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    Impeachment Hearings: What You Need to Know

    What eventful days it has been on Capitol Hill!

    On Tuesday, four witnesses testified over a span of 11+ hours discussing their insights into Trump’s request to have President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s involvement in the 2016 election—all allegedly resulting in Trump’s decision to withhold $400 million in Ukrainian military aid.

    The first called to testify by the Democrats was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—the US’s top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.  Accompanying him was Jennifer Williams, one of Vice President Pence’s national security aides. She too was called by the Democrats.  Both listened to the July 25, 2019 call between President Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Colonel Vindman claimed Trump’s demands for Ukraine to investigate former VP Joe Biden were “inappropriate” and “likely to have significant implications for national security” (as reported by the New York Times). Jennifer Williams agreed that withholding Ukraine’s military aid was “damaging to Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian aggression” (Jennifer Williams via NYT).

    On Tuesday, Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, and Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Russia and Europe, testified as witnesses submitted by Republicans. Volker mostly played the “I didn’t know anything” card while Morrison indicated that the July 25 call did not contain any wrongdoings or illegalities.

    Wednesday’s round of hearings brought an interesting twist—one Democrats have been anxiously awaiting from the very beginning. Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, testified against President Trump implicating that there was indeed a quid pro quo “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting,” (Gordon Sondland via NPR). Laura Cooper—a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department—then testified, defending the president saying, “there was no wrongdoing because the Ukrainians weren’t even aware that a hold was put on the aid” (NPR).

    Thursday concluded with Dr. Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Europe and Russia expert, and David Holmes, a United States Embassy official located in Ukraine who happened to be a witness to a phone call between President Trump and Gordon Sondland (NYT). Dr. Hill essentially blamed Ukraine for meddling in the 2016 elections, not Russia. She and David Holmes also claimed that the name “Burisma” (a Ukrainian energy company) was actually code for investigating the Bidens (NYT). Holmes said he was under the impression that Trump’s reason behind withholding Ukraine’s military aid was an “expression of dissatisfaction” or “as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so” (David Holmes via NYT).

    So what’s next? Even more—what does this mean for Trump in the 2020 election?  It remains to be seen if the House will impeach the president.  It’s a very serious and precedent setting decision we all hope will be considered carefully and fairly. However, as I explained in an earlier blog, our Founding Fathers predicted more than 200 years ago that House proceedings looking into impeachment were expected to be political circuses.  This past week has lived up to that prediction.  If the House does vote to impeach, the case will fall into the hands of the Senate where the charges will most likely be dismissed or President Trump will be formally acquitted.  Only a major bombshell will garner the 67 votes necessary to convict and remove the president.  As some commentators have asked, is the reality behind the House proceeding nothing more than an exercise by Democrats to keep Trump from being re-elected?  Will the new normal for presidents in parties opposite the majority in the House be forever looking over their shoulders at the prospect of impeachment for whatever political winds might bring?

    The sad news is we have to watch political theater as each side postures with constant insults and accusations.  For every person who testifies in support of impeachment, another testifies against it.  If it goes to the Senate and a trial is undertaken, we can expect even more partisan politics as the Republicans get their chance to make the rules.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is in November those who should be deciding the fate of Donald Trump, one-third of the Senate, and the entire House of Representatives will be in the People – the ultimate arbiters in our Constitution on who sits in the White House and on Capitol Hill.  You and me.  So let us make sure we vote and send whatever our message is to those sitting in Washington today about how we feel they’ve governed in the face of an immigration crisis, a crumbling infrastructure, a broken health care system, nuclear proliferation, trade imbalances, out of control spending, and more.

    Ask yourself this:  Do any of them deserve to be reelected?

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    Keep Politics Out of Our Schools

    Inspired by an intelligent 16-year-old named Greta Thunberg, grade school students across America were allowed to skip classes on September 20 to participate in marches and demonstrations expressing fears of climate change. The media coverage was global and no doubt helped bring about much needed discussions about climate change. The importance of those discussions cannot be overstated.

    Such discussions are often hampered by individuals on the extreme ends of the debate – left or right – generally refusing to have a constructive conversation. Those who deny climate change have their heads in the sand. Alternately, those who preach Armageddon within ten years if we don’t make drastic changes have their heads just as deeply embedded in the sand. The Washington Post reported that Al Gore “believes humanity may have only 10 years left to save the planet from turning into a total frying pan.” That was in 2006. I guess we dodged that bullet.

    Israeli astrophysicist Nir Shaviv, a scientist who has allegedly studied the issue for years, concluded in 2007, “[T]here is no concrete evidence – only speculation – that man-made greenhouse gases cause global warming.”

    Little has changed in the rhetoric of these two extremes since then. Unfortunately, those extremes get the press. Moderate views or those who simply want to understand the truth are rarely heard. That doesn’t sell papers or raise TV ratings. Whether we will ever know the reality we face is ill served by the partisan approach taken by too many.

    But letting grade school students off from school to protest or march is a huge mistake for two important reasons.

    First, we send our children to school for the purpose of learning in a calm and considerate environment. This is particularly true of our youngest, when their brains are not yet fully wired and need the kind of special nurturing only great teachers provide. That is not to say classrooms should ignore issues like climate change. Quite to the contrary. It is a teacher’s job to provide  balanced analysis and lead discussions. To teach. It is inappropriate to substitute teaching for shouting crowds who have no interest in hearing any balanced debate. Such public displays of emotion – on either side of any issue – are for adults, not children.

    There is an even more insidious mistake in this exercise in recess from school. If you adopt grade school strikes as part of the learning experience of our children, where do you draw the line on issues that warrant an official dismissal from much-needed schooling? You can’t discriminate on the choice of issues that warrant a march or demonstration. Doing so would be pure hypocrisy.

    Considering the above example, it is not farfetched to see movements wanting recess for marches on the right of choice to abort pregnancy, provided there is also one supporting the right to life. Or a march on ending gun sales, provided there is one in support of the NRA. The list is as endless as is the politics surrounding them. The truly important debate is this – do we want to foster an atmosphere that interrupts the time our children spend in school? Should grade schoolers become pawns for liberal and conservative politics? I think the answer is obvious, at least for moderates who are still capable of seeing two sides to an argument.

    I’m all for teaching our kids about these topical issues. But in a classroom, not on the streets. If parents want their kids to participate in demonstrations or marches, that’s fine. That is their choice to make. Equally, it is a parent’s choice that their children not participate in public demonstrations. Let those who want their kids to march do so on weekends or holidays. Schools are here to teach in a safe and controlled environment without being interrupted by politicians and pundits bent on advancing their partisan initiatives.

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    The 2020 Citizenship Question

    The Trump administration has been pushing a citizenship question on the decennial United States census questionnaire since January of 2018. As immigration tensions rise and the 2020 U.S. census nears, the addition of this question to the document has been hotly debated.

    The Supreme Court and the administration are at a stalemate, with the Court temporarily blocking the movement in June saying the reasons cited were insufficient. It ordered the case back to the lower courts.  The block, however, eliminated the time needed to debate this issue and make a final decision in time for to print the questionnaires. So for practical, not legal, reasons, the opponents won that round.  But what would be the advantage of having such a question added? The public must continue to wonder what would be the negative impact of adding it?

    So last week, Trump ceded the issue. Instead, he pivoted and stated that the missing information will be compiled by other documents via an executive order issued to government agencies (BBC). In other words, yes, the census would be printed without the question, but the battle to obtain the citizenship status of the U.S. population is far from over.

    Adding a query regarding citizenship to the questionnaire is not a new idea. Dating back to the mass from Ireland in the 1820’s to the 1950 census, some variant of a citizenship question was included. Until 1920, the question was only asked of men as their citizenship status was considered an umbrella for their respective wives and children (PEW Research Center).

    So, why are we reconsidering the question now?

    Opponents assert that the question is being used as a scare tactic to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise of cracking down on illegal immigration. However, the American Community Survey already includes a question about the status of a participant’s citizenship. This survey is taken every year with a sample group of over 3.5 million, and neither the information from that survey nor the U.S. census can be used to enforce legal action or disclose the information of participants. Critics also worry that those here illegally would opt out of taking the census all together, eliminating any information on a sizeable portion of those residing in the country (Daytona Beach News-Journal).

    Those in favor of the question argue that the information of those residing in the country illegally can help better inform civil rights action, apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives, and allocation of aid to states.  The illegal immigrant population in certain areas could determine the distribution of over $675 billion in federal spending (Associated Press).

    There are strong opinions on either side of the issue, along with the questions of seizing highly classified government records to discern an individual’s citizenship.

    As this debate continues, there appears to be agreement on one issue.  Citizenship matters in critical decisions that need to be made.  This solution is not in partisan politics that has become today’s norm.  Once again, our leaders on both sides of the aisle are failing in their Constitutional duties.

    When will this end?

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    2020 Candidate Circus

    The election may seem far away but it looks like it will be another long, nasty, convoluted fight that is certain to confuse voters to the point of giving up by the time it comes to pressing “VOTE” in the booth.

    The Democrats are visibly scrambling to become a front-runner.  This creates a confusing state of issues as they each try to distinguish themselves from one another by taking aggressive positions knowing they will never be accepted by rank and file lawmakers.  Nonetheless, they need to raise their poll numbers to qualify for the stage at a debate.  That requires headlines.   Headlines do not happen to candidates with moderate views.

    The most notable exception may be Joe Biden.  He received a lot of buzz after his announcement.  Then for several weeks, women came forward and claimed they experienced “uncomfortable interactions” with Biden in the past.  This led to a rehash of the controversial treatment Anita Hill received from Biden and others at her appearances in 1991 before the Senate Judiciary Committee discussing claims of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas in his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.  After profuse apologies from Biden, the tempest seems to have calmed.  However, it is assuredly something that other candidates and the media will raise again.  They will exploit the vulnerability.   With Biden currently viewed as the front-runner, all the other candidates must knock him off that perch if they hope to win the nomination.  Do not expect civility in that endeavor.

    Then there is the returning progressive, Bernie Sanders.  Sandbagged by the Clinton campaign, he may be again from the Biden front.  We shall see.

    Other Dems in the running are puzzling.  Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bill de Blasio — none of them have a national following and de Blasio has a hard time generating an audience at his campaign stops.  The rest of the list hails from various states and cities with disparate backgrounds and notoriety.  So far, it looks like all have earned nicknames from President Trump as he goads them into losing focus.

    My question is, do people in this country really know who these candidates are?  I bet most know only one or two.  Even more do not care.  So with twenty-three democrats running (so far), how will they all fit on stage in a debate?  They cannot all fit.  That is why the solution appears to be two nights of debates.  The first night for the candidates who poll the highest.  The second night for the rest.  An A Team and a B Team.  Look for the B Team to be the more entertaining of the two debates.  The B Team has nothing to lose if they hope to get elevated to the A Team as the debates move forward.

    In truth, is this not simply more of what we saw in 2016 when the Democrats mocked the size of the Republican list of candidates?

    That is politics as usual.  Behavior that Democrats decry one day because the Republicans commit it suddenly becomes acceptable when they later engage in the same conduct.   When that happens, the Republicans, of course, condemn the Democrats.  It is a never-ending circle of lies and hypocrisy.

    Yet we wonder why Americans have no respect for Congress or Washington.  Our politicians have no one to blame except for themselves.

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    A Summary of a Summary: The Mueller Report

    A few weeks ago, Attorney General William Barr outlined what he called “principal conclusions” of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller (Washington Post). For some, the summary was a cover-up coupled with attacks on Barr’s integrity. Others greeted Barr’s summary with claims of victory citing what they concluded to be findings of no collusion or obstruction of justice. As is so often the case in today’s Washington, the reaction of both sides was wrong.

    Nonetheless, here are three basic takeaways from what Barr did say:

    1. The Russians did interfere with the 2016 election.
    2. No one can confirm or deny the fact that the Trump Campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Washington Post)
    3. According to Barr, there is still no conclusive evidence to support the claim that President Trump obstructed justice.

    The immediate reaction was condemnation by the left and victory marches by the right. All this before release of the full report, redacted or otherwise. Such uniformed and virulent responses, in light of the serious charges that have been filling the airwaves for more than two years, is negligent and irresponsible. Unfortunately, that is what we have come to expect from today’s politicians and biased media – on both sides of the aisle.

    After two years of speculation, leaks, false allegations, and the unjustified character assassination of some, we all need to wait for the full report before we make any conclusions. It is time for the political partisans and media pundits to shut up until we all see the full report.

    Barr also has reason to redact parts of the report.  The law requires it. Regardless, it serves no purpose to object to redactions until we see them and determine if they are appropriate legally appropriate.

    So far, no one has any evidence that Barr is anything but truthful. He is highly respected by anyone who is speculating on his integrity at this point in time is either naïve or ignorant. That does not mean he might not make mistakes – just as so many others have done, particularly those on both sides of the issues who love to attack one another. With so much at stake and in light of our growing distrust in all of Washington, now is not to time to jump to idle conclusions.

    Sadly, all of these left/right wing theatrics make me wonder if we can ever believe what our government is telling us and whether we will ever know the whole truth.

    Perhaps time will tell.

     

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    Do We Have a National Emergency?

    President Donald Trump anticipated and has certainly received flack after his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Denver Post)

    Border security is not a new issue. It is something every administrations since Reagan has wrestled with.

    In Trump’s case, one of his most publicized campaign promises — the border wall — has not come to pass.  With the 2020 elections looming on the horizon, delivering on his border wall promise is much more substantial than simply the dollars, materials and labor required to build it.  It’s undeniable that partisan politics — on both of the aisle — infect the debate. But it is also clear that those same partisan politicians have failed to find a solution to an undeniable problem — emergency or not.

    Regardless, there are some basic facts about these types of situations we do know.

    The National Emergency Act, enacted in 1976, addresses any situation that threatens the country and calls for immediate action (US News) emergency orders is the national emergency declared in 2001 as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.  On that order alone, tens of thousands of soldiers were sent to battle and billions was spent. Past national emergencies range anywhere from disarming weapons of mass destruction to trade embargos on other countries, including the reallocation of previously approved Congressional budget allocations.

    In fact, the Constitution gives a standing president very broad discretion to override current policy in response to an emergency. These provisions include seizing property, assigning military forces abroad, instituting martial law, restricting travel, and generally controlling much of the lives of United States citizens.(Boston 25 News) Such powers, however, have rarely been exercised.

    While the President has the authority, the specific reason(s) for declaring a state of emergency must be publicly stated, and when this happens Congress can nullify it by way of a joint resolution. Like any other law, this would require a simple majority vote in the House and Senate to pass.  (Cornell Law School)

    While there are a wide variety of reasons past presidents have enacted this type of executive order, this will probably be the first time one is formally challenged by the Legislature.  Since it’s unlikly to withstand a veto even if the House and Senate pass a resolution against it, the ultimate resolution will be left to the courts. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/98-505.pdf

    Therein lies a big risk for both parties. If this case gets to the Supreme Court, its word will be final should it rule on Constitutional grounds. Nine unelected jurists will define the future of the President to issue emergency executive orders. All because our elected representatives could not come to a full compromise. Nor is the continuing blame game productive. The reality is simple. Two of the three branches of our government were unable to do their job in a bipartisan manner. Now the third unelected branch will make a decision that could have a profound impact on a President’s powers regardless of his or her political party.

    Is that what’s in our best interests?

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    As Politicians Claim Victory, America Becomes the Victim

    After the longest government shutdown in history, Congress and the White House have three weeks to make a deal on immigration reform or the country faces the choice of another shutdown or a presidential proclamation that we have a national emergency that requires his unilateral action to build physical barriers on our southern border.  Three weeks to settle arguments that have failed resolution for over fifteen years.  Only a Las Vegas handicapper is capable of putting odds on any bet that the two sides will come to an agreement.  Even with odds, that is not a bet I am likely to make.

    We do have an emergency but it is not just about our southern border or immigration.  While that is certainly a crisis, the true emergency facing our nation is a failure of leadership on both sides of the aisle.  In response to President Trump’s offer this past weekend that could be a start to compromise, Nancy Pelosi immediately criticized it as “not enough” and continued her rhetoric that a wall is immortal.  Senator Chuck Schumer echoed similar sentiments.  On the right, pundits like Ann Coulter accused President Trump of caving and others said he “lost” the fight.  Everyone took sides, ignoring the issues for the sake of partisan politics.

    So once again, we watch the spectacle to which our politicians seem addicted.  A spectacle that is not about what might or might not be best for Americans, Dreamers, DACA and TPS recipients, and the border agents risking their lives as illegal immigrants continue to flood the country.   Instead, it remains a partisan fight over who wields power in Washington and who will win the White House in 2020.  Neither side appears ready to compromise as each continues to kowtow to the extreme wings of their respective bases.  As the leaders of the two parties continue their mindless bickering, no one can argue against the reality that people are suffering and dying – both Americans and illegal immigrants – throughout our country because of a failed immigration policy.

    Three weeks.  That is how long our Washington politicos have to prove to America that they can lead through reasonable debate and compromise, putting aside partisan politics at this critical time.  Whether that will happen depends on all of them and I will not blame the Democrats or the Republicans if they fail.  I will blame them both and urge anyone I know to vote every one of them out of office, from top to bottom, in 2020.

     

     

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    “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?”

    We live in an age where it seems that everything a public figure does, says, and wears is immediately posted on the internet and on the news.  We all live with the reality that we must be very careful with what we do, say, and wear in public given the likelihood that there will be a camera or a phone recording us, only to be instantly exploited.

    As a public figure, I know too well what it is like to be dissected.  I served for seven years as a prosecutor; three terms as a Congresswoman; and a full term as Governor for the Commonwealth of Virginia before becoming the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

    I recall every morning reflecting on the message I want to send to the public, my colleagues, those who would vote for or support me, and those who I have to persuade.  But should what I wear matter?  If someone with an unflattering picture of me decides I look disheveled, have a tear in my stocking, or wear a suit jacket that is missing a button, should Americans not to take as a serious candidate?  Should they be persuaded by how I look, or by what I say?

    But I cannot ignore the reality of the social media world and must adjust to it by taking such irrelevant issue off the table.  So I always dress professionally and rarely in a relaxed fashion.  That way, the media has to focus on what I had to say, rather than distract their readers or viewers about whether my pencil skirt was too tight or an ugly shade of blue.  I know all too well that one mishap of my dress and it will be all over the news for the rest of the day, and my words wouldn’t matter.

    I think fashion stylist Rachel Zoe puts it best when she said: “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.”

    When the First Lady of the United States wears a jacket that says “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” on a plane to visit children at our border, what is her style saying about her?

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    For Memorial Day: The VA Mission Act is a Step Forward for Our Veterans

    It is vital that Americans—and our government—support our troops and veterans with more than a few remembrance days in May and November. Thanking them for their service is necessary in terms of showing our appreciation, but more must be done to help them.

    The VA Maintaining Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act—otherwise known as the VA Mission Act—was passed through the House committee and Veterans Fairs in a show of bipartisanship (it was passed 20-2). This bill would establish the Veterans Community Care Program, to provide care to veterans who are enrolled in the VA healthcare system or are entitled to VA care. The bill would also require Veterans Affairs to develop an education program to inform veterans about their healthcare options. Overall the bill plans to reform the VA’s healthcare infrastructure.

    Overall, the bill plans to reform the VA’s healthcare infrastructure. Military Times writes that it plans “to increase veterans’ access to private-sector doctors, expand caregiver stipends to more former military families and increase medical marijuana research for veterans’ care.”

    Late last year, USA Today ran an article that VA hospitals are ranked on the bottom of the list, for example the Phoenix VA, “where veterans died waiting for care.”

    Let’s make sure this bill is moved forward so that our veterans can receive the tools necessary to get the healthcare they deserve.

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    Interrogation Methods: Should We Use Waterboarding Against Terrorists?

    “[T]he law — has long been clear: Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise — or even to give credence to such a suggestion — represents both an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation.”

    Letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, November 2, 2007 from Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter, United States Navy (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Navy, 2000–02, Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, United States Navy (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Navy, 1997–2000, Major General John L. Fugh, United States Army (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Army, 1991–93, and Brigadier General David M. Brahms, United States Marine Corps (Ret.) Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant, 1985–88

    Waterboarding, mock executions, introducing hypothermia, and other forms of torture are forms of interrogation that are not within the federal guidelines for interrogating witnesses. But are these interrogation methods ones that the United States should consider using for terrorist detainees?

    As much as conventional politics may demand I consider these measures, I believe that they are barbaric and counterproductive in the same way that I cannot support the death penalty. It is also abundantly clear that those in the military who oversee proper policy on detained prisoners agree that waterboarding is illegal.

    That’s enough for me to conclude that, until someone gives me concrete evidence that such techniques like waterboarding work, I will not consider approving them. And even if such evidence were presented to me, I’m not at all certain I’d agree to allow them unless experts like the Generals and Admirals who wrote to Sen. Leahy in 2007 agree.

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