We’re now a country that gives cover and comfort to white supremacists who publicly slur Jews, African Americans and Latinos.
We’re a nation that defends extremes in gun regulation, even as our children and families are gunned down in our classrooms and churches by persons armed with weapons of war.
We’re a government that paints Muslims with a broad – and ugly – brush.
We’re a sovereign power that wants immigrant kids who grew up in our neighborhoods, have made us proud with academic accomplishments or service in our armed forces, to be exiled to the shadows of our cities or other countries because they lack legal papers or citizenship.
And we’re a country that rips migrant children from the protective, loving arms of their parents.
This is what America has become under the leadership of President Donald Trump. And it’s an America that we the people have endorsed with our votes, legal and justice systems, apathy and void of moral clarity.
Trump might have conceived it, but we now must own it.
That hard dose of reality reverberates in the voices of crying children seized at the Mexico-United States border.
Between May 5 and June 9, more than 2,300 children were separated from parents or adults with whom they were traveling, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Family separations are the result of Trump’s new zero tolerance policy, which refers all border crossings for federal prosecution, even though many migrants crossing the border illegally, mostly from Central America, are seeking asylum.
Up to this week, the public had a limited view of the impact of forced separations on the children. That changed when the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica published what it said was a recording made inside one of the U.S. government facilities where children taken from their parents are housed.
We heard the raw, unfiltered cries of children calling out in Spanish for “Daddy!” and “Mommy!” We heard children sobbing deeply. We heard a girl repeatedly pleading with adults to call her aunt, whose phone number she had memorized.
“My mommy says I’ll go with my aunt and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.”
ProPublica identified her as a six-year-old from El Salvador.
That was gut wrenching. But then we learned of the “tender-age” facilities across Texas set up by the federal government to house infants, toddlers and young kids.
In simple but powerful words, radio commentator Dave Ross for Seattle’s KIRO-FM brought into focus how far we’ve strayed from President Ronald Reagan’s America as a “shining city on a hill.” How far removed we are from the hope the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed in speeches that cited the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan.
Ross said: “Those are American border agents, trained in America, paid by American taxpayers, following orders from an administration that ran on this policy and was elected by Americans!
“This is who we are now!
“I’m sure we very much would like to be a ‘beacon of hope to the world,’ but that brought too many strangers banging on the door. And so it appears we will snuff out that light and change the locks, at least for now.”
Though Trump officials strongly defended the policy and – unbelievably — justified it with Scripture, officials now appear to be moving away from family separations, no doubt because of rising public pressure, including from the president’s own Republican Party leaders, such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
On Wednesday, Trump said he would sign an executive order that would end the process of separating children from families after they are detained crossing the border illegally, the Associated Press reported.
“We want to keep families together. It’s very important,” Trump told reporters during a White House meeting with members of Congress.
It seems the cries of children melted America’s indifference – at least for the moment.
The issue is not fully settled. Family units will be kept together, but in detention facilities. Also, there remains a serious question about whether migrants fleeing violence and political persecution in their countries will be fairly handled by our courts regarding asylum claims. Instead, we might see them, and their children, swiftly deported by Trump policies that make it tougher to win asylum.
The U.S. should have secure borders. But Trump’s (and now our) America is an eternity away from an Ellis Island that once welcomed poor immigrants from across the globe.
Some no doubt will say that America never was perfect. That is true. But the nation was continually struggling to perfect its imperfections and address past wrongs. It had thought-leaders in Susan B. Anthony, who led the movement to win the vote for women; and Eleanor Roosevelt who tackled racism by flying with black pilots at Tuskegee Institute during WWII, when the military was segregated; her husband, FDR, took on the Nazis in Germany; Thurgood Marshall, was a fearless champion for racial and social justice. There were so many Americans who stood tall for our values.
That is the truly scary thing about today’s America in which hope is being strangled by fear, bigotry, intolerance and apathy. We are becoming desensitized to the pain and suffering of neighbors and strangers alike.
Our hope – and future – relies on rebuilding America humanely and sanely. If we do that, we rebuild ourselves.
President Trump is learning that the problem with asking U.S. taxpayers to pick up the $18 billion tab for his border wall is that they have long memories. Particularly when there’s money involved.
They remember when Trump promised ad nauseam at campaign rallies across the country in 2016 that Mexico would pay for a wall. Trump staked his bid for the presidency on it.
So, it’s natural for them to ask now, “What do you mean, you want us to pay for it?”
Faced with the reality that Mexico won’t pay – they were never going to – it should be embarrassing for the president to have his hand out in order to make good on a campaign promise he knew he couldn’t deliver. He should be more embarrassed that he is asking for border wall funding at the same time he’s playing political games with the fate of hundreds of thousands of young people known as Dreamers. These are the immigrants who came to this country illegally when they were children. Trump is insisting that a deal in Congress to avert a government shutdown and to extend legal protections for these young immigrants will only happen if lawmakers approve funding for his vision of a border wall.
Still, Trump isn’t giving up on the idea that Mexico will pay, no matter how preposterous that idea might seem. On Thursday, he tweeted:
“The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S. The $20 billion dollar Wall is “peanuts” compared to what Mexico makes from the U.S. NAFTA is a bad joke!”
Perhaps the president’s most ardent supporters will buy that sketchy “Don’t worry, Mexico will pay you back” promise, but most Americans won’t.
It’s important to note that most Americans don’t want a border wall, either, according to polling. And nearly nine in 10 Americans favor allowing Dreamers to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, according to a CBS News poll out today. DACA gives recipients work permits and protects them from deportation.
Dreamers shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions to bring them here in search of a better life — some were infants when they came. Nor should they be played for a political football.
The president can do the right thing and untether their fate from his condition for funding for a border wall, one that most Americans don’t want.
Trump tweeted more about the wall Thursday, taking the extraordinary step of contradicting his chief of staff by saying that his position on a border wall had not changed.
On Wednesday, the president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said Trump was not fully informed when he promised to build a wall last year. He said the president’s position had evolved.
Trump shot back on Twitter: “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water…”
Bear in mind that the president promised over and over again in 2016 to build a wall spanning the nearly 2,000-mile-long southern border. More recently he’s told lawmakers that a continuous wall won’t be needed after all because of natural barriers. The $18 billion he’s asking for now would pay for about 900 miles of wall.
That sure sounds like a stance that’s evolved. What gives?
Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said earlier this month the president had “discovered” there are rivers, mountains and rugged terrain that aren’t conducive to building a wall in some locations.
President Trump invoked the words of the late Barbara Jordan, the trailblazing Texas Democrat, in a statement Wednesday on the 22nd anniversary of her death. But the statement seemed less about her than about Trump’s politics on immigration. Not surprisingly, it drew the ire of Texas Dems and scholars who said the president had misrepresented Jordan’s views for political gain.
Reaction was swift on Twitter:
Twitter user @Commonsenseb0t wrote:
This is actually very disgusting. He is using her death to indirectly attack current congressional Democrats on the issue of immigration.
In his statement, Trump tied his “America First” immigration agenda to the “spirit” of Jordan’s vision. The president said Jordan “epitomized the American Dream she worked so tirelessly to protect.” He noted that in 1966 Jordan was the first African American woman elected to the Texas Senate and, in 1973, became the first woman to serve Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, a seat she held until 1979.
Mostly, though, Trump — who has been criticized for comments he made about restricting immigration from some poor countries — focused on some of Jordan’s views on immigration.
Trump said Jordan challenged our nation’s leaders “to maximize opportunities for all Americans by adopting an immigration policy that puts American citizens first.” He’s right.
As chairman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, Jordan said the commission believed that the nation needed a properly regulated system of legal immigration that set limits on the number of immigrants — 550,000 — on a yearly basis. It’s no secret that Trump would like to limit who gets into the U.S.
As committee chair, Jordan “was reflecting the views of the commission, a group of people, and she was taking a middle position,” Ruth Wasem, an LBJ School public policy practice professor who was a Congressional Research Service immigration specialist, told the American-Statesman.
“Jordan called for an end to chain migration, which has allowed millions upon millions of low-skilled foreign nationals to compete for opportunities and resources against our most vulnerable American citizens — many of whom come from African-American and Hispanic-American communities,” Trump said in the statement.
Several studies show that claim is misleading.
“The impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native-born workers is low… However, undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do,” Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote in her Brookings Institution Essay, “The Wall.”
Immigrants find jobs because Americans don’t want the jobs that are available.
Those more likely to “steal” American jobs are immigrant professionals — engineers and technology workers — of which Trump suggests we need more.
More importantly, Trump’s statement doesn’t appropriately reflect Jordan’s immigration views.
Wasem said that Jordan was worried about the impact of unskilled immigration on minorities but that she was not advocating a return to race-based immigration policies. “She wanted to fully incorporate immigrants into American society,” Wasem said.
As President Lyndon B. Johnson’s protegee, Jordan found inspiration in Johnson’s Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 which — besides concentrating on attracting skilled labor — abolished a quota system based on national origin and focused on reuniting families.
It would be inaccurate to paint Barbara Jordan as a supporter of racist policies that discriminate against immigrants from poor countries, said Jeremi Suri, a University of Texas history and global affairs professor.
“Jordan would find such positions offensive,” Suri said.
Missing from Trump’s cynical attempt to connect Jordan’s immigration views to his are her support of refugees and respect for all people. Respect for others was not unique to Jordan in her time. It was present in the nation’s overall political climate then.
Oh, how things have changed.
During her congressional tenure, both sides of the aisle favored civil rights-related rhetoric, Suri said. That rhetoric, he said, centered around inclusion, absence of prejudice and the belief that all parts of the world should be respected.
Back then it was rhetoric that Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill could agree on, even if policy didn’t always back the rhetoric, Suri added.
“Today we have the party of Reagan regularly, its leaders, use racist rhetoric when they talk about people of color and immigrants,” Suri said.
And, it seems, shamelessly use the legacy of beloved leaders of color like Jordan for political gain.
Updated to reflect Jordan’s time as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
For President Trump, a border wall is a signature piece of his domestic agenda, of such magnitude to him politically that he fumed with Mexican President Peña Nieto and pleaded with him to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for it. More on that later.
For U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, however, a border wall is important, but it’s not everything.
“It’s not the whole story,” the Republican Texas senator said Thursday as he presented his $15 billion border security plan that relies more on personnel and technology and less on a wall than the president might like.
As Maria Recio reported in the American-Statesman, Cornyn’s border plan calls for a layered strategy of walls, fencing, levees and technology. Called the Building America’s Trust Act, the bill would increase the number of federal agents at ports of entry and on the border, as well as add more immigration judges and prosecutors. It also would pour more resources into state and local efforts to fight drug trafficking.
Cornyn’s plan brings a more reasoned alternative to Trump’s one-size-fits-all, build a border wall approach. It is also likely to go over better with Texans who oppose a wall for a number of reasons, not the least of which is some people just don’t think it’s necessary. Many of those critics live along the border, a point Cornyn subtly referenced when he said federal authorities should consult local officials in shaping border strategy.
That’s something you hear a lot in South Texas and up and down the border, where some residents feel they’ve become a requisite photo op for politicians who swoop in for an hour or two to assess border security — as if that’s all it takes — then return to their respective homes in faraway states. That’s what Trump the presidential candidate did in a 2015 visit to Laredo.
It’ll be interesting to see how Cornyn’s bill progresses and whether it receives bipartisan support. As a border senator and majority whip, he holds considerable sway in Congress and on the fortunes of any border security measure.
‘You cannot say that to the press.’
Trump paved a path to the White House in no small measure on his boastful promise to build a “beautiful” border wall.
“And who’s going to pay for it?” Trump would ask delirious supporters at campaign rallies.
“Mexico will!” they would roar in response.
But leaked transcripts of a January phone call between Trump and Peña Nieto reveal the president knew Mexico would never pay for the wall and that his demand for payment was just a political play. More importantly, he wanted the Mexican president to stop saying publicly that Mexico wouldn’t pay for a wall.
Trump acknowledged that his public posturing on the wall had left him in an extremely tight spot politically.
“The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind, because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to,” Trump told Peña Nieto in the call.
When Peña Nieto kept insisting that Mexico wouldn’t pay, Trump said: “You cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”
Trump later said the border wall is not all that important – remarkable considering all his bluster about it.
“Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important (thing we) talk about,” Trump said.
Trump has steered away more recently from demanding that Mexico pay. He’s asked Congress for a $1.6 billion down payment for the wall, which the House has approved. Mexico will “reimburse” the U.S., Trump has said, without offering details on how that might happen.
That all sounds fuzzy. One thing is clear from that January phone call, however: Mexico won’t pay for the wall, and Trump knows it.
That means — and let’s face it, we knew this all along — American taxpayers will foot the bill, which the Department of Homeland Security says could hit $21.6 billion. Will Trump’s supporters still cheer?
Some of the worst advice I ever got came from my father.
Sure, he meant well when he told me not to brag; that my deeds and accomplishments would speak for me. But then I got older and I realized much to my surprise and dismay that my peers were strutting around like roosters on steroids. In classrooms, on job applications and resumes, networking, you name it. And this was before Facebook, a time-sucking invention created for taking navel-gazing and self-promotion to extremes.
Anyway, President Trump obviously never got advice from my father.
On Monday, with cameras rolling, Trump preened before his Cabinet and crowed about his record in office, pronouncing that he had achieved, as he put it, tremendous success.
“I will say that never has there been a president — with few exceptions; in the case of FDR, he had a major Depression to handle — who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done, between the executive orders and the job-killing regulations that have been terminated,” Trump said. “Many bills; I guess over 34 bills that Congress signed. A Supreme Court justice who’s going to be a great one.”
The trouble with bragging – never mind that it can betray a bit of insecurity — is that it invites scrutiny. On your performance review at your workplace, for example, you might write, “I’ve achieved tremendous success this year.” Your supervisor might wish to reply, “In what universe?”
In Trump’s case, journalists took on the task of examining the facts. The Associated Press, for example, knocked down the president’s claims with blunt and swift precision, the way a guillotine would slice through a watermelon.
The AP said: “(Trump) has little to show for his first five months in office, in concrete ways, other than the confirmation of a justice.”
The news organization’s fact check went on to note that Presidents Obama and George W. Bush accomplished more in their early months. In his first month, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package into law, and by this point in his administration, Bush had signed a major tax cut. Trump’s promised tax overhaul has yet to even reach Congress. Courts have ruled his travel ban doesn’t pass legal muster. And his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is stalled in a Republican-dominated Congress.
The AP went on to say:
“Trump has achieved no major legislation. The bills he is counting up are little more than housekeeping measures — things like naming a courthouse and a VA health care center, appointing board of regents members, reauthorizing previous legislation. He has indeed been vigorous in signing executive orders, but in the main they have far less consequence than legislation requiring congressional passage.”
The AP fact-checked other Trump claims, including that his recent trip overseas resulted in deals for more than $350 billion in economic investment in the U.S. that will create thousands of jobs in this country. According to the AP, agreements on those deals in large part haven’t been signed yet and could be eliminated, and the president’s claim about new jobs relies on 20- to 30-year projections.
The president, of course, is famous for crying “fake news” when the news is unflattering or when the facts don’t suit his purposes, and he did so again the following day, tweeting: “The Fake News Media has never been so wrong or so dirty. Purposely incorrect stories and phony sources to meet their agenda of hate. Sad!”
Was he reacting to the AP’s fact check? Trump didn’t specify what he was angry about this time, but it’s a safe bet that he galvanized his supporters once more with those two words: fake news.
My father’s advice about never bragging sprang from his wish that I stay humble and stay hungry. It is some of the worst advice I ever got and it is some of the best advice I ever got. (Here’s to you, Papo. Happy Father’s Day.)
The president never heard my father’s lesson about humility. No, clearly he ascribes to the old saying, “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.” (By the way, isn’t that exactly what bragging is?)
But what is it when you brag and you haven’t done it?
Few pieces of legislation in recent years have generated as much intense national debate in recent memory as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known to many Americans as Obamacare.
An overhaul of the U.S. health care system, it was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. Republicans have long vowed to repeal and replace the law, and on March 6 GOP lawmakers unveiled a House bill called the American Health Care Act, which would change how health care is financed for people who do not have insurance coverage through their work and eliminate the mandate requiring most Americans to have health insurance.
We asked Viewpoints readers to share their ACA experience with us. The following are some of their letters and photos:
In 2013, I was in good health but my doctor had me on four meds for cholesterol and high blood pressure. No big deal — in fact, three of these were on the $4 list at Wal-Mart Pharmacy. So, then I decided to buy an individual health insurance policy. Aetna, Blue Cross and other insurers declined to cover me for any price because of the number of meds I took to stay healthy. When the Affordable Care Act became effective in 2014, I had a choice of insurers through the health insurance exchange. So even though I didn’t qualify for subsidy, the ACA made it possible for me to finally buy health insurance because insurers are no longer permitted to cherry pick customers by excluding pre-existing conditions. — Howard Porter, Austin
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31 in 2015. With no family history, it was a terrible surprise nine months before my wedding. But I was lucky that the cancer had not spread, although my oncologist still recommended surgery, chemo and radiation. Again, I was lucky — I had health insurance, which picked up the $280,000 tab for my treatments. I didn’t need Obamacare for myself, but I cannot imagine what it would have been like to receive this diagnosis without insurance. It would have destroyed my dreams for the future. I know that before the ACA, this happened to Americans constantly. Repealing Obamacare will directly impact me — specifically, repealing the pre-existing conditions clause. Even though I no longer have cancer, I will forever be considered either uninsurable or gouged for health insurance without this provision. It isn’t my fault I got cancer, but if Obamacare is repealed, I will keep paying for it. — Tiffany Gilman, Austin
Never mind the lines: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” or “If you like your policy, you can keep your policy.” At this time of the year, the biggest issue with the ACA really hits home. This is tax time; I am again preparing to include my 1095-C form with my return — you know, that nagging little mandatory document that must be included to prove to the IRS that you had ACA-approved coverage for the year or you get to pay a big, fat penalty. I really get tired of seeing all the numbers that are insured under the ACA. Of course there are big numbers of insured Americans; they have no choice. Instead of the previous lies, the statement should have been: “You will purchase a policy that is approved by the ACA with whatever doctors they provide, or face a stiff penalty.” — Jeff Popnoe, Round Rock
For about a year, due to pre-existing conditions, my husband, Ken, received his health insurance through the Texas High Risk Pool. When the Affordable Care Act debuted, he was glad to be able to choose a policy. Subsequently, due to a fall at home that resulted in a broken hip, he had surgery and was working on his rehabilitation in the hospital when we received devastating news: Although he had no outward symptoms, Ken had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As we began to plan for his care, one of his doctors said, “I don’t know what you think of Obamacare, but be thankful that because of it. You are not looking at a cap on care.” Shockingly, Ken passed away only 12 days after the diagnosis. In the midst of such grief, I was very thankful for the coverage he had. There was no “Mickey Mouse” with the insurance company — as often seemed to happen before the ACA. I knew exactly what my financial responsibility was and there were no surprises. In a time of such sadness, with my brain feeling as if I was in a fog, Obamacare is something I will always be grateful for. — Robin Durr, Austin
To help pay for ACA, the cost for Medicare B went up. In 2013, I paid $98 per month for Medicare B. In 2014, it went up to $140 per month. In 2015, it went up to $280 per month, so I dropped Medicare B. — Clyde Claggett, Georgetown
My husband, Andy, and I own a small business together. I was able to make the decision to join him and leave behind the 9-to-5 world the year the ACA was rolled out. Being able to purchase reasonably priced health insurance that would allow us to have a baby was the boost we needed to make that move confidently. As the gig economy and self-employment gains a greater share of the overall economy, it’s vital to have a health insurance marketplace that is inclusive to a broad spectrum of people — especially those who have to be able to provide for themselves and their families. I suspect that the health insurance marketplace and the expansion of the gig and sharing economy and reduced unemployment are all interconnected. — Faith Sams, Austin
In 2014, my husband, Jeff, and I had insurance with Blue Cross Blue Shield with a monthly premium of $941.43. We didn’t qualify for an ACA subsidy. That policy had a $6,000 deductible per person. In November of that year, I had to have carpal tunnel surgery on both hands. In December, my husband had to have knee surgery. In summary, in 2014, we paid $23,297.16 in out-of-pocket expenses — monthly premiums plus deductibles — before Blue Cross Blue Shield ever paid a penny on our behalf. Not to mention, since the knee surgery was performed at the end of December and his physical therapy didn’t start until January, our deductible started over and we immediately started having out-of- pocket expenses again. Lastly, our monthly premium of $941.43 has now gone up to $1,457.15 starting this January. — Pam Hammonds, Burnet
My story is simple: I’m 61-years-old with two serious pre-existing conditions. I’m self-employed. If anyone would insure me, it would not be “affordable.” I’ve relied on the ACA from its beginning — and it has literally been a life-saver. I also happen to know several Republicans within my age bracket who have pre-existing conditions and also avail themselves to the program. Once they looked beyond the popular misconceptions, myths and blatant lies about the ACA, they figured out that it works pretty well for those of us who are not yet eligible for Medicare. Yes, costs have gone up while the program has worked out its early flaws, but I’ve yet to see or hear about any real alternatives that won’t cut services and raise costs even more. My biggest fear is that a bunch of grand-standing congressmen who have their own insurance are going to take mine away, leaving me — and millions of others — at risk until I reach 65. — Jeff Brown, Austin
Though my brother Alan Arms worked as a contractor for many years, none of his employers offered health insurance. In November 2013, he was coughing up blood and went to an internist who ordered him immediately to a hospital. There, he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and faced a bill over $50,000. In January 2014, the ACA went into effect — and despite his pre-existing condition, Alan was able to buy health insurance for around $550 a month. When he died in May 2014, the sole reason he left a small estate — and not a smoking crater of medical bills — was the ACA covered his pre-existing condition and paid most of his bills. Though initially he had problems finding a plan with a network that covered his doctors, eventually he found one. Had he died indigent, the hospitals and doctors would have been forced to eat the payments for his treatment. Because of the ACA, they were paid. — David Arms, Austin
The ACA was life-changing for me. I am a 44-year-old published novelist and teacher. Before Obamacare, the only option I had for health insurance was through the Author’s Guild. An HMO plan was $1,200 a month; a PPO was $1,600 a month. I have had a pre-existing condition since I was 21” a blood-clotting disorder that rarely effects my life. I was elated when I could get a decent plan for less than $500 a month. I was able to start an Austin organization called Girls With Pens because I didn’t have to worry about getting health insurance through my job. Now all that could all be taken away. Do you want me teaching your children how to love writing, or do you want me serving coffee at Starbucks for the insurance? The ACA isn’t perfect, but each and every one of us deserves affordable health care, no matter our fitness, class or working status. — Carolyn Cohagan, Austin
In 2010, my wife lost her job and we lost our health insurance. I worked for a small hardware store, where the health insurance they offered would have cost me $450 a month with a $5,000 deductible. I was making $10 an hour, so that was not an option. Then, we were able to get insurance through the ACA. For about $100 a month, we were both covered with excellent medical benefits, which included prescription benefits, preventative care and doctor visits with a $10 co-pay. Later I found out I had high cholesterol and went on medication for that. Both of these conditions are under control now. Without health care, I may not have even known I was at risk for either a stroke or heart attack. Even when the cost of our insurance went up to about $120 a month, it was still very affordable. If the ACA is repealed, my health will be in danger. — Rick Koepcke, Austin
Obamacare isn’t affordable. The plan’s premiums are going up 25 to 116 percent nationwide this year. Health insurance companies are dropping the exchanges, which forces customers in 70 percent of the U.S. counties to buy insurance from one or two companies. Republicans promised to repeal and replace Obamacare and voted over 60 times to repeal part of the law. Congress began the process in January by passing the fiscal year 2017 “shell” budget resolution — S.Con.Res.3 — which instructed the committees about how to write the repeal law. The language has existed in a bill passed in 2015. They’ve not met their self-imposed deadline — and repeal timeline is slipping. Millions will be negatively impacted by these exchanges. We’re so close to making this last chance a reality. Contact your congressional members. Tell them we want a full repeal of ACA and to replace it with a new, workable health plan. No more excuses. — Wanda Whitney, Georgetown
I am concerned about efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. For many millions of Americans, this act is very far from being a disaster, as some have glibly claimed. In fact, for some of us, it has been a life-saver. Without Obamacare, I could never have afforded to pay for a costly heart-valve replacement that may have saved my life. What will those with pre-existing conditions do without the guarantees of health care eligibility promised in the Affordable Care Act? Caring for the least among us is part of who we are as Americans. If we smash affordable health care, we shatter the fragile bonds that preserve our sense of unity. — Charles Rand, Austin
As a 62-year-old breast cancer survivor who’s losing employer-based health insurance this year, I’m terrified that without Obamacare I may be forced to choose between bankruptcy and life-saving treatment. We’ve needed the Affordable Care Act before. Our 23-year-old daughter died of a rare illness 16 months ago. The ACA allowed her to stay on my husband’s employer-based insurance and not worry about lifetime expenditure caps. Were it not for the ACA, we would have been bankrupt in addition to losing our daughter Hallie. I can’t sleep at night wondering if I’ll have ACA insurance to treat my breast cancer. Or will we again face the prospect of bankruptcy? — Abby Brody, Georgetown
First, do no harm. We learn this in medical school, carrying it with us throughout our careers. In the U.S., access to affordable health insurance is a necessity for obtaining the best possible care. Shouldn’t our elected representatives share in this goal? Unfortunately, our new administration is pressing forward with repealing the law that puts insurance in reach for most. A survey in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 85 percent of family practice doctors are against repeal of the ACA. The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. John Meigs Jr., says “too much is at stake to make significant changes to ACA.” Every day, primary care physicians see the struggles our patience face because of lack of insurance. Why isn’t our government listening to us? I hope they will join us in doing no harm — and keep the ACA. — Christine Mann, Leander
I had really good health insurance through my employers. When I went to work for myself, I had to buy insurance on my own. Though it was expensive and not very good, I knew that if I let it lapse it would be even harder to get back into the system later — and that I would have the issue of a pre-existing condition. I found the cheapest policy I could find and hoped that I wouldn’t get sick. The ACA changed everything. For the last two years, I’ve had good, affordable coverage thanks to the government subsidy. My prescriptions are just $5 — and ACA covered a large percentage of my carpal tunnel surgeries. Without that subsidy, I could not have afforded a good enough policy to cover my health care needs. Without the marketplace, I would not have had so many choices for a plan that works well for me. — Rona Distenfeld, Austin
I had my pancreas removed 16 years ago due to a rare form of pancreatic cancer. I work at home under contract and have no option for work-related coverage. When my work coverage was discontinued, I tried to get insurance to cover my needs for medication, an insulin pump and other supplies — but was told “no way” by numerous insurance companies. Once the ACA was introduced, I was finally able to get coverage that was somewhat expensive but went a long way toward keeping me alive. Many of us need it. — Rob Sanford, Fredericksburg
The debate over the merits of the Affordable Care Act highlights the highly partisan environment of our times. “Repeal and replace” has been the mantra of many Republicans elected to national office — President Trump included. However, the evidence is clear that our country’s rate of uninsured is at a historic low of nearly 9 percent. As someone who purchased insurance through the health insurance marketplace, of course I would like a more affordable monthly premium. I am hopeful that a Republican-controlled Congress can help deliver this. I am also hopeful that other pieces of Obamacare that aim to improve our nation’s health care will continue to be embraced, such as efforts to expand primary care medicine and efforts to improve quality of care. As an entering medical student, these pieces have inspired me to advocate for improving and embracing — rather than repealing and replacing — Obamacare. — Mark Smith, Austin
My wife, Linda, is a beneficiary of Obamacare. Prior to its enactment, she was covered by the Texas High Risk Pool. Due to her pre-existing type 2 diabetes, she could not get coverage from standard insurance carriers. My wife was 62 when the law was enacted — too young for Medicare. Her premiums went down with Obamacare — not up — with no subsidies. The good news is her premiums will go down again next year when she gets on Medicare. The bottom line is that Obamacare is flawed because it didn’t go far enough. Everyone should be on Medicare — and we should find a way to pay for it. Though Americans pay more for health care than any other developed country, our quality of care is not any greater. Americans should ask our congressmen and senators why. — Randy and Linda Johnson, Georgetown
In December 2013, I was newly pregnant and working long hours as a self-employed consultant at a global law firm. Our COBRA policy was set to expire. My husband, John, was the third employee in a dot-com that offered no benefits. As pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition, agencies were well within their rights to deny us coverage regardless of our willingness or ability to pay premiums. Through the ACA exchange, we enrolled in a policy and suffered no gap in coverage. That summer, our daughter Elodie was born with a previously undetected, life-threatening birth defect called duodenal atresia. Without this coverage, we would have lost everything to save her life. The bills from her surgery and monthlong neonatal intensive care unit stay totaled upwards of $500,000. We were so fortunate to pay a small fraction, thanks to the ACA. I urge your readers to consider the many hard-working families like ours that rely on the ACA’s protections. — Lisa Federico, Austin
My son was prenatally diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that would leave him with one functioning ventricle and require a series of surgeries over his lifetime — two of them in the first six months of life. Today, my son is a sweet and mischievous 18-month-old toddler, thanks to an incredible medical team. But we have a long road ahead of us, and access to a good health care policy is a top priority in my world. The ACA means my son will have medical coverage for the rest of his life and will not be punished because he has a pre-existing condition. It means he won’t face a cap on his coverage. The idea that lawmakers could repeal Obamacare without a ready replacement is terrifying to families like mine. I guess when you have free health care for life — like our congressional representatives do — the rest of us don’t matter. — Michelle Beebe Nabours, Manchaca
Today is my daughter’s eighth birthday. She was born not long after Obama’s first inauguration. Before I got pregnant, I’d left a teaching job in favor of working with an educational nonprofit, though it offered no health coverage. Wishing to have a child, I stayed on COBRA and paid a $600 monthly premium. Two miscarriages later, a pregnancy stuck. My insurance coverage did not. COBRA terminates after 18 months. Because my pregnancy was deemed a pre-existing condition, I had no other viable option. My daughter’s birth was a 24-hour ordeal that was made harder because I was uninsured. Though my husband and I gained a beautiful child, we watched a down payment for a first home disappear. Our daughter’s middle name is Hope. Our hope for uninsured expectant parents was realized, albeit imperfectly, with the ACA. By repealing it, Republican lawmakers dash dreams and health for countless families, leaving them financially at risk. — Laurie Filipelli, Austin
My family had been waiting for March 15 for five years. It was the day I donated my kidney to my mother — so that she can live her life free of a machine. I remember sitting in the clinic and my donor advocate asking me what my plan is if the ACA is repealed, explaining that a kidney donation will count as a “pre-existing condition.” Without the ACA, health insurers can refuse to cover me. I went through a litany of health tests to even be chosen as a donor and am told I will live an ordinary life after surgery. Now I could be denied coverage at age 26. What about when I want to start a family? What if something else goes wrong? This gift to my mother is now a financial liability. I want to be part of a society that encourages giving life, not one that punishes donors. — Carolyn Blake, Austin
More than 133 million Americans like me have pre-existing conditions. For the first time in America, people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied health coverage or charged exorbitant rates. The ACA prohibits these things. Now Republicans in Congress want to repeal the ACA, including the individual-responsibility part of the law. I know this is a tough pill to swallow, but maintaining protections for people with pre-existing conditions without requiring individual responsibility would cost millions of us coverage and increase premiums for even more of us. Health care reform is personal. Millions of lives are affected. The ACA allows those of us with pre-existing conditions to live healthier and more-productive lives. It also allows us to change jobs without losing health insurance. As Republicans work to repeal the ACA, I implore them to also follow the physician’s oath to first do no harm. — Janie F. Galko, Austin
With the government push to repeal and replace Obamacare, why not consider a simple solution? Principal criticisms of the ACA are inflexibility and high costs. Tenets of a “replacement” plan are flexible coverage alternatives and interstate insurance options. These objectives could be met by simply amending the existing system. Allow insurance companies to offer alternative plans in addition to the existing four ACA plans. A similar approach has worked in Medicare Part B, where “Advantage Plans” are offered in addition to original “Supplement Plans.” Let the public choose which plan is best for them. Allow access to individual state insurance exchanges from any state. This change would introduce competition and reduce costs. Why subject the nation to the Sturm und Drang of “repeal and replace” when it would be so simple to amend the existing system? An amendment would be a bipartisan, win-win solution — and it would be best for the public. The plan’s name is irrelevant. — David Butler, Georgetown
I am in full support of the Affordable Care Act. I have been able to obtain health insurance since its inception. Prior to ACA, I was paying $587 per month for health care through Blue Cross Blue Shield High Risk. It was a terrible plan and offered nothing beneficial. It was the only insurance I could obtain due to benign thyroid nodules. When ACA started up, I was able to have health care without having to worry about any pre-existing conditions and high monthly premiums. I am currently utilizing Sendero Ideal Care through the ACA. I am very happy with my doctors and the care I receive. — Jo Rae Di Menno, Austin
Just as Martin Niemoller once said, I now say: “First they came after Obamacare, and I did not speak out, because I was not on Obamacare. Then they came after Medicaid, and I did not speak out, because I was not on Medicaid. Then they came after Medicare — and there was no one left to speak for me.” I am an 89-year- old with serious and expensive medical problems. Now, I am scared to death that I will have no medical coverage in my final years as I try to stay alive with some comfort and dignity. — Herman I. Morris, Plano
WHOM TO CONTACT
The following lawmakers represent Central Texas:
John Cornyn: 202-224-2934; 517 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510
Ted Cruz: 202-224-5922; Russell Senate Office Bldg 404, Washington, DC 20510
10th District: Michael McCaul (R); 202-225-2401; 2001 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
17th District: Bill Flores (R); 202-225-6105; 2440 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
21st District: Lamar S. Smith (R); 202-225-4236; 2409 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
25th District: Roger Williams (R); 202-225-9896; 1323 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
When the stunning news broke late Tuesday that President Trump said he is open to an immigration overhaul allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, one news organization called the president’s abrupt shift on immigration “a curveball.”
Curveball? More like whiplash maybe.
After all, what else are we to make of such a sudden reversal from the president’s hard-line crackdown on illegal immigration during his first weeks in office? Take, for example, last month’s sweeping Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Austin and across the country. And just last week, the administration unveiled new deportation rules allowing federal agents to go after anyone living in the country illegally, even if they haven’t committed serious crimes — a stark contrast to the Obama administration’s policies that placed a priority on deporting criminals.
“The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” the president reportedly told TV news anchors at a White House meeting over lunch Tuesday.
Did this herald a new softer tone on immigration? Remember, this is the same Donald Trump whose rock concert-like campaign rallies reverberated with supporters’ chants of “build the wall!” on the U.S.-Mexico border. And Trump’s run for office began with a pledge to deport the nation’s estimated 11.1 million immigrants, something even those in his own party have described as unrealistic and bordering on fantasy.
Only a few hours after that meeting with the TV anchors, however, the president didn’t even mention in his first joint address to Congress that he might be receptive to an immigration overhaul giving legal status to millions of unauthorized immigrants.
In fact, Trump doubled down on aggressive enforcement, reiterating his campaign promise to begin building a border wall. “A great, great wall,” he called it.
And the president fell back on the familiar refrain of highlighting the crimes of undocumented immigrants, announcing that he has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to work with victims of crimes committed by immigrants who are in the country illegally.
After the speech to Congress, news analysts pounced on the chance to speculate why the president had not brought up his remarks earlier in the day about immigration. One said the president obviously had been reined in by his inner circle, who advised him that now is not the time.
But if not now, when? If the president couldn’t talk about immigration reform to a cheering audience dominated by those of his own party, then when? Certainly not at one of his rallies in places across the country, which Trump continues to hold even after his election, and where his legions of supporters continue their full-throated chant, “Build the Wall!”
As President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, visited Democratic Sens. Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stuck to his position that he would not be holding “a perfunctory meeting” with the appeals court judge. A handful of more mannerly Senate Republicans have said they are open to meeting Garland.
No meetings. No hearing. No vote. Let the people have their say in November. The Republican position on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee was expressed in a flurry of statements released Wednesday after Obama introduced Garland:
“Texans and the American people deserve to have a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement released by his office. “The only way to empower the American people and ensure they have a voice is for the next president to make the nomination to fill this vacancy.”
Though members of the U.S. House have no constitutional role in the confirmation of Supreme Court justices, Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin released his own statement, saying, “Sen. Cornyn and the Republican leadership in the Senate are correct in their decision to not confirm President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. The precedent has been set for decades, and was continued by Vice President Biden when he was in the Senate, that the Senate should not confirm a Supreme Court nomination in an election year. The American people should have a voice in the direction of the court. They will have the opportunity to be heard at the ballot box in November.”
Obama is not technically a lame duck, which is how Republicans have framed their argument that the seat on the Supreme Court unexpectedly left vacant by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Feb. 13 should be filled only after November’s presidential election. Yes, a lame duck is an elected official whose time in office is nearing its end, but traditionally, an elected official becomes a lame duck only after voters elect his successor.
If this debate were happening eight months from now, in mid-November — or maybe even in July or August after each party has selected its presidential nominee — I would agree with the Republicans’ argument that we should let the next president choose Scalia’s successor. But government is meant to act on what voters have done, not on what they might do. Obama is president for another 308 days and the election is 236 days away. There is plenty of time to hold a confirmation hearing and a vote on Garland’s nomination.
Vice President Joe Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995. In a June 1992 Senate speech, he said the Judiciary Committee should “seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings” for a Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.
Some context to Biden’s remarks, and context matters because it explains Biden’s speech: There was no vacancy on the Supreme Court that Biden was addressing; he was speaking hypothetically in the wake of the contentious Clarence Thomas hearings (which Biden had badly mishandled, I must add); the first of the presidential nominating conventions was only a month away; and should “seriously consider” is not the same as “won’t consider.” By no means was Biden announcing any “rule” that senators shouldn’t consider Supreme Court nominations in a presidential election year.
In choosing Garland, Obama has offered Republicans someone who should be, by any reasonable measure, a consensus nominee. Garland is 63, the oldest Supreme Court nominee in 45 years, so his stay on the court might not equal the generational stay of a nominee a decade or more younger. He is a former federal prosecutor with a reputation as a law-and-order centrist. Thirty-two Republicans voted in 1997 to confirm Garland’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a court over which he currently presides. He is a judge whom Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah once said could be confirmed to the Supreme Court “virtually unanimously.”
There is no apparent reason to reject Garland, whom Obama on Wednesday called “a serious man and an exemplary judge.” He deserves a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and a confirmation vote. And if the Republicans want to reject his nomination, that’s their constitutional right. But not acting on his nomination violates the spirit of the Constitution.
Politically, having cultivated a sense of betrayal in their constituents for decades, Republicans have locked themselves into an obstructionist corner — out of which they probably will crawl if Hillary Clinton wins the White House in November. Because they know there is no good reason to reject Garland.
The first alert from The Associated Press confirming that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died while in West Texas to hunt quail moved on the news wires Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Less than 90 minutes later, at 5:54 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reaction to Scalia’s death also moved on the wires.
“Today our country lost an unwavering champion of a timeless document that unites each of us as Americans,” McConnell’s statement read. Additional praise for Scalia’s “fidelity to the Constitution” followed as did McConnell’s condolences to Scalia’s family.
Then this obstructionist conclusion: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
Senate Republicans quickly echoed McConnell, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz saying he would filibuster any Supreme Court nominee made by President Barack Obama, sight unseen, qualifications ignored. But on Tuesday, some “modest backtracking,” as The New York Times described it. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, indicated he would be willing to hold a confirmation hearing for whomever Obama nominates to replace Scalia. On Wednesday, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee, also did not rule out holding a hearing for Obama’s nominee, though he said he agrees with McConnell that the next president should pick Scalia’s replacement and doesn’t think the Senate should confirm anyone Obama nominates.
Obama is president for another 338 days. He has, as he repeated during a news conference Tuesday, a constitutional obligation to nominate someone to take Scalia’s place. The Senate, likewise, has its own constitutional duty to consider Obama’s nominee and either accept or reject the president’s choice. With Republicans holding an 11-9 majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee — Cruz also sits on the committee, along with Cornyn — and with Republicans outnumbering Democrats in the Senate 54-46, the odds would appear to favor rejection.
The Supreme Court is about halfway through its current term, which ends in June. Four major cases out of Texas — on abortion, voting rights, affirmative action and presidential power — are currently before the court, their outcomes now potentially altered by Scalia’s death.
The court begins its 2016-17 term in October. The earliest the next president could nominate Scalia’s replacement is Jan. 20, 2017, when he or she assumes office. The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a Supreme Court nominee; on average, the Senate confirmed the last four justices to be appointed to the court — John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — 64 days after they were nominated.
Leaving Scalia’s vacancy to the next president to fill means leaving the court one member short for an unprecedented length of time. But who cares for precedent? Or that which was once considered routine? Since they retook control of the Senate in January 2015, Republicans have been negligently and unprecedentedly blocking Obama’s nominees to the federal courts of appeal. So threatening to block Obama on naming Scalia’s replacement continues an action already being done at a lower court level.
Their failure to defeat Obama four years ago is why Scalia’s replacement is Obama’s to nominate. And Republicans’ success in the midterm elections two years ago is why Obama’s nomination is theirs to consider. That’s how it’s meant to work, election year or no. The Constitution — that “timeless document that unites each of us as Americans,” to quote one Mitch McConnell — says so.
Sometime in June, arriving a few weeks before Republicans and Democrats hold their nominating conventions in mid- and late July, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a series of rulings sure to fire up or anger — or fire up and anger — each parties’ candidates and hardcore supporters. Pending before the court’s justices are cases involving affirmative action and abortion, the meaning of “one person, one vote,” and, as of this week, the authority of the president to enforce or not enforce immigration law. And all of these cases came to the court courtesy of Texas or Texans.
Yee oyez haw.
In November 2014, President Barack Obama protected from deportation the parents of American citizens or permanent residents to allow them, as Obama said, to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law.” Obama also expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that he initiated in June 2012 to help immigrants younger than 30 who were brought to the United States as children remain in the only country many of them have ever really known. The president’s actions were set to allow perhaps as many as 5 million unauthorized immigrants to remain and work in the United States. Gov. Greg Abbott, then in his waning days as Texas attorney general, sued to keep Obama’s policy from taking effect; 25 states joined Texas in opposing the president.
A U.S. district judge and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the policy’s implementation. So the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, and on Tuesday the justices agreed to do so. The court is expected to hear oral arguments in April, with a decision, as noted, probably coming in June. Because immigration is a top and contentious presidential issue, coverage of the court’s decision this week has been framed as an “election-year clash,” to cite The Associated Press as one example. Even if the Supreme Court justices rule in Obama’s favor — precedent suggests they should — his administration will have less than seven months to implement its policy before the next president assumes office. So Obama’s policy lives or dies not only with the court, but also with the next president.
The Supreme Court will consider four questions in the United States v. Texas, as the immigration case is formally known. (Detailed, clear explanations both lawyerly and in “plain English” of the legal issues involved can be found on SCOTUSblog, here and here.) A summary:
The first question is whether Texas and the other 25 states have “standing” to sue the federal government. Clearly the states disagree with Obama’s policy, but simply disliking a federal program does not give states the right to challenge it in court. Direct harm must be suffered to seek legal relief.
Last February, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville ruled that costs associated with granting temporary legal status to a group of undocumented immigrants — Hanen highlighted the issuance of driver’s licenses — would directly harm Texas. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit affirmed Hanen’s ruling, 2-1, in November.
The Supreme Court could deny Texas standing and end the case without considering any other question. But I don’t think anyone expects that to happen.
Another question involves whether the Obama administration failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act by not giving the public sufficient notice of its immigration change along with the opportunity to comment on it. Hanen based his decision blocking Obama’s action on this technical, procedural issue, a detail most news stories skipped past this week.
The final two questions are related if not redundant. They certainly are politically charged. Does the Obama administration have the authority to issue a new immigration policy? And did the president’s actions violate the Constitution’s requirement that he “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Only Congress, of course, can make law, but the president has “prosecutorial discretion” when it comes to enforcing the laws. Limited resources dictate the administration set priorities. So Obama decided to defer action against one group of undocumented immigrants to focus on other groups, like immigrants who pose a public safety threat, for example. Texas accepts that the administration has discretion to enforce the law, but only case by case, not by issuing a sweeping policy.
Neither Hanen nor the 5th Circuit addressed the constitutionality of Obama’s policy. The Supreme Court added this question to its review at the states’ request. The court rarely considers issues not taken up by a lower court.
As The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin wrote this week, the United States v. Texas is one of those cases that threatens to scramble the usual ideological positions. The issue of standing is one example: Conservatives view it narrowly, liberals more broadly. But this case could reverse those traditional positions. “If the Court splits along its customary ideological lines — the conservatives against Obama, the liberals for him — the case may serve as another illustration that politics, rather than precedent, is the real currency of the Supreme Court.”
Meanwhile, whether the courts rule with the president or against him, the country’s immigration system will still need reform. And on immigration, Congress continues to show it can’t even work with itself, much less the president.