Crisis at the Border…..due to Donald Trump

As Donald Trump was putting the final touches on his State of the Union speech last week, a group of us were at the Arizona/Mexican border in Nogales.  What we saw and heard was disturbing.

 

Not only did we witness a large wall of steel slats but, as The Washington Post reported, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/02/07/trumps-troop-deployment-strung-lethal-razor-wire-border-this-city-has-had-enough/?utm_term=.ecc0f371e76f).  a string of concertina wire designed to intimidate and maim those who came close. This lethal razor wire was at the top of the 18-foot fence when we visited, by the time of Trump’s speech U.S. troops had deployed up to six rows of the wire from street level all the way up.

 

Mayor Arturo Garino told the Post that “they can’t say they are putting something up to protect us, they’re putting up something that’s lethal all the way to the ground.”  There wasn’t any discussion with the City Council, the Mayor, the police chief, the fire chief or any local officials before the troops’ action.

 

When we arrived at the border, as members of the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, we were prepared to see the spot were a 16 year old boy, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, was shot 10 times by a border agent for throwing rocks up a steep embankment, separated by the steel wall. When we saw the scene it was clear that the agent was not seriously threatened, large rocks could hardly make it up the hill, plus the steel slats separated the two.

 

Tensions are high now with the over 6,500 newly deployed troops and National Guard Forces stationed along the border, in addition to the over 70 miles of concertina wire put up, with another 160 miles slated to be erected, according to the Defense Department. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/02/07/trumps-troop-deployment-strung-lethal-razor-wire-border-this-city-has-had-enough/?utm_term=.ecc0f371e76f

 

When I was last in Nogales in the 1980s the border was full of activity between the U.S. and Mexico.  The two cities with the same name were known for a border crossing that encouraged commerce and mutual respect.  Now, all that has changed.  As Mayor Garino puts it, first we have 400,000 people divided by a wall and now we have concertina wire, intimidating and deadly.

 

The crisis in Nogales, and along the border, is a result of President Trump’s actions and rhetoric.  He fans the flames of distrust and prejudice and creates fear and loathing and division.

 

The result is that the border agent who killed 16 year old Antonio was acquitted of manslaughter while four young people with No More Deaths were convicted of leaving water and food in the desert for migrants.  For over a decade the humanitarian organization No More Deaths has been active and only recently, since 2017 they told us, have the arrests and harassment escalated to an unbearable level.  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lonnie-swartz-border-patrol-agent-acquitted-in-death-of-mexican-teen-jose-antonio-elena-rodriguez/

 

According to the Washington Post, there have been over 3,000 deaths in the last 20 years in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge on the Arizona border.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/20/they-left-food-water-migrants-desert-now-they-might-go-prison/?utm_term=.b15bb6347f95)  These are people and families looking for a better life, fleeing gangs and violence, not, as President Trump often states, drug dealers and criminals.  Smuggling of drugs goes mainly through points of entry, as the arrest in Nogales last week of 254 pounds of fentanyl and 395 pounds of meth on a truck clearly shows.  Instead of stringing concertina wire from the ground up threatening animals and children maybe we ought to continue to focus on the border crossings and the real smugglers.

 

Never mind that Donald Trump spent nearly fifteen minutes of his State of the Union speech on the border, while his intelligence chiefs spent exactly none while discussing national security threats in a Hill briefing.  The real take away from the past two years is that President Trump has done nothing to attempt to solve the problem of immigration. One could argue that from the moment he got off that golden escalator to announce for President he has done everything in his power to demagogue the issue and demonize people.

 

It is time for Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and the Administration to once again search for solutions, not sow discord.

 

The basic concern now should revolve around comprehensive immigration reform:  providing a path to citizenship that is earned, taking care of the dreamers who were brought here when they were young, reforming and revitalizing our asylum process so those fleeing can be vetted and their cases heard expeditiously.   Border security must be dealt with, but Congress and the Administration must have the courage and the conviction to seek long term solutions to the problem.

 

In concert with Central American countries, the United States should be creating a Marshall-type Plan similar to what we had for Europe after World War II.  By focusing on the critical need to stabilize these countries politically and economically — creating jobs, expanding education, reducing corruption — we should provide proposals and funding with a consortium of nations including especially Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala that will help solve the problem. After all, shouldn’t we be leading this cooperative effort, not forging division and distrust with our southern neighbors? Isn’t it time to focus on the notion of a multinational, cooperative approach? America needs to show these nations that they matter, they are our allies and we are all in this together.

 

From all we saw in our visit to Nogales it is clear that the “crisis at the border” is a humanitarian one that can only be solved with compassion and cooperation, not declaring war on others or having troops erect concertina wire and walls as the Soviets did across Eastern Europe.   Sadly, Donald Trump seems intent on exploiting immigration for his own political gain.

 

Two Very Different Green Books

The very impressive and moving film, “Green Book”, has won the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture, Movie or Comedy, and just won the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Picture.  It is nominated for Best Picture again at the Academy Awards.

 

It is the story of a tough-talking Italian bouncer from the Bronx who joins a sophisticated, world-class, African-American pianist on a concert tour, far from their native New York in 1962.  They head to the Deep South during the height of the civil rights struggle.

 

But the title, “Green Book”, refers to what began as a 15-page pamphlet in 1936 and grew to a comprehensive volume by the 1960s.  It contained critical information for Blacks travelling throughout the country, but especially in the South —  what restaurants they could eat in, what hotels and motels they could stay in, what gas stations were welcoming, what jazz clubs to go to and what towns to avoid, what curfews were in place, and what roads were safe to take.  It was invaluable as Americans hit the road for vacations and many Blacks traveled back and forth between the South and their new homes in the Midwest and Northeast.

 

Last spring, even before we knew of the movie, my wife and I went to the exhibit at the New York Museum of Art and Design entitled “Unpacking the Green Book: Travel and Segregation in Jim Crow America.”

 

As someone who has spent decades in politics in Washington, the only Green Book I was vaguely familiar with was the book with the felt, emerald cover —  The Social List of Washington, D.C.  As a Senate aide I noticed it back in the 1970s as a resource for offices to contact members of the diplomatic corps, other members of congress, the administration, the wealthy and the socially prominent.  In short, something way different from the “other” Green Book.

 

What we learned from the exhibit in New York was that the Green Book was published by a local postal worker, Victor Hugo Green.  It began with a guide to the local metro area, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and expanded across the country and even abroad. In its 30 years, (1936-1967), it became indispensable and was called “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book.”  It is featured in the film and used by Don Shirley, the musician, and Tony Vallelonga, the driver and bodyguard.

 

Ann Hornaday, the film critic for the Washington Post, wrote: “The great success of ‘Green Book’ lies in its modesty and the straightforward way it recognizes seismic change in the incremental turning of a human heart.”

 

The emerald, felt-covered Washington Green Book is anything but modest.

 

This Green Book, or social register, has been published by the same family since 1930.  It is a highly secretive process to be admitted to the Green Book. Very exclusive, I guess.  Who is in and who is out used to be a source of speculation.  When former Washington Post great Ben Bradlee was dropped, he sarcastically replied, “what a cruel, cruel blow.”  When former White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan was told he was left out he replied something to the effect he would have to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and move on.

 

The web site says: “The Green Book remains the preeminent list of Washington’s society and arbiter of social precedence in the Metropolitan Area.  Selection to the book is by invitation only.”

 

By the way, according to the Washington Times (10/15/2005), it was not until 1971, forty years after it started publishing, that the first African American couple was included in the D.C. Green Book., Mr. and Mrs. Churchill Willoughby.

 

A tale of two Green Books  —  I think I prefer the Victor Hugo Green version.

 

Campaign 2018: This Year it Wasn’t “THE ECONOMY. STUPID!”

Some of my great Democratic friends were disappointed in the election results and some are walking around with big smiles on their faces.  For the former, my guess is that they were caught up in both “irrational exuberance” and a burning desire to see voters reject Donald Trump in all his forms – especially longing for a big Senate win and sweeping the table. For those who see the silver lining, they came in with reduced expectations of the election, especially after 2016, and they were happy with Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives, picking up seven governorships and around 400 state legislative seats, despite the losses in the Senate.

After all, gaining what now looks like 40 House seats is an extraordinary feat not seen for the Democrats since the 1974 Watergate class.  Republicans had exceeded that number in both 1994 and 2010., when they won 54 and 63 House seats, respectively. And the defeat in the Presidential election of 2016 was a wound that would not heal.

But even to call the mid-term election of 2018 a “mixed bag” for the Democrats would ignore the elephant in the room.

When have we ever seen such a shift when the economy was doing so well  —  unemployment under 4%, growth rates up, consumer confidence the highest since 2000?  When has the party in power gotten so clobbered with the economy humming and more and more voters seeing the jobless numbers dropping and the stock market rising?

Let’s look at the history of elections when the economy was doing well or doing badly.

When unemployment was hitting close to 10% in 1982 during Reagan and also 10% under Obama, the off-year House losses were 26 under Reagan and 63 with Obama. When the economy was booming in 1998 under Clinton, his party actually gained seats in the off year, despite his personal scandals. And that unusual Republican defeat led to Speaker Newt Gingrich’s resignation.

In Presidential elections, John Kennedy won in an economy coming off the 1958 recession, Ronald Reagan won in a landslide in 1980 with a miserable economy of high inflation, negative growth and high interest rates and unemployment. Bill Clinton won in 1992 with the campaign mantra of “It’s the economy, stupid” after a recession, a tax increase that Bush promised never to implement and concern about the job market. And, of course, Obama won in 2008 mainly due to the greatest recession since the Depression of the 1930s.

All elections are not won or lost on the economy, of course. Candidates matter. A. domestic crisis like Watergate mattered.  Foreign policy can matter – Vietnam, the Iran hostage crisis, even Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962 helped Democrats in that off year.  But there is no question that the economy and people’s feelings about their personal situation matter a great deal.

That is why this election was such an outlier.  If Trump had not been the pariah he was to so many Americans, his party would not have suffered the loses it did with such a strong economy.  One can argue just how much credit Trump deserved for the job growth, the bump in the gross domestic product, and the boost in consumer confidence. Many point out that much of the good economy was a direct result of Obama’s policies, yet Trump is in office and he benefits from the positive numbers, regardless of whether he caused them.

A more traditional Republican president would have been able to ride a positive economy to a much different result. Trump made a sow’s ear out of a silk purse!

So the bottom line is that Election 2018 was far more about the revulsion and rejection of Donald Trump’s Presidency and a lot less about the state of the economy.  In that sense, this was a very unusual and abnormal election —  not unlike Trump himself.

 

McCain and Trump—What a Contrast!

This is a Facebook post from the week of John McCain’s funeral  —

 

t is hard to imagine a more stark contrast than we are witnessing in American politics, indeed American life, with John McCain and Donald Trump this past week. In over two hundred years our nation has experienced heroes and certainly villains, but the passing of a decent, committed, devoted American whose values and actions exemplified the very best of our nation who is now vilified by a man who has disgraced that nation and those values should serve as a lesson for years and decades to come for all of us. How have we reached such a point that many of our fellow citizens don’t see the contrast between these two men and what defines America? Let us hope that this aberration lasts a very short time and we return to a democracy where honor and decency and civility prevail.

John McCain was the Naval liaison in the late 1970s and worked closely with us in Senator Frank Church’s office. He even met his wife Cindy while on a trip to China with Church on a stopover in Hawaii. Over the years he demonstrated a deep and unwavering desire to battle for his country, to truly put America first. Many of us disagreed with him on many issues but never, ever questioned his patriotism or his heroism. As he is laid to rest with tributes and honors well deserved, let us not fail to draw the real lesson of his life and draw the real meaning of the contrast with the meaningless life of Donald Trump.

Watch Out for the “Trump Economy”

Trump’s Destruction of the U.S. Economy

 

Let’s face it.  Few people really like Donald Trump.  His supporters even complain about his tweets, his super-ego, his treatment of others, particularly women, African Americans and Hispanics.  They don’t like his chaos in the White House, his over 2,000 lies and his incessant name-calling. For most, the words Trump and President don’t really deserve to be in the same sentence, let alone one followed by the other. The latest New York Times poll of historians and political experts ranks him dead last, below James Buchanan, after just one year in office.  This is truly terrifying.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/19/opinion/how-does-trump-stack-up-against-the-best-and-worst-presidents.html

 

 

So why is he still “in the game?”

 

What you hear from his supporters is that he is a “business guy” who is good for the economy. What you hear from Trump is that he inherited a “mess” but look what has happened since he took over!

 

Actually, the economy he inherited from Barack Obama has propped him up.  Most presidents who preside over good economic times reap the benefits politically. It was, of course, President Obama who inherited a mess – a collapse that spiked bankruptcies and unemployment levels and nearly led to the collapse of the auto industry.  Falling housing prices, our financial institutions going under, international chaos that nearly led to a full-blown depression.  Obama’s leadership brought the car out of the ditch and back on the road to where we are today.

 

But, ever since Trump started his campaign, he had been preaching doom and gloom culminating in his “American Carnage” speech at his inauguration.  Up until a few months ago he had been bragging about the stock market rise in 2017 (less than Obama’s by the way), the low unemployment, the rise in consumer confidence.

 

So where are we headed now? That is the real question.  Trump’s taking credit for the exalted stock market looks pretty absurd, as it is now headed downward.  His tariffs on steel and aluminum coupled with Gary Cohn’s resignation has dealt a further blow to the stock market and the international economy.  Even if one argues that NAFTA and other trade agreements have hurt the U.S. it is hard to justify Trump’s policy of targeting our friends and letting our adversaries (China) off the hook.  And starting a trade war is definitely not, as he maintains, a good thing.  So, he has taken a stable economy and upended it with his latest policies.

 

Also, for those of us who adamantly opposed the tax give away to the wealthiest Americans we are going to see these impacts with huge deficits, cuts in Social Security, Medicare and the social safety net.  Plus, who will pay for it  —  the middle class, of course. How can we justify a $1.5 trillion tax cut when we know that the top 1% will get 82% of the benefits?  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gop-tax-bill-wealthy-benefit_us_5a381cf4e4b0860bf4aa4b6c  And it will blow a hole in our deficits.  Republicans know this and they, once again, will rely on the Democrats to fix the problem down the road.  As we did with the Reagan policies and the Bush tax cuts, when Bill Clinton grew the economy that led to budget surpluses.

 

The point is that Trump’s impetuous policies on taxes, spending, and trade will remove whatever economic benefit he inherited from President Obama.  So what will he be left with to prop him up?  Not much.  The real question is when will these policies come home to roost – by November 2018?  November 2020?  My sense is that those who bought in to Trump’s salesmanship and promises will be sorely disappointed sooner rather than later.  He has no leeway with the “likability” factor and once his misguided economic policies take hold the emperor will have no clothes.

Trump on Immigration: Not Only Immoral, But Economically Dangerous

n Immoral Immigration Plan

Trump’s immigration proposal is unethical and economically short-sighted.

 

By Peter Fenn, Opinion Contributor | Jan. 26, 2018, at 2:00 p.m.

An Immoral Immigration Plan

The debate on immigration is, in many ways, a false one. The fear and loathing created by Trump and his allies does not comport with reality. Rapists are not pouring across our borders, gangs are not taking over our cities and towns, Americans’ jobs are not being overwhelmingly supplanted by immigrants. To create such a narrative is not new to the United States – witness the anti-Irish hysteria of the mid 19th century, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and prejudice against Italians, Germans and Poles over the years.

For the so-called pro-life, pro-family party, it is hard to comprehend that Trump and his conservative Republican colleagues want to tear apart families, spend billions persecuting productive, honest immigrants, and banish dreamers, parents and their relatives. Not only is this policy inhumane but economically counterproductive when immigrants are contributing so much to America.

Let’s look first at the Dreamers, the 800,000 people brought here as children who are now between 16 and 35-years old. The vast majority, 97 percent, are employed or in school. Over 900 currently serve in our military. They are also police officers, firefighters and our teachers. According to a letter signed by 600 of our top CEOs, deportation of the Dreamers would cost our economy $460 billion.



Not only is this a serious detriment to our communities, to the talent pool that is thriving, but it is unnecessarily cruel. Most of these Dreamers have no connection to the country they came from as young children and identify totally as Americans. This should not even be an issue for debate in our Congress or used as some sort of bargaining chip by President Trump – we should not put these people in a political vice where their lives and future get squeezed, due to no fault of their own.

So it is about morality as well as about America’s economic well-being. It is about being honorable and it is about being pragmatic. It is about bringing out the best in our country and adhering to our values.

In a larger sense, the debate over immigration is about setting a course that acknowledges that prejudice against people due to their color, ethnic and religious backgrounds or country of origin simply does not make logical sense. It should be about establishing a policy that creates a system of immigration and a path to citizenship that works for our country. Certainly, it means controlling and securing our borders as well as setting reasonable quotas, but what we don’t need is a panic that divides us, results in draconian policies and has such a high economic and human cost.


We need to get back on the track of comprehensive immigration reform that solves the problem, not exacerbates it. This takes leadership from the White House and, most important, bipartisanship in Congress. It also takes grassroots support and pressure.

Once we accept the contributions of immigrants to our economy that job should be a lot easier. The success of immigrant entrepreneurs is widespread and growing. According to CBS News immigrants have started twice as many businesses as those born in the U.S., and one-third of companies that went public (2006-2012) had at least one immigrant founder. Furthermore, over half of the 87 private companies worth over $1 billion have immigrant founders. Seventy-six percent of new patents involve immigrants. Most important, according to the George W. Bush Institute, “when immigrants enter the labor force they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise the GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the ‘immigration surplus’.”

This, actually, is the history of immigration, a rising tide that lifts all boats. Now that unemployment is low, illegal immigration has slowed dramatically (both Obama and Trump pointed to historically low numbers!), serious criminals are being caught and deported, it is time to face up to a path to citizenship similar to what was proposed in the McCain-Kennedy bill in 2005.

What a tribute to two great senators it would be if our country could move forward and break through with serious legislation. It is long past time.

The Year of Living Dangerously Under Trump

The Year of Living Dangerously

After one year in office, Trump has proven he’s incapable of being president.

 

By Peter Fenn, Opinion Contributor | Jan. 18, 2018, at 4:00 p.m.

The Year of Living Dangerously

Yes, we are one year in and, using the trite phrase, it seems like an eternity. But before I provide my view, I urge the readers of U.S. News and World Report to take a moment and look at the entire editorial page of today’s New York Times devoted to Trump supporters.

It is a well-chosen collection of defenders of Donald Trump. The Times has provided a real sense of why many support him, even those who may question some of his behavior. They all make strong arguments from various points of view. As a Democrat, I don’t agree with their arguments on a whole host of issues but they are argued respectfully and well. By turning over the entire editorial page, the Times has elevated the public debate and contributed to a civil dialogue much needed after this past year.

It is more than difficult for me to accept the Trump agenda on taxes, immigration, race and civil liberties, health care, the environment and energy policy, Iran, Korea, NATO, you name the issue. In my view, he is digging so many holes that it will take a rational, reasonable, pragmatic administration and Congress many years to undo the damage.

But we can argue and have disagreements about the policy choices.


The fundamental problem that has become more and more clear as this very long year has unfolded is that we have a president who is not really a president. Donald J. Trump is uncontrollable, unhinged, undisciplined and as his chief of staff, General Kelly, describedhim yesterday, “uninformed.”

According to CNN, we know from polling that he is the least popular of the last nine presidents at this stage in his presidency. We know that this hasn’t changed much from the campaign. We also know that this is the most polarizing approval rating dating back to the 1950s. And according to a Pew Research Center poll last August, only 16 percentlike his conduct as president. I can’t imagine it has improved much since then.

We saw in the New York Times letters from Trump supporters and other sources that there is a real concern from many about his tweets, his statements on race, his “shithole” comments, his continuing “un-presidential” behavior. The Wolff book, the leaks from former and current aides, the daily barrage, the continuation of nasty rhetoric and name calling directed at political adversaries (and sometimes friends!) is getting more than old. The public is growing tired of his average of 5.6 lies a day and his reliance on “alternative facts.”

His constant boasting and his efforts to boost his own ego seem to know no bounds. By calling himself a “stable genius” he becomes a laughing stock. Much like the late Sen. William Scott of Virginia when he called a press conference in the 70s to deny he was the dumbest member of Congress! The article on Scott, written by legendary journalist Nina Totenberg, appeared in a small publication and the press conference gave it national prominence. Much like Trump, Scott threatened to sue for libel but decided against it because he thought he would lose. This was not unlike Trump’s silly, legal machinations over the publication of the Wolff book, “Fire and Fury,” which of course also backfired.


Many felt that Trump, once he was inaugurated, once he occupied the White House and sat behind the Oval Office desk, he would transition, understand the gravity of the office and “be” a president. He would not lounge for hours in the morning and evening watching Fox News, calling friends, and beating it out of town to play golf day after day. Many thought he would read briefing papers, that he would absorb the history of his office by occasionally reading a book and he would assemble a group of competent, knowledgeable advisers. After a year, it is hard to come to the conclusion, as many sensed during the campaign, that he has the temperament to be an effective, competent, knowledgeable president.

Donald Trump has not exceeded expectations, rather his demeanor and his approach over this past year has only raised more questions. Yes, it has only been one year, a year of living dangerously.

Trump vs The Constitution and American Values

Trump vs. America

The president is substantively and symbolically chopping away at everything America holds dear. 

By Peter Fenn, Opinion Contributor | Jan. 4, 2018, at 2:40 p.m.

Trump vs. America 

I just saw the great movie, “The Post,” about the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers’ history of the Vietnam War. It was also very much about the war between the Nixon White House and The Washington Post and Nixon’s attempt to control a free press. I worked on the Daniel Ellsberg trial and remember those days and the court battles that lead to the Nixon downfall.

Well, here we go again. Donald Trump’s lawyers are not only trying to get a cease-and-desist order against Steve Bannon but today are attempting to stop the publishing of Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” This would also include release of excerpts and summaries of its contents.

Are they crazy over there at the White House? Sadly, most are coming to the inescapable conclusion that the answer is clearly “yes.” Trump is acting like a petulant, petty head of Trump, Inc. whose only response is to attack and sue. He is reverting to his previous role, where disgraced Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s consigliere and Trump adviser, the noted pugilist Roy Cohn, taught him “the art of the deal.” As Trump said, “All I can tell you is he’s vicious to others in his protection of me, he’s a genius.” Now, Trump seems to think that as president he can employ the same tactics by his new set of lawyers to make his problems go away.



Instead he is making things worse, much worse. This is a White House caught in constant melt-down. This makes the Nixon White House look like a well-oiled machine, from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate. Trump is rapidly destroying not only himself and the presidency as we know it, but undermining the free press and our constitution.

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This is serious business now. This is beyond tweets and an unhinged president. This is beyond rants and temper-tantrums. This goes way beyond adult daycare. We have a president who believes there are no consequences to his actions.

Whether it is moving us closer to war with North Korea, or preventing people from voting, or shutting down environmental protection, or funneling more money to the wealthiest of Americans with a budget busting tax cut, this is a president who substantively and symbolically is taking America down.

The evidence is building, even for those who may favor many of Trump’s policies, that something may have to be done to put the country back on track. Whether it is the Mueller investigation, the congressional committees’ probe of links with Russia, the constant lying by the president and his aides, the unraveling of a bizarre and destructive mind, things are coming to a head.

It is not too far-fetched to believe that all the court battles, the investigations, the questions of mental capacity will lead to his cabinet, his vice president and Congress determining that the 25th Amendment should be employed. Trump is on the slippery slope to being forced from office. At the very least, he is looking down the barrel of devastating loses in the 2018 elections, Republicans leaving his sinking ship and reasonable people coming to the inescapable conclusion that the gig is up and Trump must go. Four years is far too long for this presidency.

The Republican Tax Bill: Destroying the Legislative Process As We Know It

A Congress of the Lowest Common Denominator

Republicans trashed the democratic process and decades of legislative decorum in crafting tax reform. 

By Peter Fenn, Opinion Contributor | Dec. 18, 2017, at 2:50 p.m.

A Congress of the Lowest Common Denominator

What a mess. This tax bill fiasco is the latest example of a Congress that cannot govern. A legislative body that cannot legislate. An elective body that constantly disappoints the electorate that put them into office.

And this is new. The Republicans made the calculated decision to craft one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in decades in secret. They determined that they were not going to hold hearings, they were not going to call expert witnesses, they were not going to collaborate at all with Democrats. In fact, they shut out many of the Republicans until the very end. No wonder the latest Real Clear Politics average of congressional approval stands at 14 percent.

Never mind that this produced a horrendous excuse for a tax bill – exploding the deficits, providing corporations and the wealthy with the lion’s share of the cuts and ultimately harming the middle class. According to The New York Times, the top one-tenth of the 1 percent see their after-tax income rise the most, followed by the top 10 percent, with the middle 40 percent of wage-earners and bottom 50 percent seeing the largest drops. This is reverse Robin Hood at its worst.


Make no mistake, the only way to pass a turkey like this is to throw regular order out the window, truly change how Congress does business and destroy any semblance of normalcy when it comes to legislating.

If this process was even suggested when I worked in the Senate in the 70s or even any decade in the 20th century, Republicans and Democrats would have been up in arms. Can you imagine a majority leader such as Democrat Mike Mansfield or Republican Howard Baker agreeing to this? The Everett Dirksens or the George Mitchells or Bob Doles or Bob Byrds or Tip O’Neills or Bob Michaels or any leader of either party would have revolted.

Congress has not operated this way, at least until now. Major pieces of legislation went through a process – various bills introduced, committees assigned to examine and study the drafts, open hearings on the proposed legislation, witnesses called suggested by the majority and minority, mark up of the legislation and on to the floor for debate. Then a real conference committee made up of leaders from both parties, from both houses, would meet to iron out the differences. This simply did not happen with this tax bill.


The destruction that this tax bill has wrought is not just the sad substance of the legislation, but how it was passed. This is the ultimate destruction of the democratic process on Capitol Hill, something that the press, the pundits and the historians should focus on and do so soon. If this is repeated again and again, as seems likely, we will see our legislature disintegrate from the greatest deliberative body to a standing joke. The ends will come to justify the means and substance and civility be damned.

In the end, process matters. If our democracy disintegrates into warring factions where one side ignores the rights of the other and insists on jamming through legislation without due process, we will not survive. What is to prevent Democrats if they take control of both houses in 2018 from giving as good as they got? Why would they not undo what the Republicans have done by the same process the Republicans employed?

The Republican leaders and this poor excuse for a president decided to throw out the rule book, to ignore good governance, to condemn the Congress to the lowest common denominator of a dictatorial legislative body. This is not normal. This is not right. And this should not stand. Let us hope that it is a bad aberration and we will get back to regular order sooner rather than later. But I am not holding my breath.

The Reverse GI Bill (AKA: The Republican Tax Bill!)

The Reverse GI Bill

Republican tax reform will gut decades of work to make college affordable.

By Peter Fenn, Opinion Contributor | Nov. 28, 2017, at 12:00 p.m.

In June of 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the GI Bill, a bipartisan effort spearheaded by the American Legion to provide benefits for returning veterans. By 1956, 7.8 million vets had used the GI Bill for their education. In many ways, this legislation became the engine of economic growth in post-war America. It was an integral part of achieving the American dream. Education was viewed by those of all political persuasions as a key to success, to competing in the world, to personal fulfillment.

So, what has happened to that commitment to education?

Sadly, we see poll numbers that show anything but a bipartisan commitment. In just two years, according to Pew, we have seen the percentage of Republicans who believe “colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in this country” plummet from 54 to 36. We have watched as Republican legislatures and governors in states like Arizona and Alabama and Louisiana and Kansas and Wisconsin put in place drastic budget cuts for higher education. Eighteen states cut funding per student by more that 20 percent, and eight of those states cut it by over 30 percent.


Now the Republicans in Congress want to get into the act with this tax bill that demeans, demotes and denigrates our students. The House bill reduces tax benefits and savings for all college students by $65 billion.

The Republican tax bill:

  • Repeals the interest deduction for student loans. This affects over 12 million borrowers.
  • Repeals the $2,500 tax credit that middle-class parents can take.
  • Will force graduate students to pay taxes on the tuition waivers they receive, forcing many to leave school.
  • Places a 1.4 percent excise tax on college endowments that exceed a specific limit, which will affect over 150 colleges and reduce the funds these institutions have for scholarships for needy students.

We should be calling this “the reverse GI Bill” – how to undermine the American dream. Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education, wrote in The Washington Post, “The bill would, in one fell swoop, set back by decades the effort to make the cost of college more affordable for individuals from all walks of life.”

If anything, this legislation seems to be punitive, an appeal to the extremist Republican base, a sop to the Trump vision, an absurd anti-intellectual effort. In a recent story, the Post quoted a former Arizona legislator who believes “liberal professors teach ‘ridiculous’ classes and indoctrinate students ‘who hang out and protest all day long and cry on our dime.'” Donald Trump, Jr., went further, according to the Post, in an $100,000 paid speech in Texas: “Hate speech is anything that says America is a good country. That our founders were great people. … We’ll take $200,000 of your money; in exchange we’ll train your children to hate our country.”



I can’t imagine who listens to this drivel, and it’s even harder to imagine any responsible member of Congress who buys into such inflammatory rhetoric that results in a clear and present danger to higher education. Who, in good conscience, truly believes that we should drastically cut funding that leads to an educated citizenry, vibrant economic growth, better jobs and a future for those who desire and deserve the best we can offer?

When Roosevelt signed the GI Bill, he made this comment: “It gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down.”

We are letting our people down. Sadly, we are moving into an era when we devalue higher education, when we deny the critical opportunities to our young people, when we slash and burn what has been most dear to us since the founding of the republic. Is this really the road we want for America’s future? Inconceivable.