U.S. Government & governance 2020 July –

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U.S. Government & governance 2020 January – July

U.S. Postal Service watchdog to probe service woes as worries rise about mail ballots
(Reuters) – The U.S. Postal Service’s internal watchdog is investigating cost cutting that has slowed delivery and alarmed lawmakers ahead of a presidential election when up to half of U.S. voters could cast ballots by mail, a congressional aide said on Friday.
The Postal Service’s inspector general also will examine possible conflicts of interest involving new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has donated $2.7 million to President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans, according to Shaloni Sharma, a spokeswoman for Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who requested the investigation.
DeJoy owns millions of dollars in stock in Postal Service rivals and customers, according to a financial disclosure form filed by his wife.
The Inspector General’s Office is “conducting a body of work to address concerns raised,” spokeswoman Agapi Doulaveris said
The investigation comes as the Postal Service is warning states there is “significant risk” voters will not have enough time to complete and return their ballots. The Postal Service late on Friday released letters it had sent to 46 states and the District of Columbia, after the Washington Post reported earlier on the extent of the warnings.
Top Homeland Security Officials Are Serving Illegally, G.A.O. Says
(NYT) The acting secretary of homeland security, Chad F. Wolf, and his deputy, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, were appointed to their posts in violation of federal law, Congress’s watchdog determined.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said any policy decisions made by Mr. Wolf or Mr. Cuccinelli should be nullified, and the men should step down.
But the White House has ignored such findings before. Last year, an independent government agency said Mr. Trump should fire Kellyanne Conway, his White House counselor, for repeated violations of an ethics law, the Hatch Act, which bars partisan politics from the federal workplace. The recommendation by the agency, called the Office of Special Counsel, went nowhere.
The Vacancies Reform Act provides specific rules for how senior positions at federal agencies can be filled temporarily when a top official leaves. … Mr. Trump’s administration has repeatedly sought to ignore the order of succession defined by the Vacancies Reform Act, seeking instead to elevate officials seen as more loyal to the president and his agenda than the civil servants who were in line to take on the “acting” positions.
See Lawfare: Is It Time to Reform the Federal Vacancies Reform Act? “The FVRA is meant to serve as a check on a president’s ability to utilize gamesmanship to avoid the advice and consent of the Senate for high-level officers. … As Steve Vladeck pointed out almost two years ago, the purpose of the FVRA was to give the president flexibility to deal with unexpected vacancies—not to create vacancies himself and sidestep the Senate’s advice and consent role. The FVRA assumes that a president will act in good faith to nominate officers and, as such, seems to have given the president way too much leeway to play games with its provisions.”

13 August
The Good Son
Polished, soft-spoken, and a self-styled moderate, Jared Kushner has become his father-in-law’s most dangerous enabler.
(The Atlantic) From an early age, Jared learned how to accumulate influence by faithfully serving the interests of powerful, mercurial men. He grew adept at managing their outbursts, or rather, he learned how to avoid becoming their target. For all the power Kushner has amassed, his ascent required the submission of self and the stifling of principle. … This dangerous admixture of propulsive ambition and boundless self-abasement has now come to afflict the nation. Kushner’s foibles have exacerbated the administration’s disastrous response to its greatest crisis.

12 August
Another illegal Trump administration policy, and yet another premature Trump administration victory lap
To be fair, even if the president were competent — and advisers actually did their homework before announcing big policy changes — executive orders could still never substitute for much-needed legislative action right now. Congress must exercise its powers of the purse and pass more covid-19 relief. Not just for enhanced jobless benefits but also for more general state fiscal aid (among other priorities).
But in declaring that he’s solved all these problems, President I-Alone-Can-Fix-It hasn’t hastened advanced legislative negotiations — he’s made a deal less likely to happen. And America’s unemployed will pay the price.

11 August
Trump’s Attack on the Postal Service Is a Threat to Democracy—and to Rural America
If Republicans succeed in their long-sought goal of privatizing the postal service, they will suck what life remains from many of the communities they theoretically represent.

(The New Yorker) It’s by now pretty obvious that the Trump Administration is attempting to sabotage mail delivery in order to cast some kind of shadow over the November election. Donald Trump’s newly installed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, who earned the position with more than two million dollars in donations to the Trump campaign and other Republican causes since 2016, … in what’s being called the Friday Night Massacre, obliterated decades of institutional knowledge, by reassigning or displacing twenty-three highly ranked officials in the postal service. Not only that but the Postal Service almost tripled the postage for mailing ballots to voters.

9 – 10 August
Politico reports: Congressional negotiations over Covid relief have stalled, but the blame game is just getting started. Top congressional leaders and the White House lashed out at each other today, the latest sign that a bipartisan deal to boost the U.S. economy appears unlikely anytime soon, write Marianne LeVine and John Bresnahan. Trump claimed in a tweet that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “want to meet to make a deal” on a relief bill, but aides to the two top Democrats said no one from the White House had reached out to them since negotiations fell apart over the weekend.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, accused Pelosi and Schumer of using the economic hardships being felt by tens of millions of Americans to pressure Trump and Senate Republicans into a deal. Schumer said the White House and top Senate Republicans were the ones who refused to compromise, leading to inaction on critical issues including testing, education funding and additional stimulus payments.
John Cassidy: Trump’s Latest Executive Orders Are a Political Stunt
The executive orders “will take care of, pretty much, this entire situation,” Trump said.
Even by Trump’s standards, that was a ludicrous claim. Even by Trump’s standards, that was a ludicrous claim. Setting aside the legal issue of whether he has the authority to enact the measures he announced, it is clear that they won’t provide a lasting solution to any of the problems that they were supposedly meant to address. Like so many of the unilateral actions that Trump has taken over the past three and a half years, the orders were designed to garner some headlines and give him a short-term political boost.
Trump’s Orders on Coronavirus Relief Create Confusion
Businesses and the unemployed faced uncertainty as administration officials defended the president’s directives and Democrats criticized them.
President Trump’s attempt to circumvent Congress to provide coronavirus relief in the absence of a broad agreement resulted in confusion and uncertainty on Sunday for tens of millions of unemployed Americans and countless businesses seeking aid after critical benefits lapsed.
As negotiations with congressional Democrats remained at an impasse, administration officials were on the defensive a day after the president’s legally questionable executive actions, at times contradicting one another as they sought to explain how the measures would work and how quickly Americans could see any form of relief.
President Trump signed executive orders on Saturday partly restoring enhanced unemployment payments to the tens of millions of Americans who lost jobs in the coronavirus pandemic, as the United States marked a grim milestone of 5 million cases. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said they were open to restarting COVID-19 aid talks, after weeks of failed negotiations prompted Trump to take executive actions that Democrats argued would do little to ease Americans’ financial distress. Discussions over a fifth bill to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic fell apart on Friday, a week after the expiration of a critical boost in unemployment assistance and eviction protections.

Abrupt change to census deadline could result in an undercount of Latino and Black communities
(WaPo) The census represents an important fault line in the battle over structural racism and equity, with high stakes. It dictates the allocation of federal dollars and influences everything from infrastructure investments to education programs like free and reduced lunch to public health-care spending.
Trump’s new plan to hijack the census will imperil America’s future
William H. Frey
(Brookings)  Demographers Amanda K. Baumle and Dudley L. Poston, Jr. estimate that if Trump were to succeed in subtracting undocumented immigrants from congressional reapportionment, the racially diverse states of Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas would each lose one House seat, while Alabama, Minnesota, Montana, and Ohio would gain seats. While three of the states that would lose a seat voted for Trump in 2016, each of those is poised to continue diversifying and could trend Democratic in 2020 or beyond.
In addition to reapportioning members of the House of Representatives, census results are used to draw legislative districts within states and allocate trillions of dollars in state and federal funds. The census also forms the sampling frame for thousands of surveys that impact decisionmaking over the next 10 years. All of these uses have long-term effects on public and private investments in communities—and particularly, communities of color.
Because the white population is aging and declining in number among younger age groups, it is important that the 2020 census reflects the full diversity of the country’s youth. This will ensure that younger people of color and their families get their due in how political decisions are made, how funding gets allocated, and where schools, housing, hospitals, and employment sites are located. Investments in this young, diverse generation are critical for their—and the nation’s—future.

5 August
Another Inspector General Resigns, Raising Questions About Pompeo
Stephen J. Akard became the State Department’s internal watchdog after his predecessor was fired by President Trump at the urging of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was under investigation.

30 July
Obama Calls For Abolishing Filibuster If It Stands In Way Of Stronger Voting Rights
(NPR) Former President Barack Obama called on Americans to honor the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis by working to expand voting rights — and if Congress has to abolish the filibuster to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, then so be it, Obama said.
“You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to do for,” Obama said as he delivered a eulogy for Lewis during services at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
As he delivered a passionate speech about Lewis’s impact on American society and politics, Obama reeled off a list of suggestions for improving civil rights, democracy and voter participation in the U.S.
“Naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — that is a fine tribute,” Obama said. “But John wouldn’t want us to stop there.”
Full Transcript of Obama’s Eulogy for John Lewis
Mr. Obama praised Mr. Lewis, saying “he as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals.”
Obama’s John Lewis Eulogy Is a Blueprint for the Next Fight for Democracy
By Jonathan Chait
The most important element of Obama’s speech was his proposal for a new law to honor and continue Lewis’s legacy. The new John Lewis Voting Rights Act Obama laid out would not merely restore the guardrails of the Voting Rights Act that had been gutted by a Republican Supreme Court. It would include automatic voter registration, voting rights for ex-felons, more voting stations and early voting, making Election Day a national holiday, an end to partisan gerrymandering, statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Even if Democrats win the presidency and the Senate, though, none of these proposals could overcome a Republican filibuster. Obama’s most important suggestion was to eliminate the filibuster.

COVID-19: New Government Loan ‘Could Accelerate Demise of US Postal Service’
(Consortium News) In addition to harming the credibility of the USPS—which ranks as the most popular government agency in the United States—DeJoy’s cost-cutting measures also threaten to disrupt upcoming elections as an record number of Americans turn to vote-by-mail as the safest way to cast their ballots amid the pandemic.
“The Trump administration’s attempts to politicize, privatize, and gut USPS in the middle of a pandemic and unprecedented vote-by-mail is one of the biggest scandals in American politics right now,” Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman tweeted Wednesday.
In an op-ed for NJ.com this week, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) warned that “the electoral implications for the destruction of the Postal Service are momentous.”
“If it is forced to curtail its service,” Pascrell wrote, “our ability to hold a national election could be obliterated.”

McConnell and other top Republican officials rebuff Trump suggestion to delay the Nov. 3 election
(WaPo) President Trump drew immediate rebukes from across the political spectrum Thursday after floating the prospect of delaying the November election and claiming without evidence that widespread mail balloting would be a “catastrophic disaster” leading to fraudulent results.
The suggestion represented Trump’s latest, and most dramatic, attempt to undermine public faith in U.S. elections, which have grown more regular as polls have shown his political fortunes declining. The president has attacked mail voting nearly 70 times since late March in interviews, remarks and tweets, including at least 17 times this month, according to a tally by The Washington Post.
Thursday’s tweet came on the heels of a devastating report showing that the economy shrank nearly 10 percent from April through June, the largest quarterly decline since the government began publishing such data 70 years ago.

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