Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Republicans Can Choose Between Right & Wrong

[Update October 25, 2017: Two months later, it's all the same -- just worse! See updated references below]

A month ago I did a post entitled, Donald The Muddler & The Ones That Know Better. Well, it’s time for a major update, but again the emphasis must not be on the most disgraceful, dishonest President ever to occupy the White House, it must be on the Ones That Know Better.

Following the catastrophic display of racism in Charlottesville and the President’s appalling response which has emboldened the extreme alt-right movement, he has now doubled down on his real values and granted a pardon to an overt bigot and racist.

Despite his insincere and disingenuous statements to the contrary, there can be no doubt that the President is fanning the flames of hatred and intolerance in America. In his totally inappropriate campaign-style rally in Phoenix following the tragedy in Charlottesville, he even mocked his own late admonishment of racism while attempting to defend his actions, saying flippantly:

"We will defend or protect the sacred rights of all Americans. . . I said everything. I hit [‘em] with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there, let's say. KKK, we have KKK. I got them all. . .”

Further teasing and encouraging his fan base, Trump asked, pretending earnestness:

“By the way, I'm just curious. Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe? (APPLAUSE) So, was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? That's why... (APPLAUSE) He should have had a jury, but you know what? I'll make a prediction. I think he's going to be just fine, OK? (APPLAUSE) But -- but I won't do it tonight, because I don't want to cause any controversy. Is that OK? All right? (APPLAUSE)

So, a few days later, on a Friday night, as hurricane Harvey was barreling down on the fourth largest U.S. city as a category 4 storm, the President granted a pardon for the convicted criminal bigot that terrorized the Phoenix area Latino community for years.

Considering his already exposed pre-presidential actions relating to race issues, and now his latest reactions, can there be any doubt where the President of the United States stands on racism, hate and bigotry?

I have been very critical of the lack of intervention of the top two Republican leaders – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan – to exercise their “check and balance” responsibilities and call out the President directly for his reckless, reprehensible and irresponsible actions. I would add to the list many others in GOP leadership roles in Federal, State and local government.

These are the “ones that know better” and the only people that can put an end to the abhorrent and outrageous behavior of this President that is tearing at the very fabric of everything that America stands for, exacerbating the divisions within the citizenry and resulting in shameful embarrassment in the eyes of our allies and the free world.

These are the ones who can distance themselves and their Republican Party from the hideous and despicable transformation taking place under the Trump leadership. These are the ones that must answer to their children and grandchildren when they ask “how could you let this happen?”

Some recent reports suggest that they (the ones that know better) may be beginning to see that the damage of a Trump presidency may be outweighing their zeal and passion for Republican Party supremacy.

·        McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency, 8/22/17, New York Times

But almost as soon as that news broke, the leadership began to walk back the notion that they are questioning Trump’s presidential capabilities. Both McConnell and Ryan have issued new statements indicating that they can continue to work with the President to advance their ideological agenda. Apparently they are having trouble letting go of the zeal and passion.

So why won’t Republicans, en masse, call out Donald Trump? I hear two primary excuses from the media and pundits. (1) They still believe they can pass health care, tax reform and infrastructure legislation while they control Congress and the White House; and (2) they are fearful that their home constituency (their political base) is more supportive of Trump than of them.

Let’s take a look at each of those excuses, but first I should recognize the few GOP mavericks that have spoken out against Trump including Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Additionally, Ohio Governor John Kasich has been outspoken in criticizing many of the President's actions.

But most notably, a generally recognized “non-maverick”, Republican leader Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued perhaps the most resolute critique on August 17, saying:  (https://goo.gl/pzDpTs).

“The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. . .  He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation. He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today. . . And he’s got to demonstrate the characteristics of a president who understands that.  And without the things that I just mentioned happening, our nation is going to go through great peril. . . We’re at a point where there needs to be radical changes taking place at the White House itself. It has to happen. I think the president needs to take stock of the role he plays in our nation and move beyond himself — move way beyond himself and move to a place where daily, he’s waking up thinking about what is best for our nation.”

So, why isn’t there massive and decisive disdain for President Trump from elected GOP members? The first excuse: They believe they can advance their agenda. We have had a first hand look at the GOP-controlled House and Senate ability to advance their 7-year diatribe of “repeal & replace” Obamacare. It failed miserably and revealed irreconcilable differences between various extreme factions of conservatives and moderates within the Party and no Democratic support. Additionally, President Trump’s on-again, off-again involvement in the process proved more detrimental than constructive.

The Problem Solvers caucus, led by Tom Reed (R-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), has attempted to formulate a bipartisan effort to address the health care crisis; however, the Republican leadership does not appear willing to seriously pursue that effort.

The future of health care remains in crisis, with serious implications and problems developing over the next few months. With no viable solution at hand, the President and GOP leadership appear to be willing to leave the issue unaddressed and are talking about moving on to a completely different subject -- tax reform.

In the meantime, when Congress returns following Labor Day they must immediately deal with highly contentious budget and debt ceiling issues, not to mention billions and billions of dollars of historic hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. While these complex and critically important issues are looming, our mindless President has threatened in a child-like manner, a government shutdown if he can’t get his way in funding his 2,000 mile imaginary wall which he promised would be paid for by Mexico. Imagine a government shutdown in the middle of the hurricane Harvey recovery.

Revealing that he has no clue how the budgetary process or government processes work, the President indicated at an August 28, press conference that a government shutdown and hurricane recovery efforts are two separate issues and "everybody" agrees with him that the recovery efforts will be dealt with very quickly.
“I think you [Texas] you'll be up and running very, very quickly.  Really, very quickly.  So, yeah, I think you're going to be in fantastic shape. . . I think it [government shutdown] has nothing to do with it [recovery efforts], really.  I think this is separate. This is going to go really very, very quickly.  Again, I have spoken to many of the people we're talking about, and everybody feels the same way I do.” *[press conference transcript]
So without a plan to overcome the demonstrated inability of the Republican Party to address critical legislative priorities with generally acceptable solutions, it does not seem that the excuse of advancing their ideological agenda is viable.

The second excuse, uncertain support from their political base, is even more disturbing. The Republican Party appears to be at a crucial decision point.

Heretofore, the Republican Party has not been in favor of giving encouragement to white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or the KKK. The Party historically has not supported continuous and documented lying and distortion of facts regarding information presented to the public. The Party has not previously supported systematic attacks on the freedom of the press which the President decries as “fake news” whenever it challenges his beliefs. The Republican Party has also generally regarded Russia as a serious threat to national security and institutional stability and a foreign power to be dealt with, with extreme caution.

Donald Trump has violated many of the core, fundamental underpinnings of the Republican Party, American democracy, and social and political norms held by a large majority of Americans. Polls have consistently shown that the President retains support from only 35-40 percent of overall electorate, but 70-80 percent support from the Republican base.

I applaud the Republicans who have had the courage to speak out directly and challenge the views and leadership of this President. There should be more – many more. Most of the American public knows instinctively that Donald Trump does not represent American values.

He was elected narrowly by a frustrated electorate in an election fraught with domestic and international interference on the belief that he would bring a new management style and ideas. In the first 7 months of office we have witnessed that new style and ideas. Many are offensive, embarrassing and indefensible.

Now that we know, there should be no excuses. Many of the actions and beliefs of Donald Trump must be rejected. The GOP leadership is the only check on his erratic and unacceptable behavior. Republican leaders should not equivocate in their rejection and try to rationalize this behavior based on the pursuit of an unrealistic legislative agenda.

As to their political base, Republicans must draw a line in favor of longstanding American beliefs and ideals over short term political ideology; or forever change the Party brand and identification. A point recently made by former Senator John Danforth (R-MO, 76-95) in a Washington Post op-ed: 
“[Trump] stands in opposition to the founding principle of our party. . . We cannot allow Donald Trump to redefine the Republican Party. That is what he is doing, as long as we give the impression by our silence that his words are our words and his actions are our actions. . .” *[complete op-ed]
As for Democrats; they are not without blame. While most Democrats have rebuked the abhorrent behavior of Donald Trump, they have done very little to articulate their Party brand and identification as an alternative to the GOP.

Why is this important? It is important because Democrats share in the responsibility of breaking the cycle of Congressional gridlock and the intense tribalism that has grown to be the American way. Democrats must participate in a constructive way to change the culture of D.C. politics and strive to reach a point where Congress can function and carry out its constitutionally-mandated responsibilities as one of three equal branches of government and its critical oversight of the Executive Branch. Dysfunction in Congress is a two-way street. I emphasized this point in a previous July 18 post -- Wake Up Democrats; Another Chance At Self-Identification.

In a country where the electorate is virtually divided 50-50, I have previously stressed that Congress, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, cannot continue to propose one-sided solutions to complex problems. I have advocated a solution consisting of “shared legislative power.” A solution that is counter to the political DNA of most Congressional members, but one that has a limited but highly encouraging track record. See my post: Shared Legislative Power: Inspiring, Refreshing, Encouraging, Promising.

The Problem Solvers caucus (mentioned above), which is attempting to address the health care issue, is a step in the right direction. It starts with the premise that politically acceptable solutions cannot be one-sided. The concept should be expanded and institutionalized in Congressional procedures.

The existing legislative process, called “regular order”, where one Party completely controls the agenda, funding, resources and votes does not work. There is no constitutional requirement for the regular order process; it is completely established by Congressional rules. It can be changed at any time – IF CONGRESS WANTS TO. There are better ways to govern and deliver the real bipartisan solutions that most Americans want.

The President’s approval is currently at 35% and the approval rating of Congress is at 10% (see Real Clear Politics). Republicans are currently in control and have the power to choose – right or wrong.

References & Information (Updated October 25, 2017)

· October 25: Touting 'lovefest', Trump claims no divisions in the GOP, CNN, https://goo.gl/vpgmg2

· October 24: Full text: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speech on the Senate floor announcing his retirement http://politi.co/2i2bMJ7 
· October 24: Various statements of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) on Donald Trump https://goo.gl/Rb7ZDZ

· October 19: Full text: George W. Bush speech on Trumpism delivered at the at the “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World" https://goo.gl/Uubzp6

· October 16: Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered the following remarks after being awarded the NationalConstitution Center's annual Liberty Medal. Full text: https://goo.gl/kJ5hGt

· June 20: Seventy-two percent (72%) of Republicans approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing; along with 9% of Democrats and 35% of Independents (CBS News poll, 6/15-18/17, margin of error 4pts)
· July 17: “According to a POLITICO survey of more than two dozen local Republican Party leaders in counties where 2018’s most competitive races are shaping up, the GOP grass roots aren’t fazed by news of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting last year with a Kremlin-linked lawyer or the daily drip of stories about Trump and Russia. They aren’t even paying close attention. . . Local Republican leaders say the only collusion going on is between Democrats and the media.” Politico

· August 17: Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Republicans approve of President Trump’s reaction to theCharlottesville attack; along with 10% Democrats and 32% Independents (CBS News poll, 8/14-18/16, margin of error 4pts)
· August 21: “Loyalty to Trump has quickly become the most potent issue for the Republican base, according to a dozen candidates and strategists immersed in 2018 races.” Politico

· Official GOP Listening to America Survey. 32 questions the last of which is open ended and you may submit your written concerns to the question: What else do you think the President needs to know about the real America? We’re listening.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Shared Legislative Power: Inspiring, Refreshing, Encouraging, Promising

I just returned from a few days visiting an old friend of mine of some 42 years. We yak. We yak a lot about politics and the great issues of our time. We’ve been yakking for 40 some years. It’s fair to say that this year, considering all that’s going on with Donald Trump and Congressional gridlock, we yakked ourselves into depression -- literally coming away from our visit feeling hollow and somewhat hopeless about the future.

Somewhere during the yakking I mentioned to my friend about a post I had done about Michigan's experience with shared legislative power way back in 1993-94 when the Michigan House was deadlocked 55 Republicans & 55 Democrats. I told him how uplifting it was and how it demonstrates there is a better way.

When I returned home I re-read the post and found it was inspiring, refreshing, encouraging and promising. I needed that after all of the depressing yakking.

I decided the post needed to be emphasized and to focus just on the summary of Legislator comments and hope it may provide solace to others who may be suffering depression, frustration and general pessimism about what lies ahead.

Here is an excerpt from the post I did back in March 2017, entitled: Shared Committee Power And The Ambience of Bipartisanship. Hope it helps.

Here are brief excerpts of the thoughts of 26 Michigan legislators who express, far better than I ever could, what I am now calling the ambience of bipartisanship.

John Gernaat (R-Cadillac) – “Shared power will go down in history as an example of how people on both sides can work together to get things done.”

Ilona Varga (D-Detroit) – “Both sides had to compromise. I feel the people got the best two years of representation in the over eight years I have been there.”

Tom Middleton (R-Ortonville) – “The House had a much more open line of communication in solving partisan problems [referring to the fact that the Senate during this time remained under Republican partisan control].

Michael J. Griffin (D-Jackson) – “…people of goodwill and determination can put public policy ahead of partisan consideration. . . Students of government, civics, political science, et cetera, can learn a great deal from this experience.”

Glenn Oxender (R-Sturgis) – “It gave a variety of leadership and made bipartisan support necessary for the passage of each bill. I rate it as a success because of the significant amount of legislation that was passed.”

David Points (D-Highland Park) – “The Eighty-seventh Legislature was an example of an unbiased bipartisan balance.”

Timothy L. Walberg (R-Tipton) – “A pleasant by-product of this situation was the development of friendships with the members of the other party who were once only acquaintances.”

Clyde Le Tarte (R-Horton) – “I found that in the main, we tended to focus on policy issues instead of political advantage because political positions could not be sustained through the process.”

Jan C. Dolan (R-Farmington Hills) – “Even when a vote comes down along party lines, there appears to be a willingness to hear out all viewpoints. Michigan has been well served by this cooperative spirit.”

Richard A. Young (D-Dearborn Heights) – “I believe that you can learn from the fact that you can accomplish the people’s work and you don’t have to do it in a hostile manner.”

James Mick Middaugh (R-Paw Paw) – “People seemed to genuinely want to work together. You had to, or you did not get anything accomplished.”

James Agee (D-Muskegon) – “I think it made us respect those on the other side of the aisle and know that we had to compromise with them.”

Carl F. Gnodtke (R-Sawyer) – “I have often thought it worked well enough that there should be a constitutional amendment requiring equal numbers from both parties be elected to serve in the House.”

Joseph Palamara (D-Wyandotte) – “I found the shared power arrangement to be an unqualified success… To me, the essence of representative government was embodied in the shared power agreement.”

Harold J. Voorhees (R-WyomingMI) – “Truly shared, the power agreement that was adopted by the House of Representatives in 1993 is and was a genuine masterpiece – a model for future legislatures throughout the land.”

Candace Curtis (D-Swartz Creek) – “The experience was one of compromise between not only the two parties but also between controlling interest groups.”

Don Gilmer (R-Augusta) – “As a body we at least had a greater amount of respect for one another because of power sharing, and a lot of that still carries on.”

Lynn Jondahl (D-Okemos) – “Working under the shared power agreement was successful in that we quickly adapted to the new rules/procedures and were able to proceed quite smoothly.”

Susan Grimes Munsel (R-Howell) – “One, you had to have the best policy, or two, you had to have a lot of factions with you on an issue, and that kind of focus forces you into the central area which is where the best policy making is anyway.”

Clark Harder (D-Owosso) – “While political pundits swore in advance it would never work, they were obviously proven wrong.”

Tom Alley (D-West Branch) – “Power sharing was probably the greatest experience any legislator could go through in a career of elected office.”

Frank Fitzgerald (R-Grand Ledge) – “I think that what you learn from shared power is that it is possible in a tie situation to make a legislative body operate.”

Pat Gagliardi (D-Drummond Island) – “The best part of shared power, for me as well as many others, was the fact that relationships from both sides of the aisle improved on a personal as well as on the professional level. . . Having been in the majority and the minority, the people of the state of Michigan would be best served if each party was equally represented.”

Paul Baade (D-Roosevelt Park) – “An opportunity to develop a spirit of cooperation and negotiation to move on many issues.”

Kirk A. Profit (D-Ypsilanti) – “I am personally very grateful to have had the wonderful opportunity to represent the eighty-five thousand people in the Ypsilanti area at such an incredible time in Michigan history when new standards for legislative production were set and new foundations of faith in government were laid.”

William Bryant (R-Grosse Pointe Farms) – “Shared power works because it encourages each party to act like a responsible majority.” [Note: Rep. Bryant presented a proposal to the co-Speakers to perpetuate the agreement into the future as an historic opportunity to move “politics not just in Michigan but nationally past sheer partisanship. . .” He concluded by saying, “Seize the moment. Have the vision. Change what it means to be a member of a legislative body. Make history.”]

Can you imagine 26 diverse U.S. Congressional members commenting on the state of the current Congress with the sincerity, excitement and insightfulness of the comments above? Isn’t this what the vast majority of Americans want from their government and their legislators? [Congressional approval rating is currently 10% (8/3/17)]

Congress must accept the fact that the electorate is divided 50-50 and stop trying to propose one-sided solutions to complex problems. True bipartisanship is just a decision away. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi could make it happen now and end the madness if they wanted to.

It is possible. There is a better way. #BetterGovmt

Other posts on shared committee power and true bipartisanship:

Shared Committee Power And The Ambience of Bipartisanship