Friday, February 24, 2017

Betsy DeVos opposed ending Obama bathroom mandate

The Trump Administration issued an order earlier this week ending the Obama era policy of federal micromanagement of public school bathrooms. As he issued the order, President Trump reportedly received opposition from a surprising source: newly confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Both CNN and the New York Times cite sources within the Administration who say that Mrs. DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions were in conflict over the initial draft of bathroom order. Both the Justice and Education Departments were initially in agreement that the Obama policy was an improper federal overreach into state and local matters. In a joint letter, the two departments said that Obama’s policy was enacted “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”

Mr. Sessions and the Justice Department favored a swift reversal of the policy to head off two pending Supreme Court cases that cover transgender bathroom usage. The possibility of a ruling by the high Court that would lock the Obama policy into place made it necessary to act before the cases came to the Supreme Court. The Court was scheduled to hear one of the bathroom cases in March.

The Times cited three Republicans who said that Mrs. DeVos initially resisted signing onto the Trump Administration order on the grounds that it might cause harm to transgender students. DeVos and Sessions clashed over the order and eventually took their disagreement to President Trump. Trump sided with Sessions and reportedly gave Mrs. DeVos the option of supporting the order or resigning.

DeVos eventually gave her assent to the order, but released a separate statement that said, “We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.”

The incident has caused some on the right to suspect that DeVos is soft on resistance to the gay rights movement. Red State pointed out that her political advisor, Greg McNeilly, is in a same-sex marriage and is a LGBT activist. In the Advocate, McNeilly said that DeVos and her husband went “out of their way to show affirmation” for his marriage and views.

“She would say it’s a part of her faith,” said McNeilly in the New York Times. “Her faith teaches her to be tolerant. And like most of America, she’s evolved.”

The New York Times also reported that DeVos’s support for gay rights goes back to the 1990s when she intervened to allow a transgender woman (a biological male) to use the women’s restroom at a Republican call center in Michigan.

John Truscott, a Republican political consultant who worked with DeVos’s husband, Dick, told Buzzfeed in January, “Betsy is supportive of gay marriage.” The Times reported that Betsy DeVos urged other Michigan Republicans to sign a Supreme Court brief in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015, but did not sign herself.

Ironically, LGBT activists opposed the confirmation of DeVos because they considered her a threat to gay rights and accused her of supporting groups that promoted therapy for people with a homosexual orientation. Politifact rated those charges as “mostly false.”

DeVos is apparently one of a growing number of Republicans, particularly from outside the Bible Belt, that support gay rights. President Trump seems to be a member of this group as well, even proudly waving an LGBT flag at a campaign rally last fall. Trump told the publisher of the gay newspaper, Bay Windows, earlier this month that there would be “more forward motion on equality for gays and lesbians.”

The establishment of pro-gay curriculums in many schools, including the entire state of California, has caused conflict with many parents who believe that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are immoral. The new revelations about Mrs. DeVos’s views on gay rights may cause many conservatives to wonder whether her sympathy for gay rights will outweigh her desire to return control of schools back to local school boards and parents.

Iraqi suicide bomber was Gitmo detainee

Ronald Fiddler blew himself up at an Iraqi army base near Mosul this week. Fiddler, a British citizen who changed his name to Jamal al-Harith after converting to Islam in the 1990s, was also a former detainee at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to the report in the Times of London and USA Today, al-Harith was captured by Coalition Forces in a Taliban prison in Afghanistan in 2001. When it was discovered that he had links to Osama bin Laden, he served two years in the Gitmo facility until being released in 2004 at the request of the government of Tony Blair. He was later paid compensation of 1 million pounds, about $1.25 million, for his detention.

In a statement, Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, said, “It is correct that Jamal al-Harith was released from Guantanamo Bay at the request of the British Government in 2004. He was not paid compensation by my Government. The compensation was agreed in 2010 by the Conservative Government [of David Cameron].”

Blair continued, “The fact is that this was always a very difficult situation where any Government would have to balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security, and we were likely to be attacked whatever course we took.”

Al-Harith was not the first Gitmo detainee to return to terror after being released. According to, a report released last year showed that, of 161 prisoners released by the Obama Administration, at least nine were confirmed to be “directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.” The Bush Administration released 532 Gitmo prisoners and 113 of these were reported to have rejoined terrorist groups.

Al-Harith, who was 50, traveled to Syria to join ISIS is 2014 where he went by the name Abu-Zakariya al-Britani. It is not known whether al-Harith gave the compensation received from the British government to ISIS.

ISIS announced al-Harith as a suicide bomber and released a picture of him, apparently taken just before his death, sitting in a four-wheel-drive truck with a big smile on his face. The terrorist group claimed that his attack caused multiple casualties, but the exact number is not known.

“It is him, I can tell by his smile,” al-Harith’s brother, Leon Jameson, told the Times. “If it is true then I’ve lost a brother, so another family [member is] gone.” Jameson added that his brother had “wasted his life.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Judge blocks Texas from defunding Planned Parenthood

A federal judge has blocked the State of Texas from stripping Planned Parenthood of state funding. In December, Texas served a “final notice of termination” to the abortion provider. The final notice culminated a process that began in October 2015.

According to the Associated Press, US District Judge Sam Sparks issued an injunction to prevent Texas from not paying the group, saying that the state had not provided evidence of wrongdoing. “A secretly recorded video, fake names, a grand jury indictment, congressional investigations — these are the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program,” Sparks wrote in his decision. “Yet, rather than a villain plotting to take over the world, the subject of this case is the State of Texas's efforts to expel a group of health care providers from a social health care program for families and individuals with limited resources.”

Sparks wrote that the videos showing Planned Parenthood employees conspiring to sell the body parts of aborted babies for profit was not sufficient in itself to terminate funding for the group. “The Court is unconvinced mere willingness, without any evidence of attempt, is enough to deprive a Medicaid beneficiary of the right to her otherwise qualified provider,” Sparks said in the ruling. Several state witnesses admitted under questioning that the actions of the Planned Parenthood employees in the videos were not illegal.

According to the Texas Tribune, attorneys for Planned Parenthood argued that Texas could not adequately replace the group as a provider of health services for the poor. Sparks agreed that in terminating Planned Parenthood without cause, Texas violated the right of Medicare patients to choose their provider. “After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the Court finds the Inspector General, and thus [the Texas Health and Human Services Commission], likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause," the ruling read. "Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider.”

Attorneys for Texas countered that other providers in the state would be able to accept Planned Parenthood’s Medicare patients if the group lost funding. The state has more than 5,300 providers in its Medicare system.

Six states have now attempted to cut funding for the controversial group and all have lost in court. In addition to Texas, defunding attempts in Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have all failed.

In addition, 13 states have conducted investigations into wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood that was alleged in a series of undercover videos, but no charges have been filed. Planned Parenthood denies any wrongdoing.

Texas Attorney-General Ken Paxton said that the state is disappointed in the decision and plans to appeal. “No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct,” Paxton said in a statement. “We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the potential for these types of horrors will continue.”

Planned Parenthood previously received $3.1 million from Texas in Medicaid funds. About 90 percent of that figure is federal money while the remainder is paid for by the state. The Trump Administration has threatened to defund Planned Parenthood at the federal level.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

GOP Ponders Killing Obamacare Contraceptive Mandate

As Republicans deal with the difficulties of rolling back the Affordable Care Act, one unpopular part of Obamacare that could be killed before the rest of the law is repealed is the contraceptive mandate. The mandate required health insurance plans to cover contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs at no out-of-pocket cost.

Unlike many aspects of Obamacare, the contraceptive mandate is not written into the text of the Affordable Care Act. The contraceptive mandate was created by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in 2011 as part of administrative rulemaking associated with the ACA. Many religious organizations were not exempted from the mandate even though they had ethical objections to providing contraceptives and abortifacients.

Ultimately, challenges to the mandate went all the way to the Supreme Court. In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Court ruled that the HHS mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and required an accommodation for the groups and companies who found the mandate immoral. In a compromise, the final HHS rule allowed companies to opt out of providing contraceptives and abortifacients in their insurance plans, but still required insurance companies to cover the drugs without a copay for employees.

Now, under the Trump Administration, there are signs that the current HHS policy may be about to change. The new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is Tom Price, a former congressman who opposed the mandate as a legislator. In a 2012 interview with Think Progress, Price said, “The fact of the matter is that this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country. The president does not have the power to say that your First Amendment rights go away.”

During his confirmation hearings, Price indicated that he is not opposed to contraception in general, even if he opposes the mandate. Price said, “I think contraception is absolutely imperative for many, many women and the system that we ought to have in place is one that allows women to be able to purchase the kind of contraception they desire.”

Because the contraceptive mandate was never enacted by Congress, it could be reversed by issuing a new HHS rule or an Executive Order. Administrative rules issued by agencies like HHS have the force of law, but are not subject to congressional votes.

“They could issue new guidance that says plans have more leeway to cover what they need to cover,” Laurie Sobel, associate director for women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told The Hill.

Alternatively, Republicans could include the mandate in a repeal of the Affordable Care Act to be voted on by Congress. Republicans reportedly plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a budget reconciliation that requires a simple majority vote. Elements of the repeal that are not included in the budget reconciliation would be subject to Democrat filibusters.

The Hill also noted that Republicans are considering making access to contraceptives easier by allowing them to be sold without a prescription. “We probably wouldn’t require that [mandate], but in doing that, we need to make them behind or across the counter,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), a former OB/GYN. “In other words, you come in [to a pharmacy], you want birth control, you get it, you go.”

It is important to note that, Obamacare does not provide for free contraception. There is no copayment or out-of-pocket cost, but there is still a price to be paid. The cost of the drugs is included in the premium for the health insurance which must still be paid by the employee or the business. In the case of religious companies that opt out, the cost must be borne either by the insurance company or spread among the other policy holders.

A solution to the problem of paying for contraception has been introduced by Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) in the form of a bill that would give consumers more control over medical spending through health savings accounts (HSAs). “Instead of having to get coverage approved from the government, an employer, or an insurance company, people will be able to use their [health savings account] funds directly for the products and services that they value,” Brat told the Daily Signal.

The Republican plans would give consumers and businesses more freedom of choice. People would have the freedom to buy health insurance policies that suit their own needs with less interference from the government. Women who want to use contraceptives would have easier access to low-cost contraceptives with pre-tax dollars from their HSA. Insurance companies would still be free to cover contraceptives without a copay if they want.

The oppressive HHS mandate can be rolled back with the stroke of a pen. The only question is what Republicans are waiting for.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Liberals are teed off over Trump golfing

(govt. of Japan/Wikimedia)
In a sign that things have come full circle since Barack Obama left the White House, some journalists are now pointedly noting how often President Trump has hit the links. President Obama was heavily criticized by Republicans – including President Trump – for spending too much time on the golf course.

Zeke Miller of “Time” got the ball rolling over the weekend with, appropriately enough, a tweet on Sunday. “[White House Deputy Press Secretary] @SHSanders45 confirms POTUS played ‘a couple of holes’ today and yesterday,” Miller informed the twitterverse.

Next, The Hill teed up a round that looked at Trump’s golfing as president more closely, noting that Trump had played golf “for the third weekend in a row.” Two of those weekend golf outings were at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort while one was at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Donald Trump has been president for five weekends.

The Hill does note that last weekend, Trump played with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in what could be termed as a business meeting on the golf course. President Trump is undoubtedly practiced in the art of closing deals on the golf course, a time honored business tradition.

Over the past few weeks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico and NPR have all run articles pointing out the inconsistency between campaign rhetoric and presidential behavior. Windsor Mann of USA Today saw the glass as half full: “This is great news, particularly if you hate Trump’s politics. The more time he spends playing golf, the less time he has to play president.” Trump responded to the critics with another round of golf.

Data was unavailable to handicap the golfing habits of Trump and Obama at only a month into his presidency, however Golf Digest did analyze the previous duffer-in-chief’s golf habits. Barack Obama played 306 rounds as president, which translates into 38 rounds per year or about 13 holes per week. While this sets a high bar for Trump to beat, it falls far short of the estimated 1,200 rounds played by President Woodrow Wilson or the 800 by President Eisenhower.

The Resurgent has noted in the past that Donald Trump and Barack Obama have many similarities. The love of golf and the desire to hit the links in Golf Cart One seems to be another thing that the two men have in common. Hopefully, President Trump will learn from the mistakes that so often put his predecessor in the rough.

As with much of the partisan criticism of President Trump, it mirrors critiques of President Obama from the right. That the two parties are reversing many of their opinions on presidential behavior is par for the course.

Originally published on The Resurgent          

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Trump approval is 21 points below presidential average - and falling

President Trump has had problems with his approval rating ever since entering the race for president. After almost a month in office, the situation remains unchanged. In fact, Trump’s approval rating at this point in his administration is lower than that of any other president of the modern era.

Gallup’s daily tracking of the presidential approval rating found that Trump is currently at 40 percent approval. This puts Trump 21 points below the average for presidents since polling began in the Eisenhower era. He is 11 points below the lowest previous mid-February rating, Bill Clinton in 1993 at 51 points. Jimmy Carter had the highest one-month approval at 71 percent.

President Trump is the first president since Eisenhower to start with approval below 50 percent and has already moved further into negative territory. As he was inaugurated, Trump had 45 percent approval, five points above his current level. On average, presidents have gained one percentage point by mid-February, but Presidents Eisenhower, Obama and Clinton also saw their ratings decline. At seven points, President Clinton had the largest decline.

So far, only Bill Clinton has fallen below 40 percent approval in his first year. Trump stands one point away from the dubious distinction of being the second to do so.

Trump’s approval is concentrated within the Republican Party. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans approve of the president while only 35 percent of independents and eight percent of Democrats approve.

At less than a month into his presidency, Trump has plenty of time to win over the American public, but this may require a change of style. Such a change is something that Trump seems very unlikely to do. His approval may also benefit if his policies lead to a dramatic improvement in the economy.

Although it is still much too early to make predictions, the president’s prospects for re-election seem dim unless he can appeal to a broader range of voters. Or unless the Democrats nominate another historically unpopular and incompetent candidate.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Is Repeating Obama's Mistakes

After only a few weeks, it is far too early to judge the eventual outcome of the Trump Administration. Nevertheless, there are disturbing signs that, in some ways, President Trump is following in the footsteps of none other than Barack Obama and may be repeating some of his predecessor’s worst mistakes.

One of the most obvious parallels between Presidents Trump and Obama is their tendency to go it alone. President Trump started his administration with a flurry of Executive Orders, some rolling back Obama’s executive actions and some starting his own initiatives. Some of this was to be expected since Trump promised to end several of Obama’s executive actions. More disturbing to those who support the rule of law, during the campaign Donald Trump said that President Obama “led the way” on Executive Orders, hinting that he may use them to bypass Congress as Obama did.

When President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration lost several prominent court cases, the president’s reaction was similar to what one might expect from President Obama. Trump attacked the judges who ruled against him on Twitter.

Trump’s attacks hearken back to President Obama’s own antagonism against judges. In 2010, Obama attacked the Supreme Court, not on Twitter, but in his formal State of the Union Address. The remark in the wake of the Citizens United decision was Obama’s most famous attack on the bench, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Obama frequently criticized the Court and tried to influence its decisions on cases, including the challenges to the Affordable Care Act. The fact that Obama’s challenges to the independence of the judicial branch were not delivered via Twitter does not make them any less problematic.

Even after losing in court, President Trump’s response is to craft a new Executive Order rather than work with Congress in an attempt to find a bipartisan solution to the immigration problem. This echoes President Obama’s strategy of circumventing Congress after Republicans won control of the House. Reports from Republicans indicate that Mr. Trump has been uninvolved in the process of crafting a replacement for Obamacare even though his own party controls both houses of Congress. Voters have indicated that their preference was for both presidents to work with Congress, rather than go it alone.

The two presidents also tend to personalize any criticism of their administrations or their policies. President Obama typically refused to consider that his opponents were patriotic Americans who had genuine disagreements on policy. According to Obama, his Republican opponents were anti-science, warmongers, and prejudiced against minorities and immigrants. He called Republicans “hostage takers,” saboteurs and “deadbeats” to name a few insults. Largely forgotten now, President Obama even had problems with the press and was accused of trying to censor the media.

President Trump has done nothing to elevate the level of political discourse. President Trump’s numerous insults to anyone who criticizes him, from Khizr Khan to Ted Cruz, are numerous and well known. Even after taking office, Mr. Trump’s penchant for insulting his critics has continued and even gone international as he engaged in tiffs with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. Trump also frequently attacks the press and, of course, a wide variety of Democrats.

The insults form a part of the strategy of division and victimhood of both presidents. President Obama marshaled his supporters against the “bitter clingers,” the wealthy and any hint of racism. For his part, President Trump focuses his supporters against the establishment, the press and foreign influences of trade and immigration. In both cases, the strategy is one of unifying the base against ideological bogeymen, rather than attempting to unify the country as a whole. Rather than bringing people together, both presidents stir up factions against each other.

Further, the two presidents share an affinity for campaigning, even after the campaign is over. President Obama was often criticized for his frequent fundraising and political rallies. This weekend, a month into President Trump’s term, he returns to the campaign trail with a political rally in Florida. The coordinator of the rally told Fox News that the event was Trump’s “first re-election rally.” The election is 44 months away.

The love of partisan audiences may reflect the need of both men for adulation and affirmation. It is much easier and more rewarding to deliver a stump speech to throngs of admirers than to engage in the gritty work of legislative “sausage making.” It is this work of governing that determines the success or failure of a president, however.

All this leads to the most serious mistakes that President Obama made for his party: Overconfidence and overreach. In January 2009, President Obama told congressional Republicans, “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.” By that he meant, I get what I want. Obama quickly poisoned the well and made future cooperation with Republicans difficult, if not impossible.

Donald Trump is heading down that road as well. Like Barack Obama, President Trump currently has majorities in both houses of Congress. It is easy to imagine that the Trump Administration has a blank check to enact whatever initiatives President Trump deems appropriate. However, the president and the Republicans must realize that, unless Mitch McConnell eliminates the filibuster, bipartisan cooperation is going to be needed to advance any bill past a cloture vote in the Senate. The withdrawal of Andrew Puzder should serve as a warning that the president does not get everything he wants.

President Obama’s eight years are over. His legacy is being erased and he will be judged a failure, largely because he was unable to build a consensus and compromise. After Republicans took control of the House in 2011, President Obama never passed any significant legislation. All of his landmark laws were passed with Democratic majorities in both houses.

 The question is whether President Trump will repeat his mistakes or will use the historic opportunity that he has been given to make America great again. To do so, the new president will have to drop the role of the victim and look beyond his base to build a majority. To be successful and build a lasting legacy, President Trump must win over at least some of the voters who didn’t vote for him. He must work with Congress to pass legislation that is more durable than an Executive Order. President Trump needs to stop preaching to the choir and start working on converting the masses.

Originally published on The Resurgent