This is where you can read our posts, listed chronologically. We hope you find them thought-provoking, informative and/or in some other way worthwhile reading.
This is where you can read our posts, listed chronologically. We hope you find them thought-provoking, informative and/or in some other way worthwhile reading.
Time will tell if Michael Cohen was telling the truth Wednesday during his more explosive allegations against President Donald Trump, but his testimony about his motives go far beyond the normal bounds of credibility.
The president’s former lawyer and “fixer,” as the media love to call him, had a tricky challenge as he addressed the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee – how to explain why he continued to do the bidding of a man he described in the harshest terms.
At one point, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) wanted to know when Cohen – who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress – saw the light.
“What was the breaking point at which you decided to start telling the truth?” he asked.
Cohen could not pinpoint a single turning point.
“There’s several factors,” he said. “Helsinki. Charlottesville. Watching the daily destruction of our civility to one another.”
Helsinki was a reference to Trump’s much-maligned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital. And Charlottesville was the Virginia city where white supremacist protesters clashed with counter-demonstrators during a rally in support of Confederate monuments. Trump came in for heavy criticism for his insistence that there were good and bad people on “both sides” of the issue.
Cohen pointed to a poster that one of the Republican representatives had displayed showing the words, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” over Cohen’s face.
“Putting up silly things like this. Really unbecoming of Congress,” he said. “It’s that sort of behavior that I’m responsible for. I’m responsible for your silliness.”
Added Cohen: “This destruction of our civility to one another is just out of control.”
It is hard to believe Cohen was moved by a sense of disgust over the “destruction of our civility.” Cohen, after all, participated in it.
Shortly after Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, Cohen threatened Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak when the journalist asked about allegations that Trump had raped his first wife.
“Mark my words for it, I will make sure that you and I meet one day over in the courthouse and I will take you for every penny you still don't have, and I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said in a recording of his call with Mak. “Do not even think about going where I know you’re planning on going.”
Cohen warned Mak not to write a story with the word “rape” in it.
“For as long as you're on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you'll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he said.
Talking about a protester who got into a scuffle with Trump supporters at a campaign rally, Cohen once said that if someone goes to an event looking to be an agitator, “you know what, that’s between the individual who wants to be an agitator and the people that are there to listen to Mr. Trump.”
As early as 2011, he explained to ABC News the role he played for Trump.
“If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished,” he said.
Beyond the Mr. Civility routine, let’s examine the two specific events that purportedly prompted Cohen to re-evaluate his relationship with the president – the Trump-Putin summit and the Charlottesville violence.
The “Unite the Right” rally occurred in August 2017. Cohen did not start speaking out against Trump publicly until the following summer. In the time in between, he gave little indication that Trump’s response to the incident caused him much consternation.
A few weeks after the rally, Cohen told Vanity Fair that he did not understand why Trump gave the news conference and that he did not agree with everything the president has said or tweeted. But he added that he wanted to do more to help his former boss.
“At times I wish I were there in D.C. more, sitting with him in the Oval Office like we used to at Trump Tower, to protect him,” he said. “I feel guilty that he's in there right now almost alone.”
As to the Helsinki summit, which drew vociferous criticism over Trump’s failure to confront Putin over Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election, that occurred in July 2018. That was after Cohen gave an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that marked the change of his public posture toward Trump.
He said he would not be a “punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy.”
At the time, legal pressures were mounting on Cohen over his own shady business dealings. FBI agents in April had raided his home, hotel room and office. And Trump was distancing himself from Cohen. Later that month, the president downplayed Cohen’s role, telling reporters that the lawyer had performed only a “tiny, tiny fraction” of his legal work.
Cohen glossed over that history, however. Instead, he would have Congress and the country believe that after 10 years of working closely with a man he describes as a racist, liar and con man, he got fed up after watching Trump’s handling of his summit with Putin and the Charlottesville violence.
It’s not something that ever would result in a perjury charge, but that testimony is not believable.
The biggest test of fealty to the Constitution is when you are willing to endure a bad result for the sake of a larger principle.
By that measure, all but 13 Republicans failed Tuesday when the House of Representatives passed a resolution to block President Donald Trump from using an emergency declaration to build a border wall that Congress explicitly had declined to fund.
Trump has plenty of good arguments for why border barriers are needed. U.S. Border Patrol officials and rank-and-file officers repeatedly have said that border fencing is an important tool in preventing illegal immigrants from crossing into the United States. And border barriers, both in the United States and other countries, have resulted in steep declines in illegal migration in the areas where they exist.
With some 400,000 illegal immigrants coming across the southwest border every year, there are plenty of vulnerabilities where current fencing doesn’t reach.
Despite voting for fences in the past, however, many Democrats now call it immoral.
Silly as that position may be, though, it seems hard to see how the president has the authority to bypass the legislative branch. It is harder to believe only 13 House Republicans would have supported a resolution challenging a Democratic president who flaunted executive power in the face of congressional opposition.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) captured the hypocrisy during an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.
“This was not a difficult one,” he said. “I took on President [Barack] Obama on many, many issues related to executive overreach, and this was a very clear case of executive overreach. The legislative branch is charged with appropriations. The legislative branch has this power. We can’t delegate it to the executive branch.”
But Amash did not have a lot of company in the GOP. Even most of the members of Amash’s libertarian-leaning House Liberty Caucus chose to back their president.
The only other member who opposed Trump, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), made clear that he supports the wall. In fact, he noted on Twitter, he voted for the president’s full funding request when the House considered the matter.
“There is a crisis at our border, but it’s not an emergency when Congress doesn’t spend money how the President wants,” he tweeted. “The President’s constitutional remedy is to veto spending bills that aren’t suitable to him, yet he has chosen to sign many bills that did not fund the wall.”
The other dissenting Republicans include moderates like Reps. Elise Stefanik, of New York; Fred Upton, of Michigan; Brian Fitzpatrick, of Pennsylvania; and Will Hurd, of Texas. Hurd’s objection goes beyond the principle of separation of powers; he opposes the wall.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), a former member of the House GOP leadership, also voted with the Democratic majority, as did Reps. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.).
They characterized Trump’s move as an abuse of power. Sensenbrenner, for example, noted that prior emergency declarations involved matters that Congress supported but could not organize a vote in time. He pointed to President Jimmy Carter’s declaration freezing Iranian assets during the hostage crisis.
If Republicans allow Trump to subvert the will of Congress, Sensenbrenner argued, it could come back to haunt them.
“This national emergency declaration does not fall within that broad category, and if gone unchallenged, sets a dangerous precedent which will undoubtedly be exploited by future administrations,” he said in a statement. “Despite my opposition to the use of an emergency declaration in this situation, I do support the undying goal of securing our border with a physical barrier and urge my colleagues to reconsider additional funding, appropriated from Congress, to meet the needs of our border patrol agents.”
Amash told CNN that he was disappointed more Republicans did not stand up to the end-run around Congress.
“This is how it works on Capitol Hill,” he said. “It’s really unfortunate that partisan leanings tend to overcome principles time and again.”
So breathtaking is the so-called Green New Deal that it is difficult to know where to begin to try to add up all the costs.
But someone tried, anyway. The center-right think tank American Action Forum crunched the numbers and on Monday put out a preliminary estimate.
The numbers are, if anything, more staggering than the goals the plan sets out – $51.1 trillion over a decade. If that number scares you, consider it is the low-end estimate. The high-end figure? Try $92.9 trillion between 2020 and 2029.
“Even if the estimates are 5 to 10 times too high (and I suspect they are more likely too low), it is hard to wrap one’s head around numbers these large,” the group’s president, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, wrote on the organization’s website. “But if you manage to do so, be aware that the likely social upheaval would be even larger.”
Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, added that the scope of the Green New Deal makes it hard to calculate costs.
“It is a sweeping policy plan setting out ambitious objectives for energy and economic policy, but it is also much more,” he wrote. “It envisions re-engineering essentially every aspect of American society and its institutions. Top-down societal engineering should make you very (very, Very, VERY) nervous.”
For some perspective, $93 trillion is more than the value of all goods and services produced by all of the world’s countries combined in a year.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who developed the Green New Deal along with rising star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), blasted the think tank’s conclusions.
“Any so-called ‘analysis’ of the #GreenNewDeal that includes artificially inflated numbers that rely on lazy assumptions, incl. about policies that aren’t even in the resolution is bogus,” he tweeted. “Putting a price on a resolution of principles, not policies, is just Big Oil misinformation.”
The Green New Deal is nothing if not bold. It aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in a decade. Many experts believe the technology does not currently exist to reach that goal while maintaining present levels of energy.
The resolution outlines a long list of projects meant to ween the country off of fossil fuels. Some of those steps include rapidly replacing gas-powered cars with electric vehicles, building high-speed rail throughout the nation in order to make airplanes obsolete and retrofitting every building in America so that they can be powered by renewable resources.
But that’s only half of the proposal. The Green New Deal also promises to guarantee a job and a livable wage for every American, assure job parity for those displaced by the green revolution, and provide free health care, paid vacation and sick leave, while encouraging unions.
Tallying all that led the think tank to these 10-year estimates:
Putting a price tag on a proposal that, for now, exists only as a 14-page resolution requires making a number of assumptions. For instance, in assessing the universal health care piece, the think tank uses the plan offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his 2016 presidential campaign. It uses an analysis by the Center for Health and Economy as a starting point.
To calculate the cost of high-speed rail, the American Action Forum uses the cost-per-mile projections developed by California for a planned state system.
Given the difficulties in estimating such a wide-ranging plan that currently includes few details, Markey may well be correct that the think tank is inflating the costs. But it’s hard to deny that the proposal is far more ambitious than anything the United States ever has contemplated.
How ambitious? Consider that California Gov. Gavin Newsome his month announced the state was abandoning plans to build high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco after determining that it could not afford the $77 billion cost and that the project would not be finished until 2033.
Now, multiply that single 520-mile line by the entire country and imagine what it would take to do it all in 10 years.
That is but one challenge authors of the Green New Deal face.
Handicapping a presidential election 21 months before Election Day is tricky business, but the Democratic candidate President Donald Trump should fear the most may be one most voters have never heard of.
That would Sherrod Brown, the senior senator from Ohio.
Though he has not formally announced, Brown has given every indication that he is running. A Monmouth University poll earlier this month indicated that only 27 percent of Democratic voters were familiar enough with Brown to offer an opinion about him. That put him behind 12 other announced or potential candidates.
Conventional wisdom says former Vice President Joe Biden would be the strongest general election candidate, or perhaps it would be one of the progressive firebrands, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
Any or all of those candidates could conceivably beat Trump. The president, after all, is not especially popular. But if Democrats want to pick the candidate with the best shot at taking out Trump, Brown checks a lot of boxes.
The senator has a liberal voting record and should be broadly acceptable to the progressive base of the party. At the same time, he has a calm demeanor that makes him appear moderate, at least tonally. Unlike Sanders, for instance, he does not go about calling for political revolutions.
Brown would be formidable by virtue of geography alone. He hails from Ohio, a state Trump simply cannot win without. No Republican president ever has been elected without carrying the Buckeye State. And as the country has become more evenly divided in recent years, Ohio’s 18 electoral votes have become even more important to the GOP.
Although Trump won Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2016, against Brown, he likely would face long odds. The senator has deep roots in Ohio politics, having been the youngest person ever elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1974. He has won five out of six statewide races, including a 7-point victory last year in an election that saw four of Brown’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate lose re-election bids and Republican Mike DeWine win Ohio’s gubernatorial race.
His Senate wins include a 12-point thumping of then-incumbent Sen. DeWine in 2006.
What’s more, Brown’s profile fits perfectly with the types of voters Democrats have struggled with in recent years – white, blue-collar workers and voters without college degrees. Brown long has positioned himself as a champion of those voters. Over the weekend, he told workers in Nevada that he’d be “the most pro-union candidate” in the race if he decides to run.
In his re-election bid last year, he won 62 percent of voters who live in a home with a union member and swiped 12 percent of voters who had cast ballots for Trump two years earlier. He also won by 4 points among women without college degrees.
That helped Brown win eight counties that Trump carried in 2016 – Wood and Ottawa in the Toledo area; Montgomery, anchored by Dayton; Erie in northern Ohio; and Trumbull, Ashtabula, Portage and Lake in the northeastern part of the state.
Seven of those counties also twice voted for Barack Obama. Hence, the key to 2020. If Democrats can flip enough of those Obama-Trump counties back, they most likely will win back the White House.
Nationwide, there are 206 such “pivot” counties. And they tend to be heavily concentrated in the Midwest states where Trump broke through the “blue wall” that was supposed to guarantee victory for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Thirty-one of the counties are in Iowa. Wisconsin has 23. Michigan has 12. And Pennsylvania has three. Trump won all four states. They are filled with the kinds of working-class voters to whom Brown appeals but who abandoned Democrats in 2016.
There is no reason to think Brown would not be just as competitive with those blue-collar voters who reside in the states surrounding Ohio as he is with voters inside his home state.
If the Democratic primary turns on electability, Brown has a quiver of strong arguments.
The race for a Senate seat in Alabama barely has begun, and already conservatives are firing at one another.
It likely is music to the ears of Doug Jones, the Democratic incumbent whom many consider an underdog in next year’s election.
Club for Growth, a conservative activist group that likes to play in GOP primaries, launched the first salvo this week, producing a poll indicating that Rep. Gary Palmer is the choice of Alabama Republicans over Rep. Bradley Byrne.
The group’s president, David McIntosh, also blasted Byrne publicly.
“The people of Alabama deserve better than a fake politician who says one thing in Alabama and votes the wrong way in Washington,” he said in a statement. “Alabamans already have that in Doug Jones.”
The insinuation that Byrne would be some sort of a Doug Jones lite is laughable. He has compiled a thoroughly conservative voting record during his time in Congress. Palmer, who represents the Birmingham area, arguably is more conservative.
But the differences are matters of degree. McIntosh’s own organization gives Byrne a lifetime score of 70 percent, with an 86 percent voting record in the most recent Congress. That is not as high as Palmer’s 95 percent rating, but above the average Republican and far higher than Jones would amass.
The organization docked Byrne for votes in favor of hurricane and disaster relief.
Both Byrne and Palmer get perfect 100 percent marks from FRC Action, which is affiliated with the Christian conservative Family Research Council.
Other conservative organizations that produce scorecards see a much narrower gap between Byrne and Palmer. NumbersUSA, which favors lower levels of immigration, gives Byrne a lifetime score of 92 percent. Palmer’s rating is 99 percent.
Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, has given Byrne scores of 63 percent, 71 percent and 69 percent. Palmer’s two scores are 95 percent and 88 percent. As with Club for Growth, while Palmer scores more favorably, Byrne beats the average among lawmakers even in conservative Alabama.
The American Conservative Union, which sponsors the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, gives Byrne a lifetime score of 92.5 percent, compared with Palmer’s 100 percent rating. While Byrne falls short of Palmer, he beats out ultra-conservative Rep. Mo Brooks of Huntsville.
And FreedomWorks, a libertarian-leaning advocacy group, gives Byrne a 74 percent mark. Palmer rates an 89 percent.
For voters looking for the purest form of conservatism, Palmer likely is their man. But either Byrne or Palmer – or any number of Republican candidates who might run – would be virtually indistinguishable from one another on the issues that voters care most about.
Spending millions of dollars knocking Byrne could just result in a weaker general election candidate.
Supposedly, independent counsel Robert Mueller’s much-awaited report is coming any day now – maybe as early as next week.
If those reports are true, it does not appear he is about to drop the hammer on a giant conspiracy between President Donald Trump and the Russian government to fix the 2016 election.
What is that based on? Mueller’s public documents, to date.
If Mueller were building a conspiracy case that ends with Trump, you would expect to see evidence of it in the myriad criminal charges his team has brought. And despite a great deal of productivity, there is a curious absence of American co-conspirators.
Of all the charges brought by Mueller, the only ones alleging an election-related conspiracy have been leveled against foreigners. That includes three Russian companies and 13 Russian individuals charged with conspiring to interfere in the U.S. election through social media messaging purporting to be produced by American, home-grown users.
At the time, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who then was overseeing the Mueller probe – stressed that the conspiracy did not accuse any Americans of wrongdoing.
“Now there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he said.
Mueller also got indictments alleging hacking by 12 Russian security agents. But those indictments also failed to accuse any Trump associates of knowingly working with the Russians.
In addition, Mueller’s team has won indictments against a number of Trump associates, creating the appearance of a grand conspiracy with the president at the center.
A closer look at the details, however, reveals that prosecutors have not tied them to the Russian hacking, or even the work of the so-called troll farms that distributed propaganda via Facebook, Twitter and other outlets.
Former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to offenses related to his work for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians – well before he met Trump – and his failure to pay taxes. His deputy, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty to similar offenses.
Others have pleaded guilty to lying about activities that, otherwise, are legal. That list includes former campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and London lawyer Alex van der Zwaan.
Roger Stone, a long-time political “dirty tricks” operative who has close ties to Trump, has been charged with lying to a congressional committee about his efforts to build a relationship with WikiLeaks, the organization that released emails allegedly obtained by Russian hackers.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying about his efforts on behalf of Trump’s real estate company to negotiate a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
A few others, who have no apparent connection to Trump, also have been charged by Mueller’s prosecutors.
Ironically, the most serious threat to Trump has come in the form of a plea deal that does not even involve Mueller’s effort. That would be Cohen’s guilty pleas to a pair of campaign finance charges related to payments he arranged in order to keep a pair of women from speaking about sexual affairs they claim they had with Trump.
Cohen contends those payments amount to illegal campaign expenditures and that he arranged them at Trump’s direction.
The president has a plausible defense. However that might play out, though, it has nothing to do with Russian efforts to meddle in the election.
It remains a possibility that Mueller’s final report might sketch out a Trump-led conspiracy. But it seems hard to believe he could have evidence of Trump’s personal involvement in a conspiracy that did not include his aides and/or other Americans. And if other Americans did participate in such a conspiracy, it is odd that Mueller has not charged them with such a conspiracy.
That typically would be a step a prosecutor would take before going after the man atop the pyramid.
And, it should be noted, Mueller could accuse Trump of so-called process crimes as he has others. If Trump supplied false statements to written questions submitted by the independent counsel or instructed witnesses to lie, then he likely would find himself in the impeachment zone.
The same potentially could be said for actions like firing FBI Director James Comey. Although the president is within his authority to fire the FBI director, a case theoretically could be made that it amounted to obstruction of justice if done for a corrupt reason.
Assuming Mueller produces no bombshell nor makes a convincing case of obstruction of justice, where does that leave the two-year effort to “get to the bottom” of Russia’s campaign to sway the election?
The probe uncovered a large number of contacts between Trump advisers and Russians. That is consistent with Russia’s attempts to gain intelligence and perhaps influence in a campaign it wanted to win. Those same aides sometimes lied to investigators about those contacts. And Trump, himself, appeared to be pursuing business interests in Russia even as he was campaigning for president. He also has appeared oddly unwilling to publicly criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as his administration has taken actions contrary to that country’s interests.
All of that makes for excellent issues on which to run against Trump in next year’s election. But they are not crimes, and they are not a strong basis for impeachment.
A movement in Alabama to ban abortion – and not just restrict it – is the latest sign that partisans on both sides of the divide expect Roe v. Wade to be overturned.
It is the one thing that abortion supporters and opponents seemed to agree on during last year’s contentious confirmation hearings for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Anyone who confidently predicts the fate of Roe, however, has not closely followed the career of Chief Justice John Roberts. That history should give pause to anyone feeling elation – or dread – over the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion throughout the country.
For years, anti-abortion activists have been trying to chip away at abortion by erecting a series of regulatory hurdles and banning certain abortion procedures. Some of those activists, however, have tired of that strategy.
“The Legislature should concentrate on prohibiting abortion, not regulating it,” Eric Johnston, president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, told AL.com this week.
Johnston’s group is pushing the Legislature to ban abortion and make the procedure a felony. He cited President Donald Trump’s appointments of Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch. He is not alone. Abortion foes in state legislatures throughout the country are writing bills intended to challenge Roe.
That confidence makes a lot of assumptions. While many people believe Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are prepared to strike down Roe v. Wade, there is nothing definitive in their writings that proves that.
The biggest assumption of all, however, is Roberts. Without his vote, Roe could not be overturned.
Roberts long has been regarded as a chief justice who gives great weight to safeguarding the court’s “legitimacy.” Many observers attributed his surprise ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act to his desire to assuage public opinion.
Whether that is accurate or not is impossible to know. But Roberts, at his confirmation hearing and during his tenure on the bench, has shown deference to precedent – including, at times, in cases he may have thought prior courts had wrongly decided.
“As chief justice, Roberts has evinced particular concerns about overruling settled precedents,” New York University law professor Melissa Murray told Vox last year.
If anti-abortion activists doubt that the chief justice’s concern for precedent is genuine, his action in an abortion case earlier this month ought to give them pause. The issue was a Louisiana abortion law that requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Abortion supporters contend that it is not possible and that it would result in the closure of clinics.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the law despite a Supreme Court precedent striking down a similar case in Texas.
Roberts was in the minority in the Texas case. Still, when the abortion clinics asked the high court to block the law from taking effect pending an appeal, Roberts sided with the court’s four liberal-leaning justices.
And in December, Roberts joined the liberals in refusing to hear appeals from two states that unsuccessfully sought to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving reimbursements through Medicaid for non-abortion services.
None of that conclusively determines how Roberts might ultimately vote in the Louisiana abortion case when the high court rules on its merits, or a more direct challenge to Roe. But it means anti-abortion activists cannot count on his vote, either.
One measure of a president’s standing with the American people is in how many times places have been named after him.
On that score, George Washington wins, hands-down.
According to the Census Bureau, the "Father of Our Country" shares his last name with 94 cities, towns, counties and other named geographic divisions. That bests second-place Abraham Lincoln by 24.
Counting places where a president’s name appears in part of the title – like Fort Washington – and the first president tops Lincoln 127-95.
The modern president with the most places sharing his name is Bill Clinton. He ranks fifth overall with 55. But that ought to come with an asterisk; those places already had the name Clinton. They were not named after the president.
Only two former presidents do not share a name with any town, county, city or other place – Barack Obama and Dwight Eisenhower.
In honor of Presidents’ Day, here are some trivia questions about America’s chief executives:
Answers to trivia questions:
Source: Legends of America.
Buried inside the spending bill that Congress quickly passed on Thursday is a provision that amounts to a back-door amnesty for thousands of illegal immigrants.
Section 224(a) of the 1,159-page bill would prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from deporting or arresting a “sponsor, potential sponsor, or member of a household of a sponsor or potential sponsor of an unaccompanied alien child.”
That refers to the relatives of teenagers who come alone to the United States. Under former President Barack Obama, the policy of the government was to place those children with those sponsors pending the outcome of their cases in immigration court.
President Donald Trump’s administration largely continued that policy but began subjecting potential sponsors to greater scrutiny. Last year, for instance, ICE arrested 109 illegal immigrants who had come forward to take custody of teenagers apprehended near the border. About a third of those would-be sponsors had criminal records.
The spending bill that includes $1.375 billion to construct about 55 miles of border fencing effectively shuts that down and prohibits immigration enforcement against anyone connected to any of the illegal immigrant teens. Essentially, it amounts to amnesty – at least through the current fiscal year.
Immigration hawks were quick to jump on the provision and other hidden “landmines” in the spending bill.
“That’s de facto sanctuary for anyone near a UAC [Unaccompanied Alien Child],” tweeted Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. “Ridiculous. 30-40% of MS-13 arrests have been UACs.”
Vaughan estimated about 80 percent of people sponsoring unaccompanied minors are, themselves, illegal immigrants.
It is unclear how many illegal immigrants would be shielded from deportation under the provision. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told Fox News on Thursday that there are about 223,000 unaccompanied children in the United States and estimated as many as a million illegal immigrants live in households with people who would qualify as sponsors or potential sponsors.
“It’s a disastrous provision,” he said.
Once placed with sponsors, the teen migrants frequently fail to show up for court appearances. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said last year that 6,000 unaccompanied minors each year fail to appear for court hearings and that some 90 percent of all removal orders issued to those youths come after their failure to appear.
But fewer than four out of 100 actually get deported, he said.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, wrote in National Review that the likely result of such a prohibition would be even more Central American families sending teenagers on a dangerous, smuggler-assisted journey north to the United States.
“The new provision would create an incentive for illegal aliens already here to order up kids from Central America as human shields against deportation,” he wrote
While Trump is going to try to bypass Congress and spend $8 billion on border barriers by declaring a national emergency, if the courts block it, the language included in the bill limits fencing to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and effectively gives local officials along border the power to veto it.
The bill states: “Department of Homeland Security and the local elected officials of such a city or census designated place shall confer and seek to reach mutual agreement regarding the design and alignment of physical barriers within that city or the census designated place.”
Krikorian wrote that it is easy to predict how those officials would come down on the question of the wall.
“And which party controls all local government in South Texas?” he wrote. “Go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait. Rio Grande City is the least Democratic community in the area, and even there voters supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than three to one.”
Vaughan also noted that the bill includes $40 million for a program called Alternatives to Detention, or ATD. Democrats have pushed ATD as a more humane way to process asylum seekers than detaining them. It involves the foreigners wearing electronic monitoring devices and having to answer random telephone calls.
The funding would allow the number of participants to grow from 82,000 to 100,000.
“‘Case management’ here means meeting with them occasionally to see if they’re still working illegally at the same place,” Vaughan wrote.
Although court attendance has been high for ATD participants, Vaughan noted that few of them actually have been deported.
“ATD is costly and ineffective without additional resources or policy changes so that ICE can remove them when they (inevitably) violate the terms of ATD,” she tweeted.
In an earlier era, William Barr would not have been a controversial nominee for attorney general.
Indeed, Barr won confirmation in an earlier era on a voice vote.
In the era of Trump, however, everything is controversial.
The Senate on Thursday confirmed Barr on a near party-line vote of 55-44. He got “aye” votes from just three Democrats – Joe Manchin, of West Virginia; Doug Jones, of Alabama; and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona.
That is roughly the vote that President Donald Trump might have expected if he had nominated scandal-dogged acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.
It also is the surest sign of the breakdown of bipartisan comity. If a mainstream Republican cannot attract any more support from Democrats than a lighting rod for criticism, then what incentive does Trump have to refrain from appointing the most hard-core loyalists he can find?
And it’s hard to find a more mainstream Republican attorney general than Barr. There is no doubt he is qualified. In fact, he has done the exact same job before, serving under George H.W. Bush. And Bush is the most moderate Republican president of the last 40 years.
Barr’s previous stint as attorney general was devoid of major scandal. He said all the right things during his confirmation hearing about his commitment to ensuring that independent counsel Robert Mueller can complete his investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Barr has rankled conservatives over support of some gun control measures during the Bush administration. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the only Republican to vote “no,” expressed concern over his previous support of the PATRIOT Act.
But Democrats threw up a nearly united wall of opposition. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) faulted Barr for his views on “the imperial presidency.”
During debate on the Senate floor, Blumenthal acknowledged that Barr indicated he would not fire Mueller or shut down his probe. But he opposed the nomination, anyway.
“The simple, stark fact is the public has a right to know,” he said. “The American people paid for the special counsel’s report.They deserve to know everything that’s in it, and they deserve not only the conclusions but also the findings of fact and his prosecutorial decisions and the underlying evidence that he considered in making those decisions.”
At his hearing, Barr promised to follow the Justice Department’s regulations governing special counsel investigations. Those rules – written during Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidency – call for an independent counsel to submit a detailed report to the attorney general, who then sends a separate notification to Congress.
Despite the fact that a Democratic administration developed that process, Blumenthal and other Democrats now insist it is not good enough.