Commentary, Trump Administration

Calls mount for U.S. Attorney General Sessions to resign in light of apparent Russia perjury

Jeff Sessions testifying before the U.S. Senate

The tangled web with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin woven by Donald Trump and his minions continues to grow more and more sticky. Earlier this week, it was North Carolina Senator Richard Burr who found himself caught up in the mess. This morning, it’s Trump’s already controversial and embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

This is from NBC News:

“Top Democrats issued demands for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to immediately resign late Wednesday following news that he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the 2016 presidential campaign.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts were among those who called for the attorney general to step down.”

Think Progress has the details on the apparent perjury:

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice with the Russian ambassador while he was serving as a top adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Washington Post reports.

During his confirmation hearings in January, Sessions was asked directly about whether he was aware of any contacts between Trump surrogates and the Russian government during the campaign.

Sessions acknowledged that he was a surrogate of the Trump campaign. But he definitively said that he had no contacts with Russia. ‘I did not have communications with the Russians,’ he told Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).

He was testifying under oath.

Now, Sessions has admitted that he did have two conversations with the Russian ambassador?—?in July and September of 2016.

A spokeswoman for Sessions, oddly, maintains that ‘[t]here was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer’ at the January hearing.

The Wall Street Journal reports that ‘U.S. investigators have examined contacts Attorney General Jeff Sessions had with Russian officials during the time he was advising Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.’ It’s unclear whether this investigation is ongoing.

Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham (SC) said that, if Sessions spoke with the Russian ambassador, there needs to be a special prosecutor appointed.”

Interestingly, as Think Progress also reports this morning, Sessions himself made it plain several years ago that he believes that anyone who commits perjury must be removed from public office. Let’s hope the man has the decency to live up to his own standards in this regard.

Commentary

State lawmakers now avoiding constituents like members of Congress? G.A. suddenly alters Wednesday start times on anti-gerrymandering lobby day

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but if it is, it’s certainly one heck of a fluky development.

For several weeks now, anti-gerrymandering advocates have been planning and promoting a citizen “lobby day” at the North Carolina General Assembly for today. Like a lot of other organizations, the good government advocates are bringing a large group of North Carolinians to the Legislative Building to gather as a group and then meet with their lawmakers individually. For the past month, literally hundreds of citizen lobbyists have been making appointments with lawmakers — most of them for the time slot between early morning committee meetings and the traditional mid-afternoon start of the House and Senate floor sessions.

So guess what suddenly occurred late yesterday: the House and Senate both suddenly announced that floor sessions today would take place at 10:00 and 9:30, respectively. This is by far earliest start for both chambers on a Wednesday in 2017. Indeed, the Senate has never even had a morning start time on a Wednesday all year and the House has always convened at 2:00, with the exception of one 12:00 start. Legislators used similar tactics back during the heyday of the Moral Monday protests.

Maybe there’s a legitimate explanation for the last-minute switcheroo, but given the angry, combative and thin-skinned approach that conservative legislative leaders and many of their members have evidenced with respect to just about any criticism directed their way in recent years (and especially in recent months) it seems just as likely that this was an intentional scheme to avoid meeting with constituents. If so, it would also comport with the wimp-dog model being employed by GOP members of Congress across the country during the most recent Congressional recess when the traditional practice of holding town meetings suddenly evaporated for many lawmakers.

The bottom line: Reactionary state lawmakers can only hide out so long. They may successfully avoid their constituents at the General Assembly today, but they can’t avoid them forever. Let’s hope people keep demanding to be heard.

Commentary, HB2

Charlotte Observer issues scathing takedown of “compromise” on HB2

Here’s the basic deal right now on the “repeal” of HB2 being pushed by conservatives at the General Assembly: Democrats have surrendered on the issue of equity for transgender people when it comes to restroom access. The “compromise” would preempt any such protections. They’ve also partially surrendered on the issue of discrimination against LGBTQ people, by agreeing to allow such a fundamental right to be decided on a city-by-city basis with a stilted set of rules designed to make it hard to pass anything.

And it’s still not enough for Republicans.

This morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer explains:

“The HB2 debate really comes down to this: How much discrimination are you OK with?

A little? A lot? None?

If you can tolerate a lot, HB2 is the bill for you. If you can stomach just a medium amount, you’ll probably like HB186, the leading repeal bill being discussed at the legislature this week. If you are OK with just a little discrimination, you’ll probably back HB186 minus its referendum provision that lets voters decide whether to discriminate against LGBT citizens.

And if you want none? Well, plenty of approaches would provide that. But they’ve all been dismissed because they’re not ‘politically feasible.’ Why are they not feasible? Because Republican legislators will not support them. They are as likely to pass as a transgender person is to assault someone in a public bathroom.”

And here’s the right-on conclusion:

But Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, is right that Republican leaders keep moving the goalposts. First they agreed to a ‘repeal/repeal’ deal in which they would repeal HB2 if Charlotte first repealed its ordinance. Charlotte did; the legislature didn’t. Then Republicans blocked cities from regulating bathrooms and Gov. Roy Cooper agreed. Now they want the public to be able to hold referendums on minorities’ civil rights.

Jackson and Cooper have agreed to back HB186 if the referendum provision is removed. Even that amended bill would allow city contractors, nonprofits and others to discriminate against gays and would leave unsettled what bathroom transgender people are to use.

North Carolina must be a state that recognizes every person’s dignity. If the legislature fails to make us that state, don’t blame those who treasure such a simple goal.”

Commentary

Yet another editorial urges NC Senate to drop partisan confirmation hearings scheme

In case you missed it this morning, another major newspaper editorial urged the North Carolina Senate to eighty-six its unprecedented, unconstitutional and transparently partisan scheme to force Governor Cooper’s cabinet secretaries run the gauntlet of confirmation hearings. Here’s the conclusion to the editorial entitled “Unnecessary fight” from today’s Greensboro News & Record:

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, whom Cooper had defeated in November and who was leaving office in a matter of days, called the measure [enacting the confirmation scheme] “wrong and short-sighted.” Yet, he signed it into law anyway. Cooper sued, claiming a different reading of the constitution. The case is scheduled to be argued in court next week.

In the meantime, the Senate established a confirmation process, first calling Larry Hall, whom Cooper chose to lead the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs. Hall did not attend a confirmation hearing. And then another, and another. Cooper said the process should wait until the legal dispute is settled.

He has support from a panel of judges who considered granting a preliminary injunction halting the confirmation law but declined — not on the merits of the case but because there wasn’t any need. The judges noted that, according to the law, the confirmation process doesn’t begin until the governor formally submits the names of his nominees to the president of the Senate. Cooper had not done so. Hall and his other selections were serving as “acting” agency heads for the time being. Furthermore, the judges said that, by statute, the governor has until May 15 to submit his names.

In the face of these findings, the Senate was premature to schedule hearings and certainly to demand Hall’s presence. Last week, Cooper’s lawyers went back to court seeking to quash the subpoena.

Going to court is becoming standard operating procedure in North Carolina.

“Believe me, this is not how we want this to go,” Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said last week.

Perhaps not. Maybe Berger expected Cooper to surrender. Instead, both sides are locked in an unnecessary fight started for a petty purpose — to bring a Democratic governor to heel before he could even get his administration started.

Democratic legislatures did not require confirmation hearings for leaders appointed by past Republican governors. The Republican legislature did not require it of McCrory.

Picking a fight for purely partisan reasons does nothing to help the people of North Carolina. The Senate should repeal this “wrong and short-sighted” measure.

Commentary, HB2

Another bad sign for equality opponents as Raleigh’s hockey team celebrates LGBTQ rights

There are a lot of hopeful signs these days when it comes to LGBTQ equality. There’s the ongoing positive trend in public attitudes across the globe — especially as you move down the age scale. There’s the growing list of one-time equality opponents who have publicly admitted the error of their ways. There’s the national and international derision that has been poured upon North Carolina as a result of the HB2 debacle. And, of course, there’s the joyful arrival of marriage equality.

Last Friday night, however, I (along with thousands of other people in Raleigh) were lucky enough to witness something new that provided a remarkably powerful and hopeful shock to the system (and one that this middle-aged, sports loving equality advocate never suspected he would see); it was called “Hockey is For Everyone Night.”

The occasion was a regular season National Hockey League game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators. My wife and I knew something was up, however, when we walked into the PNC Arena and saw rainbow-colored Hurricane symbols all over the place. Wow, I thought, could they really be planning on making some kind of a statement tonight?

Amazingly, the next thing we knew, red carpets were being unfurled on the ice so that Shawn Long, Director of Operations at Equality NC could drop a ceremonial first puck between the captains of the two teams. This was later followed by a video taped statement recorded by a Hurricanes player named Eddie Lack, in which the lanky Swedish goalie made a pointed call for inclusiveness and an end to discrimination of all kinds. Later in the evening, during the “community hero of the night” segment —  a game break usually reserved for extending public recognition and thanks to a member of the military, or law enforcement or other public safety officer — the person recognized was a representative of a local LGBT center.

At each opportunity, my wife and I stood and cheered as loud as possible for fear that there would be a need to drown out catcalls and boos. Happily, though, there were few, if any, to be heard. Instead, there was simply smattering of polite applause — the kind one would hear most nights for any other kind of civic celebration. It was, in other words, precisely the kind of event that it should have been: a thoroughly ordinary event recognizing ordinary people dedicated to what is fast becoming — even in the hyper-macho world of sports — an unremarkable and widely accepted cause. Thank goodness.

The next time they have such an event, let’s hope the Canes invite Senator Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore to attend so that they can see how far out of the mainstream their narrow and hateful views are fast becoming.