From the Field: Reporting from Sen. Blumenthal’s (D-CT) Emergency Hearing on the American Healthcare Act in Hartford, Connecticut

Crammed into Room 310 of the Connecticut State Capitol, upwards of two hundred people were sweating through their shirts. At the front of the room stood U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, braving the heat in a full suit after having called an “emergency field hearing” on healthcare in response to GOP secrecy. If the Republican Congress won’t have a hearing, the Senator though, I’ll have one myself. I watched from the doorway and back of the room as dozens of the over-capacity crowd (about a dozen people watched on TV monitors in the hall) rose and gave testimony. The hearing was so popular that a second was announced in New Haven on Friday, June 23.

Those speaking came from all around Connecticut. They were government officials, healthcare advocates, union advocates, but above all, they were concerned people with terrible, heart-wrenching stories. They spoke about healthcare from every possible angle: state concerns, national concerns, mental health, physical health, etc. Before I go into highlights, I want to specifically draw attention to a line I cannot remember who said: “What number of lives lost will be enough?” Where will the Republican Party draw the line?

Highlights:

  • One of the first to speak was Ted Doolittle, head of the Office of the Healthcare Advocate and appointee of the governor. He attacked the AHCA for magnifying already-existing problems with healthcare, saying (to paraphrase) that taking any money out of the incredibly expensive healthcare system would cripple it. He ended his testimony with an impassioned call for a national single-payer system.
  • Tim Foley, Director of the Connecticut State Council of the Service Employees International Union, the second largest union in the country, predicted that the Republican healthcare plan would create “huge, if not insurmountable problems” for the already suffering Connecticut state budget. He also noted that “eighty percent of a bad bill is still a bad bill,” referencing Texas Senator John Cornyn’s remark that, “80 percent of what the House did we’re likely to do.”
  • Shawn Lang, Deputy Director of AIDS Connecticut, invoked the early days of the AIDS epidemic and asserted that the American Healthcare Act as passed by the House “would bring us back to the early days of the plague” of AIDS. She also noted that many AIDS sufferers would be doubly hit, as many are over fifty, afflicted by the opioid epidemic, and subject to mental health issues as well.
  • Advocates for both mental health and children’s health noted that there was incredible progress in those fields in Connecticut in recent years, but passage of AHCA would halt that progress.
  • Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, attacked Republican secrecy and rushing of the AHCA specifically. It would be “devastating,” she said, to force a vote before the July 4th recess, which is rumored to be the GOP plan, and without due time for debate, a CBO score, or amendments.
  • One of the most moving testimonies came from Jennifer Kelly, a mother whose daughter had suffered a heroin overdose in 2015. She focused mainly on a need to increase funding for addiction research and help to victims, especially during, “the worst heroin epidemic we’ve ever seen.”

~Ridgley Knapp

 

The Comey Case

In a presidency that has produced a Muslim ban that wasn’t a Muslim ban, multiple attempts to strip Americans of healthcare, and the use of the US Army’s largest non-nuclear bomb, it would be easy to dismiss President Trump’s most recent decision to fire FBI Director James Comey as par for the course. Yet it is anything but. This move coupled with Republicans’ refusal to appoint a special prosecutor threatens the integrity of America’s system of law enforcement and has the potential to wreak the most long-term destruction of any of this presidency’s actions.

Let’s go back to the beginning. On Tuesday, May 9, the White House announced that President Trump had fired Comey “based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” In Trump’s letter to Comey, he claimed that the former director was “not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” but when acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, he claimed that “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.” So there seem to be some flaws with the Department of Justice’s evaluation of the situation, but at least the President is listening to his advisors, right?

Moving forward. Two days after news broke of Comey’s dismissal, Trump announced in an interview with NBC News that he “was going to fire regardless of the recommendation.” I take back the part about Trump at least listening to his advisors. Trump did something Jeff Sessions happened to agree with.

Regardless of who made the decision, Sessions and Trump’s involvement in the FBI’s prominent Russia investigation makes both of them unfit to make this call. Criminals don’t get to choose who decides their guilt. President Trump, on the other hand, will get to do just that when he appoints the new FBI director—an appointment that will likely be accompanied by an instruction slipped under the table (“do what I say or you’re fired”).

The termination is made even more suspicious by its timing. Mere hours before Comey was fired, CNN reported that the FBI had issued subpoenas to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and his associates. The New York Times later reported that Comey had requested more resources to put towards the Russia investigation just days before he was forced to vacate his position at the top of the FBI.

Both the two leading decision-makers’ potential involvement in an active FBI investigation and the firing’s taking place so soon after the inquiry began to speed up suggest James Comey’s termination was not done because he was truly unfit to lead the Bureau, but instead because he was investigating Trump and his administration. Russia interfered with our election and showed that it plans to continue meddling when it hacked Emmanuel Macron’s email mere days before the French election. Vladimir Putin cannot be allowed to undermine western democracy by helping unqualified candidates reach office. That is a nonpartisan issue. Firing the leader of an ongoing investigation into his government’s actions at the very least undermines the investigation’s integrity and has the potential to allow Russia and all of their collaborators now present in the Trump administration to get away with election manipulation. By firing Comey, President Trump is failing to uphold his duty to keep elections fair and to hold foreign powers accountable.

If endangering the integrity of western democracy wasn’t enough, Trump’s decision also sets a dangerous legal precedent in our own country. Comey’s firing marks only the second time in the history of the FBI that its director was fired. When William Sessions was fired in 1993, he had lost the respect of much of the Bureau, which, as mentioned above, Comey had not. Presidents cannot be allowed to dismantle law enforcement if it reaches (or nears) a decision they disagree with. As a leader of an apolitical organization, the director of the FBI is deliberately appointed to 10-year terms so that they outlast any one president’s tenure. Trump’s reckless action opens the door for future presidents to treat the FBI as their lapdog.

Before I close, I’ll address the ridiculous argument that Trump fired Comey because of the way he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation during the election. Do people really believe that the same guy who riled up crowds with cries of “lock her up” now sympathizes with his former opponent? It is outrageous to claim that the Republicans suddenly care about the treatment of a woman against whom they have led witch-huts for years. What’s more, if the GOP wasn’t concerned with what would come out of the FBI’s inquiry into Russian interference in the election, it wouldn’t have rejected Democrats’ requests for an independent investigation of Russia’s involvement.

President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is one of his most reckless actions yet. It threatens both the integrity of future elections around the world and the political independence of American law enforcement. Congress cannot allow Trump to appoint his own prosecutors and jury. They must appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. The President needs to know that he is not above the law and will be punished for his actions.

~Danny Eisgruber

College Democrats of Illinois Convention

On April 29th, the University of Chicago College Democrats sent a delegation of eleven to the College Democrats of Illinois (CDIL) convention at Illinois State University in Normal, Il. Despite train delays, pouring rain, and whipping wind, the delegation arrived right before Jack McNeil, DePaul sophomore and CDIL President, gavelled the convention into order.

Eighteen chapters were represented, a record for the conference. Each gave a brief summary of their work the past year, and UC Dems was represented by our own President, Anais Rosenblatt, who spoke to our volunteering before the November election, our phone banking in the weeks and months afterward, as well as our work to increase political participation on campus.

The first day’s lineup of speakers was impressive to say the least: three candidates for Governor and three elected officials with histories of hard work and innovation. JB Pritzker was the first candidate to speak, citing his civic involvement from the private sector as a means for proving his gubernatorial chops. Chris Kennedy went next, lamenting the downfall of the American Dream and what we, as young people, Democrats, and voters, could do to save it. Rounding out the candidates was Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, a downstate “dark horse” contender in the race for governor who insisted that carrying Cook County alone was not enough to win the state (as we saw in 2014).

Another guest who spoke to the importance of competing downstate was Doug House, the first speaker of the convention and chairman of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association. House emphasized the wave that many people see on the horizon and how College Democrats would be necessary in using it in all of Illinois’ 102 counties.

Surprise! Scott Drury spoke later, and he announced that he was considering a run for Governor as well. Drury gained some repute this past year, as he became the first Democrat in nearly thirty years to not vote for Mike Madigan as Speaker of the House. Though a distinct anti-Madigan campaign may gain some traction among conservative Democrats (or those simply fed up with the Speaker), as a state representative from border of Cook and Lake counties, Drury will be competing with already-declared heavy-hitters Pritzker, Kennedy, and State Senator Daniel Biss, all of whom are expected to play heavily in Chicago and the suburbs.

Rounding out the first day’s speakers was State Treasurer Mike Frerichs, who began his speech with the necessary, “Hi, I’m Mike Frerichs, and I am NOT running for governor.” The six-foot-eight state senator turned Treasurer spoke to his successes in negotiating from the office, successes that Governor Rauner was unable to accomplish. As Republicans try to save money, the essence of his speech went, Democrats try and find solutions.

Following the speeches were breakout sessions on topics ranging from Local Politics and Fundraising to Running for Office and “Talking with Republicans”, session headed by a leader in the field. Local Politics, for example, was headlined by Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, the sitting and first Democratic mayor elected in Bloomington’s almost one hundred and ninety year history.

The second day of the convention was split at noon. Before was a panel on the future and present of the Democratic Party, after were elections for Executive Board.

The panel, moderated by Zach Braun, junior at Illinois State and Vice President of CDIL, focused on what the Democratic Party should learn from 2016 and where it should go moving forward. Panelists included State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss, State Representative and candidate for Congress for Illinois’ 13th District (probably) Carol Ammons, State Senator Scott Bennett, and Carlo Robustelli, a member of the McLean County Board and political and business strategist. All four panelists spoke on the Democratic Party’s failures at the state and local level, noting that rural voters especially had been neglected by party infrastructure. Term limits were discussed by Sen. Biss, an advocate. Rep. Ammons spoke on the need to bring downstate back into play, drawing focus onto the flaws of believing that any votes are “automatic”. She hit her opponent, Rep. Rodney Davis, for refusing to hold town halls. Everyone, and I mean everyone, attacked the President, albeit after noting his successful strategies while campaigning.

The Executive Board elections were a show in and of themselves: all nominations were taken from the floor. Most of the EBoard was elected uncontested; Pres. Jack McNeil and VP Zach Braun, who had both risen to their offices due to a vacancy during the summer, won full terms for the 2017-2018 cycle. UC Dems’ own Victoria Koffsky (‘19) was elected Finance Director by acclimation. Only two elections were contested, Communications Director and Chicago Regional Director, and in both cases, the Maroon nominee came out on top. Ridgley Knapp (‘20) was elected to Communications, and Sam Joyce (‘20) was elected to represent the city of Chicago.

~Ridgley Knapp

TRUMP TRACKER – Trump’s First 100 Days

Today, April 29th marks 100 days since Donald Trump’s inauguration.  His intentions for this point in his presidency were HUGE.   While he has failed bigly in reaching many of his goals, he has still managed to do quite a bit of damage.  However, because I’m not tryna find out if WordPress has a word limit on blog posts, I’m only offering some of the most notable highlights.

  • January 20th – Trump was inaugurated. While Trump took to Twitter and claimed that the ratings for the event were up, the crowd size was lackluster.  Surprisingly, the A list celebrities could not even get tickets!

jan 20th tweet

  • January 20th – Somebody told Trump what an executive order was, and he signs his first one which decreases Obamacare regulation.
  • January 22nd – Kellyanne Conway explains that the reason Trump doesn’t make sense is because he uses “alternative facts.”
  • January 24th – More insightful tweets from POTUS

jan 24th.png

  • January 27th – Trump signs the order which temporarily suspends the U.S. refugee program; he targets nations with a majority Muslim population.
  • January 28th – Apparently the New York Times is both fake and failing.
  • January 30th – Trump fires Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce the Muslim ban.
  • January 31st – Trump, even though he does not have a full four years left in his term, nominates Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
  • February 5th – Judges continue to block the Muslim ban, and Trump gets frustrated when he realizes that checks and balances are a real thing.

february 5th

  • February 7th – Pence comes out of hiding to cast an unprecedented, tie-breaking vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary.
  • February 7th – Mitch McConnell’s complex is threatened, and he interrupts and silences Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Floor. “Nevertheless, She Persisted!”
  • February 13th – It was released that Michael Flynn has ties to Russia and steps down as national security adviser.
  • February 14th – Trump helps out the “failing New York Times” by pitching an idea.

february 14th

  • February 20th – Happy Not My President’s Day!
  • February 20th – Trump has the lowest one month approval rating of any president.
  • February 22nd – Master puppeteer Mike Pence starts pulling the strings, and Trump reverses the Obama administration’s instructions to let transgender students use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
  • March 4th – Trump took to Twitter…again. This time he accused Obama of wiretapping.

March 4th

 

  • March 6th – House Republicans release their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
  • March 21st – Trump threatens to ruin the careers of House GOP if they do not vote in favor of the AHCA.
  • April 6th – Trump launches cruise missiles into Syria.
  • April 10th – Neil Gorsuch is sworn into the Supreme Court.
  • April 11th – Sean Spicer lets us all know that Hitler did not use chemical weapons….
  • April 12th – Apparently Syria is the new Aleppo, as Trump does not know the difference between Syria and Iraq. His chocolate cake was apparently really good tho.
  • April 12th – Somebody told Trump what NATO was. He no longer views it to be obsolete.
  • April 28th – The government did not shutdown… yet.

~Victoria Koffsky

Trump’s Wall to Nowhere

This is a sentence:

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.[1]

That was Donald Trump in July of 2015. Ignore the nonsense – pretend Donald Trump is smart, assume he’s “disadvantaged,” gloss over his claim that intelligence is linked to gender – and you may notice a certain respect for MIT: I know MIT is great – bigly! – and its professors are very, very, smart. My my uncle taught there, you can almost hear the man saying.

Who knows what President Trump thinks of the university now? Bidding on construction of his border wall ended two weeks ago,[2] and an article in the MIT Technology Review puts its cost at nearly $40 billion.[3] That’s twice the Department of Homeland Security estimate of $21 billion,[4] and five times the $8 billion number he pulled out of thin air.[5] If there’s a silver lining for Trump, it’s that MIT’s estimate is still lower than Senate Democrats’ figure of $70 billion.[6] There’s also the knowledge that Trump’s support for a wall was never based on facts, so most people who supported his wall before knowing the costs still favor it now.

If you consider The Wall unnecessary, alienating, and a phenomenal waste of money, there’s good news. The federal government only has $20 million to spend on the project – enough to build 7 miles of wall.[7] The Mexican government, which President Trump expected to pay for the wall, has told him to take a hike. Now he’s asking Congress to approve funds for a 2,000-mile boondoggle. Fortunately, Democrats are united in opposition to the move, as our elected representatives know well. If President Trump expects eight Democratic senators to support his wall, maybe Jeff Sessions’ crackdown on marijuana should start at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

That hasn’t kept the White House from trying to find eight votes. First, Trump threatened to withhold payments vital to the Affordable Care Act, promising to restore a dollar in subsidies for every dollar spent building The Wall. Unfortunately for him, health care is more popular than border walls. While Americans are split on the Affordable Care Act, just 35% of the public supports his wall.[8] Maybe that’s why President Trump is changing tactics, hinting that he might veto a budget that lacks funding for a 2,000-mile eyesore along the Mexican border. It takes guts to shut down the government to ram through a policy 3 in 5 voters dislike, but it looks like Trump may do just that. Will he be able to blame a shutdown on Democrats? Maybe. Will his wall ever span the Mexican border? Not likely.

So, if The Wall is going nowhere, can we stop worrying about Trump’s immigration policy? Not so fast. The trend Trump wants to stop – Mexican migration to the U.S. – ground to a halt several years ago; since the Great Recession, net migration from Mexico to the U.S. has been negligible. The 11 million undocumented immigrants[9] living in legal limbo are a more pressing concern.

While President Obama’s administration focused on deporting those with criminal records, the Trump administration has doubled arrests of noncriminal migrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.[10] Parents; breadwinners; business owners; “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children: all have been caught up in the dragnet, as immigration arrests have risen by a third.[11] The very threat of deportation has long made undocumented workers vulnerable to exploitation by unethical employers, leading to poor working conditions and driving down the wages citizens and permanent residents can demand. Targeting law-abiding undocumented migrants won’t help. Crucially, most of these actions fall outside Congress’ purview; Trump can choose to enforce immigration laws as harshly, or as humanely, as he wants.

The arguments for a more humane immigration policy aren’t new, and they were true long before the 2016 election. That’s why Democrats favored comprehensive immigration reform in the first place, and it’s why we can’t stop discussing that vision now. It would be easy to spend the next four years blasting President Trump’s immigration policy – the raids, The Wall, and his two Muslim bans – but eventually being against Trump won’t be enough. Millions of undocumented migrants will still be here when Trump’s gone, and Democrats will need to tackle the hard work of immigration reform. If we spend the coming years making the case for reform, contrasting the benefits of an inclusive policy with the costs of Trump’s approach, reform-minded Democrats can depend on the public’s backing. Otherwise, we may face the same challenges that have kept Republicans from uniting behind one health-care bill, after seven years of opposition to the ACA without any discussion of the alternatives. President Trump’s made it easy to oppose his immigration policy. Now Democrats need a plan voters can support.

~Andy Hatem

 

[1] www.c-span.org/video/?c4546796/donald-trump-sentence (4/16/17)

[2] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/04/522652528/bids-for-trump-s-border-wall-are-due-today (4/16/17)

[3] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602494/bad-math-props-up-trumps-border-wall/ (4/16/17)

[4] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2017/02/10/border-wall-cost-21-billion-homeland-security-report/97747620/ (4/16/17)

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/02/11/trumps-dubious-claim-that-his-border-wall-would-cost-8-billion/?utm_term=.4735a4d31ee8 (4/16/17)

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/us/politics/senate-democrats-border-wall-cost-trump.html?_r=0 (4/18/17)

[7] https://www.propublica.org/article/trumps-wall-how-much-money-does-the-government-have-for-it-now (4/16/17)

[8] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/04/24/down-side-to-holding-obamacare-hostage-to-pay-for-trumps-wall-obamacares-more-popular/?utm_term=.51fcda933515 (4/24/17)

[9] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/03/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/ (4/16/17)

[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration-arrests-of-noncriminals-double-under-trump/2017/04/16/98a2f1e2-2096-11e7-be2a-3a1fb24d4671_story.html?utm_term=.2a3305049980 (4/16/17)

[11] (see above)