Commentary, Defending Democracy

Another new low: Burr, Tillis vote to confirm bigoted Trump appointee to lifetime seat as appellate court judge

In case you missed it yesterday, the far right’s ongoing effort to remake the federal courts with the assistance of their hapless errand boy in the White House continues apace. The latest outrage: the Senate’s 50-47 vote to confirm a bigoted Louisiana lawyer named Kyle Duncan to serve a lifetime appointment on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As usual, North Carolina senators Burr and Tillis voted in lockstep with their Republican colleagues.

Duncan’s nomination and confirmation have attracted scathing critiques from a long list of civil rights and equality advocates, but for my money, Esquire columnist Charles P. Pierce probably summed up the truth about this new federal judge the best in a column entitled “A Lifetime Gig Should Never Belong to Someone Like This”:

“The nomination of one Stuart Kyle Duncan was confirmed in the Senate by the now-customary 50-47 party-line vote. I am willing to bet that the president* wouldn’t have known this guy if he’d sat on the pastry cart at the State Dinner on Tuesday night. Nonetheless, he has now visited him upon appellants from Texas, and Louisiana, and Mississippi for the next several decades, and the Fifth Circuit already was one of the most conservative courts in the country.

Quite simply, Duncan is bughouse on the subject of gay people and trans people and any other person whose sexuality gives Duncan the jittery Jesus vapors. The Human Rights Campaign has a nifty rundown of what Duncan’s been up to in the years leading to the federal bench. [Here’s an excerpt:]

Duncan’s record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy is alarming. He represented the Gloucester County School Board in their case against Gavin Grimm, the transgender high school student whose restroom access was restricted based on his transgender status. He advocated on behalf of Louisiana in the state’s bid to uphold its same-sex marriage ban and wrote an amicus brief for Louisiana and 14 other states arguing their same-sex marriage bans did not undermine the decision in U.S. v. Windsor, the landmark Supreme Court case that required the federal government to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. He also argued that a couple married in New York could not have their names added to the birth certificate of a child they adopted in Louisiana because the state did not recognize same-sex marriages at the time and its adoption statute does not allow unmarried couples to adopt.

Duncan also ramrodded the Hobby Lobby case that got a craft-supply empire a religious exemption from the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. He got on the losing side of the Obergefell decision on marriage equality, contributing an amicus [which read, in part:]

With regard to public restrooms and other intimate facilities, there is no evidence to support social measure that promote or encourage gender transition as medically necessary or effective treatment for gender dysphoria.”

The bottom line: There is no other area in which Donald Trump is doing more damage to the nation’s future than in his destructive work to remake the federal courts. Caring and thinking people should make resisting these efforts a top priority for as long as Trump stays in office.

Commentary

Burr and Tillis stick to their irresponsible, NRA-funded lines in aftermath of Florida high school massacre

Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that North Carolina’s U.S. senators are two of the top four campaign funding recipients from the National Rifle Association. What a shock it is, therefore, to read in the remainder of the story that neither man is willing to say or do anything of substance to address the crisis that afflicts our nation as a result of the widespread easy availability of mass killing machines. Here is the most maddening section of the N&O story:

“On Thursday Burr declined to say whether he thinks assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in Wednesday’s shooting should be banned, or their magazines limited.

‘I’ll leave it up to investigators to finish their investigation,’ he said.

Pressed on whether gun control should at least be discussed, he said, ‘I’ll wait until they come out with their full report.’”

Give us a break, Dick. Wait for a full report? Such a statement is akin to refusing to take a stand on cigarettes until more studies come in about their health effects. What the hell else do we need to know? Did we need an investigator’s report to tell us that bazookas, flamethrowers and long range cannons shouldn’t be sold at Wal-Mart? Dick, our nation is already drenched in the blood of mass shootings committed by sick people with military-style assault weapons and your serial inaction on the matter has aided and abetted the crisis.

For his part, Tillis took his usual route of a political wimpdom by avoiding the issue and calling via a Tweet for people to “keep the victims, their families, first responders and the community in your thoughts and prayers.”

Sorry, Thom, that’s not going to cut it. North Carolinians already know how and when to pray. What they elected you to do is to make their lives better, safer and freer and one of the best ways to do that would be for you to unhook yourself from the narcotic of NRA cash and get serious about passing laws that would save lives and reduce the terror factor in our schools, movie theaters and other public places.

The good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence put it this way in an email distributed early this morning:

“We all saw the awful news. Yet another nearly unspeakable, yet highly preventable, mass killing. 17 people killed at a Florida high school by a murderer using an AR-15 military style assault rifle.

The Florida killer used an AR-15, the same type of military style assault weapon used repeatedly in mass shootings, including Sandy Hook School, Orlando and Las Vegas. These weapons do not belong in the hands of civilians….

Congress’s inaction is outrageous but we can’t stop pushing. Clearly, lives depend on it. And while of course our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones, taking time for thoughts and prayers has become a delay tactic. This has to stop.

Until Congress acts, it’s just a matter of time until the next assault weapon massacre. It is high time to start really honoring the American lives lost and preventing more carnage.

BAN MILITARY ASSAULT WEAPONS NOW!

Commentary

Burr and Tillis wage class warfare on behalf of the 1%

Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

If you’re looking for the most accurate summation of the GOP tax legislation working its way through Congress and the scandalous actions of North Carolina’s two U.S. senators in aiding and abetting the massive rip-off that’s being perpetrated on average Americans, be sure to read Professor Gene Nichol’s scathing op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer.

Here are some excerpts from “N.C. Senators vote to ignore the poor, serve the rich”:

“Richard Burr and Tom Tillis voted enthusiastically last week for the Senate tax bill. No hesitation on the home front. The North Carolina boys are all in for the McConnell-Trump knavery.

Burr and Tillis know, or should, the following. The United States is the wealthiest country on earth. It also has higher poverty, and especially, child poverty rates than any other advanced nation. It has the advanced world’s greatest income inequality – the largest gaps between rich and poor. It has among the worst economic mobility rates – if you’re born poor here, you are more apt to stay that way than in other major countries. Our radical economic polarization continues to rise annually. We are the richest, the poorest and the most unequal nation in the world. And North Carolina is worse, on all these measures, than the nation as a whole.

So what is the Tillis-Burr remedy? They voted to borrow over a trillion dollars to create the largest tax cut in history – calling it a cut – but, a la North Carolina, it will raise taxes for the bottom half to give gigantic cuts to the richest corporations and the one-percenters. The bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that, on average, taxpayers earning $75,000 or less will end up paying more in taxes. The bottom 80 percent will enjoy a cut of 0.3 percent, one-third of a percent. The top 1 percent will get about 20 times that. Thirteen million will lose their health care….

Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page published a huge study two years ago, based on data collected between 1981 and 2002. It concluded: ‘America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened … the preferences of the average (citizen) appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ All that matters, they determined, are the dictates of the donor class. The two professors could have short-circuited the massive project and just interviewed Burr and Tillis.

This is not a mistake. It is not a policy error or miscalculation. It is a crime. It is a middle-class-crushing penalty, not a boon. And for many poor people, poised to lose health care, it is a potential death warrant.

Burr and Tillis announce – if millions are in poverty, well, tough. If the poorest are required to pay more and left again in the shadows without medical treatment, we’re unmoved. Our paymasters have spoken. We are their lapdogs. For us, those at the bottom don’t actually exist. All that matters is the money.”

Click here to read the entire essay.

Commentary

The best op-ed of the weekend: Richard Burr flubbing the most important role of his life

Sen. Richard Burr

Editorial page editor Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer had an excellent — if sobering — take on Senator Richard Burr’s leadership in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the Trump administration’s potentially treasonous relationship with Russia.

Barnett’s assessment: He isn’t providing any. Rather, Barnett explains, Burr appears to be merely going through the motions.

After explaining how Burr is supposed to be leading this critical investigation, but is instead performing with a decidedly low amount of energy (including a distressingly blase response to an improper overture by Trump himself asking for the whole thing to be shut down), Barnett put it this way:

“Burr’s tolerant response to Trump became especially troubling after the president’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December. Flynn’s plea and his apparent agreement to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation strengthens the possibility that involvement with the Russians occurred at the top levels of the Trump campaign.

In contrast, Burr sounds like a chairman willing to go through the motions, checking off the obvious witnesses and those the Democrats demand to have testify. He seems like a chairman who would be content with a committee report confirming what the nation’s intelligence agencies have already found and then having the Senate Intelligence Committee’s agenda move on to other subjects.

Burr’s lackadaisical response to Trump follows reports from February in which he complied with a White House request to counter news reports linking Trump campaign associates to Russia. He said he had talked to the White House and news organizations about the reports when he was aware of intelligence that didn’t support the news stories.

‘I’ve had those conversations,’ Burr said, adding, ‘I felt I had something to share that didn’t breach my responsibilities to the committee in an ongoing investigation.’

Burr, in the most prominent role of his political life, appears not particularly alarmed about a foreign attack on the democratic process nor curious about whether a presidential campaign was part of it. To which one can only respond, ‘Thank God for Robert Mueller.'”

NC Budget and Tax Center

Memo to Tillis and Burr: Proposed “trigger” in Senate tax bill is flawed, inadequate, and unrealistic

The U.S. Senate is currently debating its tax plan and rushing to vote on it by the end of this week with the hopes of getting tax legislation to President Trump by the end of the year.

One new and concerning development is that some Republicans in the Senate are considering adding a “trigger” to the bill that would reportedly activate tax increases in 2022 if the promised positive economic effects of the bill have not materialized.

It is a sign that legislators are unclear of what the future will hold as the plan is implemented and the full impact of each detail is understood.  Senator Tillis and Senator Burr should be very concerned about this development and oppose moving forward on a major tax overhaul that provides no protections from myriad harm for North Carolinians and is still not fully understood.

According to a new report, the trigger mechanism is deeply flawed and cannot undo the harmful fiscal impact of the bill’s unfinanced tax cuts. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out:

“The details about the trigger mechanism are still emerging.  Under one reported version, corporate tax increases would take effect if revenues in 2022 are below a “target” — the amount that the tax code is expected to generate that year under the tax laws in effect today (that is, before tax cuts take effect), minus the cost of extending a business tax break now in effect that is due to expire under current law.   Under another version, the tax increases would be triggered if economic growth fell below a target rate.  Regardless of the precise criteria, such a trigger mechanism is unlikely to result in tax increases going into effect.

Moreover, the triggered tax increases are limited to $350 billion over a decade, far less than the estimated revenue loss from the pending tax bill.  Thus, even if the trigger took effect, the tax cuts still would fall far short of the standard of not increasing the deficit that various Republican senators have argued the tax bill will meet.”

The report is blunt by concluding that:

“If policymakers are truly concerned about the harmful impact of higher deficits and debt, they should address the problem head on: they should identify the revenues they will raise or the spending they will cut to offset the cost of tax cuts they evidently view as the nation’s highest priority.  That’s how responsible major legislation has been designed in the past.  The landmark 1986 tax reform legislation, for example, raised taxes on some businesses and individuals and cut taxes for others to create a more efficient tax code, without the large revenue losses in the current tax bill.

‘Trigger’ proposals, on the other hand, let policymakers sidestep the hard choices and still try to claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility.”

It is worth noting that Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has said he’s working on a trigger provision that would apply two ways and bring additional cuts if there’s robust growth.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.