Commentary, News, Trump Administration

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Trump and his allies: Channeling the true spirit of the original American Thanksgiving?

Americans, like the inhabitants of just about every country – especially the ones that find themselves having come out on top in a number of historical conflicts – have a penchant for rewriting history in a light that’s flattering to themselves.

Wars tend to get sanitized of their brutality, disasters and horrific mistakes.

Crass greed, materialism and acquisitiveness get recast as drive, ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Social progress for women, racial and ethnic minorities and others long forced to endure discrimination is presented as more a matter of natural human progress and the beneficent acts of enlightened leaders than something that had to be wrenched from the hands of a selfish and narrow-minded ruling class.

Meanwhile, successful politicians – however real their human foibles and imperfect their works – are regularly lionized along with many of their creations.

Take, for instance, America’s much-beloved Thanksgiving holiday. [Read more…]

2. Five revelations in the controversy surrounding UNC board member Tom Fetzer

Text messages and emails point to questionable actions, claims and motives in rogue investigation of former ECU interim chancellor

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s ongoing coverage of the recent East Carolina University controversy, you may be having some trouble keeping it all straight.

When videos of former interim chancellor Dan Gerlach drinking with students at bars near campus surfaced in October, they were quickly followed by rumors he had driven home drunk. Gerlach was placed on administrative leave while the UNC system hired the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson to investigate the matter.

But UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer began his own investigation, utilizing Greenville-based attorney Peter Romary – a fact Fetzer kept from other board members and UNC system officials. [Read more…]

3. Trump administration: Poor immigrants need not apply

Carlos came to the U.S. looking to provide a safer and more financially stable environment for his family. Like thousands of others, Carlos crossed the border out of necessity. His wife, and one of his young daughters, joined him shortly thereafter.

In 2011, while living in Cary, Carlos was held up at gunpoint near his home by a man who demanded money. Fortunately, when the man realized Carlos did not have any money on him, he left. But the experience understandably left Carlos and his family traumatized. Happily, as part of an effort to encourage vulnerable immigrant communities to report crimes, the U.S. government provides a special visa to victims of crime known as the “U visa.”

While there is technically no cost to apply for the U visa, applicants often need to pay for a separate application, an “I-192,” if the government identifies any reasons why they should not be admitted into the country. Submitting the I-192 to the government costs $930 per person, but immigration regulations provide for a waiver of the fee for low income families. Carlos, who was making about $1,600 per month working as a short order cook while his wife stayed home to avoid child care costs, got a waiver of this fee based on his limited income. [Read more…]

4. The extreme danger in not holding Trump accountable for his actions

Donald J. Trump used the power of his office to blackmail a foreign ally into undermining a political foe here at home. Nothing in U.S history approaches that abuse of presidential power, yet the gravity of the charges apparently does not matter.

The overwhelming evidence proving those charges – the sworn testimony, the emails and direct messages, the de facto public confessions by President Trump, his personal attorney and his acting chief of staff, explaining that yes, they did pressure Ukraine to produce political dirt – that too does not matter.

It does not matter because over the course of the past month, GOP officials have made clear their grim determination to protect Trump from all consequences for his actions, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. So the question arises: Then what? [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Back in their districts, here’s how Democrats are talking about impeachment

5. Dems battle Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over student loan forgiveness

WASHINGTON — A long-simmering feud between U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and congressional Democrats over student loan forgiveness is heating up as hundreds of thousands of borrowers continue to wait for help on loans they claim were fraudulent.

DeVos narrowly avoided a congressional subpoena earlier this month after a lengthy fight with the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. Her critics in Congress say they still intend to haul her in for questioning over the Trump administration’s controversial loan forgiveness rule, and some lawmakers are pushing an effort to upend her policy entirely.

In late September, Democrats in the House and Senate introduced resolutions to overturn DeVos’ decision to reverse of an Obama-era student loan forgiveness policy. In a statement issued at the time, Senate sponsor Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that “This rule is another Trump-DeVos giveaway to the notorious for-profit colleges at the expense of defrauded student borrowers.  Senators will now have a chance to go on the record: Are you with the students or the predatory industry that defrauded them with worthless degrees and a lifetime of debt?”

North Carolina Democratic Rep. Alma Adams has been a frequent and longtime critic of numerous Trump administration higher education policies. She co-sponsored the House version of the resolution that would overturn the DeVos rule. [Read more…]

6. Weekly Radio Interviews and Micro-podcasts:

Click here to listen to this week’s newsmaker interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield.

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Commentary, Trump Administration

Impeachment hearing testimony reveals sad truth about Trump’s foreign policy

In the aftermath of last week’s impeachment hearings, one of the best assessments of what Americans learned about President Donald Trump and his approach to foreign policy (if you can even dignify it with the word “approach”) came for John Micek, editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star — a sibling news outlet to NC Policy Watch. The following is from “The Trump Doctrine confirmed: Diplomats are errand boys doing the White House’s dirty work abroad”:

Washington, DC – November 21: Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Europe and Russia testifies before the House Intelligence Committee. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Trump administration’s foreign policy, such as it is, has been described a lot of different ways. But one word that’s never been applied to it is “coherent.”

From Israel to Turkey, from Brussels to Beijing, and all points between, President Donald Trump’s White House has careered from one embarrassment to another, leaving world leaders shaking their heads in disbelief or resignation.

Now, thanks to Fiona Hill, we can finally put that to rest.

Appearing before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee last week, Hill, in a no-nonsense, entirely English way, crystallized the 45th president’s view of foreign policy: American diplomats are not there to advance the interests of the citizens of the United States of America or to ensure the nation’s security or stature on the global stage.

No, they’re errand boys out to do the narcissistic chief executive’s personal bidding — the long-term consequences be damned. That’s the real Trump Doctrine.

America First? Nope, it’s Trump First and Always.

Hill drove home that reality in her description of European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who lucked into his position not because of any particular savvy in global affairs, but because he’s a wealthy hotelier who gave Trump a sack of cash in 2016 and was rewarded for it.

As The Washington Post reports, Hill said she chastised Sondland in June for not coordinating with her on Ukraine policy. In the ultimate needle scratch, Sondland told Hill he didn’t have to because he was acting at Trump’s behest, even as he briefed Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

“He wasn’t coordinating with us because we weren’t doing the same thing that he was doing,” Hill told the House panel, according to the Post. “He was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy.”

An errand boy. That’s the Trump doctrine. American policy exists only to serve the interests of the Dear Leader. Not the worker on the factory floor in Wisconsin who’s wondering where all the manufacturing jobs have gone. And not the farmer in Iowa who’s sweating the fallout from the White House’s misguided trade wars. Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

Mark Meadows’ predictably dishonest response to impeachment hearings

It’s increasingly remarkable (and a testament to the troubled state of American politics) that supposedly intelligent and responsible people can continue to hear the details of the remarkable behavior of President Trump and his minions in the Ukraine scandal and still profess to think that there’s no “there” there. Take North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows.

As USA Today reported yesterday, Meadows (pictured at left) was his usual irresponsible and unpatriotic self in attempting to defend Trump:

After hearing for hours from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of State, Rep. Mark Meadows, one of President Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill, left the hearing to do damage control.

The North Carolina Republican dismissed a new revelation by Taylor, that one of his staff members overheard the president ask specifically about investigations in Ukraine, and called the hours of public testimony boring….

“There’s nothing here. I mean, I can tell you in the room…more yawning going on than there is aha moments and I can tell you for a lot of us, we were probably checking our Twitter feed more than we were paying attention to some of the testimony,” Meadows said.

Think about that for a moment. Faced with the solemn duty of examining whether the president of the United States engaged in illegal, even quasi-treasonous behavior in selling out the country and its foreign policy objectives for personal gain, Meadows — a man sworn to uphold the Constitution — claimed he didn’t even pay attention to the proceedings.

It was stunning and embarrassing statement.

Of course, it’s also almost assuredly untrue. Meadows and his people were listening carefully. Had anything specific emerged from the hearings that would have genuinely tended to exonerate Trump or undermine any of the witnesses, you can be sure Meadows would have been all over it.

The problem for Meadows and his allies is that the witnesses were extremely powerful and credible. As the astute Charles Pierce accurately observed:

Make no mistake. If the hearings on Tuesday were a criminal trial, the jury wouldn’t have been out long enough to order lunch. The President* of the United States ran a cheap-assed, third-rate shakedown of the new president of an embattled ally for the purpose of enlisting the new president of the embattled ally in the ratfcking of the 2020 election. Both of those are crimes. Putting them together is a third crime.

Left with no facts or law to pound on, Meadows was thus reduced to pounding on the table and appealing to the worst instincts of his misguided far right followers by, in effect, urging them to tune out the impeachment hearings altogether.

Unfortunately for Meadows and Trump, the segment of Americans willing to fall for his “nothing-to-see-here” shtick is declining rapidly.

News, Trump Administration

U.S. House votes to sanction Turkey, recognize Armenian genocide

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Tuesday passed legislation with broad bipartisan support to impose sanctions against Turkey for its military invasion of northern Syria.

The legislation passed the House by a vote of 403-16. All 13 members of the North Carolina delegation voted “yes.” The measure comes after the chamber voted earlier this month to approve a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

The bill — sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas) — would impose sanctions on specific Turkish officials connected to the invasion. It would also sanction financial institutions that knowingly bankrolled the invasion and it would bar U.S. defense services from being transferred to the Turkish government if they may be used by Turkey for military operations in northern Syria.

Ahead of the vote, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Trump of unleashing “an escalation of chaos and security in Syria” when he announced plans to pull U.S. troops from the region. She warned that Trump had threatened lives, risked regional security and undermined U.S. “credibility as a trustworthy ally.”

Trump’s critics on both sides of the aisle blame the president for allowing a Turkish incursion into the region that targeted U.S. Kurdish allies. There is also bipartisan legislation in the Senate to impose sanctions on Turkey, but its fate is uncertain.

The House also voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night (405-11) to adopt a resolution that commemorates the “Armenian genocide,” when an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923 in the Ottoman Empire, which is now Turkey. North Carolina Representatives Virginia Foxx and Mark Meadows were among he 11 “noes.”

Engel of the Foreign Relations Committee has said the House wants to send a clear signal with its recent actions regarding Turkey. “I think some of us are a little bit annoyed with Turkey, and we want them to know how much annoyed we are,” he told NPR.

The “genocide” label is highly contentious and previous attempts to pass a similar resolution fell through in recent years, due in part to pushback from Turkey. The Turkish Embassy cautioned this week against any attempt by the House “to pass judgment on the events of 1915,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief for the States Newsroom Network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.