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Trump’s New Homeless Czar Threatens The Destitute

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Team Trump is sharpening its teeth on a new, nationwide crackdown on homelessness.

Though the details are not known, we do know a bit about Robert Marbut, who has been named essentially czar for homelessness for the White House. Marbut built a reputation for making the homeless earn admittance to shelters while clearing the streets to gather them in central holding facilities.

Marbut puts emphasis on an approach that is less about empathy and closer to the model we know as jail.

Formally, Marbut was named director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), a position that coordinates on homelessness policy among 19 federal agencies. His appointment was quickly condemned by housing advocates, including the national nonprofit Invisible People, which described Marbut’s past work as “real-life horror.”

Homeless policies are still cooking in the White House, but the details that have emerged suggest an approach heavier on law enforcement than empathy.

Marbut describes himself as wielding a “velvet hammer” toward homelessness to avoid coddling those on the street.

Criminalizing Homelessness

While whatever is emerging as homeless policies is still cooking in the White House, the details that have emerged suggest an approach heavier on law enforcement than empathy, and one generally described as an attack on funds for cities and states that are seen as places where homelessness is most visible.

For sure, homeless populations are growing in this nation–numbers of more than 1.4 million are said to be in various kinds of housing programs, with hundreds of thousands more living on the streets of major cities. Concern and frustration with homelessness as a problem crosses political boundaries, of course.

Donald Trump has been increasingly vocal recently in criticizing cities, particularly Los Angeles and San Francisco, for allowing homelessness to grow as opposed to looking directly into the economic and social causes for rising numbers finding themselves in the street. Trump apparently sees it as good politics to try to embarrass local Democratic officials rather than working to resolve the problems.

In other words, Trump wants to Do Something that makes it look as if homelessness is being contained rather than examine and treat the reasons for its growth. In medical terms, he wants the appearance of cancer going away without treating the disease.

More Money for Cops, Less for Housing

According to Citylab.com, advocates for homeless policy say that they expect an executive order on homelessness to assign new resources to police departments to remove homeless encampments and even strip housing funds from cities that choose to tolerate these encampments. While several approaches are being reviewed by the White House’s Domestic Policy Council and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the preferred approach is aggressiveness on the streets over attempts to provide housing first.

Advocates say that the government is looking closely at ways to turn former correctional facilities and federal buildings into shelters, a controversial approach backed by  Marbut, who has said he sees “housing fourth” rather than “housing first.”

San Antonio Model

Citylab notes that Marbut’s career has been marked by controversy. Thirteen years ago, during his term as a San Antonio city council member, Marbut oversaw the development of a shelter model for the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents fled to Texas cities. The downtown facility named Haven for Hope—which calls itself a “transformational campus,” not a shelter—has been praised by state leaders and now accommodates 1,500 people as well as a wide range of services, 24 hours a day. Access to the 1,000 beds must be earned. People entering the shelter must sleep on mats in an outdoor courtyard and can only move inside after participating in services like job training, education and substance abuse counseling. Breaking rules like missing curfew can mean getting demoted back to the courtyard.

Marbut became a paid consultant for other cities. He once disguised himself as homeless to mix with the homeless in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Increasingly, U.S. cities have instead been trying to provide “housing first,” believing that having shelter is a first step toward stabilizing the lives of those on the street, particularly if children are involved. At the same time, they want to address jobs and medical, financial or substance abuse problems. While expensive, building shelters has proved more economical than public spending on emergency care, officials say.

Rising Numbers

But progress is slow, especially as numbers increase, the result of economic or opiate problems. After years of decline, the population has gone up during the Trump years.

Marbut has recommended that cities stop giving out food, criminalize sidewalk sleeping and force homeless residents who want services to move into city-operated facilities in large temporary structures. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has said housing for homeless residents should not be “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’” Carson has moved to end some federal homelessness programs, including protections for transgenders.

Policing Street Activities

In an interview with Huffington Post, Marbut said it is too soon to know what he will recommend. “We’re going to be coming up with new ways to look at and address homelessness,” he said.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers said in a September paper that the “tolerability of sleeping on the street” is an important factor in the prevalence of homelessness in a given town, a factor that could be affected by “the policing of street activities.”

Trump wants to push cities to round up homeless people, having called encampments disgusting and dispatched federal officials to scout out empty facilities across the country to be used as shelters. Ben Carson toured a large Houston shelter last week and previously had looked at an empty federal building in California and an unused jail in Oregon.

Texas Tribune published a profile of Marbut that is worth reading, including his sense that feeding people enables homelessness.

We should remember that there is a pattern in the Trump approach to government to hide away societal problems to make the policies he pursues look better.

This issue is worth public debate.

The Religious Right’s Bible Curriculum: Reading, Writing, And Religion

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

The Trump administration has proposed a 12 percent cut in Department of Education spending under its yearly budget. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is busily eliminating programs to help public schools and promoting private education efforts under the motto of choice.

Yet somehow, magically, there is support for the growth of teaching Christian Bible classes in public schools.

Once again, we have an out-and-out statement about what is important in this administration—not school shootings, not affirmative efforts to improve public education, not help with student debt or even the pursuit of growing sexual assault on school campuses.

Counseling Today magazine argues, for example, that it has become necessary to lobby seriously to keep federal money for school mental health. The Trump administration’s federal budget proposal cut $8.5 billion from the Department of Education, including the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program. That program supported, among other things, mental health, school security and safety, community engagement—the kind of programs that would address the issues we hear after every school shooting.

Instead, Washington Post religion writer Julie Zauzmer detailed the movement of church Bible classes from churches into public schools. She took us to Kentucky, where a new state law—one of several pending in other states —is encouraging public high schools to teach the Bible, not as part of a survey of religions, but as Bible study.

Through a legislative effort called Project Blitz, activists on the religious right, have drafted a law that encourages Bible classes in public schools and persuaded at least 10 state legislatures to introduce versions of it this year. Georgia and Arkansas recently passed bills that are awaiting their governors’ signatures. Among the powerful fans of these public-school Bible classes is Trump. “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” Trump tweeted in January. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

According to the Post, proponents of Bible instruction, including Chuck Stetson, who publishes a textbook that he says is in use in more than 600 public schools across the nation, are enthusiastic. “We’re not too far away from a tipping point. Instead of having to find a reason to teach the Bible in public schools academically, as part of a good education, you’re going to have to find a reason not to do it,” Stetson said. “When the president of the United States gives us a shout-out, that’s pretty crazy…. It’s got the momentum now.”

On the other side, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonpartisan advocacy group organizing opposition to the state laws, coordinated a statement signed by numerous religious groups that oppose Project Blitz’s efforts.

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that school-led Bible reading is an unconstitutional religious practice. But the court noted that teaching the Bible was allowed: “Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

Both those in favor of Bible classes and against see the Bible as a key component of a well-rounded education, particularly if part of history classes. Sometimes schools have offered “released time” rules that let students use part of their school day attending church-taught classes. But that is not what is called for in the state bills supported by Project Blitz, an effort of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, which describes its purpose as protecting “the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square.”

The model for many states is Kentucky, where state standards for elective Bible education became the law in 2017. The American Civil Liberties Union swiftly responded, issuing a letter that said it would closely monitor all school districts in the state. The organization flagged four school districts in Kentucky, warning that the materials used to teach the Bible in those schools suggested they were violating the Constitution and might lead to a future ACLU lawsuit. Two of the four districts have since stopped offering a Bible class, saying student interest was low. In the other two, rural counties, dominated by evangelical Christians, teachers lead prayers over the loudspeaker.

The content of these classes has clashed with conclusions reached elsewhere in science classes, say, concerning evolution or even information about other religions.

DeVos has made clear that she supports moving public school support to parochial schools. It would seem that several states just want to merge the two.

IMAGE: Bible photo by Vicki’s Pics via Flickr

Trump And Pence Launch Autocratic Attack On Federal Courts

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

Here’s a proposed step towards the new autocracy that Donald Trump is promoting that we ought to stop in its tracks.

Vice President Mike Pence told the Federalist Society on Wednesday that the Trump administration intends to challenge the right of federal district courts to issue rulings blocking nationwide policies, arguing that such injunctions are obstructing Trump’s agenda on immigration, health care and other issues.

It’s a perfect distillation of what’s wrong about the direction of the Trump presidency. It is a call for disruption – again – of judicial procedures and jurisdictions, all with the intent to protect any policy announcement by an imperial White House to be questioned. And it is not the White House’s jurisdiction to change.

In effect, the policy being presented by Pence would require multiple court challenges to reach a nationwide effect. The whole point of a federal judiciary is the opposite.

That the courts have become the favored battleground for Trump critics is as much a reflection of the fact that Trump policies have been announced too often in violation of the Constitution, of standing law and procedures, is not a fault of the judicial system. It is an indictment of the Trump policy-making machinery.

Pence argued that nationwide injunctions issued by federal judges “prevent the executive branch from acting, compromising our national security by obstructing the lawful ability of the president to stop threats to the homeland where he sees them.” He said the administration wants to bring the issue to the Supreme Court “to ensure that decisions affecting every American are made either by those elected to represent the American people or by the highest court in the land.”

Administration officials have complained that announced policies like a Muslim Travel Ban were blocked in the courts simply get in their way, Constitutional issues apparently be damned.

Simply put, Pence is saying that lower courts should not be allowed to block the government from enforcing a law even if that law is found unconstitutional — they should only be allowed to exempt the specific person or people who sued from the law, argued RawStory.com.

The Supreme Court has never addressed the nationwide extent of the injunction against the ban issued by lower courts because the justices upheld the ban in its entirety. Experts say that for the Supreme Court to issue a definitive ruling on nationwide injunctions, it would first have to rule against the administration on the underlying merits of the case before it. Only at that point could the court consider whether a lower court order should apply nationwide or only to the people who are challenging an administration policy.

Obviously, a nationwide injunction has the effect of stopping “a federal policy everywhere,” as argued in the travel ban case. An alternative is for a judge to issue an order that gives only the people who sued what they want.

In his remarks, Pence quoted from an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined the majority opinion upholding the Trump travel ban last June, but also wrote separately to say nationwide injunctions “are legally and historically dubious” and that the high court would have to step in “if federal courts continue to issue them.”

Trump has long railed against district courts, especially the 9th Circuit, on the West Coast,  for blocking his initiatives, including efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

Trump raised the courts issue at a Florida rally, saying, “Activist judges who issue nationwide injunctions based on their personal beliefs undermine democracy and threaten the rule of law.”

Ironically, Trump won a 2-1 ruling from the 9th Circuit just this week that allows the administration to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for immigration court hearings while a court challenge continues.

Yes, there is an argument that lawyers go “forum shopping” for a believed-to-be friendly court.  But adoption of such a ban on national injunctions could adversely affect cases with classes of individual plaintiffs as well.  More importantly, these court challenges have become a necessary defense in an increasingly authoritarian presidency. Trump simply wants to eliminate all challenges to any policy he favors.

This one ought to be stopped in its tracks.

IMAGE: Judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, CA.

Founders Foresaw Trump When They Wrote Emoluments Clause

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

That pesky, annoying caboose of legal problems for Donald Trump continues to move through the federal courts, thanks to a decision last week.

While Trump faces attacks on his taxes, his business practices and ethics, and the findings of the Mueller Report, this challenge focuses on the idea that Trump continues to bank profits from his hotel business while serving in the White House — an alleged abridgment of the “emoluments” clause of the Constitution.

In Washington, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan denied a Justice Department request to dismiss the lawsuit, filed in 2017 by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and 200 other members of the House and Senate who claim Trump is violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by doing business with foreign governments through his hotels.

As summarized by Fortune Magazine, the judge’s ruling would allow the Democrats to start seeking financial records from the Trump Organization in a pre-trial exchange of information. The Justice Department can try to block that by appealing the ruling. Trump is already fighting congressional subpoenas for his tax information in court and has vowed to fight “all subpoenas.”

Sullivan in September ruled the Democrats have legal standing to pursue their claim, and held off deciding on the merits. Last Tuesday’s 48-page decision gives a detailed explanation for siding with the Democrats in a fight they say is crucial for battling corruption by the Trump White House.

As part of the clash, Democrats are using a broad definition of emoluments to cover profits from Trump’s businesses and Trump is seeking a narrow meaning. Sullivan said the Democrats had the more convincing argument.

Trump’s definition “disregards the ordinary meaning of the term as set forth in the vast majority of Founding-era dictionaries,” Sullivan said in his ruling. The judge also said Trump’s definition “is inconsistent with the text, structure, historical interpretation, adoption, and purpose of the clause; and is contrary to executive branch practice over the course of many years.”

Democrats argued the word is broadly defined “as any profit, gain or advantage.” The president countered that an emolument would be, for example, a payment from a foreign government for an official action or a salary from a foreign power.

The emoluments clause says that certain federal officials, including the president, can’t accept an emolument from “any King, Prince, or foreign State” without “the Consent of the Congress.” The congressional Democrats are seeking an order compelling Trump to notify Congress when he’s offered an emolument, giving them the option to vote on whether he can accept it. Blumenthal has called the emoluments clauses the Constitution’s “premier anti-corruption provision.”

Trump said he stepped down from running his $3 billion empire but retained his ownership interests, a decision the Democrats say violates the emoluments clause because he’s getting payments from foreign governments without congressional approval.

While the Democrats claimed they’re being denied the right to vote on the benefits, attorneys for the president say the matter should be resolved in Congress, not in court.

Meanwhile, Reuters has an interesting report about what appears to be another emoluments clause controversy. This one aims at how Trump has allowed at least seven foreign governments to rent luxury condominiums in New York’s Trump World Tower in 2017 without approval from Congress, according to documents and people familiar with the leases, a potential violation of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause.

The emoluments clause controversies started out as debates among legal scholars regarding provisions of the Constitution that had not been interpreted by any court of record in the United States since the adoption of the Constitution itself. Over the past two years, though, the issues raised have given rise to litigation across the nation and allegations of self-dealing and what some might call influence peddling through Trump’s businesses, in a form that has never been seen with any previous president.

IMAGE: Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington, DC, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

FBI Busts Leader of White ‘Militia’ Terrorizing Asylum Seekers

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

In retrospect, it probably was inevitable that constant fear-mongering by Trump and the White House about fleeing migrants described as invaders would encourage vigilante action. He is not to blame for the vigilantes, but he has done nothing but encourage the ill will behind the effort.

Over the weekend, the FBI stepped in, arresting a leader of a right-wing militia that was detaining migrant families at gunpoint near the border in southern New Mexico. Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, also known as singer Johnny Horton, faces charges of firearms possession by a felon.

The arrest came a few days after the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) militia posted a video of members “detaining” hundreds of immigrants, many of them children.

“This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families,” New Mexico Atty. Gen. Hector Balderas said following the arrest. The FBI action “indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes.”

The FBI and local police made the arrests in Sunland Park, headquarters for the militia, two days after the ACLU alerted officials that an “armed fascist militia organization” was working to “kidnap and detain” asylum-seekers at gunpoint in the state. The group had posted a video Tuesday showing hundreds of detained immigrants, many of them children.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hopkins has identified himself as the “national commander” of the UCP. According to court records, Hopkins has been convicted of felony firearm possession and impersonating an officer, The Daily Beast has reported. Hopkins, a sometimes performer, also goes by the name of the late singer Johnny Horton Jr.  The Huffington Post said that “Johnny” often runs the militia’s radio program, appealing last month for more “boots on the ground” to “capture” immigrants. He pleaded for donations for the group.

“The Trump administration’s vile racism has emboldened white nationalists and fascists to flagrantly violate the law,” the ACLU said in the letter. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called on the militia to stand down. “Regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” Grisham said.

The White House, which is quite vocal about coyotes and vigilantes on the other side of the border, has been silent on militia activity.

According to The New York Times, while the firearms charge against Hopkins is relatively minor, it is likely the start of a deeper investigation into his activities and those of the militia, and opens the way for the authorities to bring more serious charges like kidnapping and impersonating a police officer or an employee of the United States.

The arrest comes as tensions rise over ultraconservative paramilitary groups operating along the southwestern border. Professed militias have a long history of targeting immigrants from Latin America, tracing back to the Ku Klux Klan’s creation of its own border patrol in the 1970s. Record numbers of Central American migrants apprehended by federal authorities in recent months have been accompanied by a new surge in militia activity on the border.

The militia and its members have posted a number of videos on Facebook showing detained immigrants. Members are seen in fatigues and carrying what appear to be semiautomatic rifles and handguns; some wear black masks to hide their identities.

A spokesman for the group, who identifies himself as Jim Benvie, insisted to the New York Times that the militia’s actions are legal, and has said in a Facebook video that Border Patrol agents are “happy” for members’ help.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that CBP “does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands.” It added that interference by civilians “could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”

Despite the recent criticism over its operations in New Mexico, the militia maintains Facebook and YouTube postings. Speaking to someone using a voice distorter while wearing a gas mask, Hopkins appeared on a right-wing YouTube channel in November, claiming to  be in touch with President Trump after a chance meeting at a Las Vegas casino.

Professed militias have long operated along the border with attempts to curb the flow of undocumented migrants into the United States. But targeting the recent influx of families, who are legally allowed to request asylum and often quickly surrender to Border Patrol agents, is raising tension with human rights activists in this part of the West.

Benvie, 43, said in a telephone interview that his group had been camped near El Paso for the past two months. Benvie contended that his group’s actions were legal, comparing the detention of the migrants to “a verbal citizen’s arrest.” Benvie added that the group has a new rule in which members are not allowed to go on patrol with military-style rifles, but can still carry handguns. “We can’t make them stay if they don’t want to,” he said.

“We’re just here to support the Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border,” said Benvie, adding that the organization plans to remain on the border until the extended wall proposed by President Trump is built or Congress changes immigration laws to make it harder for migrants to request asylum.

Militias have recently stepped up their activities in New Mexico and other states as the authorities scramble to respond to a surge in families from Central America, with total apprehensions on the border reaching more than 92,000 in March.

Asylum laws allow immigrants to enter legally through approved portals to file the appropriate paperwork. Many are released while awaiting court action on their files.

Perhaps we should expect that a law-and-order-oriented White House would to be more vocal about lawful behavior.

Featured image: Mugshot of Larry Mitchell Hopkins (Dona Ana County, N.M., Detention Center)

 

Trump Demonstrates His Inability To Lead Our Country

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

Let’s talk about leadership.

Yes, the President of the United States is a prime world leader as well as a figure that at once commands our troops, guides our security policies, sets an economic agenda, underscores our cultural contributions, promotes our health, education and welfare. Our President is someone we expect to lead, with grace, information and wit. Our President is someone of America, who sees the strength of the American melting pot.

Our President is not someone we should expect to toss our institutions and alliances into the dump heap, is not someone we turn to demean well more than half of our citizens, is not someone who has no respect for Americans.  Our President is someone we expect will find ways to bring people together, not divide them, particularly over issues of race, ethnicity, income.

We have the latter in Donald Trump. Through a variety of new sweeping but baseless actions, insulting statements and tweets, through increasing isolation from advice that he finds unnecessary to filter his gut opinion, Trump is showing his full hand now, that of a small-time thinker with an oversized ego who is leading through self-importance.

Trump, under siege from 17 separate investigations and counting, is doubling down and doubling down again on seizing kingly authority to overcome any obstacles to making the rest of us bow to his will.  He is someone to whom we have granted powers that stretch the limits of the office who sees himself as unconstrained by facts, by courts, by law, by tradition, by alliances or even by common sense.

Our President should be capable of acknowledging that he may have made a mistake and correcting it.

Our President ought to be doing whatever he can to keep the government functioning – a failure since his actions or inactions have kicked off the partial shutdown that began at midnight Saturday.

In other words, forget whether you agree with the policy of the day that this president espouses or whether the approaches he supports are valid or effective. Set aside the specifics of how he delivers the message. At base, there is something in this country about having trust that its leaders are actually trying to preserve the values that have made this country what it is, and who accept and promote the idea that caring about the general welfare for all means just that.

Again, let’s look at the breadth of recent events:

  • Making abrupt troop withdrawals in defiance of his military advisers at the Pentagon and his international allies, and doing so by tweet, is absurd. Doing so is not leadership. The world response to his actions and the resignation of James Mattis as defense secretary are not just wallpaper, they should make a good leader understand that he has created risk and danger in renewed terrorist build-ups in faraway places.
  • Announcing that because there is a substantial objection in Congress to levying $5 billion towards a southern border wall, we should face a long shutdown of government services is not leadership. What happened to persuasion and compromise, to figuring things out? What happened to truth-telling?
  • For the Fed chairman to counter the White House policies with another quarter-point interest rate hike should make our leadership think anew about its economic policies, about its newly endless cycle of American-imposed tariff wars rather than more insulting tweets.
  • In a lesser-publicized note, the administration just imposed new tougher work requirements on food-stamp recipients, just a day or two after Congress voted on a farm-support bill that left out these requirements as unnecessary and a masked attempt to punish poor people. It is not leadership to stomp on those in need. This policy arrived along with the long series of attempts to take away healthcare from millions, a tax cut policy that has helped corporate interests over households, and education loan policies that have been tilted toward banks over students.
  • This president wants total loyalty from his appointees, no disagreement about policy or style. Picking new attorney general candidates who have publicly dissed the Special Counsel investigations is not leadership. Entering into individual legal matters is not leadership, nor is attacking judges, nor is the constant lying about involvements by himself, family or the Trump Organization in legally questionable affairs. We are left with the distinct impression that we have an unindicted felon in the White House who has made underhanded financial deals with America’s foes, not a moral, legal or true security-oriented leader.

The front pages and cable television coverage during these last days have been awash in absolutely horrible news – again, almost without regard to political orientation. We have hunger and death in the human tragedy that is Yemen, with American support for Saudi war-making. We have the troop withdrawal announcements that have surprised and shocked the participants and allies. We have North Korea blatantly insisting now that it will not lift a finger to disarm nuclear weapons unless the United States basically withdraws. We have the president involving himself in French street protests, and we have continuing terrorism events, this week in Strasbourg.

We have at least five open cabinet seats, disarray in Congress, continuing layoffs even as we promote the job growth supposedly happening as a result of corporate tax cuts, and a falling stock market and more talk of recession. We have international tensions over tariffs and the announcement of withdrawal from international treaties for trade and climate change. We have a continuing attack on the environment, and we have a crisis on the southern border, now impairing the functioning of our government.

This is a simple request: Should we expect that our president lead? I don’t see it. In its place, we have a petulant president who insists, the facts notwithstanding, on having his own way or not at all. We can do better.

Republicans Waging Guerrilla War On American Health Care

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

 

While Trump preens in the afterglow of his questionable achievements at the negotiating table with North Korea, let’s take a look elsewhere—at the Trump administration decision to abandon Obamacare requirements that health insurance cover pre-existing conditions.

Late last week, the government said in filings in a federal court case that the requirement to cover those who need healthcare the most will become “unconstitutional” next year as well as protections forbidding insurers to deny coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Indeed, the Justice Department declined to defend the federal law in a suit brought by states against the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Just how that fits with an administration that seems fixated on “law and order” is a little hard to explain, but if it comes down to defending a law with which the administration disagrees, I guess that is within bounds.

The Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, told a congressional hearing on Tuesday that he wants to preserve access to affordable insurance for those with pre-existing medical conditions, but he declined to disclose his view of an administration move that could undercut such consumer protections. He called the government’s move “a constitutional position . . . not a policy position” and sidestepped questions about whether he agreed with the legal decision.

Several senators, mostly Democrats, attacked the decision.

As The Washington Post noted, “The administration’s legal stance injects profound uncertainty into the political debate and the health-care landscape at a critical moment, just as insurance companies are developing rates for the coming year and as candidates head into a summer campaign season that both parties will try to use to solidify a foothold for their agendas.”

We can expect that this issue will top every local Democratic agenda in the mid-term elections in November.

Across the board, Republicans, Democrats and health professionals all say they have plans for providing healthcare, but none of these ideas ever seems to make it into legislation. So, instead, we have a guerrilla war underway with each state firing individual bullets at different targets. The government and individual states have taken various aspects of the overall Obamacare law to court.

Clearly lost in the discussion is anything resembling ways to assure that Americans are guaranteed access to actual healthcare.

The federal court suit over the Affordable Care Act became a potent threat to pre-existing conditions when the Justice Department filed a brief arguing that as of Jan. 1, 2019, those protections should be invalidated. The Justice Department argued that the judge should strike down the section of the law that protects people buying insurance from being charged higher premiums because of their health histories.

According to a 2016 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 52 million Americans under the age of 65could find their access to health insurance at risk because of a wide range of pre-existing conditions, from diabetes to cancer to pregnancy. Health insurers have for years been raising premiumscomplaining about uncertainty and withdrawing from the business of selling individual insurance plans; more changes could further destabilize the market.

Still, many Republicans this weekend insisted they continued to support coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. The policy, unlike some elements of the Affordable Care Act, has widespread support. Several Republicans expressed bewilderment at the notion that this protection could be declared unconstitutional or overturned. “I certainly do not believe the provision on pre-existing conditions is unconstitutional. I don’t even understand what the legal argument would be,” Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) told the Post.

Democrats leaped on the filing to re-issue healthcare as a party mainstay issue. More liberal Democrats are publicly favoring a Medicare-for-all approach to healthcare, something that Republicans clearly oppose.

This renewed argument comes as insurers are deciding whether to participate in the individual marketplaces created under the law in 2019 and, if so, what filing rates with state regulators will be. A central rule of ACA health plans is that they must welcome all customers, healthy and sick, and not charge higher premiums to those with preexisting conditions. The possibility that a Texas judge could, at the administration’s urging, wipe out this rule—with an inevitable appeal to higher courts—introduces a new source of instability that insurers detest.

According to health-policy experts, a court ruling in favor of the suing GOP states and the administration would trigger what one called “immediate chaos” in the law’s insurance marketplaces created under the law.

In 2010, Obamacare created insurance “exchanges” in every state to sell federally subsidized coverage to individuals who do not have access to affordable health benefits through a job. These marketplaces have had their troubles—with many commercial insurers defecting and prices spiking—but their basic contours have remained intact. That could change if Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas agrees with the Justice Department argument that the mandates including protections for people with pre-existing conditions will become unconstitutional in January, when new tax rules end existing penalties for people who flout the law’s requirement to carry health insurance.

Several congressmen said that if the administration did prevail, it would be their responsibility to step in and restore protections for people with preexisting conditions. Yet how they would do so was far from clear, especially given Congress’s inability so far under the administration to pass healthcare legislation.

The president last fall ended “cost-sharing reduction payments” to insurers that offset discounts that the law promises to lower-income customers in the out-of-pocket costs for ACA health plans. Health officials halved the sign-up period to buy ACA health plans, cut from $100 million to $10 million an advertising budget to help encourage consumers to sign up, and slashed funds for grassroots organizations that helped people enroll. Also, the administration is in the midst of rewriting federal rules to make it easier for people to buy two types of insurance that are relatively inexpensive because they bypass the ACA’s requirements for benefits that health plans sold to individuals and small business must include.

And Republicans in Congress are moving to eliminate $800 million for Medicaid.

How about we use the election for some straight talk about healthcare?

 

GOP Family Values? Grabbing Children From Parents And Losing Them

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

In a weekend tweet, Trump criticized Democrats for a law that calls for separation of immigrant families who cross the border illegally, sending children into detention centers to assure that parents will show up for deportation meetings.

It is a horrible practice, but the policy is that of the Trump administration, not the Democrats, and it’s not a law.

In a tweet on Saturday, Trump urged Americans to “put pressure” on the Democrats to “end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents.”

This is the separation policy that Trump’s own administration put into effect last month, and was underscored in a speech in early May by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

It is true that the policy has run into criticism for the dehumanization of people, and even as bad immigration policy. It has led to court confrontations over medical treatments for minors under detention, including at least two cases involving directed overturning of attempts by the government to stop to unwanted abortions. But mainly it is seen as an unseemly way to force parents to show up for deportation hearings.

On top of all that, the government apparently has lost some of its detainees in the mix. In Senate testimony, last month, Steve Wagner, acting assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services department charged with housing under-age immigrants along the border, said the government was unable to locate nearly 1,500 children who had been released from its custody. Wagner insisted that the federal agency is “not legally responsible for children” once they have been handed over to a sponsor.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) took Melania Trump to task in light of her new “Be Best” mission for children. “Separating toddlers from parents is definitely not a ‘Be Best’ policy,” he tweeted. “Are you going to do anything about it?”

White House chief of staff John Kelly, who called the harsh new policy a “technique” and a “tough deterrent,” explained earlier this month to NPR: “They’ll be sent to foster care—or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States.”Until recently, families that illegally crossed the Mexican border together generally faced civil deportation proceedings. But as of May, the Trump administration is sending all parents to jails run by the U.S. Marshals Service. Because migrant children cannot be held in jails, they are placed elsewhere by the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement. Before the Trump administration, the office handled children who crossed the border alone.

Senate testimony that was released last month but came to light more recently details how the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)—part of the Department of Health and Human Services—“was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 [children].” Wagner said the ORR was tasked between October and December 2017 with checking on the welfare of the more than 7,000 children supposedly placed into the homes of a sponsor or guardian. Along with the nearly 1,500 missing children, an additional 28 ran away and 52 were living with someone other than their initial sponsor, according to the testimony. In 2017, more than 40,000 children were taken from the U.S.-Mexico border by the Department of Homeland Security and handed over to the ORR. One of those problems apparently included a terrifying 2014 mistake in which the ORR released several minors to human traffickers.

“This is as horrific a policy as I’ve seen in 25-plus years doing civil rights work,” Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, told The Huffington Post, adding, “No child should be sent to these government facilities if they don’t have to be, especially with all these problems in the ORR system.” What happens when a child can’t be located by the ORR? Nothing, if the system continues to stay in place.

Wagner said he would be taking a “fresh look” at whether the office should have more responsibility to protect the children it takes and gives away. But he also clarified to the subcommittee that if the office were to more rigorously keep track of the immigrant kids, the ORR would need “a significant expansion of the current program structure and an increase in resources.”

All this comes as reports mount of a growing unhappiness between Trump and Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of Homeland Security, over the beginnings of seasonal rises in the numbers of illegal border crossings. “As illegal crossings are once more on the rise and Trump hears a cascade of criticism from conservative allies, Nielsen finds herself on the receiving end of the president’s visceral anger about immigration,” according to The Washington Post.

It seems clear that the president has little regard for facts or for preparation, and is quick to blame someone, anyone, for whatever he finds makes him unhappy. The question this time is whether he can hear himself—and just stop what seems like cruel separations of immigrant families.