One of the only black people in Trump’s team has been fired for criticizing Trump

Shermichael Singleton, second from right in this picture from a NewsOne Now panel discussion with director Spike Lee, was reportedly fired on Wednesday over past criticisms of President Trump for which he had already apologized. CREDIT: Rodney Choice/AP Images for TV One

THINK PROGRESS

A senior adviser to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was suddenly fired Wednesday, apparently because the White House discovered he had criticized President Donald Trump.

Shermichael Singleton, 26, had worked on Carson’s own presidential bid in 2016 before joining the administration. In the closing weeks of the election, Singleton wrote an op-ed critical of Trump in which he blasted the then-nominee’s rhetoric toward black voters as “a coded message from an era in our history that should stay in the past.”

Singleton had already “answered a number of questions regarding the article and expressed remorse for the piece and support for Mr. Trump” prior to assuming his HUD position in January, the New York Times reports. But administration staff hadn’t finished his background check and “this week, Mr. Trump’s advisers turned up” the op-ed and some related tweets, according to the Times.

Singleton, who the Huffington Post notes is “one of the few black Republicansin the Trump administration,” told the Times he could not discuss the circumstances of his abrupt firing.

Security guards reportedly escorted Carson’s aide out of the HUD building Wednesday.

The decision reinforces President Trump’s long-standing image as a thin-skinned manager for whom personal loyalty is at least as important as a person’s qualifications for a job. A week earlier, Trump made a similar call in rescinding plans to appoint pardoned war criminal Elliott Abrams to a senior State Department post after the president discovered Abrams had criticized him online last year.

Singleton’s case is more likely to do damage. Carson is a neurosurgeon just beginning a job managing a large suite of housing policy programs. Trump’s team has deprived him of a trusted staffer, apparently in order to preserve the president’s ego.

Alan Pyke

The Americans, season 5, episode 1

 

Paul Manafort (center) is accused of talking with Russian intelligence during the campaign.

Brooks Kraft/Getty Images

VOX SENTENCES (from my inbox)

  • There are roughly three distinct scandals regarding the relationship between the Trump administration and the Russian government (Russia’s alleged attempts to intervene in the election to help Trump; calls between ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak; and rumored blackmail material Russia might have on Trump). They’re rapidly metastasizing into one. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Most recently, the New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump campaign officials had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign — which is not something that presidential campaigns typically do with foreign countries’ intelligence services. [NYT / Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo]
  • There’s no evidence that they discussed Russia’s involvement in the campaign. That’s plausible because so many members of Trump’s inner circle had preexisting relationships with Russian officials. Which itself raises a lot of questions. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Flynn, for example, could have been freelancing when he hinted to Kislyak that Trump would lift sanctions on Russia. But he also could have been in contact with Trump on the subject, or even acting on Trump’s direction. The point is we don’t know for sure. [The Atlantic / Uri Friedman]
  • The Trump administration, of course, claims no one but Flynn had any involvement. But since they can’t keep their stories straight about what happened to Flynn — press secretary Sean Spicer claims he lost Trump’s trust, while Trump himself praised Flynn and blamed government leakers for his ouster — it is not clear that the administration should be believed. [Vox / Tara Golshan]
  • Trump (and Flynn) isn’t entirely wrong. The anti-Trump leaks are definitely motivated, at least in part, by people in the intelligence services trying to rein Trump in. It’s just that the intelligence community is totally outplaying the White House. [Foreign Policy / Marc Ambinder]
  • The irony is that as all this is happening, the Trump administration’s actual policy toward Russia isn’t softening much. It’s now calling for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine — something Russia has absolutely no intention of doing. [Reuters / Ayesha Rascoe]
  • Russia, for its part, is sending Atlantic spy ships farther north and closer to the US than ever before. [CNN / Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr]

 

Trump Knew For Weeks That Flynn Had Misled The White House

Trump Knew For Weeks That Flynn Had Misled The White House

attribution: NONE

THE NATIONAL MEMO

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump knew for weeks that national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the White House about his contacts with Russia but did not immediately force him out, an administration spokesman said on Tuesday.

Trump was informed in late January that Flynn had not told Vice President Mike Pence the whole truth about conversations he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States before Trump took office, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Flynn quit on Monday after Trump asked for his resignation, Spicer said. “The issue pure and simple came down to a matter of trust,” Spicer told reporters.

The departure was another disruption for an administration already repeatedly distracted by miscues and internal dramas since the Republican businessman assumed the presidency on Jan. 20.

U.S. lawmakers, including some leading Republicans, called for a deeper inquiry into not just Flynn’s actions but broader White House ties to Russia. Trump has long said that he would like improved relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said Trump only moved against Flynn because of media attention to the issue, and not because of concern at any wrongdoing by the former lieutenant general.

“The reason they lost faith or trust in General Flynn only last night when they knew for weeks that he had been lying was that it became public,” Schiff told MSNBC.

A timeline of events outlined by Spicer and a U.S. official showed that Trump had known for weeks about Flynn misleading the vice president.

Trump, a former reality TV star whose catchphrase was “You’re fired!,” has often boasted of his eagerness to get rid of subordinates. But he was not quick to fire Flynn, a strong advocate of a better relations with Russia and a hard line against Islamist militants.

The Justice Department warned the White House in late January that Flynn had misled Pence by denying to him that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, a potentially illegal act, a U.S. official said.

Flynn did talk about sanctions with the diplomat, whose calls were recorded by U.S. intelligence officials, the official said. But Pence went on television in mid-January and denied that Flynn had discussed sanctions.

Spicer stressed that the administration believed there was no legal problem with Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, but rather an issue over the president’s trust in his adviser.

He said the Justice Department sought to notify the White House counsel on Jan. 26. about the discrepancies in Flynn’s accounts.

“The White House counsel informed the president immediately. The president asked them to commit a review of whether there was a legal situation there. That was immediately determined there wasn’t. That was what the president believed at the time from what he had been told and he was proved to be correct,” Spicer told reporters.

“We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue,” he said.

Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador took place around the time that then-President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia, charging that Moscow had used cyber attacks to try to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.

A U.S. official familiar with the transcripts of the calls with the ambassador said Flynn indicated that if Russia did not retaliate in kind for Obama’s Dec. 29 order expelling 35 Russian suspected spies and sanctioning Russian spy agencies, that could smooth the way toward a broader discussion of improving U.S.-Russian relations once Trump took power.

LEGAL FALLOUT?

Flynn’s discussions with the Russian diplomat could potentially have been in violation of a law known as the Logan Act, banning private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments about disputes or controversies with the United States. However, nobody has been prosecuted in modern times under the law, which dates from 1799.

Although Flynn is almost certain not to be prosecuted under the Logan Act, he could still face legal trouble if it emerges that he violated other federal laws in his communications with the Russians, said Andrew Kent, a professor at Fordham University School of Law in New York. The Espionage Act, for example, criminalizes sharing information with foreign governments

Democrats, who do not have control of Congress, clamored for probes into Flynn, and asked how much Trump knew about his connections to Russia.

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for an investigation of potential criminal violations surrounding the resignation of Flynn and said senior Trump administration officials should face tough questions.

“What I am calling for is an independent investigation with executive authority to pursue potential criminal actions,” Schumer told reporters, saying such a probe could not be led by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions or White House lawyers.

Two leading Republicans in the Senate, Bob Corker and John Cornyn, said the intelligence committee should investigate Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

But the highest-ranking Republican in Congress, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, sidestepped questions about whether lawmakers should look into Flynn’s Russia ties, adding that he would leave it to the Trump administration to explain the circumstances behind Flynn’s departure.

A broader investigation of the White House and its ties to Russia is not possible without the cooperation either of the Justice Department or the Republican-led Congress.

“Nothing is going to happen without some Republicans moving,” Professor Kent said.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Syria and Republican congressional opposition to removing sanctions on Russia make any White House attempt to embrace Putin problematic.

Senator John McCain, a leading Republican voice on foreign relations, said Flynn’s resignation raised questions about the administration’s intentions toward Putin’s Russia.

Trump’s chief policy advisor says the president’s power ‘will not be questioned’ by the courts

Stephen Miller, policy adviser to President-elect Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

THINK PROGRESS

Senior White House Policy Advisor Stephen Miller raised plenty of eyebrows on Sunday as the perused the talk-show circuit talking about cases of voter fraud (that don’t exist) and Steve Bannon’s lack of involvement in drafting executive orders (which, according to most reports, is the exact opposite of the truth).

But perhaps his most alarming statement was in reference to the federal judges in Washington rejecting President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

“I think that it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many cases a supreme branch of government,” Miller told John Dickerson of CBS News, as first noted by Will Saletan of Slate. “The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

Miller’s boss was, unsurprisingly, watching his performance, and gave the 31-year-old rave reviews.

Trump has been livid ever since a federal judge first blocked his Muslim ban, and he has taken his anger out on the nation’s court system by consistently undermining and questioning its power.

Last weekend, to kick off another volatile week of the Trump presidency, the White House called the judge’s order “outrageous” and Trump tweeted on Saturday that the “so-called judge” had made a “ridiculous” ruling. He went on to say that the judge would now be responsible if there were any acts of terrorism in the country.

On Thursday evening, when the Ninth Circuit upheld the block of the ban, Trump seemed determined to take more legal actions. However, the ban is not currently being appealed to the Supreme Court; instead, it has been reported that the ban will be rewritten.

Trump’s frequent belittling of the court system has reminded many prominent officials of authoritarian rule.

Lindsay Gibbs

Experts in authoritarianism are very concerned about Trump’s first few days as president

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The GOP’s unwillingness to rein him in may be the biggest warning sign.

THINK PROGRESS

President Donald Trump has only had a few days to govern so far.

In that time, he staged a press conference where his press secretary blatantly lied to the media, told the National Park Service not to tweet, and met with an American intelligence agency in an “uncomfortable” meeting. One of his senior advisers introduced the worrying concept that the Trump administration’s lies will be considered “alternative facts.

ThinkProgress surveyed a group of political theorists and scholars of authoritarianism and asked them to evaluate the new president. Trump is already trying to rule in the style of a populist authoritarian, they said.

Sheri Berman, a political scientist at Barnard College, said that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s invocation of “alternative facts” was particularly alarming.

“Former scholar of fringe politics. Current scholar of mainstream politics.”

“It’s one thing to bash journalists but when you start talking about facts not being facts, and bar people from access to information, major red flags are going up,” said Berman.

“There is no doubt he is an authoritarian, which is completely logical because he has always worked in a structure in which he has absolute power and to me that is clear in his understanding that he sees politics as a business,” said Cas Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia. “He sees democracy as ‘I have won, so I can do whatever I want or whatever I think is best for the country and I’m allowed to do that because I’m the CEO of America, Inc.’”

(Mudde’s Twitter profile reads: “Former scholar of fringe politics. Current scholar of mainstream politics.”)

But while Mudde and Berman said that Trump undoubtedly displays authoritarian tendencies, they were careful to note that he is not a fascist or totalitarian. Totalitarian regimes tend to control every facet of society, including culture, politics, and media. Fascism is a form of right-wing totalitarianism which tends to be nativist, nationalist, and anti-individualist. Authoritarians, on the other hand, demand a strict adherence to authority at the expense of individual liberty.

“I don’t like conflating populism with fascism,” Berman said. “Both are on the spectrum but there are critical differences. We’re certainly not there yet.”

“I will not call him a fascist,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, told ThinkProgress. “He’s not trying to have a one party dictatorship.”

Trump has exhibited certain personality traits shared by authoritarian rulers, including a tendency toward nepotism, a fragile ego, and an unwillingness to gracefully accept criticism. But he will have a hard time consolidating power, so long as there remains political opposition, a free press, and checks and balances in government. Experts in authoritarianism said his movement also lacks the organization that would allow it to fully supplant existing institutions.

Totalitarian regimes of the past, like Communists in the Soviet Union or the Nazis in Germany, rose to power after incredible organization and could call upon hundreds of thousands of members. Despite already having an intricate structure in place, “even they achieved a totalitarian regime after a long time,” Mudde said.

Compared to those regimes, it’s staggering how unorganized Trump’s movement is, Mudde said. “While I worry about autocratic tendencies, I don’t see ideology or structure for anything that is comparable to fascism.”

But there are certain moves Trump could make that would suggest a line had been crossed.

“If he started passing laws or trying to use his influence to hinder CNN’s ability to report or broadcast [that would cross a line],” Berman said. “Not talking to members of the press you don’t like is bad, but to use the power of the presidency or government to actually stop parts of the media doing their job would be clearly crossing a line.”

Other triggers would include using the government to “pass laws that impinge on certain citizens of ethnic or religious backgrounds,” said Berman. “Characteristics that are not just un-American, but antithetical to precepts of liberal democracy.”

The fact that Trump isn’t there yet doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to fear. Vigilance is important going forward, as Trump’s ascension to the presidency shows that a considerable portion of Republicans accepted the more radical aspects of his candidacy.

“The main concern is the flexibility of the GOP,” Mudde said. “We have seen in the last couple months that GOP leadership has a remarkable tolerance toward Trumps illiberal tendencies as long as he lets them get a pro-market, anti-regulation program.”

“Vulgar populism might not be shared, and some of his economic nationalism isn’t shared, but the nativism is shared,” Mudde said, “both towards Mexicans and Muslims, and so those parts of the agenda can be very easily pushed through.”

The toleration, or in some cases radicalization, of the GOP establishment is more threatening than Trump’s presidency on its own, said Ben-Ghiat.

“Formally, we have checks and balances. I’m of the school that those things are not going to stop him,” Ben-Ghiat said. “We put all the blame on Trump but the GOP has seen in him a kind of vehicle to get certain radical things they want done and [to push] a certain cultural shift in the nation.”

“The only thing between Trump and autocratic and illiberal democratic rule might be the GOP and I’m not sure how much that is going to do for us,” Mudde said. “I don’t think there is reason to panic. There is reason to organize.”

Justin Salhani

17 Signs Of How Bad Press Treatment Will Be Under Trump

17 Signs Of How Bad Press Treatment Will Be Under Trump

IMAGE: Media Matters

THE NATIONAL MEMO

Yesterday’s press conference laid bare President-elect Donald Trump’s strategy for dealing with the press as president: He will seek to delegitimize news outlets that provide critical coverage, try to turn them against one another, reward sycophantic coverage from openly pro-Trump sources, and encourage others to follow in their lead. The candidate who waged an unprecedented war on the press will not be pivoting as president.

In one day we saw Trump publicly punish members of the press for critical reporting, threatening one outlet with “consequences” for its actions and calling on another to apologize; thank members of the press who behaved in a way he found appropriate; and take a question from an outlet tied to his top aide about what “reforms” he wants to see from the press. We saw Trump aides publicly humiliate and jeer at reporters. We saw one news outlet respond to Trump’s criticism by throwing another under the bus. We saw journalists treat the attacks on the press as a sideshow while praising Trump’s performance. And we saw a U.S. congressman call for a reporter’s firing for being “disrespectful” to the president-elect.

On Monday, CNN reported that top U.S. intelligence officials had presented information to President Obama and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” The allegations were based on memos authored by a former British intelligence officer reportedly considered credible by the U.S. intelligence community. CNN obtained the memos and reported on, but did not publish, the documents because it had not been able to verify them. BuzzFeed subsequently published the memos, acknowledging that it had not verified them.

Trump sought to use yesterday’s press conference to conflate the two stories and employ them to shatter the credibility of the news outlets that published them. The result was a horrifying day for press freedom.

Here are some of the things that happened over the course of January 11:

  1. Sean Spicer, who will serve as White House press secretary, opened Trump’s press conference by attacking BuzzFeed as a “left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect’s campaign” and calling its decision to publish the memos “outrageous and highly irresponsible.” He then said that both CNN and BuzzFeed were engaging in a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”
  2. Before introducing Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence declared that there has been “a concerted effort by some in the mainstream media to delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration” and accused CNN and BuzzFeed of pushing “fake news” that he said “can only be attributed to media bias, an attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration.”
  3. In his opening statement, Trump thanked members of the assembled press who “came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.”
  4. Asked about the story during the press conference, Trump said that BuzzFeed was “a failing pile of garbage” and is “going to suffer the consequences” for its actions. He also criticized CNN, which he said was “going out of their way to build it up” and “ought to apologize.”
  5. CNN’s Jim Acosta then sought to ask a question of Trump given that his outlet had been attacked. Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and refused to let him ask a question, declaring, “You are fake news!”
  6. The assembled press responded to Trump’s attack on Acosta by doing nothing.
  7. A few minutes later, Trump turned to Matt Boyle of Breitbart.com, letting Boyle ask a question. Breitbart’s executive chairman is top Trump aide Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning the website into the “platform” for the so-called “alt-right,” a noxious collection of white nationalists, nativists, and misogynists.
  8. Boyle, who has provided Trump with sycophantic coverage for years and is effectively an agent of Trump’s house news organ, was the only journalist provided with a reserved seat at the presser.
  9. Boyle had this question for Trump: “This decision to publish fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”
  10. Trump responded that he didn’t support “reforms,” just reporters who have “some moral compass,” before again saying that some of the reporters sitting in front of him work for “fake news” outlets.
  11. The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa.
  12. Trump “filled the room with paid staffers who clapped and cheered as he blasted members of the media as purveyors of ‘fake news,’” as Politico reported.
  13. After the press conference, Acosta reported that Spicer had warned him that if he didn’t stop trying to ask Trump questions, he would be “thrown out of this press conference.”
  14. CNN responded to Trump’s attacks on the network by rushing to declare that it hadn’t done anything wrong, and that it was BuzzFeed that rightfully deserved Trump’s wrath. It is telling that when the network came under fire, its executives and journalists sought not just to defend themselves, but to point Trump toward a more palatable target.
  15. The Washington Post reported that Trump had a “decent press conference” in which, “remarkably, he offered kind words for news organizations.” (The Post’s headline was later changed, replacing “decent” with “aggressive.”)
  16. Politico’s influential Playbook reported, “Journalists didn’t like his attacks on them, but for most people who watched Trump yesterday, it was a pretty good performance.”
  17. Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) tweeted that Acosta “should be fired & prohibited from any press briefings” because he was “disrespectful to Trump.”

Trump will be sworn in as president in eight days. Things can still get much, much worse.

IMAGE: Media Matters

In one night, the GOP voted to take away these 6 essential health benefits

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Barrasso CREDIT: AP Photo/Cliff Owen

THINK PROGRESS

Last night while you were sleeping, the Senate debated and ultimately passed a budget resolution that provides a pathway for Republicans to strip health care coverage away from 30 million Americans without having a single Democratic vote.

As the Senate debated the resolution that provides a blueprint to repeal the Affordable Care Act, both Republicans and Democrats had the opportunity to offer a flurry of rapid-fire amendments in a process known as “vote-a-rama.” While these votes are non-binding, the exercise provides an opportunity for senators to show where their colleagues stand on a number of key issues. And the results are not pretty.

Senate Republicans took several votes that showed they are not on your side. Last night, Republicans voted against amendments that would:

1. Protect people with pre-existing conditions

Republicans blocked an amendment that would have made it harder to take away coverage from Americans with preexisting medical conditions. 52 million people — about 1 in 4 non-elderly Americans — have preexisting conditions. These Americans are more likely to face significant health costs, and before the Affordable Care Act, were often denied coverage entirely. The amendment also would have protected coverage for people disabilities or chronic health conditions, and prevent plans from discriminating based on health. Republicans currently have no alternative plan to insure people with preexisting conditions. Only two Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins and Nevada’s Dean Heller — voted for the amendment.

2. Let young adults stay on their parents’ plan

Republicans blocked an amendment by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would have made it easier young people to stay on their parents’ health care plan until they are 26 — one of the most popular and effective provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Over 6 million young adults have gained health insurance since the law was implemented in 2010, and young Americans now report better physical and mental health. The provision is also overwhelmingly popular — 85 percent favor keeping young people on their parents’ insurance plans. Sens. Heller and Collins were the only two senators who bucked their party on this vote.

3. Maintain access to contraceptive coverage

Thanks to Obamacare, birth control is more affordable than ever. Spending on contraceptive health care has gone down by 20 percent since the Affordable Care Act took effect. An amendment by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sought to continue this momentum. Unsurprisingly, Republicans blocked the provision 49–49. Sens. Collins and Heller both voted with Democrats.

4. Ensure Medicaid expansion stays in place

Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act benefited 11 million low-income Americans in 2015 alone and has created thousands of jobs for direct care workers. An amendment by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) would have sought to continue Medicaid expansion, but it was blocked by Republicans — 48–50.

5. Protect children on Medicaid or CHIP

Republicans blocked an amendment offered by Senator Brown (D-OH) that would ensure children could keep their health coverage on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), both of which provide comprehensive health care services for children including key preventive and developmental care.

6. Protect veterans’ health care

Republicans blocked an amendment by Sen. Tester (D-MT) that would have made it harder to restrict veterans’ ability to access VA health care. While Democrats have sought to provide better funding and health care access at the VA, Donald Trump has proposed eliminating the agency altogether through privatization. A poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of survey respondents oppose plans to replace VA health care with a voucher system, an idea backed by many Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates.


Republicans say they want to replace Obamacare with something better. But in just one night’s votes, they indicated that they are not willing to take a stand to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions, women, children, veterans, young adults, people with disabilities, and struggling families can continue to access the affordable coverage they need going forward.

Melissa Boteach and Jeremy Slevin

Melissa Boteach is the Vice President of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF), and Jeremy Slevin is the Associate Director of Advocacy for the same program. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at CAPAF.

Will Obama’s Offshore Drilling Ban Be Trumped?

Will Obama’s Offshore Drilling Ban Be Trumped?

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China September 5, 2016 | REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

THE NATIONAL MEMO

President Obama gave environmental advocates a Christmas present when he announced in late December that he was banning oil and gas drilling in huge swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. This action “indefinitely” protects almost 120 million acres of ecologically important and highly sensitive marine environments from the risks of oil spills and other industrial impacts.

President Obama acted boldly to conserve important ecological resources and solidify his environmental legacy. But by making creative use of an obscure provision of a 1953 law, Obama ignited a legal and political firestorm.

Republicans and oil industry trade groups are threatening to challenge the ban in court or through legislation. They also contend that the Trump administration can act directly to reverse it. But a close reading of the law suggests that it could be difficult to undo Obama’s sweeping act.

The power to withdraw

Congress passed the law now known as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in 1953 to assert federal control over submerged lands that lie more then three miles offshore, beyond state coastal waters. Section 12(a) of the law authorizes the president to “withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Starting in 1960 with the Eisenhower administration, six presidents from both parties have used this power. Most withdrawals were time-limited, but some were long-term. For example, in 1990 President George H. W. Bush permanently banned oil and gas development in California’s Monterey Bay, which later became a national marine sanctuary.

Kelp forests in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary support many marine species. Chad King, NOAA/Flickr

President Obama used section 12(a) in 2014 to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the most productive wild salmon fisheries in the world. In 2015 he took the same step for approximately 9.8 million acres in the biologically rich Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Obama’s latest action bars energy production in 115 million more acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas – an area known as the “Arctic Ring of Life” because of its importance to Inupiat Peoples who have lived there for millennia. The order also withdraws 3.8 million acres off the Atlantic Coast from Norfolk, Virginia to Canada, including several unique and largely unexplored coral canyons.

Why Obama acted

In a Presidential Memorandum on the Arctic withdrawals, Obama provided three reasons for his action. First, he asserted, these areas have irreplaceable value for marine mammals, other wildlife, wildlife habitat, scientific research and Alaska Native subsistence use. Second, they are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. Finally, drilling for oil and responding to spills in Arctic waters poses unique logistical, operational, safety and scientific challenges.

In ordering the Atlantic withdrawals, Obama cited his responsibility to “ensure that the unique resources associated with these canyons remain available for future generations.”

Market forces support Obama’s action. Royal Dutch Shell stopped drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2015 after spending US$7 billion and drilling in what proved to be a dry hole. Since 2008 the Interior Department has canceled or withdrawn a number of sales in Alaskan waters due to low demand. Shell, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, Chevron, BP and Exxon have all to some degree abandoned offshore Arctic drilling.

The Beaufort and Chukchi seas are zones of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of northern Alaska. Mohonu/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Low oil prices coupled with high drilling costs make business success in the region a risky prospect. Lloyd’s of London forecast this scenario in a 2012 report that called offshore drilling in the Arctic “a unique and hard-to-manage risk.”

What happens next?

Critics of President Obama’s action, including the state of Alaska and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say they may challenge Obama’s order in court, in hopes that the Trump administration will opt not to defend it. But environmental groups, which hailed Obama’s action, will seek to intervene in any such lawsuit.

Moreover, to demonstrate that they have standing to sue, plaintiffs would have to show that they have suffered or face imminent injury; that this harm was caused by Obama’s action; and that it can be redressed by the court. Market conditions will make this very difficult.

The Energy Information Administration currently projects that crude oil prices, which averaged about $43 per barrel through 2016, will rise to only about $52 per barrel in 2017. Whether these areas will ever be commercially viable is an open question, especially since rapid changes are taking place in the electricity and transportation sectors, and other coastal areas are open for leasing in Alaska’s near-shore waters and the Gulf of Mexico.

 

The Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk broke loose and ran aground near Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska as it was being towed to Seattle for winter maintenance in December 2012. This Coast Guard overflight video shows the harsh conditions along Alaska’s coast in winter.

Alternatively, Donald Trump could issue his own memorandum in office seeking to cancel Obama’s. However, section 12(a) does not provide any authority for presidents to revoke actions by their predecessors. It delegates authority to presidents to withdraw land unconditionally. Once they take this step, only Congress can undo it.

This issue has never been litigated. Opponents can be expected to argue that Obama’s use of section 12(a) in this manner is unconstitutional because it violates the so-called “nondelegation doctrine,” which basically holds that Congress cannot delegate legislative functions to the executive branch without articulating some “intelligible principles.”

However, one could argue that Obama’s action was based on an articulation of intelligible principles gleaned from the stated policies of the OCSLA, which recognizes that the “the outer Continental Shelf is a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public.” The law expressly recognizes both the energy and environmental values of the OCS. Thus President Obama’s decision reflects a considered judgment that the national interest is best served by protecting the unique natural resources of these areas, while at the same time weaning the nation from its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012 after signing an agreement with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft. The companies’ joint venture to develop energy resources in Russia’s Arctic waters has been blocked by U.S. sanctions on Russia since 2014. AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service

The section 12(a) authority is similar in some respects to the authority granted by the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the president to “reserve parcels of land as a part of [a] national monument.” Like the OCSLA, the Antiquities Act does not authorize subsequent presidents to undo the designations of their predecessors. Obama has also used this power extensively – most recently, last week when he designated two new national monuments in Utah and Nevada totaling 1.65 million acres.

Some laws do include language that allows such actions to be revoked. Examples include the Forest Service Organic Administration Act, under which most national forests were established, and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which sets out policies for managing multiple-use public lands. The fact that Congress chose not to include revocation language in the OCSLA indicates that it did not intend to provide such power.

What can the new Congress do?

Under Article IV of the Constitution, Congress has plenary authority to dispose of federal property as it sees fit. This would include the authority to open these areas to leasing for energy development. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation are considering introducing legislation to override Obama’s drilling ban. But Democrats could filibuster to block any such move, and Republicans – who will hold a 52-48 margin in the Senate – would need 60 votes to stop them.

On the other hand, Congress may be content to let President-elect Trump make the first move and see how it goes in court. If Trump attempts to reverse the withdrawal, environmental groups contesting his decision would face some of the same obstacles as an industry challenge to Obama’s action. It could be especially challenging for environmental groups to show that the claim is “ripe” for judicial review, at least until a post-Obama administration acts to actually open up these areas for leasing. That may not occur for some time, given the weak market for the oil in these regions.

In the meantime, this decision is a fitting capstone for a president who has done everything within his power to confront the existential threat of climate change and rationally move the nation and the world onto a safer and more sustainable path.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is McConnell facing a mutiny in the lame duck? Over Russia?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and the Senate GOP leadership,listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2013, following a Republican strategy session. At left is Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Why? Because I said so dammit! | attribution: AP

DAILY KOS

This lame duck could be getting interesting in a hurry, and maybe not setting up to be not much to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell’s liking. Lindsey Graham and John McCain have both already come out demanding a Select Committee on cyber terrorism, and have been joined by Democratic incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and RI Democrat Jack Reed. This is not what McConnell wants, he wants an already existing Senate committee, already under his thumb to investigate the Russian hacking to sweep it under the rug. It will be harder for him to keep control of a Select committee.

But there is now more pressure on McConnell to start just such a committee, if not an independent “9-11” style commission. Politico is reporting that Republican Senator Corey Gardner from Colorado announced that he will introduce legislation for a Senate Select committee to investigate the Russian election hacking as well has other cyber hacking threats to the U.S. by North Korea and Iran.

Corey Gardner is the critical cog here. Right now the GOP controls the Senate 52-48, it would take three GOP Senators flipping their votes to get the bill passed. If the Democrats are unified about this, then if Graham and McCain are resolute, and you toss Gardner’s “yes” vote in there, the bill will pass.

This is quite a step as Corey Gardner is very close to McConnell. As Polico reports it;

Gardner, who is close with McConnell, took pains to cast his proposal as far broader than the Russian hacking of U.S. election officials. His hope is to introduce the bill with bipartisan cosponsors early next year.

“From North Korea’s hack of Sony Pictures to Iran’s attack on a New York dam, it’s evident that we are facing a growing cybersecurity challenge. The nature and complexity of recent cyber-attacks require a whole of government approach to cyberspace and the development of federal policy to mitigate the threat and protect everything from personal information to the security of our critical infrastructure,” Gardner said in a statement.

This is an early test for McConnell. Other GOP Senators have been making noises about backing a Select committee, without actually proposing anything. If he loses on this Select committee, it could be read as an early indication that there are at least some GOP Senators out there who are not quite ready to just roll over and play dead for the Trump agenda. It could also come as a warning shot to Trump and McConnell that some of Trump’s cabinet picks who may have somewhat less than smooth sailings through the nomination process. Keep an eye out on how this comes out, it could be an early indicator of just how radical the Senate is preparing to go.

By Murfster35

Democrats Need To Rebrand Their Economic Message

Democrats Need To Rebrand Their Economic Message

Chuck Schumer (D)

WASHINGTON — A brawl is about to break out among Democrats on Capitol Hill, and when it’s done, Democrats will say they’re going to be OK. They’re wrong.

They’ll return next year to face one of the biggest Republican majorities in the House of Representatives since the 1920s. They’ll have 48 out of the 100 Senate seats, but they have to defend 25 of those seats in two years. They lost the White House in a year when they were strongly favored to win.

And they still face a daunting challenge crafting, let alone communicating, an economic message. It’s widely agreed that the party was unable to find a vigorous, meaningful way of telling working-class voters it understood their concerns.

Those voters “see the party as wanting to advance everyone but them,” said Will Marshall, the president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist group with Democratic leanings.

“We celebrate every time a barrier falls, but what Trump voters hear is ‘Nobody cares about me.’ You have to talk to these voters in a more emphatic way.”

Part of that strategy means getting away from a big-spending, liberal image. “A more centrist perspective is going to position them better,” said James Pfiffner, Virginia-based author of a dozen books on American government and politics.

That’s not what you’re going to hear starting Tuesday, as Congress returns to write a federal budget and House Democrats vote on whether to retain Nancy Pelosi as their leader or turn to Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.

Republicans will have at least 238 seats in the House next year, while Democrats should have 194, a net gain of six seats. Three races are undecided, and all lean Republican.

Ryan’s challenge to Pelosi is the first time since she became the top House Democrat 14 years ago that she’s faced opposition.

Ryan reflects concern that the party’s dismal showing in the congressional and presidential elections is a loud, stark reminder it’s not bold or inclusive enough.

Ryan, said Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., “wants more voices in the conversation so that we can work together to craft our message and forge a winning strategy.”

That makes sense to many liberals, who cheered Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and his Democratic presidential campaign pledges to shake up the political system.

“The Democratic Party needs to project that we’ll really challenge power and the system, and not just have good policies within the system,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal activist group that’s not endorsing anyone.

Democrats have to remember, he said, “the main thing people are looking for is backbone in the Democratic Party.”

Pelosi, a wily political survivor, is seen as winning easily with accolades from unions and liberals.

Once that vote, scheduled for Wednesday, is done, Democrats will be talking big.

“Democrats don’t have a debate about seniors, diversity or women’s issues,” said Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., who represents a swing district. While Democrats are unified over the role of government, “Republicans are about to go to war over deficits versus tax cuts,” she said.

“We’re not on life support. The party could be stronger, but it’s still strong,” said Dan Glickman, a former Wichita, Kan.-area congressman and secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.

Democrats offer several ways their congressional positions are solid:

—Popular vote. “We won the most votes,” said Bob Mulholland, a veteran California Democratic strategist. Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has 47.9 percent of the vote to President-elect Donald Trump’s 46.7 percent. His popular vote is the lowest for a White House winner since Bill Clinton 24 years ago.

—Demographics. Democrats running in House races won 67 percent of the Latino vote, 89 percent of the African-American vote and 56 percent of voters under 30, according to network exit polls. The Latino and young-voter percentages were up slightly from 2014, while the African-American number was about the same.

—History. Republicans won control of the House two years after Clinton won his first term. Democrats won control six years after George W. Bush won his first term, and Republicans regained control two years after Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. The GOP had a net gain of 64 House seats in 2010.

—Opposition. The party out of power doesn’t get the blame for governing if things go awry. Republicans have prospered from attacking President Obama’s economic and health care agendas. Now Democrats are in a position to be the critics and rail against the new president. They already are.

“He talked about being a populist. He talked about taking on special interests,” said Sanders. “Yet the initial indications that we are seeing is that not much of what he talked about … has much to do with where he is today.”

But the old problem remains: Democrats aren’t convincing enough working-class people that the party’s on their side.

“We needed to let the American people know what we believe,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democrats’ new leader in the Senate.

He cites the example of student debt as a missed opportunity. Sanders got overwhelming support from under-35 Democrats as he argued to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. Clinton and most congressional candidates argued for a modified version.

That confused people, perhaps contributing to the poorer Democratic showing among younger voters, he suggested.

The biggest danger for congressional Democrats is that Trump is successful and fashions a new Republican era, much as Ronald Reagan did through most of the 1980s.

“If his policy falters, they may regain seats in the midterms,” Robert Borosage, the president of the liberal Institute for America’s Future, said of the Democrats. “Yet they can win battles and still lose the war.”