I remember about a year ago during the Republican Presidential Debates Texas Senator Ted Cruz chided one of the other Candidates because ‘he’ would compromise with the Democrats. Mr. Cruz swore to the Voting Public that when He is President that he will not negotiate/compromise with the Democrats. I guess the reason this statement didn’t attract more attention was that by this point in time the Media was more focused on the ‘Trump Show’ (the Republican Debates). Think about that statement for a moment folks. Politics, the whole Chess Game of it, always wanting Check and then Check Mate. The reason they are in Politics tend to be Super Ego’s, wealth and the fame. Trouble for most people is that they don’t have or do not wish to spend their own money to finance these hugely expensive Political Campaigns. Here is where a very small handful of people in the top of the DNC and the RNC run/ruin Our Country and everyone’s lives. Those who dictate where the ‘contributions’ will go to, these way too few people, point to polar ends, thus destroying Our Country from the inside.
Well, President Trump and the Republicans themselves defeated themselves on the Health Care Issues earlier today. I think what happened earlier today was a good thing, I do mean that. We witnessed individual Congressmen/Women break from the ‘Rank and File’ ‘Party Line’. We witnessed quite a few politicians who were of a President’s own Party stand up to the Party Leadership and say No. You know something? Didn’t ‘We The People’ put these people in ‘Office’ to do what ‘we’ put them in there for? Wouldn’t this be great if it could be the pebble that breaks and now the mountain face falls off? Yep I know it’s just a pipe dream that Elected Officials could actually care something for us ‘little people’, us little ole Voters.
The department’s funding would be cut by 13 percent, to $16.2 billion, according to the proposal released early Thursday.
“The Budget request reflects a streamlined DOT that is focused on performing vital Federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects,” the budget document says.
“The Budget reduces or eliminates programs that are either inefficient, duplicative of other Federal efforts, or that involve activities that are better delivered by States, localities, or the private sector.”
The budget limits funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment program, eliminates funding for the Essential Air Service program and ends federal support for long-distance Amtrak trains.
The blueprint also eliminates funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which was set up by the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package to provide an extra injection of cash for surface transportation projects.
The grants are appropriated by Congress every year but were never authorized. The proposal estimates that scrapping the program would save $499 million annually.
TIGER grants are a popular funding tool among cities and states. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao expressed support for TIGER grants and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program during her confirmation hearing.
But the program has drawn the ire of Republicans, who have sought to eliminate or reduce the grants in previous spending bills.
“If [TIGER grants] were to be cut, then it’s big time trouble,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told The Hill last week.
“Department of Transportation TIGER grants are something that are considered essential to rehabbing our infrastructure.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee, has promised to protect the grants in any spending bill.
Trump vowed as a candidate and after winning the White House to improve the nation’s infrastructure, calling for repairing U.S. roads, bridges and airports.
“Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land,” Trump said during a joint address to Congress last month.
“To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs.”
Almost 50 years ago, a young Marine lieutenant led a combat patrol through a village in Vietnam. Having witnessed numerous patrols of this sort before, villagers continued about their daily routine.
After hearing a village elder say something to a fellow villager, the lieutenant immediately stopped his men. With new orders issued and weapons at the ready, the patrol quietly advanced, ultimately surprising an enemy force just outside the village that had been waiting to spring an ambush on the Marines.
The lieutenant never knew if the elder had intentionally tipped him off or simply did not know he spoke Vietnamese, overhearing an ambush lay ahead. Being able to speak the local language fortuitously saved American lives.
This story holds a lesson we need heed in view of a meeting President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, just held with his staff.
McMaster informed his people that linking terrorism to radical Islam – a message Trump conveyed during his presidential campaign, in his inaugural speech and ever since then – is not helpful, as such terrorists are “un-Islamic.”
An Iraq war veteran and student of history, McMaster is apparently taking a stand – similar to that espoused by former President Obama – not to suggest Islam itself is violent but that extremists have hijacked Islam, giving it a violent interpretation.
It will be interesting to see how this interpretation plays out with Trump and whether he decides to throttle back on his own assertion about Islam or has McMaster throttle back on his. In his Feb. 28 speech to Congress, Trump did not back off from linking terrorism to radical Islam. As to whom, between these two, has the better grasp on the religion, another story need be told.
To protect his identity, an Arabic translator working in a refugee center in Germany, dealing with hundreds of Muslim migrants daily, will be referred to as “X.” A secret X has kept from all who reside at the center is that he is a Christian. Revealing this at the center would be a death sentence for him.
Speaking the language, X understands exactly what refugees think about non-Muslims who have opened up their hearts to them: They seek to carve those hearts out!
X attests it is frightening to hear what is said within these centers. Having escaped death in their native lands, having been given food and shelter in a non-Muslim land, having been given access to welfare programs to help them get on their feet, these Muslim refugees are not appreciative. What Germans do for the refugees is expected of them in recognition of Islam’s religious superiority.
But, most frighteningly, while accepting Western generosity, these refugees conspire eventually to relieve their hosts of their lives and property. These refugee centers are transitioning into dens of iniquity.
A group known as “Open Doors Germany” is documenting how this mindset thrives among Muslim refugees. Refugees attend mosques where clerics deliver hate-filled sermons against all non-Muslims, including their German hosts.
This leads to the persecution of Christians at the refugee centers. Christian refugees in Rotenburg who dared attend a church service, returned to the center to find threatening graffiti on the walls of their room reading, “Cut the Christians’ heads off!”
Such threats have not lain idle. Christians find it difficult to sleep in the centers, knowing someone in the next room believes his faith mandates he kill them. Hundreds of attacks are recorded. Open Doors revealed how there have been “assaults, stabbings, life-threatening situations … (with) some refugees end(ing) up in the hospital.”
Muslims admonish Christian refugees as “unclean.” Males assert their right under Islam to rape Christian women. As Germany and many other European countries have borne witness, Muslim males believe this right extends to native Christian women as well. This is evidenced today by rape epidemics in many of these Western countries.
We are foolish not to accept the fact mosques, whether in Muslim-majority countries or not, feed Islam’s followers with hate messages for non-Muslims. So fed, some opt to radicalize and act on them; some do not. But we need understand terrorism emanates from such hate speech against non-Muslims. Because Islam’s foundation is built upon this hatred, it is not extremists who have hijacked Islam to give it a violent interpretation; it is moderates who have hijacked Islam to give it a non-violent one.
Interestingly, several Muslim countries recognize that a link does exist between Islam and terrorism and, therefore, refuse to accept Muslim refugees.
This brings us back to McMaster’s instruction to his staff not to couch terrorism in terms of radical Islam and the Marine lieutenant who led his patrol in Vietnam.
McMaster’s guidance to his staff seems to stem from concerns non-radical Muslims, offended by our linking terrorism to Islam, might become radicalized. What he dismisses by doing so, however, is that Muslims are already fully indoctrinated by their clerics and the Quran to hate non-Muslims. Such indoctrination leaves us not knowing whom among them might opt for radicalization. But the possibility Muslims so programmed with a hateful ideology might be motivated to act radically imposes a duty upon our leaders to forewarn us of the danger that an ambush may lay ahead.
If the lieutenant leading his patrol in Vietnam had not understood the language, he would have led his patrol into an ambush. Few Americans understand Arabic and, thus, what clerics teach in their mosques or Muslim refugees discuss in their centers. Efforts by Open Doors to reveal this is critical to avoid the ambush Islam plots for non-Muslims and which it hopes, through our continuing ignorance, we not know lies ahead.
We are way past the time our leaders need worry honestly about Islam’s hatred and intolerance for us might possibly radicalize Muslims to undertake acts of terrorism. That seed has already been implanted by Islam’s clerics into their followers’ collective psyche. It is time our leaders now be honest with us, educating the American people and acknowledging that Islam, indeed, promotes terrorism.
On this website I have called out Mr. Trump several times for acting like an immature, ignorant, egomaniac yet last evening’s speech in front of the Congress did give my wife and I a little bit of hope. We had been saying that we weren’t planning on watching it up until about two hours before it came on. Even though neither of us like the man who is Donald Trump we both do respect the office of the Presidency so be decided to watch it and hope. Our household are all registered Independent voters who cannot stand the Democratic or the Republican parties. We want both parties to ‘meet in the middle’ on the issues that are destroying the lives of the poor, the lower middle-class and the middle-class people here in ‘Our Country’. Last evening we watched how the Democratic side of the aisle showed their immaturity over and over again. Even when the President spoke kindly of issues that the Democrats talk about wanting, they kept their butts in their seats and sat on their hands. There was one notable exception and that was when a couple of lady Democratic Congresswoman were doing the thumbs down giggling stupidity. These two ladies acted like they were spoiled brats in grade school. I have to say we are glad that neither one of these children were there representing our Congressional District. Last night was the first time that we have seen Mr. Trump act like a President, we liked about 90% of what he had to say. Now it is the turn of the Senate and the Congress to start acting like adults, somehow I honestly doubt that they will.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has rejected with stunning speed a motion from the Department of Veterans Affairs that it be allowed to stop taking steps toward reimbursing hundreds of thousands of veterans, for the non-VA emergency care costs they have paid, until higher courts rule on VA’s appeal.
Warning of possible “accounting chaos” if payments must begin before appeals are exhausted, VA lawyers Friday filed a motion with the Veterans Claims court to stay the “precedential effect” of the court’s decision last year in Staab v. McDonald, now renamed Staab v Shulkin with a new VA Secretary in office.
VA should not have to continue to take complex and costly steps toward reimbursing these veterans or survivors for non-VA emergency health care claims, VA lawyers argued, because the Veterans Claims court decision is likely to be overturned, which would mean VA isn’t liable to pay a rising mountain of claims.
By Monday, however, the Veterans Claims court applied a rubber stamp of red ink to VA’s stay request, ruling “Motion Denied.” Judge Alan G. Lance Sr. signed the stamp on behalf of a three-judge panel.
“It’s the quickest judicial ruling I’ve ever seen,” chuckled Barton F. Stichman, one of three attorneys for the appellant, Richard W. Staab. Staab is an 84-year-old Air Force veteran who had to pay roughly $48,000 in unreimbursed medical expenses following emergency health surgery in the private sector in 2010.
VA claim experts told Staab that because he was eligible for Medicare Part A, any additional out-of-pockets costs he incurred tied to non-VA emergency care were his responsibility. Under a 1999 law, VA only has covered outside emergency care if a veteran has no other health care coverage, which would include Medicare.
Staab sued, arguing that Congress changed that law in 2009 but that VA chose to ignore the change and continued to deny emergency care reimbursements to any veteran with alternative health care coverage.
Last April a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims agreed with Staab, finding that VA, in rewriting regulations, ignored the “plain language” of the 2009 statute which Congress passed to protect VA-enrolled veterans from out-of-pocket costs when forced to use non-VA emergency care.
VA’s plea for reconsideration by a full panel of judges on the Veterans Claims court also was denied last summer. This month attorneys for VA and the Justice Department filed a fresh appeal brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, urging its judges to overturn the Veterans Claims decision.
They argue that Congress in 2009 did change language of one relevant provision of law, but it left another provision untouched, which VA appropriately used to continue to deny claims for reimbursement of non-VA emergency care.
In their motion to stay the effect of Staab until the decision is overturned or appeals are exhausted, VA attorneys told the lower court that the volume of claims affected is “indeed significant.” Since April 8, the date of the Staab decision, VA has suspended consideration of 373,000 emergency care claims it previously would have denied. VA estimates reimbursements for such claims, filed in 2017 alone, would fall between $75 million and $273 million. Over five years, the added costs would fall between $394 million and $1.45 billion, and over 10 years the total could exceed $6.5 billion. Meanwhile, VA work toward paying the claims is proceeding.
“Policy program officials, revenue officials, rulemaking professionals, legal and other subject matter experts across the Department have already been directly involved in this undertaking and will continue until its completion,” wrote VA in its stay request. “Preliminary steps have been completed to craft the regulations and identify computer needs, and absent the grant of the stay, VA will need to proceed with costly software upgrades and continued investment in resources.”
Despite the “strong possibility” Staab will be reserved, VA argued, without a stay it will continue a “heavy and irreversible investment in rulemaking and implementing” the decision, using up resources that VA should be applying “to health care programs that would undisputedly benefit veterans now.”
VA has been fighting the Staab decision in Congress too. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) revealed during the Feb. 1 confirmation hearing of Dr. David Shulkin to be the VA Secretary, that some senators schemed twice last year with VA to try to offer quietly, and to pass by unanimous consent, bills that would reverse the effect of Staab and modify the 2009 law on VA emergency care reimbursements.
Rounds referred to them as “hotline bills,” which he and other senators blocked. Rounds asked Shulkin his opinion of such back-door efforts.
“My opinion doesn’t matter because this is law,” Shulkin said. “The judges have ruled … I have instructed VA to start putting together (the) regulation that it’s going to take to be able to start paying these emergency room bills. Every day we delay, veterans are going to be put in the middle and that’s really unfair to them.”
But Rounds reminded Shulkin that the VA is appealing Staab and so its lawyers “continue to do battle on this.”
Shulkin agreed he should “clarify our position.” He said, “While VA is moving forward to start paying these bills” it also “does not believe that the court interpreted the statute correctly … and so we will see what happens. But in the meantime, I am not going to allow veterans to be put in the middle like we have been continuing to (do). We are going to move forward and we will do it with speed to make sure we start paying these bills as soon as we possibly can.”
Rounds noted the costs involved, as much as $10 billion over 10 years, which will fall on veterans “if the VA doesn’t pay it. You don’t have the money in your budget. Are you prepared to ask Congress for appropriate funds,” he asked.
Shulkin expressed concern that Staab and the 2009 law change is “a new interpretation of a benefit for veterans who have other health insurance” and need emergency care, in many cases for conditions that are not service connected.
“If we do not get additional funds authorized, that money will come from the services we provide today to veterans, and they will have less health care,” Shulkin warned. “So, yes, we will … ask (Congress) to help support with additional funding this new benefit — if it is not overturned on appeal from the Department of Justice.”
Staab’s attorney Stichman, who is joint executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, said the court was right to reject VA’s stay request because its chances of winning on appeal actually are low. Also, more delay in paying claims would cause “irreparable harm” to elderly veterans.
“If they happen to die while the claim is on appeal then they’ll never see the money and the debt would pass on to the estate,” Stichman said.
Send comments to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120, or email [email protected], or twitter: Tom Philpott @Military_Update
A shadowy Iranian general responsible for the deaths of nearly 500 Americans traveled to Moscow Wednesday to meet with high-ranking Russian officials — a trip that violated multiple United Nations resolutions forbidding him from leaving his country, multiple western intelligence officials with direct knowledge of the visit told Fox News.
Qassem Soleimani, center, attending a September 2016 meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani arrived in Terminal A of Vnukovo airport outside Moscow on Feb. 14 on Mahan Air WD084 at 12:13 p.m. local time and was scheduled to remain in Russia for a few days for meetings, officials said.
Soleimani is visiting Moscow to express his displeasure with the Russian government over their relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, mainly regarding weapons deals and strengthening economic ties, sources told Fox News.
The CIA would not immediately answer a request for comment. A State Department spokesman said he was unaware of the visit.
This is Soleimani’s third trip to Moscow following visits in April and July last year. Soleimani is thought to be the mastermind behind Iran’s proxy war in Syria in order to prop up the Assad regime. Soleimani met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu days after the Iranian nuclear deal was agreed to in Vienna. Iran has been a key ally along with Russia in Syria, working together to shore up support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against opposition fighters, some of whom are backed by the United States.
The Quds Force, which Soleimani heads, is the special operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, responsible for supporting terrorist proxy forces across the Middle East. Soleimani reports directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Soleimani was first designated a terrorist and sanctioned by the U.S. in 2005 for his role as a supporter of terrorism. In October 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department tied Soleimani to the failed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Testifying before Congress last year, former Secretary of State John Kerry said Soleimani and the Quds Force would continue to face sanctions even after some UN sanctions were lifted on Iran following the landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.
UN Resolution 1747 prohibits Soleimani to travel, and any country that lets him transit or travel is also defying sanctions. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and would be a aware of the restrictions against meeting him.
During his confirmation hearing before Congress in 2015, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said many Americans were killed by Iranian-backed forces under the command of Soleimani.
“The number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren’t always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn’t necessarily have the forensics to support that,” Dunford told lawmakers.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry said five days after Soleimani’s Moscow visit that he would never receive sanctions relief.
“Under the United States’s initiative, Qassem Soleimani will never be relieved of any sanctions,” Kerry said.
Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews
A new, liberal tea party is forming. Can it last without turning against Democrats?
Angry Utahns pack Chaffetz’s home state town hall
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) got a frosty reception in his home state on Feb. 9, at a town hall. Angry constituents packed a high school auditorium, grilled the high-ranking congressman with questions and peppered him with boos and chants while protesters amassed outside.(Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
Grass-roots movements can be the life and death of political leaders.It’s a well-worn story now about how John A. Boehner, then House minority leader, joined a rising star in his caucus, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, in April 2009 for one of the first major tea party protests in the California Republican’s home town of Bakersfield.
A little more than six years later, after they surfed that wave into power, the movement consumed both of them. Boehner was driven out of the House speaker’s office and McCarthy’s expected succession fell apart, leaving him stuck at the rank of majority leader.
Democrats are well aware of that history as they try to tap the energy of the roiling liberal activists who have staged rallies and marches in the first three weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
What if they can fuse these protesters, many of whom have never been politically active, into the liberal firmament? What if a new tea party is arising, with the energy and enthusiasm to bring out new voters and make a real difference at the polls, starting with the 2018 midterm elections?
Republicans were forced to reschedule votes for key cabinet picks after Democrats intensified their opposition to President Trump’s nominations. (Video: Alice Li, Whitney Leaming/Photo: Getty/The Washington Post)
With a 10-day recess beginning next weekend, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has instructed her members to hold a “day of action” in their districts, including town halls focused on saving the Affordable Care Act. The following weekend, Democratic senators and House members will hold protests across the country, hoping to link arms with local activists who have already marched against Trump.
“It was important to us to make sure that we reach out to everyone we could, to visit with them, to keep them engaged, to engage those that maybe aren’t engaged,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters at a Democratic retreat in Baltimore that ended Friday. The trick is to keep them aiming their fire at Republicans and Trump, not turning it into a circular firing squad targeting fellow Democrats.
“Now we want people to run for office, to volunteer and to vote,” Luján added.
It’s too early to tell which direction this movement will take, but there are some similarities to the early days of the conservative tea party.
In early 2009, as unemployment approached 10 percent and the home mortgage industry collapsed, the tea party emerged in reaction to the Wall Street bailout. It grew throughout the summer of 2009 as the Obama administration and congressional Democrats pushed toward passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Many of the protesters were newly engaged, politically conservative but not active with their local GOP and often registered as independents. Their initial fury seemed directed exclusively at Democrats, given that they controlled all the levers of power in Washington at the time; the protesters famously provoked raucous showdowns at Democratic town halls over the August 2009 recess.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s first brush with the anti-Trump liberal movement came in a similar fashion to Boehner and McCarthy’s Bakersfield foray in 2009. Originally slated to deliver a brief speech at the women’s march in New York, Schumer instead spent 4 1/2 hours on the streets there, talking to people he had never met. By his estimate, 20 percent of them did not vote in November.
That, however, is where Schumer must surely hope the similarities end.
By the spring and summer of 2010, the tea party rage shifted its direction toward Republican primary politics. One incumbent GOP senator lost his primary, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defeated the Kentucky establishment favorite, and three other insurgents knocked off other seasoned Republicans in Senate primaries (only to then lose in general elections).
One force that helped the tea party grow was a collection of Washington-based groups with some wealthy donors, notably the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity, who positioned themselves as the self-declared leaders of the movement. For the next few years, they funded challenges to Republican incumbents, sparking a civil war that ran all the way through the 2016 GOP presidential primaries.
Boehner could never match the rhetorical ferocity of the movement. He was perpetually caught in a trap of overpromising and under-delivering. Republicans never repealed Obamacare, as they derisively called the ACA, and they could not stop then-President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Boehner resigned in October 2015.
Democrats want and need parallel outside groups to inject money and organization into their grass roots. There are signs it is happening: The thousands of activists who protested at a series of raucous town halls hosted by Republican congressmen over the past week were urged to action in part by sophisticated publicity campaigns run by such professional liberal enterprises as the Indivisible Guide, a blueprint for lobbying Congress written by former congressional staffers, and Planned Parenthood Action.
What is less clear is whether such energy and resources will remain united with Democratic leaders — or will be turned on them, as happened with the tea party and the Republican establishment, if the activist base grows frustrated with the pace of progress.
There have been some signs of liberal disgruntlement toward Democratic leaders. Pelosi and Schumer (D-N.Y.) were jeered by some in a crowd of more than 1,000 that showed up at the Supreme Court two weeks ago to protest Trump’s executive order travel ban. Marchers showed up outside Schumer’s home in Brooklyn, demanding he “filibuster everything” and complaining that he supported Trump’s Cabinet members involved in national security.
But there are two key differences between the conservative and liberal movements: their funding, and their origins. Some anti-establishment liberal groups have feuded with leaders, but they are poorly funded compared with their conservative counterparts. And the tea party came of age in reaction not only to Obama but, before that, to what the movement considered a betrayal by George W. Bush’s White House and a majority of congressional Republicans when they supported the 2008 Wall Street bailout.
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There is no similar original sin for Democrats, as the liberal protests have grown as a reaction to Trump, not some failing by Schumer and Pelosi.
Schumer remains unconcerned about the few protesters who are angry at Democratic leaders. “I think the energy’s terrific. Do some of them throw some brickbats and things? Sure, it doesn’t bother me,” Schumer said in a recent interview.
How the liberal activists respond to early defeats may be the next sign of which direction the movement takes. Their demand that Schumer block Trump’s Cabinet is impossible to satisfy, because a simple majority can confirm these picks. All Schumer can do is drag out the debate, which he has done to an unprecedented degree.
The stakes will be even higher for the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, whose lifetime appointment still requires a 60-vote supermajority to reach a final confirmation vote. A Trump victory on Gorsuch might deflate the liberal passion, and some think that was the main ingredient missing for Democrats in 2016.
“We just didn’t have the emotional connection,” Pelosi told reporters in Baltimore. “He had the emotional connection.”
A surprise move by a group of House Republicans to gut an independent ethics office caught leaders flat footed — and sparked a national backlash.
Just hours after Republicans voted to gut the House’s independent ethics office, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s phone started lighting up with calls and texts.
The California Republican had tried to warn his colleagues about the political risks of defanging the Office of Congressional Ethics during a closed-door, secret ballot roll call Monday night. And after that vote, a number of lawmakers who agreed with McCarthy raised serious concerns about approving the controversial pitch in a public vote the next day.
By early Tuesday morning, McCarthy, Speaker Paul Ryan and the rest of GOP leadership realized the proposal was about to tank the entire House rules package — and implode the first day of the GOP-led Congress. They convened an emergency closed-door conference meeting around noon to discuss removing the ethics provision — but it was too late. Donald Trump had tweeted his disapproval, and the public outcry had risen to such a crescendo that all anyone wanted to talk about was an obscure House office few people had ever heard of just 24 hours before.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who added that the ethics snafu was an unforced error. “Sometimes people have to learn the hard way.”
House Republican’s push to neuter the OCE on the first day of a new Congress turned into a major public relations fiasco after the press, the public and president-elect himself came out against the move Tuesday. Trump, after all, ran on a platform of “draining the swamp” of an all-too-cozy Washington — a pitch that didn’t mesh well with the proposal to rein in oversight of lawmakers’ ethical issues.
So the opening of the 115th Congress, which was supposed to center on Obamacare repeal and GOP unity, ended up being being overwhelmed by another issue. That Ryan was re-elected speaker on the same day with only one Republican defection — a positive sign for a GOP leader who’s faced restive conservatives in the past — became a mere afterthought, for example.
Republican leaders vowed to revisit the issue over the summer, although Tuesday’s problems could provide a lesson. Given that they control all of the levers of power in D.C., Democratic resistance won’t provide the political cover it used to over the last eight years. Washington belongs to Republicans — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
“I think a move in that direction would be bad policy and bad politics,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who blasted the refoms. “It’s probably not the way you want to start out [the new Congress].”
A number of Hill Republicans have been seeking to curb the powers of the ethics watchdog for years. Privately, they say the office is too aggressive, pursues baseless anonymous tips and has become an unfair burden, both financially and politically, on lawmakers. Each time members approached ex-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about the matter, he deferred, saying this is something that should be done a bipartisan basis. But bipartisan reforms never materialized.
So Goodlatte, backed by a group of lawmakers who felt they had been wrongly accused by the OCE, devised a plan to rein in the office. They worked in secret for weeks, making sure word didn’t leak out to Democrats or the media. Then, just before House Republicans met to approve their rules package for the new Congress, they unveiled their amendment to scale back the powers of the OCE and put it under the House Ethics Committee’s jurisdiction.
The gambit caught leadership flatfooted, and Goodlatte’s side triumphed in the closed-door GOP meeting, but problems quickly developed. Democrats blasted Republicans for jamming through something so sensitive as their first act of the new Congress. Congress had created the office in the wake of Jack Abramoff scandal, which included the GOP lobbyist’s admission that he tried to bribe lawmakers. At the time, lawmakers hoped to stop anything like that from ever happening again.
Following a barrage of negative stories on Monday night, lawmakers were bombarded by a wave of phone calls to their offices criticizing the move. Republican leadership tried to change the narrative the following morning, although they never embraced Goodlatte’s proposal. Ryan put out a statement saying OCE was still independent despite the rules revisions, and McCarthy tried to argue the same during a press conference with reporters.
But that around the same time, Trump called out the proposal on Twitter.
“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it,” Trump said in one tweet, adding, “……..may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS.”
Those tweets, on top of the thousands of phone calls and the wave of negative press, sources said, were the nail in the coffin. Republicans who had supported the idea the night before started to second-guess themselves.
“I don’t think there was any problem with the merit of the policy that needed to be changed. I just think it was how it was done,” said longtime Trump supporter Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) “The perception is not good.”
Barletta said Trump’s tweets at Congress are going to send “some shockwaves through Congress”— and they should probably get used to it.
“It’s going to send shivers down the spines of some members,” he added.
Democrats, meanwhile, decided in a closed-door meeting that they would protest the OCE change when the rules package came to the House floor Tuesday. They were readying a plan to pull out their cell phones and start livestreaming a demonstration on the House floor — something that irked House Republicans during the June “sit in” on gun control. (Republicans also included a provision in the rules package to fine members for violating the prohibitions on photos on livestreaming specifically. )
Just after 11 a.m., GOP leadership met in the speaker’s office. By then, everyone was on the same page: It was time to strike the ethics change. Leaders convened an emergency conference, just hours before members were sworn in, to try to convince their colleagues to take out the OCE language.
McCarthy told Republicans they did not run for Congress to fight over an obscure office but to repeal Obamacare and do tax reform — and it was time to scuttle the rules change. He gave them an option: vote now to strike the Goodlatte amendment, or he would offer an amendment to do so on the floor himself, taking the fight into the public sphere.
He met some resistance. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who’s been under criminal and ethical investigation for years, was irate that leadership wanted the conference to back off. Young, as well as Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Raul Labrador (R-Utah) tried to get leadership to commit to reforming the office by a specific future date. GOP leadership would not.
Other Republicans said Trump should not have gotten involved in the matter to begin with. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) stood up to say Trump should not be meddling in internal House matters, according to several sources in the room. Shuster’s spokeswoman Casey Contres denied that he used those words, but acknowledged that he “did express, however, the importance of separation of powers and Congress establishing these rules — not the executive branch.”
In the end, even Goodlatte backed leadership’s propose to strike his provision, blaming the press and his adversaries for “gross misrepresentation” of his proposal.
The day left some members shaking their heads. Many, including Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), left the chamber Tuesday night crossing their fingers that the drama of the first day would not foreshadow the next two years to come.
“I think that there is going to be a lot of tough votes we will have to take and this wasn’t one of the toughest ones, so, I think we should learn from this,” he said. “Once you launch that ship, you’ve got to keep going… We need to go forth with more sense of purpose and direction.”
The amendment was proposed by Republican Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte
This move would weaken ethics oversight in Congress
Washington (CNN)House Republicans voted Monday night to gut Congress’ independent watchdog on the eve of a new era.
Republican members voted 119-74 — breaking with party leaders — during a closed-door meeting in favor of Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s proposal, which would place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of those very lawmakers, a move that outraged Democrats and outside ethics organizations.
The change in rules carries the appearance of House members taking power away from the office that can investigate them for misconduct, at a time when Republicans are about to have control of two branches of government with a mandate for shaking up Washington.
The proposal would bar the panel from reviewing any violation of criminal law by members of Congress, requiring that it turn over complaints instead to the House Ethics Committee or refer the matter to an appropriate federal law enforcement agency. The House Ethics Committee would also have the power to stop an investigation at any point and bars the ethics office from making any public statements about any matters or hiring any communications staff.
And the ethics office would no longer be able to accept or investigate any anonymous reports of alleged wrongdoing by members of Congress.
The full House of Representatives will now vote on it as part of a larger rules package up for consideration Tuesday.
Currently the ethics panel operates as an independent, non-partisan entity that has the power to investigate misconduct against lawmakers, officers and staff of the United States House of Representatives. Originally created by Congress under Nancy Pelosi’s speakership in the wake of multiple lobbying scandals, it continued to act as an independent body under then-House Speaker John Boehner.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top GOP leaders opposed the change to ethics rules, but rank-and-file members disregarded their views and voted to approve the new structure for ethics reviews going forward, according to a senior House GOP leadership source familiar with the closed-door discussion.
Members of both parties complain that panel often takes up matters based on partisan accusations from outside groups with political motivations, and once they launch a probe members have to mount expensive defense campaigns.
Pelosi slammed the move.
“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress,” she said in a statement Monday following the vote.
Pelosi added: “The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office.”
Pelosi Statement on Republicans Destroying Office of Congressional Ethics in Rules Package -…
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement after the House Republican Conference voted to include the Goodlatte amendment in the House Republicans Rules…
Goodlatte defended his proposal in the wake of the outrage Monday evening, telling CNN that the move “will make sure that work is properly done,” but “will also make sure that people who are wrongly charged have an opportunity to protect themselves.”
“There should be no entity in the entire federal government that doesn’t have review by some committee of the Congress so that’s all it sets up is oversight,” he said. “It still has its designated statutory responsibilities. It has some new rules that it has to follow but it still is empowered to take complaints from individuals as it was intended to do and investigate those complaints but every agency of the government whether it’s executive, legislative or judicial should have a committee that reviews it’s work.”
GOP Rep. Hal Rogers, the Appropriations Committee chairman, told reporters he backed the proposal because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Rogers said there were “numerous examples” of members “who were falsely accused by this group who had to spend a fortune to get their good name restored so I think there’s been an abuse.”
Texas Congressman Bill Flores also backed the change, saying the panel is “out of control, we don’t even get constitutional rights, constitutional protections. They don’t tell us who accuses us and they leak the data — they are out of control.”
Outside ethics group point to the ethics panel as the only real entity policing members and argue its independent status and bipartisan board are an appropriate way to oversee investigations.
“Gutting the independent ethics office is exactly the wrong way to start a new Congress,” said Chris Carson, spokesperson for League of Women Voters, in a statement. “This opens the door for special interest corruption just as the new Congress considers taxes and major infrastructure spending.”
Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the ethics office “has played a critical role in seeing that the congressional ethics process is no longer viewed as merely a means to sweep problems under the rug.”
“If the 115th Congress begins with rules amendments undermining (the ethics office), it is setting itself up to be dogged by scandals and ethics issues for years and is returning the House to dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated,” they said in a Monday night statement.
Eisen served as the top ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama and Painter held the same job under President George W. Bush.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a rally at Parade Ground in Dehradun, on December 27, 2016. (Vinay Santosh Kumar/HT Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi dismissed on Tuesday the charge that big businesses were benefitting from the demonetisation drive, and said the poor are happy but some people are upset because his move has hit the “ringleader of thieves”.A single stroke has destroyed terrorism, drug mafia, human trafficking and counterfeiting, he said at a BJP rally in Uttarakhand.“Did you give me a full mandate in 2014 only to cut ribbons and light ceremonial lamps at inauguration ceremonies? Didn’t you elect me to combat and end corruption? Shouldn’t we fight the evil with all our might?” he asked.
Drawing a metaphor for misappropriation of relief funds in the hill state, which was hit by a catastrophic cloud burst in 2013, he said even a scooter with tank for five litres could drink 35 litres.
“It is, in fact, so badly afflicted that one engine alone won’t suffice to take it out of that hellhole,” Modi said. “You will need to rev up another engine to rid the state of corruption.”
He urged people to vote the BJP to power so that “two engines” — the Centre and state governments — can work in tandem for the state’s development.
Modi also referred to the OROP (One-Rank-One-Pension) scheme for ex-servicemen and saluted the defence personnel for understanding the financial constraints of the Union government and for agreeing to take the arrears in four instalments.
The Congress and BJP have been at loggerheads in Uttarakhand ever since the Centre brought the state under President’s rule on March 27 after nine MLAs of the ruling party revolted against the Rawat government and sided with the opposition. Rawat was reinstated after he won a Supreme Court-monitored trust vote on May 10.
The PM targeted the Congress while offering the Rs 12,000-crore Chardham highway project ahead of the assembly polls.
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