Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts | Counterpunch & Wall Street on Parade

18738917_1482261835165484_5559254414311741520_oJohnny Liberty, Editor’s Note: Once again there’s more than meets the eye in the stimulus bill that just passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate. Apparently, if you read this article you’ll discover that the Federal Reserve has been granted extreme powers to stabilize the economy (which is the code word for bailing out the banks who have overextended themselves since 2008). Coronavirus is yet another smokescreen for transferring power from the people to the international bankers (not saying COVID-19 isn’t real). Another sad day for the future of freedom in the United States of America.

By Pam & Russ Martens

The U.S. Senate voted 96-0 late yesterday on a massive bailout of Wall Street banks versus a short-term survival plan for American workers thrown out of their jobs – and potentially their homes. The text of the final bill was breathtaking in the breadth of new powers it bestowed on the Federal Reserve, including the Fed’s ability to conduct secret meetings with no minutes provided to the American people. The House of Representatives has yet to vote on the bill.

The bill provides specific sums that can be made as loans or loan guarantees to passenger airlines ($25 billion), cargo airlines ($4 billion), and loans and loan guarantees to businesses necessary to national security ($17 billion). But when it comes to the money going to the Federal Reserve and then out the door to Wall Street, the legislation says only this:

“Not more than the sum of $454,000,000,000…shall be available to make loans and loan guarantees to, and other investments in, programs or facilities established by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System for the purpose of providing liquidity to the financial system….”

Why does the Federal Reserve need $454 billion from the U.S. taxpayer to bail out Wall Street when it has the power to create money out of thin air and has already dumped more than $9 trillioncumulatively in revolving loans to prop up Wall Street’s trading houses since September 17, 2019 – long before there was any diagnosis of coronavirus anywhere in the world.

The Fed needs that money to create more Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) — the same device used by Enron to hide its toxic debt off its balance sheet before it went belly up. With the taxpayers’ money taking a 10 percent stake in the various Wall Street bailout programs offered by the Fed, structured as SPVs, the Fed can keep these dark pools off its balance sheet while levering them up 10-fold.

White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow acknowledged plans by the Fed to leverage the money at a White House press briefing this week, stating that the money the Treasury is handing over to the Fed would result in “$4 trillion in Federal Reserve lending power.”

The Fed has already created one of these SPVs. On March 17, the Fed said it was  creating a Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF) that would work like this:

“The Treasury will provide $10 billion of credit protection to the Federal Reserve in connection with the CPFF from the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF). The Federal Reserve will then provide financing to the SPV under the CPFF. Its loans will be secured by all of the assets of the SPV.”

The Fed also used SPVs during the 2007-2010 financial crisis to buy toxic debt from Bear Stearns to facilitate its takeover by JPMorgan Chase and to prop up AIG, a giant insurer that had gorged on Wall Street’s tricked-up derivatives. Those programs became known as Maiden Lane I, II and III.

Adding to the suspicions that the Fed doesn’t want to have to battle Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (sunshine law requests) again in court, as it did and lost during the last financial crisis to keep its outrageous $29 trillion bailout program to Wall Street a secret from the public, the Senate-approved stimulus bill repeals the sunshine law for the Fed’s meetings until the President says the coronavirus threat is over or the end of this year. That could make any FOIA lawsuits to unleash details of what’s going on next to impossible since it has been codified in a federal law. The bill states the following:

SEC. 4009. TEMPORARY GOVERNMENT IN THE SUNSHINE ACT RELIEF. (a) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subsection 8 (b), notwithstanding any other provision of law, if the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System determines, in writing, that unusual and exigent circumstances exist, the Board may conduct meetings without regard to the requirements of section 552b of title 5, United States Code, during the period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act and ending on the earlier of— (1) the date on which the national emergency concerning the novel coronavirus disease (COVID–19) outbreak declared by the President on March 13, 2020 under the National Emergencies Act (50 20 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) terminates; or (2) December 31, 2020.

This could mean that the American taxpayer may never learn why it went into debt to the tune of $454 billion if no records are being maintained.

Wall Street’s mega banks and their primary regulator, the Federal Reserve, are no longer just a threat to the safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system — together they are an unparalleled and unprecedented threat to the idea of democracy as we understand it.

We find it difficult to believe that Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkley would vote in favor of this legislation – given their in-depth knowledge of what the Fed did during the last financial crisis. The public deserves an honest explanation from each of them.

Source: Counterpunch & Wall Street on Parade

Term limits will drain the swamp and stop career politicians | The Washington Times

CapitalClockBy Conner Drigotas

One of the ironies of the impeachment of President Trump is just how similar the cast of characters is to those in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. By the time the trial was over, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler, Maxine Waters, Lindsay Graham, and 80 other members of Congress had cast a vote. And what is obvious is that the same players have been acting out for decades. When will things change?

Let’s face the facts: Washington politicians and bureaucrats arrive in the swamp and become entrenched. The longest-serving members of Congress have served for more than 45 years, and there are 44 congressional districts in which the age of the representative is more than double the median age of their constituents.

Incumbents, of course, have a defined advantage in this: In 2016, 97 percent of representatives were reelected. So if Americans want solutions at the highest levels of government, we should be demanding fresh leadership on a regular basis: Politicians and government officials should be subject to a short tenure before returning to civilian life through term limits.

Modern problems demand modern solutions. Aging seniors grilling tech gurus about privacy, emerging technologies and consumer rights have become a national joke. More concerning, tech illiteracy is yielding bad legislation that puts American security at risk.

Yet, the only thing the opposition party can offer judging by the Democratic presidential candidate lineup is more of the same, with candidates claiming long careers contributing to the swamp. Elizabeth Warren is in her eighth year in Washington, and she’s competing for the Oval Office against Bernie Sanders, who’s been an elected official since 1981.

Both are looking to extend their stay in Washington, whether as president or through a continued Senate tenure. Joe Biden, another candidate, first took public office 50 years ago, in 1970. Fresh names and fresh ideas, on both the right, with Donald Trump, and the left, with Pete Buttigieg, have already won the first caucus of 2020. Americans are clearly hungry for something new.

Term limits could be one viable measure to prevent career politicians. It’s an idea that has been promoted by Mr. Trump with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The struggle, of course, lies in the fact that members of Congresswould have to be willing to vote themselves out of a job.

Removing career politicians, regardless of their success or good will, ensures that the job is in the service of the people rather than in pursuit of greater net worth. But term limits would only solve a part of the problem. Beyond elected officials, there are more than 2.1 million federal employees propping up the status quo.

The vast web of bureaucrats who staff the federal government’s many administrative branches have an even longer tenure than Congress. The most tenured Washington bureaucrat has been working for the government since 1942. No matter how perfect a civil servant’s record on the job, longevity itself must be addressed.The administrative state enables bureaucrats to write rules, direct policy and impact the lives of everyday Americans. Yet, voters can’t vote this vast workforce out of office. Federal employees are difficult to remove, and often the will to remove them isn’t there. A 2013 study by the office for governmental accountability found that only 0.18 percent of employees were terminated in 2013, roughly 10 percent the rate of the private sector.

Mr. Trump has often pledged to “drain the swamp,” but he has yet to follow through on that campaign promise. The number of federal employees has remained relatively consistent since the 1950s and held steady through the Trump presidency. Federal tenure rules make it increasingly difficult to remove low performers. It doesn’t seem to matter who’s in office, or from what party — these career bureaucrats continue to exert power.This unchecked control is especially troubling when it involves sensitive information concerning national security. In 2017, officials with anonymity confessed that intelligence agencies routinely withheld information from the commander-in-chief, asserting authority as independent actors not beholden to elected officials or the American people.

That some longtime politicians and bureaucrats may be acting in the best interests of the people doesn’t negate the larger point: Those who contribute to the swamp far outnumber honest civil servants. Simply put, governance should not be a career; it should be temporary and in service to the public. Short tenures are the way to do just that, since they’ve historically served to keep the size of government power in check.

Whoever wins in November, though, is unlikely to make a difference in that regard. For Congress and the Washington Machine, history has shown that the White House won’t impact business as usual.

But things need to change — from term limits to an end to federal tenure. Abbreviated careers in government would ensure the will of the people informs the highest levels of government.

Let’s show swamp dwellers the door.

• Conner Drigotas is the director of communications at a national law firm and a Young Voices contributor.

Source: Washington Times

President Trump’s $4 Trillion Debt Increase | Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Editor’s Note: Take note that continued federal deficit spending will land the United States corporation in an irreversible bankruptcy before 2029 when It would bring total debt to about 97 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That means the US would owe the Federal Reserve almost 100% of the GDP for the entire year (plus interest). 

If the recent budget deal is signed into law, it will be the third major piece of deficit-financed legislation in President Trump’s term. In total, we estimate legislation signed by the President will have added $4.1 trillion to the debt between 2017 and 2029. Over a traditional ten-year budget window, the President will have added $3.4 to $3.8 trillion to the debt. The source of the debt expansion is split relatively evenly between tax and spending policy.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was the single largest contributor to the $4.1 trillion figure, increasing debt by $1.8 trillion through 2029 (more than the entire cost is through 2027). This number could easily climb higher if lawmakers extend the individual tax cuts that are set to expire after 2025, which would add another $1 trillion to the debt.

The Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2018 was nearly as costly on an annual basis, adding nearly $450 billion to the debt due to its two-year nature. However, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 would effectively make the increases in the BBA 2018 permanent, and in doing so, add another $1.7 trillion to the debt through 2029.

Smaller pieces of legislation are responsible for nearly $150 billion of debt. This includes several different bills containing disaster relief or emergency spending and continued delays of three Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes, among other bills.

This analysis does not include the fiscal impact of many executive actions taken by the President, some which would increase deficits and others which would reduce them. It also assumes that temporary policies expire as scheduled.

If we evaluate the debt added over the standard ten-year window the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) uses, the numbers are similar but slightly smaller. Using the ten-year period (2018-2027) employed in 2017, lawmakers have added $3.8 trillion to deficits. Using the current ten-year period of 2020-2029, the debt increase is $3.4 trillion. Debt added is lower in the later period because some of the laws, like the TCJA and 2018 BBA, had larger short-term, rather than long-term, costs.

Debt Added Since 2017 Over Different Periods

Legislation 2018-2027 Cost 2020-2029 Cost 2017-2029 Cost
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act $1.9 trillion $1.4 trillion $1.8 trillion
Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 $1.3 trillion $1.7 trillion $1.7 trillion
Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 $420 billion $190 billion $445 billion
Other Legislation $140 billion $90 billion $155 billion
Total $3.8 trillion $3.4 trillion $4.1 trillion

Source: CRFB calculations based on Congressional Budget Office data.

Importantly, the $4.1 trillion of debt signed into law by President Trump is on top of the $16.2 trillion we already owe and the $9.8 trillion we were projected to borrow over the next decade absent these proposals. It would bring debt to about 97 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2029, compared to 84 percent if no debt-increasing legislation had been passed.

To avoid the huge run-up in debt that is projected in the coming decades, lawmakers should reject unpaid-for spending increases, pay for the tax bill, and address the rising costs and looming insolvency of our nation’s largest health and retirement programs.

Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

How Much Will Medicare for All Cost? | Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), a co-chair of the Medicare for All Caucus, released a bill today that would adopt a single-payer system, where the federal government replaces private health insurance companies as the sole provider of most health care financing. While we are not aware of any estimates of this particular proposal, similar proposals have been estimated to cost the federal government roughly $28-32 trillion over a decade.

Representative Jayapal’s Medicare for All Act would replace nearly all current insurance with a government-run single-payer plan and extend that plan to those who currently lack health coverage. The plan itself would be far more generous than either Medicare or most private coverage, as it would include no deductibles or copayments, would not restrict beneficiaries to networks of care, and would offer a broad suite of benefits including dental care, vision care, transportation for disabled and low-income patients, certain dietary and nutritional care, long-term care, and other long-term services and support. The proposal also establishes a global health budget, moves away from fee-for-service and toward lump-sum payments for many providers, includes a number of measures to hold down drug prices, and makes a variety of other changes to the health care system.

The proposal is broadly similar to Senator Sanders’s proposed single-payer plan introduced during the 2016 Presidential campaign. While the campaign itself estimated that plan would cost the federal government about $14 trillion over a decade, most other estimates that we are aware of are at least twice that high.

At the time, for example, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated roughly that the plan would cost $28 trillion through 2026 (we estimated the Sanders plan in particular would also raise $11 trillion of revenue, leading to $17 trillion of net costs). All other estimates come to similar conclusions.

For example, economist Kenneth Thorpe estimated that single-payer health care would cost the federal government $24.7 trillion through 2026, excluding the costs associated with long-term care benefits (likely about $3 trillion). The Urban Institute estimated a $32 trillion cost over the same period, including those long-term care benefits. The Center for Health and Economy (H&E) produced an estimate that the American Action Forum calculates would cost the federal government $36 trillion through 2029.

In addition, former Social Security and Medicare Trustee and current Mercatus Center fellow Chuck Blahous estimated that Medicare for All as proposed in Senator Sanders’s 2017 legislation would cost the federal government $27.7 trillion through 2028 assuming steep provider cuts and $32.1 trillion assuming no provider cuts (these estimates, like most others, assume immediate implementation).

Importantly, these totals represent the increased cost to the federal government, not the change of total national health expenditures. National health expenditures would likely change by no more than a few trillion dollars over decade. The direction of that change is unclear and would depending on the whether the increased cost of expanding coverage (by making health insurance more generous and offering it to more people) is larger or smaller than the amount saved from lower provider payments, drug payments, and administrative spending.

The totals also do not represent debt impact, which would depend not only on the cost to the federal government but also on any funds the government might choose to raise through premiums, taxes, or both. For example, Senator Sanders’s campaign plan included roughly $11 trillion of tax increases, which could fund more than one-third of Medicare for All.

While any new revenue would in part be replacing current premiums, identifying pay-fors still remains a challenge. Enacting this type of Medicare for All would mean increasing federal spending by about 60 percent (excluding interest), and financing a $30 trillion program would require the equivalent of tripling payroll taxes or more than doubling all other taxes.

Supporters of Medicare for All should work to identify new revenue, premiums, and/or spending cuts to finance new federal costs or else scale back their proposal if they are unable to identify sufficient funding.

Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

 

Bipartisan Criminal Justice Bill Closer To Becoming Law After Congressional Approval | NPR

By Ayesha Rascoe

A bipartisan bill aimed at overhauling federal prisons and reducing recidivism has been overwhelmingly approved by Congress.

The legislation is now on the verge of becoming law, with the House’s approval on Thursday, the Senate’s passage on Tuesday and the backing of President Trump.

Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan previously voiced support for the legislative package, pledging that the House was “ready to get it done.” They later passed the measure by a 358-36 margin.

The Senate on Tuesday voted 87-12 in favor of the bill, known as the First Step Act. The passage of the bill by the chamber is a significant victory for advocates on the left and the right, who have pressed for Congress to take action to lower the prison population.

It’s also a big win for the White House and for Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, in particular. Kushner has made overhauling the criminal justice system one of his top projects in the White House.

Trump called Congress’ action a “great bi-partisan achievement” and “a wonderful thing for the U.S.A.!!” in a tweet on Thursday afternoon.

For months, the fate of the legislation seemed to be in a precarious position. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who helms the Senate Judiciary Committee, stressed that he wanted to include sentencing provisions, which had been left out of the version of the bill passed by the House in May.

For a while, it was unclear whether Trump would back measures to cut down on lengthy sentences. His first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was staunchly opposed to the move.

But, with Sessions pushed out of the administration in November, Trump came out in favor of the more expansive Senate package.

Some Republicans, like Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, still oppose the legislation, which they argue will free dangerous criminals.

Facing pressure from advocates and the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to bring the bill up for a vote during the lame-duck session after its sponsors agreed to certain changes.

Here are some highlights from the legislation:

Measures focused on changing U.S. prisons

-Provides more access to rehabilitation and training programs that are aimed at helping prepare prisoners for life after their release. Certain prisoners would be eligible for incentives if they participate, including credits that would allow them to spend up to a year of their sentences in facilities like halfway houses or at home under supervision.

Republican critics of these incentives argue that prisoners could commit crimes while on supervised release. But, the bill’s sponsors say only offenders considered low or minimum risk would be eligible and the legislation excludes certain prisoners, including sex offenders and fentanyl traffickers.

-Makes it against the law to use restraints on pregnant inmates, unless they are an immediate threat to themselves or others or a flight risk.

-Requires that prisoners be incarcerated no more than 500 miles from their primary residence.

Measures focused on sentencing

-Ends automatic life sentences under the three-strike penalty for drug felonies. Instead of life, a third strike would now be a mandatory 25-year sentence. The mandatory sentence for a second offense would be reduced to 15 years compared to 20 years now.

This change would not be retroactive, so it would not help people already in prison serving life sentences under the three-strike rule. Some opponents of the bill have argued it does not go far enough to help people already affected by these laws.

-Expands the “safety valve” that allows judges to avoid imposing mandatory minimum sentences in certain cases.

-Addresses prisoners who were sentenced before laws were changed in 2010 to lessen disparities between the penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine. It would allow these prisoners to petition the courts to review their cases in light of the updated law.

Source: NPR

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of Congress | CNBC

By Carmen Chapell

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of the Capitol.

The New York Democrat, along with other incoming freshman lawmakers, is trying to usher in a culture of openness that is enabled by a vast social media following. With nearly 3 million followers combined on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez has used the platforms to involve her supporters during the transition period before she takes office.

Her enthusiastic and often pugnacious transparency campaign has earned her praise from inside and outside the Beltway. Yet it has also drawn criticism from several corners, including from President Donald Trump’s eldest son. Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t given any indication that she will let up, however.

In a series of pictures and videos on Instagram dubbed “Congress Camp,” she gave an inside look into new-member orientation, from choosing an office to voting for House leadership, while also showcasing the unique quirks of life on Capitol Hill.

“Guys, there are secret underground tunnels between all of these government buildings!” she whispers in one video. In another post, she polls her followers on whether she should choose an office with more space or one “close to our friends.”

But Ocasio-Cortez isn’t just focusing on the novelty of her experience. Last week, she tweeted sharp criticism of an orientation for new members of Congress hosted by Harvard. The event featured corporate CEOs but no labor representatives.

“Our ‘bipartisan’ Congressional orientation is cohosted by a corporate lobbyist group. Other members have quietly expressed to me their concern that this wasn’t told to us in advance,” she tweeted. “Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here. Where’s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?”

Fellow freshman member Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., echoed her criticisms. Tlaib said that Gary Cohn, former chief economic advisor to President Donald Trump and former Goldman Sachs executive, told the new members at orientation that they don’t “know how the game is played.”

“No Gary, YOU don’t know what’s coming – a revolutionary Congress that puts people over profits,” Tlaib tweeted.

‘Those little things are very real’

Ocasio-Cortez rose to the spotlight after defeating longtime incumbent Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Queens and the Bronx. A self-identified Democratic socialist, she ran on a liberal platform and chose to emphasize her identity as a young woman of color. The 29-year-old’s victory in the general election anointed her as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Ocasio-Cortez’s comments about her new role have also renewed longstanding debates on the financial challenges facing members of Congress and their staff. She has made it personal by revealing her own insecurities about her finances during the transition period.

“I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real,” she told The New York Times in an interview.

Many lawmakers struggle with the cost of living in Washington, D.C., even on the $174,000 congressional salary, going so far as to sleep in their offices to save on rent costs.

Ocasio-Cortez has also made it a point to talk about the economic conditions of congressional staff. Last week, she tweeted: “It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about ‘fiscal responsibility.'”

Low salaries as well as the prevalence of unpaid internships, which are often the first step to a full-time role, are seen as barriers to a more diverse congressional staff. Ocasio-Cortez pledged to pay her office’s interns $15 an hour, inspiring other lawmakers to make the same commitment.

She has also shared experiences that reveal the growing pains of an increasingly diverse Congress. “People keep giving me directions to the spouse and intern events instead of the ones for members of Congress,” she tweeted during orientation.

The changing face of Congress

Ocasio-Cortez is just one of the 42 women, 38 of them Democrats, part of Congress’ freshman class. They are being heralded as the faces of a new “Year of the Woman.” Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Michigan’s Tlaib are the first Muslim women elected to Congress, while Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat, is the first black woman elected to represent Massachusetts. Ocasio-Cortez posted a picture of the four women together on Instagram last month, captioning it “Squad.”

As a result of her high profile, Ocasio-Cortez’s unabashed takes on congressional life have frequently come under fire.

Eddie Scarry, a writer for the Washington Examiner, disputed Ocasio-Cortez’s account of her financial hardships based on her clothing choices.

“Hill staffer sent me this pic of Ocasio-Cortez they took just now,” Scarry tweeted. “I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” The tweet has since been deleted after widespread backlash.

Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., condemned the media for what he viewed as preferential treatment in coverage of Ocasio-Cortez. As a freshman congressman in 2011, Duffy received negative reactions after telling a constituent that he struggles to pay his bills.

“Hmm which headlines and article does media give to GOP and which to a Dem?” Duffy tweeted alongside screenshots of articles referencing himself and Ocasio-Cortez.

Last week, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, shared a doctored image on Instagram in which Ocasio-Cortez asks, “Why are you so afraid of a socialist economy?” In the post, President Trump responds, “Because Americans want to walk their dogs, not eat them.” Trump Jr. captioned the meme “It’s funny cuz it’s true!!!”

Ocasio-Cortez fired back, tweeting: “Please, keep it coming Jr – it’s definitely a ‘very, very large brain’ idea to troll a member of a body that will have subpoena power in a month.” Democrats have made clear that they plan to use their new subpoena power in the House to further investigate potential Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

The representative-elect has also received praise for revealing parts of the political system that are typically left in the shadows.

Actress Kerry Washington, who stars in the political drama “Scandal,” commended Ocasio-Cortez’s behind-the-scenes revelations, tweeting, “@Ocasio2018 speaking truth to power. Sharing the NEEDED #BTS of our democracy at work. So grateful.”

“I’m learning more details about how the House actually works over the past two weeks than I ever did in the past 20 years,” one follower tweeted in reply to Ocasio-Cortez.

“Thank you so much for giving us the window into the inside baseball of Congress,” another follower said.

Paul Musgrave, assistant professor of political science at University of Massachusetts Amherst, praised Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter for “treating voters as neither super-sophisticated DC insiders, nor as people who can’t be trusted to make up their own minds, but rather as people who are curious and intelligent but who aren’t experts in DC process.”

“Sometimes,” he added, “you don’t need a new theory of politics to make change, just a willingness to state the obvious.”

Source: CNBC

Trump administration says it won’t return children to immigrant parents in custody, but a judge orders families be reunited | LA Times

Hours after a Trump Cabinet member told Congress that the administration would not reunite migrant children with parents still held in immigrant detention facilities, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to begin doing just that.

In a preliminary injunction issued late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to reunite nearly all children under age 5 with their parents within 14 days and older children within 30 days.

The administration’s actions related to separating families “belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution,” the judge wrote. “This is particularly so in the treatment of migrants, many of whom are asylum seekers and small children.”

The order appears to set the stage for a legal clash over a crisis that was created by the White House and has sown increasing levels of fear and confusion.

Earlier Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, testifying on Capitol Hill, said the only way parents can quickly be reunited with their children is to drop their claims for asylum in the United States and agree to be deported.

If parents pursue asylum claims, administration officials planned to hold them in custody until hearings are complete — a process that can take months and in some instances years because of a backlog of several hundred thousand cases.

And while that process takes place and the parents are in custody, their children would not be returned to them, Azar said, citing current rules that allow children to be held in immigrant detention for no more than 20 days.

“If the parent remains in detention, unfortunately, under rules that are set by Congress and the courts, they can’t be reunified while they’re in detention,” Azar told the Senate Finance Committee. He said the department could place children with relatives in the United States if they can be located and properly vetted.

Azar’s department has custody of 2,047 children separated from their parents after they were apprehended crossing the border illegally since May. That’s when the Trump administration began enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy that required prosecution of all adults crossing the border — and separate detention of any minors with them.

His statement brought angry protests from Democrats and immigrant advocates.

“The administration is holding children hostage to push parents to drop their asylum claims,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) tweeted.

The uncertain fate of the children, and wrenching reports of their plight, has created a political firestorm for the White House and a nightmare for the families affected. In some cases, parents have been deported without their children, or infants and young children have been moved to distant states while their parents await court processing.

The “zero tolerance” policy already has run partially aground over a lack of resources. On Monday, Border Patrol officials announced they had stopped handing over immigrant parents for prosecution because they were running out of beds. The reversal means newly apprehended families, in theory, could be released pending their court dates.

The limit on how long children can be held in immigrant detention facilities stems from a 1997 court ruling known as the Flores settlement. The administration has asked a federal judge to modify those rules and allow families to be held together in custody for longer periods.The Obama administration made a similar request in 2015, but a judge refused.

The White House has also asked Congress to change federal law to allow longer detentions. That process is moving slowly, and President Trump has proved an uncertain ally for Republican leaders, vacillating as to whether he wants new legislation or not.

The House is scheduled to vote on a Republican-drafted bill on Wednesday that would overhaul the immigration system, but its prospects are dim — and it almost certainly would die in the Senate.

Last-minute arguments over what should be in the bill led one of its lead sponsors, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), to declare the measure essentially dead.

“At the end of the day it is very clear that the Republicans cannot pass an immigration bill,” Denham said late Tuesday. “I think it’s a very clear message that Democrats and Republicans need to work together on an American solution. That’s the only way this is going to get done.

If the bill fails, as expected, the House may take up narrower legislation focused specifically on family separation. But Congress is set to recess on Thursday for an extended Fourth of July holiday, so the schedule will allow just hours to consider that proposal.

Trump signed an executive order last week that he said would halt the separation of parents and children by detaining families together. Since then, his administration has struggled to articulate a plan to reunite families.

Over the weekend, the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services released a joint statement saying they had come up with a central database to link families and were working on ensuring children stayed in contact with their parents.

On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Health and Human Services officials refused to say whether they were still receiving children taken from parents at the border. The government has not released data on the ages of children in custody, nor how many in total have been separated or released.

Jonathan White, head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a branch of the Health and Human Services Department, said only that the department was working with other agencies “to facilitate reunification with a child as soon as that is practical.”

He suggested the department’s sole responsibility for now “is to determine whether the child has a safe place to go.”

White said his office knew “the status, whereabouts and care of every child” in its custody. “We have always known where all the children are,” he said.

But Azar conceded in his Senate testimony that the department has not yet been able to put all the parents in communication with their children.

“We want every child and every parent to be in communication at least twice a week so that they’re talking, by Skype or by phone,” he said. “We want this to happen.”

He also warned that if parents remain in a detention facility and the agency gives custody of a child to someone else — a relative in the U.S., for example — the parents eventually might have to go to court to get the child back.

“We cannot sort of pull a child back from a relative. We don’t have the legal authority,” he said.

Lawyers decried officials’ decision not to reunite children with their parents in detention as inhumane.

Jodi Goodwin, a south Texas immigration lawyer who mobilized a rapid-response team of attorneys to aid immigrant parents detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center on the Texas Gulf Coast, said officials needed to release parents with ankle monitors or bond so that they can be reunited with their children.

“That’s the only way to end the tragedy that has happened,” she said.

Zenen Jaimes Perez of the Texas Civil Rights Project said parents were so desperate they would waive their rights, drop their asylum claims and agree to deportation, not understanding that even that choice does not guarantee they will see their children again. Of the 400 parents his organization has interviewed, only four have been reunited with their children, he said.

“We know a lot of people are making these decisions under duress, with no counsel, and that is particularly cruel,” he said.

As families grappled with that choice, 17 states — including California — and the District of Columbia filed suit against the administration over its detention policies. The case joins a growing pile of lawsuits against the administration’s policies.

The continued action in Congress and the courts will keep the emotion-charged family separations in the public eye as lawmakers return to their districts four months before the midterm election.

Trump has blamed Democrats for the stalemate in Congress, but he has given wildly mixed signals about what he wants from Republicans.

The president initially said he opposed the compromise bill, then told Republican lawmakers he was “1,000%” for immigration legislation, and then tweeted that Republicans “should stop wasting their time” by trying to pass an immigration bill before the November election.

House Republican leaders acknowledged that they still don’t have the 218 votes needed to pass the compromise bill despite holding 235 seats in the chamber. They blamed Democrats, however, for not supporting their bill.

“Why doesn’t a few Democrats move over? If they are honest about wanting to secure the border, here is the opportunity,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said Monday on Fox News.

Few Democrats are inclined to help rescue Trump from a crisis he created. Moreover, Democrats had no role in crafting the bill.

“It’s just a bad bill. It has nothing to do with even being locked out of the process — it’s just a bad bill,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) said.

At his weekly news conference Tuesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wouldn’t discuss a proposed bill targeting only the family separations. A Senate proposal would add 225 immigration judges and expedite court proceedings for families, and there are indications that plan could get a vote this week.

Ryan said he wants to “do as well as we possibly can” in Wednesday’s vote, adding, “If that doesn’t succeed, then we’ll cross that bridge.”

Source: LA Times