The Trump administration deregulation efforts will raise incomes by about $3,100 per household over the next five to 10 years, and sharply reduce prices for consumers, according to a report released Friday by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
“The deregulatory efforts of the Trump administration have also removed mandates from employers, especially smaller businesses, and have removed burdens that would have eliminated many small bank lenders from the marketplace,” Casey Mulligan, the chief economist for the Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters Friday. “These deregulatory actions are raising real incomes by increasing competition, productivity, and wages.”
The Council of Economic Advisers report is titled “The Economic Effects of Federal Deregulation Since January 2017: An Interim Report.”
The report takes a sampling of 20 major deregulatory efforts, which it projects alone will save consumers and businesses about $220 billion annually, and increase after-inflation incomes by 1.3%.
“Many of the most notable deregulatory efforts in American history, such as the deregulation of airlines and trucking that began during the Carter administration, did not have such large aggregate effects,” the Council of Economic Advisers report says.
The aggressive deregulation also cuts consumer prices for prescription drugs, health insurance, and telecommunications, removes mandates from employers, and eliminates rules keeping small lenders from the marketplace, the report says.
The report talks about the hidden costs of regulations.
“The ongoing introduction of costly regulations had previously been subtracting an additional 0.2 percent per year from real incomes, thereby giving the false impression that the American economy was fundamentally incapable of anything better than slow growth,” the Council of Economic Advisers report says. “Now, new regulations are budgeted and kept to a minimum.”
The report says prescription drug prices have long outpaced inflation, but in the last two years, price hikes fell by more than 11%, and even below inflation. It says that in 2018, prescription prices, “even declined in nominal terms over the calendar year for the first time since 1972.”
“We estimate that the results of these actions will save consumers almost 10 percent on retail prescription drugs, which results in an increase of $32 billion per year in the purchasing power of the incomes of Americans (including both consumers and producers),” the report says.
James Gattuso, senior fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation, noted the depth of the Council of Economic Advisers report.
“They really dug in and looked at rules that really had an impact. This showed a big impact,” Gattuso told The Daily Signal. “The administration should not lose momentum. They are nowhere near finished. This is not mission accomplished. There are still a lot of regulations out there.”
When Trump came in, he worked with the Republican Congress through the Congressional Review Act to sign 16 bills deregulating education, mining, and retirement accounts. The Council of Economic Advisers projects this will mean an increase in real incomes of $40 billion for the country.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or tax reform, and the banking bill also had a big impact, Mulligan said.
“Consumers are also saving money on internet access: about $40 per subscriber thanks to the deregulatory actions of Congress and President Trump,” Mulligan said. “Considering that most households have multiple internet subscriptions, when applied to both wired and wireless, $40 per subscription becomes $15 billion per year in the aggregate.”
The post Trump Deregulation Will Boost Household Income by $3,100, Report Finds appeared first on The Daily Signal.
American policymakers have long talked about reorienting U.S. policy toward Africa to “trade, not aid.” Yet, despite the rhetoric, the U.S.’ Africa policy has remained stuck in an aid-focused rut for decades.
However, there was another encouraging sign last week that the Trump administration is serious about changing that.
In remarks at a Corporate Council on Africa event in Mozambique, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Kelley gave more details on the administration’s “Prosper Africa” initiative.
The initiative will be one of the primary vehicles for implementing the pillar of the administration’s Africa strategy that seeks to significantly increase two-way trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa.
The initiative remains under construction, but the newly revealed details include the administration’s intent to harmonize and coordinate the work of the more than 15 relevant government agencies to facilitate U.S. companies’ investments and activities in Africa.
That’s a welcome streamlining and mobilization.
Prosper Africa will also increase the U.S. government’s work with African partners to reduce trade barriers and help them create a more welcoming business climate.
Prosper Africa should particularly focus on this critical task. African countries’ regulatory environments are frequently investment killers.
Only 10 African countries rank in the top 100 in The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom (and three of those fall into the “Mostly Unfree” category), while five of the index’s 10 worst-ranked countries are African.
One of the laudable elements of Prosper Africa is that it recognizes that the U.S. must adapt to an Africa of growing strategic significance.
About 30% of the world’s increase in energy demand will likely be in Africa between now and 2040.
The continent also possesses 22 of the 33 mineral commodities critical to the U.S. economy and national defense, and for which the U.S. is more than 50% import-reliant.
They include some of the rare-earth minerals that China, the world’s largest producer, has threatened to use as leverage in the trade war with the United States.
Africa also abuts the Middle East and Europe, and lies on three maritime chokepoints, including the Bab el-Mandeb Strait that connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea.
Last week in Bahrain, a senior naval officer told me that the U.S. Navy considers the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, to be more strategically important than the higher-profile Strait of Hormuz.
China, the U.S.’ primary strategic competitor, recognizes Africa’s importance and has spent the past two decades building extraordinary influence on the continent.
In 2009, it surpassed the U.S. to become the continent’s largest bilateral trading partner. Beijing is a major investor and lender to Africa, and its senior officials routinely visit the continent.
In 2017, China built its first overseas military base in Djibouti, which dominates the eastern shore of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.
If Beijing establishes a commanding presence in Djiboutian neighbor Eritrea’s deep-water ports at Massawa or Assab, the Chinese military could imperil U.S. access to the critical strait quickly and perhaps decisively in an open conflict.
Prosper Africa can help with these challenges by further empowering one of the U.S.’ great competitive advantages, its private sector.
Having more U.S. companies operating in Africa means more American influence, an ever more important currency as a range of great and medium powers jostle for position in Africa.
American companies profitably engaged in Africa will also contribute to a stronger U.S. economy, a pillar of American might. They can also help entrench private enterprise systems throughout Africa, the surest route out of poverty for the world’s poorest region.
We still have to wait for all the Prosper Africa details to emerge to fully assess it, and the initiative is not being built as quickly as one would hope.
How much funding the administration is willing to devote to Prosper Africa will also be a key metric for assessing whether it can be an important tool for advancing U.S. interests in Africa.
Nevertheless, last week in Mozambique is reason to be encouraged that an American shift to “trade, not aid”—with all the benefits that would bring to both the U.S. and Africa—is gaining momentum.
The post ‘Prosper Africa’ Promises Long-Overdue Change in US Approach to Continent appeared first on The Daily Signal.
In today’s dynamic society, we have a general consensus that investments in time and effort, such as excelling in the classroom and earning degrees, help to achieve intended goals.
But when it comes to financial investments in our futures, especially in the case of student loans, consensus surrounding sacrifices and consequences associated with the pursuit of freedom seems to be waning.
As the latest and most public example, consider Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stance on the subject. He would have us believe every student is forcefully saddled with thousands of dollars in debt without a say in the matter.
Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted:
Are you truly free if you graduate hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt? Are you free if you cannot pursue your dream because you don’t make enough to cover your student loan payments? We will #CancelStudentDebt because there is no freedom without economic freedom.
He interprets financial duties, such as the repayment of student loans and credit card debt, as inherently malevolent because they restrict economic autonomy.
Sanders’ recently unveiled plan tries to cure the nation’s $1.6 trillion in student debt through more big government, which is what got us here in the first place.
There’s no surprise here. Sanders called for similar debt relief during his 2016 campaign and has treated government intervention as a panacea for four decades.
Sanders is right that costs of higher education have risen substantially in recent decades and that it is a problem for Washington because 90% of all student loans are now controlled by the federal government. But government largely has made that problem worse.
For every dollar of increase in federally subsidized student loans, tuition has increased by 63 cents.
Simply put, Sanders’ proposal won’t decrease the societal costs of education. More likely, it’ll increase them.
Sanders’ policy aims to help young adults affected by increases in education, health care, and living costs, but it runs a real risk of rewarding reckless financial behavior when Americans are more financially illiterate than they’ve been in recent history.
Recent surveys and studies have found only 57% of U.S. adults are financially literate and that 76% of millennials lack basic financial knowledge, which is why they’ve racked up $1 trillion in student debt. This financial illiteracy manifests as confusion, panic, and pessimism.
Today, 70% of millennials are stressed and anxious about saving for retirement, and 22% feel overwhelmed about their finances. These statistics highlight larger lapses in our institutions, but it’s wrong to put all the blame on the financial entities that provide the loans.
Students are free to choose whether they take out loans, solicit other loans, or completely forego them. Students and their financial institutions mutually agree to take on their respective financial responsibilities.
For their own benefit, we should not be giving students a hall pass on their debt. If we do, students’ financial unawareness will continue to increase.
The disproportionately poor and minority students who eschew loans and instead work their way through college will be doubly disadvantaged. Not to mention those who already paid back their debts.
Sanders is quick to take a swipe at Wall Street banks, but making students carefree by forgiving debt doesn’t mean ensuring their economic freedom. It simply means that someone else may be taking responsibility for their decisions.
The post Forgiving Student Debt Is Not the Way to Ensure Economic Freedom appeared first on The Daily Signal.
The Supreme Court will decide whether President Donald Trump can rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program during its next term, the justices announced Friday.
DACA is an Obama-era amnesty initiative that extends temporary legal status to 700,000 foreign nationals who came to the U.S. as children.
The Department of Homeland Security first took steps to terminate DACA in September 2017. Federal trial judges subsequently entered injunctions requiring that Trump maintain the program while litigation continued.
The first of those orders came from U.S. District Judge William Alsup in California, who said the government’s action was based on a flawed legal premise and therefore “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, [and] otherwise not in accordance with law.” That premise — that only Congress, not the executive, could authorize a program like DACA — conflicts with precedent and the Department of Justice’s past-stated views, Alsup said.
Shortly after those injunctions issued, the Trump administration took the unusual step of bypassing the federal appeals courts and asking the Supreme Court to intervene immediately.
The high court rejected that request, prompting a new round of litigation in the appellate courts. The government returned to the Supreme Court beginning in November 2018 with another request to take on the DACA dispute.
The justices were poised to decide whether to hear those cases in January, but no action came. As the delay approached its fifth month, the Trump administration filed yet another petition, this time asking the justices to consider the matter on an accelerated schedule. The Court rebuffed that request without explanation June 3. The long period of inaction on the DACA petitions baffled even seasoned court-watchers.
The Court’s apprehension may in part be related to the 35-day government shutdown that ran from December 2018 to January 2019. In a bid to reopen the government, the president proposed a grand bargain on immigration that included a three-year extension of DACA. Such a deal would “moot” the disputes before the high court.
The Justice Department told the high court in legal filings the DACA injunctions require “the government to preserve a policy that affirmatively sanctions the ongoing violation of federal law by 700,00 aliens who have no lawful immigration status and no right to the policy’s continuation.”
“Absent this Court’s intervention, the government will be required to maintain the policy nationwide for years after DHS and the attorney general determined that it should end,” the Department added.
Elsewhere in court filings, the Justice Department said Supreme Court review is needed because the DACA injunctions create a conflict within federal law. While some courts ordered Trump to keep DACA, others struck down a companion initiative called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which would have given legal status to unlawful aliens whose children are citizens or permanent residents.
The DACA and DAPA disputes present similar legal issues. The justices often hear cases in which multiple courts disagree about the same question of law.
The Supreme Court adjourned for the summer Thursday.
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The post The Supreme Court Announces It Will Hear DACA Case appeared first on The Daily Signal.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is donating $1 million to the political arm of Planned Parenthood as the company wrestles with claims of a conservative bias.
“I think this is a very urgent moment where the rights and the choices and the basic health of the most vulnerable women — the women who have been marginalized, often women of color — are at stake,” Sandberg told HuffPost on Friday. “And so all of us have to do our part to fight these draconian laws.”
She said her decision was motivated in part by recent laws restricting abortion in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri. Celebrities are also protesting Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill,” which outlaws abortion after a child’s heartbeat is detected.
“Planned Parenthood is going to fight back in the courts, in Congress, in the state houses, in the streets, for women’s health and rights,” Sandberg said. “We all have to do everything we can to protect women.”
She previously donated $1 million to the organization in 2017 amid reports that Republicans were planning on defunding the group. The Facebook executive was also a major supporter of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Her decision comes after conservative critics dinged Facebook for refusing to accept any foreign ads related to Ireland’s Repeal The 8th campaign in 2018, which sought to outlaw and penalize those who attempt or successfully abort an unborn child. The referendum passed in May 20 2018, effectively legalizing abortion.
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The post Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Makes A Huge Political Donation To Planned Parenthood appeared first on The Daily Signal.
It was a hypothetical question about getting information on a political opponent from a foreign national. Yet President Donald Trump’s response sparked a furor—one that was long on accusations and short on the actual law governing federal campaigns.
Here’s the bottom line: a federal candidate who is freely given information is not receiving a “contribution” or “thing of value” and is thus not violating federal campaign finance law or the regulations issued by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). I know. I served as an FEC Commissioner.
If getting dirt on an opponent were a “thing of value,” then any adverse information concerning a candidate—even informed criticism of a rival’s policy proposals—would also have to be considered a “thing of value,” and both would have to listed as a financial “contribution” to a campaign. Such a broad interpretation of the law would be potentially unconstitutional and impractical to administer or enforce. Moreover, it is not a position that has been taken by the FEC.
Federal law (52 U.S.C. §30121) prohibits a foreign national from contributing or donating money or a “thing of value” to a federal, state, or local candidate or political committee. Foreigners are also banned from engaging in independent political expenditures. That means that the Chinese government, for example, can’t give money directly to a candidate, nor can it buy an ad in the New York Times telling Americans they should vote for or against a particular candidate.
This ban doesn’t prevent foreign nationals from volunteering to help a campaign, as long as the foreigner does not “dictate, control, or directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process” of the campaign under a regulation issued by the FEC (11 CFR §110.20). The federal statute also says that the term “contribution” does not include an “individual who volunteers to behalf of a candidate.” The FEC specifically notes that a foreign national “may volunteer personal services to a federal candidate or federal political committee without making a contribution.”
According to prior FEC enforcement actions and advisory opinions, this means that a foreign national can, for instance, develop intellectual property such as a website, logos, and trademarks for a campaign as a volunteer (Advisory Opinion 2014-20, Make Your Laws PAC). Under the FEC’s reasoning, a foreigner who volunteers could also do research and share the results with the campaign.
Furthermore, foreign volunteers can speak at campaign events and even solicit contributions for a federal candidate as long as they solicit only Americans and not other foreigners (Advisory Opinion 2004-26, Weller). Why, a talented foreign musician can even contribute an uncompensated performance at a candidate’s fundraiser (Matter Under Review 5987)—as Elton John did at a Radio City Music Hall concert that raised $2.5 million for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
A foreign national who simply volunteers to provide information to a campaign would certainly seem to fall within this regulatory exemption.
However, the FEC says that this exemption for a foreign volunteer applies only “as long as the individual performing the service is not compensated by anyone.” Makes you wonder why the FEC hasn’t investigated a certain presidential campaign in 2016 that allegedly paid a former British intelligence agent (i.e., a foreigner) to do political opposition research, doesn’t it?
Information freely received from a foreigner is not a money contribution or donation. So does it fall within the “thing of value” phrase in the federal statute? It does not.
That phrase has been used by the FEC to go after individuals who make valuable in-kind contributions to campaigns that are the equivalent of direct dollar donations. For example, if a landlord provides rental space to a campaign free of charge, that would certainly be a “thing of value.” The candidate would have to report the fair market value of that rental space as a contribution to her campaign and the source of the free rent could not be a corporation – or a foreigner.
Treating information as a financial contribution would bring up constitutional issues. As George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley says, such a “loose interpretation” of the term “thing of value” would “raise serious first amendment concerns.” How could anyone provide a campaign with any information or advice without running the danger of it being considered a financial contribution?
Such a view of information as a “thing of value” would be difficult to enforce, too. When the FEC considers whether an in-kind contribution (such as the free rental space mentioned previously) has been made, it must determine the fair market value of the contribution. That can be difficult even when the in-kind contribution is something tangible like free office space. But how do you determine the fair market value of information?
An individual could spend a million dollars doing opposition research on his own that finds out that a candidate is a perfect angel; if he gives that information to the candidate’s opponent, what is it worth? If there is nothing that can be used against the candidate, does the information have zero value to the campaign?
Or what if potentially damaging information is given to a candidate and then becomes public, but has no discernable effect on the election? Did that information have any value? And how is the FEC to judge the extent—if any—to which specific information affected an election?
As a former commissioner who was faced with making such determinations in enforcement cases, I can assure you that trying to determine the fair market value of information would be very problematic and subject to widely differing views among the six commissioners who govern the FEC.
You can debate the wisdom of any candidate deciding to review information voluntarily provided by a foreign national. But the claim that what the president said he would do is illegal and a violation of federal campaign finance law is highly dubious. On the other hand, paying for such information – such as hiring a foreign national to gather opposition research on another candidate and using other foreign nationals to infiltrate the campaign – would be a violation of the law under the FEC’s prior precedent.
Originally published by Fox News.
The post Sorry, Media — Talking to Foreigners Does Not Violate Federal Campaign Laws appeared first on The Daily Signal.
President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, are set to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, this weekend.
The two will try to unpack what’s going on in the U.S.-China trade dispute, why negotiations have become difficult, and how the two sides can come to a deal.
A deal will get done, eventually. Trump regularly says he wants a deal. Just don’t expect that deal this weekend.
More likely, we’ll see Trump and Xi agree to pretty much the same thing they agreed to at last year’s G-20 summit. Last December, the presidents agreed to postpone any new tariffs on traded goods between the U.S. and China during negotiations.
A similar agreement this weekend would mean the 25% tax the Trump administration currently has on $250 billion worth of goods Americans buy from China will remain until a deal is done, a cost Americans will have to continue to pay.
Alternatively, Trump is planning another 25% tax on $300 billion worth of other Chinese goods if negotiations aren’t successful.
So, when will a deal get done? And how much longer will Americans have to pay these taxes? It’s hard to say.
Yet, it’s important to remember that a deal now won’t mean an end to the number of other complaints the U.S. has of the Chinese government, whether it’s concerns over commercial practices in China or otherwise.
A deal would still be relatively limited, as it will try to address those commercial practices, U.S. investment opportunities in China, and the intellectual property rights of American innovators.
But there’s hardly a public policy issue today—especially in foreign policy—that doesn’t involve China in some direct or indirect way.
So, it’s easy for many observers to prescribe what should be a part of a deal with China. Everyone wants to lump their complaints about China in with the president’s deal, making it harder for Washington and Beijing to come to an agreement.
That being said, we should understand that a deal now won’t protect the millions of Muslims in western China that are being persecuted. It won’t make the Chinese Communist Party spend less on its military development. It won’t alter Chinese designs on Taiwan, or on the South China Sea or East China Sea.
It also shouldn’t stop us from continuing to enforce our laws to protect U.S. national interests.
To his credit, Trump is unlikely to trade away any of these noncommercial interests as a part of a trade deal with China.
For example, his administration will continue to investigate the practices of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and allegations that it evaded U.S. sanctions against Iran, that it has stolen trade secrets, and that it actively conspired against the interests of the U.S.
Even when a deal is done, the U.S. should continue to seek to punish those who steal intellectual property—and not by punishing Americans simply because they want to buy goods from China.
The U.S. must enforce the rule of law and protect our intellectual property rights before, during, and after any deal with China is made. Otherwise, issues like theft stop being legal matters and become bargaining chips.
The post US-China Talks at G-20 Unlikely to End Trade Disputes appeared first on The Daily Signal.
In a recent hit single, “You Need to Calm Down,” Taylor Swift mocks people who stand firm in their beliefs about sexuality, asking that they stop their bigotry and “calm down.”
The music video, which went viral, depicts conservatives as ignorant hicks who reject gays and are driven by animus. They are ugly, dated, and lack basic hygiene. By contrast, the LGBT folks in the video are bright, happy, and boast perfectly coiffed hair. Moreover, the angry hicks are a dwindling minority, while the upbeat LGBT folks are shown to be ascendant—on the right side of history, you might say.
Despite these crass portrayals, which only confirm the left’s worst prejudices, a new survey released Monday suggests that young people are not actually falling in line with the LGBT movement as the common narrative suggests. In fact, they’re increasingly uncomfortable with it.
According to the annual Accelerating Acceptance report, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, the number of Americans 18 to 34 who are comfortable with LGBT people in various situations slipped from 53% in 2017 down to 45% in 2018. And the 53% figure is down from 63% in 2016.
The survey asked men and women of various age brackets whether they are uncomfortable with the following:
- Learning a family member is LGBT;
- Having your child placed in class with an LGBT teacher;
- Learning your doctor is LGBT;
- Learning your child had a LGBT history lesson in school.
The largest drop in “acceptance” appears to be among the youngest age bracket.
In 2018, 36% of young people said they were uncomfortable learning a family member was LGBT, compared with 29% in 2017. Likewise, 34% were uncomfortable learning their doctor was LGBT vs. only 27% a year earlier. In addition, 39% said they would be uncomfortable learning their child had a school lesson on LGBT history vs. 27% two years prior.
It appears young women have dropped the most in their comfortability with LGBT people. In 2017, 64% were comfortable compared to 52% in 2018. Also of note, in 2017, people ages 72 and up were the most uncomfortable learning a child had an LGBT lesson in school.
John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll, expressed concern over these numbers to USA TODAY: “We count on the narrative that young people are more progressive and tolerant. These numbers are very alarming and signal a looming social crisis in discrimination.”
USA Today reported that when Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, looked closer, she discovered the younger age bracket actually interacted more with LBGT people, “particularly individuals who are non-binary and don’t identify simply as lesbian or gay.” She blamed their lower comfort level on “a newness that takes time for people to understand.”
Both Gerzema and Ellis blamed the lack of tolerance on the Trump administration’s policy efforts regarding transgender people in the military and religious liberty issues.
But this makes no sense. If politics is really downstream from culture, and there is more equality in America than ever before, wouldn’t the culture reflect and accept that notion of being more tolerant?
A better way to understand the survey results might be to look at how pushy, even aggressive the LGBT movement has been in ensuring their rights supercede the rights of others. Whether it’s lawsuits for “bathroom rights,” or lawsuits against religious people who can’t in good conscience bake a certain cake, the LGBT community is not advocating for “equal rights” but for supreme rights that marginalize everyone else’s.
This aggressive push for LGBT “equality” may actually be backfiring, causing even young people to feel discomfort and alienation.
At first glance, Swift’s song might seem to align with this study, since she too is decrying society’s rejection LGBT people. But what she ignores, just like Ellis, is that people are uncomfortable for a reason that is likely of the LGBT movement’s own making.
The LGBT movement is now defined by fighting against gender norms, demanding that children in drag become an accepted new normal, and filing lawsuits so that biological males can use women’s restrooms. This kind of aggressive, entitled behavior is difficult to acquiesce to, especially when it infringes upon the rights of others who would rather not participate.
Instead of hoping people would become more “comfortable” around the LGBT community, it may be worthwhile for GLAAD and other groups to consider the effect their campaign is having on other people. Maybe they’re the ones that “need to calm down.”
The post LGBT Activists Could Be to Blame for Falling LGBT Acceptance appeared first on The Daily Signal.
Today Daniel Davis sits down with The Heritage Foundation’s Jim Phillips, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs, to discuss what’s going on with Iran. Is war on the horizon? Why is Iran suddenly so aggressive? And what’s driving the conflict? Read the interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast:
We also cover these stories:
- The Supreme Court hands down a major decision on gerrymandering.
- Twitter takes a step that could affect President Donald Trump’s presence on the platform.
- Oregon GOP lawmakers aren’t showing up to work—because they’re trying to block a cap-and-trade bill.
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Daniel Davis: Tensions are steadily rising between Iran and the United States, and here to unpack the latest developments is Jim Phillips. He’s the senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs here at The Heritage Foundation.
Jim, thanks for your time.
Jim Phillips: Thanks for inviting me.
Davis: So Jim, this week we saw the president issue new sanctions against top Iranian officials, just days after he called off a retaliatory attack on Iranian military assets. Walk us through what led to those new sanctions.
Phillips: Last week the Iranians ratcheted up their shadow war against U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf by increasing attacks on mines. And … Thursday of last week, they shot down an unmanned drone flying over the Gulf.
At that point, President Trump considered a military attack on the Revolutionary Guard missile batteries that had shot down the drone. And at the last minute, [he] decided to withhold that military action, instead opting for a cyberattack and another round of sanctions he announced on Monday.
So right now, we’re kind of in a pause, but the slow-motion confrontation between the U.S. and Iran is markedly accelerating.
Davis: From reports, a number of folks inside the White House were recommending that he go forward with that attack. What did you make of him pulling back?
Phillips: I would take him at his word. He said that he was concerned that the attack would be disproportionate, in terms of the loss of Iranian lives, and that may be true.
The problem with that is that the Iranian regime doesn’t necessarily feel those constraints, and so that may give them an edge in the future, if they think the president will refrain from going ahead, down the military path.
But, I think on a one-off situation, I think the fact that he did launch a cyberattack covers him on that score. I think they’d be crazy to challenge his determination by pressing their luck again.
Davis: The Wall Street Journal today is reporting a new strategy in the Gulf that the U.S. is putting forward, trying to put together. Can you unpack what that’s about?
Phillips: It looks like a lot of vague lack of details, but it appears that the U.S. is appealing to allies in the Gulf, in Europe, and oil-importing countries that have a stake in the continued flow of oil from the Persian Gulf.
About 20% of the world’s oil goes through the Strait of Hormuz, and by appealing to allies to help monitor the flow, that would free up U.S. naval forces for offensive action if needed.
This is kind of a replay of what happened in the 1980s when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards attacked neutral shipping, and the U.S. responded by re-flagging Kuwaiti tankers and escorting them.
This time, it would be done more by an international group, instead of just the U.S. I think that would be an improvement.
Davis: Tell us about these new sanctions. They’re really just on some the top leaders in Iran, the ayatollah and a few officials. Iranian President Rouhani called them outrageous and idiotic. What impact do you expect these to have?
Phillips: I think they’ve already definitely unsettled the Iranians.
They argue that the supreme leader doesn’t have billions of dollars of money inside the U.S., however, he does have an empire, a network of hundreds of companies with an estimated $100 to $200 billion around the world.
These sanctions would make it much more difficult for the Iranians to manage those financial assets and move them around.
Also, [they] would expose any foreign firms that cooperate with the Revolutionary Guard to the supreme leader in moving that money. That would expose them to sanctions. If nothing else, it will drive up the cost of the supreme leader’s normal business activities.
Davis: And of course, these are just the latest round of sanctions. We’ve seen the Trump administration really piling on the sanctions since he took office. What kind of impact have those sanctions had in the last couple years?
Phillips: The administration says that since the oil sanctions kicked in in November, Iran has lost an estimated $10 billion in oil export revenues.
The price is going up every month because the administration further tightened the oil sanctions in May, when it deprived eight oil-importing countries of waivers, which allowed them to continuing importing Iranian oil, as long as they were gradually diminishing it.
Now those oil exports have gone from about 2.5 million barrels a day to less than 500,000 barrels a day. That is really suffocating the Iranian economy.
Davis: What does that mean in terms of Iran’s ability to fund not only their own aggressive activity, but terror groups?
Phillips: It really takes away their latitude in moving these funds around. They’ve been forced to cut their military budget, their budget for the Revolutionary Guards.
Although, it’s interesting, they did raise their budget for internal security, kind of the regime thugs that keep Iranians off the streets. They are anticipating further protests, which is interesting.
But also, they’ve been forced to cut back their subsidies for their network of proxies.
Hezbollah, which is their leading proxy, the Lebanese Shiite Revolutionary terrorist group, has been forced to cut back its budget and has been forced to appeal for donations from Shiites around the Middle East. That’s an interesting development.
Davis: Yeah, certainly. You mentioned Iranians themselves becoming dissatisfied with the state of the economy. This week, President Trump tweeted:
The wonderful Iranian people are suffering, and for no reason at all. Their leadership spends all of its money on terror, and little on anything else.
Do you think that the people’s anger is mainly directed toward the U.S., or are they increasingly blaming their own government?
Phillips: They do blame their own government, not only for political repression, human rights abuses, but also incredible economic mismanagement and corruption. I think the president is trying to tap into that.
In a series of anti-regime demonstrations, the Iranian people spontaneously have broken out into chants, “Not for Syria, not for Gaza. We give our lives only for Iran.”
That shows that there is resentment about the adventurous military interventions the regime has staged in Syria, increasingly in Yemen, and its efforts to stir up conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Iranians want their money to be spent at home, and that, I think, is a long-term sore point that will continue to generate opposition to the regime at home.
Davis: We saw in 2009 the uprisings against the government in Iran, which were violently put down. Do you think regime change is a possibility in Iran within the next 10 years or so?
Phillips: I think it is a possibility, but it’s like predicting a volcanic eruption. It’s hard to say exactly when, and when it happens, it’s difficult to say who would end up on top.
I would anticipate that the Revolutionary Guards will step in with some kind of military coupe, but I’m not sure how long they could hold on.
But what’s interesting to me, I think, is Iran is looking for a regime change in Washington, and it initially adopted a policy of strategic patience, hoping to outlast the Trump administration and deal with what it hoped would be a more tractable future successor administration.
Then recently, I think has been forced to give up that strategy because these sanctions have really bitten a lot harder than Iran anticipated.
They also may be seeing that he’s got a good chance of being re-elected. So, I think part of their strategy in kind of confronting the U.S. is not only to diffuse political opposition at home with a rally-around-the-flag kind of strategy, but also to accentuate the cost to the U.S. of this policy of maximum pressure.
I think they were hoping to drive up gasoline prices this summer, in order to kind of wear down the popularity of the president.
I think the Iranians remember that they played a role in bringing down the Jimmy Carter administration and depriving him of re-election. I think they hope to do that with Donald Trump, as well.
Davis: Interesting. So, you think that’s what’s driving the aggression?
Phillips: I think that’s part of their strategy.
I think, really, their ideology is what’s driving this aggressive grand strategy because Iran, and the regime especially, has defined its legitimacy in terms of resistance to the great Satan of the U.S., which it defines as a world-devouring infidel and corrupting force.
The regime sees the U.S. as great Satan, not just because it thinks the U.S. is evil, but because it knows U.S. culture, American culture, or Western culture more broadly. The regime sees it as a corrupting force on young Muslims, so it’s stressed this resistance at all costs.
I think regardless of what the U.S. does, the Iranians, the regime, will take a hostile attitude.
Davis: What should the U.S. strategy be here? Should we be trying to crush the Iranian regime with sanctions so that there’s internal dissatisfaction and regime change, or should we just accept the fact of an Iranian/Islamic regime and try to manage that?
Phillips: The problem with regime change is we really can’t count on it. As a conservative, I think it’s our ability to predict what’s going to happen inside Iran, or identify so-called moderate elements that could replace other elements, really has been shown to be pretty minimal.
Once changes start coming in Iran, I don’t think the U.S. is going to be able to control it. But we can, though a maximum pressure strategy, encourage political change in Iran, and penalize heavily the hard-liners that are leading Iran in this confrontational course and undermining the long-term economic welfare and political welfare of their own people.
I think that could eventually lead to regime change, but that’s something we can’t really count on.
So, until then, I think we need to manage this problem, present Iran with very hard consequences for hostile acts, and seek some kind of a more effective nuclear deal that would bar Iran for much longer time from any kind of a nuclear breakout.
But if the Iranians continue dragging their feet on negotiations that the president wants on the nuclear deal, then either long-term regime change strategy or, eventually, some kind of a war with Iran is likely to result.
I would prefer to avoid a war, but I would also argue that Iran has been at war with us since 1979, the revolution, but they prefer to fight a low-intensity shadow war and not elevate it to the point where the U.S. would take military action against their homeland.
At this point, it’s difficult for me to see a negotiated settlement of the nuclear agreement, so really, if Iran continues on this collision course, I think it’s increasingly likely there will be at least a military clash, if not a full-scale war.
Davis: Would you expect that to be a U.S. preemptive strike on nuclear assets, or Israel perhaps?
Phillips: It’s possible. I think Israel would be more likely to do a preemptive strike than the U.S. at this point. But if these present trends continue, and Iran has warned the Europeans that it will be leaving the nuclear deal, and it is increasing its enrichment of uranium, and as soon as tomorrow, could be in violation of that deal.
That would start a new time table for confrontation that would put the pressure more on the U.S. to take military action, if a negotiated solution cannot be reached.
Davis: Do we know the timeframe for how long it would take for Iran to get a nuke, if they start ramping up their uranium enrichment?
Phillips: We don’t have a precise timeframe, but one expert, Olli Heinonen, who was a former international atomic energy agency inspector who worked in Iran, he has said that Iran probably is at least six months away, maybe more, depending on whether it has mastered the art of shaping enriched uranium into a warhead.
That apparently is pretty difficult, but Iran has been doing experiments along those lines. I think that could be the key factor.
Davis: If there’s not much hope for a new nuclear deal, as you mentioned, then it certainly looks like they’re going to keep enriching, and that would provoke a military strike. Should we expect that within the next couple years?
Phillips: If they continue accelerating the way they are now, that could lead to a war, but I think the Iranians are master negotiators, too. They know that if there is a war, they’re going to come out on the short end of the stick.
I think this really is part of its negotiations. I see the symbolic attacks on the tankers, which they could’ve sunk if they wanted to, but they purposely put the mines above the water level, just to send a message.
I think that’s the opening skirmish in the negotiations over the nuclear issue. For that reason, I think the administration is wise to react in a restrained and patient fashion to the shootdown of the drone because the real issue is Iran’s uranium enrichment, and that’s the next crisis.
Davis: We’ll keep looking at that, and we’ll have you back on to discuss that. We’ll hope for the best. Jim Phillips, thanks for your time.
Phillips: Thank you.
The post As Tensions Between Iran and US Rise, What You Need to Know appeared first on The Daily Signal.
As more states pass restrictions on abortion, companies are coming out of the woodwork to oppose them.
Recently, some 180 companies “employing more than 108,000 workers” purchased a full-page ad in The New York Times under the banner “Don’t Ban Equality: It’s time for companies to stand up for reproductive health care.”
Translation: It’s time for businesses to defend abortion.
Many of these companies aren’t typically considered far-left organizations. Exactly what message are they sending to women by spending ad dollars to promote abortion? Are they saying babies are bad for business?
A closer look at these companies may help to unmask what’s driving this ad.
It turns out that only two of them are listed among the top 180 companies offering the most paid maternity leave to women, according to Fairygodboss, a women’s career advancement network. And those two companies are nowhere near the top of the list.
In other words, these companies are stingy. They aren’t supporting women; they’re protecting their bottom line.
The fact is that parental leave imposes a cost on these companies. The disruptions of time off (even earned) for doctor’s appointments, managing morning sickness, and staying healthy during pregnancy are a drain on company revenue. Many of these employers offer new mothers a bare minimum of maternity leave. Others offer nothing at all.
The math is simple for these companies: Motherhood means higher costs and less profit—and abortion is a convenient way of minimizing those costs. Babies are bad for business, and abortion is good for business. A female employee can terminate her pregnancy on Saturday and return to work the next week.
Jumping on the social justice bandwagon for “reproductive rights” is hardly an act of altruism. Their monetary incentive cannot be denied.
The CEOs who signed this ad are sending American working women a clear message: Abortion is good for business and necessary for “health, independence, and ability to fully succeed in the workplace.”
Think about that. Companies like H&M, &pizza, and The Body Shop, who employ many young women, are making a statement that to “fully succeed in the workplace,” women had better put their jobs above their own family lives and the life of an unborn child. “Can you really afford motherhood? Do you want to succeed in your job? Well, then, you’d better abort your baby.”
This is not speculation. The Atlantic reports that Michael Bloomberg, co-founder of Bloomberg L.P. (which signed the ad), has “a long-alleged history of undermining women.” Allegations have been brought against Bloomberg for sexual harassment and discrimination against pregnant employees, which The Atlantic describes as “insidious manifestations of misogyny.”
The lawsuits include serious charges exposing the bigotry of Bloomberg toward women having babies. For example, when a sales representative once told Bloomberg she was pregnant, he replied, “Kill it!” and went on to mutter, “Great, no. 16”—referring to the 16 women employees who were pregnant at the time.
The company Seventh Generation, also a signer of the ad, has baby care among its product lines. One would think that promoting childbearing would benefit such a company, but apparently not.
For abortion advocates, babies are as disposable as diapers anyway.
But it may turn out that these companies are being short-sighted, even for their own interests. In 2018, the number of U.S. births dropped to its lowest level in 32 years. That’s alarming, and it’s not good long-term for the workforce.
Shouldn’t we expect companies to support their female employees and the fathers who should be raising the next generation of American workers?
Unfortunately, in the eyes of Bloomberg, Yelp, Tinder, Atlantic Records, Square, Inc., Amalgamated Bank, MAC Cosmetics, and more, advocating abortion is better for their bottom line. Hiding behind the labels of “equality” and “reproductive health care” might be a good PR stunt, but American workers will come to see right through it.
How sad that 180 businesses are priding themselves on killing babies. Abortion may be a short-term way to reduce costs, but workers and their children deserve better. Companies ought to be concerned about their long-term bottom line: caring well for moms and dads who will raise the workers of tomorrow.
Russia isn’t the only threat to election security going into 2020, as Trump administration officials say they are preparing for meddling from Iran, China, and North Korea.
The federal government anticipates that Russia will again meddle in the U.S. election in 2020 through “Russian-controlled or influenced English-language media, false-flag operations, or sympathetic spokespersons,” a senior intelligence official said.
China’s government finances English-language media outlets in the United States to influence U.S. perceptions on various issues, such as trade, the senior intelligence official told reporters during a briefing on election security.
“No surprise to you: Iran is increasing their use of social media to promote strategic goals and perspectives to the American public,” the official continued. “Its influence campaigns have included denigrating U.S. decisions to leave [the Iran nuclear deal], downplaying the effectiveness of sanctions, and promoting pro-Iranian interests.”
Administration officials asked reporters that the conference participants’ names not be used.
North Korea is also in the mix, said a senior law enforcement official, who spoke of the FBI Foreign Influence Task Force set up in 2017 to combat the international meddling.
“We’ve since expanded our scope to look at any nation-state actors involved in foreign influence, including China, Iran, and North Korea, among others,” the senior law enforcement official said.
Federal prosecutors determined that in 2016, Russian state actors hacked the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee and some state voter rolls, and pushed fake narratives on social media to harm Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and to help her rival, Donald Trump.
A 22-month investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller determined the Trump campaign did not conspire or collude with Russia.
Every presidential campaign has gotten or will get a briefing from officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, and the Justice Department, one senior administration official said.
“Throughout 2018, we worked with both major political parties to help provide information and support and services, and we’re expanding that reach now, through outreach to the presidential campaigns,” the senior administration official said.
Decentralized elections are a strong defense against fraud and hacking, because there isn’t a national computer network to hack. However, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking to facilitate communication between local governments to fend off threats.
“There are over 8,800 jurisdictions in the United States that run elections, and working with the states, we’d like to find a way to reach as many of those as possible with not just our support and services, but signing up for things like the Election Infrastructure Information-Sharing and Analysis Center, so that they can have, at the tip of their fingers, information regarding threats and risks to their systems that they own and operate,” the senior administration official said.
Last week, state and local governments participated in a national virtual tabletop exercise for election security hosted by the Department of Homeland Security, said Maria Benson, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Secretaries of state are the chief election officers in 40 states.
“Because elections are now designated as critical infrastructure, an Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council … was established to enable improved communications between state and local officials and the federal government, and to share resources,” Benson told The Daily Signal in an email.
Originally piloted in 2017 and fully enacted in April 2018, an Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center … was formed, in which all 50 states are members, along with over 1,500 local jurisdictions.
Most states are in good shape for secure elections, said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the election law reform project at The Heritage Foundation.
“The best defense is for state election officials to have top-line cybersecurity programs to prevent hacking into voter registration systems, which will take a lot of money and resources,” von Spakovsky told The Daily Signal.
Though voter registration lists have been compromised, thus far, there has been no evidence of ballot tampering through electronic means, von Spakovsky said.
There has been no evidence of hacking the casting or counting of votes. Voting machines are decentralized. They are not networked. So, it would be extremely difficult.
The post 2020 Election Meddling by China, Iran, N. Korea Likely, Administration Officials Warn appeared first on The Daily Signal.
ARLINGTON, Va.—A group of concerned parents held a press conference just ahead of a scheduled Arlington County School Board meeting Tuesday evening about the adoption of a policy concerning transgender student protections in the school district.
“[Arlington Public Schools] has far overreached its authority in this matter, and needs to be reminded by concerned parents and community members that political and cultural pressures should never outweigh the school’s responsibility to make safe and healthy educational policy,” said Maria Keffler, spokeswoman for the Arlington Parent Coalition.
The press conference’s purpose was to publicly air that parents of children in Arlington Public Schools have felt unable to voice their concerns for child safety regarding the proposed policy implementation procedure, or PIP.
The coalition’s website says it promotes the district’s policies, “which respect parents’ constitutional right to maintain responsibility and authority over their children and their children’s education, and to raise children according to the family’s values.”
“[The proposed policy] is an accommodation procedure, wherein transgender students are given preferences and privileges that deny other students their rights, such as Title IX protections for girls, and privacy rights for both boys and girls,” added Keffler.
Keffler said the school district has been working on the policy “exclusively” with Arlington Gender Identity Allies, a group made up of “parents [and] community members working to make Arlington Public Schools a welcoming place for transgender, nonbinary, [and] gender expansive youth/staff.”
She also complained that specific information on the policy proposal could only be received through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The policy being considered outlines a number of new rules for the treatment of transgender students.
Under the policy, the definitions for “gender identity” and “transgender” that are deemed acceptable by the school board are clearly spelled out.
Access would be granted to bathrooms and locker rooms that “correspond to a student’s gender identity,” and students would have the ability to participate in any “‘co-curricular or extra-curricular activity consistent with their gender identity,’ as regulated by the Virginia High School League.”
Overnight school events would allow students to sleep in a quarters consistent with the student’s gender identity.
Students would be allowed to use names and gender pronouns of their choosing that match their gender identity, with school staff making updates as needed to classroom records.
It is also stated that disclosing a student’s “transgender status, legal name, or gender assigned at birth” may be a violation of privacy laws.
If the policy is adopted, teachers would have to undergo periodic training to to keep up with transgender issues.
The policy proposal came after what Superintendent Patrick Murphy said is needed to ensure compliance with the school board policy known as J-2 Student Equal Educational Opportunities/Nondiscrimination.
“It is the responsibility of each Arlington Public Schools staff member to ensure all students, including transgender students, have safe, supportive, and inclusive school environments,” reads the policy document, which would serve as a supplement to the existing J-2 policy.
After the press conference, 39 community members showed up to voice their thoughts on the proposed policy at the public school board meeting.
Of those, 21 were parents of students in support of implementation and five were against it. Four Arlington Public Schools teachers and five current students also showed their support of the policy.
One student told the story of a friend, a 9-year-old fourth-grader who goes by “Griffin.” Griffin, who identifies as a transgender girl, wrote to the school board: “Thank you for supporting me and others. I will feel safe and more comfortable at school next year.”
The Daily Signal spoke with Sarah Priestman, an Arlington Public Schools teacher, about the policy at the school board meeting.
“I’m here because I support all the work these parents have done, and my own son is transgender and so years ago we did some work to create a more opening and supportive environment in the schools,” she said.
Now he’s in college so I’ve been sort of observing the work the parents are doing whose kids are in [Arlington Public Schools] now, and it’s amazing work and I want to support what they’re doing.
The most common complaint of parents at the meeting who oppose the policy echoed those from the Arlington Parent Coalition.
“The whole community should have been a part of it from the start,” one parent said to the school board. “The questionnaire didn’t even ask if people were residents of Arlington, yet that was the way for us to have an input.”
Another parent, who works as a psychiatrist, told the school board that “research on this topic (transgenderism in young children) isn’t clear yet.”
He wanted the school board to consider a “broader survey of research,” and wanted to “pause” action taken on the policy implementation program until those things could be completed.
Another parent expressed concern for students like her daughter who struggle with a mental disability. She also said she was frustrated with the school board’s lack of transparency concerning the policy, saying that “everything had to be requested by FOIA.”
During the school board meeting, Murphy, the superintendent, said a few major concerns surfaced in his morning meeting with citizens.
“We need additional time to come to a consensus, additional engagement for greater understanding, and that we need to establish consistency with guidelines for the upcoming year,” Murphy said.
However, when asked by school board member Barbara Kanninen if there would be any delay in implementing the policy implementation procedure, Murphy replied, “No, we will continue to move forward and place this by the start of the school year.”
The school board first considered the transgender youth policy last September. It sought suggestions from the Arlington Gender Identity Allies, and the school board “staff team” produced a draft of the policy in March.
A community questionnaire was released in June for Arlington residents to voice their opinions; however, the results of the questionnaire were not released by the school board.
The policy proposal will go through a two-week “office process” before any further development action is announced. The next scheduled meeting will be Monday, June 24, at 2 p.m. to host the School Board Policy Subcommittee on general policies.
It is not specified whether this meeting is open to the public.
The post Parents Call Out School Board’s Transgender Policy Proposal appeared first on The Daily Signal.
A memo released late last week by the Conservative Action Project recognizes freshman Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and “other House conservatives” for holding all House members accountable for their voting record and pressuring members to address the border crisis.
“During efforts to consider spending bills that collectively total over a trillion dollars, Rep. Roy rejected business as usual, and required Members of the House to go on record with their positions by casting actual votes—instead of shirking their duties and going on recess to avoid dealing with the border crisis,” the memo reads.
Roy has also “stood up for accountability” by exposing “the hypocrisy of Democrats who were blocking the Trump administration’s request for funding at the border, in the midst of this crisis,” according to the group’s memo.
The congressman kept the House in session earlier this month until 4 a.m. by demanding debate and roll call votes on over $1 trillion in federal spending to spark attention to funding for the immigration crisis at the border.
Roy and his “brave colleagues” received praise in the memo for successfully getting members of the House to vote on “over 100 amendments.”
The Senate has since authorized a $4.6 billion emergency spending bill Wednesday, according to The Washington Post, aimed at addressing the immigration crisis at the United States-Mexico border after a photo surfaced of a deceased father and daughter who drowned crossing the Rio Grande to enter into Texas.
Will Democrats act? It’s not enough, to be clear, to throw $4.5BB in funding that doesn’t actually solve the problem and hamstrings Border Patrol and ICE from doing their job. #EndBorderCrisisNow https://t.co/a3HNNGO0Hr— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) June 20, 2019
This isn’t the first time Roy has saved taxpayer money. While Congress was in a weeklong recess, Roy showed up to an empty chamber last month and blocked the passage of HB 1214, a $19.1 billion supplemental spending bill that would have otherwise passed, by refusing a unanimous consent vote.
“I’m here today primarily because if I do not object, Congress will have passed into law a bill that spends $19 billion of taxpayer money without members of Congress being present in our nation’s capital to vote on it,” Roy said on the House floor.
The bill eventually passed on June 3.
The Conservative Action Project was founded “to facilitate conservative leaders working together on behalf of common goals.”
Roy is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and formerly worked as chief of staff for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Roy won his House seat in November, replacing Republican Lamar Smith.
“We applaud Rep. Chip Roy and these House conservatives for standing up for their—and our—principles—and drawing attention to the border crisis—even in the face of scorn and disdain from their colleagues who preferred to duck their obligations to the American people,” reads the memo.
The memo concluded by crediting Roy for setting a “courageous” example for Congress. “Accountability is never an inconvenience,” it stated. “Transparency should never be dismissed as unimportant.”
The memo was backed by an extensive list of influential conservatives.
Among those who endorsed it include: Edwin Meese, former attorney general under President Ronald Reagan; Jessica Anderson, vice president of Heritage Action for America; Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Amy Kremer, chairwoman of Women for Trump; Belden Bell, a Legacy Society co-chair at The Heritage Foundation; and Peter Thomas, the chairman of the Conservative Caucus.
The post Freshman Congressman Receives High Praise for Accountability Amid Border Crisis appeared first on The Daily Signal.
Long before discussions of impeachment became commonplace, a means of denying President-elect Donald Trump the White House was floated and circulated among liberal groups.
They formed a national alliance shortly after the 2016 election designed to manipulate the Electoral College by persuading and pressuring electors not to vote for Trump when members of the Electoral College met to cast their votes on Dec. 19, 2016, but to vote for an alternative candidate.
As we all know, they were not successful.
But what happened to the small handful of electors who broke their pledges? There were seven nationwide, including four in the state of Washington.
Are there any consequences when an elector changes his vote? Can states punish faithless electors? According to a recent decision by the Washington state Supreme Court, the answer is “yes.”
In the Matter of Levi Guerra, Esther V. John, and Peter B. Chiafalo, the state Supreme Court explained that some electors nationwide—including the defendants in this case—announced that “they would not vote for either [Hillary] Clinton or Trump and would instead attempt to prevent Trump from receiving the minimum number of Electoral College votes required to be president.”
They apparently hoped that would throw the election into the hands of the House of Representatives.
When the Electoral College met, three of the Washington state electors who had pledged to vote for Hillary Clinton instead cast their votes for retired Gen. Colin Powell and one for a leader of the Yankton Sioux Nation, Faith Spotted Eagle.
As a result, they were fined $1,000 each under a state statute for failing to vote for the nominee of their political party. Three of the electors appealed a lower court decision against them to the Supreme Court of Washington.
The electors claimed that the state law violated Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution (which delineates the process whereby electors convene and cast their ballots), as well as the First and 12th Amendments (providing a right to free speech, including through voting, and amending the process whereby electors cast their ballots, respectively).
They argued that as “presidential electors, they perform a federal function” and that “electors are intended to exercise independent judgment in casting their ballots.”
By imposing a fine, they said, the state was interfering “with a federal function in violation of the Constitution.”
But writing for an 8-1 majority, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen disagreed. Madsen went through a detailed history of the reasons that the delegates at the Constitutional Convention created the Electoral College, noting that the “manner of appointment of electors was left to the states.”
She cited the important fact that “presidential electors were understood to be instruments for expressing the will of those who selected them, not independent agents authorized to exercise their own judgment.”
Madsen discussed a 1934 case raised by the electors interpreting the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, Burroughs v. U.S., in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that electors perform a federal function when they cast their ballots in the Electoral College.
However, they are not officers or agents of the federal government, and the Federal Corrupt Practices Act does not “interfere with the power of a state to appoint electors or the manner in which their appointment” was made. According to the ruling in Burroughs, the federal statute “in no sense invades any exclusive state power.”
Madsen also cited another U.S. Supreme Court case, Ray v. Blair (1952), in which the court held that an Alabama statute requiring electors to pledge their votes to a specific party candidate in primaries was constitutional.
According to Madsen, the Ray case supports the argument that nothing in the Constitution “prohibits a state from imposing certain conditions on electors as a part of the state’s appointment powers, including requiring electors to pledge their votes.”
Furthermore, the 12th Amendment “simply requires the electors to meet at the specified date and time outlined by Congress and to cast two votes for qualified candidates—one for president and one for vice-president.”
That provision does not limit “a state’s authority in adding requirements to presidential electors.” Thus, it is clearly within the power of a state such as Washington “to impose a fine on electors for failing to uphold their pledge, and that fine does not interfere with any federal function outlined in the [12th] Amendment.”
Madsen also rejected the electors’ First Amendment claim.
Electors, she wrote, are “carrying out a state government duty.” Their power to cast a vote in the Electoral College “comes from the State, and the elector has no personal right to that role.”
When they choose to be nominated as electors by their political party, they do so “subject to the rules and limitations that attend the position.” They also have the “ability to step down as electors without penalty” if they do not want to honor their pledge.
Thus, the casting of electoral ballots does not implicate the First Amendment.
There have been faithless electors throughout our history, but their number has been relatively small, and they have never come close to affecting the outcome of a presidential election.
As the Supreme Court of Washington correctly concluded, fining those who break their pledge is constitutional and well within the authority given to state legislatures to appoint electors “in such manner” as they choose.
It is also fully within that same constitutional authority for states, as some do, to provide that faithless electors will be replaced before states certify the votes of their Electoral College electors.
The post Faithless Electors Who Break Their Promise Rightly Can Be Punished appeared first on The Daily Signal.
Since the passage of the Budget Control Act, disaster and emergency spending has nearly doubled compared to the five years prior to the law’s enactment.
Earlier this month, Congress and President Donald Trump agreed to a massive disaster relief package, adding $19.1 billion to the national debt.
Classified as “emergency” spending, much of the funding went toward congressional pet projects and as a means to circumvent the Budget Control Act spending caps.
Disaster and emergency spending should be reserved for truly unexpected events, not as an irresponsible spending spree. It is past time for Congress to get serious about reforming the way it responds to disasters and national emergencies, and ensure that it is doing so in the most responsible way.
Some members of Congress are starting to pay attention to the disturbing explosion of disaster and emergency spending.
Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Mike Braun, R-Ind.; and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., introduced a bill in May that would take a first step toward reforms.
Their proposed Budgeting for Disasters Act would no longer allow a Budget Control Act cap adjustment for disaster relief or wildfire suppression funding. In other words, any new funding for these purposes would have to be paid for within the existing budget caps.
The bill also raises the burden to designate funding as emergency spending to a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, making it necessary to have a stronger consensus to approve supplemental funding.
Congress acknowledgement of the problem is a step in the right direction; however, more comprehensive reforms are necessary if our legislators want to make disaster response more effective and less costly for taxpayers.
The first step should be to clearly define what an emergency is. Current law leaves far too much ambiguity that opens the process up to waste.
Congress should also time-limit the availability of emergency funding. This will help to ensure that funds are targeted to immediate response and recovery needs.
Legislative reforms to the Stafford Act and National Flood Insurance Program will also be necessary to encourage states to take more ownership of local disasters and move to a market-based insurance model.
The most recent disaster aid package included $2.4 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant.
The grant program received over $35 billion in supplemental funding just last year, about 10 times its regular appropriation. Almost all of the 2018 funding is yet to be spent.
The grant is a poorly targeted program whose effectiveness is questionable at best. Almost none of the emergency funding it received from its last batch has been drawn down by state and local authorities. This shows that it meets no rational definition of “emergency response.”
Once used only sparingly in the era of the Budget Control Act, disaster and emergency designations have increasingly been used as a means to circumvent spending limits.
Although the Budget Control Act of 2011 set spending limits on defense and nondefense discretionary spending through 2021, it allows for adjustments to be made for things such as war spending, disaster and emergency relief, and program integrity initiatives.
Since the Budget Control Act’s passage, Congress has provided nearly $300 billion in disaster and emergency spending adjustments that weren’t paid for and didn’t count against the caps.
In the five years prior to the Budget Control Act, Congress appropriated less than half that amount for disaster and emergency needs.
There’s no reason that emergency funding couldn’t be paid for by tightening the belt in other areas of the government.
In 2018, Trump sent a $44 billion emergency funding request to Congress. The request included $59 billion in offsets that would have more than paid for the entire package.
However, Congress flatly rejected the president’s approach, most likely because it would have taken those pay-fors off the table for other spending increases.
The reforms offered by Romney and others are a good step toward making the federal government plan ahead for the next disaster.
When American families are faced with unexpected expenses, they often have little choice but to tighten their purse strings and find a way to pay for it. That may mean skipping a planned vacation, eating out less, or putting off big purchases.
Budgeting is about priorities. We all forgo the things we want at times in favor of the things we really need. The federal government shouldn’t be held to a different standard than the citizens it serves.
One of Congress’ main responses to the 2008 mortgage crisis was Title XIV of the Dodd-Frank Act, a section known as the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.
This title was based on the narrative that a primary cause of the crisis was creditors knowingly steering customers into high-risk mortgages. Thus, Title XIV purported to protect the economy from another financial crisis by controlling mortgage quality.
The substance of Title XIV was implemented by regulations promulgated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in January 2013 (the Qualified Mortgage or “QM” rule).
Two provisions of note are the setting of a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 43% (of pretax income) and providing safe-harbor protection for QM loans that were not considered higher-priced, meaning that the interest rate on the loan could not exceed 1.5 percentage points above the average prime offer rate.
This second provision assumes that loans will be priced for risk, thereby obviating the need to set minimum standards based on traditional risk factors, such as borrower equity or credit history.
Finally, a loan that failed to meet both tests was defined as a “higher-risk mortgage.”
Here we are, six-plus years later and (a.) 37% of home-purchase loans guaranteed by taxpayers—Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Housing Administration, VA, and Rural Housing Service (referred to here as “the five agencies”)—are in excess of the QM’s 43% maximum, (b.) 73% of first-time-buyer loans guaranteed by the five agencies have down payments of 5% or less, and (c.) the Federal Housing Administration’s median credit score for first-time buyers is 660, meaning half have subprime credit.
Yet, all of these loans meet the QM definition and, therefore, are not considered “higher-risk mortgages.”
It’s no coincidence that we also find ourselves in the midst of the second-biggest house-price boom since World War II. The reason is simple. Aside from laying out a few specific loan characteristics for the QM, Congress gave federal regulators a great deal of discretion to create the final QM standard.
The first thing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau did was to exempt the five agencies from QM’s 43% rule, an exemption now commonly known as the “QM patch.” The Federal Housing Administration, the VA, and the Rural Housing Service subsequently promulgated their own QM rules to replace the bureau’s 43% rule.
Thus, the effect of the patch was to allow any conventional loan with a debt-to-income ratio greater than 43% to be classified as a QM loan, provided that the loan met Fannie Mae’s or Freddie Mac’s (i.e., the government-sponsored enterprises’) underwriting requirements.
However, the bureau insisted that the patch was supposed to provide “a reasonable transition period to the general qualified mortgage definition, including the 43% debt-to-income ratio requirement,” and it set it to automatically expire in 2021.
From the very beginning, though, Fannie, Freddie, the Federal Housing Administration, and the VA, along with the housing lobby, viewed the 43% debt-to-income requirement as too restrictive and took advantage of the various exemptions.
The percentage of loans exceeding the patch not only failed to decline, but rose from about 23% in January 2013 to 37% today.
And with the patch’s expiration date rapidly approaching, the special-interest groups are ramping up the pressure to modify and extend the government-sponsored enterprises’ patch.
That fact is bad enough, given that high debt-to-income ratio loans are some of the worst-performing loans during an economic downturn. What makes this effort even more dangerous, though, is that many of these groups are trying to persuade the administration to eliminate the debt-to-income ratio requirement completely.
They want to rely instead on a single interest-rate metric that defines lower-risk and higher-risk loans. Karan Kaul, a senior mortgage researcher at the Urban Institute, puts the idea as follows:
The idea is that instead of relying on [debt-to-income ratio], if you rely on the [annual percentage rate] on the loan, then you could say the loan is not a high-priced loan, it’s not a risky loan, so it’s a good candidate for QM. If you have a loan with a very high [debt-to-income ratio], it probably is going to be a higher-priced loan, and that loan will not be QM.
Several groups have seized on this idea and are now proposing to substitute the existing average prime offer rate safe harbor for the current QM patch. In other words, they want to replace the existing patch with a new one that relies solely on whether a loan’s interest rate is more than 1.5 percentage points greater than the average prime offer rate.
Under this approach, as long as the loan meets the basic QM requirements and its interest rate does not exceed the average prime offer rate by 1.5 percentage points, it will still have QM status even with a debt-to-income ratio that exceeds 43%.
This scheme is highly flawed. The debt-to-income ratio provides a proxy of credit risk inherent in mortgage loans; the average prime offer rate does not.
The American Enterprise Institute’s mortgage risk index data clearly show that an average prime offer rate rule of this nature would not be calibrated to default risk.
For example, for loans with a credit score between 660 and 689, which is where the Federal Housing Administration and government-sponsored enterprises most directly compete with each other, default risk increases as down payment declines and the debt-to-income ratio increases, but no such pattern is discernible with respect to the average note rate premium over the average prime offer rate.
Further, this scheme would provide plenty of room for further risk expansion, because the vast majority of agency QM loans with both high and low mortgage-risk indexes are well below the cutoff of 1.5 percentage points above the average prime offer rate.
None of this is too surprising, given the federal government’s insistence that agencies (and the government-sponsored enterprises) either avoid pricing loans for risk or provide substantial cross-subsidies.
Regardless, it’s crystal clear that replacing the debt-to-income ratio cap with an average prime offer rate cap will do nothing to protect against a flood of risky loans on the market.
The evidence suggests that the housing lobby’s latest idea, replacing the sunsetting patch with an average prime offer rate loan-rate rule is just a veiled attempt to have the federal government continue providing leverage support during the ongoing house-price boom.
If the administration truly values taxpayer safety and housing affordability, it will reject this idea and simply let the QM patch expire.
The post Why the Housing Lobby’s Average Prime Offer Rate Solution is Deeply Flawed appeared first on The Daily Signal.
In a much-awaited decision, the Supreme Court held on Thursday in a 5-4 decision that partisan gerrymandering is a political question beyond the reach of the federal courts.
This should come as no surprise, since it’s the same conclusion the court reached the last time this issue was before it in 2004 in a case out of Pennsylvania, Vieth v. Jubelirer.
This time, plaintiffs in both Maryland and North Carolina challenged congressional redistricting maps, claiming they discriminated against Republicans in Maryland and Democrats in North Carolina.
They argued that such partisan redistricting (i.e. engaging in politics when drawing legislative district lines to benefit candidates of one political party) violated the First and 14th Amendments, as well as the elections clause and Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution. District courts in both cases ruled in their favor.
However, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by the other (generally) conservative justices, concluded that this is a nonjusticiable political question for which there is a lack of discoverable and manageable standards.
The chief justice noted that “partisan gerrymandering is nothing new,” and neither is “frustration with it.”
Partisan redistricting was known “in the colonies prior to independence and the framers were familiar with it at the time of the drafting and ratification of the Constitution.”
Yet, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention who drafted the Constitution assigned the authority to draw political boundaries to state legislatures, checked and balanced by Congress, with no suggestion that the federal courts had a role to play in the process.
According to the majority, a contrary decision holding that legislators cannot take their partisan interests into account when drawing lines would countermand the Framers’ own decision.
The claims made by these plaintiffs and by others against partisan redistricting “invariably sound in a desire for proportional representation,” something the Constitution does not require.
In fact, the “Founders certainly did not think proportional representation was required” given that for 50 years after the ratification of the Constitution, “many states elected their congressional representatives through at-large or ‘general ticket’ elections.”
The court also found that there aren’t any “discernible” legal standards in the Constitution for making judgments on what is the “appropriate” share of “safe” seats for political parties, let alone any “limited and precise standards that are clear, manageable, and politically neutral.”
Decisions by judges on what is “fair” in the political realm would be an “unmoored determination of the sort characteristic of a political question beyond the competence of the federal courts.”
The majority opinion was quick to point out that, although partisan redistricting is a political question that the federal courts should not get involved in, this decision “does not condone partisan gerrymandering.”
Neither does the court’s conclusion “condemn complaints about districting to echo into a void.” But remedying this problem is the responsibility of states and Congress, which have the power to reform the process, not the courts.
Roberts said that what the plaintiffs and the dissenters in these cases “seek is an unprecedented expansion of judicial power.”
Such an “expansion of judicial authority would not be into just any area of controversy, but into one of the most intensely partisan aspects of American political life.”
It would be “unlimited in scope and duration” and it “would recur over and over again around the country with each new round of districting, for state as well as federal representatives.”
Roberts is certainly correct about that. There are no manageable judicial standards, no bright line one can draw in the redistricting area on how much politics is acceptable and how much would be too much, and thus a supposed violation of the Constitution.
Moreover, the Supreme Court would have to build its own version of Noah’s Ark to float above the flood of redistricting litigation that would have erupted in the federal courts if partisan redistricting had been recognized as a constitutional violation.
Justice Elena Kagan, joined by her liberal colleagues, virulently dissented, claiming that the majority was refusing to remedy a constitutional violation.
She also claimed that the lower federal courts had come up with an applicable legal standard, a claim that is open to great dispute.
Nonetheless, this is the right decision by the court. As Roberts said in his conclusion, “no one can accuse” the Supreme Court of “having a crabbed view of the reach of its competence.”
But whatever competence the court may have, it has no “commission to allocate political power and influence in the absence of a constitutional directive or legal standards to guide” them.
This is an example of the “rare circumstance” where it is the Supreme Court’s “duty to say ‘this is not the law.’”
The post Why the Supreme Court Got It Right on Gerrymandering appeared first on The Daily Signal.
President Donald Trump recently ordered and then called off a retaliatory strike against Iran for destroying a U.S. surveillance drone. The U.S. asserts that the drone was operating in international space. Iran claims it was in Iranian airspace.
Anti-war critics of Trump’s Jacksonian rhetoric turned on a dime to blast him as a weak, vacillating leader afraid to call Iran to account.
Trump supporters countered that the president had shown Iran a final gesture of patience—and cleared the way for a stronger retaliation should Iran foolishly interpret his one-time forbearance as weakness to be exploited rather than as magnanimity to be reciprocated.
The charge of Trump being an appeaser was strange coming from leftist critics, especially given Trump’s past readiness to bomb Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons, his willingness to destroy ISIS through enhanced airstrikes, and his liberation of American forces in Afghanistan from prior confining rules of engagement.
The truth is that Iran and the United States are now engaged in a great chess match. But the stakes are not those of intellectual gymnastics. The game is no game, but involves the lives, and possible deaths, of thousands.
The latest American-Iranian standoff is not like that of 1979-1981, when theocratic revolutionaries removed the Shah, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and took American hostages for 444 days—and humiliated America.
Iran fears there are now no such American liabilities. Forty years later, America has no presence in Iran. It has long since given up on bringing Tehran back into the Western fold.
There are no Americans in Iran to be kidnapped and no Iranian allies inside Iran to be saved. Iran has no leverage over the United States, at least not as it did in 1979.
Nor is the current confrontation reminiscent of the 2003-2011 tensions in the region. The United States is not fighting a ground war in the Middle East, much less one on the border of Iran.
The U.S. no longer believes in nation-building the autocratic Middle East into Western-style democracies. American troops are not in jeopardy from Iranian ground attacks. Americans have no financial or psychological capital invested in liberalizing Iraq, much less Iran and its environs.
Nor is the situation like the chronic Iranian tensions of the last 40 years in which an oil-dependent U.S. feared Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz, or the sudden cutoff of imported oil, ensuring Nixon-era gas lines.
America is now the largest producer of gas and oil in the world, soon to be the largest exporter as well. The U.S. economy is booming. Iran’s is imploding.
The economies of China, Japan, and Europe depend on the free flow of Middle Eastern oil. But China is currently in a trade war of nerves with the United States.
An appeasing Europe doesn’t have the desire to help ramp up sanctions on Iran to prevent its nuclearization, nor is it eager to accede to U.S. entreaties to increase defense spending and enhance the NATO alliance.
Japan is trying to deny Iranian aggression in fear that the global oil market might spike on news of Persian Gulf tensions.
In other words, both allies and enemies expect the United States to ensure that their shipping and their oil are safe.
Nor are we too concerned for our longtime ally Israel with regard to Iran. An impoverished Iran is bereft of allies and remains an international pariah, desperate to sell its embargoed oil to any rogue autocracy shameless enough to buy it.
Israel is nuclear and has never been militarily stronger. It is now self-sufficient in oil and gas.
Israel has forged new ties with China, Russia, and the European Union, and renewed its traditionally close relationship with the United States.
Iran’s neighbors in the Arab world are either in a mess or clandestinely allied with Israel. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have never been weaker vis-a-vis Israel.
Time is on the American side. Each day Iran grows weaker and poorer, and the U.S. stronger and richer.
Iran’s only hope is to draw the Trump administration into a messy Iraq-like ground war, or, at worst, a Balkans-style, monthslong bombing campaign–with plenty of CNN footage of civilian collateral damage.
How, then, can the U.S. deter Iranian escalation without getting into an unpopular war before the heated 2020 election? It merely needs to persist in the present standoff: Ramp up the sanctions even tighter and ignore pathetic Iranian attacks on foreign ships.
If Tehran preemptively attacks an American ship or plane, it will be met by a disproportionate response, preferably one aimed not at civilian infrastructure, but at the Iranian military hierarchy, Revolutionary Guard, and theocratic elite.
Otherwise, the Trump administration can sit back and monitor Iran’s international ostracism and economic isolation while remaining unpredictable and enigmatic, ready to hit back hard at any attack on Americans but without being suckered into an optional war with Iran in the perennial Middle East quagmire.
Twitter announced Thursday the company will begin labeling and down-ranking politicians’ most vitriolic tweets, a move that could affect how President Donald Trump promotes his message.
The new label applies to all verified political candidates and officials with more than 100,000 followers, Twitter noted in a blog post. Users who want to view flagged content must click on a screen that says Twitter’s rules against abusive behavior apply to the tweet.
Algorithms will then begin deprioritizing labeled tweets, the company said. Such de-rankings would inevitably result in fewer people seeing content with the new label. The new change will go into effect immediately and will not affect other leaders or accounts with broad influence.
“In the past, we’ve allowed certain Tweets that violated our rules to remain on Twitter because they were in the public’s interest, but it wasn’t clear when and how we made those determinations,” Twitter wrote. “To fix that, we’re introducing a new notice that will provide additional clarity in these situations, and sharing more on when and why we’ll use it.”
The change comes as the president says Twitter and other companies are suppressing conservative content. Trump criticizes Facebook as well, telling his Twitter followers in March that he’s looking into accusations of big tech censorship.
Media reports from May said the Trump campaign was considering creating a new account on one of Twitter’s fledgling competitors, a platform called Parler.
Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah both began posting on the site in May. Pundits Gavin McInnes, Laura Loomer, and Milo Yiannopoulos joined after they were booted from Twitter.
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The post Twitter Lays Groundwork for Potentially Down-Ranking Some of Trump’s Tweets appeared first on The Daily Signal.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated ruling in Kisor v. Wilkie, a case challenging judicial deference to administrative agencies’ interpretation of their own regulations. While all nine members of the Court agreed that the lower court was wrong to reflexively defer to the agency in this case, a majority was unwilling to retire a doctrine known as Seminole Rock/Auer deference.
Named for Supreme Court decisions from 1945 and 1997, Seminole Rock/Auer deference instructs judges to defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation of ambiguous regulations as long as that interpretation is not plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.
Many judges and legal scholars have called for the Supreme Court to jettison this doctrine because it turns on its head the foundational declaration in Marbury v. Madison (1803) that it is “emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Seminole Rock/Auer deference instead ensures that federal bureaucrats, rather than judges, say what the law is.
In this case, James Kisor, a retired Marine who served in the Vietnam War and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, filed a claim for disability benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA denied his claim in 1983, and in June 2006, Kisor sought to have his claim reopened, identifying documents the VA did not consider when it initially reviewed his claim. The VA granted his claim for benefits but, interpreting an agency regulation, determined that he was not eligible for those benefits to be made retroactive to 1983. Kisor then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing that under his interpretation of the agency regulation, he was entitled to retroactive benefits.
The court ruled for the agency based on its determination that while both sides offered reasonable interpretations, it must defer to the agency’s interpretation. The judges’ hands were tied by the Seminole Rock/Auer doctrine. Kisor asked the Supreme Court to review the case and overrule Seminole Rock and Auer.
Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan took the “plainly erroneous or inconsistent” standard of Seminole Rock and Auer and recast it into a multi-step test instructing lower court judges whether and how to grant deference. First, using “all the ‘traditional tools’ of construction,” a judge must determine if the applicable regulation is “genuinely ambiguous.” If there is genuine ambiguity, then the judge must consider whether the agency’s interpretation is a reasonable one. If the agency’s interpretation is reasonable, the judge must next conduct an “independent inquiry” into “whether the character and context of the agency interpretation entitles it to controlling weight.” This inquiry may include, but is not limited to, factors such as whether the interpretation is the official position of the agency or an ad hoc statement; whether it involves the agency’s substantive expertise; and whether it “reflect[s] the ‘fair and considered judgment’ of the agency rather than a “convenient litigation position” or “post hocrationalization.”
This new test may prove to be a higher hurdle for administrative agencies to clear than the old “plainly erroneous or inconsistent” standard. Given this transformation, why not simply retire the old doctrine to make way for a new one?
Kagan noted two reasons for the Court’s refusal to overturn Seminole Rock and Auer. In her view (which only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor joined), there is a “presumption that Congress would generally want the agency to play the primary role in resolving regulatory ambiguities.” There’s a certain logic to this argument; the agency made the rule, so it should know how the rule should operates.
But agency regulations have the force of law, and judges—not federal bureaucrats—have the duty to say what the law is. Judges should interpret regulations in the light of what their text says, not by the secret intentions of agency officials who created them.
Kagan’s second reason (joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor) is the principle known as “stare decisis,” that the Court is hesitant to overturn its prior rulings. There are a number of factors the justices consider when asked to throw out one of their decisions, and as Kagan put it, “[I]t is good—and important—for our opinions to be right and well-reasoned. But that is not the test for overturning precedent.”
There is no question that stare decisis ensures an effective legal system in which judges, lawyers, government officials, and the public can rely on what the Supreme Court has said. But it should not trump the principle that decisions that fail to comply with the Constitution must be reconsidered. If it did, dishonorable decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson (“separate but equal”) and Pace v. Alabama (upholding anti-miscegenation laws) would still be on the books today.
Kagan has become one of the leading voices advocating for stare decisis. In an opinion just last week dissenting from the Court’s decision overruling a 1985 case, Kagan mused, “Now one may wonder yet again” which decision “the Court will overrule next.”
Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh indicated they were ready to retire the Seminole Rock and Auer decisions. They agreed with the result in Kisor—that the lower court was wrong to defer to the agency in Kisor’s case—but took issue with Kagan’s new test. In a lengthy concurrence, Gorsuch wrote, “The majority proceeds to impose so many new and nebulous qualifications and limitations on Auer that the Chief Justice [who wrote a concurring opinion] claims to see little practical difference between keeping it on life support in this way and overruling it entirely. So the doctrine emerges maimed and enfeebled—in truth, zombified.” Gorsuch detailed how Seminole Rock and Auer cannot be reconciled with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (the federal law governing agency rulemaking) or the Constitution.
He explained: “Under Auer, judges are forced to subordinate their own views about what the law means to those of a political actor, one who may even be a party to the litigation before the court … the doctrine matters only when a court would conclude that the agency’s interpretation is not the best or fairest reading of the regulation.”
Gorsuch continued, “Kagan paints a very different picture of Auer, asking us to imagine it riding to the rescue only in cases where the scales of justice are evenly balanced between two equally persuasive readings. But that’s a fantasy.” Indeed, agencies’ win rate in cases where courts invoke Seminole Rock/Auer deference has been as high as 77% and declined to 74% in recent years according to a 2018 study published in the Georgetown Law Journal[TK1] .
Seminole Rock and Auer give the government a benefit that no court would ever afford a private party: the ability to decide what a vague or ambiguous legal rule means. By so doing, “deference” becomes a bias in favor of the most powerful litigant – the federal government.
The time has come for the Court to stop “making up excuses for judges to abdicate their job of interpreting the law,” Gorsuch argued, and allow judges to give their “best independent judgment of the law’s meaning.” Instead, judges must now figure out how to apply Kagan’s new multi-factor test—which Gorsuch predicts will cause “more uncertainty and much litigation.”
Though many hoped the Court would retire Seminole Rock and Auer, the ruling in Kisor is not a loss. The majority made clear that this doctrine is “cabined in its scope” and should not be applied to stack the deck in favor of the government. Time will tell if the new Seminole Rock/Auer doctrine “with teeth” will actually act as a check on agencies, or if business will continue as usual when agencies seek to interpret their own ambiguous regulations to their advantage.
The post New Supreme Court Ruling May Start Checking Power of Federal Bureaucrats appeared first on The Daily Signal.