Gov: Bad Politics
At News in FiVe, we try to keep our discussions focused directly on laws and public policies. We try to avoid things like rhetoric, posturing, and procedural games that distract from the issues.
Unfortunately, there are times things get so ugly that it becomes obvious a representative is working against the interests of the people they elect to represent them. We think you ought to know when that happens.
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DOT helps Mitch McConnell's state fund projects
|2019-Jun-10  (Updated: 2019-Jun-17)||By: Barry Shatzman|
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has helped secure more than $75 million for transportation projects in his state of Kentucky. It's helped that his wife runs the Department of Transportation (DOT) in the Trump administration.
The projects included reclassifying a local parkway as an Interstate spur which could attract private businesses. They also included a $67 million grant to upgrade roads in a rural Kentucky county.
Bringing business to their state is something representatives use as bragging points in re-election campaigns. It often is done in the form of earmarks attached to bills. McConnell may have found an easier way.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who is married to McConnell, assigned a staff member to personally advise McConnell and Kentucky officials in obtaining grants for the projects. She did not assign staff members to similarly assist other states.
The staff member, Todd Inman, also is from Kentucky. He now is Chao's chief of staff.
Kentucky officials have publicly acknowledged the help, thanking McConnell, Chao, and Inman in speeches.
The DOT says that Kentucky has not received special favors, and the amount of money it has received is consistent with its population. Even if Chao did help her and her husband's home state receive money, it likely did not violate any laws, according to John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
However, one of the projects was denied twice before being approved with Inman's help, and it at least demonstrates a conflict of interest, according to Hudak and other ethics experts.
"Where a Cabinet secretary is doing things that are going to help her husband get reelected, that starts to rise to the level of feeling more like corruption to the average American," Hudak wrote on Twitter.
Racist remarks cost Iowa Rep. King committees
|2019-Jan-17||By: Barry Shatzman|
Rep. Steve King has been removed from his committee assignments after his most recent comment supporting white supremacy.
For more, read the New York Times interview.
In an interview with the New York Times., King pondered how the term "white supremacist" had become offensive.
King has a long history of defending white supremacy.
In a 2018 interview with an Austrian site having ties to the alt-right movement, King lamented about a dilution of European culture - what the alt-right terms the Great Replacement...
"It is all interconnected. In the U.S., we have almost a million abortions a year, babies who would be raised by American parents. Then we bring in 1.2 million legal immigrants a year and add another 600,000 or so illegal immigrants. The U.S. subtracts from its population a million of our babies in the form of abortion. We add to our population approximately 1.8 million of somebody else's babies who are raised in another culture before they get to us."
He also claimed there is a "two-front war" taking place - with Muslims and liberals "squeezing Western civilization".
King on immigrants
In 2013, King stated why he opposes legal status for DREAMers...
"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act."
The day before winning re-election in 2018, he was caught on tape referring to immigrants as "dirt".
King on diversity
In the Austrian interview, King explained what diversity means to him, speaking about an advisor hired by his home town in Iowa, who suggested more diversity was needed...
"I know these people because I grew up with them: they are Danes, they are Germans, they are Norwegians, they are Irish. That is a great deal of diversity! ...(Liberals) think we're racists, that diversity is a variety of skin colors."
King was a member of the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees.
For more on King's history of racist acts, read the New York Times article.
To read the full 2018 Austrian interview with King, visit Unzensuriert's website.
For more, read the New York Times interview.
Trump tweets Schitt - gets Constitution wrong
|2018-Nov-18  (Updated: 2018-Nov-21)||By: Barry Shatzman|
It wasn't the first comment from Trump disparaging elected representatives who disagree with him - regardless of their political party. By the time you're reading this, it probably won't have been the last.
But we mention these comments Trump made about Rep. Adam Schiff for two reasons.
The first reason is that it sinks to more of an adolescent level than many others. Trump has not claimed it to be a typing error, nor has it changed on Twitter as of this writing.
Second, it is based on an incorrect interpretation of the Constitution - the basis of government for the country. The president is the highest-ranked individual responsible for supporting its provisions.
The Twitter post refers to an ABC News interview in which Schiff answered a question regarding Trump's naming of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general after he fired Jeff Sessions.
"I think the appointment is unconstitutional. He is clearly a principal officer and the fact that he is a temporary principle officer doesn't mean that that is any less subject to Senate confirmation."
According to the Constitution's Appointments Clause, high-ranking officials (such as attorney general) need to be approved by the Senate. Secondary appointments - such as a special prosecutor (Robert Mueller) or the attorney general's chief of staff (the position Whitaker held) do not.
For more, read the Vox story.
Grassley - Judiciary Committee too much work for women
|2018-Oct-06  (Updated: 2018-Oct-13)||By: Barry Shatzman|
All 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are white males.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley - the committee's chair - was asked to explain why there are no women on the committee.
"It's a lot of work - maybe they don't want to do it. My chief of staff of 33 years tells me we've tried to recruit women and we couldn't get the job done," Grassley replied.
For more, read the Vox story.
Republicans discuss protecting Trump from Russia probe
|2018-Aug-08||By: Rob Dennis|
Rep. Devin Nunes told donors that Republicans must win in November to protect President Donald Trump from the probe into his campaign's ties to Russia, according to a recording of a closed-door meeting.
Nunes heads the House Intelligence Committee - the committee in the House of Representatives investigating Russia's influence in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"If [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] won't unrecuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones," Nunes said at the July fundraiser for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Sessions recused himself from investigations involving Russia due to his involvement with a Russian official during Trump's presidential campaign. The investigation into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia to win the 2016 election is being supervised by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
If Republicans lose their majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 election, Democrats would take over as chairs of committees.
"I mean we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away," Nunes said.
Nunes also told donors that Republicans will time their actions to help them retain power. He said Republicans want to impeach Rosenstein, but would wait until after the November elections. He said that pursuing impeachment before the midterms could delay Senate hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, and that it possibly could put his confirmation at risk.
Nunes, who served on the president's transition team, has repeatedly tried to derail the investigation by his own committee into Russian interference in the election to help Trump win.
Republicans on the committee issued a partisan report in April that claimed the Russians did not interfere to help Trump. This contradicted reports from the intelligence community and from the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The meeting, which was closed to reporters and the public, was recorded surreptitiously by progressive group Fuse Washington. It was released publicly on Aug. 8 on MSNBC by news show host Rachel Maddow.
For more, and to listen to the Nunes recordings, see the MSNBC story.
SC Rep. Norman pulls loaded gun at meeting
|2018-Apr-07||By: Barry Shatzman|
Rep. Ralph Norman displayed a loaded handgun during a constituent meeting.
Norman said he did it to tell those who attended that "guns don't shoot people, people shoot guns," and to protect them.
"I'm not going to be a Gabby Giffords," he said. Giffords was a representative from Arizona who was shot during an assassination attempt in 2012.
For more, read the Washington Post story.
Rep. Devin Nunes has his own news site
|2018-Feb-26||By: Barry Shatzman|
People in politics will do whatever they can to get good press. But one member of Congress has taken this a step further.
Rep. Devin Nunes created his own "news" website.
The California Republican - classified on its Facebook page as a "Media/News Company" - is paid for by Nunes' campaign committee, as this screen capture from the bottom of one of its pages shows...
The site mostly contains links to other stories favorable to Nunes' views, with headlines such as...
For more, read the Politico story.
NY Rep. Tenney claims mass shooters are Democrats.
|2018-Feb-22||By: Barry Shatzman|
In the wake of the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting that resulted in the death or wounding of more than 30 students and teachers, Rep. Claudia Tenney said during a radio discussion...
"Obviously, there's a lot of politics in it. It's interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats. But the media doesn't talk about that."
Tenney provided no evidence for the claim.
However, a 2018 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center documents more than 100 people killed or injured by those with links to the alt-right movement.
National official's European vacation (on public dime)
|2018-Feb-15  (Updated: 2018-Feb-16)||By: Barry Shatzman|
Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) David Shulkin used government money for personal travel and illegally accepted gifts, according to the agency's inspector general. He and his staff manufactured lies both to allow it to happen and to cover it up, the report says.
According the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report...
o Shulkin had the agency pay for a 2017 European business trip that included more personal time than official days. The agency also payed for his wife, because his chief of staff altered an email to a VA ethics official to make it appear that Shulkin would be receiving an award in Denmark (there was no such award).
o In order for Shulkin to mix personal travel with the business trip, he needed to submit a form declaring the added cost of the personal time. Shulkin did not submit the form.
o Shulkin directed a staff member to arrange personal activities for Shulkin and his wife during the trip - essentially acting as their personal travel agent while being paid by the government.
o Shulkin and his wife accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament from someone they had conducted business with. This would be illegal, as gifts to public officials are legal only if they come from a personal friend. When the person who gave Shulkin the tickets was interviewed by the OIG, she could not remember Shulkin's wife's name. When providing written responses to questions about the gift, Shulkin wrote, "there is no business relationship, but purely a social friendship between the two of them."
o Shulkin also made misleading statements to the media about the incident. A Shulkin spokesperson told the Washington Post that, "All activities including Wimbledon were reviewed and approved by ethics counsel." When the ethics office informed the spokesperson that wasn't the case, he took no action to correct it. Shulkin told the OIG that he had no role in that response. The publicist told the OIG that Shulkin helped draft it.
The investigation had started with an anonymous tip. Shulkin first called the report "entirely innaccurate" and said it "reeks of an agenda."
He reversed course the following day, telling a Congressional committee "I do recognize the optics of this are not good", and said he already had written a check to the U.S. government.
Ryan hushes McCarthy on Putin paying Trump
|2017-May-17||By: Rob Dennis|
When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told fellow Republican leaders that he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin could be paying then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, he was immediately hushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to transcript obtained by the Washington Post.
"There's two people I think Putin pays: (Rep. Dana) Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy said in the June, 2016 conversation, according to the Post,
House Speaker Paul Ryan then stopped the conversation and swore those present to secrecy, the Post reported.
"What's said in the family stays in the family," Ryan added.
Spokespersons for McCarthy and Ryan initially denied that the conversations had taken place. When informed that a recording existed, McCarthy spokesperson Matt Sparks called the conversation "a failed attempt at humor."
The Post, which said it listened to and verified a recording of the exchange, noted that it is difficult to tell the extent to which the remarks were meant to be taken literally.
Rep. Labrador: Nobody dies from lack of health care
|2017-May-05||By: Barry Shatzman|
At an Idaho town hall meeting the day after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, a constituent of Rep. Raul Labrador said that the bill's $800 billion cuts to Medicaid would lead to people dying.
"No one wants anybody to die. That line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care"
A 2009 study concluded that...
"Uninsurance is associated with mortality. The strength of that association appears similar to that from a study that evaluated data from the mid-1980s, despite changes in medical therapeutics and the demography of the uninsured since that time."
Click here to read a separate study published by the Institute of Medicine reporting similar results regarding health care and mortality (you can download it for free).
For more, read the Forbes editorial.
Paul: Republicans shouldn't investigate Republicans
Sen. Rand Paul on whether the Senate should investigate the situation regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's illegal meetings with Russian officials while Barack Obama still was president...
"I just don't think it's useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We'll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we're spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense."
For more, read the CNN story.
Republicans vote to gut ethics office (but then reverse)
|2017-Jan-02  (Updated: 2017-Jan-03)||By: Barry Shatzman|
On Jan. 2, in one of the first actions of the new Congress - Rep. Bob Goodlatte, along with other Republicans in the House of Representatives, voted to strip the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) of its independence.
The office performs preliminary investigations of allegations of misconduct against representatives and their staffs. It operates independently of the House itself. If it finds a case worthy of further investigation, it refers the case to the Ethics Committee.
On. Jan. 3, after being sworn in, they withdrew the plan - agreeing to keep the office independent.
The differences are important...
For more, read the Politifact.com story.
Rep. Gohmert urges boycott of Target over LGBT policies
|2016-Apr-21||By: Barry Shatzman|
Rep. Louie Gohmert on proposing a boycott of Target stores because of their stated policy allowing people to use a bathroom or fitting room that fits the gender they identify themselves as...
"Why not let the transgender, LGBT,Q,R,S,T - whatever the initials are - let them have their activities where they don't impose upon the privacy of someone who wants to go to the restroom or shower without someone from the opposite sex being there with them."
For more, read the TheHill.com story.
Rep. Bill Flores blames Baltimore unrest on same-sex marriage
|2015-Apr-29||By: Barry Shatzman|
Rep. Bill Flores seems to think that same-sex marriage is the cause of civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland...
"You look at (the riots) going on in Baltimore today, you know, you see issues that are raised there. And healthy marriages are the ones between a man and a woman because they can have a healthy family and they can raise children in the way that's best for their future, not only socially but psychologically, economically, from a health perspective."
For more, read the Politico story.
Attorney General nomination held up for Trafficking bill
|2015-Mar-16  (Updated: 2015-Apr-21)||By: Barry Shatzman|
Sen. Mitch McConnell said the Senate would not consider the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general until Senate Democrats allow a bill on human trafficking to be voted on.
The bill - unrelated to the attorney general nomination - has become controversial because of an abortion provision included in it. We explain the bill and these issues here.
There is an irony to this. As a federal attorney, Lynch has been one of the fiercest fighters in the nation against human trafficking - including working to reunite children with their mothers who had been held captive.
For more, read the New York Times story.
For more on Lynch's record as an advocate for human trafficking victims, read the Guardian story.
Update: The Senate confirmed Lynch on April 23. Read the Lobby99 story
Human Trafficking bill held up over abortion, politics
|2015-Mar-15||By: Barry Shatzman|
It seems like a bill that easily could pass Congress and become law. The Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act would provide support for victims of human trafficking and increase penalties for those who commit the crime.
http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/239744-senate-passes-trafficking-bill-ending-month-long-abortion-fight What is holding up the bill, however, isn't its merits. It's a clause that would prevent any money received under this new program from being used for abortions - even those pregnancies that result from the coerced sex the law is intended to prevent. And those using the program's services would likely be those who are least able to afford them.
The bill doesn't mention abortion specifically. Rather, it refers to a clause known as the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal tax money from being used to pay for abortions.
This amendment would have been a broader use of the Hyde Amendment than ever before, and Senate Democrats are filibustering the bill in order to have the clause removed. Both of the major parties in the Senate have been accusing each other of not acting in good faith...
Sen. James Inhofe uses snow to tell Senate global warming isn't problem
|2015-Feb-26||By: Barry Shatzman|
Arguing that global warming is not a problem, Sen. James Inhofe brought a snowball from outside of the Capitol into the Senate chamber.
Then he spoke...
"In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, do you know what this is? It's a snowball. And it's just from outside here. So it's very, very cold out. Very unseasonable."
Inhofe chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
For more, read the story in TheHill.com.
Republicans doctor State of Union Address
If you watch President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Address on the Republican Party's official YouTube channel, you'll miss a few points that have been edited out - regarding climate change and torture.
It was presented by the Republican Party as the complete speech, without mention of the redactions.
For more, read the Think Progress story.
Just so you'll know how your representatives act
How to borrow money while making it look like revenue
|2014-Aug-10||By: Barry Shatzman|
What happens when there's something the country needs, yet there isn't enough money to pay for it? Congress has only two choices - it can increase revenue through some sort of tax. Or it can borrow the money.
Borrowing often is a pleasing option for elected representatives, because they can appear to be providing the needed service at no cost. This is especially true if an election is coming - because they don't want to be accused of "raising taxes" during a campaign.
Of course, that money needs to be repaid at a later date... and it needs to come from taxpayers just as if it originally came from there.
Congress has created a third way, however. It essentially is a way to borrow money while making it look like revenue. It's called Pension Smoothing. In a nutshell, Pension Smoothing allows companies to pay less into their pension plans for a certain time - thus increasing their profits and the taxes they pay. The problem is those payments into pension plans will need to be made up in later years, meaning these companies will pay less in taxes in the future.
And that's the best case. It gets worse if the company declares bankruptcy before adding the extra money into its pension fund. In that case, not only might the government lose even more tax revenue, but it also may need to pay pensions that the company otherwise would have paid.
Pension Smoothing was first used in 2012 to make up for a shortfall in fuel taxes used to pay for transportation projects. It again was used in 2014 to extend that funding for an additional 10 months.
Click here to read our explanation of how Pension Smoothing works.
Click here for our discussion of the Highway Trust Fund - which has been funded by Pension Smoothing.
For more on Pension Smoothing, read this New York Times story.
GA Rep. Jack Kingston: Poor kids should sweep floor for lunch
|2014-Jan-23||By: Barry Shatzman|
Should school children who are in poverty through no fault of their own be treated more harshly than those who aren't? Rep. Jack Kingston thinks so.
Discussing the National School Lunch Program a local Republican Party meeting, Kingston suggested that children in the program find a way to compensate for what might be their only nutritious meal of the day....
"Why don't you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria..."
For more, read the Huffington Post story.
Members of Congress take expense-paid vacations with lobbyists
|2014-Jan-19  (Updated: 2014-Jan-23)||By: Barry Shatzman|
Members of Congress are not allowed to receive gifts from lobbyists. But the 2007 law that prohibits this gift-giving has not prevented the people you elect to represent you from going on fully-paid trips to exotic locations - with lobbyists having exclusive access to them.
Here's the trick... the trips are paid for by Political Action Committees (PACs) controlled by the representative. The PAC gets the money for the trip in the form of a contribution by the lobbyists or the corporations they represent.
Recipients include both Democrats and Republicans. In some cases, legislation favoring a lobbyist who attended such an event was introduced soon after the event took place.
For more, read the New York Times story.
Just so you'll know how your representatives act
This is Rep. Don Young questioning Energy Secretary Ken Salazar during a Congressional committee hearing.
J.D. Hayworth... same-sex marriage could lead to marrying horses
|2010-Mar-15||By: Barry Shatzman|
Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth says that allowing same-sex marriages could lead to unintended consequences.
"I don't mean to be absurd about it, but I guess I can make the point of absurdity with an absurd point. I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse," Hayworth said.
It will take more than allowing same-sex marriage for that to happen, however. Marriage in the United States needs to be between parties who can legally consent. The horse will always say Nay.
For more, read the Politico.com story.