Commentary, News

Senate will vote today on right-wing blogger nominated by Trump for court of appeals

The full U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote today at 12:15 pm ET, on the nomination of John K. Bush to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

As readers will recall, Bush has recorded his extremist views in a blog full of rhetoric so inflammatory as to call into serious question his ability to serve as an impartial judge. Among other personal diatribes, he posted a photo with a message to those who vandalized a McCain-Palin sign: ‘Do it again and you will find out what the 2nd Amendment is all about!!!’ In another post, Bush likened abortion to slavery, calling them the ‘two greatest tragedies in our country.’ The blog is full of personal attacks on those with whom he disagrees. He has no particular qualifications for the bench besides his right-wing views.

This is from court watchers at the nonpartisan Alliance for Justice:

“Paperwork submitted by John K. Bush, President Trump’s nominee for the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, reveals that Bush has spent a decade writing inflammatory and, often, offensive blog posts for the website Elephants in the Bluegrass.

Writing under a pseudonym, G. Morris, Bush authored more than 400 entries for the ultraconservative blog run by his wife Bridget Bush. While Bush pontificates on a broad swath of issues, one common theme runs throughout his writings: Bush displays a remarkable contempt for any issue he deems liberal or progressive, often launching into personal attacks on individuals he disagrees with. Bush’s writings should disqualify him for a lifetime seat on the federal bench for two reasons. First, Bush’s writings raise serious concerns about whether, as a judge, he will be able to approach the issues presented to him with an open mind, applying the law to the facts of the case without regard to his personal ideology. Second, Bush’s distasteful rhetoric demonstrates that he lacks the judicial temperament necessary to serve as a federal judge.”

As Supreme Court expert Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress explains in an excellent post, “this is not normal.” What’s more, Bush’s legal views are extreme on an array of issues:

“In any event, Bush’s public statements and writings do not simply reveal political views that place him very far to the right. They also reveal legal opinions that are widely out of step with well-established law accepted by Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s not something that presidents typically look for in judicial nominees.”

At last report, both Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis were expected to vote “yes” on the nomination.

Commentary

Scathing letter to the editor calls out Phil Berger as his hometown hospital goes bankrupt

Winston-Salem Journal reader and letter to the editor writer Wendy Marshall had some powerful words for North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem and Medicaid expansion opponent Phil Berger (pictured at left) today. Marshall’s pointed comments came in response to a recent WRAL.com editorial (rerun by the Journal) entitled “The cost of not expanding Medicaid.” As the editorial notes, the hospital in Berger’s hometown of Eden is now on “life-support” as the result of North Carolina’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Here’s Marshall’s letter:

Failing hospitals

Like his Republican companions in the state legislature, Senate leader Phil Berger was willing to let his hometown hospital in Eden go bankrupt rather than expand Medicaid under Obamacare (“The cost of not expanding Medicaid,” journalnow.com, July 17).

The hospital is the largest employer in Eden. Jobs will be lost, bills will go unpaid and it’s likely that people will die, largely because of the legislature’s insistence on letting our federal tax dollars go to people in other states, all so they can say they fought Obamacare.

I wish I could ask Berger to his face: Is it worth it?

Several rural hospitals in the state have closed since the legislature refused to expand Medicaid. And yet the legislature complains that rural areas aren’t getting enough resources. We also know that the opioid crisis has hit rural areas hard. Refusing to expand Medicaid makes no sense.

I can’t shake the feeling that there’s some underlying motive behind today’s conservatives’ insistence on undermining government on every level and sacrificing every common good we share, all for the holy cause of more tax cuts for the rich.

Is there? Is there something they’re not telling us?

How much evidence do conservatives need before they understand that their elected representatives mean them no good?

Wendy Marshall, Winston-Salem

News

State Board of Education puts off vote on DPI cuts, names new spokesman

Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) and State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey (right)

Members of the State Board of Education emerged Wednesday with a widely-expected decision to appeal last week’s court ruling in their case with Superintendent Mark Johnson and state lawmakers, but a final decision on how to administer $3.2 million in legislative cuts to North Carolina’s K-12 bureaucracy is still in the works.

Board members were mum on the issue following Wednesday’s conference call meeting, most of which was spent in closed session discussing their legal case and personnel matters.

Nevertheless, members are expected to move quickly on their decision in the coming days.

As Policy Watch reported Tuesday, the DPI cuts are likely to cost multiple employees their jobs and slash services to local school districts. While the agency provides oversight of the state’s public school system, it also provides professional development and intervention in low-performing schools, particularly in poor and rural portions of the state.

Board Chair Bill Cobey told Policy Watch that Johnson had shared proposals for passing down the cuts, with board members providing feedback. Neither party was willing to make those proposals public however, pointing out the plans involved confidential personnel matters.

In addition to Wednesday’s decision on the court appeal, board members also took a vote to name a former state communications officer and newspaper editor as the agency’s top spokesman.

Board members unanimously agreed to name Drew Elliot to the post, replacing Vanessa Jeter, the department’s longtime communications director who retired at the end of June.

Elliot has been an editor at the North State Journal, a statewide newspaper based out of Raleigh, for less than two years. But prior to that, he was communications chief for North Carolina’s environmental regulation agency, now called the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Elliot led communications at a tense time for the department, as it shifted to GOP-controlled leadership and dealt with a firestorm of controversy over a massive coal ash spill in Eden.

“I have no doubt he’ll be a valuable addition to our staff,” said Cobey. “This, of course, is a very key role in the agency.”

Communications at DPI have been in a state of transition in recent weeks. Policy Watch reported this month on Johnson’s controversial decision to temporarily halt some communications in the agency after Jeter’s departure.

Elliot was recommended to the board by a committee that included Cobey, Johnson, state board member Greg Alcorn and DPI Deputy Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin.

The decision comes with Johnson and the board still entangled in a lawsuit over a December law approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly that would grant the Republican superintendent greater budgetary and hiring powers.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

New battle: GOP now slashing billions from programs that help Americans in order to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy

In Congress, the House Budget Committee is moving forward today with discussing their recently released 2018 budget plan that will set a fiscal framework for budget, tax, and appropriations bills to follow and for years to come.

To unlock Congress’ power to expedite tax overhaul this year, the House GOP fiscal blueprint, titled “Building a Better America”, gives instructions to 11 House committees to achieve at least $203 billion in mandatory cuts. These cuts would mark the largest amount of deficit reduction through the budget process in two decades. If that were not enough, the GOP budget resolution states: “These targets are a floor, not a ceiling, and our Committee expects the authorizing committees will achieve significantly larger budgetary savings.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains how the House GOP budget framework affects our country:

“It would cause pain to tens of millions of Americans, especially struggling families and others who have fallen on hard times, and would cut deeply into areas important to future economic growth, from education to basic scientific research.  It would do so while opening the door for tax cuts geared toward those who already are the most well off.

“The budget plan is broadly similar in direction and theme to President Trump’s budget:  cutting trillions of dollars from basic assistance, health programs, and core investments in our economy; promising both big tax cuts and so-called deficit-neutral “tax reform” without providing any specifics for how those tax cuts would be paid for; and relying on rosy economic assumptions to show a balanced budget by 2027 on paper.”

For those interested in knowing which Congressional committees will play a major role in cutting the budget, here’s the breakdown:

“The House Ways and Means Committee, which would do much of the GOP’s tax-writing this year, would be charged with finding the most mandatory savings — at least $52 billion. That could include cuts to programs like the Social Services Block Grant, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income or Disability Insurance.

“The House Judiciary Committee would be tasked with the second-highest amount of savings, with a total of $45 billion — most of which would likely come from medical malpractice reforms. The Education and Workforce Committee, as well as the Energy and Commerce panel, would each need to produce $20 billion in savings, with another $10 billion from the House Agriculture Committee.”

For those wondering if North Carolina’s congressional delegation has GOP members in some of these committees, the answer is yes: House Ways and Means (George Holding, 2nd District); Education and Workforce (Virginia Foxx, 5th District); Energy and Commerce (Richard Hudson, 8th District); Agriculture (David Rouzer, 7th District).

Stay tuned as we continue to analyze and cover the rapid and fluid news on the federal budget and healthcare front this week.

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

Courts & the Law, News

State Board of Education will appeal constitutional challenge decision favoring Superintendent

The State Board of Education announced today that it will appeal a court decision handed down last week that allows newly elected Superintendent Mark Johnson to be in control of the state’s public education system.

A three-judge panel issued its ruling Friday that the Board of Education did not meet its burden of proof when arguing that lawmakers were unconstitutional when transferring power from the Board to Johnson.

Bill Cobey, the chairman of the State Board of Education, said earlier this week that he was disappointed about the court’s ruling but couldn’t speak further about it until after the Board’s meeting.

When asked about the appeal, he responded, “I can’t guarantee anything because I’m only first among equals.”

Although the panel ruled in favor of Johnson, it left in place a stay preventing the law from taking effect for 60 days to allow for an appeal.