ENLIST and BRIDGE

The first day of Congress in 2017, Rep. Jeff Denham of California’s 10th District, introduced his priority legislation in the ENLIST Act. This bill is fairly simple, immigrants not lawfully present in the US can enlist in the armed services and can earn lawful permanent residency for doing so. This is assuming that the person was younger than 15 when they entered the United States. It’s a decent bill that would provide a path to legal residency for many immigrants in the United States here illegally.

Somewhat surprisingly, Rep. Don Bacon supported the bill by being a co-sponsor of the bill. There are 203 cosponsors of the bill, currently. It has widespread bipartisan support It is unlikely that it will be put up for a vote, much like it has not in the past. Rep. Denham introduces the bill fairly consistently and has been fairly moderate on immigration issues.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace testified before Congress “some eight, nine, or ten percent fewer immigrants wash out of our initial training programs than do those who are currently citizens.” In the ACLU’s report, “Discharged Then Discarded”, they note that this view is often repeated in other military reports. One report said “relative to citizen recruits, noncitizen recruits generally have a stronger attachment to serving the United States, which they now consider to be ‘their country’ and a better work ethic.” Noncitizen retention rates are higher than of U.S. citizens. According to the ACLU, the dropout rate for noncitizens are nearly half of that of U.S. citizens when service reaches four years.

The ACLU provides a brief history, in their report, about how noncitizens could serve in the military. In 2006, Congress limited eligibility to serve in the military to Lawful Permanent Residents. Prior to 2006, undocumented immigrants could enlist and be conscripted during wartime. Congress left a provision for the Secretary of Defense to determine if other noncitizens could serve, if it is vital to the national interest. The Department of Defense created the Military Accession Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). This authorized a maximum of 1,500 of “legally present” noncitizens to join the military. In 2014, they expanded to included DACA individuals and came to the United States prior to the age of 16. By 2016, the cap increased from 1,500 to 5,000. Outside of MAVNI, Congress rejected efforts to expand the pool of eligible noncitizens. Despite that, other noncitizens have enlisted in the military outside of MAVNI by accident or due to “deceptive practices of military recruiters.”

Lawful permanent residents are eligible to naturalize after five years. The ACLU provides the relevant sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act. There are different requirements depending on if the noncitizen is serving during peacetime or wartime.

Peacetime naturalization

An LPR who serves in the military during peacetime can naturalize under Section 328 of the INA, if he or she served honorably in the armed forces for a period or periods aggregating one year. If separated from the service, the separation must be under honorable conditions. Both ‘Honorable’ and ‘General – Under Honorable Conditions’ discharges qualify; discharge types such as ‘Other than Honorable’ do not

US Customs and Immigration Services notes on their fact sheet about qualification for naturalization and citizenship. They write

The President signed an executive order on July 3, 2002, authorizing all noncitizens who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces on or after Sept. 11 2001, to file for citizenship under section 329 of the INA. Section 329 also covers veterans of certain designated past wars and conflicts. The authorization related to the War on Terrorism will remain in effect until a date designated by a future presidential executive order.

USCIS has interpreted this statute to include a requirement of a separate and additional showing of “good moral character.” The ACLU and many reasonable people look at military service as its own showing of “good moral character.” The 9th Circuit, as the ACLU notes, agrees. There is not a mention of the good moral character in the statute. It would simply be easier legislatively to require that USCIS interprets the INA statute to equate military service with good moral character.

The ENLIST Act is a pretty good bill. I would like it to also codify the interpretation of the INA statute so that “good moral character” is not used to determine eligibility for either legal status or citizenship.

Bacon also co-sponsored legislation from Mike Coffman, the BRIDGE Act. The BRIDGE Act would make it possible for certain immigrants to receive “provisional protected presence” and work authorization. This protected presence and work authorization would only last, at most three years. There is not a path to citizenship for immigrants under the BRIDGE Act.  To qualify for the BRIDGE Act,it is essentially the same requirements for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). From October of 2012 to October 2016, nearly 750,000 unauthorized immigrants received DACA.

The requirements for the BRIDGE Act and DACA would be that the person would have to be at least 15 years old; born after June 15, 1981; came to the US before their 16th birthday; lived continuously since June 15, 2007; been physically present since June 15, 2012; at the time of filing an application need to be in school or in a program aimed at receiving a high school diploma or passing a GED exam; have graduated; have received the GED; or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces; and not have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanor offenses.

This is not any type of comprehensive immigration plan nor does it provide for a path to citizenship. the bill would merely kick the can down the road for three years. Then perhaps hundreds of thousands of immigrants would feel their status in limbo under a new Presidential administration. Bacon opposes “amnesty” for those here illegally because he does not think it’s fair to those waiting to come here. His issue position from his campaign website said the following

“We need to have employer enforcement when it comes to hiring illegals. This is the root cause of our illegal immigration problem. We also need to secure our borders. It is a security disaster to have over 300,000 illegal immigrants crossing our border every year. Finally, we owe it to the 4.5 million people who are waiting to come to the United States legally to not give amnesty for citizenship to those who came here illegally.”

Rep. Bacon and others try to carve through a middle ground to give immigrants a legal status even if it is below citizenship status. I believe that in their mind, this moves undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. The problem is what happens after they are out of the shadows. In this bill, the answer is, well they’re out for three years. Without any details as to what happens after that. I’m not sure what the end goal of this type of legislation is. It’s a stopgap legislation leading to more comprehensive immigration reform.

After the Gang of Eight immigration did not advance any further in Congress due to inaction in the House of Representatives, Marco Rubio announced his newfound belief that we should address immigration in a piecemeal way. I disagree with the approach, as a matter of sound policy, but if it were to advance in such a way, the BRIDGE and ENLIST Act would provide paths forward to talk about how immigration should be fixed going forward.

At any rate, while Bacon likes to cite public support for some of his positions including some of his more prominent conservative positions, he is oddly silent about polling on a path to citizenship. About 50% of Republicans support a path to citizenship. In total about 65% of US adults support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. It seems odd to me that those who have either served in the military or are continuing with education would be excluded from a path to citizenship. It has become somewhat fashionable to make arguments in favor of naturalizing citizens is the argument based on merit. If someone is good enough, they should be able to get citizenship or at the very least legal status. I do not buy the argument on merit but I am making it to adopt the style that is being used, currently.

 

 

 

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Repealing the estate tax

Deb Fischer and Don Bacon both co-sponsored legislation to repeal the estate tax. In an effort to make it sound more appealing, they use the language of calling the estate tax, the “death tax.” This gives Bacon and Fischer conservative credit. The estate tax is only levied on those above a certain threshold for their estate’s value, $5.45 million per person or $10.9 million per couple. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, there were 2.6 million deaths in the United States in 2013 and there were 4,700 estate tax returns filed.

Fischer and Bacon would likely argue that family farms and small businesses are unfairly attacked by the death tax. The Tax Policy Center estimated that 80 small farms and businesses will pay an estate tax in 2017. They further estimate that the total paid by these farms and businesses will be $30 million in 2017. The Congressional Budget Office noted that a family farm could lower the amount of estate tax owed by a special method of calculating the value.

According to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, repealing the estate tax would reduce revenues to the federal government by $270 billion over 10 years. Both Fischer and Bacon campaigned heavily on fixing the debt and deficit. They both think that this should be a top priority to fix. However, fixing it would now require an additional $27 billion per year for each of the next 10 years.  While both Bacon and Fischer have endorsed and voted for spending cuts for the federal government, most of it is not enough to completely fix the budget. Even if there wasn’t a need for an additional $27 billion cut/year.

 

 

 

The Moral Courage of Don Bacon

Rep. Don Bacon’s statement when he decided to run for Congress cited his moral courage as something that Nebraskans in the 2nd District needed to help fix Washington. In his announcement that he was running, he said,”To change Washington, we need new leadership with moral courage to make tough decisions. That’s why I’m running for Congress.” Much like his vaunted calls for civility, Rep. Bacon was faced with decisions that required moral courage and he failed.

While we will take a deeper dive into the policies and bills that Rep. Bacon supports or opposes, I’m using examples from his campaign in this piece.

Endorsements

In May of 2016, Rep. Bacon received an endorsement from Congressman Steve King which he bragged about citing King’s “strong moral courage and deep devotion to serving our nation. He is one of America’s great Constitutionalists…” Two months after the endorsement, King went on MSNBC on All-in with Chris Hayes. The transcript from The Washington Post is what follows:

“This ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie,” King said. “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

“Than white people?” Hayes asked, clearly amazed.

“Than, than Western civilization itself,” King replied. “It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”

To be fair to Rep. Bacon on accepting the endorsement, this did happen after he accepted it. There could have been no way to predict that King would say something like that…if you had never run a cursory Google search on Steve King in your life or even remotely paid attention to politics.

In 2013, Rep. King had a comment on immigrants coming from Mexico, claiming that for every child of illegal immigrants “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” John Boehner, then Speaker of the House, called King’s comments “deeply offensive and wrong.” But King still continued on. He doubled down on his statements noting that nobody has debunked his numbers. When ICE deported a DREAMer, he sent a tweet with a picture of a beer, saying

One of King’s hobbyhorses is to effectively repeal the 14th Amendment by declaring that in order to obtain citizenship through birth, one of your parents must be a citizen. Birthright citizenship which is enshrined in our Constitution in the 14th Amendment and followed through with citizenship laws since the beginning of our country’s founding. It is hard for me to say that someone who wants a direct assault on the 14th Amendment can be a great Constitutionalist.

During a recent controversy, King had a photo taken at his desk where the Confederate flag is visible. The Confederate States of America, although often romanticized by those on the right, were a collection of states committing treason against the United States in defense of slavery as an institution. Even for some who recognize that argue that the Confederate flag represents their heritage or state’s history. Iowa, the state where King resides and where his district resides, was not one of the states in the Confederacy. Iowa sent 76,000 men to fight for the Union. The Union, I guess I should remind people, was the army of the federal government trying to preserve the United States and end slavery. 13,000 Iowans were killed in the Civil War by the Confederacy. King proudly displays on his desk a flag celebrating treason in defense of slavery in a state that fought for the Union.

Again, perhaps Rep. Bacon had no idea that King was a Confederate supporter. King’s moral courage also showed when he was casting doubt on Barack Obama’s birthplace.

In September of 2015, King lamented the culture of America that we used to have. He placed the blame for this change on immigrants changing the culture of America.

Rep. Bacon could have repudiated the endorsement from King but he refused, citing it prominently and praising King for his strong “moral courage.” This phrase is used for King is also used to praise Rep. Bacon.

Another endorsement that Bacon had on his website was from State Senator Bill Kintner. Luckily for Bacon, I have not been able to locate where he cited Kintner’s strong moral courage (hopefully it never happened). Kintner posted on Twitter that Muslim refugees should be forced to eat bacon before they enter the country.

That wasn’t his only comment on refugees

His use of social media also included posting a picture of a beheaded woman on Facebook; claimed that Jesus was ok with the death penalty because he didn’t stop his own execution; attacked the city of Cincinnati for hosting a Pride celebration; referred to his colleagues in the Unicameral as prostitutes; called for a restoration of the guillotine with Nancy Pelosi and Ruth Bader Ginsburg pictured and labeled as guys; claimed Obama was importing Muslims; and made fun of homeless people.

In the Unicameral, Kintner claimed the NCAA was carrying on economic terrorism, introduced a bill to prove that refugee resettlement agency can pay up to $25 million or otherwise face a $1,000/day fine for each refugee they’ve resettled in the past five years, called Latinos “wetbacks” on the floor, and also flung a pen at the Speaker of the Unicameral after a vote didn’t go Kintner’s way.

That was all prior to the sex scandal that eventually led to his expulsion. Prior to that sex scandal though, he was part of an investigation for impersonating a police officer to get discounted car washes.

A simple thanks, but no thanks, from Rep. Bacon would have shown some moral courage instead of accepting the endorsement and placing it on his website.

Donald Trump

In October of 2016, the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked. The tape had Donald Trump confess that he sexually assaults women and that he gets away with it because he is a star. Trump denied that he ever acted the way he confessed to saying that it was just locker room talk. Sensing that Trump’s confession of sexual assault would not be a winning thing to tie himself to, Rep. Bacon joined other members of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation to call for Donald Trump to step down. The Omaha World Herald ran that story showing how Bacon was asking Trump to step down. Bacon’s press release on the subject was rather forceful

“Donald Trump should stand down for the good of the country,” says General Don Bacon. “His comments were utterly disgraceful and disqualifying. Trump should allow a strong conservative candidate, like Mike Pence, from the GOP to win in November. His continued candidacy guarantees a Clinton victory and four more years of higher debt, more regulations, higher taxes, and failed foreign policies. Regardless of who is our next President, I will go to Washington to be an independent voice for Nebraska’s 2nd District, not a partisan politician.”

As we will see in later posts, it’s probably a good thing that Rep. Bacon removed this press release from his website without announcing it. Only a few Republicans continued to believe that what trump said was disqualifying and would not support Trump, Bacon lacked the moral courage to do so. He pulled the press release from his website. His staff reaffirmed on Facebook that Bacon would support the nominee but only in response to comments. While early voting was happening in the 2nd District, it is extremely likely that some voters were misled by Rep. Bacon’s stance on Trump and decided to vote for him. If Trump’s comments were disqualifying and disgraceful, they did not become less so because he had a chance to win and Bacon had a chance to ride the coattails.

Rep. Bacon, however, did not live up to any part of that promise. His independent voice, much like his moral courage his calls for civil behavior, is merely a stance that he likes to take and much like this press release, he removes it when he has to make a tough choice.

 

 

 

 

Being civil and respectful: A lesson from Don Bacon

On March 24, 2015 a mere 2.5 months into the tenure of Representative Brad Ashford’s tenure in Congress, Don Bacon announced his candidacy to run against Ashford in the 2016 election. In his announcement, he said, “Nebraska does want our elected officials to be civil and respectful, and I promise to be that way…To change Washington, we need new leadership with moral courage to make tough decisions.” Bacon was able to defeat incumbent Democrat Ashford 49.4 – 47.3 thanks in large part to the conservative Sarpy County.

Unlike Fischer, who I covered previously, Bacon did not hold an elected office prior to running for federal office. So the extent that we know about his public stances and ideas is the record of public statements that he has made, the bills he has supported, and to an extent constituent mail. Each member of Congress does respond to constituent mail through their staff. In theory, the responses that you receive via mail or e-mail are vetted by staff. The staff sign off on their respective issues. So a healthcare staffer will sign off on the position of the member of Congress for healthcare. Of course, this may not always be the case. In numerous instances in the office, we had letters held up because we were waiting on approval of positions taken in these letters. If you send an e-mail, the system that is used to reply to the e-mail, is generally filtered by category sending out a response for that particular category. They are essentially canned responses to try to limit the time taken by staff and interns in responding to constituent mail, where they can help it.

Again, while this piece will touch on certain policy aspects, I want this to serve as an introduction to Rep. Bacon so I will leave a number of the heavier policy areas to subsequent posts where I can touch on all of the people in Nebraska running for office in 2018.

Civil and respectful

Bacon has touched on this idea of being “civil and respectful” multiple times. He even went so far as to make a speech on the House floor to the same effect. Unfortunately, he does not follow through with his own advice. His own press releases throughout the campaign uses “Democrat Party” or “Democrat establishment” instead of the grammatically correct phrase, “Democratic Party” or “Democratic establishment.” Oxford noted in 2014, that “it is in keeping with a longstanding tradition among Republicans of dropping the -ic in order to maintain a distinction from the broader, positive associations of the adjective democratic with democracy and egalitarianism.” The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage states “do not use Democrat as a modifier (the Democrat Party); that construction is used by opponents to disparage the party. It is a pet peeve of mine because saying as Bacon does when he says “the Democrat Party”, he is being grammatically incorrect to score rhetorical points with his base of support.

Criticism of Rep. Bacon is almost always perceived as a personal attack and he, or rather his staff, counter that the other person is lying. On February 21, 2017, The Omaha World Herald published an article about Rep. Bacon not wanting to hold town halls. They wrote

One member who rejected the idea of in-person town halls was Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who said he has no plans to hold any this week – or ever – citing the potential for some people to hijack the session. Bacon represents the Congressional district including Omaha.

On February 23, after I reached out to Rep. Bacon’s office as a concerned constituent, I received an e-mail from his staff

Recently, it has been reported that I will not be holding any town halls as the Representative of Nebraska’s Second District. That is simply not true. I made a promise to do town halls across the district, and I stand by that…I have been working with my staff, alongside groups throughout the district, and we have established a schedule for our town halls and will continue to add more to the list.

A tele-townhall was announced on March 7 with the understanding that if it went well, there would be a live townhall at a later date.  The editorial staff at The Omaha World Herald held to their reporting on the issue writing in an editorial on March 13

New U.S. Rep. Don Bacon now says he plans to hold town hall meeting with his Omaha-area constituents, softening his previous position that he never would.

Just noting that on March 9th, was the first time that he said publicly that he was willing to hold public town halls (although in his March 1 newsletter, he stated that he would hold an upcoming town hall) and The Omaha World Herald stood by their earlier reporting then, too.

Unfortunately, this was consistent with Rep. Bacon’s campaign which offered misleading statements, highlighted policy platitudes, and offered personal attacks on both Rep. Ashford and Hillary Clinton. If you blindfolded me, I could read a press release from Rep. Don Bacon. Off the top of my head, the press release would read

My opponent is a career politician who votes for failed leadership of Obama/Pelosi. A vote for him is a continuation of the Democrat establishment. We have a $19 Trillion debt that we need to address. Thanks to my 30 years in the Air Force, I understand the national security issues facing our nation and my opponent does not.

If you do not believe that is representative of the press releases, you can read a number of them. Ashford Wrong on ISIS; Ashford Continues Pattern of Misleading Constituents; Clinton Email FBI Recommendation A Disappointment; Don Bacon: Clinton Speech Continues The Failed Obama/Pelosi Policies That Brad Ashford Embraces; Response To Ashford’s Demands on Denouncing Attacks on Gold Star Families; Fact Check: Ashford Starts Campaign Season By Misleading Nebraskans.

On August 2, after Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump attacked a Gold Star family, Bacon issued a press release concluding with

Both presidential candidates, as well as Brad Ashford, should focus on critical issues such as our national security and the massive debt crisis and less on personal attacks on each other and their supporters. In my nearly 30 years in the Air Force it was important to make one’s point in a civil way, and focus on the key issues at hand.

The previous paragraph in the press release said that Clinton “lacks integrity.” Less than a week before that Bacon had attacked Clinton for her mishandling of classified information and calling Ashford a career politician. These are also personal attacks and not at all focused on the key issues at hand. Saying someone lacks integrity is a brazen personal attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership means being able to admit you were wrong: an introduction to Deb Fischer

As we launch our coverage for the 2018 elections, we are going to pay particular attention to the races in Nebraska since that is where I have the most knowledge. We’ll kick it off with our senior Senator, Deb Fischer who is running for re-election.

2012 election

The Senate election of 2012 in Nebraska actually had quite a bit of national eyes. Ben Nelson because of the Cornhusker Kickback and providing a crucial vote for the Affordable Care Act declined to run for re-election. Former Nebraska Governor and Senator Bob Kerrey decided to run for the open seat. On the Republican side, Deb Fischer was able to pull an upset in the Republican primary and was the nominee. During a fairly contentious election, given the eventual result, Fischer portrayed Kerrey as a carpetbagger moving back to Nebraska just to run for office. Her campaign was very critical of the Kerrey campaign for accepting money from out of state contributors and challenged the assertion that Kerrey was a Nebraskan. Fischer repeatedly said that she would focus on a positive message in defeating Kerrey. She even told the Beatrice Daily Sun:

Fischer said she’s made no changes to her campaign strategy since winning the primary election and will continue to stay positive, rather than take “personal attacks” as she says her opponent has done in multiple television advertisements.
“We’re continuing to work hard and stay positive,” Fischer said. “People appreciate that and like to see the discussion on the issues and not personal attacks.That’s what we did in the primary, we stayed on the issues and that’s what we’re doing now, too.

“It’s disappointing when you have those personal attacks on you. People don’t like it. I think we showed that in the primary. They want to hear who you are and what you stand for.”

Of course for those who were watching the primaries in 2012, many would be confused about Fischer’s attack on out of state spending and running a positive campaign. A late ad in the Republican primary from a shady group called “Ending Spending Action Fund” was used bashing Attorney General Jon Bruning, saying “for character, anyone but Bruning.” Another ad was used to positively portray Fischer using some of the same footage of Fischer that her campaign used. The ad concluded that the voters should choose “one of us.” The ad buy was about $200,000 – $250,000 to run statewide. The ad came as the momentum was shifting and was “double the amount [Fischer] spent on ads for herself.”

Republican Vice President nominee Sarah Palin also endorsed Fischer. This was a big endorsement for Fischer. You may note that Palin is not from the state of Nebraska. Palin who was quite popular with Nebraska primary voters also recorded robocalls for Fischer, playing over the final days of the campaign.

Ending Spending Action Fund was a super PAC funded by Joe Ricketts. Ricketts, the wealthy patriarch of the largely conservative rich family, also spent money in other Republican Senate primaries. The super PAC had received some notice for the money spent in 2010 against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but arguably spent it better in the Republican primary for Senate in Nebraska. This super PAC was a large driver of funds for Fischer spending about $850,000 in support of Fischer and $650,000 in opposition to Kerrey. American Crossroads, a super PAC by Karl Rove spent nearly $1 million against Bob Kerrey in the race. Club for Growth Action spent $714,000 opposing Jon Bruning.  Overall, Fischer had $1.5 million from outside spenders supporting her and $1.8 million opposing Bob Kerrey. To put that in perspective, Kerrey had $250,000 supporting him in outside spending and $1.8 million opposing Fischer.

Fischer tried to ignore the spending of super PACs on her behalf saying that she could not control outside spending. Some of the ads implied that Kerrey cut a secret deal with the menacing Harry Reid to run for Senate. Kerrey for his part, often complained that the outside ads had more influence than his campaign. I know from experience from talking to Nebraskans that the ads of Kerrey as a carpetbagger and trying to ruin Nebraska with his New York values were a big motivator for them to vote for Fischer

Fischer and her team would likely direct me to the OpenSecrets page where I can view the in-state contributions compared to the out of state contributions for each candidate. Kerrey did receive a substantial amount of support from outside of Nebraksa, raising nearly $2.6 million from out of state and only $1.17 million in-state. Fischer did receive $1.7 million in state compared to $1.16 million out of state. But you can see where the attack on Kerrey from raising money from the outside is more than a little misleading.

On election day, despite some notable endorsements from key Republicans including Chuck Hagel, Kerrey lost handily 58-42. Fischer who ran primarily on Republican party talking points had been able to defeat a fairly strong candidate.

State Senator

The stated reason that Ending Spending Actinon Fund had supported Fischer was in part because it was her first statewide run compared to both Bruning and Don Stenberg. Fischer had been a State Senator serving the Unicameral from 2005 – 2013. Throughout the campaign, Fischer tried to appeal moderate voters  and those upset with gridlock by talking about her bipartisan appeal. In an NPR interview, she said “like most Americans, I find it very, very frustrating to watch…[In Nebraska] we have a unicameral legislature…so we have experience with working with Republicans and Democrats.”

This is a common theme with Nebraskan politicians. If you are a Republican, you make overtures about how you will work across the aisle to find solutions but once you are elected you can coast without doing so. Democrats do the same thing except they are often serious about working across the aisle and do support a number of Republican policies only to be attacked as a figurehead for Democratic leadership.

During her campaign for the primary, her ads tried to portray her as a true Nebraskan conservative.

One of the highlights of her conservative voting record were her votes against undocumented immigrants in Nebraska. LB239 which would allow undocumented immigrants who graduated from a Nebraska high school, who have lived in Nebraska for at least three years, and pledged to seek permanent legal status to pay in-state tuition for college instead of the more expensive out of state. Deb Fischer voted against the legislation and voted not to override the Governor’s veto.  Fischer also voted against LB599 and not to override the Governor’s veto. LB599 would provide child health assistance, pregnancy, and prenatal care for all children regardless of the mother’s immigration status for those making less than or equal to 185% of the federal poverty line.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that Fischer also voted for a series of bills that most would consider to be pro-life. She voted in favor of LB 675 which would require a physician to display an ultrasound prior to an abortion. She co-sponsored LB 1103 which prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. She voted in favor of LB 594 to go through a screening process for women who are seeking an abortion. She also voted in favor of LB 22 which prohibited insurance coverage of abortion. Undocumented immigrants or immigrants who are not in legal status who find themselves pregnant are in a situation where they cannot access the prenatal care that they need and seemingly low on options thanks to votes by Fischer. Pro-life often only means pro-life for certain subsections of our population.

Pro-life legislation is framed around abortion. Those who take on that banner have won the rhetorical war. Fischer takes on that banner, as she said on her campaign website “I am proud to be pro-life and have a 100% pro-life voting record in my 8 years in the Nebraska Legislature. I will continue to support a culture of life by supporting pro-life policies in U.S. Senate.” If you believe, as many people do who are pro-life, that life begins at conception then any bills regarding prenatal care or that have impacts on pregnant women should be considered for the mantle of pro-life policies. Even moreso, they should be considered for the idea of a “culture of life.”

In 2008, the Nebraska Unicameral passed a bill that would ban smoking from public spaces including restaurants and bars. Omaha and Lincoln, the two major cities in Nebraska, had already passed a smoking ban. Deb Fischer voted against the smoking ban being implemented statewide. Nebraska became the 16th state to enact such a ban. For those, who do not remember, when you used to go to restaurants you had to specify whether or not you wanted a table in the smoking or non-smoking sections. If you went to a bar, the fog of smoke prevented you from seeing far and the smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the air. Workers in restaurants and bars were most likely to feel the ill effects of secondhand smoke but all patrons to those places would be exposed to some degree of secondhand smoke.  Since the passage of the smoking ban, the number of smoke-free homes have increased from 77% in 2004 to 89% in 2012.  The percentage of Nebraskans who reported that smoking in the family vehicle increased from 76% in 2004 to 85% in 2012. The smoking ban changed norms for people of Nebraska where they no longer felt obligated to allow smoking in their car or home and adopted voluntary smoke free rules for their personal property.

Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, there is a bit of a generational gap of the dangers of secondhand smoke. This is something that I have come into contact with, with those in their mid-50’s who dismiss the health problems of secondhand smoke with a wave of their hand that people are upset about the smell of cigarettes while downplaying the significant health problems with secondhand and even thirdhand smoke.

According to one study, the authors found that women that were exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant had a decrease in 153.1 grams in birth weight.  This may not seem significant but low birth weight (LBW) is associated with “fetal and neonatal mortality and morbidity, inhibited growth and cognitive development, and risk of chronic diseases in later life.” The authors of the study note that while the exposure is less in secondhand smoke than in active smoking the “potential for biologic action is expected to be similar.” The Surgeon General’s report celebrating 50 years of progress on cigarette action noted that nicotine

is a pharmacologically active agent that has acute toxicity and that readily enters the body and is distributed throughout. Beyond causing addiction, it activates multiple biologic pathways that are relevant to fetal growth and development, immune function, the cardiovascular system, the central nervous system, and carcinogenesis. Nicotine exposure during fetal development, a critical window for the brain, has lasting adverse consequences for brain development. Nicotine exposure during pregnancy also contributes to adverse reproductive outcomes, such as preterm birth and stillbirth.

The CDC notes that mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke or babies exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than are babies who are not exposed. The Surgeon General report claims that 100,000 babies have died of SIDS or complications from prematurity, low birth weight, or other conditions caused by parental smoking. In another study, researchers found that exposure to secondhand smoke increased a non-smoking pregnant woman’s chances of having a stillborn by 23% and increased the risk of delivering a baby with birth defects by 13%. 

More common is the dismissal that thirdhand smoke is just an irritation to smell but does not cause any health problems. Thirdhand smoke is the toxins from tobacco smoke that are on furniture, cars, clothing, and other surfaces. It’s essentially aged secondhand smoke. In the study, published in the American Journal of Psychology, the researchers at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, found that prenatal exposure to thirdhand smoke “can have as serious or an even more negative impact on an infants’ lung development as postanatal or childhood exposure to smoke.” The exposure can lead to “prenatal disruption of lung development can lead to asthma and other respiratory ailments that can last a lifetime.”

Simply put, exposure to smoke, whether firsthand, secondhand, or thirdhand leads to harmful prenatal development and increases the likelihood of stillborn, low birth weight, SIDS, and long standing respiratory problems for children. The culture of life seems like an odd thing to hold onto when being unwilling to take positions to help protect children’s lives outside the scope of abortion.

Lifetime tenure

Fischer was able to defeat the one candidate who is likely to be her strongest challenger for however long she wants to stay in the U.S. Senate. The Nebraska Democratic Party does not have a very strong bench, especially for a statewide run. This does not seem like something will change in the immediate future. Of course, we all know how something like the 2012 Republican autopsy report becomes outdated. So I’m ambivalent about making about making concrete long term predictions. Fischer co-sponsored, not once, not twice, but three times a resolution calling for term limits in Congress. The resolution called for a maximum term limit of 2 terms in the U.S. Senate, all three times. S.J. Res. 2 introduced in 2013 by David Vitter among others, S.J. Res. 1 in 2015 introduced by Vitter, and S.J. Res. 2 introduced in 2017 by Ted Cruz.   In theory, this will be her last election in 2018. But there are weasel words in those bills. Section 3 states “no term beginning before the date of the ratification of this article shall be taken into account in determining eligibility for election or appointment under this article.” Thus exempting themselves from needing to take the resolution seriously going forward. At this point, we expect nothing more.

I do not want to spend the entire introduction to Senator Fischer as a discussion of our disagreements of policy because I want to cover that in tremendous detail in subsequent posts focusing on policy not just for Fischer but all of Nebraska’s candidates. The rest of this section will focus primarily on Senator Fischer’s opposition to Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense under Barack Obama and particularly a line that she wrote in her op-ed about leadership.

As I previously noted, Republican Chuck Hagel supported Democrat Bob Kerrey in the general election. 2013 was in the middle of a tectonic shift in the Republican Party where it shifted from a party willing to work with the Democratic Party to a party grounded in outright opposition. To many, Hagel supporting Kerrey in the general election was worse than what many Democrats could do. Some Republican groups and leaders held their nose about the Presidential nominee in Mitt Romney because they feared a second term of Barack Obama. After the election, they did not see a point to hold back any longer. To provide just one example, the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Mitt Romney for President in 2012 (and later deleted their endorsement page) despite his support for the Defense of Marriage Act and don’t ask, don’t tell. He also signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge to support a federal marriage amendment enshrining the right to marry to be reserved for a man and a woman. They had previously endorsed George W. Bush in 2000 but not 2004 (due to Bush’s support for the same amendment Romney pledged to support) and endorsed John McCain in 2008. But when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was nominated for Secretary of Defense, the Log Cabin Republicans took out ads opposing Hagel. One reason was because he joked that an ambassador was “openly, aggressively gay”. The other two reasons were because of his stance in favoring don’t ask, don’t tell and his support for the Defense of Marriage Act. Nevermind that Hagel wrote a letter expressly saying that he supported the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. The opposition to Hagel was intensely personal. Even if those opposing tried to dress it up in terms of policy disagreements. When Hagel endorsed a Democrat in the 2012 Senate election, he should have known that he was going to face a tough confirmation if he was nominated for anything.

Fischer wrote an op-ed for the Omaha World Herald about why she could not support Hagel for Secretary of Defense. In it, there is a lot of criticism for Hagel as Secretary of Defense. But what is most striking to me is something I agree with quite a bit, she writes, “I understand no one has all the answers or is correct 100 percent of the time. But as an elected official, I also believe leadership requires the humility to admit being wrong.” One of the areas where Fischer criticizes Hagel was his opposition to the Iraq surge. She wrote

Similarly, when pressed by Sen. John McCain about his opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq, which helped to turn around an unsuccessful war, Sen. Hagel refused to acknowledge his incorrect judgment.

A popular narrative around Iraq is that the 2007 Iraq surge was the force that led to a stabilizing effect in Iraq. Hagel opposed the Iraq surge in 2007. During confirmation hearings, Hagel noted how his experience in war informed his opinions about how to handle wars.

 “I saw [war] from the bottom. It directly formed me and goes to Sen. McCain’s question about the surge. I have one fundamental question that I asked myself in every vote I took, in every decision I made – was the policy worthy of the men and women we were sending into battle, and surely to their deaths?”

Hagel went on to concede that the surge helped in the objective of the Iraq War. But also noted that there were other factors at work. He argued that history should be the ultimate judge of the Iraq surge. John McCain retorted back, “I think history has already made a judgment on the surge, sir, and you are on the wrong side of it.” Doug Olivant, an Army planning officer in Baghdad, told NPR that the stabilization of Iraq was “more to do with deep political and social forces inside Iraq.” He concluded that Iraqi Sunni leaders decided to work with the Americans prior to the surge which helped but the real change came from inside Iraq. Alex Kingsbury wrote in the Boston Globe about themyth of the surge in 2014, noting that in 2008 only 4% of Iraqis said additional US forces were responsible for the decline in violence. A 2011 article in the Small Wars Journal found that the Sunni tribes turning against Al Qaeda and stand-down by militias had a greater effect on security than the surge. The grander strategy of political reconciliation as a result of the surge was an abject failure. Hagel struck a courageous stance with regards to opposing the surge. Over one thousand troops during the surge, as Hagel said in his confirmation hearings.

The surge was not a smashing success as Fischer likened to in her op-ed and certainly does not talk about Hagel’s certainly correct assessment of the situation while he was sitting for his confirmation hearing. Fischer, to my knowledge, has not indicated that she was mistaken or should not have spoken with such certainty about the success of the surge.

Roughly 2 years ago, Senator John McCain and Dianne Feinstein introduced the McCain-Feinstein amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment would strengthen the prohibition on torture and ensure the United States does not engage in torture. The amendment would use the Army Field Manual the single standard for U.S. government interrogations.   In 2009, a special task force on interrogations which included the CIA concluded “the practices and techniques identified by the [Interrogation] Manual or currently used by law enforcement provide adequate and effective means of conducting interrogations.” In 2014, when a report about the CIA’s interrogation program was released showing that the CIA misled the effectiveness and extent of certain interrogation techniques, Fischer criticized it as partisan.

“We need to look at what information is brought forward when you use those techniques, and if it’s proved to be valuable, we have to have all options on the table. We need to protect citizens of this country.”

Protecting citizens of this country and the military personnel is exactly why so many people in the military and intelligence warned against the use of torture and the expansion of it. JPRA prepared memos for the Bush administration warning against the use of torture because the information may be unreliable. They wrote in one memo “the unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel.” Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling, after Donald Trump stated that torture works, simply said there’s no indication that torture works.  He went further saying “there are much better ways to get information through proper interrogation techniques.” Ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern also wrote that torture does not provide reliable information. Ex-CIA chief David Petraeus also opposes torture saying that you’re more likely to get information from a detainee by becoming his best friend. Petraeus opposes the idea that information from torture led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. I could go on with a number of retired military and intelligence officials willing to talk about how torture does not produce reliable information and provides justification for the torture of American troops or soldiers.

Fischer joined 20 other Republicans in opposing the McCain-Feinstein Amendment on torture. Fischer has yet to say she was wrong for doing so.

What’s next

I have no ill feelings toward Fischer. I wish she was more willing to admit that she was wrong on a number of issues and willing to break with Republican orthodoxy. But I don’t think she will. She has not been arguing that she is an independent voice for Nebraska or claiming that she works in a bipartisan manner. The pretext is gone. She’ll probably run as a strong conservative. I have no illusions that she will be defeated but I would rather her own up to her policy shortcomings and provide leadership, as she defines it, which is to admit she was wrong. When she finds that humility, it will be greatly appreciated.

To contact the writer: omahapoliticsblog@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mandatory E-Verify

E-Verify began as a pilot program as part of the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). It began in November of 1997 and has been extended multiple times. The electronic verification process was used to strengthen the process of employment verification that was initially used with the I-9 forms. Since 2003, E-Verify has been administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS/USCIS). While it is mostly a voluntary program, certain federal contractors since 2009 have to commit to use E-Verify going forward.

So what is it? Employers collect information on the employee including name, date of birth, social security number, and immigration or citizenship status. The information is sent electronically and compared to the information to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and possibly to DHS to confirm identity and employment eligibility. If the information matches what is in the SSA’s system, then the employee is eligible to work provided that the electronic image of the worker’s ID “reasonably” matches the worker’s actual ID. If there is not a match, a Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC) notice is issued. If an employee gets a TNC, the worker has eight federal working days to contact DHS or SSA to figure out the problem. If the worker does not do so, the employee receives a Final Nonconfirmation notice (FNC) and the employer is required by law to fire the employee.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that 8% of employers participate in E-Verify. In FY2012, the number of E-Verify requests were over 21 million according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 52 million nonfarm hires in 2012. E-Verify currently represents a significant portion of nonfarm hires currently in the United States. The point of E-Verify is to limit the number of unauthorized workers working in the United States. Supporters of it point out that it works by being a deterrence for those applying to jobs that do not have proper authorization and that most people receiving FNC’s are, in fact, not authorized to work. It follows that a massive increase in E-Verify would be a bigger deterrent in unauthorized workers and would take those unauthorized workers out of the workforce.

In the past few years, there has been an increased push for mandatory E-Verify for all jobs and hires whether it is on the federal level or at the state level. If implemented without serious reforms, it would be a massive increase in government bureaucracy and place a significant burden on many workers who may erroneously be prevented from working.

An increase in government bureaucracy

Perhaps the most popular policy agenda item of the Republican Party is the idea that the Federal Government is much too large with too large of bureaucracies able to make decisions that affect too many of our daily lives. Currently, neither DHS nor SSA are capable to be handle such an increase in E-Verify. They would have to greatly expand their offices by hiring more employees and more training. In the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) report “Prove Yourself to Work: The 10 Big Problems with E-Verify”, they note that AARP has expressed concern about further expanding SSA’s administrative burdens. The AARP is concerned that a further expansion of the role of the SSA in E-Verify would prevent them from being able to provide timely services to beneficiaries. As our population ages and many Baby Boomers are set to retire and increase the claims for Social Security, taking employees away from helping those retirees to help administer E-Verify seems like a poor choice.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have tried to run on the idea of cutting government spending and stopping waste. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that legislation expanding to mandatory E-Verify would have a significant impact on federal spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office. To comply with the increased workload and upgraded computer systems, DHS would need to spend $454 million over the next 5 years. SSA would need to spend an additional $161 million over the first 5 years. Over the 10 years, the CBO projected that direct spending would increase by about $9 billion over a 10 year period. Further, they project that a number of unauthorized workers will leave the normal workforce, the revenues for the federal government would decrease by $39 billion over a 10 year period.

One of the things that we need to think about when we think about government policies, if we are to even consider the idea that we are fiscally conscious, is the cost of programs and whether or not it is worth it. For instance, the cost of E-Verify over the course of 10 years is about $50 billion. What can we for the cost of $5 billion/year? And is it worth the cost to run a mandatory program, especially one that would place a significant burden on businesses and a number of individuals?

A significant burden

Not surprising to anyone who has ever had to work with a data set, a small typo, a mistake, or an extra keystroke can cause information not to show up when it is supposed to. The ACLU tells the story of Jessica St. Pierre in their report. St. Pierre was a U.S. citizen who was told there was a problem with her E-Verify. She was fortunate in that she was able to visit the local SSA office. She was told that everything was correct and received a printout to that effect. The E-Verify representative at the SSA office promised that the he would call the employer.  But the issue was still there. St. Pierre contacted several government offices and eventually was told to contact the E-Verify hotline. She was, again, told that the information in the system was correct.  The E-Verify hotline representative promised to call the employer. St. Pierre was unable to correct the issue in the system and was fired from her job for not being authorized to work. The issue? The employer submitted her information with two spaces after her last name.

According to the USCIS, in 2012, 1 in every 400 cases submitted to E-Verify regarding a TNC determination were reversed upon appeal by the worker. The ACLU is correct to note that while it does not seem like that many people but with over 150 million workers in our country, that would be 400,000 people would have been deprived of their ability to work. While employers are not supposed to be able to take adverse action against those who contest their TNC status, some employers end up doing so. For instance, in the Westat study for the USCIS, 17.1% of employers admitted to restricting work assignments until authorization was confirmed, 15.4% reported delaying training until authorization was confirmed, and 2.5% reported reducing pay during the verification process.  In one survey of immigrant workers in Arizona, a third were immediately fired after receiving a TNC violating the rules that were already in effect. Even worse, since the employee has to take the matter into his own hands to contest the TNC, a worker is often at the mercy of the employer to get time off to do so. Since the hotlines are only open from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM and the local offices are only open during normal business hours, it is fairly difficult for a worker to do so.

Per the ACLU, “The GAO found that from April through June of 2008, the TNC rate for employees who were eventually authorized to work was approximately 20 times higher for foreign-born employees than for U.s. – born employees.” The Migration Policy Institute notes that “erroneous nonconfirmations will disproportionately affect citizens with foreign names, naturalized citizens, and legal immigrants.” So while it will disproportionately affect people in those categories, the GAO predicted that 164,000 citizens per year will receive a TNC for issues related to name changes. The erroneous thought is that it will only impact those who are unauthorized to work under the false premise that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. But there will almost certainly be an impact on nearly every American.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce often complains about the number of rules and regulations that small businesses have to follow that bury the businesses without a way of getting out to create much needed jobs. The National Immigration Law Center points out the potential impacts on small businesses with mandatory E-Verify.  An Arizona small business owner Mike Castillo stated “the program isn’t user-friendly for small business owners.” Arizona is one of the states that requires employers to use E-Verify. Castillo complained about a technical glitch that took several days to fix made it difficult for him to make a part-time hire taking time away from his core business. According to the National Immigration Law Center, only 12% of E-Verify users are small businesses, noting that many farms and small businesses do not have high-speed internet access. A Bloomberg analysis found that the use of E-Verify would have cost small businesses $2.6 billion in 2010. Bloomberg estimates that E-Verify cost small businesses currently in E-Verify $81 million. One small business in Maryland stated that it would cost $27,000 for the company to use E-Verify for one year.

The National Immigration Law Center estimates that between 50 and 75% of the U.S. agricultural labor force is made up of unauthorized workers. The National Immigration Law Center compiled testimony from Rick Roth, a farmer in Florida who said that he could not get legal residents to harvest his crops and a mandatory E-Verify bill would bankrupt farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that for every 1 on-farm job there are about 3.1 upstream and downstream jobs, that support and are created by the growing of agricultural products.