U.S. Government & governance 2020

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U.S. Government & governance 2019
What is Antifa?
Our Caesar Can the country come back from Trump?
The Republic already looks like Rome in ruins
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Trump Can’t Cancel the Election.
But States Could Do It for Him.

McConnell sets vote for Trump VOA pick, who has ties to Steve Bannon
Michael Pack is also under active investigation by D.C. attorney general for alleged self-dealing, self-enrichment
(Roll Call) The Senate on Thursday will consider the nomination of conservative filmmaker Michael Pack, who has collaborated with former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon and is being actively investigated by the attorney general for the District of Columbia for alleged self-dealing and self-enrichment.
Pack, whose nomination has been pending for several years, was tapped by President Donald Trump to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The agency has an annual budget of roughly $1 billion and includes U.S. taxpayer-funded news outlets Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a May party-line 12-10 vote, advanced Pack’s nomination after a heated exchange between the panel’s Republicans and Democrats about breaking committee tradition by considering a nominee who is under an active criminal investigation

3 June
How Trump’s Idea for a Photo Op Led to Havoc in a Park
(NYT) After a weekend of protests that led all the way to his own front yard and forced him to briefly retreat to a bunker beneath the White House, President Trump arrived in the Oval Office on Monday agitated over the television images, annoyed that anyone would think he was hiding and eager for action.
He wanted to send the military into American cities, an idea that provoked a heated, voices-raised fight among his advisers. But by the end of the day, urged on by his daughter Ivanka Trump, he came up with a more personal way of demonstrating toughness — he would march across Lafayette Square to a church damaged by fire the night before.
By Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump boasted of success. “D.C. had no problems last night,” he wrote on Twitter. “Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!).”
By Tuesday afternoon, the crowds were back and even bigger.

30 May – 1 June
Lawmakers Begin Bipartisan Push to Cut Off Police Access to Military-Style Gear
The effort to end a program transferring surplus military equipment from the Pentagon to the police reflects a revived bipartisan concern about excessive use of force by law enforcement.
Trump Killed Obama’s Police Reforms. Now He’s Getting What He Asked For.
By Jonathan Chait
The last few years of the Obama administration were one of the most productive periods of criminal justice reform in American history. The Obama administration changed sentencing guidelines to reduce the disparity in the treatment of drug crimes that had disproportionately harmed black defendants. As part of an effort to inculcate a “guardian, not a warrior” mindset, it restricted the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments. Most importantly, it formed consent decrees with more than a dozen police departments to force them to change their practices.
These reforms did not root out brutality and racism. They were mild both in form and intent, undertaken with the goal of conciliating police and their communities, believing that enhancing trust would ultimately create safer conditions for police as well as those who fear them. It was the epitome of evolutionary cultural change.
Demonstrators, police clash across nation in another night of protest
In Days of Discord, a President Fans the Flames
Mr. Trump has presented himself as someone who seeks conflict, not conciliation, a fighter, not a peacemaker. And he has lived up to his self-image at a perilous time.
Trump says protesters would have met ‘vicious dogs’ if White House fence breached
(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday said demonstrators protesting the death of a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck would have been “greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”
Trump appeared to call his supporters to rally outside the executive mansion on Saturday evening, saying, “TONIGHT, I UNDERSTAND IS MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” MAGA stands for Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.
On Friday, Trump drew a warning from Twitter and condemnation from Democrats after posting a comment that “looting leads to shooting,” suggesting protesters who turned to looting could be fired upon.

18 May
Fired Inspector General Was Investigating Pompeo’s Saudi Arms Sale
Linick is the latest casualty in Trump’s ongoing post-impeachment purge of inspector generals, but according to Democratic lawmakers, his firing was also meant to shield Pompeo from accountability.

14 May
Michigan Cancels Legislative Session to Avoid Armed Protesters;
(Bloomberg) Michigan closed down its capitol in Lansing on Thursday and canceled its legislative session rather than face the possibility of an armed protest and death threats against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The gathering, meant to advocate opening the state for business despite the coronavirus pandemic, followed one April 30 that resulted in pictures of protesters clad in military-style gear and carrying long guns crowding the statehouse. They confronted police and taunted lawmakers.
For the past week, lawmakers have been debating how to safely enable lawmakers to work and vote in session while the state’s laws allow people to bring firearms into the capitol building. The debate grew more tense in recent days as some lawmakers read about threats to the governor’s life on social media, which were published in the Detroit Metro Times.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion on May 11 saying that the State Capitol Commission — a body of six lawmakers who oversee the building and its grounds — could ban firearms. The commission voted to study a ban this week, but took no action.

30 April
Politics drive Georgia’s reopening gamble as coronavirus cases rise
The health risks of an early reopening could be even more risky than an economic one, economists say
“Kemp mandates restaurants reopen, whether I reopen dining rooms or not. I file for business interruption insurance, it does not go through since I am ‘allowed’ to operate full capacity,” he hypothesized, adding further down in the now viral post, “If things blow up again, they are still on my tab not on the states, since they are no longer employed. Guys, this is about screwing the working class and small business, not about helping us.”
Economists are uncertain if Gianoulidis is entirely correct about the exact rationale behind the sudden announcement to reopen Georgia as coronavirus cases continue to rise, with nearly 25,000 confirmed in the state as of Tuesday afternoon. The state’s reopening has been so early that even Donald Trump urged Kemp not to do it.
But they can agree the most in danger from Kemp’s actions – both economically and healthwise – are those who open their businesses or return to work in Georgia’s new sudden easing of restrictions.

29 April
Trump to begin preparing for transition in case he loses in November
(PBS Newshour) Trump is standing up a council under the first deployment of the Presidential Transition Act by an incumbent running for another term after Congress moved in 2015 to better ensure continuity of government when one president hands off to another.
Under the act, Trump must name members of the transition council and a senior White House employee to chair it no later than six months before Election Day, which is Sunday. Trump is expected to tap Chris Liddell, deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, according to two senior administration officials.
The law requires presidential candidates and the General Services Administration to reach a memorandum of understanding that governs everything from the provision of federal office space to access to sensitive documents by Sept. 1, though generally it is reached sooner.
Transition teams begin vetting candidates for jobs in a future administration, including beginning the time-consuming security clearance process for likely appointees who need to be ready to take their posts on Inauguration Day.
The transition act was amended earlier this year, in part because of the Trump experience, to require that transition teams develop ethics plans before they get federal support. Congress also required that senior career officials, rather than political appointees, oversee agency transition plans.
Trump’s transition was scrutinized for its wide use of current and former lobbyists and industry insiders on its agency teams. The 2020 law requires that transition team members sign an ethics agreement and that the transition disclose any conflicts of interest.

 

22 April
A vaccine expert says he was removed for questioning hydroxychloroquine.
Dr. Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed this week as the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and removed as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
“In a scorching statement, Dr. Bright assailed the leadership at the health department, saying he was pressured to direct money toward hydroxychloroquine, one of several “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections” and repeatedly described by the president as a potential “game changer” in the fight against the virus.

21 April
Barr Threatens to Sic Justice Department on States That Don’t Open on Trump’s Schedule
(New York) In a new interview with right-wing talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, Barr threatens to throw the DOJ’s weight behind businesses to sue states and cities that fail to open up quickly enough. Barr’s premise is that Trump, as always, has taken a wise and measured course: “I think the president’s plan for getting the country back to work is really a very commonsensical approach that is based on really assessing the status of the virus in each state and each locality, and then gradually pulling back on restrictions.” (Trump’s “commonsensical” plan has included all-cap demands to LIBERATE various states that his own administration’s guidelines have deemed not yet ready to reopen.)
Trump allies have their fingerprints on lockdown protests
As the events have become more widespread, they have also become better organized and more partisan as national groups get involved.
(Politico) Over the past two weeks, mostly conservative activists have held protests in at least a dozen states to protest ongoing state stay-at-home orders. As the events have become more widespread, they have also become better organized and partisan as national groups get involved. More protests are expected this week, and FreedomWorks is helping with promotion and logistics.

19-20 April
‘Delusional’: Governors Reject Pence’s Claim on Virus Testing
Democratic and Republican governors bristled at claims from the Trump administration that the supply of tests was adequate to move firmly toward reopening the country.
(NYT) Officials at every level have faced increasingly competing pressures, balancing maintaining stay-at-home orders against the exasperation and economic toll they are producing.
Governors across the political spectrum have stepped into the spotlight during the coronavirus crisis, holding daily news briefings and going back and forth with the president. But if they drew praise for taking quick action to protect public health, taking responsibility for when and how to reopen could prove far more politically perilous, said Ray Scheppach, a public policy professor at the University of Virginia and a former longtime executive director of the National Governors Association.
“That is one of the reasons you’re seeing groups of governors and states get together,” he said, noting the alliances made by clusters of governors around the country.
Trump’s support for right-wing protests just got more ugly and dangerous
(WaPo) At bottom, President Trump’s ongoing support for right-wing agitators who want to own the libs by throwing off the oppression of policies limiting their own exposure to a deadly pathogen should sound unsettlingly familiar. It’s another expression of the idea that Democratic governance is fundamentally illegitimate — an idea Trump has pushed in many different ways for years.
The parallels to the tea party have been widely noted. Organizers of this new movement include tea-party figures and have ties to the wealthy DeVos family, which at least raises the question of whether right-wing business interests are helping organize the protests, as with the tea party.
More U.S. protests call for lifting coronavirus restrictions as governors push back
(Reuters) – Protests flared in U.S. states on Sunday over stay-at-home orders while governors disputed President Donald Trump’s claims they have enough tests for the novel coronavirus and should quickly reopen their economies.

16 April
Trump Says States Can Start Reopening While Acknowledging the Decision Is Theirs
The guidelines released by the president effectively mean that any restoration of American society will take place on a patchwork basis.
On a day when the nation’s death toll from the coronavirus increased by more than 2,000 for a total over 30,000, the president released a set of nonbinding guidelines that envisioned a slow return to work and school over weeks or months. Based on each state’s conditions, the guidelines in effect guarantee that any restoration of American society will take place on a patchwork basis rather than on a one-size-fits-all prescription from Washington that some of the governors had feared in recent days.
Here’s a state that’s quietly reversing the tea party’s damage
(WaPo) …while most of the national press corps has been focused elsewhere, one state just undid a bunch of the damage that the tea party movement wrought.
I’m talking about Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam just signed a host of bills that reversed many GOP initiatives of the last decade.
This is a watershed. Virginia may be the first state to reverse so many tea party-driven initiatives. And because Virginia sits at the nexus of many trends in national politics right now — shifting demographics, Democratic gains in the anti-Trump suburbs — this illustrates what those trends could end up meaning in policy terms.

13 April
States’ Rights ?
Trump Claims Unconstitutional Power to Overrule State Stay-at-Home Orders
By Jonathan Chait
Last Friday, President Trump used his daily press conference to proclaim that he would soon tell the country when he planned to open it back up. “I’m going to have to make a decision …” he said, portentously. “I would say, without question, it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
Trump does not in fact have the legal authority to make this decision. Stay-at-home orders have been made by governors and mayors, not by the president. Apparently angered by news coverage pointing out his legal impotence, Trump announced on Twitter that he does too have the power
…while Trump is simply declaring himself to be the federal government, that is not how the Constitution works.
Why would Trump be disputing the law? The stupidest, and therefore most likely, explanation is that Trump is simply angry that cable news is discussing the fact that Trump’s “decision” is not actually his to make.
But it is also possible that Trump is actually planning a showdown of some kind with state and local officials. He is reportedly leaning toward announcing a May 1 date for a grand reopening of the country, reflecting his desire for a splashy celebratory announcement. Trump may not want his big day to be stepped on by troublesome local officials diminishing his powers.
Northeast governors form group to discuss reopening of region economies
(The Hill) The governors of six states in the northeast are working together to create joint recommendations on how they can reopen their economies in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effort is being led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and includes Democratic Govs. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Ned Lamont of Connecticut, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, John Carney of Delaware and Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island.
Later on Monday, Cuomo’s office announced Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will also join the coalition, making him the lone Republican.
During a conference call Monday, the governors said they will name a public health official, an economic official and their respective chiefs of staff to work on the plan.
The governors emphasized the importance of working together, so one state doesn’t end up with policies that would put its neighbors at risk or cause the outbreak to start up again.
West Coast governors announce they will create joint plan for reopening economies
“COVID-19 has preyed upon our interconnectedness. In the coming weeks, the West Coast will flip the script on COVID-19 – with our states acting in close coordination and collaboration to ensure the virus can never spread wildly in our communities,” Oregon’s Kate Brown (D), California’s Gavin Newsom (D) and Washington’s Jay Inslee (D) said in a statement Monday.
“We are announcing that California, Oregon and Washington have agreed to work together on a shared approach for reopening our economies – one that identifies clear indicators for communities to restart public life and business,” they added.
U.S. governors push back on Trump’s claim he can ‘open up’ activity in states
Legal experts say U.S. president has limited power to order citizens back to work

10 April
Virginia Heffernan: Surprise! Humans can overcome tribalism to save the species
(LA Times) … in the struggle of humans vs. microbes, we also learned to leverage what the historian Yuval Noah Harari believes is the signature adaptation of humans: to cooperate flexibly, and in large numbers.
This time out, we are making more robust use of this adaptation — demonstrating more flexibility and more cooperation, on a far, far grander scale — than at any other time in human history.
As individuals, most of us imagine we have a unique relationship to the collective — rebel, manager, helper, leader, revolutionary — but as the disease has relentlessly stalked us, those identities have largely dissolved. In America alone, as of Tuesday, stay-at-home orders now bind 316 million people in more than 42 states.
.. even as we take collective action, we can’t help spinning stories of heroes and villains. The valor of healthcare workers on the frontlines. The villainy of cultists who continue to congregate, believing that their god protects only them. These melodramas might seem like a distraction from the microbe war. Far from it. Harari sees our stories as integral to the battle. They’re part of the signal we send each other, the way vulnerable humans, against all expectations, are able to organize ourselves en masse to survive.

9 April
Oversight erased, Supreme Court hijacked: Trump turns the presidency into a dictatorship
Trump has stripped away the levers of independent oversight until there’s nothing left. Our democracy is in the midst of a three-alarm fire.
(USAToday) It began Friday night, when Trump informed Congress that he was firing MIchael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community’s inspector general. This was nothing more than a vile act of political retribution that had been months in the making. Atkinson fulfilled his legal responsibilities by informing Congress about a whistleblower complaint that exposed Trump’s impeachable crimes. What everyone else recognizes as following the letter of the law, the president views as cause for termination.
On Monday, Trump turned his attention to the inspector general who oversees the Department of Health and Human Services, who had just released a report revealing the extent to which hospitals were struggling to meet the health care demands associated with treating COVID-19 patients. The thorough review included interviews from 323 hospitals across 46 states and stood in stark contrast with the rhetoric coming from the president. Naturally, Trump labeled the report a “Fake Dossier” and suggested “politics” influenced it.
On Tuesday, the president removed Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine. He had just been designated to oversee the newly created Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a watchdog panel authorized by Congress to conduct oversight of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The same day, Trump said he had seven IGs in his sights —  prompting Sen. Chris Murphy to announce he would draft a bill to “give all Inspectors General protected 7 year terms.”
In the course of three days, Trump fired an IG for telling the truth, attacked another for exposing the totality of a health care pandemic, and removed another in a brazen effort to avoid being held accountable for how trillions of taxpayer dollars will be allocated. … Free from the limitations of accountability, there is nothing stopping the president from turning the so-called “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (CARES Act) into a $2 trillion personal slush fund.
For anyone hoping the Supreme Court will assert its role as the third branch of government, it has delayed hearing cases, including three lawsuits involving Trump’s tax returns and financial dealings. And yet, somehow, the Supreme Court managed to reverse a federal judge’s order to extend absentee voting by a week in Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday. The result was that voters had to choose between their health and their civic duty.
The court’s refusal to move forward with cases that impact the president, coupled with its willingness to interfere with the Wisconsin election, foreshadows a very dangerous path as we look ahead to the November elections. In essence, the court’s conservative majority is just another political instrument for Trump to wield.
The highest court in the land has effectively been hijacked — serving only the interests of Donald Trump. Congress is no longer a co-equal branch of government, a result of Trump’s toxic brand of obstruction.

7 April
Trump’s purge is about to get much worse. Schiff just sent up a flare.
(WaPo) After President Trump fired the inspector general of the intelligence community, he didn’t bother disguising his true reason for doing so: because that IG had conducted his lawful duties in a manner that resulted in Trump being held accountable for his misdeeds and corruption. As Trump himself put it, Michael Atkinson, the fired IG, had done a “terrible job.” How so? Easy: Atkinson had evaluated the whistleblower complaint exposing Trump’s Ukraine shakedown scheme with procedural correctness. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) just announced that the House Intelligence Committee, which he chairs, will be examining Trump’s firing of Atkinson. And buried in Schiff’s letter making this announcement is an unsettling glimpse of where all this could be going.
Schiff’s letter, which is addressed to acting director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, expresses Schiff’s concern that Grenell is politicizing that office on Trump’s behalf, noting that every Senate-confirmed person in the DNI has been removed. Notably, in the section announcing the investigation of Atkinson’s dismissal, Schiff calls on Grenell to confirm in writing whether he ever exercised his “authority” to “prohibit” any other “investigation, inspection, audit, or review” that Atkinson might have undertaken.

Trump to Fire Intelligence Watchdog Who Had Key Role in Ukraine Complaint
The president notified lawmakers late on Friday, saying he had lost confidence in the inspector general for the intelligence community.
(NYT) The move came as Mr. Trump announced his intent to name a White House aide as the independent watchdog for $500 billion in corporate pandemic aid and notified Congress of other nominees to inspector general positions, including one that would effectively oust the newly named chairman of a panel to oversee how the government spends $2 trillion in coronavirus relief.

16 March
Inside the Coronavirus Response: A Case Study in the White House Under Trump
By Maggie Haberman and Noah Weiland
Infighting, turf wars and a president more concerned with the stock market and media coverage than policy have defined the Trump White House. They have also defined how it has handled a pandemic.
Senior aides battling one another for turf, and advisers protecting their own standing. A president who is racked by indecision and quick to blame others and who views events through the lens of how the news media covers them. A pervasive distrust of career government professionals, and disregard for their recommendations. And a powerful son-in-law whom aides fear crossing, but who is among the few people the president trusts.
The culture that President Trump has fostered and abided by for more than three years in the White House has shaped his administration’s response to a deadly pandemic that is upending his presidency and the rest of the country, with dramatic changes to how Americans live their daily lives.
It explains how Mr. Trump could announce he was dismissing his acting chief of staff as the crisis grew more severe, creating even less clarity in an already fractured chain of command. And it was a major factor in the president’s reluctance to even acknowledge a looming crisis, for fear of rattling the financial markets that serve as his political weather vane.
Crises are treated as day-to-day public relations problems by Mr. Trump, who thinks ahead in short increments of time and early on in his presidency told aides to consider each day as an episode in a television show. The type of long-term planning required for an unpredictable crisis like a pandemic has brought into stark relief the difficulties that Mr. Trump was bound to face in a real crisis.
Mr. Trump has refused repeated warnings to rely on experts, or to neutralize some of the power held by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in favor of a traditional staff structure. He has rarely fully empowered people in the jobs they hold.

11 March
Trump’s Dangerously Effective Coronavirus Propaganda
The president’s effort to play down the pandemic is being amplified by a coalition of partisan media, digital propagandists, and White House officials.
(The Atlantic) From the moment the coronavirus reached the United States, President Donald Trump has seemed determined to construct an alternate reality around the outbreak. In the information universe he has formed, COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is no worse than the seasonal flu; criticism of his response to it is a “hoax”; and media coverage of the virus is part of a political conspiracy to destroy his presidency.
Fact-checkers and scientists have scrambled to correct the misinformation coming out of the White House. (No, the virus has not been “contained” in America; no, testing is not available to anybody who wants it; no, people shouldn’t go to work if they’re sick.) But Trump’s message seems to have resonated with his base: A Quinnipiac University poll released this week found that just 35 percent of Republicans are concerned about the virus, compared with 68 percent of Democrats.

9 March
Joseph E. Stiglitz: Plagued by Trumpism
For 40 years, Republicans have been insisting that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” But now that COVID-19, climate change, and other collective threats are bearing down on the US and the rest of the world, the bankruptcy of this nostrum has been laid bare.
(Project Syndicate) No US presidential administration has done more to undermine global cooperation and the role of government than that of Donald Trump. And yet, when we face a crisis like an epidemic or a hurricane, we turn to government, because we know that such events demand collective action. We cannot go it alone, nor can we rely on the private sector. All too often, profit-maximizing firms will see crises as opportunities for price gouging, as is already evident in the rising prices of face masks.
..as Linda Bilmes of the Harvard Kennedy School points out, the Trump administration has proposed cuts to the CDC’s funding year after year (10% in 2018, 19% in 2019). At the start of this year, Trump, demonstrating the worst timing imaginable, called for a 20% cut in spending on programs to fight emerging infectious and zoonotic diseases (that is, pathogens like coronaviruses, which originate in animals and jump to humans). And in 2018, he eliminated the National Security Council’s global health security and biodefense directorate.

2 March
The President Is Winning His War on American Institutions
How Trump is destroying the civil service and bending the government to his will
by George Packer
…a simple intuition had propelled Trump throughout his life: Human beings are weak. They have their illusions, appetites, vanities, fears. They can be cowed, corrupted, or crushed. A government is composed of human beings. This was the flaw in the brilliant design of the Framers, and Trump learned how to exploit it. The wreckage began to pile up. He needed only a few years to warp his administration into a tool for his own benefit. If he’s given a few more years, the damage to American democracy will be irreversible.
(The Atlantic Magazine April issue) The new president was impetuous, bottomlessly ignorant, almost chemically inattentive, while the bureaucrats were seasoned, shrewd, protective of themselves and their institutions. They knew where the levers of power lay and how to use them or prevent the president from doing so. Trump’s White House was chaotic and vicious, unlike anything in American history, but it didn’t really matter as long as “the adults” were there to wait out the president’s impulses and deflect his worst ideas and discreetly pocket destructive orders lying around on his desk.
After three years, the adults have all left the room—saying just about nothing on their way out to alert the country to the peril—while Trump is still there.
The adults were too sophisticated to see Trump’s special political talents—his instinct for every adversary’s weakness, his fanatical devotion to himself, his knack for imposing his will, his sheer staying power. They also failed to appreciate the advanced decay of the Republican Party, which by 2016 was far gone in a nihilistic pursuit of power at all costs.

28 February
Trump again nominates Rep. John Ratcliffe to be director of national intelligence
Trump sought to nominate Ratcliffe in July after his first intelligence director, Daniel Coats, left the administration. But the former U.S. attorney encountered stiff resistance in Congress, where lawmakers raised questions about his credentials and whether he had padded his résumé.
Congressional and intelligence officials have said Ratcliffe is a relatively disengaged member of the House Intelligence Committee and was not well known among the intelligence agencies.

27 February
70 former U.S. senators: The Senate is failing to perform its constitutional duties
(WaPo) Congress is not fulfilling its constitutional duties. Much of the responsibility rests on the Senate. We are writing to encourage the creation of a bipartisan caucus of incumbent senators who would be committed to making the Senate function as the Framers of the Constitution intended. … We believe a bipartisan caucus of incumbent members that promotes a fair opportunity for senators to participate in meaningful committee work as well as on the Senate floor could help restore the Senate to its essential place in our constitutional system. Its members would need to stand firm in the face of what could be strong opposition from partisans who prefer politicians who take intransigent positions over those who champion a legislative process that celebrates compromise.

22 February
What Would Happen If Trump Refused to Leave Office?
By Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan
A peaceful transfer of power is necessary for American democracy to survive.
(The Atlantic) If Trump were inclined to overstay his term, the levers of power work in favor of removal. Because the president immediately and automatically loses his constitutional authority upon expiration of his term or after removal through impeachment, he would lack the power to direct the U.S. Secret Service or other federal agents to protect him. He would likewise lose his power, as the commander in chief of the armed forces, to order a military response to defend him. In fact, the newly minted president would possess those presidential powers. If necessary, the successor could direct federal agents to forcibly remove Trump from the White House. Now a private citizen, Trump would no longer be immune from criminal prosecution, and could be arrested and charged with trespassing in the White House. While even former presidents enjoy Secret Service protection, agents presumably would not follow an illegal order to protect one from removal from office.
Although Trump’s remaining in office seems unlikely, a more frightening—and plausible—scenario would be if his defeat inspired extremist supporters to engage in violence.
See Trump says supporters could ‘demand’ he not leave office after two terms (June 2019)

21 February
Trump embarks on expansive search for disloyalty as administration-wide purge escalates
(WaPo) President Trump has instructed his White House to identify and force out officials across his administration who are not seen as sufficiently loyal, a post-impeachment escalation that administration officials say reflects a new phase of a campaign of retribution and restructuring ahead of the November election.
Johnny McEntee, Trump’s former personal aide who now leads the effort as director of presidential personnel, has begun combing through various agencies with a mandate from the president to oust or sideline political appointees who have not proved their loyalty, according to several administration officials and others familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Frank Rich: The Intelligence Community’s Bill Barr Moment
(New York) The House Intelligence Committee was recently briefed that Russia has already begun interfering in the 2020 campaign “to try to get President Trump re-elected,” according to a report in the New York Times. In response, Trump apparently replaced the acting director of national intelligence with a loyalist. Is this the intelligence community’s Bill Barr moment?
It has not even been three weeks since the Republican Senate acquitted Trump, ratifying his belief that he is above the law. In that brief time, he has conducted a political purge in the White House, let felons with personal connections to him out of jail, and now this: squelching his intelligence chiefs’ warnings of Russia’s efforts to further his reelection campaign, a de facto collusion with Vladimir Putin to betray American democracy.
Of course this is another Barr moment, with the new acting intelligence director, the utterly unqualified loyalist hack Richard Grenell, serving as a placeholder in that job, much as the utterly unqualified loyalist hack Matthew Whitaker did as acting attorney general until Trump recruited Barr. Whoever the new intel director proves to be, we can be assured that they will do Trump’s political bidding. Nothing will be done to combat Russian efforts to fix the election.
Will Richard Grenell Destroy the Intelligence Community?
President Trump selected an unqualified loyalist as his top spy. We know what happens next.
(NYT Opinion) Mr. Grenell has no experience as an intelligence officer at any level, nor has he overseen a large government bureaucracy. He has served in government only as communications director for the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration, and since May 2018 as ambassador to Germany. (In the interim, he founded and ran a public affairs consultancy, advising and commenting on Fox News.)
As usual, Republican senators privately advised the White House against the appointment, urging the president to select an intelligence professional instead. To get around Senate opposition, Mr. Trump chose to accord Mr. Grenell only “acting” status, circumventing Senate confirmation.
…this is not just another disparagement of the separation of powers. Within the executive branch itself, it is a calculated insult to the integrity and professionalism of the U.S. intelligence community, one that threatens to further impair the function of sound intelligence collection and analysis — that is, to inform U.S. policy — and to politicize the relationship between the White House and intelligence agencies.

16 February
Former Justice Dept. Lawyers Press for Barr to Step Down
More than 1,100 former prosecutors and officials who served in Republican and Democratic administrations signed an open letter condemning the president and the attorney general over the Stone case.
(NYT) They also urged current government employees to report any signs of unethical behavior at the Justice Department to the agency’s inspector general and to Congress.
“Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice,” the former Justice Department lawyers, who came from across the political spectrum, wrote in an open letter on Sunday. Those actions, they said, “require Mr. Barr to resign.”
The sharp denunciation of Mr. Barr underlined the extent of the fallout over the case of Mr. Stone, capping a week that strained the attorney general’s relationship with his rank and file, and with the president himself.

15 February
Why the Presidency Can’t Just Go Back to ‘Normal’ After Trump
The “norms and traditions” that Trump has incinerated aren’t timeless features of American democracy; they’re actually quite new—and brittle.
(Politico) Many of these “presidential norms and traditions” that Trump has left by the wayside aren’t timeless at all; they’re actually quite new. They grew up alongside and in reaction to the expansion of both the federal state and the presidency—a process that began in the early 20th century but gained steam from the 1930s onward. …three cherished institutions—White House news briefings, independent courts, nonpartisan law enforcement agencies and a nonpartisan civil service. Their foundations are more young and shaky than you might think, and once altered, they may not be easily restored. Future presidents may regard newer precedents as more binding. A once-sturdy nonpartisan civil service and equally assured nonpartisan courts may be too weakened to enforce a return to prior norms. A public once conditioned to expect certain things of its presidents may have lost a critical amount of muscle memory. In short, anyone who expects a restoration of the status quo circa 2017 may be in for a rude awakening.

14 February
‘Grim Reaper’ Mitch McConnell Admits There Are 395 House Bills Sitting in the Senate: ‘We’re Not Going to Pass Those’
(Newsweek) McConnell explained that the bills would not get passed, because the government is divided. He said that instead they “have to work on things we can agree,” listing government spending, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement, an infrastructure bill, a parks bill and some environmental issues as examples of bills that they may be able to agree on.
When asked about a bipartisan infrastructure bill, McConnell said that it may not be a “big” bill, because it would “require dealing with the revenue sources that both sides are nervous about raising the gas tax, which is a regressive tax on low-income people.”
When asked about legislature regarding prescription drugs, McConnell said that while there are “differences on both sides,” there is a chance that the Senate will be able to legislate on the issue.
“It’s not that we’re not doing anything. It’s that we’re not doing what the House Democrats and these candidates for president on the Democratic ticket want to do,” he said.

12-13 February
Senate passes resolution to limit Trump’s power to order military action against Iran
The Senate passed a resolution Thursday to limit President Trump’s power to order military action against Iran without first seeking Congress’s permission, a bipartisan rebuke of his administration’s resistance to involving the legislative branch in decisions that some fear could lead to all-out war.
Eight Republicans joined all Democrats in voting 55 to 45 for the measure, despite sharp warnings from Trump that challenging his war powers would “show weakness” and “sends a very bad signal” to Tehran. Trump will almost certainly veto the measure once it passes the House, and neither chamber of Congress has the votes to override that veto, lawmakers say.
(WaPo) Trump has been raging at GOP senators, to frighten them away from taking new steps to rein in his authority to make war. This comes after the House passed a measure to compel Trump to seek congressional authorization for new hostilities against Iran.  Here’s why this matters: This is yet another area in which Trump is not just asserting unconstrained authority; he’s also openly and explicitly declaring that he feels zero obligation to offer any meaningful legal or substantive justification for acting on that authority.
The Power Trump Can Wield Like a Dictator
Congress must fix the law governing national emergencies before our democracy pays a hefty price.
By Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
(NYT) The law governing national emergencies is broken and must be fixed while there is a window of opportunity before the election —  and before our democracy pays a hefty price. The law in question is the National Emergencies Act. This statute authorizes the president to declare a national emergency, which in turn gives him access to special powers set forth in more than 100 other provisions. Some of these powers seem more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy, like the authority to shut down communications systems, freeze Americans’ bank accounts and lend armed forces to other nations.
The Justice Department’s reputation is on life support
(WaPo) The withdrawal of all four career prosecutors handling the case against Roger Stone, in the wake of the Justice Department’s sentencing shift, underscores that Attorney General William P. Barr’s department has effectively gone rogue.
Prosecutors Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed and Michael Marando all sought permission Tuesday to leave the case. A fourth, Jonathan Kravis, has fully resigned his job as an assistant U.S. attorney. These actions threaten to throw the Justice Department into existential crisis.
None of the prosecutors gave a reason for their actions, but their exits followed the announcement Tuesday morning that the department would reduce its sentencing recommendation for Stone, a confidant of President Trump. That news itself came hours after Trump tweeted that Stone’s sentence was “horrible and very unfair.”

7 February
What Matters Most in the Battle Between Trump and Pelosi
The Speaker’s willingness to get in the President’s face has made many a meme, but their conflict has more to say about our constitutional checks and balances..

4 February
A Republic, If We Can Keep It
The government set up by James Madison and the other Founders requires a virtuous public and virtuous leaders—or the whole system will fail.
By Adam J. White, Resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
(The Atlantic) In the days leading up to the Senate’s impeachment trial, some people hoped that Chief Justice John Roberts, presiding over the trial, would use his position to send a strong message to the senators on what the Constitution requires of them. He had, in fact, already sent such a message, just weeks earlier, on what the Constitution requires of all Americans. On December 31, in a letter accompanying his annual report on the work of the federal courts, Roberts called on federal judges—and everyone else—to invest themselves in the preservation of constitutional democracy.
“Each generation,” he wrote, “has an obligation to pass on to the next, not only a fully functioning government responsive to the needs of the people, but the tools to understand and improve it.” For Roberts, this requires civic education—and something more fundamental than that, too.
“In our age,” Roberts wrote, “when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale,” there is even greater danger that political passions can turn us against one another, or against constitutional government itself. He emphasized judges’ particular role as “a key source of national unity and stability,” but his deeper point was that those values are needed among more than just judges.

State of the Union Updates: Trump Adds Reality Show Flourishes to Address
On the eve of the final Senate votes in the impeachment trial, President Trump traded snubs with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and promoted a ‘Great American Comeback,’ pausing to award Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Fact-Checking Trump’s 2020 State of the Union Address and the Democratic Response

22 January
Citizens United: The Court Ruling That Sold Our Democracy
Ten years after Citizens United, the damage is broad and deep—but we can still fix it.
(Common Dreams) In the 10 years since the decision, there’s been $4.5 billion in political spending by outside interest groups, compared to $750 million spent in the 20 years prior to the case.
From 2000-2008, there were only 15 federal races where outside spending exceeded candidate spending. In the same amount of time following Citizens United, this occurred in 126 races. Now, almost half of all outside spending is dark money that has no or limited disclosure of its donors.
That money isn’t coming from the farmers suffering through Donald Trump’s trade war or the fast-food workers fighting for a living wage. It’s coming from the wealthiest donors, people often with very different priorities than the majority of Americans. In fact, a full one-fifth of all super PAC donations in the past 10 years have come from just 11 people.
… we also need meaningful anti-corruption reforms.
Thanks to a class of reformers elected in 2018, we’ve already begun that process. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1).
H.R. 1 would strengthen ethics rules and enforcement; reduce the influence of big money while empowering individual, small-dollar donors; and, along with a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act, protect every American’s right to vote. It also calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. [No surprise] this bill is being blocked by Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

21 January
The Imperial Presidency Is Alive and Well

Don’t Mistake Impeachment for a Congressional Effort to Claw Back Power
(Foreign Affairs) … don’t be fooled by the sudden congressional focus on foreign policy. Congress remains in a weak position to restrain the president overseas. The Democrats believe that Trump’s efforts to withhold aid to Ukraine until its government agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden constituted an abuse of power and necessitated a vote to impeach the president. But the outcome of the Senate trial will reflect domestic politics, not senators’ views about legislative oversight of foreign affairs. Congress’s inability to pass a veto-proof bill to limit the president’s war powers in Iran, moreover, is one more sign that the balance of power on foreign policy isn’t shifting back toward the legislative branch.
… If the Cold War led to the rise of the imperial presidency, the end of the Cold War left the office virtually unconstrained overseas. Without great-power competition to focus the public’s attention, Congress turned inward. Constituents no longer seemed to value expertise on foreign affairs, so new members were less likely to develop proficiency. Leading committees such as Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Armed Services held fewer and fewer hearings, thus limiting direct legislative oversight of the executive branch.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks refocused attention on foreign policy, but they only accelerated the trend toward increasing presidential war power.
… Trump has demonstrated just how much power the executive has accrued. He unilaterally imposed tariffs on adversaries and allies alike, gave Turkey a green light to invade Syria, and authorized the assassination of Iran’s most important general. After the Soleimani strike, Trump sent out a tweet that he said served “as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back.” He added that “such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!”

Crippling the capacity of the National Security Council
Kathryn Dunn Tenpas
(Brookings) The Trump administration’s first three years saw record-setting turnover at the most senior level of the White House staff and the Cabinet. There are also numerous vacancies in Senate-confirmed positions across the executive branch. As of September 22, 2019, the turnover rate among senior White House aides had reached 80 percent, a rate that exceeded President Trump’s five predecessors after their entire first terms in office. The frequent departure of senior staff has been one of the most noteworthy features of this administration.
Within my “A Team” sample, I tracked eight senior NSC positions. By fall of 2019, seven of those eight positions had turned over at least once.
The high-level departures continued through 2018 and 2019 with more senior members of the NSC departing and serial turnover across many of these positions: four National Security Advisers, six Deputy National Security Advisers, three Chiefs of Staff and Executive Secretaries, three senior Intelligence Directors….
On Friday, January 17, 2020, Andrew Peek was escorted from the White House grounds pending a security-related investigation. It may be that the NSC will soon be in search of a third Director of Europe and Russia in a single year and the fourth occupant overall.
This extraordinary rate of high-level turnover concomitantly causes a cascade of departures in less senior jobs, as incoming successors seek to staff their office with hand-picked associates.
The combination of high turnover, major staff cuts, and new leadership have truly crippled the role of the NSC. Just the past five months have witnessed the significant role of senior NSC staff in the Ukrainian aid scandal and subsequent impeachment process. In addition, the recent killing of Iranian General Qasim Soleimani and bungled explanation have drawn even more attention to the role of the NSC. The inability to coordinate a consistent message, let alone a single message, for why the U.S. ordered the death demonstrates the absence of staff influential enough to have prepared for the aftermath of such a momentous and consequential action. Working at such a disadvantage alongside an impulsive president who consistently shows disdain for expertise, collaboration and debate poses a risk to the country at large.

9 January
House approves measure limiting Trump’s authority to take further military action against Iran
The 224 to 194 vote fell largely along party lines, with only three Republicans and Republican-turned-independent Justin Amash (Mich.) voting for the resolution from Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.). Eight Democrats opposed the measure, which instructs Trump “to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military” unless Congress has made a declaration of war or there is “an imminent armed attack upon the United States.”
The vote comes just a day after the administration’s top national security officials met with lawmakers behind closed doors to discuss the intelligence and decision-making that informed Trump’s order to kill top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. … Democrats and a handful of Republicans emerged from those briefings so frustrated by the administration’s refusal to fully engage Congress that it fueled new momentum behind efforts to restrain Trump’s actions as commander in chief when it comes to Iran.

6 January
Trump claims his ‘Media Posts’ on Twitter now count as official notification to Congress about any plans to attack Iran
(Business Insider) President Donald Trump claimed on Sunday that his tweets now count as official notification to Congress about the US military’s plans to attack Iran.
There is no basis for Trump’s claim, because tweets do not constitute official congressional notification.
while the president is not legally mandated to consult with Congress when a military action is deemed an emergency, only Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war. Previous presidents have also almost always consulted with a tight group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of 8 on issues of national security.
The debate over executive authority vs. legislative power in wartime reignited on Friday. … Since then, Trump has thrown gasoline on the fire by threatening to attack Iranian cultural sites if Iran retaliates — a move that could constitute a war crime.
Who Is Jared Kushner?
The Kushner family history—from lying on immigration forms to becoming major Democratic donors—often seems at odds with the initiatives Jared supports in his father-in-law’s Administration.
By Andrea Bernstein

4 January
Congress, Stop President Trump’s Rush to War With Iran
Republican senators are the only people with the power to restrain the president.
(NYT Editorial board) Several lawmakers are working on a resolution barring the White House from escalating the conflict without Congressional blessing. While appropriate, such efforts to rein in executive war-making powers have proved insufficient since the 9/11 attacks. That’s why it is crucial that influential Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell remind Mr. Trump of his promise to keep America out of foreign quagmires and keep Mr. Trump from stumbling further into war with Iran.
The President has listened to them in the past, and has reason — with his impeachment trial nearing in the Senate — to fear them as well.
American Foreign Policy Is Broken. Suleimani’s Killing Proves It.
A properly functioning National Security Council would never have let it happen, for good reason.
By By Jonathan Stevenson, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
(NYT) Mr. Trump did not bother to consult congressional leaders. As with his other displays of martial fiat, his immediate impulse was probably to shock the liberal domestic audience, vicariously make himself feel tough, and assert raw executive power by going around the normal channels of decision making.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had considered taking out General Suleimani but rejected it — not for lack of nerve, but for fear of undue escalation and an unnecessary war with Iran. The fundamental facts on the ground have not changed, and in the kind of robust interagency, national security decision-making process that the National Security Council staff is supposed to supervise, such concerns would have been systematically raised, dissected and discussed, and a consensus reached to inform presidential action. No such process seems to have occurred here. …
The National Security Council would have undoubtedly asked the intelligence community for a detailed assessment of Iran’s possible responses to the strike. Analysts would have underscored the inevitability of lethal attacks on Americans and American interests: terrorist attacks on embassies or other civilian or military facilities in the Middle East and farther afield, military escalation on the ground in Syria or Iraq, cyberattacks, the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, Hezbollah attacks on Israel, further operations targeting Gulf States’ oil infrastructure, and accelerating movement toward nuclear breakout. …
The killing of General Suleimani arose outside of any coherent policy context, and without adequate contemplation of near- or long-term strategic consequences. Mr. Trump’s move looks like either an impetuous act of self-indulgence or, somewhat more probable, a calculated attempt to bury his domestic political troubles. Whatever the precise reason, the act itself is irreversible, and will have serious consequences — precisely why it merited the systematic deliberation that it clearly did not receive.

In Era of Perpetual Conflict, a Volatile President Grabs Expanded Powers to Make War
(NYT) …it is just the latest example of the capricious way in which the president, as commander in chief, has chosen to flex his lethal powers. … There have been attempts by lawmakers in recent years to limit the president’s abilities to wage new or expanded wars based on the authorities Congress granted in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks. But with little support from leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill, those efforts have generally gone nowhere.

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