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Posts published in “Richardson”

Open letter to the president


Dear Biff:

It has become increasingly clear that you could not pass a high school government class. You have no rudimentary understanding of how the federal government works. For evidence, we need look no further than your most recent tweets regarding the U.S. Justice Department, the Supreme Court, and your executive orders banning travel from certain majority Muslim countries.

The series of tweets to which I refer include the following:

Tweet #1: "People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!"

Tweet #2: "The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C."

Tweet #3: "The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court - & seek much tougher version!"

Tweet #4: "In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!"

Biff, Biff, Biff . . . .

If you wanted the Justice Department to stay with the original Travel Ban, you should not have withdrawn it. The Justice Department is part of the Executive Branch. You are the head of the executive branch. Once you withdrew the original Travel Ban and entered the second Travel Ban, the original Travel Ban had no force whatsoever. And who created that situation? That would be you, Biff.

You refer to the second Travel Ban as “watered down.” Well, you’re the one who watered it.
You say that you want the Justice Department to ask the Supreme Court to enter a “much tougher version” of your “watered down Travel Ban.” Reading this tweet, someone would think you had never heard of the bedrock constitutional doctrines of separation of powers or checks and balances.

The Supreme Court is the JUDICIAL branch of government; it adjudicates. It does not legislate. (That would be Congress). And it most certainly does not draft and sign executive orders. (That would be the President – namely you.)

And let’s not forget that the reason you issued your executive orders was to have time to put “extreme vetting” in place. You said you needed 90 – 120 days to do so. Well, you’ve had more than 120 days and, from your last tweet, it appears you’ve already done that. So the entire rationale for your travel ban is now moot.

Oh, and one more thing . . . . The Department of Justice has tried to make a silk purse out of your sow’s ear by arguing that the second version of the Travel Ban is not, in fact, a Travel Ban. And why is that?

Well, a Travel Ban would pretty clearly run afoul of the U.S. Constitution. You do know that “politically correct,” at least in this instance, might equate with the phrase “more likely to pass constitutional muster.” Or do you?

The Department of Justice has tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade two federal appellate courts that all those racist things you said during the campaign are not relevant to the appeal. “That was candidate Trump, not president Trump,” they claimed.

Now that you, as president, have doubled down on your campaign rhetoric, what is the DOJ to do?

In your rogue tweet storm, you seem to have decided that DOJ lawyers are not up to the task and that you would prefer to appear pro bono. Well, there’s an old adage that comes to mind: “He who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer.”

Good luck with that, Biff. I’m willing to bet that even Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch might find all of this a little too much to swallow.

But don’t listen to me. Frankie Avalon had some great advice in the musical “Grease!” It came in the song titled “Beauty School Dropout.” Remember? "Go back to high school!"

A failure of vision


The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suffers from a failure of vision. Consider the Montana special election to fill the vacancy created when Congressman Ryan Zinke resigned to become Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.

Trump carried Montana by 21 points in the presidential election so the conventional wisdom held that the Republican nominee, multimillionaire Greg Gianforte, would easily win. Nonetheless, the GOP did not take victory for granted. Instead, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $5 million to prop up Gianforte and attack the Democratic nominee, Rob Quist. They invested heavily in Montana from day one.

Their Democratic counterparts spent comparatively little on the race, reflecting their pessimistic view that defeat was inevitable.

Sure, a Democratic win in Montana was always a long-shot, but it wasn’t out of the question. In order to win, Democrats needed to recruit a top-flight candidate. Quist was a deeply dedicated, likeable and hard-working fellow; but he likely wasn’t the strongest nominee the Democrats could have offered. As important, though, he needed a break. When he got one, the Democrats weren’t positioned to take advantage of it.

The national Democrats never thought they had a chance to win the seat. So, when Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter the night before the election, there was a hurried infusion of money for on-line ads and “boots on the ground.” But it was too little too late.

While the rural areas of eastern Montana, where Trump won by outsized margins, also came out strong for Gianforte, the rest of the state took a giant step in the other direction – moving the needle toward the Democrats by at least 15 points. Perhaps no amount of money would have pulled Quist ahead of Gianforte, but a six point lead need not have been insurmountable.

National Democrats who place bets on political futures dismiss red state races at their peril. Whether or not it’s likely we will win, we need to be prepared to compete in each and every race. Certainly, the level of resource allocation can and should be race specific. We should triage races and constantly assess where dollars can be spent to greatest effect.

But we should not begin an election cycle by assuming that any race is beyond our reach. We should not surgically remove red districts from the “win” map.

Too often the national Democrats refuse to look beyond the presidential percentages from the prior election in assessing a candidate’s chances. Just because Trump won a district “bigly” in 2016 doesn’t mean the district will inevitably vote for a Republican congressional candidate. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”

When the DCCC decides to ignore a contest because it concludes at the outset that a district isn’t winnable, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because a seat is designated “safe Republican” by beltway pundits doesn’t mean it is.

Simpson breaks rank


Almost all Republican members of Congress resist the idea of an independent commission to investigate the web of spy craft that undermined the integrity of the 2016 election. They argue that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are up to the task.

They are wrong. However well-intentioned individual members, these committees cannot do the job.

One of the few Republicans to break ranks is Idaho’s Mike Simpson who has publicly advocated for a truly independent commission. The Washington Post and The Hill report that Simpson thinks members of the Intelligence Committees are “too involved” to do a proper job. He wisely suggests that we learn from history, observing that – in the early 1970s – many politicians were too quick to dismiss the notion that Nixon had done anything wrong.

I share the anger of others who are profoundly disappointed in Simpson’s vote to repeal the ACA and replace it with “Trumpcare” and his inclination to support the rest of the Trump agenda. But unlike other members of Idaho’s all GOP congressional delegation, Simpson will, on occasion, put country before party. This is such a time, and it is significant.

We must understand all ramifications of foreign interference in the 2016 election so that we can prepare to address new threats and make sure this never happens again. The appointment of a special counsel was a critical first step in the process. But a prosecutor's focus is, necessarily, on past conduct. In order to prepare to thwart future meddling, an independent commission is needed. Creating such a commission will be a very heavy lift. It requires legislation – a bill passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.

Several polls show that a large majority of the American public supports creation of an independent commission. But Democrats alone don't have the numbers to pass a bill. Only if enough Republicans summon the courage to follow Mike Simpson’s lead and join the Democratic minority will a bill establishing this commission pass in the House and Senate.

If and when that bill lands on his desk, there will be tremendous pressure on the president to sign it into law. If he vetoes the bill, we can reasonably conclude that he wants to bury the truth, that he has a lot to hide, and that he is unwilling to address the escalating threats going forward. Should the president veto such a bill, it would help confirm what a growing body of evidence strongly suggests – that he is, indeed, Russia's errand boy.

But if Congress acts to establish an independent commission, it will be because a handful of Republicans, like Mike Simpson, finally stepped up to break the partisan log jam. Regardless of my adverse views on much of Simpson’s record, I acknowledge and applaud his leadership on this extremely serious matter.

But now it is time for Simpson’s actions to match his words. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, has introduced a bill that would create a bipartisan, 12-member panel in the mold of the 9/11 Commission. Simpson should join his Republican colleagues Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina as co-sponsors of Swalwell’s bill.

Last week, the Republican majority in the House blocked a move to bring Swalwell’s bill to a vote. Democrats are now gathering signatures on a discharge petition, which would trigger a floor vote if a majority of Congress signs on. That means they need 23 Republican signatures.

This is where the rubber meets the road for Mike Simpson. If Simpson co-sponsors Swalwell’s bill and signs the discharge petition, we will know that his show of independence is more than lip service. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Republic or monarchy?


The testimony given by former Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates before the Senate Judiciary Committee permits the inference that President Trump knew, or should have known, that his National Security Advisor Lt. General Michael Flynn had been compromised by Russia.

Ms. Yates did not mince her words. She testified she told White House counsel Don McGahn that Michael Flynn lied when he said he had not talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about potentially lifting U.S. Sanctions on Russia. And, importantly, she also told the president’s counsel that Russia knew Flynn was lying, that Flynn was, in fact, vulnerable to blackmail.

Incredibly, it would seem that but for the leaks that resulted in the public knowing about Flynn's lies, he would yet be sitting at the right hand of the president, whispering in his ear and -- likely -- in Putin's. After all, it was not until the information became public – a full 18 days after Yates met with McGahn – that Trump fired Flynn, and even then praising him to the skies.

Sadly, but somewhat predictably, the GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee appeared more concerned about the leaks than they were about Flynn’s deception and duplicity. They were more worried about who it was that had given a reporter a truthful account of Yates’ meeting with White House counsel than they were about Flynn being in a position to undermine our nation’s security.

These GOP senators have allowed their priorities to become tragically skewed.

James T. Clapper, Jr., a former Director of National Intelligence, also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He urged the senators to keep their eye on the ball, stating, “I think the most important thing that needs to be done here, is educate the electorate as to what the Russians’ objective is, and the tactics and techniques, and procedures that they’ve employed and will continue to employ . . . .” Clapper’s admonishment was on point, but it appeared to go unheeded.

By focusing on the leaks and not on the Russian attack on the integrity of our elections, these senators are intentionally, or unwittingly, aiding and abetting the Administration's obfuscations, deflections, and scapegoating. What has long been called "the world's greatest deliberative body" has, among its majority, charlatans who would sacrifice truth, justice - and, apparently, national security - on a partisan altar.

One thing is clear. Our president is unfit to serve. He is either complicit or incompetent, or both. Unless and until his Republican enablers decide to put country before party and get to the truth about Russia’s interference in our election, our republic is in jeopardy.

The story is told that, upon the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a woman approached Ben Franklin and asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it." That caution has never been more relevant than now.

A conservative decision


Last week, a federal district judge blocked enforcement of President Trump’s executive order threatening to cut federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” those that do not help the federal government apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants.

In his ruling, Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California explained that the president had attempted to usurp powers that belong to Congress – that he cannot, by fiat, impose conditions on federal funds.

That power belongs to Congress and, were Congress to impose conditions, it would have to ensure that the conditions were unambiguous; imposed before the funds had been accepted; and had a nexus with the federal program’s purpose. In other words, for Congress to condition a grant on a city helping the federal government apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants, the grant would have to have some connection with law enforcement or immigration.

Finally, and importantly, the financial inducement could not be coercive. That is to say that state and local governments cannot be commandeered to enforce federal law. As the judge noted, the administration clearly intended the executive order to be coercive. As support, he cited President Trump’s unabashed declaration that the executive order would be “a weapon” to wield against sanctuary cities.

The day the court announced its decision, Idaho’s junior Senator Jim Risch criticized the ruling, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that it was the product of a “left-leaning judge.” Risch flatly predicted that appellate courts would reverse it. I think he’s wrong on both counts.

Frankly, this is a rather conservative decision. It upholds the constitutional principle of separation of powers and fortifies the Tenth Amendment which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Republicans have long complained that judges have given the Tenth Amendment short shrift and that the growth of federal power has come at the expense of the states. How odd then that those Republicans who have long railed against federal meddling in traditionally local activities – like city policing – now champion that very thing.

Trump’s knee-jerk response to Judge Orrick’s ruling was to threaten to break up the Ninth Circuit. He talks as if he could accomplish this on his own, but once again he forgets that congressional action would be required. Of course, some members of Congress would like to see the Ninth Circuit carved up, but I think that’s a non-starter.

Exactly eighty years ago, Franklin Roosevelt was miffed at the judiciary. He put forward his “court-packing” plan, a blatant attempt to punish the Supreme Court for blocking his New Deal legislation and “pack” the court with additional justices who would shift the court’s philosophical balance and uphold his agenda. His plan, born of frustration, met with widespread bi-partisan opposition. The American people, who strongly supported Roosevelt’s agenda, nonetheless disapproved of such machinations.

Now Trump, in a fit of pique, hopes to intimidate the federal judiciary with ham-handed threats. His immature rants are likely to backfire. I expect the American people will become more – not less – protective of judicial independence. Federal judges should not be above criticism, but that criticism – especially when it comes from the president – should be directed to the wisdom, integrity, and intellectual honesty of their opinions, not because they refuse to rubber stamp the president’s political agenda.

If Trump thinks Judge Orrick is mistaken, he has a right to appeal the court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit. But, if he does appeal, I predict the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court – should it consider the case – would affirm Judge Orrick’s ruling. And I expect that Trump, in his ignorance of the Constitution, will continue to take actions that will be rebuffed by the judiciary. He will continue to lose – not only in federal court, but in the court of public opinion.

Risch should recuse


Appearing on last Sunday’s morning news show hosted by the local NBC affiliate, Idaho’s junior senator showed himself yet again to be the most strident of partisans. James Risch, who is a member of the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and Intelligence, embarrassed himself fawning over Trump's international escapades. "America is back," he crowed.

Really, Senator?

What about Trump lying about - or not knowing - the whereabouts of the "armada" he sent to provoke his North Korean counterpart? Certainly, that did little to instill confidence in our Asian allies.

What about his declaration that NATO was obsolete? Oh, never mind, that was just a rhetorical frolic during the campaign.

What about the utter hypocrisy of bombing Syria to punish Assad for the inhumanity of using toxic gas on his own citizens, while he himself would sentence desperate refugees to death by banning their entry into our country?

What about Trump's much-touted border wall that treats our neighbor to the south as though all of its people are pariahs?

What about Trump's total ignorance of history and diplomacy that leads him to declare in astonishment that Chinese-North Korean relations are "complicated." Who knew?

What about Trump's desire to blithely walk away from crucial international agreements, like the Iranian nuclear deal and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change?

And what about Trump's gushing tributes to strong men in Russia and Turkey while refusing to so much as shake the hand of Germany's Angela Merkel?

Examples of Trump's utter incompetence in foreign affairs abound. Yet, Risch, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, loudly sings his praises.

No, Senator, America is not "back," because we have a money grubbing, saber-rattling, know-nothing bully in the White House. If anything, America is "back," because hundreds of thousands of Americans are resisting Trump's bellicose, divisive rhetoric and his bumbling, truly dangerous agenda.

Even more troubling is the fact that Risch is a member of the Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the extent to which Russia meddled in our election and whether Trump and his team were complicit. Methinks a Trump lackey like Risch will not be fair or impartial, that he will decide Trump is in the clear no matter the evidence to the contrary. And, increasingly, it’s looking like there will be a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

If America is "back," it is because even in ruby red Idaho ever more people are coming to understand that "leaders" like Risch are not leaders at all, but followers, timid souls who grovel before the likes of Trump. It's time Trump's fanboy recuse himself from the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation. Sadly, we can't trust Risch to put country before party.

Mob boss in the White House


Every American who has ever pledged "allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands,” should have a shudder running down their spine. At the helm of that republic sits a would-be tyrant who denigrates the rule of law and thinks himself above the law.

In an interview with the New York Times, Donald J. Trump declared: “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Claiming to have the power to open, or end, an investigation, Trump referenced the Mueller inquiry saying, “[F]or purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.”

His not so cryptic message is both stark and horrible: “If Mueller does not exonerate me, I can – and I will – shut him down.”

Were Trump to attempt to do this, it would be a manifest obstruction of justice, an offense for which he should be impeached and convicted; but we cannot count on the Republicans in Congress to rise to the occasion.

Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and so many of their GOP colleagues have become Trump’s defenders. They have no objectivity, no sense of shame. As former George W. Bush speech writer David Frum has wisely observed, "This isn’t remotely like Watergate. During Watergate, Congress cared whether laws had been broken."

In the same interview, Trump continued his criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation – a recusal absolutely required by Justice Department protocol. Trump then claimed that former Attorney General Eric Holder protected President Obama and deemed such “protection” praiseworthy.

Trump has no facts to support his conclusion that Holder “protected” Obama and offers no evidence in support of that assertion. What is profoundly troubling, though, is the unmistakable implication that a good attorney general will protect the president who appointed him. The attorney general serves the country and the constitution, not the president. Trump’s view of the ideal attorney general is a “yes man,” a sycophant, a political hack who will reward his patron with “protection.”

We do not have a president, as our founders envisioned a president; we have a mob boss running a criminal syndicate from the Oval Office. In 2018, we must elect a Congress that understands the difference.