Commentary, News, Trump Administration

How Trump’s defiance may only bring us closer to impeachment

The president, our orange obfuscation factory in chief, is playing chicken with Congress again, insisting to the press this week that he won’t be negotiating with top Democrats until they halt their investigations of him.

If, perchance, you harbored some doubt that the president would put his own self-interest above that of his country — and if so: What? How? Where have you been? — Trump scuttled an infrastructure summit this week with the peevish ultimatum.

But Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the ongoing House probes — instructing former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a House committee subpoena — seems likely to only bring us closer to impeachment proceedings. Recall that McGahn is an integral figure in the Mueller report’s most damning accounts of possible obstruction of justice charges.

I wrote at Policy Watch this month that none of us has any time for Democrats’ ceaseless hand-wringing over impeachment, not with a lawless commander-in-chief in the White House.

And Democrats’ nascent star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seems to agree.


This week, The Atlantic‘s David A. Graham wrote a piece about how Trump’s combative stance with the House investigation makes his impeachment all the more likely.

It’s not, of course, out of the realm of possibility that Trump wants an impeachment, considering the likely possibility that a Republican-controlled Senate — buttressed with blindfolded Trump allies like North Carolina’s own Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — clears him.

That said, it should be considered just as likely that the impeachment proceedings — remember: impeachment is a proceeding, not an outcome — uncover more information than we have today, certainly more than our corrosive commander-in-chief would yield of his own accord.

Read The Atlantic piece below, and its incisive reading of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It’s certainly worth your time.

Do you remember the little woven finger traps you sometimes got as a kid, as a party favor or a reward at a fair? You could comfortably stick your fingers in, but if you tried to pull them out, the weave would tighten and you’d be stuck. Only by maneuvering gently, and not pulling too hard, could you extract yourself.

President Donald Trump finds himself in a sort of impeachment finger trap right now. He isn’t certain to be impeached—but every step he’s taking to try to squirm out of it seems to tighten the bind he’s in.

Consider the president’s tantrum on Wednesday. After inviting Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to the White House for a meeting on infrastructure, Trump stomped out of the meeting, supposedly because Pelosi had earlier accused him of participating in a cover-up. (The accusation is unrebuttably true.) Trump insists he did not throw a fit—“I was purposely very polite and calm, much as I was minutes later with the press in the Rose Garden. Can be easily proven.”—but one can’t calmly blow off a meeting. It defeats the point.

Trump has many things to be upset about. His feint on infrastructure came to nothing: Pelosi and Schumer were happy to go along with his plan, but he couldn’t rally Republican support for it. His former spokeswoman Hope Hicks has just been subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee. And his strategy of stonewalling Congress in the face of Democratic investigations is unraveling quickly. There never seemed to be much hope that it would block the probes altogether; instead, the goal appeared to be to bog down the process and run out the clock before the 2020 election.

So Trump is suggesting he won’t work with Democrats on anything until they drop their investigations. “It is not possible for them to investigate and legislate at the same time,” he tweeted. But being able to do both oversight and lawmaking is precisely how Congress is structured, and as veterans of any previous administration can attest, plenty can get done while Congress is investigating a White House.There is also no chance Democrats are going to drop their investigations, and that’s where the finger trap comes in. By and large, the House Democratic caucus has been wary of impeachment. Even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report all but accused the president of obstruction of justice and suggested that Congress ought to act, most members were content to follow Pelosi’s slow approach and to avoid open calls for impeachment.

More recently, however, that has changed—and the spark has been the White House instructing former aides like Don McGahn to neither produce documents nor testify in response to subpoenas. It’s one thing to fire the FBI director to kill an investigation, pressure aides to lie, and try to fire the special counsel—you might very well get away with only harsh words for that—but start stepping on Congress’s prerogatives, and its members start to get very angry very fast. Specifically, they start to demand impeachment inquiries.

If Trump were to follow through on his threat to not do anything with Congress until House Democrats drop their investigations, things could get even dicier. Within the next few months, the debt ceiling will need to increase and the government will need to be funded. Democrats might have been tempted to hold those bills hostage, just as Republicans have done in the past—but now Trump has given them an opportunity to pass an increase and a spending bill and dare the president to call their bluff. A senior government official told CNBC that the debt ceiling and funding are not subject to Trump’s ultimatum, but the president has demonstrated again and again that only he can speak for himself. And if he doesn’t act, and the U.S. defaults or shuts down? It could be fodder for another article of impeachment.

Thus far, Pelosi has been the brake on the members of her caucus most eager to impeach, but Trump’s erratic behavior is backing her into an ever-more-untenable situation. On Wednesday, she said, “I pray for the president of the United States. And I pray for the United States of America.” Later on Wednesday, she said, “In plain sight, this president is obstructing justice and is engaged in a cover-up. And that could be an impeachable offense.” On Thursday, she said that she was concerned for Trump’s well-being and said he was conducting an “assault on the Constitution of the United States.” But Pelosi continues to say she doesn’t support impeachment, and reportedly told Democratic lawmakers, “He wants to be impeached, so he can be exonerated by the Senate.”

With each comment like this, Pelosi’s balancing act becomes more challenging. Even if it is true that the odds of conviction in the Senate following an impeachment are very long, it’s difficult to tell your members and your constituents that the president is attacking the Constitution and has committed impeachable acts, and then decline to even launch an impeachment inquiry. There’s an analogy with the Republican rhetoric about Barack Obama: Once GOP voters were convinced that Obama was a tyrant, everything the Republican Congress did short of acting that way started to look like a betrayal, and incumbents paid a price for that in their primary elections.

While Pelosi’s explicit position is against impeachment, her implicit position, I have argued, is actually not yet. Trump’s response to the investigations is making yet closer for her and for the rest of the Democrats. His fingers are in the trap, and he’s pulling furiously, but the trap is just getting tighter.

Commentary, News

School choice groups fire back over criticism of another voucher expansion

Accountability is a slippery word to the leadership of the N.C. General Assembly.

Republican legislators in the House and Senate oft crow about the need for accountability — financially and academically — in North Carolina’s traditional public schools. Of course, nobody really disagrees, although there’s something terribly galling about the relative lack of either for North Carolina’s incredible expanding private school voucher program.

The Capitol Broadcasting Corp., WRAL’s parent company, offered an editorial on voucher accountability last week, following the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan bill that only loosens voucher restrictions further, and now school choice advocates are fired up.

Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, issued a scathing statement Monday, slamming CBC for the piece.

From Long’s statement:

OUR money.

Those are the words of the Capitol Broadcasting Company’s (CBC) latest attack on North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program currently enables over 9,600 students from low-income and working-class families in North Carolina to attend the private school of their parents’ choice.

These families are taxpayers, too. But CBC is protecting systems and the status quo, playing politics, and demonizing educational choice.

Here is the downright disrespectful and harmful language used by CBC’s editorial board in full:

If these parents were spending their own money, Clark might have a case. But these parents are not spending their own money, it is OUR money, tens of millions of dollars’ worth. We not only have the right, we have the responsibility to be sure that OUR tax dollars are being spent as intended – to educate North Carolina children.

“Our money” is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to turn one group of people—those of us paying taxes but not using a “scary” voucher—against another group of people—those of us paying taxes who use an Opportunity Scholarship.

Even Governor Roy Cooper says Opportunity Scholarships are “an expense that we should stop” while talking about investing more in education. Apparently to the governor, poor and working-class families are nothing more than “an expense.”

Divide and conquer is his plan, pitting those families against the state that thinks it knows best where parents should send their kids to school.

The governor and CBC are demanding that “our money” shouldn’t be allocated to “these parents” unless the state controls every penny, regardless of the accountability requirements already in place, the positive impacts schools of choice have on their students, and the overwhelming support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the parents using it.

Thousands of families on the Opportunity Scholarship Program (taxpayers, mind you) dig into their own pockets every month to cover what’s left in tuition and fees after the Opportunity Scholarship has provided them a much-needed boost. Yet, there is a real disconnect when CBC questions if “these parents were spending their own money.”

Rhetoric aside, North Carolina lacks sufficient evidence that the expanding private school program — lawmakers built in millions in additional funding each year — works. That says nothing about the relative lack of transparency and anti-discrimination protection in private schools, most of which are religious-based.

At a time when North Carolina teachers are marching en masse to Raleigh, demanding additional funding, legislators would spend millions on the program.  Legislators should shelve the voucher gimmick or delay their expansions, at least until there is credible evidence that the program is effective.

Commentary, News

Editorial urges Gov. Cooper to veto “shameful” abortion bill

North Carolina has joined the ranks of conservative states behind a raft of anti-abortion rights legislation.

The latest — the so-called “born-alive abortion survivors protection act” — is now bound for Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk after a charged debate in the legislature.

Plainly and simply, Cooper should veto the bill. This morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com (“Veto this bill”) agrees.

From the editorial:

Gov. Roy Cooper needs to veto the “abortion survivors protection act” and that veto should be sustained. The bill is unnecessary. It stigmatizes and shames doctors and their patients.

After moving quickly through the state Senate it was rushed before the House of Representatives and passed in minutes – without even perfunctory committee review.

This bill doesn’t protect the lives of anyone who isn’t already protected under current law. Infanticide IS AGAINST the law. If a baby is born alive, no matter the circumstances, doctors must take all appropriate measures to preserve that life. It is already a crime to kill a baby.

Any doctors that do it violate the law, their medical ethics and go to jail. That is what happened to the sole example backers have used to promote this superfluous bill.

Current law works. The sponsors of the bill, Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth; Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell and Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston know this. While they’ve offered up highly emotional rhetoric, they’ve distorted reality and failed to provide a bit of evidence that this is going on in North Carolina or even had gone on in recent memory. One of the bill’s backers, Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, DECADES AGO early in her career, claimed to have “been witness to the results of those late-term abortions.” She offered no proof but plenty of gruesome anecdotal descriptions.

This legislation is not based in medical reality or truth. It is being rammed through the legislature as a wedge issue to agitate a political base. President Donald Trump says there should be “punishment” for women who have abortions.

That is not the mainstream view. Less than a year ago 71 percent of the nation’s registered voters said they opposed overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that make abortion legal during the first three months of pregnancy. Only 23 percent supported reversing it. We support current law.

For those first 24 weeks – up until a fetus is viable – a woman can decide to have an abortion. After that, an abortion is permissible ONLY if a doctor determines the health of the mother is at risk by continuing the pregnancy. This is not a woman’s choice. It is a doctor’s determination of a medical necessity.

And, it is rare. Very rare.

Don’t be fooled. It’s all aimed at the creation of highly-charged political attacks. Gov. Cooper, don’t be surprised when Sen. Phil Berger says you support infanticide. We know you don’t and so does he.

But, it’s already started. “It shouldn’t be hard to stand against infanticide, but House and Senate Democrats are doing just that,” said Aubrey Woodard, acting chairman of the state Republican Party, in a fund-raising e-mail distributed Wednesday.

Infanticide IS ALREADY AGAINST the law. Woodard and his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly know it.

To really stand up for children, legislators should support the expansion of Medicaid to more than a half-million needy North Carolina citizens who lack access to adequate health care. They should fully fund Pre-K in North Carolina to eliminate the backlog of children who are eligible.

This legislation is not about protecting children. It is a shameful re-election gimmick.

Gov. Cooper, veto this bill.

Commentary, Education, News

Study: North Carolina pre-K expanding, but still lags national average

A new study says North Carolina Pre-K is on the rise, but there’s still a great deal more work to do.

The report should provide new fodder for North Carolina lawmakers, who’ve been debating expanded public access to Pre-K for several years.

From WRAL’s report Wednesday:

North Carolina has increased state preschool funding and enrollment, but access has hovered at 23 percent of 4-year-olds – below the national average, according to new research released Wednesday by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

The State of Preschool 2018 annual report, based on 2017-18 academic year data, found that North Carolina boosted pre-K spending by nearly $6 million in 2017-18, with plans to continue increased funding. However, the state “needs to both expand access and restore funding per child to pre-recession levels to help close the pay gap between pre-K and K-3 teachers with the same qualifications,” the group wrote.

“North Carolina is moving in the right direction,” NIEER founder and senior co-director Steven Barnett said in a statement.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers discussed a possible three-year virtual early learning pilot program called “UpStart” that would give at-risk, preschool-age children access to online pre-K classes at home.

Earlier this year, North Carolina business leaders, including CEOs at Red Hat and SAS, pushed for more slots for students in pre-K.

Across North Carolina, about 30,000 children participate in the NC Pre-K program, which focuses specifically on educating at-risk 4-year-olds. Teachers in the program have to be certified in early reading, a criteria that has been recognized across the country for success, according to SAS CEO Jim Goodnight.

The positive impacts of early childhood education are well-documented, and the under-funded programs might have the potential to decrease achievement gaps as well.

Meanwhile, questions also persist about pay for pre-k educators.

More from WRAL:

Nationally, the group found that just a third of 4-year-olds and 5.5 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs, with virtually no change in years. Meanwhile, state funding “is failing to keep pace with even the slow increases in enrollment and state spending per child has decreased, when adjusted for inflation,” the group reported. “Inadequate funding undermines classroom quality, and most states fail to pay pre-K teachers comparably to K-3 teachers.”

Barnett said he is “disappointed by the lack of progress and concerned about the number of children missing the quality early learning experiences.”

This year’s report includes a special section on policies affecting the preschool teacher workforce, focusing on salary and benefit parity.

Enrollment has more than doubled since 2002 – with almost 1.6 million children enrolled nationwide – but expansion has slowed in recent years, according to the report. “In some states, slow growth is due to a shift from part-day to full-day programs, which can better support child development as well as family work schedules, but nevertheless leaves many children unserved.”

For North Carolina’s state profile in the new study, go here.

Commentary, News

Report: Allegations of vote-buying in Robeson County predated District 9 controversy

"Vote" pin

A lengthy new report from WRAL’s Tyler Dukes details how allegations of vote-buying in Robeson County long predated the District 9 ruckus, begging questions about local prosecutors in the eastern North Carolina county.

According to that report, published Tuesday morning, state election investigators held evidence that appeared to indicate a candidate for local elected office may have paid voters to go to the polls. But the local district attorney — who defends himself in the story — did not prosecute.

The emails that raised eyebrows in 2015 didn’t concern the 9th Congressional District, which made national headlines in 2018. Instead, they focused on a nonpartisan race for city council in Lumberton, where one candidate accused her opponent of paying three voters to cast ballots in exchange for $7 apiece.

Robeson County, of course, was tied up in the allegations of ballot harvesting that forced a new election in Congressional District 9 this year.

But today’s reporting lends further credence to the notion that Robeson County — and the District 9 region — may have been ripe for election malfeasance.

The most important questions, though, involve how state officials will approach these cases in the future. The reporting delves into that as well:

[Former Robeson County D.A. Johnson] Britt’s decision in 2016 was not the first time local prosecutors – or even state and federal ones – have declined to pursue charges over allegations of election improprieties.

In 2010, for example, a special deputy attorney general with the state Department of Justice declined a request from Bladen County’s top prosecutor to look into vote-buying allegations there. Despite allegations of “voter fraud and assorted trickery,” the DOJ lawyer wrote, most alleged victims were elderly and unreliable – they weren’t credible witnesses.

The Robeson County case stands out in some respects, said Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections. But he said it’s also emblematic, in some ways, that the agency sometimes has a difficult time “getting traction” with local prosecutors.

Lawson said his agency is doing its part. State elections officials have ordered at least nine new elections since 2016.

Yet criminal charges like those in the 9th Congressional District investigation remain a rarity – and are well outside the legal purview of the board.

“We’re not trying to cast blame on anybody,” elections board spokesman Pat Gannon said. “But what can happen if these things are allowed to linger and keep happening without any repercussions, the offenders get more brazen. Things that appear to have happened in Bladen this year will happen.”

And if a local prosecutor declines to bring criminal charges – whatever the reason – the board essentially has no recourse.

“Until something happens to change the culture in those areas, we’re going to continue to have to repeat this conversation over and over again,” Gannon said.

Former Robeson District Attorney Britt said one potential fix is a change in state law. Legislators could give the authority to prosecute election law violations to the state attorney general’s office, or even the Wake County district attorney, where the state elections board is based.

That tactic worked for the 9th District, where Wake County’s district attorney took over the investigation after Bladen County’s top prosecutor recused himself.

“You put it in the hands of the people who are most familiar with it,” Britt said.