Des Moines Register. November 17, 2017
Grassley shouldn’t be Trump’s errand boy in takeover of courts
Sen. Chuck Grassley has been known for his bipartisan approach and work ethic over 36 years in Congress.
Well, he’s still a hard worker.
Under Grassley’s chairmanship, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been on a tear. Since April, the committee has cleared 22 candidates for district judge and nine for appellate courts. The committee will soon consider 27 more people nominated by President Donald Trump.
The committee held hearings for six nominees last Wednesday alone.
Compare this with 2015 and 2016. The Senate confirmed 20 lifetime judicial appointments to district and appeals courts in the two years Republicans were in charge. That’s the lowest number in 28 years, according to a Congressional Research Service report and Politico.
Grassley was leading the Judiciary Committee then, too. The difference, of course, was that Barack Obama was president.
The Republican-led Senate allowed 54 of Obama’s judicial appointments to die. The most famous one, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, never received a hearing from Grassley.
This wasn’t all Grassley’s doing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold votes on 25 Obama nominees that passed Grassley’s committee.
Collectively, the Senate slowdown last year and subsequent speed-up this year is allowing Trump to shape the federal courts in his image. He has almost double the number of openings to fill than Obama did eight years ago.
Who are Trump’s judicial nominees?
They are white males. According to the Alliance for Justice, Trump’s nominees are 91 per cent white and 81 per cent male. They skew younger than past appointees, and they have lifetime appointments. This group is less diverse than the nominees of every president since George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. Under Obama, 65 per cent of nominees were white and 58 per cent of were male, as he tried to bring diversity to a system already dominated by white males. His nominees that weren’t confirmed by the Senate included several Latino, Asian-American and black judges and one who would have been the nation’s first Muslim federal judge.
Grassley’s spokesman, Taylor Foy, points out that Democrats have tried to block some of Trump’s more diverse nominees. Grassley “is concerned about the number of women and minorities that the Democrats have voted against.”
They are conservative and partisan. “We’re going to have great judges, conservative, all picked by the Federalist Society,” Trump promised during a June 2016 interview with Breitbart News.
Some of the picks have made unusually political statements, raising questions about whether they could rule without bias when considering cases on abortion, gay rights, the Second Amendment or even cases involving the Trump administration.
Four of them earned rare “not qualified” ratings from the American Bar Association for their temperament, competence or other reasons.
Some of these nominees have so many strikes against them that they shouldn’t even get to the plate. Take Brett Talley, who passed the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote on Nov. 9. Talley, a 36-year-old Alabama lawyer and horror novelist, has never tried a case and has practiced law for only three years. He’s a former blogger who called on people to join the NRA after the Sandy Hook shooting and blasted “Hillary Rotten Clinton.” His wife is chief of staff for White House Counsel Donald McGhan, but Talley did not disclose that to the Judiciary Committee in questions over potential conflict of interests.
Yet Grassley has defended Talley, citing his “wide breadth of various legal experience that has helped to expose him to different aspects of federal law and the issues that would come before him.” When asked to elaborate, Foy said Talley clerked for federal judges for three years, worked at a major law firm, served as deputy solicitor general for Alabama, and has been deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy since January.
Regarding Talley’s political statements, Foy said: “The bottom line is that at his confirmation hearing, Talley said he would put the law above all else. Democrat nominees have made controversial statements in the past, and it didn’t stop them from being confirmed. There should not be a double standard.”
This statement resembles other Grassley responses: The Democrats did it, too. Foy pointed to previous chairmen, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2007-08, who held even fewer nomination hearings. “It is a common practice during presidential election years that the Senate’s confirmation process slows. . Sen. Grassley followed that precedent in the final year of the Obama administration.”
So Grassley admits to partisan gamesmanship. Yes, both parties do it. But Iowans — including significant numbers of Democrats — have continued to elect Grassley because of his record of bipartisanship.
Grassley escalated the partisan battle on Thursday, when he announced he would hold hearings for two nominees whose home-state senators declined to return a positive “blue slip,” or sign off on the nominations. Grassley has said he will honour the blue-slip “courtesy” but won’t let Democrats abuse the process by blocking “qualified nominees for political or ideological reasons.” That makes sense, but the question is, how did Grassley treat blue slips previously?
That’s right: Grassley upheld the blue-slip tradition and allowed Republicans to block multiple nominations under Obama. Why the double standard?
Grassley should remember that something more important than politics is at stake. Actions such as leaving positions open under Obama have a real impact on people and businesses waiting for their cases to be heard. The U.S. court system had 12 judicial emergencies at the beginning of 2015, based on the volume of cases in front of a court. In January, there were 38.
Sen. Chuck Grassley says media mislabel Supreme Court nominees as moderates. Kathie Obradovich/The Register
For the same reasons, Democrats shouldn’t hold up qualified Trump nominees.
Elections have consequences. Voters should expect that a Republican president will appoint conservative-minded judges and a Democrat will appoint liberals, and rightly so. But every senator also has a responsibility not to rush through nominees with extreme views and scant qualifications simply to pack the courts.
Grassley shouldn’t let hyper-partisan candidates ruled unqualified by the bar association fly through committee. He should not be a soldier in the decades-long war that has raged over the courts. He’s not Trump’s errand boy, and he should display the independence he’s been known for.
Trump has bragged about how he and McConnell are remaking the courts. “But when you think of it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge — but 40 years out,” Trump said last month.
Trump is right. Forty years is a long time, longer than Grassley has served in Congress. It would be sad if unqualified candidates in Trump’s campaign to stack the courts became the senator’s legacy.
Fort Dodge Messenger. November 13, 2017
Iowa senator seeks to curtail perks for her colleagues in Congress
Some politicians seek federal office in part so they can live an extravagant lifestyle paid for by American taxpayers. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is determined to curtail that type of self-serving behaviour.
That’s why the Iowa Republican has just introduced legislation that would eliminate a tax break federal lawmakers crafted to benefit themselves.
“Iowans sent me to Congress to make Washington, D.C., squeal and that includes eliminating handouts to politicians,” Ernst said. “To achieve the ultimate goal of lowering tax rates for hardworking families and businesses, Congress is going to have to eliminate various loopholes and deductions in our outdated tax code. Congress should lead by example and offer up its own unnecessary tax break.”
With that in mind, she is promoting the Stop Questionable, Unnecessary, and Excessive Allowances for Legislators Act, also known as the SQUEAL Act. If it becomes law, this proposal would eliminate a provision of the tax code that allows Members of Congress to deduct, for income tax purposes, up to $3,000 annually in living expenses while in the Washington, D.C. area.
While this part of the tax code isn’t hugely expensive, it is typical of the thousands of special provisions that have been added to our nation’s tax laws to advantage people who have influence with lawmakers. Collectively, they make our tax laws thousands of pages long, waste taxes people pay and produce a tax system that almost no one believes to be fair.
Ernst’s proposal is a small step in the right direction. It’s adoption by the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives would show that the members of these bodies are serious about reforming our tax system to make it both fairer and less wasteful.
The Messenger applauds Ernst’s initiative. This legislation demonstrates that she views the pledges she made during her campaign for office as commitments to be pursued vigorously. That’s an example we wish more of her colleagues in Washington would emulate.
Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. November 15, 2017
Child care need calls for creative solutions
Few decisions are as important as the one parents make when determining to whom they will entrust the care of a child.
The need for child care is a fact of life for nearly every young family, but finding the right provider can be one of the biggest challenges parents face. Parents want a child care provider who will not only keep their child safe and cared for but happy and stimulated.
In Dubuque, parents are faced with limited options to address this major life decision. A study conducted earlier this year found that nearly half of the 600 respondents turned down a job or worked fewer hours because of child care issues.
Owners of a popular local child care centre noted they maintain a waiting list of more than 100 families.
City officials confirm they are hearing from employers having difficulty filling open positions because of child care issues.
This is the point at which child care becomes an issue community leadership must address. In addition to being a quality-of-life issue, it’s an impediment to building work force.
Local leaders took a step toward filling this void when the Dubuque City Council voted in support of a grant application, created by the city and Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, to develop a phone application that would help parents connect with child care options.
The app would show where space is available and how each site ranks in a voluntary state rating system. It also notes available child care subsidies and tax credits. The city will learn in January whether its application was accepted.
The app is a great idea and unique approach to this growing problem. While that’s an excellent step and could match up families with providers, it won’t necessarily address a shortage of child care. Given the lengthy waiting lists families are encountering, it isn’t just a question of finding the right fit but locating any available providers.
Clearly there is a supply-demand opportunity for more providers to emerge in the local market.
While finding child care solutions might not seem like a governmental priority, it should be. The economic drivers in a community are not always obvious, and the need for quality child care is one of those tangential factors. Job creation by employers is predicated on available work force. Workers won’t be available if they can’t find child care. Therefore, child care drives economic development.
It’s great to see community stakeholders teaming up with creative solutions to tackle this problem. But it is a community issue that must be addressed on many fronts.
Sioux City Journal. November 19, 2017
Management change provides tourism opportunity
One of the questions we posed in an Oct. 1 editorial when the city was studying public-vs.-private future management of the Tyson Events Center was this: What will happen to the tourism arm of the Events Facilities Department under private management?
The answer will be clear soon.
On Oct. 16, the City Council voted for private management of Tyson (and the Orpheum Theatre) by Philadelphia-based Spectra. Contract discussions between the city and Spectra have begun, with an eye toward a Jan. 1 start for the new arrangement.
Those discussions include tourism. At a meeting with members of the Events Facilities Advisory Board on Oct. 27, a Spectra representative said Spectra is willing to assume tourism responsibilities.
We are pleased to hear tourism won’t fall by the wayside in the transition from public to private management. We believe having a blueprint for marketing our community as a destination for visitors is important.
To the extent possible, Sioux City should be a player in Iowa’s annual $8 billion tourism industry.
In our view, these 10 questions should drive city dialogue with Spectra as the two sides work on a strategy for tourism as part of the new Tyson-Orpheum management contract:
– How do we, as a city, define success in tourism? In other words, what do we want to result from tourism promotion?
– What is a realistic goal for visitation?
– How much is our city willing to spend to boost tourism (today, the Events Facilities Department budgets roughly $20,000 per year)?
– What is the view of tourism by stakeholders such as hotel and restaurant owners?
– Is local tourism generated only by specific events, like concerts, or do untapped opportunities exist for attraction of visitors not tied to events?
– Should we market only to Siouxland? To Midwest states? To the nation?
– What opportunities for cross-promotion of tourism (between, for one example, the city and the Loess Hills) exist and should be pursued?
– What role, if any, does improved signage play in strengthening tourism (we question the value of signage, frankly)?
– What do other Midwest cities of our size do to promote tourism?
– Or, is tourism a waste of time and money?
In our view, the change to Spectra provides a valuable opportunity for fresh examination of why and how this city promotes tourism. Identifying clear answers to the aforementioned questions will, we believe, establish a strong foundation for these efforts moving forward.