Friday, June 30, 2017

CNBC Editor: 'Viewers Not Stupid As We Think They Are'

There are signs that the media is learning. Nikhil Deogun, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of CNBC, recently discussed confirmation bias and trust in the media with Yahoo! News anchor Katie Couric on a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival and his thoughts were actually encouraging.

“Consumers are increasingly gravitating toward outlets that basically tell them what they want to hear, reinforce their beliefs,” Couric said, quoted by The Blaze. “A friend of mine said, ‘They’re seeking affirmation, not information.’ So, given that, how do you restore trust in the media writ large if people are so divided about which media outlets are actually fair and accurate?”

“I think sometimes there’s too much of a tendency to interpret a fact to a degree that it goes into opinion,” Deogun said. “And I think part of our job is to — again — remind ourselves that our … readers, viewers, users, are not as ignorant, as stupid as we think they are.”

Deogun continued, “I think part of that is to be more transparent. Part of that is to be more forthcoming about what we know and what we don’t know.”

The injection of opinion into news stories to give a biased slant on the news has long been a criticism of the mainstream media by conservatives. Numerous surveys have shown that the vast majority of reporters identify as liberals and Democrats so when a bias exists it almost exclusively reflects a liberal viewpoint.

Journalists were traditionally taught the “five w’s and one h” for their writing. A good news story answers the basic questions of “Who, What, Why, When, Where and How.” Contrary to the apparent belief of many modern journalists, the “What” is a reference to “What happened?” and not “What people should think.”

Deogun’s statement is an admission that at least some journalists realize that they have gone too far and alienated their customers in the process. While 90 percent of journalists may be liberal, political views of the general population are much more mixed. The majority of the population that is not liberal doesn’t like to be talked down to by liberal journalists, especially when they have to pay for subscriptions to outlets that insult their views and values.

There are encouraging signs that the media is trying to fix its ideological problem. Deogun’s admission that there is too much opinion in news stories and that journalists talk down to their readers and viewers is one such sign. CNN’s firing of three journalists who violated the news site’s standards is another action that conservatives should applaud, rather than using it to attack the network’s credibility.  

Of course, the media still has a long way to go in regaining lost trust and respect. After all, Deogun didn’t say that viewers weren’t stupid, he just said that they are not “as stupid as we think they are.”

Old habits and attitudes die hard. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Sasse, Paul, and Trump Call For Obamacare Repeal Instead of Reform

In statements echoed by President Trump on Twitter, two prominent Republican senators have called for the GOP to skip the health care overhaul and focus on simple repeal of Obamacare if Republican Senate leadership cannot find 50 votes to move the current health care reform bill forward. Earlier this week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that a vote on the health care bill would be delayed until after the July 4 recess.

In a letter to the White House quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said, “On the current path it looks like Republicans will either fail to pass any meaningful bill at all, or will instead pass a bill that looks to prop up many of the crumbling Obama care structures.”

“We must keep our word,” Sasse continued. “Therefore, if on July 10 we don’t have agreement on a combined repeal and replace plan, we should immediately vote again on... the December 2015 Obamacare repeal legislation that the Congress passed but President Obama vetoed.”

Within a few minutes of Sen. Sasse’s discussion of re-introducing the 2015 bill, HR 3762, President Trump tweeted support for the idea. “If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!” Trump said on Twitter.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also endorsed the idea. “I have spoken to @realDonaldTrump & Senate leadership about this and agree. Let's keep our word to repeal then work on replacing right away,” Paul tweeted.

The 2015 bill in question, HR 3762, was not technically a full repeal of Obamacare either since it also amended the Affordable Care Act rather than repealing it outright. A full repeal would require 60 votes for cloture in the Senate, which is far out of reach. The bill passed the Senate in a largely party line vote on December 3, 2015 by a 52-47 margin.

Sasse has not suggested a strategy for passing a 2017 version of the bill. The problem for Republicans on passage of the current health care reform bill is that nine Republican senators are reportedly in opposition to the bill. Assuming no Democrats cross the aisle, Republicans could lose no more than two senators and still be able to pass the bill.

The current Republican opposition to the health care reform is from both the center and the right wings of the GOP. Moderate Republicans such as Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) argue that the bill hurts too many people on Medicaid in their states while conservatives such as Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) say that the bill does not go far enough in reforming Obamacare. With eroding support from both ends of Republican political spectrum, the current bill has little chance of passage.

Sasse’s plan to revive the 2015 bill is a partial answer in that it should bring the conservatives back on board. The problem is that Republicans would still need moderate votes to move the bill forward.

When the bill originally passed in 2015, Republicans held two more seats in the Senate than they do today. Back then, two Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the bill: Susan Collins and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Kirk lost his seat to Democrat Tammy Duckworth in 2016, but Collins is still in the Senate and could be counted on to vote against the bill once again. That leaves Republicans with a one vote margin.

Earlier this year, The Resurgent reported that four Republican senators who had voted for the 2015 bill would refuse to vote for a bill that did not allow a slow phase out of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. If Shelly Moore-Capito (R-W.V.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Corey Gardner (R-Col.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stick to their pledge, it would doom Sasse’s plan.

Still, a deficit of five votes is a more surmountable obstacle than the deficit of nine votes that the GOP currently faces. It is possible that pressure could be brought to bear on the four senators who previously voted for the bill that would keep them in the “yes” column.

An additional risk would be with the reform that still must come after the passage of the near-repeal. Democrats might be persuaded to join the reform effort if most of Obamacare was gutted, but they might also adopt a you-break-it-you-bought-it policy that would allow them to campaign against the Republican-created chaos in the health care markets in 2018 and beyond. Given recent Democrat obstructionism, there is little doubt which course they would take.

Still, as the Republican health care reform seems increasingly dead in the water, Sasse’s plan, long shot that it is, may be the only viable option to keep the GOP promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Advice to Trump: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

President Trump was once again engaging in Twitter warfare this morning with a pair of tweets attacking MSNBC hosts “Morning Joe” Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. The tweets were apparently a response to the pair’s insults and criticism of Trump on their show.

“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” reads the first tweet followed by the second.

For Trump and the Republicans who are backing the president on this Twitter tirade, I offer the advice that my parents gave me as a child: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

There are many of us on the right who would like to get behind the president. The appointment of Neil Gorsuch and the fine members of his cabinet show that he has potential. The problem is that whenever the president starts to seem like someone I could support, he reverts to his unofficial role as a Twitter troll and his supporters start justifying his behavior by pointing to the poor behavior of people on the left from Barack Obama to Hillary to Maxine Waters or whoever.

I do not want another president in the divisive mold of Obama. I want a president who upholds my values and principles. Among those values are the idea that the president should be more civil and dignified than liberal talk show hosts. I want a president who can rise above the fray and champion civil discourse rather than responding in kind. The best-case scenario would be a president in the mold of Ronald Reagan, a stalwart conservative who could disarm opponents with his quick wit.

If the advice of my mom and dad isn’t sufficient for the president and his backers, there is also the Biblical admonition to “not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

This is also practical political advice for the president. It’s the job of pundits like “Morning Joe” and Mika to talk politics and criticize politicians. The president’s job is to lead the country and the federal government, not to engage in tit-for-tat with his many critics.

When pundits do it, it can be entertaining for their audience. When the president does it on Twitter with the whole world as an audience, he seems unhinged. It’s hard for many people outside of his base to get behind a president whose internet musings seem somewhat, well, creepy.

While Trump’s base may find his antics and insults amusing, many conservatives view it as sinking to the level of our ideological opponents. Those who defend his behavior are forced to engage in a double standard that minimizes the poor behavior of those on the left. Conservatives, many of whom claim to be Christian, forgo objective standards of right and wrong and excuse the president because Obama or Hillary did it too. In fact, many of our elected leaders, who, as public servants, should be held to a higher standard, behave regularly in ways that would earn my kids a swift spanking.

What is certain is that the Republican Party, filled with Christian conservatives or not, has lost the moral high ground. Poor behavior on the part of the left does not excuse poor behavior on the part of the president. When the president behaves poorly, he should be called out by the members of his own party.

If President Trump insists on engaging in a race to the bottom with the liberal left, it will be country as a whole that loses.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Massive Cyberattack Rocks Business World

A broad cyberattack featuring a ransomware program that encrypts infected computer files is spreading rapidly from Russia to Europe and the Americas. More than 2,000 computer systems are known to be infected at this point.

The New York Times reports that the attack has infected numerous systems in the Ukraine including radiation monitoring at Chernobyl, several government ministries, and local banks and transit systems. Other companies that were reportedly attacked include the Danish shipping company, Maersk, the American pharmaceutical company, Merck, and Rosneft, a state-owned Russian oil company.

The Times reports that infected computers display a black screen with red text that reads, “Oops, your important files have been encrypted. If you see this text then your files are no longer accessible because they have been encrypted. Perhaps you are busy looking to recover your files but don’t waste your time.”

The Kapersky Lab, a cybersecurity firm headquartered in Moscow and own by a British corporation, said that it had tentatively identified the ransomware as a new strain of the Petya computer virus that was compiled on June 18, 2017. Some researchers are calling the new strain “NotPetya” because it is significantly different from the original virus.

NotPetya has the potential to be much more problematic than the WannaCry virus that fizzled earlier this year. According to Forbes, the new virus can even attack Windows systems that have security patches that are up to date. Even computers running Windows 10 are reported to be vulnerable. NotPetya can even extract passwords and use them to spread the infection to other computers.

The source of the NotPetya is unknown, but is presumed to be cybercriminals rather than a state actor. The program demands a ransom payment payable in bitcoin. At least 22 payments have been made, but Forbes reports that the email address set up to provide keys has been shut down by the provider, leaving owners of infected computer systems few options in recovering their files.

NotPetya has yet to run its course. “This is going to be a big one. Real big one,” cybersecurity expert David Kennedy told Forbes

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Trump Tweets Against Obama Handling of Russia Hacking

Yesterday President Trump launched into tweetstorm against Barack Obama’s handling of Russian cyberattacks during the 2016 election. The twitter rant may have been a response to a weekend story in the Washington Post, an outlet that the president called “fake news” in a tweet today, that detailed Barack Obama’s lackluster handling of cyberattacks that were well-known long before the election.

“The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected Clinton would win,” President Trump tweeted on Monday. “And did not want to ‘rock the boat.’ He didn't ‘choke,’ he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good,” the president continued in a second tweet.

“The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling. With 4 months looking at Russia under a magnifying glass, they have zero ‘tapes’ of T people colluding. There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!” Trump’s third and fourth tweets said.

In a final tweet on the subject, Trump cited a Fox News story, saying, “From @FoxNews "Bombshell: In 2016, Obama dismissed idea that anyone could rig an American election."  Check out his statement - Witch Hunt!” Trump did not provide a link to the story, but a Fox News clip on YouTube does show then-President Obama saying precisely what Trump said he did.

The Trump tweets signal an important shift in Trump’s position on the Russian cyberattacks. From the earliest reports of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, Trump has denied reports of Russian involvement. Two months after the election and after being presented with evidence by intelligence officials, Trump released a statement on January 6 that blamed “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people” for the hacking. Since then, Trump has backtracked, calling the “Russia story” a “hoax” and “fake news” on numerous occasions. Now, as information emerges that is damaging to Barack Obama, President Trump changes his tune.

President Trump is on the mark with this series of tweets. While there is so far no evidence that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to throw the election, the scandal of Russian cyberattacks has become more frightening as details emerge about the extent of the Russian hacking which very nearly compromised voting machine software and voter databases. President Obama’s fecklessness in the face of the cyberattack on the core of American democracy is a major part of the story.

Although much of the blame for the response to the attack lies with the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration carries a share of the blame as well. Trump’s denials of Russian meddling in the election have undoubtedly emboldened the Putin regime, which has also attacked elections in European countries. Russian hacking in Ukraine has taken an even more ominous turn where banks and electric companies have been targeted. Russian hacking has been responsible for blackouts in the Ukraine in apparent test runs for malware that is to be used elsewhere.

The Trump Administration response to Russia’s cyberattacks has not been encouraging. While Congress is attempting to pass a new bill imposing sanctions on Russian citizens and organizations tied to cyberattacks and hacking, but there are reports that the Trump Administration is working against the bill. The silence on the hacking from the Trump Administration has been deafening. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has said, “I do not see any indication that Mr. Putin would want a positive relationship with us,” is an exception.

While Trump is correct that there is no evidence of illegal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, he is also correct in his admission that there is ample evidence that Russia meddled with American elections in an unprecedented way and that President Obama bungled the response.

The Russian cyberattacks demand a response and American electoral systems, power grids and financial institutions need to be protected from future attacks. The responsibility for a response and protection from future attacks falls on Mr. Trump’s shoulders.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Russian Cyberattacks Hit 39 States During Election

Newly released details of Russian cyberattacks indicate that the Russian hacking during the election was far more widespread than previously indicated. Sources within the investigation reported that Russian cyberattacks hit at least 39 states. The hackers accessed software used by poll workers and at least one state’s voter database. The extent of the attacks raises concerns about the integrity of future elections since Russia has also been implicated in hacking other elections including the recent French presidential voting.

The recent revelations were made to Bloomberg Politics by three people with direct knowledge of the US investigation. The details released to Bloomberg come on the heels of the report leaked by Reality Winner, a contract employee of the NSA. The classified NSA report revealed that Russian hackers traced to the GRU, Russian military intelligence, had targeted US companies that provide software for voting machines.

The Bloomberg report states that the hackers tried to alter or delete voter registration data in Illinois in addition to the “spear phishing” attacks that compromised the emails at the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. Russian hackers were trying to take over the computers of 122 election officials shortly before the election.

The sources report that Illinois was considered “Patient Zero” for the investigation. The state gave federal investigators almost full access to its election computer systems. Unauthorized access to systems at the state board of elections was detected as early as July 2016 and as many as 90,000 voter records in the state database were compromised with personal information on voters such as names, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, birth dates and gender.

The sophistication and sheer number of the attacks prompted the Obama Administration to complain directly to the Kremlin via the hotline between Washington and Moscow. In October, the US reportedly used a back channel to provide evidence of Russian complicity to the Kremlin and threatened that continued hacking could lead to an expanded conflict. The hacking continued up to the election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any involvement by the Russian government in the cyberattacks. Earlier this month, Putin suggested that the hacking might have been carried out by “patriotic hackers” not connected to the Russian government.

During the election, the federal government did not have jurisdiction over state election systems. Some states cooperated with federal counterintelligence operations, but others did not. Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama, proposed in August 2016 that election systems be considered a critical national infrastructure, which would give the federal government more latitude in protecting state systems from cyberattacks. Ultimately, partisan disagreements meant that the designation was not made until January 2017.

There were hints of the Russian hacking revealed prior to the election, but Bloomberg reports that the Obama Administration kept the full scope of the attacks from the public. The government feared that the full truth would undermine public confidence in the election.

The claims of Russian hacking have become a source of amusement for many conservatives, but the recent revelations show the frightening extent of Russian interference in a core function of American democracy. So far there is no evidence that Russians were able to manipulate votes or voter rolls, but it was not for lack of trying.

And it probably isn’t over. Former FBI Director James Comey warned the Senate Intelligence Committee in his testimony, “They’re coming after America. They will be back.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Time to step back from the brink

With this morning’s shooting at the congressional practice field in Virginia, it is fair to say that our political discourse has finally sank too low. After watching rhetoric on both sides become more incendiary and violence slowly escalate over the past few years, someone has really gotten hurt.

Not bruises, broken bones or damaged pride either. Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) or the other people at the practice, including the security officers, could have been killed. That was apparently the aim of the attack.

The Washington Post has identified the shooter as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill. Hodgkinson was a campaign worker for Bernie Sanders whose Facebook page allegedly features a post that reads, “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

Political violence is not new to this country. We fought a War Between the States over our political differences. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan used violence and intimidation to further their political aims. There have been assassinations, from Abraham Lincoln to Huey Long. Radical anti-war groups in the 1960s used bombings to further their political aims.

In the last half-decade, things seemed to change. We have enjoyed a relatively peaceful period. There was violence against political figures, but for the most part, it was the work of the mentally ill, not political assassins. The attempted murderers of Ronald Reagan and Gabrielle Giffords were both crazy, not trying to make a political point.

While it is still too early to say for sure, the baseball field shooting feels different. The shooter reportedly asked which team was playing, the Republicans or the Democrats, before opening fire. If the reported Facebook posts are accurate, there seems to be a clear motive for the attack.

There will be plenty of anger against the liberal media and Democrats for stoking the fires of Hodgkinson’s anger. At this point, those charges seem to be legitimate. Much of the reporting about the Trump Administration has been sensationalist and over-the-top. The problem is that the liberals aren’t the only ones to blame.

Both sides are guilty of whipping up the anger of the base with outrage-of-the-day styles of reporting that focus on the most extreme and offensive actions of the opposition. For every action, there is an equal and opposite overreaction.

Hodgkinson’s Facebook post was repeated almost verbatim on many right-wing timelines over the past eight years. Just substitute “Obama” for “Trump.”

Liberals stage a play depicting the assassination of President Trump. Conservatives circulated internet picture of President Obama with his head in a noose. Liberal protesters riot and stop traffic. Conservative protesters stage armed revolts and occupy a federal building in Oregon and engage in standoffs with law enforcement on federal land. Businesses destroyed by riots had it coming according to the leftist narrative, but so did reporters and protesters who get beat up, if you listen to those on the right. President Trump is a Russian traitor? President Obama is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, so there!

The two sides barely even talk anymore. We listen to different media, read different newspapers and websites. We focus on our differences and they become magnified.

Originally published on The Resurgent

As David French recently wrote, we seem to be headed for a national divorce. If we really love our country, we need to look at what a spouse would do to prevent a divorce. Look to find the good in our political opponents. Look for common ground instead of nitpicking. Realize that we aren’t going to get everything on our political wish lists. The alternative is likely to be more political violence and national divorce that is unlikely to come amicably. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trump Claims 'Vindication' For Something Comey Never Said

In the days since the Senate testimony by former FBI Director James Comey, the Trump camp has claimed that the testimony vindicated the president. Beginning with a tweet by the president the following day, Trump supporters claim “total and complete vindication” from Comey’s statements under oath. However, the claim focuses on only one part of Comey’s testimony and the claim of vindication is for something that Comey never said.

The focus of the Trump Administration since last Thursday when Comey testified was Comey’s statement under oath that President Trump was not under investigation by the FBI. The problem with this claim is that Comey had never claimed that the president was personally under investigation.

It is likely that many people may have assumed after Comey’s Senate testimony in March that President Trump was being investigated, but a look back shows that Comey never made that claim. Comey’s testimony a month before he was fired contained the bombshell revelation that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign for its links to Russia, but he never said that the president was under direct scrutiny.

Here is a look back at what then-FBI Director James Comey said before Congress on March 20, 2017 (video available here):

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment as to whether any crimes were committed.

Comey told Congress that the FBI was investigating “individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” not the president. The individuals were left unnamed, but FBI inquiries about Mike Flynn, Carter Page, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort had been known for months. Carter Page was the target of a FISA warrant obtained by the FBI prior to the election last year.

At some point after the March testimony, President Trump apparently became obsessed with the idea of proving that he was not under investigation. Comey testified that he privately assured the president that he was not under investigation on several occasions. Comey also said that the president asked him to publicly announce that he was not under investigation, a request Comey resisted because “because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.” In his letter firing Comey, Trump awkwardly thanks Comey for “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”

Trump supporters seem to believe that, since the president was not under investigation, that Comey’s firing could not be an obstruction of justice. To the contrary, Trump was alleged to have interfered with the investigation of Michael Flynn, not an investigation into his own ties with Russia. Even though the FBI probe was targeted at Flynn, Page and the others instead of Trump, firing the FBI director to interfere with the investigation could still represent obstruction of justice.

A second trope by Trump supporters is that since Trump was not under investigation, the inquiries by the Congress and the Special Counsel should be halted. This represents a misunderstanding of what the investigations are about. These investigations were also not targeting Trump personally. The purpose of the congressional investigations is to determine exactly what Russia did to interfere in the 2016 elections. The investigation by Special Counsel Bob Mueller focuses on whether any members of the Trump campaign worked with Russian operatives and whether any crimes were committed.

Despite the Trump Administration spin, James Comey’s testimony did not clear the president. In fact, the most damaging part of Comey’s June 8 testimony may be a statement that has scarcely been mentioned. When asked why he thought Trump fired him, Comey answered, “Again, I take the president's words. I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and he decided to fire me because of that.”

The investigations will continue and President Trump is not in the clear. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Deputy AG: No Good Reason to Fire Mueller

The deputy attorney general is speaking out in response to rumors that President Trump is considering firing Special Counsel Bob Mueller. Reports have surfaced in the last 24 hours that the president may fire the head of the independent investigation into possible collusion by members of the Trump with Russia to interfere in the 2016 elections.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared before the Senate Appropriations Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee after Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly cancelled a planned appearance. Rosenstein, who hired Mueller after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, was asked by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), “Have you seen good cause for firing Mueller?”

“I have not,” Rosenstein answered according to reports in The New York Times. “You have my assurance that we are going to faithfully follow that regulation, and Director Mueller is going to have the full independence he needs to conduct that investigation.”

Shaheen pointed out that under the law creating the special counsel position, the president cannot fire Mueller. Only the attorney general, in this case Rosenstein since Sessions has recused himself, can fire the special counsel and only for good cause.

“I’m not going to follow any orders unless I believe that those are lawful and appropriate orders,” Mr. Rosenstein said, adding: “If there were good cause, I would consider. If there were not good cause, it would not matter what anybody says.”

There was no indication why Attorney General Sessions sent Rosenstein to testify in his place. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Mike Flynn Is the Key To the Trump-Comey Dispute

As the furor rages unabated after the testimony of James Comey, both sides are coming to the realization that it settled nothing. Comey said just enough to allow both sides to reinforce their preconceived notions and declare a victory. Comey’s testimony is not the end, but is more like pulling a thread that causes other threads to unravel. Even though Comey did not present irrefutable evidence of criminal activity by the president, he did make a blatant accusation that the president is corrupt. The investigations will continue and, at this point, it seems that the trails all point toward Michael Flynn.

The investigation of Michael Flynn is at the center of the dispute between James Comey and President Trump. In Comey’s opening statement, the former director claimed that it was the investigation of Flynn that prompted Trump’s alleged request that, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy.”

Who is Michael Flynn? Flynn is a retired US Army general who rose to command the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama. He served honorably in both the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of the War on Terror. Flynn abruptly retired a year early from his position at the DIA, apparently under pressure from the Obama Administration. Sean Spicer confirmed in May that Barack Obama had warned the Trump camp about getting too close to Flynn.

In fact, Flynn became an early advisor to the Trump campaign and was considered as a vice presidential candidate. Flynn eventually was appointed as President Trump’s National Security Advisor after delivering a fiery speech to the Republican National Convention.

As National Security Advisor, Flynn lasted just over three weeks. The issue was false statements that Flynn had made to Vice President Pence, Press Secretary Spicer and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Before the election and during the transition, Flynn had secret communications with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in which he discussed sanctions that the Obama Administration had imposed on Russia in response their interference in the election. Flynn denied discussing the sanctions until the Washington Post reported that leaks revealed that there was evidence from surveillance that Flynn was not being truthful.

Even after Flynn’s duplicity was revealed, Trump waited 18 days before finally deciding to fire him. Shortly after the Flynn’s dismissal on the basis of loss of trust, The Hill reported that Trump called him “a wonderful man” and said that the media had treated him “badly.” The is in sharp contrast to the firing of Comey, who was attacked by Trump on Twitter in the days after his dismissal.

Since leaving the White House, Flynn’s troubles have only gotten worse. Flynn is under investigation for failing to disclose a $33,000 payment from the Russian state-owned propaganda network, RT, after leaving the DIA. The New York Times reported in April that Flynn initially failed to disclose other payments from “companies linked to Russia.”

Flynn also may have broken the law by doing consulting work that benefitted the government of Turkey without the permission of the US government. After being fired by Trump, Flynn registered with the US government as a paid foreign agent for work done the year before that could have aided the Turkish government. Flynn may have also failed to fully disclose his contracts and payments from the Turkish consulting work.

Further, the Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn met with Turkish government contacts last summer, while he was still working for the Trump campaign, and discussed the possibility of returning Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric that Turkey blames for last summer’s failed military coup, without going through legal US extradition procedures. Former CIA Director James Woolsey said the discussion involved “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” Woolsey said he did not hear a specific plan and would have objected if he had.

Even before Donald Trump was nominated as the Republican candidate, Flynn drew criticism for his ties to Russia. In December 2015, Flynn was paid $45,000 by RT to speak at the network’s 10th anniversary gala. The network also paid airfare for the trip and hosted Flynn at a luxury hotel in Moscow according to NBC News. Flynn sat at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin at the event.

In 2013, as head of the DIA, Flynn arranged a controversial trip to Russia for a group of US intelligence officers with the goal of building a working relationship with the GRU, Russian military intelligence. Flynn planned to host GRU officers in the US, but the Russian invasion of Crimea led to chilled relations between the two countries.

There are many questions about Mike Flynn that are unanswered. There is not even a definitive answer on how Flynn and Trump came to know each other. In an interview with the New Yorker, Flynn claimed he hit it off immediately with Trump in an August 2015 meeting in New York. In his interview with NBC News in May 2017, Trump denied knowing Flynn in 2015 In any case, Flynn was identified as an advisor to Trump by February 2016.

Trump’s relationship with Michael Flynn is central to the question of whether the president tried to interfere in the investigation of Flynn and whether he abused his authority in firing Director Comey. Trump is also alleged to have asked other intelligence officials to back off from the Flynn investigation. When asked by senators, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Advisor Mike Rogers said that they have never been “pressured” to interfere in an investigation. Neither would answer the question of whether Trump had ever broached the subject, however.

Right now, even after James Comey’s testimony, there are far more questions than answers. At this point, it is unknown whether a crime has been committed by either Mike Flynn or Donald Trump, but if there has been no crime then what has the White House cover-up been about? Did President Trump act illegally to protect Flynn? If so, why? Why did Trump really fire Comey? And why fire him when he did, months after taking office and seemingly out of the blue? The timing of the firing endangered the Republican legislative agenda at a time when the Republican health care reform had just passed the House and the party was looking towards tax reform.

Mike Flynn seems to hold many of the answers, but he isn’t talking. The retired general is invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination and refusing to comply with a subpoena to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Flynn also initially refused to comply with a subpoena for personal documents relating to his businesses. Eventually Flynn agreed to provide some documents after senators issued subpoenas his businesses as well.

With Special Counsel Bob Mueller likely investigating Flynn alongside the Senate Intelligence Committee, the probe into the Russian interference in the election and possible collaboration by members of the Trump campaign isn’t over yet. It’s just getting started and the relationship between President Trump and Gen. Flynn is likely to generate many more headlines before it’s over. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump is safe from impeachment... until 2018

Trump supporters are still celebrating the “vindication” of Donald Trump after this week’s testimony by James Comey. The lack of incontrovertible evidence of criminal action by the president has given the Trump Administration a new lease on life. President Trump will not resign and Republicans will not cross party lines to impeach him based on the evidence offered so far. Still, Trump is not out of the woods.

Opinions on whether Trump’s actions constituted obstruction of justice fell largely along party lines. Republicans called Trump’s request inappropriate but not illegal while Democrats say that the president broke the law. Republicans won’t vote to impeach Donald Trump and Democrats don’t have the votes for impeachment. But what happens after 2018?

Control of the House of Representatives can change in the blink of an eye. Since every House seat is up for election every term, a Democrat wave could easily shift control of the lower house of Congress in one election. Republicans currently hold a 45-seat majority in the House so Democrats would only need to pick up 23 seats to win a majority. That number might decrease if Jon Ossoff wins a special election in Georgia later this month.

Democrats seem to have an edge in the House races at the moment. Earlier this week, a Gallup poll reported that Republican party identification had plummeted four points since last year’s election. At the same time, Democrat affiliation had increased, giving Democrats a seven-point advantage.

Further, even before the Comey testimony, President Trump’s approval had fallen to a record low in a Quinnipiac poll. Barely a third of voters (34 percent) approve of Trump’s performance while 57 percent disapprove. While 80 percent of Republicans still approve of Trump, two-thirds of independents, the deciding demographic in most elections, disapprove. Gallup shows similar numbers while Rasmussen looks slightly better for the president with 46 percent approval, still a sharp decline.

Under the Constitution, it is the House of Representatives that votes to impeach the president, but the Senate decides whether to remove the impeached official from office. If Democrats win a majority, the probably of impeachment would rise dramatically, but, like Bill Clinton, President Trump could remain in office after being impeached if Democrats don’t control the Senate.

It is more difficult to win control of the Senate since only a third of senate seats are up for election in a given term. In a break for the Republicans, Democrats will be defending most of the Senate seats in play in 2018. Of 33 seats up for election, only eight are held by Republican incumbents.

The downside for Republicans is that Democrats only need to flip three seats to win a majority. Two defending Republicans, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), are from states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. If Democrats pick up those seats and find one more state dissatisfied with President Trump, while successfully defending their own seats, Republicans could find themselves the minority party in short order.

The 2018 midterms are a long way off. Seventeen months seems to be an eternity these days with bombshell revelations seeming to burst almost every day. In a year and a half, almost anything can happen and, in the current political climate, it probably will. While it is far too early to say how the 2018 midterms will turn out, it is very possible that President Trump could find himself in legal jeopardy early in 2019.

President Trump’s best insurance against impeachment or a failed presidency is to buckle down and get serious about governing. Put down the Twitter. Stop the cover-ups. Listen to the advisors who have experience with policy and lawyers who know what is legal and what isn’t.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Lesson Of The Comey Hearings: Character Counts

James Comey’s testimony is not going to break the impasse in Washington and will satisfy neither side. Trump supporters are claiming that the president was exonerated because Comey did not claim that Trump ordered him to drop the Russia investigation and did not present an airtight accusation of obstruction of justice. Trump opponents point to the fact that Comey stood by his claim that the president asked him to drop the investigation of Mike Flynn and that such a request is unethical, even if it doesn’t clearly rise to the standard of obstruction of justice.

Whatever your opinion of the he said-he said dispute between Comey and Trump, the matter underscores just how wrong Trump supporters were about one thing: Character does still matter.

The fundamental question in the matter is who to believe. Do Americans trust the former FBI director with an axe to grind and a reputation for protecting himself politically or do they trust the sitting president with a casual regard for the truth, a man who has a reputation for saying whatever seems expedient at the moment and walking it back or pretending it was never said later.

When a president needs the benefit of the doubt from the country, as Trump does now, it helps if he has a good reputation. Trump does not. A Quinnipiac poll from May found that 61 percent say that Trump is not honest. When asked the first word that comes to mind about Donald Trump, the top three answers were “idiot” (39 percent), “incompetent” (31 percent), and “liar” (30 percent).

Right now, given the choice of whether to believe Donald Trump or James Comey, most Americans are going to believe Comey on the weight of their reputations. That Trump realizes this is evident by attempts to smear and discredit Comey with personal attacks. These attacks serve to make Trump look more guilty and there is a good chance that they will backfire disastrously for the administration.

The problem for Trump and the strategy of attempting to destroy Comey’s reputation is that Comey is likely to have evidence. Comey testified in his opening statement that he shared Trump’s comments with the senior leadership team of the FBI immediately after their dinner on January 27. If these other FBI agents corroborate Comey’s testimony, then Trump supporters are left in the unenviable position of either admitting that the president abused his authority and then lied about it or believing that Trump is telling the truth and everyone else is lying.

A second possibility is that Trump “taped” one or more of the meetings and that these tapes, if found and released, would show who is telling the truth. The odds are that it would not be Trump, given the rumors that Trump made similar requests of other intelligence officials.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said at one point in his testimony. So do I, because that is likely to be the only way to prove the case to the Trump faithful. As if that would even do it.

Comey’s testimony won’t be enough to impeach Trump. The case for obstruction of justice is tenuous enough that it probably won’t persuade many Republicans in Congress to desert him.

What it will do is end his legislative agenda (such as it is). Gone is almost any chance of working across the aisle for health care reform, tax reform or the myriad other issues that are vital to the future of the country. It is looking more and more like Obamacare is here to stay thanks to President Trump’s poor judgment… along with the poor judgment of the voters who made him the Republican candidate. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Senator Schools NSA Chief Rogers: ‘What You Feel Is Not Relevant’

As a young conservative, it seemed to me that one of the main differences between liberals and conservatives was the reliance on feelings versus facts. It seemed to me that liberals tended to rely on feelings rather than empirical data. If a policy made people feel good, it didn’t seem to matter if it didn’t really work. In the view of my past self, conservatives were more open to seeking out the facts and reality rather engaging in wishful thinking. Imagine my dismay then when an independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats had to educate the national security director of a Republican and purportedly conservative president on the difference between feelings and facts.

The occasion was testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the witnesses were Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Director Admiral Mike Rogers. The problem was that Coats and Rogers refused to answer direct questions about whether President Trump had asked them to interfere with the investigations into collusion between members of the Trump campaign with Russia.

The response of both men to the questioning was that they “have never felt pressured to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relation to an ongoing investigation.” Neither man would answer the direct question of whether Trump had asked for their intervention however. The men did not claim executive privilege or any legal justification for their refusal to provide answers to Congress other than to say that conversations with the president were classified.

In one exchange with Senator Angus King (I-Maine), Admiral Mike Rogers responded that he didn’t feel it was appropriate to answer the questions. King retorted, “What you feel isn’t relevant, admiral.”

King went on, “When you were confirmed before the Senate Armed Services Committee you took an oath, ‘Do you solemnly swear to give the committee the truth, the full truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.”

“I answered ‘yes’ to that,” Rogers replied. “I’ve also answered that those conversations were classified and that it is not appropriate in an open forum to discuss those conversations.”

“What is classified about a conversation involving whether or not you should intervene in the FBI investigation?” King persisted.

“Sir, I stand by my previous comments,” was Rogers’ only answer.

King turned to Coats with the same series of questions. “I’m not satisfied with ‘I do not believe it is appropriate’ or ‘I do not feel I should answer.’ I want to understand a legal basis. You swore that oath to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and today you are refusing to do so. What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?”

“I’m not sure I have a legal basis,” Coats conceded, adding that he was “more than willing” to testify in a closed session.

There is a vast difference between whether the intelligence chiefs feel a line of questioning is appropriate and whether the representatives of the people have a right to know if the commander-in-chief is making unethical requests. There is a difference between asking and pressuring subordinates to influence the outcome of an investigation. There is a difference between facts and feelings, between objective legalities and subjective emotions.

If it was wrong for the president to ask his subordinates to quash an investigation, and even asking the question would be unethical even there are questions about whether it was illegal, then merely asking the question could be legitimately considered as bringing pressure. Perhaps Coats and Rogers didn’t feel pressured because of their strong personalities where a weaker person would have felt immense pressure and bowed to the president’s request. Is the nation well served by a president who relies on the strong character of his subordinates to prevent him from obstructing justice?

Similarly, is pleading that a conversation is classified a legitimate excuse to refuse to answer a question about whether the president acted unethically? The classification of secrets was meant to protect national security, not to protect a president from criticism or the consequences of his actions.

Like so many other aspects of the Trump Administration, the test for conservatives should be to ask themselves whether they would excuse an action if it was committed by Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. If a Democrat president asked his or her intelligence heads to interfere in an investigation would our response as constitutional, fact-relying, objective, law-abiding conservatives be to ask whether pressure was applied? Any honest conservative would have to answer with a resounding “hell, no!” If that’s the case, why do we make excuses for Donald Trump?

Two decades ago, conservatives ridiculed Bill Clinton for pleading, “It depends on what the definition of the word ‘is’ is.” Now the word games and Olympic-class linguistic gymnastics performed by the Trump Administration are no less embarrassing and pathetic.

To the casual observer, the goal of Coats and Rogers is obvious. The pair are walking a tightrope between being disloyal to their president and party while avoiding committing perjury. The strategy seems to be that if answering the question honestly will result angering the president or exposing yourself to prosecution, then just don’t answer the question.

In reality, not answering the question is an answer in itself. It is easy to make the assumption that if President Trump had not asked Coats and Rogers to compromise their principles that they would simply answer the question with a straightforward “no.”

In not answering the direct question, we are left to assume that President Trump did indeed ask his intelligence chiefs to interfere with an ongoing investigation, but did not press the issue to the point where Coats and Rogers felt pressured to comply. At this point, no one can say how far the president might have pushed.

What we can be certain of is how far the Republican Party has fallen in two short years. The party of law and order, of truth, justice and the American way has become the party of Trumpian equivocations and carefully worded denials.

The Bible says, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33) and that seems to be evident in the relationships of Coats and Rogers with Donald Trump. After five months in the Trump Administration, both men, generally considered honorable and respected, sat passively while Angus King gave them a lesson in moral clarity. Two years ago, that would have been hard to imagine. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reality Winner Just Provided Evidence of Russian Election Hacking

The news of the arrest of Reality Winner, the inappropriately named NSA contractor who allegedly leaked classified information to The Intercept, is overshadowing the real news. In a looking-at-the-forest-versus-the-trees moment, the world seems focused on Ms. Winner herself, a 25-year-old blonde, and the details of her arrest rather than the content of her leak.

The big news is that Ms. Winner has provided what many Russia skeptics have been asking for over the past few months: evidence of Russian meddling in the election. The report contains direct, unfiltered insight into the NSA findings on Russian hacking of election officials and companies.

The Intercept published many details of the report that Ms. Winner purloined from an NSA facility at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. The report, dated May 5, 2017, “indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyberattacks” on US companies that provide election software. The NSA found that the Russians stole data that they then used to conduct “a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.”

The report does not assess the impact of the cyberattacks, but there was previously no indication that Russia had targeted computers connected to actual voting in the election. “It is unknown,” the NSA notes, “whether the aforementioned spear-phishing deployment successfully compromised the intended victims, and what potential data could have been accessed by the cyber actor.”

While electronic voting machines are not connected to the internet, Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society and an electronic voting expert, told The Intercept that a major risk would be if the Russian attacks compromised vendors who program voting machines prior to Election Day.

“Usually at the county level there’s going to be some company that does the pre-election programming of the voting machines,” Halderman said. “I would worry about whether an attacker who could compromise the poll book vendor might be able to use software updates that the vendor distributes to also infect the election management system that programs the voting machines themselves. Once you do that, you can cause the voting machine to create fraudulent counts.”

Another possibility would be a denial of service attack. Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, an elections watchdog group, said, “If someone has access to a state voter database, they can take malicious action by modifying or removing information. This could affect whether someone has the ability to cast a regular ballot, or be required to cast a ‘provisional’ ballot — which would mean it has to be checked for their eligibility before it is included in the vote, and it may mean the voter has to jump through certain hoops such as proving their information to the election official before their eligibility is affirmed.”

The Intercept article noted that polling station computers that deal with registration and check-in are tied to the internet and connect directly to country voter databases. A virus spread by the polling equipment could quickly infect other government computers. Malware that changed or deleted voter rolls could throw an election into confusion.

At this point, the investigation is still ongoing and most of the results are still secret, like Reality Winner’s report should be, but this glimpse that the report provides into what is already known by the government is disturbing. Even if the attacks were ultimately unsuccessful, the mere fact of the attempt could undermine public faith in the outcome of the elections.

“It’s not just that [an election] has to be fair, it has to be demonstrably fair, so that the loser says, ‘Yep, I lost fair and square.’ If you can’t do that, you’re screwed,” said Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert at Harvard. “They’ll tear themselves apart if they’re convinced it’s not accurate.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Lindsey Graham Says He Was Surveilled By Obama Administration

Government surveillance of American citizens has been a controversial issue for years. It became more so this year when President Trump tweeted that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” Trump never provided evidence of his claim, but now another Republican is coming forward to claim that he too may have been the subject of surveillance by the Obama Administration.

In an interview with Fox News, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he had “reason to believe” that he may have been surveilled and unmasked by Obama Administration officials. Graham believes that the surveillance was incidental and possibly resulted from his meetings with foreign leaders in his role as a senator.

“I have reason to believe that a conversation that I had was picked up with some foreign leader or some foreign person and somebody requested that my conversation be unmasked,” Graham said. “I’ve been told that by people in the intelligence community. All I can say is that there are 1,950 collections on American citizens talking to people that were foreign agents being surveilled either by the CIA, the FBI or the NSA.”

“Here’s the concern,” Graham continued. “Did the people in the Obama Administration listen in to these conversations? Was there a politicizing of the intelligence gathering process? So, what I want to know: Of the 1,950 incidental collections on American citizens, how many of them involved presidential candidates, members of Congress from either party and if these conversations were unmasked, who made the request? Because I want to know everything there is about unmasking, how it works and who requested unmasking of conversations between foreign people and American members of Congress.”

If the Obama Administration was conducting purposeful surveillance on members of Congress, there is a possible violation of the separation of powers under the Constitution. Surveillance of political opponents could be used gather inside information on political strategies or even for blackmail.

“Now if you’ve got a reason to believe that a member of Congress is committing a crime, then you go get a warrant to follow us around like you would any other citizen,” Graham said. “But I meet with foreign leaders all the time. And I would be upset if any executive branch agency listened in on my conversations, because I’m in another branch of government.”

Graham said that he was not sure if his conversations were unmasked by Obama Administration officials. The senator sent letters to the FBI, CIA and NSA requesting the details of any surveillance that involved him.  

Graham is not the only Republican other than Trump who believes that he may have been under surveillance. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote in a letter to President Trump in April, “An anonymous source recently alleged to me that my name, as well as the names of other members of Congress, were unmasked, queried or both in intelligence reports or intercepts during the previous administration.”

The common thread among Trump, Paul and Graham is that all three were Republican presidential candidates in 2016. In May, Paul told the Washington Times, “There are rumors about other people who ran for president as well. I’m concerned not only for myself but for Americans in general.”

So far, there is no firm evidence that the Obama Administration acted improperly in conducting surveillance, but the claims by Trump, Paul and Graham do raise serious questions about surveillance technology and the oversight needed to prevent its abuse. The subject of surveillance of presidential candidates and members of Congress may come when former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Obamacare Reform Is Looking Doubtful This Year

If you’re wondering whatever happened to the Republican health care reform bill, you are not alone. When we last heard from the American Health Care Act, House Republican leaders were waiting on the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill before submitting the legislation passed in the House to the Senate. The CBO scored the bill in late May, but the silence from the Republican ranks has been deafening. The congressional website does not show any action on the bill since it passed the House on May 4.

Readers of The Resurgent are aware that the Republican health care bill falls short of full repeal. Senate rules require 60 votes for cloture on a repeal bill and Republicans would not be able to find eight Democrats to join them in ending a Democrat filibuster. Even if Republicans eliminated the filibuster entirely, they would not have enough votes for full repeal because at least four Republicans have pledged to oppose a repeal bill that does not provide for a phase out of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.

Now some Republicans are saying that it is doubtful that they will be able to pass even an incomplete health care reform bill. “I don’t see a comprehensive health care plan this year,” Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in Politico. “It’s unlikely that we will get a health care deal, which means that most of my time has been spent trying to figure out solutions to Iowa losing all of its insurers.” Burr serves on the Senate Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

In the Wisconsin State Journal, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) agreed that the first priority to would probably be to act to preserve the health insurance markets in their current form. Johnson said that a short-term “market stabilization” bill could be passed that would fund the Obamacare exchanges with billions of dollars to help prevent insurers from exiting the marketplaces. Such an approach would reduce volatility in the Obamacare markets and buy time for Republicans to agree on a reform bill.

“To me, this may be a two-part process. I would admit that’s probably a minority view in the Republican Senate right now,” Johnson said.

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also tried to tamp down expectations. “There are some still saying that we’ll vote before the August break,” he told the Washington Post. “I have a hard time believing that.”

The fundamental problem is that conservative and moderate Republicans do not agree how to handle various aspects of the health care issue. Although Republicans have been united in their desire to repeal and replace Obamacare since the day it was passed, they disagree on the details of what should come next.

In the eight years since Obamacare became law, Republicans such as Tom Price, formerly a Georgia congressman and now Secretary of Health and Human Services, have written legislation to repeal Obamacare and reform the health insurance industry, but the party has not coalesced around any single bill. When Donald Trump eked out a squeaker of a victory in the Electoral College, Republicans were caught flat-footed and did not have a plan for how to exploit his victory. Indications were that, as late as early February, Republicans had not even started writing an Obamacare reform bill. The Senate considers the House bill dead on arrival and is writing its own version of health care reform, which may be available as early as this week.

President Trump’s antics are also hurting the possibility of passing a health care bill. The investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible connections with Russia and the firing of FBI Director James Comey are distractions that make it even more difficult to find a compromise that is acceptable to all GOP factions. The president showed leadership in the fight to pass the AHCA in the House, but has largely been missing-in-action on the issue in the month since the House vote.

Not all Republicans are pessimistic on health care. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) was quoted in The Hill as saying, “We do need to take care of our business, and I think you mentioned healthcare, and that's certainly front and center in the United States Senate — something we're going to have to get resolved here in the next few weeks.” Cornyn said that he thought a Senate bill would be “done by the end of July at the latest.”

Repeal of Obamacare has been the centerpiece of the Republican platform since 2010. The fact that repeal is not possible, even with Republican majorities in Congress and a Republican president, is not going to please most Republican voters. If the new Republican administration leaves Obamacare completely intact, it may well face a mutiny from the grass roots.

 Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump's Travel Ban Tweetstorm

In the wake of Saturday’s terrorist attack in London, President Trump fired several barrages on Twitter. The targets of the presidential fusillades ranged from the mayor of London to political correctness in general, but the president seemed most intently focused on  the American courts that have repeatedly blocked his travel ban from going into effect.

Trump’s first tweet in response to the attack, posted at 7:17 p.m. on June 3, was a call for “the courts to give us back our rights.” Trump added, “We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”

At that point, there was no indication of who the attackers were or where they came from. By Monday, British authorities had identified the terrorists as homegrown radicals. As such, a travel ban would have had no impact on their ability to carry out the attack. Rather than an immigration problem, the story of the London attack, like the recent Manchester bombing, seems to be the familiar one of local Muslims becoming radicalized at local mosques or by listening to radical imams on the internet.

Trump again called for a travel ban beginning at 6:25 a.m. on June 5 even though there seems to be no connection between first-generation immigration and the stabbing attacks over the weekend. People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want,” the president tweeted, “but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” This is an apparent reference to judges who ruled against the Executive Order based on Trump’s campaign promise to enact a ban on Muslim immigration.

“The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C. [Supreme Court]” Trump continued a few minutes later. A third tweet on the subject said, “The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down [sic] Travel Ban before the Supreme Court - & seek much tougher version!”

Trump’s twitter tirade ended with the statement, “In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!”

One problem with President Trump’s single-minded focus on the travel ban is that most recent terror attacks have been carried out by Muslims who were native born citizens of their countries. This is true for attacks in the United States as well as Europe. A temporary travel ban is not a viable solution to the problem of radicalization within the communities of Muslims who are already legal residents or citizens. It is impossible to go back in time to ban the immigration of parents of future terrorists. We must deal with the problem of radicals as it exists today.

Second, the effectiveness of the travel ban is doubtful to begin with. A Department of Homeland Security report obtained by the Washington Post said that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The report also noted that citizens of the countries singled out in the ban had rarely been implicated in terrorist attacks in the US and that the US issues very few visas to citizens of the affected countries.

Finally, the Executive Order implementing the travel ban specified a 90-day suspension for six countries and a suspension of the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. Since the Trump Administration has been in office for almost five months, the rationale for reinstating the temporary ban seems less credible as time goes on.

It increasingly seems as though the travel ban is a right-wing example of a liberal trope, the feel-good policy that doesn’t actually accomplish anything. As The Values Voter observed on Twitter, “The #travelban is to the right what gun bans are to the left. An emotional response. Not an actual solution to a problem.”

This makes it all the more ironic that the president would call out the left’s reflexive calls for gun control after any violent attack with another post-London tweet. By not waiting for the facts – and then ignoring them – to advance his own agenda, President Trump committed the same error and looked just as petty as the gun control advocates on the left.

It’s also ironic that the president may be hurting his own policy with his incessant tweeting. By linking the current travel ban to his original Executive Order and his campaign promise for a Muslim ban, Trump is making it more difficult for Justice Department lawyers to make the case that the policy is based on national security needs. Constitutional lawyer Neal Katyal got the last word with a tweet thanking the president for his help in proving the plaintiff’s case in the lawsuit against the travel ban.

“Its kinda [sic] odd to have the defendant in HawaiivTrump [sic] acting as our co-counsel,” Katyal said. “We don't need the help but will take it!”

Originally published on The Resurgent