downplayed their gender. “Candidates today are embracing it. Kids roam the campaign trail. Some candidates breast-feed in their ads. And veterans, like Arizona’s Martha McSally, tout their barrier-breaking service.”

Reflecting the #MeToo movement, Lerer says women are openly talking about their own experience with sexual abuse. “Mary Barzee Flores, in Florida, tells voters about being groped by the night manager of a Pizza Hut as a teenager. Katie Porter, in California, has talked about surviving domestic abuse.”

Gender is a factor, Lerer reports, even in races where women face other women. “Women don’t vote as a monolithic block,” she says.

Clearly, the election of Donald Trump – and the defeat of Hillary Clinton – spurred millions of women to become “political” and, for some, to enter the political arena as candidates. They have been motivated by sustained challenges to their reproductive rights and lingering pay and job opportunity inequality. Many have run to combat anti-immigration policies and sexual discrimination. A succession of high-profile sexual abuse cases involving powerful men in media, entertainment and business has stoked the political movement.

Female candidates, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have unseated longtime incumbents in their own party by supporting bolder action on health care and higher education. Women have spoken out on gun violence, child care and social equity. Their advocacy and campaigns have attracted higher-than-normal Democratic voter turnouts in this year’s primaries. Lerer says the “pink wave” may be the power behind a potential “blue wave” in the general election.

Lerer also offers some perspective. “At the end of all this, women are still likely to be underrepresented. Even if all the female congressional candidates won (an almost impossible proposition), women would still make up less than half of the House and less than a third of the Senate.”

Despite that, women candidates and women voters may engineer a significant shift in political direction this fall. The war may continue, but the battleground and the warriors may change dramatically.

 

Bombshell Book, Op-Ed Turn DC into a Political Whodunit

 More chaos wracked the Trump White House with a bombshell book by Bob Woodward, followed by an aftershock in the form of an anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times by someone only identified as a “senior official” in the administration. Trump’s reaction was reportedly volcanic and set off a desperate search for whodunit.

More chaos wracked the Trump White House with a bombshell book by Bob Woodward, followed by an aftershock in the form of an anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times by someone only identified as a “senior official” in the administration. Trump’s reaction was reportedly volcanic and set off a desperate search for whodunit.

Washington, DC has been a lot of things. Now it is the scene of a political whodunit.

Bob Woodward got the game going with his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which chronicles audacious and embarrassing incidents during the Trump presidency, based on anonymous sources with good memories and a few purloined documents.

As shockwaves from Woodward’s book began to reverberate, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a reputed “senior official” in the Trump administration who described the “resistance from within.”

News media sources, quoting anonymous administration sources, reported that President Trump’s reaction to the book and op-ed was “volcanic.” Trump called Woodward’s book “fiction” and a “joke.” He called the op-ed author a coward.

In was the perfect first act of a whodunit. The rest of the play presumably will center on finding some or all of Woodward’s sources and identifying who wrote the damning op-ed.

Trump demanded the Department of Justice, which seems to be his new “fixer” since his old fixer pleaded guilty to fraud, to conduct an investigation in the name of “national Security.” Presidential Press Secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed the op-ed as “gutless” and the Woodward book as bad journalism. According to Donald Trump Jr., the White House circle of trust just got a lot smaller.

Talk show hosts grilled talking heads for names or clues. Woodward was asked if he knew who wrote the NYT op-ed. “I don’t have any suspects,” he said. Stephen Colbert did an entire opening monologue speculating on the person Trump is “obsessed” with discovering.

 Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Bob Woodward’s latest book – a tell-all about the Trump White House based on 100 “deep background” interviews – hit bookshelves today, even though its shrapnel already has been felt in pre-publication excerpts.  https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/9/11/17828300/bob-woodward-fear-trump-sources

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Bob Woodward’s latest book – a tell-all about the Trump White House based on 100 “deep background” interviews – hit bookshelves today, even though its shrapnel already has been felt in pre-publication excerpts. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/9/11/17828300/bob-woodward-fear-trump-sources

A parade of Trump senior officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, released statements saying it wasn’t them. Pence even volunteered to take a lie detector test.

Trump supporters floated the idea the Times “concocted” the anonymous op-ed. Steve Bannon said the op-ed had multiple authors and represented a “soft coup.”

Chaos is no stranger to the Trump White House, and Woodward is not a stranger to harsh criticism of his coverage of previous presidents. Woodward isn’t the first – and probably not the last – to paint a picture of dysfunction and indulgence. Though, he might be the first to describe specific incidents in which aides spirited away documents from their boss before he could sign them to avoid even more chaos.

Efforts by the Trump team to downplay or deflect from the back-to-back bombshells may not be successful. As Anderson Cooper noted, “It’s not every day or every month or every year, or certainly every administration for that matter, that someone in the administration publishes a scathing criticism of the president of the United States. It’s not every day that someone in the administration claims that many officials in that administration are working to frustrate parts of the president’s agenda and his worse inclinations.”

It didn’t help that US intelligence sources revealed North Korea is expanding its nuclear weapons capability and that reports surfaced about US officials flirting with involvement in a potential coup to unseat Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Or former Clinton-era special prosecutor Ken Starr’s suggestion in an interview on NPR that Congress has another, cleaner weapon to express displeasure with a President – censure.

And all this on the heels of news that White House counsel Don McGahn gave 30 hours of sworn testimony to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, “sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice,” according to The New York Times.

Even memorials for 9/11 are unlikely to stop the inevitable blame game or interrupt the DC chase for whodunit. The hunt is already afoot.

Congress on Sidelines as Politics, Events Pass It By

 Congress returns from its summer recess, but still will be mostly on the sidelines as Trump tweets, court rulings and midterm elections dominate the daily news cycle. [Photo Credit: Associated Press]

Congress returns from its summer recess, but still will be mostly on the sidelines as Trump tweets, court rulings and midterm elections dominate the daily news cycle. [Photo Credit: Associated Press]

What goes on in Congress matters less these days than what goes on about Congress.

The five-day memorial for the late Senator John McCain drew attention to his lifelong dedication to duty, honor and principle, as well as a willingness to reach across the political aisle to compromise.

The mid-term elections have taken on amplified importance as a virtual referendum on President Donald Trump and as a contest for the heart of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Republican primaries are judged as battles between GOP moderates and Trump backers. Democratic primaries are viewed as tests of how far left the party may swing.

Trump’s hardline, nationalist approach to trade continues to ruffle feathers abroad and at home as farmers, manufacturers, workers and consumers fret over the end game. Congress ultimately will have to decide on any new trade deals, but for now is sitting on the sidelines. Congress is beginning to tackle the one-time subsidies Trump proposed to help farm producers cope with the impact of his tariffs.

The courts have played an outsized role in curbing Trump policies, including a ruling that forced reunification of families separated at the border, blocked blanket detention of asylum-seekers and elimination of DACA and delayed a rollback of fuel efficient standards.

The Robert Mueller investigation into Russian election meddling and potential Trump campaign collusion plugs along, with recent convictions, new grants of immunity and the pall of more indictments. Trump tells campaign rally audiences that a Democratic takeover of the House will lead to his impeachment. There are other investigations and lawsuits about Trump Organization business practices that also result in indictments, including of Trump family members.

Capitol Hill hasn’t gone completely quiet, however. This week will see the start of confirmation hearings on Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, amid Democratic complaints that documents have been suppressed that might shed light on Kavanaugh’s views about executive privilege and prosecution. While the hearings could be confrontational, it appears likely Kavanaugh will win confirmation.

As the end of the federal fiscal year approaches, which in recent times has been tense with the threat of a partial government shutdown, Congress has dutifully moved 12 appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2019. No shutdown will occur, even though Trump said it might be a good thing. Congress has even been upstaged by Trump on spending as the President unilaterally blocked scheduled federal worker pay increases.

Facebook and Twitter remain in the congressional line of sight. After being blamed for turning a blind eye to false-flag accounts, the social media platforms are being accused of putting the squeeze on conservative political voices. Trump has gone further and alleged Google has manipulated search results to play up critical news stories about him and downplay positive stories.

There is an eerie silence in the halls of Congress on efforts to denuclearize North Korea, advance a major infrastructure package, act on immigration reform or respond to the looming denouement of the Syrian conflict, which many observers believe will be a massive humanitarian crisis.

Trump tweets remain the dominant story in most daily news cycles, whether he chastises the FBI and his Attorney General, whines about his treatment by the press or insults US allies or his critics. Apart from the content of the tweets, what troubles Republicans on the Hill are their unpredictability and inconsistency, which makes pursuing a congressional agenda more difficult.

The long, smothering shadow of Trump’s tweets does give congressional Republicans more time to start their own digital firestorms. Ryan Gosling’s biopic of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon has drawn criticism from GOP Senators Ted  Cruz and Marco Rubio for failing to feature the astronaut planting the US flag.

Cruz, who is running for re-election this fall, and Rubio said Armstrong’s achievement was a distinctively American moment, paid for by US taxpayers. Gosling defended the omission by saying Armstrong’s achievement “transcended borders and countries.”

Of course, the back-and-forth sniping has nothing to do with Congress.

The Difference a Day Can Make - Or Not.

 Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day this week with two former associates headed to prison, an early congressional supporter indicted, the White House counsel talking to the special prosecutor and Facebook removing another trove of Russian fake accounts. [Photo Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg]

Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day this week with two former associates headed to prison, an early congressional supporter indicted, the White House counsel talking to the special prosecutor and Facebook removing another trove of Russian fake accounts. [Photo Credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg]

Anyone can have a bad hair day. President Trump had a hair-on-fire day yesterday. His former campaign manager was convicted on bank and tax fraud charges, his personal attorney-fixer plead guilty to fraud and one of his first GOP congressional supporters was indicted for misuse of campaign funds.

Facebook announced it removed 652 fake accounts peddling misinformation that it said originated with Russian and Iranian sources. The New York Times reported White House counsel Donald McGahn has met in three interviews lasting 30 hours with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigative team.

Most people would chalk that up as a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” However, Trump spent last evening performing at another of his free-wheeling campaign rallies, inciting his West Virginia audience to chant “Lock her up!” – an ironic anthem on the day two of his associates started on the road to prison.

Trump’s spokesperson downplayed the Manafort conviction – “nothing to do with the President” – and Cohen’s plea – “he said what he did as part of a plea deal.” Democrats unleashed attacks about corruption in the Trump camp and began referring to the President as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

Despite all the buzz, it remains doubtful anything will change. Mueller’s special investigation into Russian meddling will continue. Chances of Congress starting an impeachment process are close to nil. And Trump supporters seem unfazed.

The 47-page indictment of GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife for improperly using campaign funds could put his bid for re-election in his San Diego congressional district in jeopardy. In the wake of the indictment, House Speaker Paul Ryan stripped Hunter of his committee assignments, but Hunter still may win re-election in what a local San Diego newspaper calls a “very red district.”

Some Senate Democrats canceled meetings with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanugh, saying it is inappropriate to move forward on a confirmation process for someone nominated by Trump after he was implicated by Cohen in a federal elections law conspiracy. However, the confirmation hearings are slated to begin in early September and it appears Senate Republicans are congealing to support Kavanaugh, along with two or three Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states.

The Manafort conviction, Cohen plea and Facebook action on fake Russian accounts are unlikely to sway Trump supporters, though they may steel the resolve of Democrats to get out their vote to retake control of the House. Even that prospect is in doubt. Polling indicates as many as 74 House seats held by Republicans could be in play in the midterm election in November, but that number is likely to drop substantially as campaigns pick up steam in the fall.

Trump’s legal team, which appears to have convinced the President to avoid an interview with Mueller’s investigators, keeps egging the special prosecutor to wrap up his investigation before the November election. Trump’s lawyers believe – or hope – nothing will stick to the President in the final report. But even if the report points to obstruction of justice and some level of conspiracy with Russians on election meddling, there is no guarantee Trump’s supporters or even Republicans in general will be swayed. The same partisan divide will remain, with even deeper trenches.

At the end of the day, the hair-on-fire day for Trump may be just another comet news cycle that glows, then fades, replaced by new political brush fires.

 

Senators Seething in DC Humidity and Heat

 GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has annoyed Democrats, especially those facing tough re-election bids in states carried by Donald Trump in 2016, by shrinking the traditional August recess to one week, tying his colleagues to their desks in the DC heat and humidity.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has annoyed Democrats, especially those facing tough re-election bids in states carried by Donald Trump in 2016, by shrinking the traditional August recess to one week, tying his colleagues to their desks in the DC heat and humidity.

While members of the House of Representatives are enjoying their normal full month of August recess, the Senate is being forced to work in the festering hot swamp that is Washington DC.

GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell eliminated the time-honored August recess for all but one week despite 90-degree-plus temperatures and drenching humidity and the annoyance of Democrats who would prefer to be home to campaign. 

McConnell wants to use the extra floor time in August to press senators to confirm pending judicial nominees, make progress on appropriations bills and set the stage for Brett Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation to the Supreme Court.

There is a political reason, too. McConnell is forcing Senate Democrats to stay in DC so they can’t campaign in their home states for the November election. It’s another savvy move by the seasoned Senate leader in this lopsided year where the Senate map strongly favors Republicans. Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats this November, while Republicans only need to defend nine seats. 

All 26 of those Democrats would much rather be back in their states solidifying their electoral support and raising money to build momentum for the general election. In particular, Democratic incumbents in Montana, Missouri, West Virginia and North Dakota are feeling especially constrained running for re-election in states that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.

McConnell’s tactic will build momentum for a busy fall congressional schedule. Republican Leaders in the House and the Senate are looking to avoid a government shutdown and both chambers are ahead of schedule in passing FY19 appropriations bills. The Senate has passed seven of 12 appropriations bills, while the House has passed six. This is the best progress made on the appropriations front since 2000.

With the Senate in town, Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh can meet with senators in August and lay the groundwork for a relatively quick nomination process in September.

Democrats are trying to slow confirmation by insisting on seeing the millions of pages of documents Kavanaugh wrote during his time in the George W. Bush White House, but the delay tactic could come at their own peril. Many pundits believe the closer the Kavanaugh confirmation vote is to the November election, the better it is for Republicans to motivate their political base. Democrats will have to decide between an all-out political fight with a slim chance of blocking Kavanaugh versus getting the vote over with in September. 

One more major item on the fall legislative schedule will likely be on a provision dubbed “TaxCut 2.0.” Republicans are trying to set a trap for Democrats by bringing up legislation that will permanently extend the individual tax cuts passed last December, which will expire in five years. Corporate tax cuts were all made permanent. Republicans want to get vulnerable Democrats on record on taxes close to the election. There also is a potential trap for Republicans who would be voting to deepen the federal deficit and remind voters about the tax cut, which hasn’t been as widely popular as GOP advocates predicted – or hoped.

A wild card McConnell cannot control is what Special Counsel Robert Mueller will do before the November election. His team is engaged now in a high-profile trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and conducting ongoing negotiations to schedule an interview with the sitting President.

One possibility is Trump’s team declines Mueller’s terms for a face-to-face interview and Mueller follows through on his threat to subpoena Trump. The subpoena could trigger a court case by Team Trump challenging whether a sitting President can be compelled to testify. Depending on timing, questions surrounding a presidential subpoena could engulf the Kavanaugh nomination in the Senate because of his previous defense of expansive presidential powers, his reflections on the role of special prosecutors and the reality he could be sitting on the Supreme Court when and if the case gets that far.

Mueller is not politically tone deaf, so he may cut off any public actions on the Russian meddling investigation after Labor Day. However, it is unlikely he will wrap up the investigation before the November election.

If you can believe Trump tweets, indictments are possible for members of his family in connection with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Trump has now acknowledged was scheduled to get dirt on his opponent from Russian sources. That could scramble McConnell’s well-laid legislative schedule, adding to the irritation of his Senate colleagues who spent their summer recess tied to their desks in DC.

Joel prof photo.jpeg

Joel Rubin is a partner and leader of CFM’s federal affairs team based in Washington, DC. He has worked on Capitol Hill and now represents Pacific Northwest interests in Congress and with federal agencies.

‘Working Big Time’ or a Disaster in Process

 President Trump lavishes praise on his trade policies, which he says are “working big time.” Linfield agricultural economist Eric Schuck disagrees and says Trump tariffs will plummet US farmers into economic oblivion.

President Trump lavishes praise on his trade policies, which he says are “working big time.” Linfield agricultural economist Eric Schuck disagrees and says Trump tariffs will plummet US farmers into economic oblivion.

President Trump has tweeted that his tariffs are “working big time.” A Linfield professor who specializes in agricultural economics offers a different verdict.

“American farmers are going to suffer losses. How large those losses will be remains an open question,” writes Eric Schuck in a guest editorial published by the News-Register in McMinnville. “The end result is this: A multitude of growers are either playing without a safety net or facing a long fall to reach that net.”

According to Trump’s tweet posted over the weekend, “Every country on earth wants to take wealth out of the U.S., always to our detriment. I say, as they come, Tax them. If they don’t want to be taxed, let them make or build the product in the U.S. In either event, it means jobs and great wealth.”

Schuck paints a starkly different picture. “The U.S. exported about $12 billion worth of soybeans to China in 2017. That represents about half the total soybean exports from the United States and almost a third of all US farm receipts for soybeans. So US soybean trade with China is a big deal. Unfortunately, China recently canceled about a million tons of orders.”

Domestic soybean producers have avoided disaster by ramping up exports to Brazil, which has picked up the slack in selling soybeans to China, Schuck explains.

“On the surface, that would seem to mean U.S. growers aren’t taking a hit from our nascent trade war with China,” he wrote.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  China has been our best customer in part because it pays the best price. While our soybeans are now finding an outlet in Brazil, they are doing it at a price that has tumbled nearly 20 percent in the last 90 days.”

 Linfield College agricultural economist Eric Schuck takes issue with President Trump about the impact of tariffs on US commodity producers.

Linfield College agricultural economist Eric Schuck takes issue with President Trump about the impact of tariffs on US commodity producers.

The Trump administration has acknowledged tariffs are hitting US farmers hard. Their solution is a $12 billion one-time financial bailout. Schuck thinks the tonic is as bad or worse than the tariffs. Here is his explanation:

“To add insult to injury, the proposed remedies actually make things worse down on the farm. The US Department of Agriculture has announced its intention to use the Depression-era Commodity Credit Corporation to backstop falling prices. The mechanics are convoluted, but the CCC will basically act as the buyer of last resort for crops that no longer have a market.

“This leads to the federal government holding larger stores of surplus crops, most of which will wind up going into food banks or school lunch programs. While that can be helpful in some respects, the pressure of large domestic surpluses and demand diversion through food aid programs tends to drive crop prices down even further. And that drives up the cost to US taxpayers even more.”

While tariffs may not make economic sense, compensating US growers for their impact may violate international law, according to Schuck. “Any action to aid farmers beyond current levels would most likely expose the United States to lawsuits by both China and Brazil under World Trade Organization rules. And because the trade fiasco was triggered by US actions, we would most likely lose.”

Soybean producers aren’t the only US agricultural commodity to face repercussions from Trump’s tariffs. “Cherry growers witnessed tariffs rise as much as 50 percent while their crop was in transit to China,” Schuck says.” Unable to adjust, the price paid by Chinese consumers has held steady, while the price paid to American growers has fallen through the floor. Other commodities, notably apples, pears, chicken and pork, will soon suffer similar trauma.”

Trump thinks the US Treasury will reap the benefit of his tariffs. Schuck says, “As a result, the Chinese treasury stands to be the primary beneficiary of US tariffs on Chinese goods.”

Schuck claims, “None of this needed to happen. While China can be a frustrating trading partner, especially in terms of intellectual property, there were other ways to manage the problem. The Trans-Pacific Partnership offered to collectively exert leverage over China, in concert with the rest of our trading partners, but has been cast aside by the new administration. Instead, we find ourselves adrift with virtually no international support, because we’ve simultaneously started trade wars with everyone else who might share an interest in confronting China, including Canada, the European Union and Japan.”

Somewhat futilely, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promoted a $113 million Indo-Pacific infrastructure initiative last week, even as Asian leaders are forging ahead on a multilateral trade arrangement that reportedly would include China, but not the United States.

That provides interesting context for Schuck’s conclusion: “There’s only one way out of this: Declare victory and try to get back to the status quo. Unfortunately, that may no longer be an option.”

[The impacts from Trump tariffs continue to ripple outward, including a significant delay on a key traffic signal in Clackamas County.]

 

Natural Disasters Revive Talk of National Catastrophic Fund

 The Carr fire in Northern California, along with flooding in the East and hurricane damage and rising seas level in the Gulf states, has revived talk of a National Catastrophic Fund to provide a backup to state disaster relief funds and hopefully reduce upward pressure on homeowner and business insurance rates.

The Carr fire in Northern California, along with flooding in the East and hurricane damage and rising seas level in the Gulf states, has revived talk of a National Catastrophic Fund to provide a backup to state disaster relief funds and hopefully reduce upward pressure on homeowner and business insurance rates.

Western states are ablaze. Flash floods immerse the East. Hurricanes and tornados occur more frequently. Sea levels are rising as the global thermometer heats up.

Alarming news in stark contrast to tepid congressional action to extend national flood insurance by four months. That’s not a typo. Four months. To avert the program’s expiration during hurricane season. There was a four-month extension last year, too.

The fires, floods and fudging have rekindled calls for a National Catastrophic Fund, a bundled insurance vehicle to address all manner of catastrophes and avoid lurching from crisis to crisis, leaving victims in financial and emotional limbo.

“The catastrophe fund could provide private insurers a safety net by purchasing reinsurance and passing the savings on to consumers through lower premiums. The fund could also have a pool of money set aside for the immediate needs of victims,” The Tampa Bay Times editorialized in 2017.

Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist told NPR this week the time has come to stop equivocating and enact long-term reforms not only to national flood insurance, but also financial assistance for all national catastrophes. The former GOP governor of Florida said his state frequently suffers from serious hurricane damage and faces the specter of rising sea levels that could inundate large chunks of Florida’s coastline.

Crist said catastrophes have localized impacts, but they should be the concern of all Americans. Storm damage in the Northeast, wildfires in the West or hurricanes in the Gulf states, he argued, affect the entire country because “we’re all Americans.” 

One of the stumbling blocks to reform is political indecision about the $20 billion debt that exists in the national flood insurance program. Crist said the some or all of the debt should be forgiven as part of legislation to create a more all-encompassing fund to address damage caused by natural disasters.

The idea has been kicked around for at least a decade, but may resurface as a serious proposition in the wake of a string of disasters from coast to coast. The CEO of Allstate, one of the nation’s largest US insurance companies, endorsed the idea as far back as 2006 to provide a backup for state disaster relief funds that can easily be swamped by major events. Edward Liddy said “America is woefully unprepared” for natural disasters, which are occurring with increasing frequency.

Oregon has felt the heat of major wildfires near The Dalles and in Southern Oregon this year, even though it is early in the wildfire season. California is battling a string of wildfires from the south to the north, which have consumed homes and resulted in multiple deaths. Reports indicate parts of the Western United States may have experienced the hottest July in recorded history, and temperatures continue to climb.

‘America First’ Policies Raise Questions about US Leadership

 President Trump’s ‘America First’ policies have played well with his political base, but not so well with global leaders as tensions are growing over the specter of spiraling trade war with consumers at home and abroad likely to pay the price.

President Trump’s ‘America First’ policies have played well with his political base, but not so well with global leaders as tensions are growing over the specter of spiraling trade war with consumers at home and abroad likely to pay the price.

One of the unintended successes of President Trump’s ‘America First’ policies has been to galvanize the European Union, Japan and China to preserve and bolster multilateral trade, regulatory and security arrangements Trump disdains.

“After months of denialangerbargaining and depression, Europe and other parts of the world have accepted that Mr. Trump and his mission of disruption are not going away,” reports The New York Times.

Accounts suggest foreign leaders are stunned by Trump’s continuing attacks on traditional allies, cozy relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and seeming disavowal of America’s role as the leading advocate of a liberal world order.

EU leaders are especially astonished at being referred to as “foes.” In June, 29 EU ambassadors to the United States sent an open letter to Trump in defense of free trade and investment policies.

“Together, the US and EU have created the largest and wealthiest market in the world. The transatlantic economy accounts for half of the global gross domestic product by value, which directly supports more than 15 million high-quality jobs and $5.5 trillion in commercial sales. And nearly one-third of the world’s trade in goods occurs between the EU and United States alone,” the letter said. The ambassadors added that EU investment in the United States exceeds US investment in Europe.

EU leaders, despite qualms about Chinese trade practices that mirror Trump’s, have met with Chinese leaders without US involvement. According to the Times, the “summit meeting produced an unusual joint declaration and a common commitment to keep the global system strong.”

The EU then signed what has been described as the largest free-trade agreement in history with Japan, again with no US involvement.

Now, the EU is preparing “whopping tariffs” in response to proposed Trump tariffs on items such as German-made cars, noting that 45 out of 50 US states export more goods and services to Europe than China, totaling around $500 billion in 2016.

 GOP Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska may have spoken for the wave of critics who think Trump’s tariffs are undermining US exports that have taken years to cultivate and who believe his proposed $12 billion package of one-time financial aid to farmers won’t come close to co vering the long-term damage done by the tariffs.

GOP Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska may have spoken for the wave of critics who think Trump’s tariffs are undermining US exports that have taken years to cultivate and who believe his proposed $12 billion package of one-time financial aid to farmers won’t come close to co vering the long-term damage done by the tariffs.

On the regulatory front, the EU fined Google $5.1 billion for antitrust behavior, which drew a sharp rebuke from Trump. Google plans to appeal the EU ruling, but it may be forced to reckon with it in the marketplace in the meantime.

Interestingly, the basis for the fine echoed an unusually American-sounding rationale. “Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust chief, told the Times. “These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere.” 

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker travels to DC this week to discuss the deteriorating EU trading relationship with Trump officials.

Meanwhile, the impact of tariffs is beginning to be felt. The Associated Press carried a story last week about the stress felt by US soybean farmers, who are a target of retaliatory Chinese tariffs. One soybean farmer said he already has lost $250,000 in value for his current crop. Soybeans on the Chicago Board of trade have dropped $2 per bushel in value. Farmers interviewed say they still support Trump, but want to know what the end game is.

The Oregonian posted a story last week listing five Oregon exports at risk in a spiraling trade war with China. Noting Oregon exported $3.5 billion worth of goods to China in 2017, the article said the most vulnerable are:

  • Computer and electronic products ($2.1 billion)
  • Machinery ($435 million)
  • Chemicals ($363 million)
  • Transportation equipment ($262 million)
  • Agricultural products ($235 million)

Oregonian reporter Mike Rogoway provided a more comprehensive look at Oregon exports in a piece published in June. Among the interesting statistics Rogoway uncovered: 87,000 Fords produced in the United States were exported through the Port of Portland, 90 percent of which headed to China.

US business interests also remain frustrated at Trump efforts to negotiate changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement, which appear to have stalled and made more difficult by the election of a leftist president in Mexico.

Global tensions are growing over the budding trade war, as reflected by a statement coming out of the G20 meeting held in Argentina over the weekend. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attended the meeting and agreed to sign the joint statement.

Mnuchin acknowledged what he called “micro impacts” caused by the Trump tariffs, but defended them as a pathway to freer trade that is fair to the United States. News reports said Mnuchin and Chinese finance officials conversed during the 2-day meeting, but only engaged in “chitchat,” not serious negotiations.

There are harsher judgments of Trump’s policies. WorldPost editor Nathan Gardels. wrote, “The ‘American First’ president who denigrates democratic allies as foes is no longer the leader of the free world….Trump appears to be not even the leader of the United States.”

 

‘Critical’ Online Health Care Resource Quietly Shuttered

 A national clearinghouse for evidence-based health care best practices, which an OHSU official describes as a critical and singular resources, is being shuttered to save $1.2 million annually. It took a federal website watchdog to discover the online database’s disappearance.

A national clearinghouse for evidence-based health care best practices, which an OHSU official describes as a critical and singular resources, is being shuttered to save $1.2 million annually. It took a federal website watchdog to discover the online database’s disappearance.

Important battles are often fought in obscurity, such as the decision to shutter a 20-year-old online clearinghouse that serves as a convenient, reliable one-stop location for doctors to check out health care best practices.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which is part of the federal Health and Human Services Department, said it didn’t have the $1.2 million it costs annually to maintain the National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC). The Trump administration has targeted AHRQ for spending cuts or even elimination.

The National Guideline Clearinghouse quietly shut down July 16 and its trove of valuable information won’t be archived. The public may never have known except for reporting by Jon Campbell carried by The Daily Beast. Campbell’s story was spotted by Andy Giegerich of the Portland Business Journal, which is how we found out about it.

Giegerich pointed out an Oregon-angle on the story. Valerie King, director of research at OHSU’s Center for Evidence-based Policy, told The Daily Beast the clearinghouse was a “critical go-to source, and there is nothing else like in the world.” King described the clearinghouse as a “singular resource” to support evidence-based health care research.

“Part of what makes NGC unique is its breadth,” King said in her interview. “Drawing on research from all over the country and the world, from professional organizations and research institutes, the site offers a free, and virtually comprehensive, body of guidelines in a centralized and easily searchable location. Rather than seeking out guidelines from dozens of individual publishers, the NGC allows researchers to find the full range of resources in one stop.”

“The OHSU center was established in 2003 to offer head-to-head comparisons of drugs to public and private organizations, as well as consumers,” Giegerich reported. He noted former Governor John Kitzhaber served as leader of the center before his election to a third term.

It’s worth pointing out Campbell is a senior investigator for the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project, which defines its mission as “monitoring changes to government websites, holding our government accountable by revealing shifts in public information and access to Web resources, as well as changes in stated positions and priorities.” A major part of its work is “keeping track of data that has been removed during the Trump administration.” This is the group that highlighted the Trump administration’s removal of a 14-page website on Medicaid.com related to the Affordable Care Act.

Some 200,000 people visited the NGC each month prior to its closure, according to the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, which wrote the Trump administration urging it to salvage the online resource:

“Physician members across our specialty societies access NGC’s evidence-based guidelines to provide high-quality, value-based care to their patients. Given the current Administration’s focus on reducing physician burden, it should be recognized that NGC reduces the time that clinicians spend sifting through multiple society websites and peer-reviewed publications.”

Vox, also reporting on the clearinghouse closure, quoted Roy Poses with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute about the value of vetted health care guidelines as opposed to ones written by or at the behest of drug companies:

“The vetting role played by the NGC is a critical one. Many guidelines are actually written mainly for commercial purposes or public relations purposes. A guideline written for the treatment of depression, for example, may emphasize pharmaceuticals over talk therapy. The organizations writing the guidelines may be getting millions of dollars from big drug companies that want to promote a product. The people writing them may have similar conflicts of interest. NGC’s process provided a resource comparatively free of that kind of influence.”

[Thanks to Andy Giegerich and the Portland Business Journal for discovering this story.]

 

Big News Comes Under Small Headlines

 An unremarkable resolution promoting breastfeeding provoked a stunningly aggressive action by a US delegation to throttle it, at least until the Russians stepped in to salvage the resolution.

An unremarkable resolution promoting breastfeeding provoked a stunningly aggressive action by a US delegation to throttle it, at least until the Russians stepped in to salvage the resolution.

Sometimes the most revealing stories are the ones with small headlines reporting on events occurring in the shadows. Such as the stories reporting the United States aggressively sought to block a global resolution backing breast-feeding and deleting language favoring soda taxes to reduce obesity.

In both cases, the US position appeared in alignment with positions advocated by infant formula manufacturers and soda producers. Perhaps ironically, Russian delegates stepped in to preserve the global resolution backing breast-feeding. The delegates said they based their decision on “principle.”

Research solidly supports breast feeding, which makes the US position at the World Health Assembly in Geneva all the more puzzling and stunning to delegates from around the world, according to The New York Times

This wasn’t a friendly disagreement. Ecuador offered the resolution and the American delegation threatened to “unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid,” the Times reported. Ecuador capitulated.

“The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States,” the Times said. Other nations balked at requests to offer a substitute resolution in the wake of the US action. At least until Russia stepped in. The US delegates didn’t threaten the Russians.

Delegates were reportedly stunned by the “intensity” of the Trump administration’s opposition. They pointed to the $70 billion global baby food industry lurking in the shadows of the assembly. They also noted the Trump team’s position was diametrically opposed to the position expressed by the Obama administration.

“We were shocked because we didn’t understand how such a small matter like breast-feeding could provoke such a dramatic response,” an Ecuadorean official, who asked not to be identified because she was afraid of losing her job, told the Times.

At the same assembly, US officials successfully throttled a statement supporting soda taxes. That position squares with a Trump effort in NAFTA negotiations to limit Mexico’s and Canada’s ability to require labels on sugary beverages.

“The [US] delegation’s actions in Geneva are in keeping with the tactics of an administration that has been upending alliances and long-established practices across a range of multilateral organizations, from the Paris climate accord to the Iran nuclear deal to NAFTA,” the Times summarized.

The Trump administration has threatened to cut its $845 million contribution to the World Health Organization, which represents 15 percent of the group’s total budget.

“It’s making everyone very nervous, because if you can’t agree on health multilateralism, what kind of multilateralism can you agree on?” said Ilona Kickbusch, director of Global Health Center.

 

GOP, Dems in Turmoil Over Midterm Voter Pitches

 To regain political power in the midterm elections, Democrats need to reconnect with American workers who have gradually lost confidence in the party of the New Deal and the Great Society, according to a veteran Democratic political strategist. Republicans have to find a way to tout their tax plan that is sagging in popularity.

To regain political power in the midterm elections, Democrats need to reconnect with American workers who have gradually lost confidence in the party of the New Deal and the Great Society, according to a veteran Democratic political strategist. Republicans have to find a way to tout their tax plan that is sagging in popularity.

Heading into pivotal midterm elections this fall, Republicans and Democrats are both in turmoil over their value propositions to voters. Republicans may not be able to run on their record and Democrats are still searching for a platform with political traction.

Congressional Republicans planned to campaign based on a popular tax cut. However, the GOP tax cut faces sinking support, including in so-called Trump country as evidenced by a recent special House election in Pennsylvania that a Democrat captured.

Now congressional Republicans have an immigration mess on their hands. Already deeply divided, the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from their asylum-seeking parents at the border has apparently deepened the divide. House GOP leadership canceled plans last week to vote on a pair of immigration measures until after the November midterm election.

GOP congressmen face another political problem – backlash from their base if they criticize President Trump, as conservative voters seem bent on asserting at the ballot box that it is now the Trump Party, not a big-tent Republican Party.

Democrats aren’t any better off. They have a smoldering debate among progressives and centrists. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been demonized and molded into a rallying cry for conservatives. Trump has pummeled Democrats as obstructionists. There is confusion about whether to attack or ignore Trump and what themes will work in the midterm elections to flip control of the House and not lose ground in the Senate where the GOP holds a slim 51-49 margin.

In steps Jake Sullivan, who has been a senior adviser to President Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, with a keen read on where Democrats stand with voters and how they could earn their way back into power.

Sullivan argues in an essay published in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas that Democrats should realize public opinion is more conservative than liberals might hope on deeply divisive issues such as abortion, guns, immigration and race. Political pay dirt for Democrats, Sullivan says, lies in left-of-center economic issues such as taxation, health care, minimum wage and education funding.

“Just as the Great Depression discredited the ideas of the pre-New Deal conservatives who fought for total laissez-faire outcomes in both the political branches and the courts, so the Great Recession once again laid bare the failure of our government to protect its citizens from unchecked market excess,” Sullivan writes. “There has been a delayed reaction this time around, but people have begun to see more clearly not only the flaws of our public and private institutions that contributed to the financial crisis, but also the decades of rising inequality and income stagnation that came before — and the uneven recovery that followed. Our politics are in the process of adjusting to this new reality.”

In the face of political maps showing a lot of red, Sullivan insists “There’s something profound happening in American politics right now. A tide is moving. The center of gravity is shifting. Democrats have a rare opportunity to set bold goals and meet them. By offering new ideas based on tried and true principles –taking the big, ambitious governing style that used to define our party and our politics and putting it to work to meet the challenges of our time – we can achieve growth and fairness, innovation and equality.” 

He added, “Moments like this don’t come around that often in history. Democrats must seize this one.”

The four pillars of his advice to Democrats are:

  • Recognize that present-day jobs are as or more valuable than future jobs, which demands rethinking the contemporary workplace to ensure health insurance coverage, fair wages, antic-discrimination and the right to unionize.
  • Promote policies that reflect changing family structures with more two wage-earning parents, single mother-led households, college students moving back home and a ballooning older adult population that is living longer.
  • Talk about workers in sectors beyond manufacturing in fields such as health care and the service economy and promote workplace, tax and educational policies that sustain the American Dream, while addressing serious issues like opioid addiction.
  • Build alliances with 21st century entrepreneurial businesses to pursue tax, trade and antitrust policies in a globalized economy that keep America competitive and increase income security for US workers.

Republicans have a clearer litany of their policy views – lower taxes, fewer regulations, anti-abortion, free trade and conservative judges. However, like any party in power, the GOP has to defend what it has done – or not done – as well as it what it stands for.

Sullivan’s prescription for Democrats may be the clearest expression of what Democrats could wield to win the seats in Congress and state legislatures they need to gain back power they have gradually lost in the past decade as worker confidence has waned.

 

Questioning a Policy of Treating Children as Political Prisoners

 Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wasn’t satisfied hearing about the effects of a Trump administration policy to separate children from their asylum-seeking Latin American parents, so he went to Texas to see the border processing center and the former Walmart store where untold children are being held effectively like political prisoners.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wasn’t satisfied hearing about the effects of a Trump administration policy to separate children from their asylum-seeking Latin American parents, so he went to Texas to see the border processing center and the former Walmart store where untold children are being held effectively like political prisoners.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wasn’t satisfied hearing about the Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy that separates children from their asylum-seeking parents when they surrender at our southern border. He wanted to see what was happening first-hand. He came away calling it Trump’s “zero humanity” policy.

As he relates in an op-ed published over the weekend by the Portland Tribune, Merkley showed up at the McAllen, Texas border processing center. What he saw, he says, left a “searing” memory and confirmed his worst fears. “Essentially, this adds up to the Trump administration choosing to inflict tremendous trauma on children to discourage families from seeking asylum in the United States,” Merkley wrote.

When he asked border processing center the rationale to separate children from their parents, Merkley says he was told they were just following orders. (Trump officials say tough measures are needed to secure the nation’s southern border and prevent MS-13 gang members from slipping into the country.)

Merkley described the place as a large warehouse with chain link fencing to create “holding cells.” He saw young children formed into lines. Some of the children were only four or five years old. Chilling images sadly and starkly reminiscent of a bygone, but not forgotten time. And it’s apparently not working. According to border agents, as many as 650 children were culled from their parents in a single 12-hour period and as many as 11,000 effectively orphaned children are being held in resettlement camps. The horrors asylum-seekers are escaping are worse than the horrors the Trump team inflicts.

From the border processing center, Merkley followed the trail of children to a detention facility in Brownsville, Texas, located in a former Walmart and run by a nonprofit. The senator had sought permission to view the facility, but it wasn’t granted. He figured he would try knocking on the door and see what happened. He didn’t get in.

“I don't know how many children are there. I don't know if they have sufficient counselors. I don't know how successful agencies are in finding homes for them across the country. I don't know if they are in contact with their parents, but I've heard that is extremely difficult,” Merkley recalled. “I do know this: The policy that brought children there, separated from their parents, is absolutely horrific and wrong.”

It isn’t surprising Merkley is using his unrequited trip to Texas as a political springboard:

“Americans should be outraged that our tax dollars are used to inflict spiteful and traumatizing policies on innocent children. I am calling on the relevant Senate committees to hold hearings about this situation. And I'm calling on all Americans to register their opposition with their House and Senate members.

“As a parent, I cannot imagine the horror of having my kids taken from my arms with no idea where they're going or when I might see them again. When I think of that little 4- or 5-year-old boy, stranded and scared – and think of the hundreds, perhaps thousands more children who are experiencing that same suffering – my heart breaks and my blood boils.”

Merkley’s appeals, at least so far, haven’t moderated the Trump policy. In fact, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week stricter conditions for people seeking political asylum. Whatever the merits of discounting domestic abuse and gang violence as reasons to grant asylum, the message was clear – don’t come, you’re not welcome, we will treat you as criminals.

Merkley rhetorically asks Trump: “What nation can justify inflicting harm on children to discourage parents from exercising the international right to seek asylum from persecution? No religious tradition nor moral code in the universe supports such a strategy.” The only strategy where such a policy makes some semblance of sense is a political strategy in which immigrants are the problem and barbed borders are the solution.