Advocacy: The Conscience of the Government is at Stake

— by Katie O’Connell, PFAW Digital Communications Coordinator 

With three nominees stacked into one hearing today, it’s pretty clear that Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley doesn’t actually want us to know much if anything at all about the nominees for two lifetime court appointments and Eric Dreiband, who is being considered for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Because if we actually knew about what these nominees stand for, we wouldn’t want them in positions of power in the federal government.

Eric Dreiband has made a name for himself as the go-to lawyer for corporations accused of discrimination. But beyond that, he has devoted his personal time and energy to fighting against civil rights protections like fair pay for women and protections for older Americans challenging age discrimination in the workplace.

Simply put, Dreiband will actively work against the mission of the Civil Rights Division, which has been described as the conscience of the government.

The legacy of the Civil Rights Division must not be tarnished by a Trump/Sessions nominee who doesn’t believe in the mission of the job he was nominated for. This division has a truly remarkable history of seeking justice in the wake of violence and racism and protecting rights for vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Dreiband’s nomination to a division whose mission he has spent his career opposing isn’t an accident or oversight — it’s Trump’s STRATEGY to create an ineffective government that harms communities of color, women, LGBTQ persons, and other vulnerable communities.

Trump and the Republicans in Congress want to distract us with an onslaught of extreme nominees, damaging policy changes, and political drama. Let them know you’re paying attention and speak out!

Speak out and tell Nevada’s senators that they must oppose Dreiband for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Democrats Showing Steel Backbones

Tired of getting nowhere with convincing Senator McConnell to allow a vote on a bill to force disclosure of Trump’s financial holdings, Senator RonWyden placed a hold on Trump’s Treasury nominee until the administration discloses Trump’s financial dealings w/ Russia:

Not Prepared to Govern

There’s an excellent piece in today’s Washington Post regarding the tracking for key appointments filled thus far by the Trump administration.  I can’t help but compare and contrast Trump with his Republican majorities in both houses with Obama’s 2008 Democrat majorities in both houses and the lackluster performance by the Trump and his Republican majorities.  Clearly, their lackluster performance is yet more proof that Republicans are not only not prepared to govern, but may not know how to govern for ALL Americans.

*Totals above include some posts that are not being tracked as ‘key positions’ in the appointee database.

As of late Tuesday, his 96th day in office, Trump had nominated an estimated 66 officials, just over a third of the 190 President Barack Obama selected in his first 100 days, according to Partnership data. The 100-day number for President George W. Bush was 85; Bill Clinton, 176; and George H.W. Bush, 95.  These positions include Cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions. These are just a portion of the roughly 1,200 positions that require Senate confirmation, but it doesn’t stop there.  There are approximately 4100 appointments the administration will need to make.

Here’s another striking statistic from the Partnership for Public Service: “The pending number of appointees to clear federal ethics requirements is striking compared to that of the Obama administration. As of April 17, Trump had only submitted 41 percent of the nominee reports that his predecessor submitted in 2009, according to Office of Government Ethics data.”

The Senate can only act on nominations that have been formally submitted by the Trump administration. Those marked “awaiting nomination” above have been announced but not yet submitted, while those marked “formally nominated” are awaiting action by the Senate.

Think about their slow progress thus far, and then compound it with the fact that Trump fired all the Ambassadors upon his oath of office.  Trump fired all the US Attorneys.  Trump/Tillerson fired all the career folks at the State Department.  Of 556 key positions requiring Senate confirmation … Trump has no nominee for 468 positions, only 40 are awaiting confirmation, and 24 have actually been confirmed as of April 26th.

So, at this point, he appears to be running the US Government by the seat of his pants whose seat is stained with the stench of Russia.

The article on the Washington Post is a a “tracking post” which means it identifies all the positions to be filled and the status of each position.  You might want to bookmark it for your future reference.

Trumplicans Confirm Pruitt

Today, Republicans in Congress have voted to have Scott Pruitt demolish the Environmental Protection Agency and the protections it provides for the PEOPLE of our nation.

Scott Pruitt has made it clear he wants to dismantle the EPA, and now Trump and his merry little band of Trumplicans in the US Senate have put him in charge.

 

Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from EPA / Wikimedia and azmichelle / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

It can’t be emphasized enough, that it is now incumbent upon everyone who cares about protecting our air, water, and land, that we must do everything in our power to minimize the damage. Senator Heller voted for Pruitt. He should be prepared to answer to his Nevada constituents when the next environmental disaster happens not just in Nevada, but across our nation.

Senator Cortez-Masto voted against Pruitt and must continue resisting and holding Pruitt accountable for every step of the way.

We, the millions of people in this country who want a government that works for us — not for fossil fuel companiesor any other company willing to cut costs to their bottom line through pollution — will not stand for this. Scott Pruitt’s legislative history clearly illustrates that he does not place healthy communities, clean air and water, or a safe climate as a high priority. It is up to all of us to still demand those basic rights and fight for them.

We, the people, must RESIST.

We must never stop fighting for a clean, healthy planet — and must continue to peacefully resist Scott Pruitt — and the Trump administration’s — plans to roll back ANY environmental protections.

By appointing Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump is putting America at risk:

  • As Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt blocked basic protections for clean drinking water.
  • Pruitt opposed the Clean Power Plan because it would endanger industry profits.
  • Pruitt made a career suing the EPA to undo environmental protection.
  • Pruitt pushes fracking and other dirty energy sources over clean energy.

If climate change denial is going to be the default position of the Trump White House, then relentless resistance will be the default position of the American people.

Related Posts:

Speaker Frierson and Majority Leader Ford—Statement on Sessions’ Confirmation Vote

Nevada State Senate Majority Leader Aaron D. Ford and State Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson released the following statement on U.S. Senator Dean Heller’s vote to confirm Jeff Sessions: 

“We are disheartened and thoroughly disappointed that Senator Dean Heller voted to confirm Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. As the top law enforcement officer in the country, it is the responsibility of the Attorney General to enforce federal laws and defend the constitutional rights of all Americans, regardless of background. Based on Mr. Sessions long track record of hostility towards civil rights, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and voting rights, we believe wholeheartedly that he should not serve.” 

Jason Frierson is the first African-American Speaker of the Nevada State Assembly. Aaron Ford is the second African-American to serve as Majority Leader of the Nevada State Senate. 

Meanwhile, in DC … a Tone Deaf GOP is Heading Full Bore Ahead

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that Obamacare enrollments fell short of expectations—the latest example of the law’s failure to deliver on its promises. That’s why Republicans are acting with urgency to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered reform. Here’s what we’re working on this week to “improve” things:

Medicaid:  The Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), has scheduled a markup convening on Tuesday, January 7, 2017.  The subcommittee will review the following bills:

  • H.R. 181, Close Annuity Loopholes in Medicaid (CALM) Act, authored by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), would ensure individuals with significant means are not burdening taxpayers instead of paying for their own care. The CALM Act would amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to count portions of income from annuities of a community spouse as income available to institutionalized spouses for purposes of eligibility for medical assistance, and for other purposes.Clearly Rep. Mullin has no clue what “being poor” means.  It means that one most likely doesn’t have sufficient disposable income with which to invest in an annuity to support themselves in the event of catastrophic illness or their retirement.“Community spouse” is Medicaid lingo for the husband or wife of a Medicaid applicant. To qualify as a community spouse, there are two simple requirements. First, you must be the husband or wife of an “institutionalized spouse,” meaning a person who resides in a medical institution or nursing facility and is “likely to remain there for at least 30 consecutive days.” Second, you cannot also be receiving long term care in a medical institution or nursing facility.
  • H.R. 829, The Prioritizing the Most Vulnerable Over Lottery Winners Act of 2017, authored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), would alter how Medicaid eligibility is determined for lottery jackpot winners, so the program can prioritize the low-income population the program is meant to serve.What is with these guys?  Do they actually believe someone who wins the lottery lives for the day to hear someone scream at the to ” stop sucking on the government teet”?

According to Chairman Burgess, “The Health Subcommittee reviewed both of these commonsense proposals this week and held a productive discussion. I look forward to discussing these bills further next week as we continue to advance ways to rebuild our health care system.”

Full committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) also announced that the Health Subcommittee will consider H.R. 749, a bill to increase competition in the pharmaceutical industry, later this month.

“Following up on the president’s call to make prescription drugs more affordable for Americans, the Energy and Commerce Committee is eager to move forward with consideration of bipartisan legislation, H.R. 749, offered by Reps. Kurt Schrader and Gus Bilirakis. This bill will increase competition in the pharmaceutical industry and will play an important role in our efforts to lower the high cost of some medicines. However, to accommodate a formal request from our Democrat colleagues to slow down consideration of this measure, I have agreed to consider it at a future hearing.” — Chairman Walden

Health Insurance Marketplace: Also happening on Tuesday, the Small Business Committee will hold a hearing at 11am.  The stated purpose of the hearing is to examine the current health insurance marketplace for small firms, review recent difficulties, and explore options to improve access, affordability, and consistency in America’s health insurance market.

Confirmation vote in the Senate for Tom Price: The Senate is expected to vote as early as this week to confirm Dr. Tom Price (R-GA)—or, in Speaker Ryan’s words, “the absolute perfect choice.” Speaker Ryan believes (despite what real people across America believe) that confirming Dr. Price, who would have authority to demolish the ACA and its protections for Americans (especially women), will be a giant step forward for Americans struggling under Obamacare.

If you haven’t explored what Speaker Ryan thinks is a “better way” to handle healthcare across America, check out his significantly less that better way HERE which let’s you buy plans from some other state than yours that won’t cover you when you get sick, but hey, it’s affordable?  Oh, and you can just fund your own care using a health savings account for that triple bypass surgery you’re gonna need next year, all while making $7.25/hr, buying a car to get to work, insuring said car and putting gas in the tank; paying the rent and utilities; putting food on the table and clothes on your back; and oh yeah, saving for your eventual retirement when you turn 899 years old.

Confirmation vote in the Senate for Betsy DeVos: All 48 Democratic senators are expected to vote against Betsy DeVos, Trump’s outrageous and unqualified pick to lead the Department of Education. She opposes public schools, challenged federal protections for students with disabilities, and made no commitment to protecting LGBT students in her hearing.  But that’s not all.  DeVos’ support for vouchers could drain public schools of desperately needed resources and divert them to private and religious schools. DeVos could embolden unaccountable private and religious schools through a voucher system, depriving some students of civil rights protections they would otherwise get in public schools and using taxpayer dollars to fund the religious education of students.

DeVos could not be less qualified for this position. She’s never taught at a public school. She hasn’t served on a school board, nor did she or any of her children attend public schools. She has spent much of her life and inherited money lobbying for unregulated, for-profit charter schools and other destructive policies that hurt students, teachers and families in her home state of Michigan.

Senate Democrats will be forcing an all-night session to oppose her confirmation.  Two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME), have indicated they will also vote against Ms. DeVos. That brings the NAY votes talley to 50.  Democrats haven’t given up and will take to the Senate floor in a last-ditch effort to derail the confirmation of Ms DeVos.  They mean to find a 51st NAY vote and not allow Vice President Pence to cast a record-breaking, tie-breaker vote to confirm her.

The Administration’s Muslim ban on hold, for now –> Late Friday, a federal judge in Seattle suspended Trump’s Muslim immigration ban and over the weekend an appeals court in San Francisco refused to put an immediate stay on that suspension — meaning, essentially, that for the time being, airports are operating as they were before the ban was issued. Legal battles will play out this week to determine the ban’s future, Dustin Volz reports for Reuters: “The government has until 3 p.m. PST (2300 GMT) on Monday to submit additional legal briefs to the appeals court justifying Trump’s executive order. Following that the court is expected to act quickly, and a decision either way may ultimately result in the case reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Silicon Valley steps up opposition –> Mark Bergen and Sarah Frier report for Bloomberg Technology that late Sunday night, 97 companies, including tech giants Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Netflix and Uber, and some non-tech companies, such as Chobani yogurt and Levi-Straus, filed an amicus brief against Trump’s Muslim immigration ban. They write: “America has long recognized the importance of protecting ourselves against those who would do us harm. But it has done so while maintaining our fundamental commitment to welcoming immigrants—through increased background checks and other controls on people seeking to enter our country.”

Financial deregulation rolls forward —> Following on Trump’s Friday executive order to review the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, we can expect a rollback of the protections put in place after the 2008 financial crisis in the months ahead. The push will be lead by Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic advisor and former Goldman Sachs president. At The New York Times, Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal writes: “People hoping Mr. Trump would upset, rather than restore, global financial capitalism are in for a rude awakening.”

Voter Fraud Investigation —>Trump said in remarks broadcast on Sunday that he would put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of a commission to probe what he believes was voter fraud in last November’s election. The irony of that is astounding, in that Pence was accused of voter suppression as Governor of Indiana, when a week before the state’s voter registration deadline, police seized computers, cell phones and thousands of voter registration applications.  An estimated 45,000 Indianans were prevented from voting as their registration applications had been seized and not recorded.

Trump Standing Up for Bad Bankers
The best way to spot a con artist is by paying attention to what you don’t see, as well as to what you see. Trump says he represents working people, but he has already moved aggressively to tilt the scales in favor of Wall Street’s criminal elite. As Trump moved to rob Americans of some basic financial protections, his choice of companions only added insult to injury.

It’s notable that Trump has actually been deepening the swamp.  Key members of hisbudget transition team used to work at the big business friendly Heritage Foundation, and reports indicate Trump’s scandalous budget proposal, expected in the coming weeks, will be based on these radically conservative blueprints.  Here’s what to expect:

  • Privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Offering massive handouts to large corporations
  • Means-testing and cutting Social Security benefits
  • Raising the retirement age
  • Privatizating/Voucherizing Medicare
  • Block granting Medicaid with ever decreasing grant values (essentially rationing healthcare for the poor)
  • Eliminating funding for Violence Against Women grants as well as community policing and legal aid for poorer Americans
  • Scrapping funding for the Paris agreement on climate change and offices devoted to energy efficiency and reducing fossil fuel emissions
  • Reducing funding for civil rights enforcement and community policing
  • Eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Slashing food and housing assistance for the impoverished
  • Repealing common-sense rules on Wall Street banks (anticipate finding ourselves back in that same sink hole the GWB administration drove us into)

Some Democrats will face the temptation to compromise in order to show their friends at Washington cocktail parties that they are “serious” about spending. However, we don’t have a spending problem. We have a defense spending problem (57% of discretionary spending + another 5-7% for Veterans Administration). If Democrats cave, they will be complicit in making America sicker, poorer, less prosperous and less well-educated. It’s well passed time that we declare, in no uncertain terms — Democrats must do everything in their power to resist the Republican cuts.

Why This Price Is Wrong

The next health secretary shouldn’t have a record of benefiting from prescription drug profiteering.

— by LeeAnn Hall
For most people, prescription drugs are a lifeline. For Representative Tom Price, Donald Trump’s health secretary nominee, they’re a source of profits.

Indeed, hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug and health corporation investments line the pockets of the Georgia Republican Trump picked to lead our nation’s health care policy. That’s an unacceptable conflict of interest.

Life-saving drugs are priced out of reach for far too many Americans, with millions skipping needed medications because of drug corporation price-gouging.

Take the case of insulin, which people with diabetes depend on for their survival. Drug corporations have raised the price of this medication by more than 200 percent over the past eight years.

“It feels like they’re holding my kid ransom,” the mother of a diabetic son told NBC News in November.

While that mother was struggling to keep her son healthy, Price was legislating on health care in the House — and buying stock in insulin-maker Eli Lilly. That drug corporation ratcheted up the price of its insulin brand by 380 percent between 2004 and last November.

Photo Credit: Images Money / Flickr

Eli Lilly wasn’t Price’s only investment. In March of last year, he also bought stock in Pfizer and health insurer Aetna. The value of all three corporations rose soon after his stock purchase.

He didn’t stop there.

In August, Price put down between $50,000 and $100,000 to buy shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, which makes a multiple sclerosis drug. He also bought stock in Zimmer Biomet Holdings — one week before introducing a bill designed to blunt a regulation that would have hurt the company’s profits, according to CNN.

Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer called for that transaction to be investigated as a violation of a law against insider trading. And a public watchdog group asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate his other stock purchases.

Beyond raising suspicions of insider trading, Price’s pharmaceutical dealings highlight the profiteering rampant in the entire industry.

In 2015, Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, drew national ire when he raised the price of a cancer and HIV medication from $13.50 a tablet to $750 as soon as he acquired rights to the drug. (Shrkreli has also been arrested on allegations of securities fraud.)

And last year, the drug company Mylan hiked the price of the EpiPen — which saves people from life-threatening allergic reactions — by 400 percent.

This kind of gouging has sparked widespread public outrage. Now, 61 percent of people in the U.S. agree that lowering the price of prescription drugs should be a top priority for Congress. They also want Congress to lower health care costs overall.

More than 80 percent want Medicare and other public programs that pay for prescription drugs to be able to negotiate directly with drug makers to help bring down the price — a position even Trump himself has said he supports.

Eighty-six percent want drug corporations to have to disclose how they set prices. Many others want to make prescription drugs public goods paid for by the federal government and available to all of us.

There’s no reason — at least, no good reason — lawmakers in D.C. can’t take action on these priorities.

For years, Price and politicians like him have been blocking Medicare from negotiating lower prices. His financial stake in drug corporation profiteering show us why. If Medicare negotiates more reasonable prices for medications, we get a better bargain, but Price gets hit right in the stock portfolio.

Profiteering shouldn’t be at the heart of our health care system — we need less corporate control of our health care, not more. And no one who doesn’t put people first should be in charge of setting health policy for our country.


LeeAnn Hall is a co-director of People’s Action, a national organization working for economic, racial, gender, and climate justice. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

So Much for Women & Members of the LGBTQ Community

Today, the Senate held a number of hearings for the incoming administrations nominees.  One in particular was for General Mattis as Secretary of Defense.  The approved a waiver to allow him to be considered even though he’s been retired only 3 of the SEVEN required year years mandated before a military retiree can be considered a “civilian” to lead the Department.

One of the most disturbing comments he made, or should I say he avoided providing an answer for dealt with whether women and members of the LGBTQ community should be allowed to serve in our military forces in combat.  Watch:

#Rexxon ‘not aware’ of the existence of fossil fuel subsidies

But independent analysis suggests that Exxon gets as much as $1 billion in oil and gas subsidies.

Rex Tillerson testifies on Capitol Hill at his confirmation hearing to become the Secretary of State. CREDIT: Patsy Lynch/MediaPunch/IPX

During former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State on Wednesday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wanted to know how, if confirmed, the former oil executive would work to fulfill a 2009 G20 pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

“I’m not aware of anything the fossil fuel industry gets that I would characterize as a subsidy,” Tillerson responded. “Rather it’s simply the application of the tax code broadly, tax code that broadly applies to all industry.”

CREDIT: C-SPAN/YouTube

But environmental groups argue that Tillerson’s statements are misleading at best, noting fossil fuel companies like Exxon receive significant benefits from parts of the tax code that apply only to them — and no other industry.

“Rex Tillerson lied under oath today,” Alex Doukas, a senior campaigner with Oil Change International, told ThinkProgress. “Oil, gas, and coal corporations receive big subsidies in the U.S, and definitions used by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Trade Organization, the International Energy Agency, and the International Monetary Fund would all agree on that point,” he said, adding that “these are hardly radically progressive organizations.”

According to analysis by Oil Change International — a research group focused on understanding the true costs of fossil fuels — Exxon receives anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion in government subsidies each year.

Those subsidies are doled out in a number of ways, which are perhaps best highlighted in a 2015 U.S. self-review, submitted to the G20, of the country’s fossil fuel subsidies. Subsidies can come from things like tax breaks, such as deductions for the “intangible drilling costs” or an oil and gas operation, or deductions for manufacturing fossil fuels domestically. They can also come from provisions that allow fossil fuel companies to set aside the costs of certain geological and geophysical expenditures. Under the current tax code, mining companies may deduct 70 percent of domestic exploration and development costs.

The 2015 U.S. review states that there are currently 16 federal fossil fuel production tax provisions that apply only to producers of fossil fuels, and no other industry.

As Exxon CEO, it’s likely Tillerson knew about these tax deductions available to the oil and gas industry, and knew the extent to which Exxon was taking advantage of them. As a company, Exxon has spent millions on lobbying related to fossil fuel subsidies — in 2012, they were the leading force on lobbying surrounding the Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act, which would have repealed several tax breaks for five big oil companies, including Exxon. In 2016, they were the only company to register a lobbying presence with regards to the FAIR Energy Policy Act, which would have also ended certain big tax preferences for fossil fuel companies.

Under Tillerson, Exxon’s political spending greatly increased, growing from a little over $700,000 in 2004 to $1.5 million in 2016. And, according to OpenSecrets, each year, around 90 percent of that money went to Republican candidates, the same candidates more likely to vote against ending fossil fuel subsidies (in 2012, for example, only two Republican senators voted for the Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act).

During Wednesday’s hearing, Tillerson made it clear that he would not support the G20 pledge to revoke fossil fuel subsidies as Secretary of State — a position he shares with President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called for an increase in fossil fuel production domestically.

“I think as the president-elect has made clear in his views, in his whole objective of his campaign, of putting America first, that he is not going to support anything that would put U.S. industry in any particular sector at a disadvantage to its competitors outside of the U.S., whether it’s automobile manufacturing or steel making or the oil and gas industry,” Tillerson said.

That’s not exactly true, however. Trump has promised to end federal funding for renewable energy development, a decision that would make U.S. industries like solar and wind much less competitive compared to international producers. China, for instance, recently announced that it plans to invest $360 billion in clean energy — a move that would create 13 million jobs by 2020. China already has over 40 percent of all jobs in renewables, globally. The U.S., meanwhile, claims just under 10 percent of the global renewable job share.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter