Trump’s Squad II

Time for the second installment of Trump’s Squad.  Check out the first installment here.  Trump has been naming people to his cabinet for weeks now, but some of his recent nominations have really stirred things up.  We’re going to cover a couple of those today.

Secretary of State – Rex Tillerson

rex-tillerson

Rex Tillerson is Trump’s choice for Secretary of State.  This is another big position.  The Secretary of State is in charge of the Department of State and United States Foreign Service, and is the outward-facing cabinet member for foreign policy.  As Secretary of State, Tillerson will be the primary negotiator with other countries.  Like I said, big position.

Tillerson is currently the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil.  As an initial matter, Tillerson has never held public office.  He has worked for Exxon since 1975 in various capacities, and has been CEO since 2006.  Since Tillerson has never held public office, it’s difficult to get a sense of where is politics lie.  He has been a longtime supporter of the Republican party, has expressed his impatience with government regulation, has stated that he does not support sanctions, and although he has acknowledged that climate change is happening, has stated that it is not yet clear “to what extent and therefore what you can do it about it.”

The most we know about Tillerson is his connection to Putin.  Apparently the two are pretty close.  Tillerson has known Putin since 1999, when he began representing Exxon’s interests in Russia.  There’s a quote that’s making the rounds from John Hamre, the President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  Tillerson is on the board of that organization.  Hamre has said that Tillerson “has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American, with the exception of Dr. Henry Kissinger.”

As a representative of Exxon, Tillerson has worked closely with Putin.  In 2011, he struck a deal with Russia which gave Exxon access to Arctic resources.  In 2013, the Kremlin presented Tillerson with the country’s Order of Friendship.  The Order of the Friendship rewards foreign nationals whose work, deeds, and efforts were aimed at bettering the relations between foreign nations and Russia.  If you want a refresher on why connections with Putin might be bad, check out my previous post on this topic.

Russia might be a big issue for Tillerson during the committee and Senate hearings.  Tillerson will have to be approved by a majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and then a majority of the Senate.

The Foreign Relations Committee includes:

  • Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • James Risch (R-ID)
  • Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  • Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Ron Johnson (R-WI)
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Christopher Coons (D-DE)
  • Cory Gardner (R-CO)
  • Tom Udall (D-NM)
  • David Perdue (R-GA)
  • Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  • Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Rand Paul (R-KY)
  • Edward Markey (D-MA)
  • John Barrasso (R-WY)

If you’ve been counting, that is 10 Republicans to nine Democrats.  Rubio has already come out saying he has serious concerns about Tillerson as Secretary of State.  If Tillerson’s not for you, start making your calls!  It only takes one Republican to cross the line.  As always, you can contact your senators for the main vote.

Labor Secretary – Andrew Puzder

andy_puzder-jpeg

Trump  has nominated Andrew Puzder for Labor Secretary.  Labor Secretary is in charge of protecting the nation’s workers, determine how to distribute benefits to unemployed Americans, and is runs unemployment and jobs reports.  Puzder also has never held a political office, and is currently the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

Puzder has criticized the Affordable Care Act, argued against raising the federal minimum wage beyond $9 an hour, and worked for years as an anti-abortion lawyer in Missouri.  Under Puzder’s leadership, Carl’s Jr. has led an aggressively disgusting campaign of scantily clad women eating burgers.  He stands by that decision – he just “like[s] beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis.”

I’m personally disgusted by this guy, and I’m nervous about what he means for workers across the country.  If you feel the same, way, here’s what you can do.  Puzder first needs to receive a majority vote from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and then a majority vote in the Senate.

The Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee includes:

  • Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • Michael Enzi (R-WY)
  • Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Richard Burr (R-NC)
  • Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  • Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
  • Rand Paul (R-KY)
  • Al Franken (D-MN)
  • Susan Collins (R-ME)
  • Michael Bennet (D-CO)
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Mark Kirk (R-IL)
  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • Tim Scott (R-SC)
  • Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Bill Cassidy (R-IA)

You’ll probably notice that some of the listed senators will no longer hold their position in next iteration of the Senate.  Once the new senators begin in early January, the Senate will reallocate some positions.  I will update as that becomes available.  In the mean time, feel free to start calling!  There are 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats on the committee, but we have some heavy hitters (Murry, Sanders, Warren).  For Republicans that may be easier to convince, I would reach out to Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski, but feel free to contact whomever you want.

As always, you can contact your senators for the main vote, in which Puzder will need a majority as well.

Treasury Secretary – Steven Mnuchin

steven

If you’re keeping track, this is our second Steve and our eighth white male!  Mnuchin is tapped for Treasury Secretary, the position in charge of establishing economic policy, tax policy, financial policy, and any financial sanctions against foreign nations.  Mnuchin, like all others listed today, has never held political office.  He was the national finance chairman of Trump’s campaign, and worked in the banking world, including Goldman Sachs, prior to joining Trump’s campaign.  He was active in the residential lending market and bought several failed banks from 2008-2009.  In a bizarre aside, Mnuchin also has worked in Hollywood.  His production company has produced The Devil Wears Prada, Avatar, Gravity, The Lego Movie, and Magic Mike XXL.

Mnuchin has actually supported both Democrats and Republicans in the past, but has been a staunch Trump supporter since spring of 2016.  Since Trump announced Mnuchin as his pick for Labor Secretary, Mnuchin has faced some public criticism, mostly relating to his background in the finance industry.  He has been criticized for profiting off of the financial crisis and for his role on finance in the midst of anti-Wall Street sentiments.

Not your guy?  Mnuchin has to be confirmed by the Senate Committee on Finance by a majority vote before he goes to the entire Senate for a vote.

The Senate Committee on Finance includes:

  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
  • Charles Schumer (D-NY)
  • Mike Crapo (R-ID)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Michael Enzi (R-WY)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
  • John Thune (R-SD)
  • Thomas Carper (D-DE)
  • Richard Burr (R-NC)
  • Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Michael Bennet (D-CO)
  • Patrick Toomey (R-PA)
  • Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
  • Dan Coats (R-IN)
  • Mark Warner (D-VA)
  • Dean Heller (R-NV)
  • Tim Scott (R-SC)

If you’re counting, that’s 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats.  This might be a tough one – there are valid issues with Mnuchin but so far he wouldn’t be the one I’d target primarily, and the Republicans on this committee are pretty solidly conservative.  But please do reach out if this guy is not for you, and as always please contact your senators!

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Spotlight on the States

I’ve been focusing on national (and international) politics because the news cycle has been so crazy, but today we’re going to look at what a few of the states have been up to.

Ohio

ohio

Ohio has been making some moves to restrict abortion further.  On December 6, the Ohio Senate and House approved a ban on abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which generally occurs around six weeks.  The language was added to an unrelated bill concerning child welfare, and the language does not provide exceptions for rape or incest.  Two days later, the Ohio Senate and House approved a bill which bans abortions at or after 20 weeks.  Again, that bill has no exceptions for rape or incest.

On December 13, Governor John Kasich vetoed the 6-week ban but signed into law the 20 week ban.  The ban goes into effect in 90 days, barring any court fight’s over the law’s constitutionality.

Roe v. Wade legalized abortion up to the point of “viability,” which is defined as when a fetus is capable of prolonged life outside the mother’s womb.  Although some have lauded Governor Kasich’s veto of the six-week ban, almost all familiar with pro-choice precedent understand that a six-week ban would directly violate Roe v. Wade.  Viability is generally understood as occurring during the third trimester – some point between the 24th and 28th week of the pregnancy.  A 20-week ban on abortion has been ruled unconstitutional at the state and federal levels in Arizona and Idaho because fetuses are not viable at 20 weeks.  There are still dozens of other states that have similar legislation that has not yet been challenged.

Ohio knows this.  Governor Kasich knows this.  The pro-life group Ohio Right to Life has stated that it hopes the 20-week ban can be used to reopen Roe v. Wade, and that “[t]he time has come for this archaic line which is viability and Roe to end.  As science continues to develop and as public opinion continues to change we’re going to continue to chip away at Roe.”

They are hoping that the make up of the Supreme Court will change before the case gets challenged, and that if it is challenged, the Supreme Court will finally overrule Roe v. Wade, or, at a minimum, find that viability is no longer the appropriate standard, opening states up to additional restrictions to abortions.

North Carolina

nc-state

North Carolina has had some issues since the election.  Republican incumbent Governor Pat McCrory ran for re-election in a very tight race against Roy Cooper, the Democratic nominee.  Even though Cooper won by almost 5,000 votes, McCrory refused to concede until almost a month after the election.

It does not appear that the North Carolina Republicans are going down without a fight.  After convening a special session of the legislature to address hurricane relief, Republicans called for a second special session, in which they have introduced bills to limit incoming Governor Cooper’s power.  For example, they have moved to make Cabinet appointees subject to state senate approval, remove the governor’s power to appoint trustees to the University of North Carolina system and the state board of education, and reduce the number of employees the governor could hire by 1,200.  Additionally, Republicans have introduced a bill that would overhaul the state’s election boards, which many view as the latest attempt to restrict voting in the state.

The special session is ongoing, and so far we are still waiting  to hear how the voting goes.  Governor-elect Cooper currently serves as the Attorney General of North Carolina, and has threatened to sue the state of North Carolina if the legislature passes anything unconstitutional.  I’ll post updates as they arise.

Trump’s Squad

Trump has been making moves on appointing cabinet members.  Let’s break them down.

A minority of the positions do not require Senate confirmation, making them difficult to oppose.  Those include:

Chief of Staff – Reince Priebus       reince-priebus-reforms-r

Reince Priebus is the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and has spoken out against certain statements made by Trump in the past, such as Trump’s proposal to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration, and Trump’s criticisms of the Khan family.  Priebus is generally well-liked in the Republican party and to some, signals Trump’s ability to work within the system.

Chief Strategist – Steve Bannon       steve-bannon

Steve Bannon is worrisome to many.  He has had many positions in corporate America, but most recently was the executive chair of Breitbart News.  Breitbart is an alt-right (or white supremacist) news site that’s pretty gross.  There have been valid criticisms that Bannon is anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic, and homophobic.  (Incidentally, if you want to put pressure on companies advertising on Breitbart, check out Sleeping Giants on Twitter.)  There’s a MoveOn petition to stop the appointment Steve Bannon, but because the Senate does not need to confirm Bannon, the actions to stop him are indirect, and involve threatening other action in the Senate.

White House Counsel – Don McGahn II        donaldmcgahn

Don McGahn is a partner at Jones Day, who served as commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Committee.  He served as Trump’s campaign counsel for the presidential campaign.  McGahn has pushed to deregulate campaign finance laws, and is known for being combative.

 

National Security Adviser – Michael Flynn          220px-michael_t_flynn

This guy is kind of a disaster.  He is the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and was reportedly forced out in 2014 after clashing with superiors.  During his time as director, it was said he was “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc.”  Additionally, the New York Times has reported that Flynn exhibited a loose relationship with facts, which his subordinates began referring to as “Flynn facts.”  Flynn’s tenuous relationship with facts transfers over to social media, where he has pushed conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton.  He has since deleted his tweet, which linked to an article on True Pundit accusing Clinton of being connected to sex crimes with children, among other things.  Fortunately, news sources reported on the tweet, including its language:

U decide – NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc…MUST READ! https://t.co/O0bVJT3QDr

— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) November 3, 2016

And there’s more.  The Washington Post just broke a story today on how General Flynn shared classified information with foreign military officials in Afghanistan during a 2010 U.S. military investigation.


That’s just the four appointees who do not need to be confirmed by the Senate.  Trump has made public 16 of the remaining 21 positions of his cabinet.  Instead of going through them one by one, we will be doing an “Cabinet Member of the Day” post to address each of them.  Today is…..

Attorney General – Jeff Sessions

sessions

This one is a biggie.  The United States Attorney General is the nation’s top law enforcement official and the head of the United States Department of Justice.  Sessions will oversee all arms of the Department of Justice, and will be supervising the types of enforcement the DOJ chooses to pursue.  It’s a big deal.

Sessions is currently the junior U.S. Senator for Alabama.  Prior to his time as senator, he worked as an Assistant U.S. States Attorney and was nominated by Ronald Reagan to be a district judge in the Southern District of Alabama.  Sessions was not confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  During the confirmation process, four DOJ lawyers who had worked with Sessions testified that he had made racially insensitive remarks, such as calling the NAACP and ACLU “un-American” and “Communist-inspired,” that he thought the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot,” and that Sessions had admonished a black Assistant U.S. Attorney to “be careful what you say to white folks.”

Alright, alright.  That was 30 years ago.  What has Sessions been up to since then?  Last year he authored the Immigration Handbook For the New Republican Majority, which calls for a slowdown of legal immigration and blames immigration for “welfare dependency” in the United States.  Sessions also appeared on a Breitbart Radio show last December, where he stated that we’re seeing “more and more persons enter [the United States] and a lot of them have done terrorist acts.”  Sessions also stated that “[t]heir faith commands them to do these things,” and that a Muslim registry was “appropriate” to discuss at this time.  He also thinks stop-and-frisk laws, which have been ruled unconstitutional because it targets minority men, are just fine.

FYI, Jeff Sessions is on the ACLU’s radar.  He’s also on the radar of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is a coalition of more than 200 human rights groups.  Before he is confirmed as Attorney General, Sessions must get through the Senate Judiciary Committee.  This is a two-day process scheduled for January 10-11, 2017.  If Sessions is confirmed by a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it goes to the full Senate, and will also require a majority vote.  By the way.  Sessions is ON the Senate Judiciary Committee, but he will not be able to vote for himself.

If this doesn’t sound good to you, here’s what you can do.

You can contact the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which include:

  • Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
  • Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  • Dick Durbin (D-IL)
  • John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Michael Lee (R-UT)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • Al Franken (D-MN)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Chris Coons (D-DE)
  • David Vitter (R-LA)
  • Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
  • David Perdue (R-GA)
  • Thom Tillis (R-NC)

If you are a constituent, call the office of your senator and tell them you oppose the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, especially if one of your senators is Republican.  There are 10 Republican votes and nine Democrat votes if no one switches party lines.

Also contact your senators, even if they’re not on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  They will have to vote on any confirmation, and if a majority do not confirm Sessions, it’s a no go.  The Republicans will have a majority come January, with 52 seats as opposed to 48 seats for Democrats, but that doesn’t mean individuals can’t be swayed.

Why Russia Matters

Things are developing on a daily basis with PEOTUS.  On Friday, the Washington Post published an article about how a CIA assessment made clear that Russia not only interfered with the election, but did so to help Trump win.  On Sunday, Trump was interviewed by Fox News, and during that interview he denied the CIA’s findings.

Of course, he’s supplemented that interview with the following tweets:

In a statement released on Friday Trump’s transition team also had this to say:

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”

CIA’s Assessment

This is not entirely new news.  On October 31, 2016, the New York Times published an article about the FBI investigation into interference with Russia.  That article stated that FBI investigators “have become increasingly confident, based on the evidence they have uncovered, that Russia’s direct goal is not to support the election of Mr. Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly.”

The CIA assessment goes further, and states that they have identified individuals who are closely connected to the Russian government, and these individuals provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from Democrats, including from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta (remember him from #Pizzagate?).  The CIA has reported that it is now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal.

President Obama has ordered a full review and report on the issue, and wants the report before he transitions out of office on January 20, 2017.

What Does this Mean?

The CIA report is classified and has not been made public.  It’s hard to understand the extent to which hacking impacted the election.  I have not seen any reputable news source stating that Russia was able to actually infiltrate any voting machines.  Instead, credible news sources state that individuals connected to the Russian government hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s emails with the intent to support Trump in the election.  Notably, the New York Times states that Russian hackers also hacked the Republican National Committee’s emails but did not release any of those documents.

This means that there is a foreign government directly interfering with our elections and backing a leader it believes will be most beneficial.  This type of interference is unprecedented in our democracy.

Why Does it Matter?

You might be asking yourself why it matters that Russia cares about U.S. politics, and you might even be asking why Russia is so bad.  It’s not just because its leader likes to run around looking like this:

putin-on-a-horse

Vladimir Putin is the President of Russia.  He was a member of the KGB, Russia’s intelligence agency, before getting involved in politics in the 1990s.  His policies on international intervention are broad and militaristic.  In the past few years, he has ordered Russian troops to seize Crimea from the Ukraine, has authorized Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, and is actively working to increase its nuclear weapons capabilities.  Let’s also not forget that Russia intervened in Chechnya’s war several years ago, and in the process committed dozens of war crimes against Chechens.

Putin has enacted many restrictive human rights policies during his time as president.  For example, to name a few: (1) Russia is ranked 148 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom index, which ranks countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists; (2) there have been multiple allegations of torture and abuse, despite the fact that the Constitution of Russia forbids it; (3) the rise of xenophobia, racism, and nationalism; (4) the June 2013 ban of “propaganda” relating to LGBT relationships; (5) the June 2013 law banning adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples; and (6) the rise in human trafficking out of Russia.

UPDATE: I missed a very important part of why it matters that Russia is meddling in our democratic system.  This is not the first time Russia has interfered with elections in foreign countries.  Many believe that Russian presence on social media impacted Brexit.  The Foreign Policy Initiative held a conference call on this very subject this summer, during which it provided evidence that Russia has provided support for Marine Le Pen, the president of the National Front, a conservative political party in France.  Russia has also been accused of influencing elections in Estonia and the Ukraine.

Russia wants to influence elections for a lot of reasons.  An in depth report on this, referenced by Politico, states that Russia does this for the following reasons:

  • To undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance;
  • To foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures;
  • To erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions;
  • To popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations; and
  • To create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

Russia does this to weaken their opponents.  They’re bragging about it:

Aleksandr Dugin is an advisor to Putin, and is a lead theorist of the underpinnings of Putinism.  He has been likened to Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon, in terms of his influence and role.  Russia is celebrating, and we’re the losers.

What are People Doing About it?

I previously posted about the legal efforts underway to stop Trump from taking office in January.  Those efforts are growing, in part in response to the CIA’s assessment.  There is a movement to brief the electors of the Electoral College on the CIA’s findings before they cast their votes on December 19, 2016.  Ten electors have explicitly asked for a briefing on the issue, and there is support from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  Russia’s involvement in the election may weigh in as a factor when the electors make their decisions.

UPDATE:  The number has now grown to 40 electors who would like to receive a briefing on Russian involvement before the Electoral College votes.  Additionally, there is now support for pushing back the date of the Electoral College vote to accommodate such a briefing:

There is also a new movement in support of directly invalidating the election.  Again, I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but the legal basis for this course of action seems tenuous, and invalidating an election, without evidence of actual hacking of voting machines, would be a huge blow to democracy.  At this point, it seems that unless some of the electors of the Electoral College vote against Trump, it is still unlikely that a legal movement will stop Trump from taking office.

LAST WORDS:

It seems insane to be talking about Russian interference in this day and age, but this is real.  This is not a conspiracy theory, and has been verified by individuals in the highest levels of their respective agencies.  We may never know the extent of the interference, at least until the CIA report becomes unclassified.  However, we should be very concerned that our president-elect sees no problem with this, especially in the face of bi-partisan support for investigating the issue.  Our democracy is only as strong as the people who protect it, and interference from foreign governments into our electoral process is about as big a hit to democracy as there is.

Trump that President-Elect!

I’ve had several people ask me whether there is any legal recourse in preventing Trump from taking office in January.  This is an unprecedented area of the law, and I am no constitutional lawyer, but there is a lot of work being done on this front.  Note: this is action focused on preventing Trump from taking office.  It does not apply to actions that may be available once Trump takes office.  For example, Trump cannot be impeached until he is sworn in.  He cannot violate the Constitution until he takes the oath of office.  But for those interested in what is happening right now, here’s a run down of what I have seen and researched.  Please feel free to weigh in if there are movements of which I am unaware.

Recounts

Recount efforts are underway in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Nevada, and up until yesterday, Michigan.  The votes were fairly close in these battleground states, but not close enough to trigger an automatic recount.  The Republican party, and at times Trump, has challenged these actions to varying degrees of success.

Because these efforts change on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep up.  However, regardless of the individual efforts to start and stop the recount process, the takeaway remains the same – Clinton would need to win enough electoral votes to get to 270 total votes, and take those states away from Trump.

How can she do it?  If she wins Florida’s 29 votes, that would do it.  However, the Florida suit was filed by individual voters and not any political party.  These voters allege that Clinton actually won Florida’s electoral votes, but due to hacking, malfunctioning voting machines, and other problems, those votes weren’t recorded accurately.  The plaintiffs request a hand recount funded by Trump, Florida’s Governor Rick Scott, and the electors in Florida.  It is unlikely that this case will go anywhere before the electoral college meets in 11 days.

Clinton could also win if she takes the lead in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  She’d need all three states to get the votes.  Notwithstanding that Michigan’s recount has been halted indefinitely, it’s a tough road to win all three states.  The margins were close, but not that close, and odds aren’t great.

“Conscientious” Electors

There’s a movement called the Hamilton Electors, which is focused on convincing the voters of the Electoral College to vote for someone other than Trump when they meet to vote on December 19, and become “Conscientious Electors.”  There are 538 voters in the Electoral College.  Each state has a number of electoral votes (and voters), who physically meet to cast their votes to elect the president.  According to the Hamilton Electors, quoting Alexander Hamilton, the Electoral College was founded to ensure that “the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

The movement involves trying to convince these designated individuals not to vote for Trump.  It’s worked, a little bit.  A Republican elector in Texas published an op-ed in the New York Times this week explaining why he will not vote for Trump.

There has been other work on this front besides bombarding electors with letters, phone calls, and emails.  One law professor and political activist, Lawrence Lessig, is taking additional steps to facilitate electors who may want to switch their votes but only want to do so if there is collective action.  He has established the Electors Trust, a confidential and free resource for electors who want to learn more about their options.  Time will tell how many people take advantage of this service.

There’s more.  Currently, 29 states have laws in place that require electoral voters to vote with the popular vote.  On Tuesday, two voters in Colorado filed a lawsuit to that law in Colorado.  This could open the path for filing similar lawsuits in the rest of the 28 states with similar laws.  The Colorado case hasn’t gone anywhere yet, and people will have to act quickly to get any movement from the courts before December 19.

Abolish the Electoral College.  Now.

Lots of people are talking about what to do with the Electoral College in the future, but some are focused on what to do now.  Again, Lawrence Lessig is at the forefront of this theory.  He published a post outlining the way forward.  The argument rests on the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.  In a nutshell, this argument is premised on the idea that one person should equal one vote, and the current structure of the Electoral College dilutes individuals’ votes.  This happens both at a state to state ratio (i.e., the strength of an individual vote in California is less than the strength of an individual vote in Wyoming), and within the state.  The “within the state,” or “winner takes all” argument is one I have not thought of before.  Here, Equal Protection fails because the entire state votes for one candidate, even if almost half the individuals within the state voted for the other candidate.  The voters who voted for the winner get their vote counted, while the voters who voted for the loser have no impact whatsoever on the election.

Fine, sounds good, but how do you get it done now?  It would have to be decided by the Supreme Court, and would most likely be filed by Attorney Generals of states, who would file the case on behalf of their state with the Supreme Court.  Although I have heard people discuss the concept, I have not seen any action on this front.

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (“NPVIC”) is a proposed agreement between states, under which states that are a party to the agreement would assign their electors to vote for whomever wins the popular vote nationwide.  The NPVIC is set to kick in only when enough states join to guarantee the requisite 270 votes.  Eleven states have joined, adding up to 165 votes.  The NPVIC will need another 105 votes before it kicks in, and although legislation has been introduced in all 50 states on this issue, no state has approved the agreement since 2014.  It is unlikely that enough states will sign on and push through legislation to this effect before December 19, but this would bypass the need to amend the Constitution (which, as a reminder, can be done by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, or through a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states).

LAST WORDS:

This is an uphill battle any way you slice it, and time is running out.  I’ll be honest with you – this is not the area I am choosing to spend my time on, but I support and appreciate the ways people are thinking and acting to address some increasingly clear issues with our structure.  I think more talk about the Electoral College is good, and fully support actions to make it more fair overall.

Another aspect of all this, away from the gilded walls of academia, is what impact these avenues might have on our country.  I think a recount showing Clinton actually won the contested states would be the smoothest way to transition Trump out of his role as president-elect, as it is still working within an accepted, already-existing structure.  I think if we, as in Democrats, tried to overthrow the Electoral College it may lead to huge outbreaks of protests and potentially violence.

We’ll see what the Electoral College does in 11 days.  Until then, I’m focusing on what we can do when president-elect Trump becomes President Trump.

What Can I Do?

Since the election, I have been absorbing information around me and planning my next steps.  I know that I cannot sit back and do nothing while policies I do not believe in are enacted around me, but I have struggled with how to proceed.  What hits me most is that there are people in my own community who are already feeling the stress of this election, and Trump isn’t even in office yet.

I’ve joined Facebook groups.  I’ve ranted and complained to friends.  I have tweeted and retweeted, and none of it makes me feel like I’m doing enough.  Here are some the areas I am concerned about in the immediate term.  This is not an exhaustive list.

Women’s Access to Healthcare

Our president-elect has vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade.  When asked about what women would do if their state no longer had abortion clinics, Trump said they would have to go to other states.

It’s not as simple as “going to another state,” especially with protectionist laws in place that make it even harder to access healthcare, such as waiting periods.  A woman would not only have to find the transportation to another state, but would need to be able to take several days off of work to get there, get seen by a doctor, and then have to wait the statutory amount of time before getting an abortion.  Twenty-seven states have waiting periods.  Most of the waiting periods are 24 hours, but some states have waiting periods of 48 or 72 hours.  That’s a heavy, heavy burden on women, and it disproportionately affects our most vulnerable groups of women.

LGBTQ Rights

Although Trump has said he will stand by the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, there are a lot of other areas where he, or his administration, can chip away at rights for the LGBTQ community.  Potentially most pressing would be an appeal of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, which currently protects transgender people from discrimination in seeking healthcare.  The ACA also protects against discrimination based on preexisting conditions, which includes HIV/AIDS.  There is also a general anxiety regarding the future administration’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, and what that might mean for same-sex couples who have adopted a child.  We know Republicans want to repeal Obamacare immediately.  It might even be the first thing on the Senate agenda in 2017.  It’s unclear what other changes might happen that will impact the LGBTQ community, but it’s safe to say that people are worried.

Immigrant/Refugee Rights

Let’s forget the wall for a second, which has its own issues.  In 2012, Obama’s administration passed something called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), which protected from deportation young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.  These individuals are referred to as “Dreamers.”  There are about 750,000 of these Dreamers living in the United States, who have been given work permits and safe harbor from deportation.  These individuals are known to the government, as they have applied for protected status.  President-elect Trump has vowed to “immediately terminate” DACA.  This would lead to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of individuals, would break up families, and would send back individuals who have been living in this country legally.

Hate Crimes

There has been a rise in hate crimes since Donald Trump won the election.  The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 900 hate crimes in the 10 days after the election.  Since then, they have continued to update those numbers, and the results are chilling.  I can, and will, do a longer post on this, but regardless of what is motivating these individuals, they feel emboldened.  Hate crimes are unpleasant and scary, and can be very dangerous, but I believe they are also a symptom of anger that might be directed in other, more nefarious ways, and I am highly concerned about where that might go.

What Can You Do?

This is a lot to take in, and can seem overwhelming.  I have spent the past few weeks reading, reading, reading, trying to wrap my head around what my concerns are, and how best to take action.  One thing I have come to realize is that politics is not just national.  We can do work locally, and we can start now.  I don’t have to have the answer for the electoral college problem, but I’m a lawyer in Chicago and can use those skills to help some already-existing organizations.

Here are a few things I have done, and they will only lead to more action:

1.  Change my lifestyle to be able to donate more.  Donating is now a key role I can play in making sure the organizations I care about are equipped to tackle an onslaught of issues that are coming down the pipeline.  I’m not shopping right now for anything personal, and I plan to continue making those cutbacks so I can give back more.  It feels really good to pick my organizations and to be able to join campaigns I care about.

2.  Become a member of already-existing organizations.  Another thing I’m realizing is that there is so much work going on around me.  Right now there’s a huge influx of people who want to do something, but I don’t know if we need to recreate the wheel.  I know that even though I’ve been aware of these groups in the past, I have not always opened the emails they’ve sent me, and I certainly have not always signed up to volunteer.  Here are a few options (apologies if these are Illinois-based, but there are similar organizations everywhere)

  • I have signed up to be a legal volunteer for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (“ICIRR”).  There are lots of other volunteer opportunities if you want to get involved in immigrant and refugee rights, check out other volunteer opportunities here.  I am interested in volunteering as a legal screener, where I will be assessing client eligibility to apply for citizenship and pointing clients in the right direction if they are eligible.
  • Become a Legal Observer through the National Lawyers Guild (note – you do not need to be a lawyer to be an observer) to ensure First Amendment rights are being protected during protests.  I am attending this training on December 15 – maybe I’ll see you there!  Register here and find out more about the training here.
  • I am also attending a training and orientation on volunteering with the Center on Halsted, which is a LGBTQ service agency in Chicago.  I will be starting in February, but there are lots of options to register here.  The Center does so many things, but I am interested in getting involved in domestic violence issues in the LGBTQ community.

3.  Stay smart.  I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but fake news is all around us, on both ends of the political spectrum.  We cannot afford to let go of facts.  Subscribe (and I mean pay) for good journalism.  The Wall Street Journal has a deal right now that gives you 12 weeks of digital access for $12, check it out here.  The New York Times will give you 4 weeks for 99 cents, and then $3.75 per week after that, here.  If you can’t fit that into your budget, then stick to free online publications that link to their sources and follow real journalistic procedures.  People are doing some great work sifting through what’s real and not.  This short piece is a good start.  Note, this used to have a link to a list of fake news sites but the professor who drafted it had to remove it due to threats and harassment.  How scary is that?  She is following up and I will post once the list is live again.

4.  Support the performing arts.  This might not seem intuitive, but comedy/performance has a huge role in challenging and critiquing the status quo, and performers who speak out against the regime are some of the first targets of free speech violations.  Support the performers you care about.  Watch their shows, tweet your support, and get involved in the work going on in your community.  My personal project is the Neo-Futurists, which is a bad-ass group of performance artists doing awesome work.  They recently separated from their founder and are undergoing a fundraising campaign.  Learn more here, or hit me up if you ever want to check out some local theater.

LAST WORDS:

Another thing I’m learning is that there is SO MUCH WORK going on around us, and these people have been fighting these fights for much longer than Trump has been president-elect.  I know it is frustrating and challenging trying to harness your energy to DO SOMETHING, but these organizations do not exist to help you find your path; they exist to provide services to the most vulnerable in society.  Work within their rules.  Be patient if they can’t train you next week.  In the mean time, give them a donation and a word of support.  The onus is not on them to connect you to your ideal volunteer opportunity.  The onus is on YOU to find out what you want to do and start doing it.

Now get out there and make your Facebook posts mean something!

Plot Twist – Reality Politics

My world was rocked on November 8, 2016, and I have been reeling from that day for the past month.  I have made some life changes, but I constantly feel like it’s not enough.  What can I do to get out of my own bubble?  What can I do to help those suffering around me?  How can I get even more involved?  It seems like the options are endless, but when you have a demanding job in the private sector and are not ready to jump ship into direct services, it feels like all you can do is donate or send a form email to your representatives (not saying those aren’t important things to do – do those if you have not already done so).

I feel in my core that we have an obligation to keep talking, to keep the pressure on, to keep digging through the noise to find the facts.  And as a millenial with a liberal arts degree in Political Science and Gender Studies, I am fully equipped to add my voice to the mix, right??

Well, I’m not sure, but I do know that I already have a blog and that the things I want to write about aren’t Us Weekly stories but are big, and scary, and need to be faced head on.  So I’m going to start doing that here.  Posts will be categorized, so feel free to skip anything with a “Politics” tag and head straight to the good stuff.

Don’t worry, when the Bachelor is back in January I will be blogging that as well.  I haven’t missed a season in over a decade and don’t plan to this time around.  And we can all use a little escapism sometimes.  But before then, there’s a different type of work to do, so stay tuned.