COVID-19, News

American Indian tribes ‘very close to reaching a breaking point’ in COVID-19 response


Confederate statues would be removed from national parks under new push by Minnesota lawmaker

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum is pushing the federal government to get rid of Confederate statues and memorials in national parks—and she’s gaining some traction this year as opposition to the public display of Confederate symbols grows.

McCollum, who leads the House subcommittee that oversees spending for the Interior Department, included language in the agency’s fiscal 2021 spending bill that would require the National Park Service to remove from public view all Confederate statues, monuments and plaques.

If passed into law, the requirement could be a monumental task for parks officials. The agency does not have a register of all of its Confederate commemorative works. But at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa., alone, there are more than 1,300 monuments, markers and plaques that commemorate those who fought and died there.

The bill language is a victory for McCollum, who has been working on this issue for years. She made a similar attempt five years ago to block the sale of Confederate flags in national parks. That effort ultimately failed, though the Department of Veterans Affairs later moved to bar Confederate flag imagery from flagpoles at national cemeteries on Memorial Day or Confederate Memorial Day.

McCollum said she sees an opportunity this year to revisit the issue, in light of the ongoing national discourse about racism.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D- Minn.)

“I am committed, as a citizen and as a person who has taught social studies and as a member of Congress, to help our country confront the legacy of racism,” McCollum said in an interview with the Minnesota Reformer. “I have an opportunity now, and I worked with like-minded members of Congress to require the Park Service to remove Confederate commemorative works.”

The House approved the measure in July, as part of a wide-ranging spending bill called a “mini-bus” because it includes four different spending bills to fund the Interior, State, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture departments. It passed on a party-line vote without any debate of the Confederate monuments issue.

The White House, however, in its Statement of Administration Policy on the measure said it “strongly objects” to the Confederate monuments language, calling it a “drive to edit history.”    Read more

News, Trump Administration

Top Homeland Security official vows federal agents ‘will not back away’ from violent protests

A federal officer tells the crowd to move while dispersing a protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s Number Two at the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday defended federal law enforcement officers’ intervention in protests in Portland, Oregon, and other cities this summer.

Characterizing some of the protests as “mob rule,” Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told lawmakers  that federal agents could exert force in other cities if violent protests break out.

“DHS will not back away from our responsibilities to protect federal property, the people using those properties, and our brave law enforcement officers,” Cuccinelli said at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

Many of the protests in Portland have centered around the Mark O.Hatfield Federal Courthouse. President Donald Trump dispatched Homeland Security agents to Portland in July to protect federal property and respond to demonstrations that he and Cuccinelli have characterized as stemming from violent extremist groups.

“This country cannot survive allowing mob rule to replace the rule of law… they are not just attacking a federal court house but they are attacking very foundations that make the enjoyment of our natural rights possible, the rule of law itself,” Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli’s remarks follow a wave of criticism from Democrats and local leaders in Portland about the presence of federal law enforcement

Ken Cuccinelli – Photo: Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury

in the city– where demonstrations escalated into nightly clashes between protesters and federal officers. Viral videos showed officers in military fatigues using pepper balls and forceful tactics to clear streets and grabbing protesters to drive them away in unmarked cars. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has blamed federal agents for escalating conflict.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Trump administration reached an agreement last week for the federal agents to leave the city in phases, allowing local police to address the situation. Portland has seen weeks of demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis in police custody.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of the committee, joined the hearing remotely and said she supports federal law enforcement. “They are protecting people who are coming peaceably to express their opinion and assemble, and at the same time having to deal with these rioters there to destroy property to harm people,” Blackburn said.

When officers put on their uniforms, “they don’t know if there are going to be peaceful protestors or if there are going to be the disruptors and destroyers that show up that they are going to have to deal with,” she said.

In late May, Memphis and Nashville both saw peaceful protests turn violent after dark, with damage to public and private property and police using  tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds. In one outburst, people set Historic Metro Nashville City Hall on fire.

On July Fourth, thousands marched in Nashville in a Black Lives Matter demonstration. That night, Tennessee police arrested 55 violators for criminal trespassing. In both cases, organizers of the daytime protests said their groups were not connected with the destructive action at night.

Legislative proposals

Congressional Democrats have decried the Trump administration’s involvement in the Portland protests. Read more

News, Trump Administration

Tony Tata’s Pentagon appointment flames out; no comment thus far from either Burr or Tillis

Former NC DOT Secretary and Wake County schools superintendent Tony Tata

CNN reporting White House will withdraw nomination of controversial figure who once led NC DOT, Wake County schools

WASHINGTON — Bipartisan backlash against Anthony Tata, the former North Carolina government official who was President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for a senior Pentagon position, has thrown his nomination into doubt. Thursday evening CNN reported that Senate sources expect the White House to withdraw his name.

Tata’s nomination was already in doubt after Republicans abruptly cancelled plans for his nomination hearing earlier in the day.

Tata, a 61-year-old retired Army brigadier general, novelist and Fox News commentator, was scheduled for a vetting Thursday in the Senate Committee on Armed Services for the No. 3 position at the Pentagon. But Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) announced shortly before the hearing was set to begin that it would not go on.

Tata was superintendent of Wake County schools from 2010 to 2012, when the Democratic-majority board voted to fire him. He then led the North Carolina Department of Transportation until he resigned in 2015. While he worked at NC DOT, Tata wrote two action thriller novels, “Mortal Threat” and “Foreign and Domestic.”

Senators indicated this week that Tata may not have the support needed to make it through the confirmation process for the Pentagon job.

“There are many Democrats and Republicans who didn’t know enough about Anthony Tata to consider him for a very significant position at this time,” Inhofe tweeted Thursday morning.

Inhofe said some documents that usually come in before hearings begin did not arrive to the committee until Wednesday.

“As I told the president last night, we’re simply out of time with the August recess coming, so it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to have a hearing at this point, and he agreed,” Inhofe said.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the committee, said members of both parties raised “serious questions about this nominee” in a closed-door session earlier this week.

“Chairman Inhofe did the right thing here, and it’s clear this nomination isn’t going anywhere without a full, fair, open hearing,” Reed said in a statement about the cancelled hearing.

North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis, who is in the midst of his own tough re-election campaign, sits on the committee and would have been called on to vote on the confirmation. His office did not immediately reply to requests for comment on whether he supported Tata’s nomination.

Sen. Richard Burr’s office declined to comment and referred all questions to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The North Carolina Republican has already said he’s not running for re-election.

Inflammatory remarks 

Trump nominated Tata earlier this summer to be the undersecretary of defense for policy. The influential position serves as the principal policy advisor to the Secretary of Defense and leads the coordination of national security policy.

The position oversees the policy team, which comprises military and civilian members and provides “responsive, forward-thinking and insightful policy advice” to the Secretary of Defense, according to the Defense Department.

The prominent position has been vacant since former undersecretary John Rood resigned in February at Trump’s request. Rood had warned the administration it should not withhold military aid to Ukraine — an issue that was at the center of Trump’s impeachment controversy.

James Anderson, a former vice president at Marine Corps University, has held the post in an “acting” role since June.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is one of the more bipartisan committees, and Reed said he usually waits to make a decision on nominees until after their hearing. But in this case, he and six other Democrats on the committee made the rare decision to publicly oppose Tata  not long after he was nominated in June.

Tata came under fire for inflammatory remarks he made in the past. CNN reported in June that he had called Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” on Twitter in 2018. Tata later deleted the tweet. He also called Islam “the most oppressive violent religion” and said the Iran nuclear deal came about because of Obama’s “Islamic roots.”   Read more

immigration, News, Trump Administration

Border officials did not follow guidelines on migrant children’s health care, government investigators find

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not consistently followed new guidelines for medical care of migrant children and spent some of the agency’s money designated for “medical care” on unrelated items like printers, speakers and its canine program, according to a new federal investigation.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent “congressional watchdog,” found gaps in care across border facilities. Border officials also chose to go against a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give the flu vaccine to children who crossed the border into the United States.

The GAO released the findings Wednesday, as members of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing as part of an ongoing investigation of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) policies in light of the deaths of two children at the border in December 2018.

The children, 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, were both Guatemalan and died in different CBP holding facilities in New Mexico and Texas.

“The simple reality is that children shouldn’t be locked up by our government,” U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Florida said in an email. “This administration’s anti-immigrant hysteria has led to deeply inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and others who are seeking legal status here in the United States.”

Demings, who is under consideration to be the vice presidential candidate for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, is a member of the committee but did not question witnesses at the hearing.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, an Arizona Republican who sits on the committee, called the children’s deaths tragic but said the federal government isn’t necessarily at fault. “We should start blaming the cartels, don’t you think, and they should be at least partially accountable for children’s death,” she said at the hearing.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, asked the GAO to look into the matter in the wake of reports showing what he called an “appalling disregard for the lives of migrant children” at the border. He tweeted Wednesday that the funding for the U.S. Homeland Security Department — which oversees CBP — must carry “clear directives and restrictions to ensure transparency and accountability.”

The Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department released its own findings Wednesday that both children died of natural causes related to the flu and bacterial infections. The Inspector General found there was no misconduct or malfeasance from border patrol agents.

But Dr. Fiona Danaher, a pediatrician who Democrats asked to review the records, said the agency needs more policies in place to protect children.

“Death by natural causes does not mean death was inevitable,” said Danaher, an instructor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Democratic lawmakers grilled witnesses from the GAO and Inspector General’s office on whether CBP equips its agents to identify when a child might need further medical help.

“CBP did not provide officers and agents with training to identify medical distress in children, is that correct?” Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from New Orleans and a member of the committee, asked.

The Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General, Joseph Cuffari, said agents are trained in basic first aid, CPR and trauma care. They had no pediatric training.

Tennessee Republican Rep. Mark Green, a physician, said putting more medical staff at the border may be an unreasonable ask in a country already facing a shortage of doctors in rural areas.

“Where in the world are we going to get the doctors to put somebody at every single crossing?” Green asked.

Richmond opened his remarks with criticism of that perspective.

“It is a proverbial Trumpism, pitting communities against each other. I guess that is where we are going in terms of access to doctors. I just won’t entertain it,” Richmond said. “We are the greatest country in the world.”

Gaps in care

The deaths happened in the midst of a surge at the border that backed up the immigration system last year. Read more