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The Blake Farenthold Memorial Sexual Harassment Bill

That’s what this should be called.

Blake Farenthold

Less than a year after Corpus Christi Republican Blake Farenthold left Congress behind with an $84,000 settlement for sexual harassment, the House and Senate have agreed to make lawmakers pay their own misconduct judgments.

The legislation, which the House and Senate each passed unanimously on Thursday, caps a year of acrimonious debate over how to handle sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill.

Under the terms of a bipartisan deal reached this week, members of the House and Senate would assume financial liability for settlements and judgments stemming from sexual harassment complaints. Historically, taxpayers have picked up the tab.

The issue came to a head last April when Farenthold, a four-term congressman, resigned amid an Ethics Committee investigation into allegations of improper conduct by at least three former staffers. That followed revelations that Congress had already covered an $84,000 settlement reached in a 2014 harassment suit brought by Lauren Greene, his former communications director.

The payment came to light last December only after House administrators, under pressure in the early months of the #MeToo era, agreed to release summary data on payouts involving Capitol Hill offices.

[…]

While denying any personal wrongdoing in the case, Farenthold initially vowed to repay taxpayers. He later reneged, however, on the “advice of counsel.”

He also refused a request by Gov. Greg Abbott to help defray the estimated $200,000 in expenses for the special election prompted by his early departure. Victoria Republican Mike Cloud was elected to replace him.

Farenthold later took a job lobbying for the Calhoun Port Authority, a move that sparked further controversy because of his involvement as a member of Congress in trying to steer a contract to Randy Boyd, the port’s chairman.

Campaign finance reports also showed that Farenthold, who had a net worth in the millions, spent more than $100,000 from his campaign account on legal bills before and after the Ethics probe.

From the bottom of my heart, Blake: Go fuck yourself.

RIP, George H.W. Bush

The 41st President passed away on Friday evening.

George Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush, whose lone term as the 41st president of the United States ushered in the final days of the Cold War and perpetuated a family political dynasty that influenced American politics at both the national and state levels for decades, died Friday evening in Houston. He was 94.

Bush was the last president to have served in the military during World War II. His experience in international diplomacy served him well as he dealt with the unraveling of the Soviet Union as an oppressive superpower, and later the rise of China as a commercial behemoth and potential partner.

His wife of 73 years, Barbara Pierce Bush, died April 17, 2018, at the age of 92.

Steeped in the importance of public service, Bush always felt the lure of political life. It snared him in 1962 when he was chosen to head Houston’s fledgling Republican Party. He spent the next three decades in the political limelight, a career largely free of scandal or great controversy, with one exception — his role as vice president in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The second of five children, Bush was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts, to Prescott and Dorothy Bush.

There’s a ton more out there on former President Bush, you could spend all weekend reading about him and his distinguished life. There is much one can say about George H.W. Bush. I will say that he was a war hero, a family man, and someone who always heard and answered the call to service. I don’t know when we may see another Republican President like him. My sincere condolences to the Bush family and the many friends of George H.W. Bush. Rest in peace, sir.

Who wants to protect our voting systems from hackers?

You would hope the answer to that question would be “everyone”, but that’s not the world we currently live in.

A bipartisan group of 21 state attorneys general are demanding Congress’ assistance in protecting the 2018 election. Writing to Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and Sen. Roy Blunt, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman, the AGs ask for “assistance in shoring up our systems so that we may protect our elections from foreign attacks and interference.”

“As the latest investigations and indictments make clear,” they write “during the 2016 election, hackers within Russia’s military intelligence service not only targeted state and local election boards, but also successfully invaded a state election website to steal the sensitive information of approximately 500,000 American voters and infiltrated a company that supplies voting software across the United States.” Combatting that incursion and giving the electorate “confidence in our democratic voting process” is “imperative,” they write. “The integrity of the nation’s voting infrastructure is a bipartisan issue, and one that affects not only the national political landscape, but elections at the state, county, municipal, and local levels.”

Their direct demands: “Prioritizing and acting on election-security legislation” in the form of the Secure Elections Act (S.2261), a bipartisan bill that would provide additional grants and assistance to states to shore up systems; “Increasing funding for the Election Assistance Commission to support election security improvements at the state level and to protect the personal data of the voters of our states”; and, “Supporting the development of cybersecurity standards for voting systems to prevent potential future foreign attacks.”

You can see the very reasonable letter here. Seems simple and straightforward, no? You can also see that none of those AGs are Ken Paxton. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want to debate – he doesn’t want to get asked pesky questions about that sort of thing.

The status of Confederate monument removal

We still have a long way to go.

Texas has removed the most Confederate symbols and statues in the country since 2015, according to a new Southern Poverty Law Center study. But the trend does not extend to the state Capitol, where lawmakers have been reluctant to take down monuments and plaques.

Texas cities removed 31 symbols, which include statues and renaming of schools and streets, according to the report. Austin led the way, with the removal of 10 symbols, the majority of them on the UT campus. Houston renamed seven schools and one street.

Cities in Texas and across the country have removed hundreds of symbols following the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston in 2015, which prompted lawmakers in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse.

“As a consequence of the national reflection that began in Charleston, the myths and revisionist history surrounding the Confederacy may be losing their grip in the South,” the SPLC argues in its report. “Yet, for the most part, the symbols remain.”

Houston ISD spent $1.2 million to change the names of eight schools that once honored figures of the Confederacy. Reagan High became Heights High; Davis High was changed to Northside High; Lee High took the name of longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom; Johnston Middle was changed to Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Jackson Middle became the Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence; Dowling Middle was renamed after Audrey Lawson; and Lanier Middle changed its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Confederate poet Sidney Lanier.

Dowling Street, named after Houston businessman Dick Dowling who served as a lieutenant in the Confederacy, was renamed Emancipation Avenue by the City of Houston in January 2017.

Two controversial monuments remain in city parks.

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue has stood in Downtown’s Sam Houston Park for 110 years. A monument commemorating Dick Dowling was erected in Market Square Park in 1905 before moving to its current location in Herman Park.

You can read the SPLC report here. There’s a sidebar story in there about the history and origin of Stone Mountain in Georgia, which, yeah. Go read that if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about. I don’t know if they counted this sort of thing, but in addition to the schools that got renamed, HISD also recently got rid of a Confederate-themed school mascot. So yes, progress.

One place where a lot more progress could and should be made in short order is in the state Capitol. State Rep. Eric Johnson, who has been leading the charge to get a particular historically false plaque removed, just submitted a brief to the AG’s office regarding the authority of the State Preservation Board, which includes Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, to remove that “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque. He subsequently got support from outgoing Speaker Joe Straus.

The Republican speaker of the Texas House says a Confederate plaque hanging in the state Capitol can — and should — be removed immediately.

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton, Speaker Joe Straus called the plaque offensive and misleading. And he agreed with Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrat pushing for its removal, that the Texas Preservation Board has the power to remove the plaque immediately.

“Every year, thousands of visitors to the Capitol are exposed to this inaccurate plaque,” the San Antonio Republican’s staff wrote on the Speaker’s behalf. “Maintaining it in its present location is a disservice to them and to history. The plaque should either be removed or relocated to a place where appropriate historical context can be provided.”

[…]

Johnson said he was disappointed he hasn’t heard from Abbott in the seven months since the two men sat down to discuss the plaque. He wants the governor to call a meeting of the board and vote on his request to remove this plaque. If the agency fails to act quickly on his request, he wrote, a court of law could compel it to do so.

“The Curator similarly cannot let a request languish,” Johnson wrote. “Should the Curator fail to act on a change request within a reasonable period of time, mandamus can issue to require the Curator to act.”

One may be disappointed in Abbott, but one shouldn’t be surprised. Straus has previously backed removing the monument, so if Abbott and Patrick would get off their butts and take action, we could get this done tomorrow. What are you waiting for, guys?

Scenes from the March For Our Lives

From Houston:

Nearly 15,000 descended Saturday morning on downtown Houston for the city’s March For Our Lives, advocating for greater gun control in light of last month’s Florida school shooting.

A mix of children and adults gathered in Houston’s Tranquility Park for the student-led march, many carrying signs that illustrated their fear of violence and demand for legislative action.

“I didn’t know what to expect here today, but I just expect change in the government,” said Austin Luchak, a ninth-grader at The Woodlands College Park High School who attended the march with his father. “I hope they follow through.”

Hundreds of marches are taking place across the country, largely driven by students who are organizing the events. The rally in Washington included Texans like Kay Hopper, a retiree from Austin who showed up with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchild. “I’m hoping that what starts here will change the world in Texas,” Hopper said.

[…]

In Houston, organizers expected 10,000 to 20,000 attendees to gather in Tranquility Park and march toward U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s office.

“Today, I hope our voices are heard, because we are the ones that go to school,” said Azariah Haro, a junior from Langham Creek High School in Cy-Fair ISD, who traveled to Saturday’s event with three friends. “I really hope we’re able to make a change.”

As protesters milled about shortly before the 9 a.m. start, volunteers worked to register young voters inspired into political action. Many brought signs voicing opposition to the National Rifle Association, while others implored replacing legislators who have been more supportive of expanded gun rights.

Emphasis mine. I’ll get back to that in a minute. Mayor Turner spoke at the rally, and he announced the creation of the Mayor’s Commission to End Gun Violence. Details will be forthcoming. In the meantime, there were rallies around the state as well.

In more than 800 planned “March for Our Lives” events across the country – including in Austin, Houston and Dallas – students and families protested against gun violence and called on lawmakers to take decisive action.

Thousands clogged Austin’s Congress Ave and gathered outside the pink-domed Capitol building, chanting and applauding as speakers – including Mayor Steve Adler, actor Matthew McConaughey and the local high school students organizers of the event – took their turns rallying the crowd.

“We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make the choice to jump in front of an assault rifle,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “Not one more.” The crowd broke into chants of “Not one more!” as he spoke.

Many of the speakers at the Austin event pointedly described state lawmakers’ dithering on gun-control laws, and called for reforms – like a ban on assault-style weapons and bolstering the background-check process.

“Now there is not one solution that will prevent mass shootings,” Adler, the mayor, said at one point, “but there are common sense solutions most people can agree upon.” He suggested people on airlines’ “no-fly” lists should be banned from purchasing guns, and said, “if you can’t buy a gun in a gun store, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun at a gun show.”

Watson dismissed a push to arm school staff and educators with weapons by saying teachers in the state are already-overburdened. “Adding sharpshooter to their list of obligations is ridiculous,” he said.

There were many more marches around the country and around the world as well. These are great to see, but what comes next is of greater importance. There is – correctly – a lot of focus on Congress, as there is a lot that can and should be done at the federal level to reform gun laws. Part of the reason for that is because Democrats have a decent chance of retaking the House, and even if they can’t get the Senate this year, it along with the Presidency are very doable in 2020.

It’s a much bigger challenge at the state level – the Lege isn’t flipping, and statewide offices are very much longshots. But we can make gains, and we can state our goals for state government, which if nothing else can serve as both vision and rallying cry. Right now, though, I don’t know what those goals are – I’m not even sure I could say what they should be. We’re pretty clear on things like education, health care, equality, the environment, and criminal justice, but gun issues have not been in the foreground except for when we have had to play defense. Someone asked me recently if I could point them to a legislative scorecard for gun control, and the only one either of us could find was from the NRA. There are local chapters here of national groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, but again that focus has been on the national scene. We know that if we want to change things in Texas we need to win more elections, but we need the candidates we are electing to have gun safety as one of their mandates. What is it we hope to accomplish on this issue in the Legislature in 2019? That needs to be our starting point.

Ted Cruz has your personal data

Hope that doesn’t creep you out.

Not Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz is under fire for his connections with a voter targeting firm that used data taken from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge.

The Cruz presidential campaign touted its collaboration with Cambridge Analytica as a sign of a cutting edge run for the White House, allowing the Texan to carefully identify likely supporters. The firm shifted allegiance to Donald Trump once the Texan dropped out of the GOP primaries.

Both campaigns pumped millions into the company, controlled by billionaire Robert Mercer — a key patron first of Cruz and then Trump in 2016.

Cruz continued work with Cambridge Analytica for six months after allegations surfaced in December 2015 that the firm was using Facebook data it had received illicitly. Recent revelations show the data harvesting was far more extensive than previously suspected, and possibly among the biggest privacy breaches in history.

“It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with the psychology of an entire country… in the context of the democratic process,” whistleblower Christopher Wylie, a data scientist who worked for Cambridge Analytica, told The Guardian. “It is a full service propaganda machine.”

Texas Democrats blasted Cruz on Monday for benefiting from a “massive invasion of privacy” and demanded that Cruz explain when he knew the company had engaged in “deceitful activity.”

“Ted Cruz will stop at nothing to weasel his way into power, even if it means weaponizing stolen information to manipulate people to like him,” Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director Manny Garcia said in a press release. “Cruz’s campaign exploited personal information to create psychological profiles on millions of Americans. All to keep lining the pockets of Cruz’s billionaire super PAC donors — like Robert Mercer, who funded this propaganda machine.”

Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier declined a request for comment on Monday.

Boy, when was the last time Ted Cruz didn’t have something to say? (He has since offered a statement that puts all the blame on Cambridge.) There’s plenty more out there about Cambridge Analytica if you want to keep reading. If you’d like to ask Ted Cruz to give you your data back, you can call his office at (202) 224-5922. I look forward to seeing this subject explored in more detail in campaign ads later this year. RG Ratcliffe and the Dallas Observer have more.

Nothing to see here

Remain calm, all is well.

Next Saturday, March 24, hundreds of Texas Democratic Party activists will gather at the Austin Hyatt Regency to nominate candidates for political office in Travis County, a kick-off event leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

But some people who tried to register will not be attending, among them Candida McGruder. Gustavo Chubb. Geraldo Tinsley. Vincent Amundson. Roxie Male.

That’s because these five individuals and 43 others who signed up to attend don’t appear to be Travis County residents, or Texans, or even Americans. They might not even be real people. They may be pranksters — or they may be Russian trolls, and their appearance in Texas could represent the first public example of foreign probing of the 2018 elections.

Five senior intelligence officers, two current and three former, say the case of the Texas 48 looks like Russian meddling. And they tell NBC News that despite the clumsiness of the failed registrations, the Texas case fits a pattern of Russian behavior seen in its covert operations.

[…]

Earlier this year, as Texas party officials prepared for the March 24 county meetings that would nominate candidates for office, Glen Maxey noticed something odd about online registrations for the Travis County meeting in Austin. Some of the people attempting to register either didn’t fully fill out their online form or provided obviously false information.

Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party and a former member of the Texas House of Representatives, said that at the time just over 2,500 Texas citizens had successfully registered online for the Travis County meeting. He went through the aborted registrations by hand, checking to see whether the registrations had been “kicked back” because of simple errors, in which case he would follow up with the individuals.

Maxey found a few unfinished registrations that were simple mistakes. But he identified 48 that were problematic, meaning they seemed unconnected to anybody living in Texas. Twenty-five of those 48 were trying to register with email addresses ending in “mail.ru.” Those last two letters, .ru, are the internet designation for domains in Russia.

Maxey told NBC News he and his team hadn’t seen any other examples of pranks or false registrations in past cycles. He also said he didn’t know who to contact in Texas state government and had received no guidance from either state or federal authorities regarding anything to do with potential Russian interference.

[…]

So are the Russians coming?

On the surface, said cyberintelligence expert and NBC News consultant Sean Kanuck, “this almost sounds like junior high school students ordering pizzas under fake names.”

But beneath the surface, Kanuck thinks perhaps something more sinister could be afoot.

Despite the ham-handedness that announces an obvious Russian origin, said Kanuck, who served as the first national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2011 to 2016, the methods and even the in-your-face nature of the trolling fit the pattern of “a Russian strategic campaign to delegitimize the democratic electoral process.”

“I would speculate that Russia is testing the waters for possible interventions or disruptions in the future,” Kanuck said.

Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. Boys will be boys, right? Donald Trump will get his top men right on it.

The sad fate of some giant Presidential heads

It is to weep.

It is a peculiar sight – Ronald Reagan has a large mark on his damaged face, George Washington is missing a piece of his nose, William Taft has a stain trailing from his eye to cheek, Millard Fillmore has a bee’s nest inside of his nose and Abraham Lincoln has a gigantic hole in the back of his head, eerily evoking his unfortunate fate.

This is just some of the damage on a few of the 43, 20ft-tall busts of former U.S. presidents that sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the most unlikely of places – a field on a farm in rural Croaker, Virginia.

It may only be two hours away from Washington DC, but it’s a world away from the nation’s capital.

Titled the Presidents’ Heads by creator David Adickes, the larger-than-life sculptures have become an eerie sight on businessman Howard Hankins property in Croaker.

The derelict statues that weigh up to 20,000 lbs each were once part of the now-failed Presidents’ Park in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The park was a collaboration between Adickes and landowner Everette ‘Haley’ Newman. They pair opened it in 2004 with hopes that it would attract thousands of visitors yearly after they invested $10million of their own money for it.

[…]

But it did not attract the hordes of visitors they wished for partly due to its poor location behind a motel off I-64 and being located far from Colonial Williamsburg.

The Presidents’ Park shut down in 2010 with the land being sold off. Newman enlisted the help of Hankins to have the statues, worth an estimated $6.5 million in total according to Adickes, demolished.

‘When they asked me to get rid of them, I immediately starting thinking of how I could move them without destroying them,’ Hankins, who had helped to construct the Presidents Park, told Richmond.com.

Instead of demolishing them, Hankins paid $50,000 to move the busts to his 400-acre pastoral farm in Croaker for safe-keeping once he figured out what to do with them.

In 2016, Hankins came up with the idea to create his own Presidential Historic Park featuring the busts along with other attractions.

We’ve heard about this before, and it’s still sad. Long story with lots of pictures somewhat shorter, the Hankins plan didn’t work out, and the fabled Giant Presidential Heads have fallen into disrepair. The pictures are actually kind of disturbing, and more than a little sad for a dedicated fanboy like me. Demolishing them would have been a kinder fate. I suppose they could still have use as props in a dystopian future TV show or movie – I bet the Walking Dead folks could work them in – but really, they deserved better. At least there are some others that are still out there, doing their thing in a more dignified fashion.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Harvey aid

Your Republican Congress, ladies and gentlemen.

Republican lawmakers were hammering out a stop-gap deal Wednesday to avert a weekend government shutdown of the federal government this weekend, setting aside a long-sought disaster aid package for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters.

Frustrations are rising among officials in Houston and Austin over the inaction. As Texas officials feared, an $81 billion storm relief bill passed by the House in December continues to languish amid congressional brinkmanship over a wider budget agreement, with Republicans insisting on funding President Donald Trump’s border wall and Democrats holding out for a deal to protect young immigrants from deportation.

A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the standoff a disappointment.

“The governor has been in frequent contact with leaders in Congress and the administration advocating the necessity for funding to rebuild Texas,” said the spokeswoman, Ciara Matthews. “He has received assurance after assurance. Yet every day that goes by without funding is another day that Texans who have been upended by Hurricane Harvey go without the resources needed to rebuild their lives.”

With time running out on a midnight Friday deadline to keep the lights on in Washington — the third since last September — GOP leaders unveiled a plan Tuesday night to pass another stop-gap funding measure until February 16.

With most Democrats expected to reject the plan, GOP leaders were whipping up support Wednesday to pass the funding extension with Republican votes alone. It remained uncertain, though, whether the plan could win the support of conservative Freedom Caucus members and defense hawks pushing for a full year of military spending.

Freedom Caucus Leader Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, sounded a skeptical note Tuesday night, telling Capitol Hill reporters, “There’s not enough support to pass it with GOP-only votes in the House.”

The Republicans don’t need any Democratic help to pass a bill to keep the government funded, as they have the majority in both houses of Congress. Except they do need Democratic help because they’re a bunch of dysfunctional lunatics who can’t tie their own shoes without help. Enough members of their caucus won’t vote for anything non-destructive to prevent them from being able to get stuff done. You know what you’d get with a Democratic Congress? Not this. Being functional and keeping the lights on is what Democrats do. Oh, and providing disaster aid in a timely fashion, they do that too. It’s something they believe in, you know? Just something to keep in mind.

Some pushback on Jeff Mateer

A small bit of sanity.

Even as President Donald Trump rushes to fill federal judge openings across the nation, a top Senate Republican is urging the White House to put the brakes on an outspoken nominee from Texas.

Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that he told Trump to “reconsider” two controversial judicial nominees:

Jeff Mateer of Texas and Brett Talley of Alabama.

“I’ve advised the White House they ought to reconsider,” Grassley told CNN. “I would advise the White House not to proceed.”

Mateer, a top aide to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, was nominated by Trump to be federal judge in Texas. He has faced bipartisan criticism for a series of speeches in 2015 on homosexuality, including a reference to transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan.”

Talley, a Justice Department lawyer and candidate for a federal judge position in Alabama, has come under fire for urging readers in a 2013 blog post to join the National Rifle Association while attacking gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as “the greatest attack on our constitutional freedoms in our lifetime.”

With no previous judicial experience, Talley became the third judicial nominee since 1989 to receive a unanimous rating of “not qualified” from the American Bar Association, a move that Republicans have decried as partisan.

See here for some background. That appeared on Tuesday, and by Wednesday Sen. Grassley had had enough.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican said Wednesday that two of President Trump’s nominees for open seats on the federal bench will not be confirmed, just a day after urging the White House to “reconsider” them.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said that based on his discussions with the White House, the nominations of Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley would not move forward through the confirmation process. The decision comes after reports that both nominees made public comments celebrating groups or policies that were discriminatory.

Good. Look, if you’re a Republican, surely you can see that you can do better than these two clowns. There are plenty of severely conservative potential judges out there who are also well-qualified for the job and are capable of acting like normal human beings. It’s really not much to ask, even from Donald Trump. Well, maybe it is too much to ask from Trump. In which case, voting losers like Mateer and Talley down might get the message across. Advise but don’t consent, in other words. Score one for a smidgeon of sanity.

Rally against the GOP tax scam

Are you upset about the terrible tax giveaway passed by the Senate last week? (If you aren’t, you should be.) Here’s one action you can take to channel those feelings.

Rally Against Robbery! The People Fight the Tax Scam.
Hosted by Indivisible Houston and Tax March – Houston.

Wednesday at 6 PM – 8 PM
Houston City Hall
901 Bagby St, Houston, Texas 77002

The #GOPTaxScam just robbed The People right in front of the watchful eyes of the world. By ramming a partisan package full of anti-poor provisions down the collective throats of the masses, 45 and his gang of congressional thugs have declared war on hardworking taxpayers and every single person who makes up the American social fabric, and we have had ENOUGH.

Join us to fight back as Congress seeks to reconcile its dueling versions of robbery and deliver a giftwrapped heist to mega-corporations on the backs of working class and middle class families, just in time for Christmas.
The Rally Against Robbery will include an extension of The People’s Filibuster, an auctioning off of each of our individual Houston area Congressional reps to finance the programs they have attempted to cut, and a united front against the worst legislation to hit reconciliation committees in decades.

Join if you can, but whether you can or you can’t, remember that the bill hasn’t received final passage yet. There’s still a need to fight, which means a need to call your Congressperson and Senators and tell them what you think of this abomination. And then of course vote out all of ’em who supported it.

Rep. Al Green’s articles of impeachment

Gauntlet thrown.

Rep. Al Green

U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, introduced formal articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on the House floor Wednesday during a session otherwise devoted to whistleblower protection legislation.

In his argument for impeaching the president, Green read out several of Trump’s tweets, arguing that his statements on several recent national controversies had “incited bigotry” against various minority groups, including African-Americans playing in the National Football League, transgender individuals serving in the military and Puerto Ricans recovering from a natural disaster. During his long-shot impeachment pitch, Green also criticized the president’s failure to condemn an August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and called Trump out for claiming to have won the popular vote in November’s presidential election.

“[Trump] has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute onto the presidency, has betrayed his trust as president to the manifest injury of the people of the United States of America and as a result is unfit to be president,” Green said. “He warrants impeachment, trial and removal from office.”

See here and here for the background. There’s also the whole nuclear war thing, in case you want something a bit more tangible to hang your hat on. I feel confident saying that this will go nowhere until either the Dems retake the House or Trump does something so egregious even the Republicans can’t ignore it. What that might be, after all we’ve already seen and experienced, I have no idea. But I’d like to think it exists, even if I’d rather not encounter it. The Chron, the Press, and the Current have more.

Sure would be nice if we could not kill CHIP

Just a thought.

Insurance coverage for more than 390,000 Texas children and pregnant women is in jeopardy after Congress failed to renew authorization for a federal program.

Congressional authorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides low-cost health insurance for children from low- and middle-income families, expires Sept. 30.

Without federal funding, Texas has enough money for CHIP to last until February 2018, according to estimates by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. However, federal lawmakers say they’re working on a plan to continue the program before funding runs out for Texas.

“States don’t want to have to disenroll their kids,” said Maureen Hensley-Quinn, senior program director at National Academy for State Health Policy, a non-partisan group that advises states on health policy. But “there may come a time when [they] have to send families letters” letting them go.

Some other states are in worse shape than we are, not that that’s much consolation. You’d think it would be – what’s that word? – pro-life to not want a program that keeps 400,000 children healthy to not go down the budgetary toilet. I’d feel more reassurance if there were some public statements about this from state leaders, but you know how that goes. As a wise man once said, hold on to your butts. TPM and the Chron have more.

On DACA

I don’t have enough words to sufficiently condemn Donald Trump’s shameful decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. So, I’m going to let these people to speak for me. And these people, and these people, and this guy, too. Donald Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, and now he wants a million kids to deport themselves. We should never forget that, nor should we forget the lickspittles like Ken Paxton who urged him on. If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a bottom to this administration or its enablers, the answer is no. There’s always lower to go. Stace has more.

The “death by a thousand cuts” strategy

How To Kill A Health Insurance Market, Non-Legislative Division:

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The move by the White House to quietly end the contracts of two companies key to assisting people enrolling for insurance under the Affordable Care Act caught Houston health advocates off guard – but not by surprise.

Given the temperature in Washington these days and efforts by Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration to let the law fail, they said it was just the latest in a string of actions to sabotage the law known as Obamacare.

“It’s clearly by design,” said Elena Marks, president and CEO of Episcopal Health Foundation and proponent of the ACA and its impact on the uninsured and health access for Texans.

Last week, contracts for Cognosante LLC and CSRA Inc., which helped in signup efforts for the past four enrollment periods in 18 cities, including Houston, were not renewed for a final option year, the Associated Press reported.

[…]

Tiffany Hogue, policy director for Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group for low- and moderate-income Texans, said she had not heard about the contract cancellations but felt, “in the scheme of things it’s not really a surprise.”

“The intent is to let the law die,” she said.

She said the administration from its first day has seemed determined to undercut the law. Hours after inauguration, the new president signed an executive order directing federal agencies to loosen any regulations surrounding the law that were considered “burdensome.”

Days later, as the 2017 enrollment period was coming to a close, the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services withdrew funding for the final advertising push traditionally aimed to lure a surge of last-minute enrollees.

Additionally, the 2018 enrollment period is being shortened, cut in half to run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 instead of until Jan. 31.

The idea is to push enrollment down so that when it does go down you can point at it and say “look, see, it’s in a death spiral” and then take more obvious action to finish the job. Which may not be necessary now, but it’s Plan B as needed. And all those people who will be sicker and poorer as a result? Just a bit of collateral damage. I’m sure they’ll understand.

Not many states are honoring that “give us your voter data” request

Glad to hear it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration’s election integrity commission, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states.

State leaders and voting boards across the country have responded to the letter with varying degrees of cooperation — from altogether rejecting the request to expressing eagerness to supply information that is public.

[…]

But the commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, seemed to misunderstand voter privacy laws nationwide. Every state that responded to the commission’s letter said it could not provide Social Security numbers, for example. Others said they consider information such as birth dates and party affiliations to be private.

What’s more, Kobach asked states to supply the information through an online portal. Many states have rejected this specific request, noting that the commission should file a voter information request through established state websites, as any other party would.

As of Tuesday afternoon, two states — Florida and Nebraska — are still reviewing the commission’s request. Another two states — Hawaii and New Jersey — have not returned CNN’s request for comment. And while six states are still awaiting a letter from the commission, four of them — New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia — have already pledged not to provide voters’ private information. The other two of those six states, Arkansas and Illinois, have not released statements ahead of receiving the letter.

Just three states — Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee — commended Kobach’s attempt to investigate voter fraud in their respective statements.

See here for the background. You can see a list of how each state responded at the bottom of the article. In the meantime, the DMN has the details about how Texas will respond.

Texas will release voters’ full names, addresses, dates of birth, voter history dating back to 2006 and a person’s voting status, according to the list that the office provided to The Dallas Morning News. Officials said the federal commission’s request is being treated as a public records request.

The secretary of state’s list did not quell concerns about how the information will be used. Justin Levitt, an election expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the information is protected against commercial use by state law.

But it will be publicly available once the state hands it over to the commission, which could lead to people sidestepping Texas law to gain access to voter information for commercial gains.

“If I’m someone that can really use this data to sell you something, I may not be able to get it from Texas, but I can turn around and go to the federal commission and get it from them,” Levitt said.

[…]

Levitt said Texas could deny the request on the grounds that the commission is violating federal laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974. Under that law, the federal government has to inform Congress that it is collecting information on individuals and explain why. It would also need to tell the public it was collecting the information and lay out guidelines for protecting it.

The law rarely allows for such information collection with few exceptions, Levitt said.

“Some of the information that Kobach has requested and the secretary of state has said he would release, like voter history and political party, seems squarely in the prohibitions the federal government isn’t supposed to collect,” Levitt said.

“There is absolutely no connection between political party and whether you can vote or not,” he added. “I cannot see a legitimate reason why they want it.”

Sounds like an opportunity for a lawsuit to me. If Mississippi can tell the Trump commission to go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t see why Texas ought to be handing this data over without at least a cursory inquiry as to who will have access to it and how it will be safeguarded. And if you find yourself getting more junk mail afterwards, you will know who to thank for it. Slate has more.

Texas will turn over some voter info to Trump vote “fraud” commission

I have three things to say about this:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas will hand over personal information of the state’s more than 15 million voters to President Donald Trump’s commission that is looking into voter fraud.

Secretary of State Rolando Pablos said his office will share any publicly available information with Trump’s commission as requested, including the names, addresses, dates of birth and political party affiliations. But the state will not be sharing partial social security numbers as Trump’s commission asked for because that information is not part of Texas’ voter rolls.

“The Secretary of State’s office will provide the Election Integrity Commission with public information and will protect the private information of Texas citizens while working to maintain the security and integrity of our state’s elections system,” Pablos said. “As always, my office will continue to exercise the utmost care whenever sensitive voter information is required to be released by state or federal law.”

Pablos’ comments come as governors in some states have flat out refused a request by the commission this week to hand over data.

[…]

The White House on Friday responded by questioning why states would refuse to hand over the information to the commission.

“I think that’s mostly a political stunt,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in Washington.

Using an executive order, Trump on May 11 created his commission to go after what he has told Republicans was 3 million to 5 million illegal votes cast in the 2016 election — a claim that has not been verifiable.

1. Let’s be very clear that Kris Kobach is an extreme partisan hack whose primary interest is in making it harder/impossible for as many people to vote as he can. He has a long track record of doing this, along with a long track record of being extremely anti-immigrant. Other members of this travesty have similar track records. This is a star chamber whose existence is owed to a giant lie about “illegal” votes. The whole point of this exercise is to purge people off of state voter rolls, just as the Dubya Bush-era Justice Department tried to do, featuring some of the same cast of deplorables as today. There is zero legitimacy to any of this. It is all malevolent.

2. As the Texas Election Law Blog notes, the state of Texas is legally prohibited from supplying confidential information (which includes Social Security numbers and Texas drivers license numbers) to the commission. Which is nice, but it’s hardly a guarantee. For example, as Sondra Haltom reminds us:

You should know that a bill was proposed this past session (HB 3422 by Laubenberg and Fallon) that would have allowed the TX SOS to provide voters’ Social Security numbers to Kobach as part of his Kansas Interstate Voter Crosscheck (read: flawed, illegal voter purge) program. Luckily it died, but not before it got out of the House Elections Committee. Just FYI. Sleep well.

And as Glen Maxey reminds us, it could be even worse:

Two sessions ago, the Republicans passed “Crosscheck” through the Texas legislature. This was a program to send all our voter data to the state of Kansas who ran a program to cross check it to other participating states to find “duplicates”. I fought it vigorously, but it passed. That program is run by Mr. Kobach, Kansas Sec. of State.

Our SOS didn’t implement the program because there was another statute in the Government code that prohibited sending dates of birth and social security and driver’s license numbers to others.

Maxey appears to be referring to SB 795 from 2015. I’m not enough of an expert to tell you the difference between these bills. What I can tell you is that there’s nothing stopping Greg Abbott from adding an item to require compliance to this sham commission to the special session agenda.

3. Remember when Texas leaders would file a lawsuit rather than comply with anything the federal government wanted them to do? Boy, those were the days. Can you even imagine the reaction from Abbott and Patrick and Paxton if the Obama administration or (sigh) a Clinton administration had tried this? Daily Kos, the WaPo, the Trib, the NYT, NPR, and Rick Hasen have more.

Doctors against bathroom bills

Good.

[Last] week, the American Medical Association (AMA), the country’s largest medical organization, took several actions to solidify their defense of transgender people. This included a resolution opposing any policy or legislation — like “bathroom bills” put forth in North Carolina and Texas — that prohibits transgender people from living according to their gender identity throughout society.

During its annual meeting in Chicago [last] week, the AMA House of Delegates approved a resolution favoring “Access to Basic Human Services for Transgender Individuals.” As drafted, the resolution notes that laws that restrict which facilities transgender people can use “place undue harm on the physical and social well-being and safety of transgender individuals.” It also highlights the way that transgender minors “are at particular risk of social, mental, and physical detriment by being forced to disregard their gender identity or to publicly identify as transgender due to these policies.”

Thus, the AMA officially opposes “policies preventing transgender individuals from accessing basic human services and public facilities in line with one’s gender identity, including, but not limited to, the use of restrooms.” The resolution also calls for the creation of additional policies that “promote social equality and safe access to basic human services and public facilities for transgender individuals according to one’s gender identity.”

I’m glad to see it. This is exactly what a responsible, caring establishment organization ought to do. I would be remiss if I did not note that this is not enough. The politicians who are pushing these bills aren’t doing so because they are misinformed or misguided. They’re doing it because they see political advantage in pushing them, and because they do not care at all for the people they hurt by doing so. The proper response to politicians of this type is to vote them out of office. Which brings me to the awkward fact that the Texas Medical Association endorsed Dan Patrick in 2014. Now, the TMA is not the AMA – I googled around and searched their respective websites, and I can’t honestly say if there’s any official relationship between the two organizations. But they do broadly share the same mission, and I have no doubt that many members of the TMA are also members of the AMA, and vice versa. It may not be the AMA’s place to tell the TMA what to do, but if the AMA wants to achieve its goals as stated above, it’s going to need organizations like the TMA to be aligned with them on it, and to take the lead in the states where it is relevant. Words are good, but action is necessary.

Maybe we should be a little more concerned about election security?

Just a thought.

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step — complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day “red phone.” In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia’s role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

The new details, buttressed by a classified National Security Agency document recently disclosed by the Intercept, show the scope of alleged hacking that federal investigators are scrutinizing as they look into whether Trump campaign officials may have colluded in the efforts. But they also paint a worrisome picture for future elections: The newest portrayal of potentially deep vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s patchwork of voting technologies comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress that Moscow isn’t done meddling.

“They’re coming after America,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election. “They will be back.”

[…]

One of the mysteries about the 2016 presidential election is why Russian intelligence, after gaining access to state and local systems, didn’t try to disrupt the vote. One possibility is that the American warning was effective. Another former senior U.S. official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the classified U.S. probe into pre-election hacking, said a more likely explanation is that several months of hacking failed to give the attackers the access they needed to master America’s disparate voting systems spread across more than 7,000 local jurisdictions.

Such operations need not change votes to be effective. In fact, the Obama administration believed that the Russians were possibly preparing to delete voter registration information or slow vote tallying in order to undermine confidence in the election. That effort went far beyond the carefully timed release of private communications by individuals and parties.

One former senior U.S. official expressed concern that the Russians now have three years to build on their knowledge of U.S. voting systems before the next presidential election, and there is every reason to believe they will use what they have learned in future attacks.

To put this another way, you don’t have to hack voting machines to wreak havoc on our elections. Simply undermining confidence in the process is enough. And unfortunately, Republicans like Mitch McConnell were not at all interested in any of this last year, so don’t hold out hope that they will want to take action about it for next time. There’s a lot of work to be done to fix this mess. Daily Kos and Chalie Pierce have more.

Mayors (still) against climate change

Someone’s gotta do it.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump officially announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, citing the deal’s failure “to serve American interests.”

Hours later, governors, mayors, and environmental groups all had a different message: We’ll take it from here.

“Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course,” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said on a press call following Trump’s announcement. “California’s economy and America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris agreement.”

In the wake of the Trump administration’s sudden withdrawal from the international stage, local leaders — especially, though not limited to, those in progressive areas of the country — are recommitting to their work on climate policy. Brown, for instance, will reportedly discuss merging California’s existing carbon market — a cap and trade program started in 2012 — with China when he travels to Asia later this week. Canada has also reportedly been reaching out to U.S. governors to try and coordinate work on climate change.

Brown also joined with Govs. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) to create the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition that will include states committed to meeting emission reduction targets previously submitted to the Paris climate agreement regardless of what action the federal government takes. Together, California, Washington, and New York represent one-fifth of the United States’ GDP — creating an economy larger than most countries that are party to the Paris agreement. The states also account for at least 10 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

“I am proud to stand with other governors as we make sure that the inaction in D.C. is met by an equal force of action from the states,” Inslee said in a press statement announcing the creation of the alliance on Thursday. “Today’s announcement by the president leaves the full responsibility of climate action on states and cities throughout our nation. While the president’s actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up.”

U.S. mayors also voiced their criticism of Trump’s decision, vowing to recommit to local efforts to curb climate change. Cities are responsible for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that even small changes in city-wide policies — retrofitting street lamps with LED bulbs, for instance, or deploying electric vehicles for city-owned cars — can make a big dent in the country’s overall emissions.

“Austin will not stop fighting climate change,” Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, Texas, said in a press statement following Trump’s announcement. “Worldwide, cities will lead in achieving climate treaty goals because so much of what’s required happens at the local level. Regardless of what happens around us, we’re still Austin, Texas.”

Houston is in on this as well; you can see his press statement here. This is nothing new for Houston – in fact, if you go to the Climate Mayors homepage, you’ll see that former Mayor Parker was one of the founders. (I noted it at the time.) It’s good to see, and it’s yet another reminder of the importance of local elections, as I have a much harder time imagining the runnerup in the 2015 Mayor’s race being out front on this.

Rep. Al Green calls for impeachment

He will have company.

Rep. Al Green

Amid multiple Trump-related scandals rocking the Capitol, U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump from the House chamber on Wednesday morning.

“I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America for obstruction of justice,” he said. “I do not do this for political purposes…I do this because I believe in the great ideals this country stands for: liberty and justice for all.

“Our democracy is at risk…This offense has occurred before our very eyes,” he said, describing Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who led an investigation of Trump associates’ ties to Russian intelligence.

“We cannot allow this to go unchecked. The president is not above the law,” he added. “It is time for the American people to weigh in.”

As the story notes, Rep. Green had made similar statements the day before in an interview. I trust you can find all the background and news links you want on this – it’s nigh impossible to escape from at this point. I don’t know what the endpoint of this journey is, nor do I know how long it will take to get there. But I’m pretty sure Rep. Green will have plenty of company along the way.

Cornyn’s colleagues cool to him as FBI Director

Boy, with friends like these

Big John Cornyn

There is a growing obstacle standing in the way of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, becoming the next director of the FBI — his own Republican colleagues.

Led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, a chorus of GOP senators has signaled that they would prefer President Trump to nominate somebody other than the second-ranking ­Republican senator, despite his status as a well-liked and influential figure on Capitol Hill.

Their message: It’s nothing personal. But if Trump were to nominate Cornyn, who has shown interest in the job, it would trigger a raft of consequences that could be detrimental to McConnell and the broader GOP agenda.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, offered a response that was common among Republican senators Monday, praising Cornyn’s qualifications before adding: “I’d hate to lose him.”

“My own selfish thing would be to say, ‘Oh, he’s a terrible person — don’t do it,’ ” Tillis quipped.

Senate Republicans are hoping Trump takes their concerns into consideration as he zeros in on his choice. The president said Monday that his search was “moving rapidly.” McConnell predicted that Trump would make an appointment “in a week or so.”

[…]

Among other concerns, some fear that nominating a top political leader would roil a confirmation process in which Democrats are already emboldened to cry foul over former director James B. Comey’s abrupt firing. Since Trump’s inauguration, Cornyn has been a loyal defender of the president — including on the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, which have been looking at the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

“I told him I thought he’d be a good FBI director under normal circumstances,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in an interview. “But I think the politics of this is just — he gets it. He’d be an outstanding FBI director. But I just, quite frankly, think that last week made it tough.”

Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, said there is a need now for “someone who can lead us in the direction we need to go, and that doesn’t eliminate partisan folks, but there’s no question that the country seems to be — to find more confidence and credibility in someone who’s probably not involved in partisan politics.”

See here and here for the background. Can’t imagine why the Republicans might be a wee bit concerned about the politics of this, but I’m sure they’ll figure out what their story is. In a sense, it doesn’t matter who Trump picks. Left to his own devices, he will either pick a toady or someone who will be forced to tarnish his own reputation in the service of his new lord and master. (And yes, it will be a dude. Donald Trump does not put the ladies into positions of real power.) In addition, whoever Trump picks will and should cause Senate Democrats to shut the place down until he pledges to continue the Russia investigation that Comey started, with the increase in resources that Comey had asked for just before getting canned. Basically, there’s no acceptable candidates that Trump himself might be willing to appoint. (No, Merrick Garland doesn’t count – the only reason he’s being mentioned is one part troll job, and one part to get a vacancy on the DC Court of Appeals. No thanks.)

So anyway, I get where the Republicans are coming from on this, and that’s before factoring into the equation the possibility, no matter how slim, that a Democrat could win the seat in a special election. There’s no upside here. If I were advising someone with a role in this, I’d say just elevate the top deputy director, who is now serving as the acting director, and be done with it. Which Trump won’t do because the guy won’t swear personal loyalty to the toddler king, but that’s their problem. Have fun with it, fellas.

Cornyn on shortlist to replace Comey

Interesting.

Big John Cornyn

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is on the short list to succeed James Comey as FBI director, according to a White House official.

Cornyn is one of about 11 contenders for the post, according to Fox News.

He has strong relationships with members of his conference and would likely sail through confirmation. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2002, Cornyn served as Texas attorney general, a Texas Supreme Court justice and a local judge.

In the immediate aftermath of Comey’s firing, Cornyn did not take the opportunity to lobby for the position.

“I’m happy serving my state and my country,” he told reporters off the Senate floor.

But that comment came Wednesday, which was a lifetime ago during a dramatic week in Washington.

[…]

A Senate vacancy could make for dramatic change in the state’s political pecking order.

Gov. Greg Abbott would be tasked with a short-term appointment, but several months later the state would hold a special election to finish the duration of the term, which ends in 2021.

When Lloyd Bentsen resigned from the U.S. Senate to become Treasury Secretary in 1993, Gov. Ann Richards appointed former U.S. Rep. Bob Krueger, a Democrat, to hold the post until a special election could be held. That was a noisy affair with two dozen candidates — including a couple of sitting members of Congress at the time — that ended with Texas Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison beating Krueger in the special election runoff. She ran successfully for a full term the next year and remained in the U.S. Senate until the end of 2012.

As the story notes, the odds of this happening are quite slim, so anything we say here is highly speculative. But hey, isn’t that what a blog is for? The main thing I would note is the timing of a special election to complete Cornyn’s unexpired term. The special election in 1993 to succeed Lloyd Bentsen took place on May 1, 1993, which was the first uniform election date available after Bentsen resigned and Krueger was appointed. That means a special election to replace Cornyn – again, in the unlikely event this comes to pass – would then be in November of this year, with that person serving through 2020. The good news here is that it means that an elected official who isn’t subject to a resign-to-run law would be able to run for this seat without having to give up the seat they currently hold. I’m sure if we put our heads together, we can think of a sitting member of Congress who might be enticed to jump into such a race.

Two other points to note. One is that, at least according to the story, Abbott is not allowed to appoint himself. It’s not clear to me why that is so – the story references “precedent based in common law, not statute”, so I presume there was a lawsuit or maybe an AG opinion in there somewhere. I know I recall people urging Ann Richards to appoint herself in 1993, but it may be the case that she was not allowed to due to the same precedent. Someone with a more extensive understanding of Texas history will need to clarify here. Point two is that if Abbott names a sitting Republican officeholder, then there would of course be a special election to replace that person, either (most likely) this November for a member of Congress or next year for a statewide official. And yes, Abbott could appoint Dan Patrick, perhaps to take him out of any possible challenge to himself in 2018. Keep that in mind if your first instinct is to cheer a possible Cornyn departure. Like I said, all highly speculative, so have fun batting this around but don’t take any of it too seriously just yet.

NCAA rewards North Carolina for its weaksauce HB2 repeal

So this happened.

Discrimination won the championship this year.

The NCAA announced Tuesday morning that it completely fell for the bait-and-switch concocted by Republican leadership in North Carolina’s legislature and Gov. Roy Cooper (D). Last week, they passed a compromise bill that repealed HB2, the state’s infamous anti-LGBT law, and replaced it with HB142, which consists of most of the same provisions that HB2 had.

In its statement, the NCAA acknowledged that “this new law is far from perfect” — but apparently, the organization’s standard is so low for standing by its LGBT students, staff, and fans that it’s still rewarding North Carolina by reopening the state for consideration in hosting championship events.

“We recognize the quality championships hosted by the people of North Carolina in years before HB2,” the NCAA wrote. “And this new law restores the state to that legal landscape: a landscape similar to other jurisdictions presently hosting NCAA championships.”

This is blatantly untrue. Only two other states, Arkansas and Tennessee, ban municipalities from passing LGBT nondiscrimination protections. No other state has North Carolina’s new prohibition on any subdivision of government creating policies assuring transgender people have access to restrooms.

“This new law has minimally achieved a situation where we believe NCAA championships may be conducted in a nondiscriminatory environment,” the organization wrote. “Outside of bathroom facilities, the new law allows our campuses to maintain their own policies against discrimination, including protecting LGBTQ rights, and allows cities’ existing nondiscrimination ordinances, including LBGTQ protections, to remain effective.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if trans people can’t be guaranteed access to bathrooms — or that the state law imposing that burden continues to unfairly stigmatize transgender people as some kind of threat to safety — because everything else is apparently good enough for the NCAA to return.

Unlike the NCAA, many of the cities that punished North Carolina for its discriminatory legislation do not see the new law as a viable solution. The mayors and city councils of Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Cincinnati, and Salt Lake City have all reiterated that they still ban publicly-funded travel to the state.

See here for the background. It’s discouraging, but I suppose it’s par for the course for the NCAA. That said, my fear all along has been that just as North Carolina did the barest minimum to win back the NCAA, the SB6 zealots will tweak things enough around the edges to get the business lobby to back off. That may not happen with the full bill, but a scaled down version of it may happen with one of the zillions of budget amendments or other bills that may serve as a vehicle for some form of SB6.

And there are still concerns about Texas even as SB6 sits in the House.

San Antonio officials and other opponents of similar legislation in Texas have often cited the NCAA move as a cautionary tale. They worry the organization will move its 2018 Final Four championship games out of San Antonio if the proposal is signed into law, taking with it an estimated $135 million in local spending on restaurants, hotels and attractions.

Michael Sawaya, San Antonio’s director of Convention & Sports Facilities, said city officials continue to fight the bill, which “will create the perception that Texas is not an open and hospitable place to all residents, visitors and those who do business here.”

The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday regarding whether it would move the Final Four from San Antonio if the Texas bill is adopted.

So far, the NCAA hasn’t said publicly whether it would pull the San Antonio championship — which is expected to draw about 70,000 ticket-holding attendees — if the Texas bill passes.

The local Final Four organizing committee is working “full steam ahead” to secure thousands of volunteers and staff coordinating committees that will make decisions regarding security, transportation and marketing among other areas surrounding the event within the next 12 months, said Jenny Carnes, San Antonio Sports associate executive director.

“There have been no signs or indications of the NCAA backing off of what would be our normal timeline,” Carnes said.

NCAA’s North Carolina decision is a “positive” development but not a guarantee the organization won’t pull the Final Four championship from the city, said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, the former city Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But, Visit San Antonio is currently booking fewer conventions and meetings because groups are waiting to see whether Texas Senate Bill 6 passes before they finalize plans, Matej said.

Two organizations have told Visit San Antonio they will not consider the Alamo City to host future conventions because of the bill, according to the organization. Nine other organizations are waiting to see whether the bill will pass before deciding whether to return to San Antonio, she said.

San Antonio would lose an estimated $40 million in convention and tourism spending if all 11 organizations decide to move their events.

In total, tourism officials in the state’s four largest cities — San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston — say they stand to lose a combined $407 million within the next few years just on the conventions and events that have already threatened to take their business elsewhere if Senate Bill 6 passes.

“Am I completely relieved and think we don’t still have to be communicating to our lawmakers?” Matej said. “No, I think we need to continue to explain and really impress upon our lawmakers it could have a negative economic impact for our community and around the state.”

It’s already had a big negative effect on our reputation. So far TAB hasn’t changed its tune on SB6, and I’m not aware of any other entity caving on HB2 as the NCAA has, so perhaps the benefit they got from tweaking HB2 will be limited to that. But this is a reminder that as nice as it is to have the business lobby on our side for this, the problem with SB6 is and always will be its capacity to hurt people. That will be the case no matter what the economics of it are. Deadspin and Slate have more.

Tough times for Presidential heads

This makes me sad.

As polarized politics continue to rage in the Beltway, rural Virginia still has a place where Democrats, Republicans — and some Whigs — stand shoulder to shoulder.

The busts of the first 43 U.S. presidents, each standing at least 15 feet tall and weighing nearly 10 tons, are huddled on the property of Howard Hankins, a local developer who saved them from destruction.

“They all listen to me,” Hankins said of the past commanders-in-chief.

The concrete busts are the remnants of the now-defunct Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Virginia. The 10-acre, $10 million open-air museum, citing a lack of interest from visitors, closed in 2010.

When the park opened in 2004, it was apparently too hidden from passersby, partially obscured by a Days Inn hotel. It appeared the park’s designers failed to consider a vital real estate mantra: location, location, location.

Seeing value in the presidential busts, Hankins said he stepped in and paid about $50,000 to move them to his property 10 miles away.

“The eyes look like they’re staring at you, just gazing at you. It’s incredible how big they are and lifelike,” he said.

First, Hankins had to crack the back of the presidents’ hollow heads to attach a chain that linked the steel frames inside to a crane. Then, each bust was jostled loose from their spot in the park.

Originally, the busts were assembled from two pieces, welded at the middle of their necks. This meant many of the busts suffered neck breaks during the move, as the head started to separate from the shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln’s head suffered the worst damage. The chain attached to it snapped, Hankins said, and even though tires were laid out to cushion any impact, Lincoln was dropped on the back of his head.

The hole in Lincoln’s head is not meant as an allusion.

In all, Hankins said moving the busts to his 600-acre farm required several days of work.

Now, all 43 presidential busts reside on Hankin’s property in various states of ruin. The once-pristine, white paint coatings have lost out to the elements, cracked and ripped off from wind, sun exposure and rain.

For those of us who are fans of David Adickes’ work, as you know I am, the pictures in that story are especially heartbreaking. As noted, these busts were shipped out to Williamsburg back in 2004, with a second set going to a Presidential park near Mount Rushmore and a third set heading to Pearland. Far as I know, those two sets are doing all right, though maybe we ought to do a wellness check on them. The good news here is that the Virginia heads ought to be fixable, and the guy who bought them cares for them and is trying to do right by them. Best of luck to you, Howard Hankins. Many thanks to Linkmeister for sending me this story.

Deportation nation

Appalling.

The Trump administration on Tuesday moved one step closer to implementing the president’s plans to aggressively rid the country of undocumented immigrants and expand local police-based enforcement of border security operations.

In a fact sheet outlining the efforts, the Department of Homeland Security said that though their top priority is finding and removing undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, millions more may also be subject to immediate removal.

“With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States,” the fact sheet explains. “The guidance makes clear, however, that ICE should prioritize several categories of removable aliens who have committed crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense.”

The memo did not include instructions to halt the 2012 executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has allowed about 750,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to live and work in the country legally.

The guidelines also state that the Department of Homeland Security has authority to expedite the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been in the country illegally for at least two years, a departure from the Obama administration’s approach of concentrating mainly on newly arriving immigrants.

“To date, expedited removal has been exercised only for aliens encountered within 100 air miles of the border and 14 days of entry, and aliens who arrived in the United States by sea other than at a port of entry,” the agency states.

The action also seeks to expand a police-based immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), which allows local and state officers to perform immigration duties if they undergo the requisite training. The program fell out of favor under the Obama administration after Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in 2012 that it wouldn’t renew contracts that were in place at the time.

“Empowering state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law is critical to an effective enforcement strategy, and CBP and ICE will work with interested and eligible jurisdictions,” the memo reads.

This is going to be a humanitarian catastrophe. It’s going to be devastating for a lot of industries – agriculture, construction, hospitality – all of which will be a drag on Texas’ economy. It will do further damage to our already dented international reputation. And it won’t do a damn thing to make us safer. I wonder what Jeff Sessions will do when churches start offering sanctuary to people who are being targeted. Oh, and it will be a big unfunded mandate on cities and counties, in the same way that the “sanctuary cities” bill in the State Senate will be, if local cops are being required to enforce immigration law. This is going to be very, very ugly. Political Animal, Daily Kos, the Current, and ThinkProgress have more.

The burden that keeps on depriving

North Carolina’s bathroom law, y’all.

The North Carolina Sports Association, which represents 27 counties across North Carolina that recruit and promote major sporting events, sent a letter to the state’s House of Representatives and General Assembly on Monday urging an immediate repeal of the controversial House Bill 2. The law, known as the bathroom bill, led to the removal of all the NCAA’s championship events in 2017, costing the state millions in combination with the NBA’s decision to remove this month’s All-Star game out of Charlotte.

The law prevents cities and counties from passing protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And public schools must require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.

The letter, written by Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance executive director Scott Dupree, noted the “window to act is closing rapidly” and said that North Carolina is “on the brink of losing all NCAA Championship events for six consecutive years.”

That time frame, which would include 2017-18 and then stretches from 2018-2022, most notably includes NCAA tournament events that could potentially be held in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte. The letter cites 133 bids submitted to the NCAA by North Carolina cities, colleges and universities and estimated $250 million in economic impact on the state.

[…]

The NCAA’s championship bid review and evaluation process is underway and the letter stated that the NCAA said North Carolina will be removed from consideration because of HB2 based on the organization’s inclusion initiative.

Now obviously, the NCAA wasn’t going to give 133 championship events to North Carolina. Other states bid for those events as well, and the vast majority of them will wind up going someplace else no matter what. But “the vast majority of them” is not the same as “all of them”, which is surely what will happen if HB2 does not get repealed. The NCAA has already backed its words up with actions, so we know how this movie ends if North Carolina fails to act, no matter what Dan Patrick thinks. This is a very tiny piece of our future if SB6 passes. Don’t say we didn’t see it coming. Deadspin has more.

Look for the helpers

They’re at the airports now.

Luis Ruiz, an immigration attorney with his own practice, set up shop early Sunday at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

He’d seen news of attorneys around the country flocking to airports to help people detained under the terms of the executive order President Donald Trump issued Friday, and he figured duty called. So he arrived at IAH around 9 a.m., the first attorney of what would become a sizable legal operation, and set off searching for clients to counsel pro bono.

“It’s been escalating,” he said Sunday night. “People just started showing up.”

By the evening, they ran an impromptu law office at the tables of a Starbucks amid deafening chants of hundreds of protesters in the arrivals area of the international terminal. More than 30 Houston lawyers specializing in immigration, personal injury, consumer protection, environment, civil law and more, pecked away on keyboards and interviewed family members of those who’d been detained inside the terminal.

[…]

The lawyers gathered at Starbucks fanned out in search of waiting worried people who might be relatives of those detained. They offered their services and helped put them in touch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for answers on the status of their loved ones. In isolated cases, lawyers said they were willing to electronically file an emergency habeas petition to a federal court to ask a judge to immediately stop a detention.

Aside from that, however, they acknowledged they have few effective options.

“The problem is there is no right to counsel. We don’t have ability to access potential clients,” [Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Houston Law Center] said.

People who couldn’t help in that fashion gathered elsewhere.

Hundreds of chanting anti-Trump protesters swarmed George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday, packing Terminal E to capacity until police barred entry to non-ticket holders. Dozens of pro-bono lawyers set up camp at a nearby Starbucks to help passengers who had gotten detained.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community,” said Arsalan Safiuallah, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who attended the IAH protest. “I’m upset because I don’t think this is constitutional.”

Yehiya Aljuboory, a 29-year-old Iraqi man detained en route to Houston after traveling abroad, was held at IAH for nearly four hours Sunday. “Is it a crime to travel to visit your family?” asked his worried friend, 28-year-old Mohammed Jalil. “Only because he is Muslim.”

Earlier in the day, roughly 1,000 people gathered in downtown, just steps away from Super Bowl festivities, to make their voices heard. The divisive order resonated deeply in Houston, where more than 20 percent of people were foreign-born in 2013, according to nonpartisan think tank the Migration Policy Institute.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city as galvanized as this,” said Houston resident Bev Caplan, 39, who protested at Discovery Green.

A small reminder of who is being hurt by the actions of our deranged “leader”:

A woman traveling to Indiana to care for her cancer-stricken mother, a family physician who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, and a Minneapolis woman about to become a U.S. citizen were among those caught in the net cast by President Donald Trump when he banned travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.

We should heed the words of former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen.

To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

[…]

There is in this week’s events the foretaste of things to come. We have yet to see what happens when Trump tries to use the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy his opponents. He thinks he has succeeded in bullying companies, and he has no compunction about bullying individuals, including those with infinitely less power than himself. His advisers are already calling for journalists critical of the administration to be fired: Expect more efforts at personal retribution. He has demonstrated that he intends to govern by executive orders that will replace the laws passed by the people’s representatives.

In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There are things we can do. Show up and protest if you have the capability. Offer your professional services if they are relevant – see this handy resource from the Houston Bar Association if you’re an attorney. Donate money to groups like the ACLU and the International Rescue Committee; there are other good options as well. Call John Cornyn and Ted Cruz at one of their local offices and tell them what you think. (If you can get through – it was nothing but busy signals for me today, and all the postings I see on Facebook say it’s either that or full voicemail boxes. Try anyway, you never know.) Add Mike McCaul to that list, too, especially if you live in CD10. Do something while you still can. Texas Monthly, Political Animal, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi

This is who the now-injuncted executive order suspending refugee resettlement and immigration visas from certain countries was supposed to “protect” us from.

The lawyers said that one of the Iraqis detained at Kennedy Airport, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, had worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for 10 years. The other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was coming to the United States to join his wife, who had worked for a U.S. contractor, and young son, the lawyers said. They said both men were detained at the airport Friday night after arriving on separate flights.

[…]

In the arrivals hall at Terminal 4 of Kennedy Airport, Doss and two other lawyers fought fatigue as they tried to learn the status of their clients on the other side of the security perimeter.

“We’ve never had an issue once one of our clients was at a port of entry in the United States,” Doss said. “To see people being detained indefinitely in the country that’s supposed to welcome them is a total shock.”

“These are people with valid visas and legitimate refugee claims who have already been determined by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to be admissible and to be allowed to enter the U.S. and now are being unlawfully detained,” Doss said.

[…]

According to the filing, Hameed Khalid Darweesh was granted a special immigrant visa on Jan. 20, the same day as Trump’s inauguration. He worked with the United States in Iraq in a variety of jobs — as an interpreter, engineer and contractor — over the course of roughly a decade.

Darweesh worked as an interpreter for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad and Mosul starting shortly after the invasion of Iraq on April 1, 2003. The filing said that he was directly targeted twice for working with the U.S. military.

A husband and father of three, he arrived at Kennedy Airport Friday evening with his family. Darweesh’s wife and children made it through passport control and customs, but agents of Customs and Border Protection stopped and detained him.

Alshawi was supposed to be reunited with his wife, who has been living in Texas. The wife, who asked to be identified by her first initial of D. out of concern for her and her family’s safety, wiped away tears as she sat on a couch in her sister’s house early Saturday, in a Houston suburb.

The woman, a 32-year-old who was born in Iraq, met her husband while both were students at a Baghdad college. The couple has one child — a 7-year-old son who is in first grade. The boy was asleep in the house at 3 a.m. Eastern time Saturday, oblivious to the fact that his father was in the United States, but under detention and the possible threat of return to Iraq.

Relatives crowded the living room in their pajamas and slippers, making and receiving phone calls to and from other relatives and the refugee’s lawyers. At times, D. was so emotional she had trouble speaking about her husband’s predicament.

She pulled out her cellphone and flipped through her pictures while seated on the couch. She wanted to show a reporter a picture she took of her son’s letter to Santa Claus. In November, at a Macy’s Santa-letter display at a nearby mall, the boy wrote out his wish: “Dear Santa: Can you bring my Dad from Sweden pls.” He has not seen his father in three years.

“I’m really breaking down, because I don’t know what to do,” she said. “It’s not fair.”

She and her relatives had not told her son that his father was finally coming to Houston and that his wish to Santa was about to come true. “It was a surprise for him,” she said.

Thankfully, there is a good ending to this particular story.

An Iraqi refugee bound for Houston was released on Saturday night after being detained for 22 hours at JFK Airport. He was one of the first people prevented from entering the U.S. under President Donald Trump’s executive orders restricting immigration and is central to a lawsuit challenging the order.

A temporary stay was granted by a federal judge in the case late Saturday that allows detainees with visas at airports to stay in the country temporarily.

Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi was on his way to live with his wife and 7-year-old son, who had previously come to Houston as refugees. “I’m very happy,” he told a small group of reporters at the Terminal 4 arrivals hall through an interpreter. He wore a black jacket and gray shirt and had a full face of stubble. “I’m very tired, but I’m very happy,” he said.

[…]

Alshawi was one of two Iraqi refugees named as plaintiffs in an ACLU lawsuit on Saturday morning against the Trump administration, alleging that the executive orders violated the Fifth Amendment and the Immigration and Nationality Act. The other plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army, was released from JFK after 17 hours of detention and an intervention from two members of Congress.

The ACLU lawyer handling the case, Andre Segura, said he hadn’t been allowed to meet with Alshawi at all before his release. It’s not clear exactly who made the decision to let Alshawi go free— Segura said about 30 minutes before Alshawi was released, a Customs and Border Protection official told him the order had come “from the top.”

Alshawi is staying in New York Saturday and flying to Houston to meet his family Sunday. “I’m going to hug them for a very long time,” he said.

All this happened because of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and a swift ruling by a judge. That any of this happened at all is a national disgrace, though sadly not a surprise. We can argue the politics and legalities of this all we want, but I’m going to close with this:

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

“The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Were you a sheep or a goat in this story?

California is the new Texas

Or will be, as far as litigating against the federal government goes.

Xavier Becerra

Xavier Becerra

Gov. Jerry Brown has tabbed Rep. Xavier Becerra to serve as California’s interim attorney general, selecting the Los Angeles Democrat to fill a vacancy opened by the imminent departure of outgoing Attorney General Kamala Harris to the U.S. Senate.

Assuming he wins confirmation by the Legislature – a strong possibility, given the 12-term Democrat’s role as a mainstay of Democratic and Los Angeles politics – Becerra would serve as California’s top law enforcement official through 2018, with an opportunity to serve for another eight years if he runs for the office. He would be California’s first Latino attorney general.

The election of Donald Trump as president has alarmed California Democrats and thrown into question the state’s liberal stances on issues like climate change and immigration. Brown’s choice of a liberal stalwart like Becerra reaffirmed the state’s future role as a pocket of resistance.

“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant – in the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said in an emailed statement. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”

Referring to himself as “the son of immigrants” who is motivated to “fight for working families like the one I grew up in,” Becerra said in a statement that he had accepted Brown’s offer and summarized his liberal bona fides.

“I have been part of some of the greatest debates confronting our nation, from opposing the Iraq War, to fighting to help Americans recover from the Great Recession, to launching the bipartisan immigration talks and helping write our nation’s health security law,” Becerra said, adding that “California right now is ahead of the country when it comes to clean energy, common sense treatment of immigrants, real health security and so much more.”

[…]

In a conference call with reporters, Becerra said he would be “vigorous in defense of what we’ve done” to expand clean energy, protect parts of the federal health care law that Republicans seek to dismantle and preserve efforts toward “criminal justice reform” that seek to protect “young men of color.”

“We have policies in place that probably won’t pass at the federal level for another five, 10, 15 years,” Becerra said. “If you want to take on a forward-leaning state that is prepared to defend its rights and interests, then come at us.”

And in the face of Trump’s vow to deport millions of immigrants with criminal records, Becerra appeared to back California’s efforts to prevent removal of unauthorized immigrants who pose no threat to public safety.

“No one who goes to a grocery store to shop should believe the state of California is going to do anything to keep them from going home to see their kids if they’re just being regular, hardworking individuals,” Becerra said. “You’re talking to the son of immigrants, and I’m going to do everything I can to give that child of immigrant parents every chance I had.”

Hire some good litigators, that’s my advice. I’ve said before, I don’t care for having district court judges provide another veto on the federal government. It just doesn’t strike me as a good way to run a government. That said, if this is how the game is played these days, I see no reason to unilaterally disarm. I look forward to the howls of protest from the likes of Ted Cruz when state or even local action overrules a federal mandate. I can’t wait to hear what the principle is for that. Daily Kos has more.

From the “Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” department

People are signing up for health insurance plans while they still can.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

For years the backers of the Affordable Care Act have fretted over how best to stimulate insurance enrollment on the exchanges so the law could work as designed. They might have finally found a way from the unlikeliest of sources: the election of Donald Trump as president.

During the campaign, Trump and Republicans in Congress vowed to immediately “repeal and replace” the health care law known as Obamacare, calling it a failure. Yet now that dismantlement is possible and maybe even likely, people across Houston and the nation are rushing to lock in coverage for next year.

A record 100,000 Americans signed up the day after the election and one company offering plans in Houston said business continues to be “brisk.” The enrollments continued Monday at places like the Ahmed and Roshan Virani Children’s Clinic in west Houston.

“He wants to get rid of it, so that’s why I’m here,” Dishae Wimbush, a self-employed mother of three young sons, said just after 9 a.m.

[…]

Enrollment for 2017 began Nov. 1, a week before the election. It will end Jan. 31, 11 days after Trump is inaugurated. At times he has promised to completely repeal the ACA on his first day in office, although most experts say that is unlikely and probably not even possible.

Advocates and even some critics of the Affordable Care Act are urging people to go ahead and sign up for a plan for next year despite the fiery campaign rhetoric.

“It is virtually certain that people who sign up now will remain insured through the end of 2017,” said Dr. J. Mario Molina, president and CEO of California-based Molina Healthcare, a Fortune 500 company that has had a strong presence on the exchanges. His is one of three insurance carriers offering plans on the exchange in Houston and said signups have been “brisk” since Nov. 9.

On Monday he said he was sympathetic to the nervousness among those wanting policies. About 11 million people currently get their coverage through the exchange.

“They have good reason to be worried,” Molina said, noting the irony that it took the election of someone who wants to kill the law to get people to sign up for it.

After reporting that 100,000 people signed up for a plan under the ACA the day after the election, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell tweeted, “Best day yet.”

At the same time, a Facebook group called “Saving Affordable Health Insurance” bubbled up out of another group populated with self-employed writers and editors. The national invitation-only group was created by one woman on Thursday night. By Monday it had more than 1,800 members.

Part of the anxiety is being fueled by the fact no one knows what the replacement piece of repeal and replace will look like, with some wanting a quick and complete gutting while others preferring a slower, piecemeal approach.

“I’m not sure they know,” Molina said about Trump and Congress.

In recent days Trump has softened his stance on the ACA and said he favors keeping certain parts, such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26 and prohibiting insurers from denying anyone for a pre-existing condition.

The latter could prove the thorniest since he and others have also vowed to discard the individual mandate, which forces nearly all to buy health coverage. The requirement for universal coverage was baked into the law to expand the risk pool and make it possible to cover people no matter their health. It may be difficult to achieve one without the other.

Sure is gonna suck when millions of people lose their insurance, isn’t it? On the bright side, maybe Texas won’t lead the nation in the percentage of uninsured people once Obamacare has been repealed. Hey, you have to find your silver linings where you can. Political Animal has more.

What do our elected officials think about the plan to kill off Medicare?

Hey, remember when this was a major campaign issue?

With all the other things we’ve discussed so far today, I wanted to return to one critical one. It’s not about mights or maybes or fears of what’s to come. It’s about what’s coming just after President-Elect Trump’s inauguration. Paul Ryan has been pushing to phase out Medicare and replace it with private insurance for several years. But now it’s real with unified Republican government. He just said he will try to rush it through early next year while repealing Obamacare.

[…]

I’ve heard a few people say that it’s not 100% clear here that Ryan is calling for Medicare Phase Out. It is 100% clear. Ryan has a standard, openly enunciated position in favor of Medicare Phase Out. It’s on his website. It’s explained explicitly right there.

Ryan says current beneficiaries will be allowed to keep their Medicare. Says. But after the cord is cut between current and future beneficiaries, everything is fair game. For those entering the system, Ryan proposes phasing out Medicare and replacing it private insurance with subsidies to help seniors afford the private insurance. That is unquestionably what it means because that is what Ryan says. So if you’re nearing retirement and looking forward to going on Medicare, good luck. You’re going to get private insurance but you’ll get some subsidies from the government to pay the bill.

Through all the gobbledygook and bamboozlement, you’ll find this line on Ryan’s page: “For younger workers, when they become eligible, Medicare will provide a premium-support payment and a list of guaranteed coverage options – including a traditional fee-for-service option – from which recipients can choose a plan that best suits their needs.”

This means, if you haven’t gone on Medicare yet, when you do, you won’t get Medicare. You’ll get a “premium-support payment” – i.e., a check that will allow you to buy insurance from private insurers. The “support” in the phrase means it won’t cover the whole amount. And in any case, rather than Medicare you’ll have insurance from an insurance company, which everybody should love because haven’t you heard from your parents and grandparents how bummed they were when they had to give up their private insurance for Medicare?

You’ll hear lots of people calling this “reform” and other catchwords. But Medicare is a single payer, universal health care system. Replacing it with private insurance means getting rid of it. Even calling it “privatization” masks what is really afoot.

Every Democrat should be focused and talking about it volubly both as a matter of policy and politics. There isn’t much time.

Yeah, I don’t remember that being a campaign issue, either. Maybe it was discussed in one of those emails that got deleted. But there it is, whether anyone realized it or not. If you need a bit of brush-up on what that means, see here and here.

Now then. The fact that this went basically undiscussed for the last year is unfortunate, but it’s where we are. There’s no time like the present to bring it out from under a rock and shine a little light on it. TPM is on that.

DC journalists tend to think this kind of story evolves in DC. And there’s plenty to follow in Washington. But the real action happens in the states and congressional districts where members of Congress have to sell getting rid of Medicare to their constituents. And that is going to come out in local media, constituent letters, public appearances and so forth. So let us know what you are seeing where you live. In the local paper, on TV, something you hear directly from a representative or senator. Find out where your representative or senator stands on this issue. We want to know.

I’d like to know, too. I live in CD18, and I feel as close to certain as it is possible to be that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee will not vote to “reform” Medicare. But there are 35 other members of Congress in Texas, most of them Republican. It sure would be nice to know what they think about this, and that includes the Democrats, who may claim to be as in the dark as some Republicans are now claiming to be. So why not give your member of Congress a call and ask them if they support the Ryan plan to privatize Medicare. You might point out to the Republican members that they have voted for it in the past. You might also point out that Trump himself has flipflopped on the issue and now supports it himself. Whatever answer you get, please let me know – kuff@offthekuff.com is the email address. Expect denial, ignorance, and sheer bullshit, but any answer you get is more information than we had before.

SCOTUS blocks order on transgender bathroom access for students

For now.

RedEquality

The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily blocked a court order that had allowed a transgender boy to use the boys’ bathroom in a Virginia high school.

The vote was 5 to 3, with Justice Stephen G. Breyer joining the court’s more conservative members “as a courtesy.” He said that this would preserve the status quo until the court decided whether to hear the case. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

The court’s order has no effect on any other case.

[…]

The case in the Supreme Court concerns Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as a male and will soon start his senior year at Gloucester High School in southeastern Virginia. For a time, school administrators allowed Mr. Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom, but the local school board adopted a policy that required students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms for their “corresponding biological genders.” The board added that “students with gender identity issues” would be allowed to use private bathrooms.

Mr. Grimm sued, and a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled the policy unlawful. A trial judge then ordered school officials to let Mr. Grimm use the boys’ bathroom.

The school board has said that it will file a petition in late August asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal. In the meantime, the board submitted an emergency application that asked the justices to let school officials continue to bar Mr. Grimm from the boys’ bathroom.

See here for some background. Think Progress analyzes what this means.

Breyer, in other words, believed that this stay should be denied. Yet he provided the key vote to grant it, nonetheless, as a “courtesy” to his conservative colleagues. Such courtesy votes are an ordinary practice in death penalty cases, when four justices wish to hear a case but a fifth vote is necessary to stay the execution — lest the inmate be executed before their case receives full review. But Justice Breyer’s decision to grant such a “courtesy” in a case such as this one is more unusual.

Unlike in death penalty cases, no one will die and the case will not become moot simply because a trans student is granted a measure of civil rights.

In any event, Breyer’s decision to grant the stay allows the school district to continue its policy at least until the Supreme Court returns to work at the end of September. The content of his concurring opinion, however, suggests that Breyer will ultimately join the Court’s three women in affirming the Fourth Circuit’s decision, should the Court decide to hear this case.

Beyond the temporary implications of Breyer’s vote, however, there are also two reasons why liberals should be concerned about the order in this case. The first is that Breyer’s willingness to grant a courtesy stay in this case hints that he may be willing to do so in others, most notably in voting rights cases where supporters of the right to vote are counting on the fact that conservatives no longer enjoy a majority on the Supreme Court to protect lower court decisions halting voter suppression laws.

Additionally, it is worth noting that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who typically favors gay rights, joined his fellow conservatives in voting against this trans student. That suggests that Kennedy’s sympathy for victims of anti-gay discrimination does not extend to victims of anti-trans discrimination.

In this case, the Court is in recess, and the school board’s petition for review is not due until August 29. If they then decline to take up the case, the lower court’s ruling is restored, and if they do take it up it will remain on hold until they rule on the merits. We’ll know soon enough. SCOTUSBlog and Daily Kos have more.

Friday was a very good day for voting rights

In North Carolina:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory is nothing short of a beat down. The court does not simply tear apart major provisions of the law, it catches state lawmakers at the center of a conspiracy to disenfranchise black voters, and it calls them out onto the carpet for it. By the time the court is done scraping the bloody mass of what was once North Carolina’s attempts to justify this law off the floor, the state’s leadership has been thoroughly shamed.

The court’s opinion — primarily written by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, a Clinton appointee — is rooted in an important understanding of how race and partisanship interact in states like North Carolina with large minority populations.

[…]

As Judge Motz lays out the facts of this case, it’s hard not to come away with the conclusion that North Carolina’s lawmakers wanted to get caught engaging in unlawfully racial discrimination. Just one day after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, effectively eliminating federal supervision that could have halted this voter suppression law before it ever took effect, “a leader of the party that newly dominated the legislature (and the party that rarely enjoyed African American support) announced an intention to enact what he characterized as an ‘omnibus’ election law.”

Before enacting that law, moreover, “the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.” After receiving that data, “the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.” Indeed, this data appears to have guided the state’s lawmakers in drafting a law that would have maximal impact on African-Americans.

The law did not simply contain a voter ID provision. Rather “the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans” while simultaneously retaining “only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.” (Although, in fairness, this provision was later watered down.)

The legislature’s data on racial voting patterns showed that “African Americans disproportionately used the first seven days of early voting,” and so “the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting.” The data showed that “African American voters disproportionately used [same-day registration] when it was available,” and so same-day registration was cut as well. The law also eliminated out-of-precinct voting, which “required the Board of Elections in each county to count the provisional ballot of an Election Day voter who appeared at the wrong precinct, but in the correct county, for all of the ballot items for which the voter was eligible to vote.” African-Americans, meanwhile, were especially likely to take advantage of this practice.

Yet for all these changes, the lawmakers exempted absentee voting from the law’s new voter ID restriction, and it did so after discovering “that African Americans did not disproportionately use absentee voting; whites did.” Thus, as Motz summarizes the facts of the case, “the General Assembly enacted legislation restricting all — and only — practices disproportionately used by African Americans.”

Wonkblog adds on:

Most strikingly, the judges point to a “smoking gun” in North Carolina’s justification for the law, proving discriminatory intent. The state argued in court that “counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic,” and said it did away with Sunday voting as a result.

“Thus, in what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race — specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise,” the judges write in their decision.

This is about as clear-cut an indictment of the discriminatory underpinnings of voter-ID laws as you’ll find anywhere. Studies have already shown a significant link between support for voter ID and racial discrimination, among both lawmakers and white voters in general.

“Faced with this record,” the federal court concludes, “we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”

Ari Berman and Rick Hasen have their own analyses. North Carolina can ask for an en banc review, where the makeup of the full Fourth Circuit is unlikely to favor them, and they can appeal to SCOTUS, where they are unlikely to get five votes. This ruling opens the door to North Carolina being put back under federal oversight – that is, preclearance – for changes to election laws there, but it did not require it. That may yet come, as may also happen with Texas once the district court here reviews the Fifth Circuit voter ID ruling. (On that note, the hearing on how to mitigate Texas’ voter ID law is now set for August 10.) For now, this pernicious law, which was at least as bad as Texas’, has been thrown out. That would be reason enough to celebrate, but we also got good rulings in Wisconsin and Kansas, too. It’s clear to me that what we need is a constitutional amendment affirming that anyone who is eighteen, a citizen, and not currently under a felony conviction, has the right to vote and that any law that abridges that right is illegal. There are a lot of things on the progressive to-do list right now, but that one needs to be up there.