post-election

I was relieved when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were projected winners in the US election, becoming president and vice-president elect. Some say that those terms should not be used until the vote is certified in each state or until the electoral college meets in December but it has been common in past election cycles to do so and I’m observing the norm.

While there are still ballots being counted, it is clear that Joe Biden has comfortable margins of victory in enough states to have earned the presidency. Election officials and volunteers of all political persuasions are continuing to work hard to complete the final tallies of the record number of ballots cast. Despite the pandemic, attempts by both foreign and domestic actors to suppress the vote, postal service slowdowns, and unfounded accusations of malfeasance, this election saw the highest percentage of voter turnout in more than a century.

When Biden was reported as the projected winner on Saturday morning, spontaneous celebrations broke out around the country and around the world. Although there were some demonstrations with upset Trump supporters, there was not an outbreak of violence as many had feared. Congratulations poured in from around the nation and the world. On Saturday evening, Harris and Biden gave moving victory speeches, recognizing the historic achievement of the first woman and first person of color to become vice-president and calling for national unity to combat the pandemic and rebuild our economy and society. There has been particularly moving coverage of the impact of Kamala Harris’s election among girls, particularly those of African or Asian descent, who are excited to see someone who looks like them about to become vice-president.

Unfortunately, President Trump refuses to accept the reality that he has lost the election. Even more unfortunately, many of his supporters believe his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Perhaps most distressingly of all, many other Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are refusing to acknowledge that Biden has won the election.

This has delayed the official mechanisms that facilitate a smooth transition between administrations. While the Biden/Harris team is moving forward with their governing plans for after the inauguration on January 20th, most notably the convening of a coronavirus task force comprised of physicians and pubic health experts, they do not have access to all the current government personnel and assets that they need because the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration refuses to ascertain that Biden has won the election. With so many pressing issues, it is vital that these resources are available to the Biden-Harris transition team as soon as possible.

On Saturday morning, I wrote a simple message of congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Facebook. I did get one angry face as a reaction among the thumbs up and hearts, which I understand. There was also a negative comment that I wound up deleting because I don’t allow unchallenged falsehoods, conspiracy theories, or profanity on my social media. I remain committed to thoughtful dialogue and hope to be able to engage in some as the opportunity arises in the coming months.

I started writing this post early this morning and it is now late afternoon, so I will close, but, someday, I’ll write a post about my background that might prove elucidating about how my mind works.

Stay tuned.

My US Supreme Court plan

In a comment to this post on my refraining from watching the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, I promised my thoughts on the future of the United States Supreme Court, so here is my attempt to weigh in on a very fraught civics topic. Please note: This is my personal opinion as a citizen. I am not a lawyer or someone with a degree in public policy. This is my brainstorming on the basis of common sense, fairness, and trying to codify what had previously been expected to accord with good governance and ethics.

In the design of the Constitution, the judicial branch is co-equal with the legislative branch (Congress) and the executive branch (president and executive agencies). Its function is to interpret the Constitution and laws. In recent years, the courts have been politicized. The impartiality of their judgements is called into question by the machinations of the politics around their appointment by the president and confirmations by the Senate.

The process as written in the Constitution is that the president nominates individuals for open seats on the various federal courts with the Senate’s advice and consent. Since Mitch McConnell has been Republican majority leader of the Senate, he has failed in his Constitutional duty to give Senate hearings and votes to nominees made by Democratic president Barack Obama, most (in)famously in the case of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland but of dozens of nominees to lower federal courts, as well. During the Trump presidency, McConnell has busily filled those seats with Trump’s very conservative nominees, even when those people have been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.

This is an unfair practice but not technically illegal because there are not specific statutes on how the Senate gives advice and consent. My plan begins with codifying what had previously been expected, timely consideration of a president’s court nominees. I propose that all nominees to the federal bench have their Senate hearings begun within sixty days of their nomination and a confirmation vote by the full Senate for those who are advanced by the Judiciary Committee taken within ninety days. The exception would be for a vacancy to the Supreme Court in a presidential election year. A vacancy that occurs on July first or later would be held open for the winner of the presidential election that November.

My sense of fairness also calls for some remedy to the McConnell machinations that have skewed the federal courts to having more Republican appointees than there should have been. If Biden is elected, I think he should be able to make two immediate nominations to the Supreme Court, one for the seat that should have been considered for Merrick Garland because Antonin Scalia’s death was prior to July first in 2016 and one for the seat that will presumably be filled by Trump after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. This basically applies the principle that would be codified in the new law. I envision these two seats as temporary. Going forward, Supreme Court openings would be filled by Democratic (or independent) presidents as usual; Republican (or another conservative party that might arise out of the current maelstrom) presidents would forfeit the next two openings that occur during their presidencies, gradually reducing the Supreme Court back to nine justices.

A similar remedy might be able to be applied to the other federal courts, looking at seats that McConnell blocked from being filled by President Obama as a basis.

This is not a perfect solution, as it will not restore the balance and integrity that the courts would have had without these abuses of power, but it would at least give a legal structure to prevent a repeat in the future and some measure of accountability to the parties that acted unfairly.

Another court reform that is being discussed is to put a term length on what are now lifetime appointments. I have mixed feelings about this. I like the concept of lifetime appointments because it removes any thoughts of a justice deciding in a certain way in order to influence their re-appointment for an additional term. On the other hand, it bothers me that there are justices who were rated as “not qualified” or who have been credibly accused of sexual harassment or lying under oath who will serve for a lifetime on the federal bench. If a term of service is imposed, it should be long, on the order of eighteen or twenty years. I would leave the option available for the president to re-nominate a justice for Senate confirmation. As much as I might like to apply a time limit retroactively, I don’t think this is a good idea. For better in some cases and worse in others, those approved as lifetime appointments should be able to remain in those positions.

For the record, there has been much talk about the Democrats, if they control Congress and the presidency, “packing the Court” meaning adding seats permanently to the Supreme Court. This term is meant pejoratively. I think the Democrats will definitely pursue court reform which is needed to prevent what Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has termed “court-stacking” – the Republican gamesmanship that has resulted in the current skewing of the courts toward justices nominated by Republican presidents.

The idea of temporarily adding seats and exacting a penalty against future Republican/conservative presidents is something that I dreamed up on my own, not something that I have seen proposed elsewhere, proving once again that you can never tell what might be top of JC’s Mind.

By the way, in tangentially related Senate procedure, I propose that the filibuster return to its traditional role as a tool to convince other senators to support one’s position. If a senator wishes to filibuster a nomination or piece of legislation, they may take the floor to talk about the issue as long as they wish. When they finish, debate ends and the measure is brought to the floor for a vote. In a body that already gives outsized influence to states with small populations, forty-one of one hundred senators should not have the ability to permanently block what the majority of senators wants to enact.

DT and COVID

As I’m sure the whole world knows, the president of the United States is hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s been a bit difficult to get the straight facts on his condition, but it is increasingly looking like his case is on the more severe side.

He does have multiple risk factors, including his age, gender, and weight. He is being treated aggressively by his medical team, including with an experimental antibody treatment and with remdesivir. These are both given early in the course of the disease to help the body fend off the virus.

Today, though, it was revealed that the president is being given the steroid dexamethasone, which is usually given only to more severe cases later in the disease course, when there are significant lung complications and/or the need for a ventilator.

The medical team is even talking about the possibility of discharging him back to the White House, which does have its own sophisticated medical unit, tomorrow.

This doesn’t seem to add up. If his condition warrants dexamethasone, it would seem best to keep him in the hospital for close observation.

Another concern is that days seven through ten of COVID often see an exacerbation of symptoms. The president is only on day four. It seems it would be much safer to keep him in the hospital. It’s not as though he is cramped for space or lacking amenities in the presidential suite at Walter Reed; besides medical care, it also has its own secure conference room and kitchen/dining space.

I also wish that the president would temporarily sign over powers to Vice-president Pence in accordance with Article 25 of the Constitution. We know that the president has suffered with a high fever and times when his blood oxygen level has dropped below normal. COVID is nothing if not unpredictable. Foreign powers could take a provocative action, surmising that the president would not be well enough to respond appropriately. I think it would be safer for the country to have the vice-president, as long as he remains well, exercise the presidential powers until the president is fully recovered. Pence can always confer with president when his symptoms are well-controlled, but he would have the power to respond on his own if the president were to be unwell when a crisis arose.

The president and First Lady’s illness with COVID would be problematic enough, but a number of senators and other government and campaign staff and advisors have also been infected or exposed. Because the incubation period can extend to fourteen days, there are many people who should be in quarantine to make sure they don’t expose others while pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. Somehow, despite the seriousness of the situation, Sen. Mitch McConnell plans to push ahead with the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. He considers that worth the risk, while he won’t put the latest House-passed coronavirus relief package up for a vote.

Voters, pay attention to how candidates on your ballot are handling this health and governmental crisis. Are they prioritizing your and the country’s health and well-being or their own power?

SoCS: RBG and MM

Last night, we received the sad news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer. She was an amazing woman with a remarkable record of achievements, overcoming the discrimination she faced as a woman, a mother, and a Jewish person. As a lawyer, she argued landmark sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five of the six cases she presented. One of her keys to success was that some of those cases were brought on behalf of men who suffered lack of access to careers or benefits that were ascribed to women, for example, allowing men to study nursing. This was able to reach the all-male justices in a way that a case brought on behalf of women did not. It was a way in to address the injustices of sexism.

As a judge and then in 27 years as a justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a strong voice for equal justice under the Constitution, regardless of race or gender. As the Court became more and more conservative, she was well-known for her well-reasoned, cogent, and accessible dissents, many of which may be the basis for reversals over time, as we have seen with some infamous Supreme Court decisions in the past.

Millions of people around the country are sad, but also terrified. The terror is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be replaced this year by the current president, even though the election is only six weeks away. This totally flies in the face of what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did in 2016, when conservative justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly ten months before the election and he refused to even have hearings to vote on Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Obama. He said that the people should have a voice in the selection through their presidential choice. The Supreme Court had to operate for over 400 days with only eight justices. Even more scandalously, there was the threat that if Hillary Clinton had won, McConnell would still not have allowed a Court nominee to be voted on in the Senate. It’s such an abuse of power.

Which brings me to the “-tion” word that popped into my head, compunction. In the midst of the mourning that immediately followed the announcement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, McConnell announced that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote in the Senate. That he had no compunction in doing so is appalling. The level of hypocrisy and the naked abuse of power is off the charts.

I am hoping that a significant number of Republican senators will stand up and say that they will not vote on a nominee under these rushed and suspect circumstances. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said last night that she would not vote on a nominee, saying “fair is fair.”

I wish I could say that I am shocked that McConnell also had no compunction in releasing his statement on a replacement right after news of Justice Ginsburg’s death broke, but he acted similarly after Justice Scalia’s death. I hope that we can focus on RBG’s legacy and life in the coming days, not the political and partisan circus that McConnell has unleashed.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was a word that ends with -tion. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/09/18/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-19-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

September 11

Nineteen years ago today, terrorists, most of whom were from Saudi Arabia, attacked the United States, killing thousands of people and destroying airplanes and buildings in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I remember those killed, the many who acted valiantly to try to save lives, often at the cost of their own, those who worked in the aftermath of the disaster, many of whom suffered illness as a result, and the many thousands, both military and civilian, who were impacted by the wars in Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East that sprang from the 9/11 attacks.

Nine years ago, my area was suffering from a record flood of the Susquehanna River, brought on by the remnants of tropical storm Lee. What many people don’t realize is how long it takes to recover from such an event – and that some things aren’t recoverable. It took years to repair homes that could be and tear down those that couldn’t. There are neighborhoods with patches of grassland where homes once stood, interspersed with homes that managed to survive. Those neighborhoods have changed character, with fewer older folks in them as they were the most likely to move to higher ground or leave the area after the flood. Our own home was not flooded, but there was standing water three blocks away and significant basement flooding one block away. We had long carried flood insurance on our house, although it isn’t required by the (still outdated) flood maps; we will continue to do so, hoping that we never have to use it while realizing that the increased strength of weather systems and changes to the upper-level wind patterns brought on by global warming may someday send us another record-breaking flood that will reach our home.

Despite these prior events, September 11, 2020 feels even more fraught. The global pandemic has exacted a terrible toll on the United States. We are over six million cases and closing in on 200,000 fatalities. The economic impact, especially on those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, has been severe, with rising rates of hunger and housing crisis. The pandemic also made more prominent existing problems with the health care system, racism, environmental degradation, education, infrastructure, jobs, wealth, taxation, and social programs. While some of the effects have been buffered by living in New York State, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has been leading an effective response to the crisis, I am appalled by the lack of leadership from the president and the callous intransigence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which are prolonging and deepening the suffering in the country as a whole. Because the Senate hasn’t passed the HEROES Act which the House passed in May, additional federal assistance to households, state and local governments, the post office, and the election system isn’t available. As a result of the national inaction, states are going to have to lay off front-line personnel and the vote count in November’s elections will take a long time.

To make matters worse, this week has seen new evidence that the president’s failure to address the pandemic was not due to lack of understanding the crisis. A just-released recorded interview on February 7 with Bob Woodward makes clear that the president knew that the virus was highly contagious, deadly, and spread through the air, yet he continued to intentionally downplay the threat rather than mount an effective and protective response. If the president had lead the nation in the kind of efforts that Governor Cuomo did in New York, there would have been millions fewer cases of the virus and thousands upon thousands fewer deaths. There would be widespread testing and contact tracing. The test positivity rate would be below one percent, as it has been in New York State for over a month. Businesses and schools would be thoughtfully and carefully re-opening, ready to re-adjust if cases start to rise. Instead, Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, is telling the United States to “hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy.” I only hope that people take the advice to heart in their own lives and at the state and local level, because Trump and McConnell are still not helping us mount a national response.

The Trump/Bob Woodward interview I mentioned above was just released because Woodward has a book coming out, part of a spate of books about Donald Trump being published with less than two months to go before the presidential election. These books reveal information that, while perhaps suspected, had not previously been confirmed about the president and his staff. The picture isn’t pretty. While there is some straight-up incompetence and inexperience at play, there is even more corruption, selfishness, greed, and disregard for the Constitution and laws, morals, ethics, and the common good.

Time for the pitch. Make a plan and vote! We need there to be a President Biden in January 2021 in order to have any hope of reclaiming our democracy.

Which brings me to another fear. While there is widespread and credible polling both nationally and in battleground states showing that Biden is leading Trump by several percentage points, the election process itself is under threat. The most frightening is that the Russians, along with several other countries, are once again attempting to interfere with election. This week, a whistleblower came forward with evidence that the administration is knowingly tamping down revealing the extent of the Russian interference, in particular. At the same time, the administration and the Republicans are filing lawsuits to disrupt mail-in voting. The postal service is slowing mail delivery, which could make ballots arrive too late to be counted. The president keeps saying that mail-in ballots lead to widespread fraud, which is absolutely a lie; states and local election boards have numerous, proven safeguards in place to prevent fraud. It is true that the final vote tally will take longer, especially in states that don’t count mail-in votes until days after Election Day. (Of course, some of the delays could have been averted if the Senate had acted on the HEROES Act which would have provided more training, machinery, and personnel to count ballots more quickly.) People need to be aware that we may not have final election results for a couple of weeks. This does not mean there is fraud; it means that election bureaus are diligently following their procedures to report an accurate tally.

Nineteen years ago, despite sorrow and shock, the people of the United States pulled together to help us get through the crisis. Nine years ago, our local community drew together to assist those impacted by the flood. Unfortunately, I don’t see that same sense of solidarity in the country as we face the pandemic, government corruption, and economic catastrophe, along with the long-standing problems of racism, lack of equal access to good-quality education and health care, environmental ruin, and other injustices. Granted, it’s a lot, but we can improve our lives and our nation if we act together. When we say in the Pledge of Allegiance “with liberty and justice for all”, we have to mean it.

SoCS: on conditions in the US

I don’t know how much more of this we can take.

“We” refers here to the United States.

This past week, we surpassed 150,000 COVID deaths and the virus is out of control in a number of states, including our three most populous. California has now passed the half million mark for cases – and the real number infected is, no doubt, much higher because mild or asymptomatic cases are unlikely to be found. There is some hope on the vaccine front with some Phase III trials beginning – the one I’m signed up for will start in August, I hope – but, even if one or more are successful, it will take months and months for enough doses to be available globally to quash the pandemic. Meanwhile, here in the US, there is still no national strategy and people are suffering because of it. Even states like mine (New York) who worked hard to get out case numbers way down are under threat of resurgence from infected people visiting our state, returning home from traveling, or coming back to our many colleges and universities. It’s terrifying.

On Thursday, the nation had an opportunity to reflect on love and justice and service. Rep. John Lewis, a central figure in the civil rights movement who went on to champion the rights of all people who suffered discrimination and prejudice – and the planet itself – was honored with a truly beautiful funeral service. Reflections were offered by clergy, family, friends, staff, colleagues, and all four former presidents, Jimmy Carter in writing and Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama in person. President Obama gave the main eulogy, which was also a call to action for justice and for voting rights, a cause which John Lewis literally bled for, was jailed for, and supported passionately for decades. The House of Representatives voted unanimously to re-name a voting rights bill that they had passed earlier after John Lewis. (OK, Mitch McConnell. Time to get it to the Senate and pass it into law.) Sadly, this law is needed after the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Voting Rights Act originally passed in the 1960s, reasoning (wrongly) that the country was past discriminatory voting practices. Since then, many states have re-implemented practices that limit ballot access for citizens based on age, race, income level, location, and other factors.

To point out the threat to voting and election integrity – yes, there is also evidence of foreign election interference, as if the domestic problems weren’t bad enough – the same day as the funeral, the president floated the idea via Twitter that our November 3rd national election should be postponed. The date of the election is set by Congressional law, though, so the president can’t change it. Fortunately, even the Republicans in Congress said that the election date will not be changed. I also think there would be civil unrest if it was tried.

Still, the election is under threat from forces within the government. Each state is responsible for running its own election, but the pandemic has made in-person voting more complicated and dangerous. States are moving to make greater use of their absentee voting systems, but these usually rely on the postal service, which the president is undermining through inadequate funding and a new crony leading the postal service who is changing policy to slow service. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to allocate funds to the states and the postal service so that our election can be fair, free, and safe, but Sen. McConnell has refused to bring the bill to the Senate for a vote. His own proposal doesn’t address election integrity at all. It also doesn’t address aid to states – and it was over two months after the House passed their bill before he even put out his proposal.

During the impeachment and trial, Republicans kept saying that “the people should decide the fate of the president at the ballot box.” They should be ensuring that we can do that safely, securely, and freely, not putting up roadblocks. If they are confident in their positions on the issues, they should be eager to have the vote. This looks like they know they have failed in their obligations to protect and defend the people and the Constitution and realize they can only hold onto power by cheating and deceiving.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, there is more bad news on the economic front. The GDP declined at its highest rate since such things started to be calculated over 150 years ago. (GDP=Gross Domestic Product) Because the pandemic is so bad, many businesses are needing to close or scale back, so many more people are unemployed. Some who had thought they were temporarily unemployed are now permanently unemployed because their businesses that they owned or worked for are closing for good. Because the federal government isn’t helping the states, we are also facing a wave of layoffs of state and local workers. Unlike the federal government, most states are required to have balanced budgets. Their tax revenues are way down, so their budgets are broken. This can mean layoffs for police, public hospital workers, teachers, public works employees, and other essential workers that are needed even more now. This will make unemployment worse and cause more demand for anti-poverty programs – for which there is already inadequate funding. Oh, and the additional federal funds of $600/week that were added to state unemployment checks in the CARES Act this spring end this week. The House bill that passed in mid-May would extend them until January; McConnell’s new proposal cuts them way down.

Most economists advocate the federal government injecting much more money into the economy to keep it afloat until the pandemic ends. The very real fear is that what is happening now – with the CARES Act programs ending with nothing to replace them (or next to nothing) – that the steep recession will turn into an economic depression. Evictions and foreclosures, many of which had been forestalled by prior legislation, will likely accelerate, leading to an increase is homelessness and, possibly, bankruptcy for landlords who no longer have tenants. People may have even more problems finding food. There are already strains on both public and charitable food resources. Our health care system, which was already broken, will be even more overwhelmed.

I try to be realistic.

It’s hard, though, not to think that we are going to see more and more and more suffering in the months ahead.

As a nation, we need to summon more courage, more intelligence, more compassion, more reason to chart a path to restore peace, justice, and good health. I guess “restore” is the wrong word. We need to establish those things for everyone.

And we need to have the freedom to vote.

***** Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “more.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/31/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-1-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

Sad stats

The horror show that is the United States and coronavirus continues.

My state, New York, was the world epicenter in the early spring. Through good leadership informed by science and metrics and residents who took the policies seriously, we were able to get the pandemic under control. Through a careful, phased, and data-driven process, we have also been able to keep our transmission rate low as we have opened more of our economy.

Still, when the map of case numbers would be released every day, New York, the fourth most populous state, showed the highest number of total cases, over 400,000, because our initial outbreak had been so severe.

Until this week.

California, which is the most populous state, passed New York this week on confirmed COVID case numbers. (All the public health experts agree that the actual case numbers are much higher, but the official count uses only testing results and death certificates.) While California had had early success in containing the virus, it re-opened businesses too quickly and many people abandoned needed precautions like masks. Hence, their caseload is soaring. I’m hoping that New York will continue to keep the virus from resurging so that we never again reach the top number of cases, but Texas and Florida, second and third most populous states, are also in the midst of major outbreaks and might surpass California’s numbers in the coming weeks.

It’s appalling.

What saddens me is that it didn’t have to happen this way. New York and some of our partner states in the Northeast learned a lot of lessons through our experiences this spring and, in the absence of a national program, have been offering to help other states deal with the virus and the economic/social fallout. This has resulted in some positive news in the states being hard-hit now, for example, the mortality rate is lower, in part because of improved treatments for the severely ill. Most of the news, though, is bad: overwhelmed hospitals, people not wearing masks and attending large gatherings, bodies being stored in refrigerated trucks because mortuaries are backlogged, more and more states where the number of cases is rising.

Meanwhile, there is still no national plan. The House of Representatives, led by the Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or the HEROES Act in mid-May, which would address some of the current problems with testing, contact tracing, and treatment of COVID, as well as a host of economic and social impacts on individuals, families, businesses, agencies, and state and local governments. The Senate, under the leadership of Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, didn’t act on the bill this spring and just returned from a three-week break without their own version of a bill and, after a week’s work, they still don’t have a Republican proposal, much less a bill that has been negotiated with the Democratic and Independent senators so that it is ready for debate and vote.

Meanwhile, people are sick and dying, out of work, not knowing how they are going to be able to pay their bills, scared, and bewildered about their country’s dysfunctional state. The United States has become an object of pity around the world.

I’m disappointed that, even when the crisis is monumental, the Republican leadership can’t muster the will and/or competence to do their job and govern for the good of the people. If they had integrity, they would resign to make way for leaders who can and will serve the people and the Constitution. Resignations would be less disruptive than the current inaction.

trepidation

As I am starting to write this, it is about 8 AM EST, which is the same time zone as Washington, DC and I am watching the morning news. The lead story is the impeachment trial, which will begin at 1 PM. The reason it needs to start in the afternoon is that Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial while still presiding over the Supreme Court for its sessions that are held in the morning.

Beyond that, there are many unknowns.

Last evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally released his proposal for the ground rules of the trial. Although he has been saying they would be like the last presidential impeachment trial, which was President Clinton’s in 1999, they differ in significant ways.

Perhaps what I find most shocking is that the evidence from the House impeachment investigation is not going to be automatically entered into the record. In the Clinton trial, there were hundreds of pages just from the Starr report, plus underlying evidence, that were entered into the record. I hope that there will be an amendment for evidence inclusion while the rules are debated. Even though Republicans have the majority, they should all vote for evidence! How can there be a trial without evidence?

Sen. McConnell has said that he is coordinating with the White House whose strategy appears to be to argue that the House didn’t have legal and Constitutional grounds for impeachment. Even so, I think evidence is important to make that argument. I myself am curious about how they can argue no laws were broken when withholding Congressionally approved aid is illegal according to the Government Accountability Office (first article) and Roger Stone was recently convicted of obstruction of Congress (second article).

Another strange thing about McConnell’s rules is that the timeline is so condensed. Each side has 24 hours – but only two days – for opening arguments. [Update: McConnell extended this to three days, just as the trial began.] Given that the proceedings can’t start until 1 PM and there will need to be some breaks for participants to attend to personal needs, the trial could go into the early morning hours. This is a punishingly long day, especially for Chief Justice Roberts, who needs to be at the Supreme Court for morning session. It also makes it nearly impossible for the public to watch the entire trial, although some media specialists have pointed out the trial will be ongoing during television prime time. This could lead to the legal teams timing their strongest arguments to coincide with when more voters would be available to watch.

When the rules for the Clinton impeachment were passed, the vote was 100-0. The senators had worked together to come up with the rules. This time, McConnell has drafted the rules himself with no input from Democrats. Given that the Republicans hold 53 seats, McConnell’s rules could pass without amendment. This would fly in the face not only of fairness but also of public sentiment. Support for impeachment and removal from office is about 50%. Support for a fair trial with witnesses is even higher, about 70%. By contrast, only a third of Americans wanted Clinton removed from office. While additional witnesses were not initially allowed, there was a vote for additional witnesses during the trial; they gave written testimony.

In the current trial, unless there is a surprise in the rules vote today, the vote on additional witnesses can’t take place until both sides have presented opening arguments and the senators have had 16 hours of questions. Witnesses are especially important in this trial because the White House has blocked testimony and documents from the House investigation. There has been a lot of circular reasoning from the Republicans on the impeachment and trial.  They are saying that the Democrats haven’t proven their case but the House’s requests for documents and witnesses have been blocked, so how could they prove the case, especially if they won’t accept the evidence that the House was able to obtain, including from some witnesses who honored House subpoenas, even when the White House told them not to?

This is mind-boggling. It’s one thing for the White House to argue that the behavior doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. It’s quite another to not allow the House to make their case based on facts from evidence, testimony, and the Constitution and laws.

Given that all senators took an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,” they should vote no on anything that restricts evidence.

I won’t hold my breath…

[Note: this is a synopsis of what I am seeing on the news, with a bit of my reaction. It is certainly at the top of my mind today, but I am also including it because there are people who get news from blogs rather than more traditional media who might be interested, as well as people outside the US who might not have as much access to this information.]
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/21/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-21st-2020/

 

uneasy times

I thought that I had mentally prepared myself for DT’s presidency, thinking that Congress would step up and cooperate to create sound legislation to keep us on a reasonable track.

I was, of course, totally wrong.

As of today, the United States government is in partial shutdown for a record 27 days and counting. 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay, including the Coast Guard, air traffic controllers, and food inspectors. There are also one million contractors who work at government facilities who are not working and who, unlike federal workers, will not get back pay when the shutdown ends. Besides the workers and their families, there are also other businesses that rely on government work/ers as their customers, and are experiencing big drops in revenue as a result of the shutdown.

One of the frustrating things is that this shutdown should not have happened in the first place. After a prior (brief) shutdown, the last Congress had agreed on spending levels for all departments for 2018-2019. Some of the appropriations bills were passed by both houses of Congress; these departments are not affected by the shutdown. The remaining bills followed the previously agreed upon funding levels, but were not voted on in time to go into effect before the shutdown began. Although the House in the new Congress has now passed the same appropriations bills that the Senate in the prior session had previously passed, Republican Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell will not hold new votes on these bills to re-open the government because the president doesn’t approve, citing lack of $5 billion for a wall on part of the southern border.

It is, however, Congress’s Constitutional duty to control government spending. Therefore, I think that the Senate should pass these bills so the government can re-open – and because it is their duty to fund the government. Then, the ball will be in DT’s court. He can sign the bills and everyone can get back to their jobs serving the public. He can veto the bills, which would return them to Congress for a vote to over-ride, which might be possible as the pressure builds on Republican members of Congress to restore government services. The third option is that the president refuses to sign the bills without vetoing them, which would mean that they take effect in ten days.

The government needs to be about its business of serving the people. The human toll is already mounting and will continue to mount if government is not fully open soon. Many current government workers may be forced to take other jobs to support themselves and their families, which would be crippling to the functions of the affected departments when they do re-open.

Of course, this is not happening in a vacuum. Over the past couple of weeks, in court filings, testimony, interviews, and investigative reporting, there have been ever more alarming stories about the administration’s relationship with Russia and with NATO and sad and disturbing stories from the Middle East. It seems that the White House is overwhelmed with its responsibilities and incapable of dealing effectively with either domestic or foreign affairs.

The United States government has weathered a lot of storms. I’m hoping and praying we come through this one, too.
*****
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Plan C? Seriously?

Last night, more Republican Senators made it clear that they would not vote to open debate on the latest version of the health care bill.

Within a couple of hours, Majority Leader McConnell announced that he would bring up a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but delay its taking effect for two years, during which time the Congress would need to pass a replacement plan for the president to sign.

This is a bad idea.

The last time the Congress tried something similar was during a budget impasse. They put in place a sequester program that capped budget allocations for both discretionary and defense spending. The theory was that both parties would want to cooperate so they could allocate more money for their budget priorities. The reality was that no agreement was reached and there were some years that Congress didn’t even pass its appropriations bills, but used a series of continuing resolutions to fund the various departments.

This does not give high confidence that Congress would pass a replacement bill before the deadline.

Insurance companies and health care facilities are upset because this would create so much uncertainty for them.

The general public is concerned because the repeal is expected to immediately raise premiums and reduce the number of people who can afford insurance.

There are senators across the political spectrum calling for a new process to begin, involving input from all senators, along with public health professionals and the public, to craft health care reforms that will increase the availability and affordability of health care.

I hope that Senator McConnell will choose to engage in this more cooperative process which is in line with the way the Senate has traditionally operated.