U.S. Government & governance 2020 July –

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U.S. Government & governance 2020 January – July

Professor William Svelmoe wrote this on Sept. 27 about nominee Amy Comey Barrett and how the Democrats should conduct themselves during the Senate Judiciary hearings. Superb advice and applicable in many situations
A few thoughts on Amy Coney Barrett, our new Supreme Court justice.

24 September
Vacancies, acting officials and the waning role of the U.S. Senate
By Kathryn Dunn Tenpas
Rather than identifying qualified individuals who could withstand the scrutiny of the Senate, President Trump has sidelined the chamber’s role and placed loyalists in these critical positions.
(Brookings) With the recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and ensuing speculation over whether Republican senators will confirm the president’s nominee before the 2020 election, the role of the U.S. Senate has taken center stage. Such an imbroglio leaves the impression that the Senate plays a pivotal role in the appointments process, and while they most certainly pay attention to Supreme Court nominations, their broader role as a check on the president’s appointment power has diminished. Findings released in a new report, “The Replacements: Why and How “Acting” Officials are Making Senate Confirmation Obsolete,” reveal the Senate’s weakness as a check on the president’s appointment power. In short, the sheer number of federal vacancies in combination with a slew of “acting” officials in key positions have sidelined the Senate, raising important questions about government performance and our system of checks and balances.
Prepared in a collaboration between The Brookings Institution and the Partnership for Public Service, our report provides data showing that after nearly an entire first term in office, thirty-nine key positions across the fifteen departments were never filled, while 131 key positions are vacant.

14 September
Top HHS official accuses scientists of plotting against Trump, tells supporters to buy ammunition
(The Hill) In a Facebook Live video on Sunday, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was harboring a “resistance unit” to Trump, The New York Times reported. Caputo reportedly hosted the event for followers of his personal Facebook page. His comments came after Politico first reported on Friday that top political HHS appointees have been interfering with the publication of CDC’s reports on the coronavirus pandemic.
Top House Democrats have now launched an investigation into the matter.
Trump Health Aide Falsely Alleges Conspiracies and Warns of Armed Revolt
Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary of health for public affairs, told a Facebook audience without evidence that left-wing hit squads were being trained for insurrection, and he accused C.D.C. scientists of “sedition.”

11 September
America’s Plastic Hour Is Upon Us
The country is at a low point. But we may be on the cusp of an era of radical reform that repairs our broken democracy.
by George Packer
(The Atlantic Magazine) “There are in history what you could call ‘plastic hours,’” the philosopher Gershom Scholem once said. “Namely, crucial moments when it is possible to act. If you move then, something happens.” In such moments, an ossified social order suddenly turns pliable, prolonged stasis gives way to motion, and people dare to hope. Plastic hours are rare. They require the right alignment of public opinion, political power, and events—usually a crisis. They depend on social mobilization and leadership. They can come and go unnoticed or wasted. Nothing happens unless you move.
Beneath the dreary furor of the partisan wars, most Americans agree on fundamental issues facing the country. Large majorities say that government should ensure some form of universal health care, that it should do more to mitigate global warming, that the rich should pay higher taxes, that racial inequality is a significant problem, that workers should have the right to join unions, that immigrants are a good thing for American life, that the federal government is plagued by corruption. These majorities have remained strong for years. The readiness, the demand for action, is new.

7 September
Repairing the Rule of Law: An Agenda for Post-Trump Reform
(Lawfare) As the U.S. begins to see the light at the end of the Trumpian tunnel, it is time to begin thinking about the issue of repair. One should not assume the result of the election, but it is nonetheless worth asking the question: What should be done in a post-Trump world to restore the rule of law?
Of Trump’s many excesses, his assault on legal norms has to rank high in terms of damage to fundamental values that form the fabric of America. His attacks on the free press, the independent judiciary and the independence of the Department of Justice have all created significant damage.
The Last Time a Contested Presidential Election Nearly Tore the Country Apart
By Ed Kilgore
(New York) When nervous political activists and journalists alike anticipate the horrors of a contested 2020 election outcome (particularly now that the Red Mirage scenario of Trump claiming a premature victory on Election Night is becoming plausible), they usually think back twenty years to when no one knew the identity of the 43rd president until the U.S. Supreme Court forced an end to the Florida recount and awarded the presidency to George W. Bush on December 11, 2000.
But if you want an example of a real nation-rending, Constitution-bending contested presidential election that might have conceivably led to a second Civil War, you have to go back to the U.S. Centennial Year of 1876.
After months of stalemate and rising tensions over the contested Election of 1876, emissaries from the Hayes-Tilden camps privately met several times at the Wormley Hotel and negotiated a settlement…arguably one of the most important in our Nation’s history which remains shrouded in denials to the present.  The “secret deal” was formulated only days before the end of the Grant Administration under threat of filibuster and violence on Monday evening, February 26, 1877.
… So what does the 1876 experience teach us about a potentially contested 2020 election outcome? The first lesson is that the two main safeguards of the integrity of our presidential elections are the right to vote without intimidation or ballot-tampering and the clear and uncontested certification of a winner. Both were lacking in 1876, and both could be lacking this year as well if Republican threats of wholesale challenges to mail ballots are realized and Republican governors and/or legislators use them to try to disqualify Democratic electors and choose their own slates.
… The fourth and arguably most important lesson of 1876 is that a compromise resolution of a contested election requires, well, a potential compromise.
This year, it’s unclear the two parties have enough they can offer each other to overcome a contested election. Will those in Trump’s evangelical super-base be willing to support any action that forfeits the judicial appointments they think are necessary to end an abortion “holocaust?” Will Democratic voters who fear an imminent national descent into fascism be willing under any circumstances to go along with a second Trump term? Could there really be a Compromise of 2021 that doesn’t risk triggering civil conflict as much as any deadlock?

20-22 August

What Happens if Donald Trump Fights the Election Results?
Stealing a Presidential election in America is difficult, but it has been done before.
By Eric Lach
As he has in other areas of American self-government, Trump has revealed how much of our democracy rests on norms rather than enforceable laws. Ultimately, the one norm that has been crucial to the resolution of past disputes is the one that Trump is perhaps least likely to observe: conceding defeat
(The New Yorker) Trump’s threats about rejecting the results come November are not idle. In 2016, Trump disputed the results of an election he won, ludicrously claiming that his popular-vote shortfall was the result of illegitimate ballots cast by millions of undocumented immigrants. Four years later, the President is at the head of a concerted effort to undermine public confidence in the upcoming election. Trump has denounced efforts to expand the mail-voting systems that will allow millions of people to cast their ballots safely in this pandemic year. He has ignored calls to provide election administrators with much-needed additional funding to safeguard voters, staff, volunteers, and the vote-counting process. And he has overseen the crippling of the U.S. Postal Service at a time when its work will be critical to the success of the election.

Louis DeJoy Thinks He’s Doing a Great Job With the Post Office
(New York) On Friday, DeJoy stuck to the same script he’s used since the slowdown first garnered national attention. He blamed delays on COVID-19, an excuse which would seem to fail a basic logic test: As Senator Gary Peters of Michigan noted, the virus has been around since March and the slowdown began months later. Under a pointed series of questions from Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada, DeJoy faltered; he either could not or would not provide detailed answers about the internal analyses upon which his policy decisions were based. DeJoy also reiterated an earlier refusal to replace the sorting machines that the USPS had already removed and claimed that he hasn’t reduced overtime for workers. Unions and individual postal workers uniformly dispute these claims and blame DeJoy’s changes for contributing to overall mail delays.
DeJoy did tell senators that the USPS would process all ballots as first-class mail regardless of how they were posted, which is a reversal.
Washington Postal Workers Defy USPS Orders And Reinstall Mail Sorting Machines
(Forbes) Postal workers in Washington State have reinstalled high-speed mail sorting machines—dismantled after controversial orders from the U.S. Postal Service— despite USPS orders not to put machines back in use.
USPS Headquarters Tells Managers Not to Reconnect Mail Sorting Machines, Emails Show
“We are not to reconnect any machines that have previously been disconnected.”
(Vice) The emails confirm what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi relayed from her conversation with DeJoy yesterday, that the USPS’s stated “suspension” of these new policies does not mean reversing them. It also sheds additional light on the emptiness of DeJoy’s promises from his Tuesday press release, since the USPS is apparently not even willing to take the bare minimum step of plugging machines back in even if they haven’t been moved.
Delicious irony!
The post office arrested Steve Bannon. Yes, the post office can arrest people.
The USPS: Carrying your mail and carrying out justice.
(Vox) The US Postal Service is out to deliver justice against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
It may not have come as a shock that Bannon, often described as a grifter, was allegedly caught up in a scheme to defraud donors to a crowdfunding campaign that promised to construct a wall on the US-Mexico border.
But it was a surprise to some that the USPS, the same agency that President Donald Trump has tried to cripple ahead of an expected surge of mail-in ballots in November, carried out his arrest on a $28 million megayacht called Lady May off the coast of Connecticut Thursday morning:

19 August
U.S. postal chaos prompts Democrats to reassess mail-ballot plan
(Reuters) – Turmoil at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is causing some Democrats and local election officials to rethink their vote-by-mail strategies for November’s presidential election, shifting emphasis to drop boxes and early voting that bypass the post office.

16 August
Postal Service backs down on changes as at least 20 states sue over potential mail delays ahead of election
(CNN) Embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy reversed course Tuesday, saying that all changes being made to the Postal Service would be suspended until after the November 3 election, just as 20 Democratic states announced plans to file federal lawsuits.
DeJoy said that some of the deferred decisions mean that retail hours at post offices will not change, mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain in place and no mail processing facilities will be closed.

16 August
Pelosi calls back House over Postal Service upheaval
A vote is expected Saturday to bar Trump overhaul plan for USPS.
(Politico) Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic leaders will summon the House back in session this coming week to confront President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine the U.S. Postal Service, she announced Sunday night.
The House is expected to vote as early as Saturday, Aug. 22, on a proposal to block the Trump administration’s plan for overhauling the Postal Service. This is weeks earlier than Pelosi and the House Democratic leaders had originally planned to return to Washington. But the revised House schedule comes amid a national uproar over a crisis within the Postal Service ahead of a national election that will see an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots.
Amid criticism, USPS says it will stop removing collection boxes for 90 days
(CNN) USPS had faced heavy criticism for the removals as there is expected to be a large surge of people mailing in their ballots instead of going to polls in this presidential election. … In the wake of what DeJoy is calling a “restructuring,” the agency’s inspector general is now reviewing these policy changes. Democrats are amping up demands that DeJoy rescind his changes and get the agency ready for the flood of mail-in ballots necessitated by the pandemic.
House Democrats said Sunday they are “ramping up” their investigation of the USPS and as Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, called on DeJoy and Chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors Robert Duncan to testify.

14 August
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.
Mail sorting equipment being “removed” from post offices, leaving mail to “pile up”: union leader
A union chief says the changes, which have been more drastic than people realize, are costing more money — not less

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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