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Betsy DeVos’ family boosts Tillis’ 2020 campaign

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Sen. Thom Tillis

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ family members spent $22,400 so far this year to help fund North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis’ re-election prospects, according to federal campaign finance data released this week.

DeVos’ in-laws — Michigan conservative donors and heirs to the Amway fortune — have plowed cash into the coffers of Republican Senate candidates across the country who are up for re-election in 2020, the records show.

DeVos’ husband, Dick, has three siblings — Doug, Daniel and Suzanne — each of whom contributed $5,600 to Tillis’ campaign in March. Doug’s wife, Maria DeVos, also contributed $5,600 to the campaign. That’s the maximum contribution allowed per election cycle under federal election law.

As Trump’s education secretary, DeVos has been one of the administration’s most controversial cabinet officials.

She made waves during her January 2017 confirmation hearing when she cited grizzly bears as a reason that educators might need guns in schools. Since then, her policies on issues like school choice, campus sexual assault, civil rights and student debt have drawn ire from her critics.

Earlier this year, DeVos faced a firestorm on Capitol Hill as lawmakers grilled her for the administration’s proposal to cut federal funding for the Special Olympics. President Trump later reversed course on the issue, saying that he supports federal funding for the program.

Tillis voted in 2017 to confirm DeVos, despite a campaign from liberal groups to convince him to oppose her nomination.

“I’m for her,” Tillis said in 2017, according to the News & Observer. The North Carolina senator pointed to DeVos’ stances on increasing opportunities for charter schools and school choice.

“She’s talking about giving states the ability to turn a trend around – which is (the trend of) failing public schools. Not all of them. There’s a lot of good ones,” Tillis said. “We owe to these kids to come up with solutions to fix it for this generation, not the next generation.”

Tillis’ office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Overall, Tillis raised about $1.2 million in the first quarter of this year for his 2020 campaign, and has about $2.9 million cash on hand, according to the reports.

The North Carolina Republican wasn’t the only incumbent GOP senator to receive donations from the wealthy DeVos family so far this year.

The education secretary’s in-laws also donated to Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Martha McSally of Arizona. Gardner and McConnell both voted to confirm DeVos; McSally wasn’t yet serving in the Senate.

Those same DeVos family members did not contribute to Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican facing re-election in 2020 who was one of two Senate Republicans who voted against DeVos’ 2017 confirmation.

The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Attempts to contact the members of the DeVos family who donated to McSally’s campaign were unsuccessful.

DeVos herself pledged that she and her husband would suspend their political contributions during her time as education secretary, although her husband later made contributions to two Michigan political action committees, the Detroit News reported.

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News

Tillis backs Trump on “space force”

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thom Tillis lauded President Trump’s plan to establish a space force as a new branch of the military at a Senate hearing Thursday, despite skepticism from his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

The North Carolina Republican told top Trump administration military officials that he welcomed the idea, while other lawmakers warned that the new force would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

“I think president was right to make this a target that we need to achieve,” said Tillis, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “So to me, it’s not a matter of whether we should do it, it’s how we should do it and when we should do it.”

Military officials appeared on Capitol Hill to make a pitch for Trump’s plan. They told lawmakers that while the United States currently has a competitive advantage in space, nations including China and Russia are looking to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities. And

Sen. Thom Tillis (Photo: https://www.tillis.senate.gov)

they urged lawmakers to support a new program within the Air Force that focuses exclusively on deterring threats in space.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said his impression was that the military was “doing a good job” already.

“We’‘re dominant in space right now,” he said. “I understand the threat and I understand our adversaries are moving forward, but I don’t understand how adding a box to an organizational chart is going to give us some kind of qualitative military edge.”

Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, replied, “I think we have been doing a good job. But we’ve been doing a good job in an environment where space has not been contested. What is changing is we have adversaries that are building significant capabilities that can challenge us in space.”

Patrick Shanahan, Trump’s acting secretary of defense, warned senators in his written testimony that adversaries “now perceive space as a viable target to nullify our asymmetric advantages in other domains and gain a strategic foothold for future competition.”

The military officials suggested that it was only a matter of time before the United States would need such a centralized force.

“We’re going to have a space force someday,” Hyten said. “I think what the committee has to decide is when is that going to happen … You want to get ahead of the problem, not trail it, not come in response to a catastrophe.”

King stressed that he wasn’t sure adding a new box in the Defense Department’s organizational structure would have the intended effect.

“To create a new bureaucracy that’s going to cost us half-a-billion dollars a year, I’ve got to be convinced that there’s some incremental value there.”

The Defense Department estimated that once fully established, the new force would cost about $500 million annually.

Tillis suggested Read more

News

Mark Meadows – climate policy champion?

Congressman Mark Meadows

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, suggested this week that he might be willing to support climate change legislation.

During a House oversight hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Meadows accused former Secretary of State and onetime Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for politicizing climate change.

But while he excoriated Kerry for his approach to the issue, Meadows mentioned that his staff was considering the merits of a carbon tax — a climate change policy that has long had bipartisan support.

“Mr. Secretary, I am one of the few people here that … is more predisposed perhaps to your message than most on my side of the aisle,” Meadows told Kerry.

“I was a wind, solar and geothermal expert for an electric utility many years ago, back when the Department of Energy actually started. I have people on my staff that are looking at a carbon tax and a number of issues.”

That may come as a surprise to some, given Meadows’ past reluctance to back climate policies.

When President Obama announced the Paris climate agreement in 2016, Meadows issued a statement saying, “With the Paris Climate Agreement, this administration is throwing away significant gains made in our country’s energy sector and handcuffing the American economy and job creators to burdensome regulations that will hurt, not help, American workers.”

He added, “The American people are tired of watching our government hamstring the economy and burden U.S. businesses in a fruitless pursuit of climate change goals that are both ineffective and unenforceable globally.”

Meadows has a 1 percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters, and scored zero percent in 2018.

Meadows’ office did not respond to a request for comment about what sort of climate change policy he might be open to.

Still, Meadows told Kerry on Tuesday, “There is no doubt that human contributions have attributed to greenhouse gases.”

The North Carolina Republican also told Roll Call in February, “I think that greenhouse gas emissions is certainly something that we need to look at.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News

U.S. House passes bill to revive Obama-era net neutrality rules

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted on Wednesday to approve legislation that would reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules that prevent internet service providers from meddling with web traffic.

The legislation, dubbed the “Save the Internet Act” from Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) passed the House 232-190, largely along party lines. One Republican, Bill Posey of Florida, broke ranks with his party to support the bill.

All 11 members of the North Carolina delegation voted along party lines, with Democratic members (Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price) voting “yes” and Republicans (Tedd Budd, Virginia Foxx, George Holding, Richard Hudson, Patrick McHenry, Mark Meadows, David Rouzer and Mark Walker) voting “no.” Two seats – the 3rd and 9th districts – are currently vacant.

Doyle hailed the House passage of the legislation. “There has to be some sort of cop on the beat,” he said in an interview. “Right now there are no rules,” he added, calling it the “wild, wild West.”

Under the Trump administration, the Federal Communications Commission voted in 2017 to toss out the net neutrality rules put in place in 2015 under the Obama administration. Those regulations barred broadband providers from blocking some websites or charging for some content.

But the measure faces long odds in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week that it was “dead on arrival,” and that it won’t see a vote in the GOP-led chamber. The White House has suggested President Trump would veto the measure if it reached his desk.

Doyle said Senate supporters of the effort have “some strategies” to build support for the effort.

He noted that the chamber last year approved a resolution to undo the Trump administration’s rule reversal. That effort had the backing of three Republican senators and all of the Democratic senators.

Doyle said lawmakers will undoubtedly face pressure from their constituents to back the effort. “This is big out in the country,” he said, and is only controversial in Washington, D.C. “This isn’t a partisan issue,” he added.

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News

Both sides seek political leverage from Mueller’s findings

WASHINGTON — The conclusions of the long-awaited report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller have Republicans declaring victory for President Trump, as Democrats demand more answers and pledge further investigations.

The four-page summary of Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was submitted to lawmakers Sunday by Attorney General William Barr.

According to Barr, Mueller’s investigation did not find evidence that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference. Mueller also declined to draw a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, saying that while his report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Trump heralded the findings. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” the president wrote on Twitter Sunday.

Trump’s allies were quick to rally behind the president, portraying the entire exercise as a waste of time and money.

His spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, labeled the Mueller probe a “two-year waste of taxpayer time and dollars,” speaking on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday.

“Democrats in Congress who have stated that they found ‘ample evidence’ of collusion, that there was ‘direct evidence’ of collusion, and that there is a ‘cloud of treason’ surrounding the White House were wrong. These statements were lies,” Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz said in a statement. “The people who spread these lies owe President Trump and the American people an apology.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have seized on the obstruction of justice comments in the report to call for further investigations. They continue to push for the release of the entire Mueller report.

“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.

“The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay.  Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”

Pelosi and Schumer added that “for the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he plans to call Barr in to testify before his committee “in light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President.” He plans to summon Barr “in the near future,” he wrote on Twitter.

The U.S. House voted 420-0 earlier this month in support of a resolution to release the full Mueller report.

In a tweet, Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield from North Carolina’s First District called for a full release of the report, saying “Now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has completed his investigation, transparency is paramount. It is absolutely imperative AG Barr expeditiously release the report to Congress an the American people.”

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina’s 11th District tweeted “After 22 months of a special counsel and 2 years of congressional investigations, it’s over. The clock has finally struck midnight on the ‘Russian collusion’ fantasy. No collusion.”

Sanders said on the “Today” show Monday that the president is leaving it up to Barr to decide whether to release the report. “I don’t think the president has any problem with” releasing the report, she said. “He’s more than happy for any of this stuff to come out because he knows exactly what did and what didn’t happen.”

Robin Bravender is Washington Bureau Chief for The Newsroom network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member. Rob Schofield contributed to this report.