Cooper rejects GOP’s calls for a full-scale convention in August

Gov. Roy Cooper and state DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen at a recent briefing

Gov. Roy Cooper responded today to calls for the Republican National Convention to proceed as normal, rejecting the idea of a “full convention.”

On Saturday, Ronna McDaniel and Marcia Kelly, chairwoman and the CEO of the Republican National Convention, respectively, sent Cooper a letter asking for a “full convention” with hotels, restaurants and bars reopened at full capacity to serve “19,000 delegates, alternate delegates, staff, volunteers, elected officials and guests.”

Cooper had previously stated that his administration was waiting to hear from RNC organizers about various “options” they were considering to pull off the event.

In their letter, McDaniel and Kelly listed their “proactive” plans, including “temperature checks, testing before and during the Convention, making masks available for those who request one, and providing enhanced sanitization of public areas.”

The letter came a day after Cooper and President Donald Trump spoke on the phone. On that phone call, Trump demanded a convention with no masks or social distancing.

Today, Cooper said it is “very unlikely” that the conditions surrounding COVID-19 would be favorable enough in August to ensure the kind of convention that McDaniel, Kelly and Trump want.

“We are happy to continue talking with you about what a scaled-down convention would look like and we still await your proposed plan for that,” wrote Cooper.

“Neither public health officials nor I will risk the health and safety of North Carolinians by providing the guarantee you seek.”’

Click here to read Cooper’s full response.

Burr, Tillis cast key vote against privacy for American citizens (a decision Burr, at least, may regret)

Sen. Thom Tillis, left, and Sen. Richard Burr, right

Last week, Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis voted against a proposed amendment to the PATRIOT Act that would have prevented the FBI from searching U.S. citizens’ browser histories and other web browsing data without a warrant.

The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and attached to the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, aimed to prohibit a practice created by Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which allows the government to collect nearly any form of data it deems relevant to an ongoing investigation.

It received bipartisan support, with “yea” votes coming from prominent figures on both sides of the aisle such as Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). The amendment received 59 out of the 60 votes it needed to pass, with a bipartisan set of 37 senators (Burr and Tillis among them) voting “nay” and four senators abstaining.

One of the “nay” votes, along with Burr and Tillis, was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), who was planning to introduce an amendment that would expressly permit the FBI to collect browsing data and search history without a warrant. McConnell’s amendment would have done nothing more than codifying existing practice into law; ultimately, it did not make it to the floor because the Wyden-Daines amendment failed.

The bill passed the Senate with another amendment, sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), that strengthens legal protections for targets of federal surveillance. The Lee-Leahy amendment passed with 77 “yea” votes, well over the 60-vote threshold it needed. The bill itself passed with 80 “yea” votes, Tillis among them.

Remarkably, Burr voted against the final iteration of the Reauthorization Act. It seems Burr might have regretted giving the FBI such wide-ranging powers, considering he is under federal investigation right now. His cell phone was seized by the FBI just hours after he voted against both the Wyden-Daines and the Lee-Leahy amendments.

Here is a timeline of the events last week:

May 13, 12:15 p.m. – Burr votes against the Wyden-Daines amendment, which would have prevented the FBI from searching internet data and browser history without a warrant. The amendment fails.

May 13, 4:20 p.m. – Burr votes against the Lee-Leahy amendment, which protects targets of federal surveillance. The amendment passes anyway and becomes part of the bill.

May 13, 6:54 p.m. – Federal agents execute a warrant on Burr and seize his cell phone, ramping up the investigation into allegations that he engaged in illegal insider trading by dumping stock after receiving a confidential briefing about the likely impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

May 14, 1:24 p.m. – Burr, perhaps realizing he just made a huge mistake, votes against the Reauthorization Act.

The bill now goes to the president’s desk.

Reflections on an amazing summer with NC Policy Watch

Well, this is it! Today is my last day as a reporting intern at North Carolina Policy Watch, and while I am sad to leave, I know that these past twelve weeks have given me a wealth of information, experiences, and connections that I will take with me wherever I go.

I have had the opportunity to write about immigration, abortion, the budget, and the separation of church and state. I have attended rallies, legislative sessions, trials, committee meetings, and pre-trial hearings. I have spoken with lawmakers, lawyers, policy analysts, and activists about the issues which impact North Carolina and its citizens the most.

Along the way, I have worked with an incredible team of reporters who are doing great work and have inspired me to consider journalism as a career.

The press serves a crucial watchdog function, keeping track of and telling the public about the inner workings of the government. Local journalism especially is essential to our understanding of the communities in which we live and the politics which affects our lives the most.

It is vital to support and be involved with journalism at a time when facts are seen as fake and freedom of the press is under attack, both within the United States and globally.

We will always need a free press, and this internship was an incredibly valuable way for me to be part of that.

Interning at Policy Watch has given me the opportunity to write about some deeply important issues and to gain more insight into the inner workings of the NC General Assembly, the court system, and the local political scene. I will miss working here immensely.

Thank you for reading my work. You can find it here and here.


Aditi Kharod was an intern at NC Policy Watch and is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. She will spend the upcoming semester studying international diplomacy in Geneva, Switzerland.

Trump administration proposal would end food assistance for 3.1 million people

On Tuesday, the Trump administration proposed a federal rule that would limit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) automatic eligibility to only those households that receive “substantial, ongoing” benefits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the rule a fix to a “loophole.”

The loophole to which the USDA is referring is the policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which has been in place for two decades. The policy enables states to slightly raise SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) eligibility limits so that low-income families whose income exceeds 130% of the federal poverty line can still receive benefits.

As a result of this policy, “more than 40 states effectively use less restrictive income and asset tests in SNAP,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

“These are working families who are just above SNAP’s income cutoff,” said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the CBPP, to NPR.

In 2020, 3.1 million SNAP participants would be eligible because of the broad-based categorical eligibility policy, according to statistics from the USDA. Under the Trump administration’s proposed rule, the policy would be eliminated, and these 3.1 million people would no longer be eligible for food assistance.

“The proposed rule would fix a loophole that has expanded SNAP recipients in some states to include people who receive assistance when they clearly don’t need it,” said the USDA in a press release this week. “In fact, the depth of this specific flexibility has become so egregious that a millionaire living in Minnesota successfully enrolled in the program simply to highlight the waste of taxpayer money.”

The millionaire living in Minnesota, 66-year-old Rob Undersander, says he enrolled in SNAP to prove a point and to “call attention to flaws in the system,” according to U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD). Undersander received food assistance for 19 months because his income was low during this period, even though the wealth contained in his assets qualified him to be a millionaire.

Undersander’s experience exposes the flaws in the system, Republicans say. Democrats say Undersander is an outlier who intentionally defrauded the system and took benefits away from those who most needed it.

Broad-based categorical eligibility “primarily helps households with high expenses: more than 90 percent of the resulting benefits go to households whose rent or mortgage and utility costs exceed half of their net income, and about 50 percent go to households that pay for dependent care for a child or elderly or disabled household member,” according to the CBPP.

About 36 million people currently receive SNAP benefits, a number which has declined steadily since 2013.

Trump administration’s dark immigration policy objectives are having their desired effect

In case you missed it this past weekend, The New York Times Magazine published an in-depth look at the current Department of Homeland Security, which, under Trump, has transformed from an agency with a wide range of missions into one that focuses solely on border control and enforcement.

Reportedly, at a Cabinet meeting in early 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump that to solve the immigration crisis, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen just needed to “stop letting people into the country.” Trump has seized on this idea and refuses to move away from it, despite Nielsen attempting to explain that the United States could not legally turn away someone requesting asylum at the border.

From his Muslim ban in his first week of office to the extreme “zero-tolerance” policy that led to family separation and abysmal conditions at detention centers at the border, Trump has exhibited a laser focus on toughening up immigration policy in the U.S. As the article reports:

“Supporting Trump in all this are a group of immigration restrictionists — officials and advisers who have single-mindedly pursued a policy of not just cracking down on illegal border-crossing, in the manner of conventional immigration hawks, but also limiting all immigration to the best of their ability. Chief among them is Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.”

Miller has encouraged Trump’s most extreme tendencies, and the article outlines how his ideas most often won out in the White House. “Increased internal enforcement,” or the policy of directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest and deport all undocumented immigrants living anywhere in the United States, was Miller’s idea.

The article ends on a grim note: As moderates are getting frustrated and leaving DHS, the ideas of the most extreme immigration restrictionists, like Miller, are rising to the top. DHS is now almost fully staffed by extremists.

Earlier this month, Raul Pinto an attorney in the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project of the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization to NC Policy Watch) authored an op-ed in which he encouraged North Carolinians not to see the workings of the federal Department of Homeland Security as separate from the conditions within North Carolina, where the legislature is attempting to pass anti-immigrant bills such as House Bills 370 and 135. As Pinto pointed out:

“This administration’s chosen tool to address immigration is fear, whether at the border or in our communities. Read more