Tuesday, December 11, 2018

President Trump: All I Want For Christmas Is A Government Shutdown

Americans must have been naughty this year because it looks as if one of their early Christmas gifts may be a government shutdown, courtesy of President Trump, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). After a contentious Oval Office meeting on Tuesday, there seems little chance of agreement on a stop-gap measure to fund the government through the holidays. Unless a funding bill is passed, the government will shut down on Dec. 21.

In the televised meeting, the president repeatedly emphasized the need for border security that specifically includes a wall and threatened to shut the government down in order to get it. Pelosi and Schumer repeatedly said that they were seeking a compromise that would keep the government open.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” President Trump stated as the discussion became heated, “because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.”

Leaving aside that the Democrats do make valid points (a phrase I seldom have to type) about the cost, practicality, and effectiveness of the wall, the president’s embrace of the shutdown strategy is a losing proposition. Although government shutdowns play well with the Republican base, they seldom achieve their policy objectives and usually end in an abject surrender often by Republicans who normally are shutting the government down because they lack votes.

Government shutdowns call to mind the Underpants Gnomes of “SouthPark.” The Gnomes famously described their business plan as follows:
Phase 1: Collect underpants
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit

In the case of government shutdowns, the plan seems similar:
Phase 1: Shut down the government
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Victory

Like the Underpants Gnomes, shutdown advocates focus on Phase 1 and Phase 3 while the vital details of the all-important Phase 2 remain sketchy. In fact, no one has ever been able to give me a reasonable explanation of Phase 2.

When it comes to passing legislation, the Constitution is specific about the process. Those of us who came of age in the ‘80s learned about it between Saturday morning cartoons with a Schoolhouse Rock short called, “I’m Just a Bill.” The abridged version is that any bill, including Trump’s border wall funding proposal, has to be passed by both houses of Congress.

The rub for the current Congress is a detail not mentioned by Schoolhouse Rock, the filibuster and cloture votes. Even though Republicans control both houses of Congress until the new Congress convenes in January, their slim majority in the Senate means that they don’t have enough votes for cloture.

Senate rules require a cloture vote to end debate on any bill. This modern, “gentlemen’s” filibuster requires 60 votes to advance a bill to a floor vote in the Senate. In practical terms, that means that Republicans need a minimum of nine Democrats to vote for cloture and end a filibuster.

What does this have to do with government shutdowns? Everything. The only way to pass a bill is to have the required number of votes. If Republicans can’t get Democrats to cross the aisle then the wall funding bill won’t pass, shutdown or no shutdown.

The problem for President Trump is that shutting down the government does nothing to entice Democrats to vote for the wall. If President Trump leads Republicans into a shutdown over wall funding, my prediction is that Republicans will eventually surrender and agree to reopen the open the government after a few days or weeks of wrangling.

This is what happened in 2013 when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led Republicans to shut down the government over Obamacare. The shutdown lasted 16 days during which Republican approval ratings plummeted to their lowest level in history (up to that point anyway). Republicans surrendered and agreed to a deal to reopen the government and increase the debt limit. The Affordable Care Act survives to this day. The shutdown cost taxpayers $24 billion.

The shoe was on the other foot earlier this year when Democrats shut down the government in hopes of forcing an immigration deal that would legalize Dreamers. In this case, Democrats were the ones lacking the votes and they eventually had to give in.

The bottom line is that whichever party enters a shutdown without the votes they need is going to exit the shutdown without the votes that they need. There are only two ways to change votes in Congress: compromises and elections. Shutdowns just force both sides to dig in deeper. Both parties lose in public opinion. The other big loser is taxpayers who foot the bill for all the political drama. Contrary to popular belief, shutdowns cost more than keeping the government open.  

President Trump wants border security in the form of a wall, but he won’t get it from a shutdown. His best bet would be to embrace his status as an artist of deal-making and present Democrats with an offer too good to refuse. That’s what he promised in the campaign and what voters sent him to Washington to do. Pressing ahead to a government shutdown is setting himself and his party up for failure.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, December 10, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh Just Helped Planned Parenthood Keep Its Funding

In a surprising move, newly minted Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the Court’s liberal justices to prevent the high court from deciding whether states could defund Planned Parenthood. The move will let stand lower court rulings that struck down two state laws in Louisiana and Kansas that would have barred the abortion provider from receiving Medicare funds.

Louisiana and Kansas had sought certiorari to allow the Supreme Court to hear their appeals in Gee v. Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast and Andersen v. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. Four judges must agree to accept a case and the votes of Kavanaugh and Roberts to deny certiorari killed any chance that the Court would hear the Planned Parenthood cases, let alone allow states to defund the group.

Several other states have attempted to ban funding for Planned Parenthood at the state level after Republicans in Washington were unable to move a funding ban through Congress. For now, it appears that any further attempts to cut off the group’s federal money will be defeated.

Chief Justice John Roberts typically votes in the conservative bloc but has been key to some high-profile disappointments for constitutionalists. Roberts was the key vote in saving Obamacare with his opinion that the individual mandate was really a tax and therefore constitutional.

Kavanaugh’s vote may surprise some, but several observers predicted that if President Trump wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, Kavanaugh was the wrong judge to pick. Similar to Roberts, Kavanaugh ruled on an Obamacare case in which he did not dispute the constitutionality of the health insurance law. Prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) argued that Kavanaugh was a judge who would uphold precedent. That statement was interpreted as an indication that Kavanaugh would not strike down Roe and possibly Obamacare as well.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who was appointed to the Court by the recently departed George H.W. Bush, dissented, writing that the other judges were afraid to tackle the hot-button issue. “Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty,” Thomas said. “If anything, neutrally applying the law is all the more important when political issues are in the background.”

The decision not to grant certiorari is a hard hit for pro-life groups. “If Kavanaugh was going to deal a major blow to health care rights during his first session on the court, this would have been the case to do it,” Tim Jost, an emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, said in Politico.

During the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s pro-life platform and promise to appoint judges who would overturn Roe was a major reason that many Republicans held their noses and voted for him over Hillary. Given Mr. Trump’s long pro-choice history and the ready availability of more firmly pro-life, constitutionalist judges such as Amy Coney Barrett, many of those voters must wonder today if Justice Kavanaugh has gone rogue or if he is doing exactly what President Trump and other pro-choice Republicans wanted him to. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Administration Throws Out School Lunch Rules Left Over From Obama Era

Complaining about school lunches is a time-honored tradition. From Adam Sandler’s ode to the lunch lady to ponderings about the odd rectangular slices of cafeteria pizza from my youth, lunchroom food has been a source of both grumbling and laughter. During the Obama Administration, the problem got worse, however.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 codified into law standards that were championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. The law set new standards for school lunches as well as vending machines that mandated higher nutrition as well as smaller portion sizes. The resulting bland, half-empty trays led my son to complain, “The food at school is bad and there isn’t enough of it.”

One area where the Trump Administration has been reliable is in rolling back onerous Obama era bureaucratic rulemaking. Easing federal oversight of local school lunches is no exception. Last year, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced an interim rule that relaxed the Obama guidelines. Now Perdue has unveiled the new permanent rules.

The Obama rules are a good example of well-intentioned federal rulemaking run amok. No one is against healthy food for students, but the federal one-size-fits-all approach can cause as many problems as it resolves. In a case of the Law of Unintended Consequences, school lunches became more nutritious, but they also wasted food because kids weren’t eating them. The federal guidelines didn’t recognize regional and cultural differences across the country. The law’s requirement for whole grains was difficult to meet while cooking foods such as pasta, tortillas, biscuits, and grits in a way that was palatable to children. Likewise, the Obama law permitted only nonfat flavored milk or 1 percent white milk and required every student to buy at least one serving of a fruit or vegetable “even if they toss the produce into the garbage” noted the New Haven Register at the time.

When I ate lunch at school with my children, I would see many parents bringing outside pizzas, sub sandwiches or chicken nuggets to their children. My kids and many other packed lunches from home that were not subject to the requirements of the federal nanny state. When I purchased school food and ate it with my kids, I found it very bland and unexciting. The staff told me that their cooking options were very limited because the federal mandate which also required reductions in sodium and other ingredients.

Now some sanity and local control are being restored to school lunches. Secretary Perdue said in a statement, “If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted.”

Under the new rules, only half of the grains served must be whole grain, allowing schools to use more appetizing flours when necessary. Students will also be able to drink low-fat chocolate milk instead of the fat-free milk that the government had required.

The fundamental problem with the situation is the fallacy that only the federal government can ensure that schoolchildren get healthy lunches. Contrary to the belief of some Americans, it isn’t necessary for the feds to micromanage what every child in America eats for lunch. State and local education and nutrition officials also have working brains and the best interests of the children at heart. School cafeterias were not dishing out poison to schoolchildren before Michelle Obama intervened.

The world won’t end with the Trump Administration’s new school lunch guidelines. Schoolchildren won’t starve and they won’t suddenly become morbidly obese. There is the chance that they might enjoy their lunch more, get a full belly and go back to class satiated and ready to learn, rather than still hungry because most of their lunch went straight from the tray to the trash can. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, December 7, 2018

John Kelly May Be Next Member Of Trump Administration Voted Off Island

If the Trump Administration can be likened to a reality television show, the steady stream of departures can be compared to contestants being voted off the island. As we approach the final installments of season two, there are rumors that the next exit will be none other than John Kelly.

Kelly, in the role of White House Chief of Staff, has long been rumored to want out and there are rumors that Kelly’s relationship with the president has become increasingly unworkable. CNN reports that Trump and Kelly have stopped talking to each other in recent days as the president has complained that Kelly is not politically savvy and is not well-suited to helping Trump handle a House led by Nancy Pelosi.

Shortly after the election, CNN reported that Trump was considering replacements for Kelly, Jeff Sessions, and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Sessions tendered his resignation as attorney general last month.

Axios reported that a likely replacement for Kelly would be Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Pence. White House insiders who favor Ayers argue that his political instincts could help Trump deal with a divided Congress as well as the Russia probe and an economy that is increasingly turbulent, in large part due to President Trump’s protectionist trade policies.

Kelly, a retired Marine four-star general, was originally appointed to be Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security. He became chief of staff in July 2017 in the shakeup that followed President Trump delivering his signature line, “you’re fired,” to Reince Priebus. Kelly helped bring order to the chaos of the Trump White House but has reportedly clashed with the president on numerous issues.

Previous rumors of Kelly’s firing or resignation have been ‘greatly exaggerated,” to use Samuel Clemens’ phrase. Last July, President Trump confirmed to senior staff that Kelly had agreed to stay on until at least 2020. Even at that point, Trump alternated between praising and criticizing Kelly and there were reports that the president had ignored or circumvented many of Kelly’s policies and protocols.

Now the news coming out of the White House indicates that Kelly’s departure may be imminent. With the habit of dumping controversial news on Friday afternoon or over the weekend, it’s possible that Kelly’s departure could be announced as soon as today. 
Originally published on The Resurgent

Blue Wave Reaches 40 House Seats With Another Dem Win In California

Although predictions that the Democrat blue wave would founder lasted through the early hours of poll results on Election Day, the extent of the wave has been growing in recent weeks as close races have been decided across the country. With the news that Republican David Valadao has been defeated in California’s 21st congressional district, the Republican losses in the House have reached a total of 40 seats.

The win in CA-21 by Democrat TJ Cox brings the total number of California congressional seats flipped by Democrats to seven. This includes four seats in Orange County, which was a Republican stronghold in the past but became a totally Democrat county in 2018.

As with several other California Republicans, Valadao, who has represented his district since 2013, held a lead on Election night and was initially projected to be the winner. However, absentee ballots arriving after Election Day eroded their lead and eventually flipped the seats to the Democrats. On Nov. 6, Valadao led by 5,000 votes but ultimately lost by 862 votes, less than one percent of the total.

Some Republicans have speculated that fraudulent votes have changed the course of races in California, but so far there is no evidence of wrongdoing. California law requires absentee voters to register seven days before the election and mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received within three days of the election. However, vote counting in California can take longer because California accepts ballots that could be rejected in other states. California law requires counties to notify voters of mistakes, such as missing signatures, that would otherwise invalidate a ballot and gives voters time to correct them. Ballots that were sent to the wrong county are also required to be forwarded to correct location.

Some Republicans also blame a new California law that allows “ballot harvesting.” Effective this year, California allows anyone to return signed and sealed absentee ballots to the local election officials. Previously, only relatives could turn in ballots for absentee voters. The law expressly prohibits paying vote collectors for the number of ballots that they turn in but is silent on whether they can receive an hourly wage for their efforts. While the new law may have led to an increase in the number of absentee votes, the law did not favor Democrats over Republicans except in the ability to find volunteers to collect ballots.

The outgoing chairman of the California Republican Party, former state Sen. Jim Brulte, rejected the notion that voting irregularities led to the Republican rout in the Golden State. Brulte told Politico that Republican candidates were warned about changes to California election laws and failed to take appropriate action.

“We personally briefed the candidates, the congressional delegation, the legislators,” Brulte said, but added, “We’ve not been able to find Republicans having a lot of success anywhere related to ballot harvesting.”

Brulte has other concerns about California as well, warning that, “I believe California is the canary in the coal mine — not an outlier.”

In Brulte’s view, the core problem for California Republicans was that “We have not yet been able to figure out how to effectively communicate and get significant numbers of votes from non-whites.”

Brulte pointed out that demographic trends indicate that “the entire country will be majority minority by 2044” and Republicans have failed to appeal to those new voters. Exit polling shows that the Republican base is becoming increasingly white, male, and rural. These changes mean that Republican candidates must “figure out how we get votes from people who don’t look like you,” Brulte says. The problem is pronounced in California but may soon affect such Republican strongholds as Texas, Florida, and Georgia where Republicans won extremely close races this year.

At this point, there is only one undecided House race left. In North Carolina’s 19th district, Republican activists are accused of illegal ballot harvesting that is similar to what is now legal in California. The allegations of electoral fraud in North Carolina could lead to a new election in that district where Republican Mark Harris eked out a 905 vote win over Democrat Dan McCready.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Nancy Pelosi Says Deal Linking Wall And DACA Will Be DOA

Once-and-future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has fired a shot across the bow of the Trump Administration on immigration. The California Democrat, popularly known as “San Fran Nan,” is preemptively signaling that Democrats won’t sign onto a deal that ties President Trump’s wall funding to a permanent fix for the DACA program.

In comments to reporters on Thursday as the House and Senate approved an extension of spending that will fund the government until Dec. 21, Pelosi rejected the idea of a compromise that would link the president’s wall project to making Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program permanent.

“They’re two different subjects,” Pelosi told the Associated Press.

It is extremely doubtful that House Democrats could be persuaded to fund the wall as part of a standalone bill. Pelosi added that many Democrats consider the wall to be “immoral, ineffective and expensive.” Even if Mexico paid for the wall as Donald Trump promised in the election, she said, “It’s immoral still.” So far, Mexico has shown no sign of being willing to fund the wall either.

Earlier this year, Democrats refused to budge on similar proposals to legalize DACA participants. A Trump Administration proposal from January would have represented a major victory for Democrats in exchange for a $25 billion commitment to the wall. That deal was scuttled by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats. Afterward, President Trump said that there would be “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”

In reality, neither side wants a comprehensive immigration deal. Republicans have long opposed comprehensive immigration reform, preferring instead to insist that border security must come first. For more than a decade, any Republican who has supported a comprehensive fix for the immigration system has been accused of supporting “amnesty” and “open borders” and is reviled by the Republican base. A significant number of Republicans opposed President Trump’s DACA deal because they thought it would benefit Democrats.

For their part, Democrats seem to prefer that the issue be kept open to provide them with a wedge that makes Republicans appear bigoted and xenophobic. As the two parties battle over the Hispanic demographic, Democrats cannot afford to let a Republican president claim credit for fixing the popular DACA program. Likewise, giving President Trump a victory on the wall, his signature issue, would boost Trump’s reelection chances and energize his base. Democrats cannot allow that.

Ironically both parties risk alienating voters with their hardline positions on immigration. Exit polls from 2018 showed that minorities are fleeing the Republican Party, but the downside may be even greater for Democrats. There were pro-DACA protests against the Democratic Party in March after the implosion of the DACA deal. If pro-immigration voters decide that Democrats are stringing them along, they may give Republicans a try.

The reality is that neither side has the numbers to enact its own unilateral immigration bill. That will be especially true when Democrats take control of the House next year, but even over the past two years, minority Democrats in the Senate were able to kill Republican bills with the filibuster.

Until the two sides decide to work together (or until one side controls both houses of Congress and the presidency and eliminates the filibuster), there will be no fix for our broken immigration system. Until that day, the border will stay open and illegal immigrants will remain in legal limbo. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Voter Fraud May Have Thrown This North Carolina Congressional Election

Voter fraud may have changed the outcome of a congressional election in North Carolina. For a change, the fraud allegations are against the Republicans and, rather than centering on a voter ID issue, the problem deals with absentee ballots, a weak link in the electoral systems of many states.

The race in North Carolina’s ninth district was called for Mark Harris, a Republican running to succeed Robert Pittenger, the Republican incumbent who was defeated in the primary. Harris, a Charlotte pastor, led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes on Election night and McCready conceded the next day. Over the next few weeks, irregularities in the election have caused the North Carolina Board of Elections to delay certifying the election. On Nov. 26, the board, which is made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and one nonpartisan, voted unanimously to delay until an investigation had been completed. The race is still officially undecided.

The investigation centers on absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson Counties, two of the most rural counties of the district, and a staffer for the Harris campaign staffer who allegedly ran an operation that submitted hundreds of illegal ballots. Sworn affidavits and news reports allege that Leslie McCrae Dowless and other campaign workers would go to visit voters and have them fill out requests for absentee ballots. Mr. Dowless and others allegedly returned later to pick up the absentee ballots, which were sometimes unsealed, with the promise of submitting them.

Datesha Montgomery, a 27-year-old woman from Elizabethtown, N.C., said in sworn affidavit cited by ABC News that a woman “came by and asked for my absentee ballot” in early October.

“She states that [the woman] was collecting peoples [sic] ballots in the area. She had just come from another ladies [sic] house. I filled out two names on the ballot, Hakeem Brown for Sheriff and Vice Rozier for board of education. She stated the others were not important. I gave her the ballot and she said she would finish it herself. I signed the ballot and she left. It was not sealed up at any time,” Montgomery said in the affidavit.

Under North Carolina law, only the voter, the voter’s close relatives or legal guardian are allowed to drop off absentee ballots. Despite the law, at least five voters in addition to Montgomery have signed affidavits that present similar stories.

The case for fraud goes beyond voter testimony. There is also statistical evidence. The ninth district is made up of parts of eight counties. Michael Blitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College, analyzed the absentee voting and found that Bladen County had a much higher share of absentee ballots than the other counties in the district. Seven percent of Bladen’s registered voters asked for absentee ballots compared with about three percent statewide.

Even though Bladen County Republicans requested only 19 percent of absentee ballots, Harris received 61 percent of the absentee mail vote there. What’s more, Bladen County was the only county in the district where Harris won the absentee mail vote. FiveThirtyEight noticed the same discrepancies in the Bladen returns.

Blitzer also pointed out that Bladen County had an abnormally high rate of unreturned ballots. Forty percent of absentee ballots mailed out were never returned. The next highest ghosting rate was only 27 percent. This could indicate that some of the ballots that were picked up were discarded rather than turned in.

If that weren’t enough, WSOC, a local television station, interviewed Ginger Eason, whose name appears as a witness on 28 absentee ballots. Eason said that Dowless paid her $75 to $100 per week to pick up absentee ballots. This would have been a violation of the law if the voters were not Eason’s relatives. WSOC also listed seven other people who were listed as witnesses on an unusual number of absentee ballots.

Leslie McCrae Dowless, who goes by his middle name, is a longtime political operative in Bladen County who has a criminal history. Dowless, who turned in 592 of the 1,341 absentee ballots in Bladen, was convicted of insurance fraud in 1992. He was also accused of tampering with absentee ballots in 2016. That year two voters accused his workers of paying them to request absentee ballots. In one case, the requested absentee ballots were never delivered and the voter tried to vote in person, only to be told that ballots for her and her family had already been turned in. In another case, a get-out-the-vote activist working for Dowless was accused of telling the voter who she had to vote for.

Candidates supported by Dowless typically do very well in Bladen County, especially with absentee ballots. The Charlotte Observer pointed out that Todd Johnson, who Dowless worked for in the 2016 Republican primary, won 98 percent of Bladen’s absentee vote despite finishing third overall. In this year’s primary, Harris did nearly as well with 96 percent. Harris defeated Pittenger by only 828 votes in the primary so it is possible that absentee ballot fraud may have affected the outcome of that election as well.

Dowless has not responded to calls from new organizations but did deny any wrongdoing to the Charlotte Observer.

At this point, a resolution to the Bladen County absentee scandal is uncertain. The US Attorney is conducting an investigation and the Board of Elections will hold a hearing on or before Dec. 21. The board could call for a new election with the same candidates, including Libertarian Jeff Scott, who won just under two percent of the vote. If the state certifies the original election results, the House may also refuse to seat Harris. In that case, an entirely new election with new primaries would be held.

While this one congressional district won’t decide the fate of the House, it underscores the depth of the blue wave that Republicans would probably have lost another seat in a district that hasn’t gone Democrat since 1963 if a shady staffer hadn’t harvested hundreds of illegal votes. It is very possible that when the dust clears the Democrats will have added another Republican scalp to their midterm trophies.

The Bladen County scandal also undercuts the Republican message about ballot security and voter ID laws. The fact that Republicans appear to have paid for absentee votes and possibly discarded ballots containing votes for the Democratic candidate makes a mockery of the party’s planks calling for election security and voter verification. Republican efforts have concentrated on voter ID laws, but absentee ballots typically don’t require verification of identity.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bob Dole's Heart-Rending Salute To President Bush

One of the most emotional moments of the memorials for President George Herbert Walker Bush so far was the video of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kansas) paying his respects before the president’s flag-draped casket as it lay in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.

Dole, who is 95-years-old, approached President Bush’s casket in a wheelchair. An aide helped the senator to stand and, as he stood shakily, still assisted by supporting arms, Dole gave the former commander-in-chief a salute. After holding the salute for a moment, his assistant eased Dole back into his chair as the Marine honor guard looked on. Dole gazed at the casket containing the remains of his friend and comrade-in-arms for a long moment before being wheeled away.

Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush were among the “greatest generation.” Before entering government service, both men were veterans of World War II. Where Bush was a Navy pilot in the Pacific, Dole fought the Germans as an infantryman. Originally an enlisted man, Dole was promoted to second lieutenant in the army’s 10th Mountain Division. In April 1945, he was severely wounded in combat in Italy, leaving him with limited use of his right arm for the rest of his life.

After the war, Dole served in House of Representatives from 1960-1969 and the Senate from 1969 through 1996. During that time, he held the positions of both minority and majority leader as well as chairman of the Republican National Committee. In these roles, he worked closely with President Bush and the two became friends.

Dole’s tribute to his fallen comrade was touching on a number of levels. The gesture was difficult for the aged veteran and reflects not only professional respect for a fallen leader, but brotherly love for a comrade in arms and a departed friend. 

Oops! Trump's Claims Of China Trade Deal Were Premature

President Trump’s much-ballyhooed trade agreement with China is looking less like a done deal and more like a work in process. Statements by Chinese officials indicate that Trump’s announcement of a deal was premature and there are concerns that the president’s jumping the gun may endanger the entire agreement.

In a series of tweets on Dec. 2, Trump said that China had agreed to “reduce and remove” their 40 percent tariff on American auto imports and start purchasing American agricultural products “immediately.” Before the trade war, Chinese tariffs on foreign autos were 25 percent. Since the trade dispute began, China has increased tariffs on American cars to 40 percent while reducing imports from other countries to 15 percent.

The lack of confirmation from the Chinese combined with Trump’s history of prematurely claiming success in international deals led many observers to be skeptical about Trump’s claims. Those doubts fueled an 800-point drop in the stock market on Tuesday after a 600-point rally on Monday.

Now statements by Chinese officials are confirming that the deal with the Trump Administration was merely an agreement to start negotiations. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that China’s Commerce Ministry confirmed in a statement that the nation has agreed to a 90-day negotiating period in which both sides will stop increasing tariffs. The statement said that the negotiations had a “clear timeline and road map” and confirmed that “the Chinese side will start implementing the specific items both sides have agreed on, and the sooner the better.”

How much is already agreed upon was left unclear, but the Journal notes that Chinese government agencies and the nation’s supreme court announced tough penalties for violation of intellectual property rights. Infringement on intellectual property has been a major complaint of the Trump Administration. The new rules were dated Nov. 21, but were only made public yesterday.

On the other hand, the statement by the Commerce Ministry did not mention purchases of agricultural products or reducing auto tariffs. Some Chinese officials did suggest that their country may increase purchases of products such as soybeans and natural gas, which are in high demand in China. They did not specify amounts, however, and there was no indication of whether the tariffs would be reduced.

On Monday, President Trump even seemed to back off from his declarations of a trade victory. In a series of tweets, the president claimed that negotiations were already underway to see “whether or not a REAL deal with China is actually possible.” Trump added that China was “supposed to start buying Agricultural product and more immediately” and said that “it probably will.”

Trump closed his tweetstorm with the proviso, “ But if not remember [that] I am a Tariff Man.” The Trump Administration has said that if talks fail it will follow through with plans to raise tariffs on Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent. The increase was originally scheduled for Jan. 1.

There is also confusion over the beginning of the 90-day period. Trump claimed that the truce period began on “the date of our wonderful and very warm dinner with President Xi in Argentina” on Dec. 1. Chinese officials have not confirmed this understanding of the timeline.

Many Chinese observers believe that Trump is deliberately trying to confuse the issue in order to trick Beijing into making concessions. “China should prepare but not rush to make concessions,” Yu Yongding, a researcher with government think tank Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and former adviser to China’s central bank, told the Journal. “This is a competition of endurance to see who breaks first.”

Some American experts agree. “It’s funny how far the administration has gotten on bravado and uncertainty — the ‘crazy uncle’ strategy with almost no organization, no whole-of-government approach, insufficient preparation and no talking points,” Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in the Washington Post. “The strategy has thrown the fear of Marx into the Chinese. They have been knocked off their seats.”

Others point out that there are inherent risks in Trump’s approach. Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon official who Trump called “probably the leading authority on China,” told Axios that he was “getting warnings from knowledgeable Chinese about the American claims of concessions” that were never agreed upon by the Chinese. These include Trump’s claims about the immediate purchase of American agricultural products and Chinese tariff reductions.

“I have advised the president's team that for the past 40 years the American side avoids disclosing Chinese concessions before the final agreed written statement is released,” Pillsbury said.

The Trump Administration’s brash China policy may have brought the two countries to the brink of a trade deal, but it is still possible that the president’s undisciplined tweets and claims may prevent a final agreement. There are signs that China is prepared to make concessions on some American priorities such as intellectual property rights, but at this point, a reversion to the pre-trade war status quo would be a victory for American businesses and consumers.

 Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, December 3, 2018

So Much For Defunding Planned Parenthood

When the Republican House majority exits stage right in January, any chance of defunding Planned Parenthood will be leaving also. While it’s understandable that conservatives would be angry about the failure to end federal funding of the abortion provider, there was never really any chance that the GOP would be able to follow through on its campaign promise anyway.

With 51 Republicans in the Senate, it was theoretically possible that a ban on funding Planned Parenthood could be slipped into a budget resolution in order to avoid a Democrat filibuster. However, that strategy ignores the fact that there are Republican supporters of Planned Parenthood in the Senate. Their names are Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The Republican pickup of two Senate seats in this year’s elections won’t help the matter either. When it comes to the Republican domestic agenda, the gain of two Senate seats is more than offset by the Democrat wave that boosted Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to control of the House. Any attempt at defunding Planned Parenthood will be aborted by House Democrats.

 “We told the White House, ‘Don’t sign any budget that funds Planned Parenthood,’” Kristan Hawkins, president of the Students for Life of America said. “‘We need you to uphold your campaign promises and force Congress to uphold theirs.’”

But, in reality, President Trump had little choice. Without the votes to pass a budget that cut Planned Parenthood’s funding, the choice was to either fund the government or shut it down. If the White House had forced a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, they would have eventually had to surrender.

Republicans failed to make a case that convinced the American people that Planned Parenthood should not be funded. Although defunding the group is popular with the Republican base, 62 percent of Americans view Planned Parenthood favorably despite the fact that the electorate is evenly split on abortion.

Politico notes that many Republicans privately concede that frontal assaults on the Planned Parenthood are doomed to fail. Instead, many are looking for alternative strategies that incrementally strip away the group’s federal funding. Proposed changes to Title X by the Trump Administration would make it more difficult for abortion providers to qualify for federal funds. In West Virginia, voters recently approved a constitutional amendment that cuts Medicaid funding for abortion providers. Both moves will likely face legal challenges.

Defunding Planned Parenthood is a good idea but it was always unrealistic without a large Republican majority. The fact that President Trump’s chaotic presidency is quickly eroding Republican majorities at both the federal and state level makes it even more unlikely that Republicans will be able to terminate government funding for nation’s largest abortion provider.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump To Withdraw From World's Largest Free Trade Agreement

President Trump said Saturday that he intends to use his executive authority to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump said that he will soon notify Canada and Mexico of the United States intent to leave the trade pact.

“I’ll be terminating it within a relatively short period of time. We get rid of NAFTA. It’s been a disaster for the United States,” Trump said, adding, “And so Congress will have a choice of the USMCA or pre-NAFTA, which worked very well.”

The Trump Administration has negotiated a new agreement, which the US refers to as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), that is intended to replace NAFTA. NAFTA is the world's largest free trade agreement and has led to dramatic economic growth in all three nations.

Trump’s intention is obviously to give Congress the choice of either the new deal or no free trade agreement at all. NAFTA reduced tariffs among the three nations so destroying the pact would have the effect of raising tariffs even further and slowing trade. Already, American agriculture, small manufacturing, and shipping have been damaged by the trade war.

The new trade pact, which is also referred to as the “New NAFTA,” has received mixed reviews. On the plus side, the deal contains increased protections for intellectual property, agrees to prevent currency manipulation, and opens American access to Canadian dairy markets. On the downside, the treaty automatically expires in 16 years unless it is renewed and, in an apparent attempt to limit US investment in Mexico, the Trump Administration insisted on limiting protection from regulatory abuse. Further, the new deal increases the percentage of domestic content required to exempt new cars from tariffs.

Rather than free trade, the Wall Street Journal says of the USMCA, “This is politically managed trade, and its economic logic is the opposite of Mr. Trump’s domestic deregulation agenda.” The paper’s editorial board added that the “auto gambit is part of the Trump-Lighthizer strategy to blow up global supply chains.”

The main attraction of the Trump trade pact is that it is better than a reversion to pre-NAFTA rules with their return to increased tariffs and regulations. Economists say that the new deal won’t boost economic growth or increase manufacturing jobs. Its new limitations on free trade will end up costing American consumers more money while giving them less choice.

There is also debate on whether President Trump has the authority to unilaterally withdraw from NAFTA. The treaty includes a provision that allows for withdrawal after a six-month notice, but opponents say that since NAFTA was approved by the Senate, leaving the pact would also require Senate approval.

A 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service addressed the question of a unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA by the president. “As a practical matter, the President’s communication of a notice of termination of an FTA [free trade agreement] to trade partners in accordance with the FTA’s terms59 appears sufficient to release the United States from its international obligations,” the report says, but  notes, the “President could not repeal federal statutes implementing the FTA in the absence of congressional action because the Constitution gives Congress the authority to impose duties and to ‘regulate commerce with foreign nations.’” In other words, the president’s notice to terminate could be a withdrawal in name only if Congress does not change the US laws and regulations to differ from what the treaty requires.

The report also points out that “the Constitution apportions authority over international trade between the President and Congress.” The legality of Trump’s move is not specifically addressed in the Constitution and there is no precedent for a president unilaterally withdrawing from a trade treaty.

If President Trump goes through with his move to unilaterally claim the executive authority to withdraw the United States from a successful trade deal with its two largest trading partners, it will almost certainly provoke a constitutional crisis as well as an economic one. The Senate is controlled by Republicans but many oppose the president’s protectionist trade policies. Republican Senate leaders may be forced to sue to overturn the president’s abuse of executive authority or choose between either a badly flawed trade deal or no deal at all.

Originally published on The Resurgent