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Trump’s First Oval Office Address Filled with False Claims, Conway Keeps Repeating Them Anyway

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WASHINGTON, January 9, 2019 — As the second-longest government shutdown in American history enters its third week, President Trump on Tuesday attempted to galvanize public support for his unpopular proposal to build a wall at the country’s southern border with a televised, prime-time address to the nation.

After the broadcast networks broke into their regularly-scheduled programming, the president appeared on screen shortly after 9 p.m. to address his fellow Americans about what he called “a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” caused by “thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country.”

Trump spoke while sitting at the Resolute desk, behind which past presidents have delivered televised remarks at pivotal moments in history. These include John F. Kennedy’s warning to the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lyndon Johnson’s declining to seek a second full term, and Richard Nixon’s announcing his resignation amidst the turmoil of Watergate, Gerald Ford’s putting an end to the “long national nightmare” by pardoning Nixon days later, Ronald Reagan’s consoling Americans after Challenger disaster, and George W. Bush’s comforting and reassuring a traumatized nation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Unlike those singular examples of presidential oratory, Trump’s ten-minute-long speech broke no new ground.

Mischaracterizations and falsehoods began almost immediately, with the president’s claim that Customs and Border Protection officers encounter “thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter the country each day.”

The president then attempted to draw a line from the number of aliens — legal and otherwise — arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to a claimed epidemic of violent crime resulting from the lack of a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now,” he said.

Trump also attempted to tie current immigration and border security policies to the nationwide opioid epidemic by repeating his claim that the lack of a border wall has turned the southern border into “a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.”

Trump has frequently suggested that the fentanyl responsible for so many overdose deaths is brought into the United States from Mexico despite the fact that the vast majority of fentanyl sold on American streets comes from Chinese manufacturers and makes its way to the U.S. through the mail or through ports of entry.

Numerous studies have found that immigrants, regardless of status, commit crimes at far lower rates than native-born Americans. Moreover, most drug smuggling — and drug seizures by Customs and Border Protection officers — takes places at ports of entry.

While Trump’s use of the phrase “illegal immigration” brings to mind the image of men and women furtively crossing the border by evading border patrol officers, administration officials openly admit that the number of actual illegal immigrants caught while attempting to cross the border has been on the decline for years. In fact, it is the lowest it has been in decades.

Most people who are residing in the United States illegally came here not through a furtive dash through the desert, but through a passport line on a tourist visa.

Trump also invoked the scourge of human smugglers known as “coyotes” while claiming that 20,000 children “were illegally brought into the country” last month. But as the children in question were granted legal status while their asylum claims are pending, this claim falls flat.

Asked why the president continues to deliberately mischaracterize persons exercising the right to claim asylum in the U.S. as “illegal immigrants,” Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday that such a distinction was nothing more than “semantics” because “not everyone who presents a claim of fear has a credible claim of fear.”

Conway complained that under current law, families seeking asylum are required to be released into the United States during the pendency of their claims.

When it was pointed out to Conway that the asylum process is a legal method of immigrating to the United States, she told reporters that “that’s not true” because Mexico is a “safe third country” from which immigrants could apply for asylum. “Under the law, they could certainly stay there while their claims are being processed.”.

While the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act bars asylum to aliens who can be returned to a “safe third country,” the Immigration and Nationality Act requires a bilateral or multilateral agreement to be in place between the United States and that country before the 1996 law can be invoked to deny anyone asylum.

The U.S. has a “safe third country” agreement with Canada, but no such agreement exists between the U.S. and Mexico.

When pressed further, Conway again tried to deny that the asylum process is a legal one, telling BeltwayBreakfast: “As a woman, as a mother, I don’t want these kids raped, trafficked, getting into drugs. I care about the kids on that side on the border, I care about kids on this side of the border, and I think it’s high time that people rise above the partisanship and agree on that very basic point,” she said.

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else news happens for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

White House

Party-Line Votes Stop Schumer’s Subpoena Push

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The Senate has rejected a succession of amendments to the rules governing President Trump’s impeachment trial which would direct Chief Justice John Roberts to issue subpoenas to the White House and several executive branch agencies which refused to honor subpoenas issued during the House’s impeachment inquiry.

Senators voted along party lines, 53-47 to table a series of amendments offered to the proposed Republican-authored trial rules by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, which would have compelled the White House, the State Department, and the Office of Management and Budget to produce documents for the Senate to consider as evidence when deciding whether to remove Trump from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, condemned Democrats for objecting to the “very reasonable proposal” of using a process similar to that used to try President Bill Clinton in 1999.

“This seems to be a time for Adam Schiff and the house managers to attack the president and lecture the American people,” he said.

While speaking to reporters during a break in the trial, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar hit back against White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who during part of his arguments on Tuesday remarked that “some of you” (referring to senators who are currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination) “should be in Iowa” rather than sitting in the Senate chamber.

“I’ve made clear from the very beginning that I’ve got to do my constitutional duty,” she said.

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White House

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Outlines Proposal to Majority Leader for Senate Trial of Donald Trump

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Photo of Sen. Chuck Schumer from December 2011 by Bill Ingalls of NASA

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2019 – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial to feature witness testimony that was not elicited by House Democrats during their months-long impeachment investigation.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Schumer, D-NY, proposed that the president’s Senate trial begin on Tuesday, January 7th, with House Democrats’ beginning to present their case two days later.

Under Schumer’s proposed trial structure, House Democrats and the president’s attorneys would each have 24 hours to present their case.

But Schumer would also like to hear from witnesses “with direct knowledge of Administration decisions regarding the delay in security assistance funds to the government of Ukraine.”

Among the witnesses Schumer would like Democrats to call are White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mulvaney adviser Robert Blair, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Office of Management and Budget Associate Director for National Security Michael Duffey.

Messrs. Mulvaney, Blair, Bolton and Duffey were each subpoenaed by House Democrats during the House’s investigation, but each of them declined to appear, citing President Trump’s order that administration officials ignore subpoenas issued as part of the House’s inquiry.

According to Schumer, witnesses are necessary because unlike most figures involved in President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, none of the witnesses he has proposed have offered any previous testimony, while many potential witnesses at Clinton’s trial testified before Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s grand jury.

“The trial structure I outlined in my letter to Leader McConnell will ensure all the facts come out,” Schumer said Monday while speaking to reporters.

“In the coming weeks, Republican senators will have a choice — do they want a fair, honest trial that examines all the facts, or do they want a trial that doesn’t let the facts come out?” he asked.

“Trials have witnesses,” he said, adding that if Republicans declined to allow witnesses to be called, the American people would infer that Trump has something to hide.

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Opinion

Trump Administration and Its Enablers Attempt to Smear Civil Servants, Not Political Holdovers

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Photo of former U.S. Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch in September 2016 by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv

After two weeks of hearings which revealed President Donald Trump’s attempt to force Ukraine’s government to announce sham investigations into conspiracy theories meant to exonerate Russia from having interfered in the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden’s family, it’s now a foregone conclusion that Democrats will eventually vote to approve articles of impeachment against a president for only the third time in American history.

When the House reconvenes in December, the task of crafting those articles will fall to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and his staff. They will have a lot of material to work with, mostly testimonial evidence from career foreign service officers, civil servants, foreign policy experts, and even an active duty Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.

But rather than accept the testimony of these largely nonpartisan public servants, Republicans have endeavored to shoot the messengers.

Lt. Col. Vindman, who emigrated here as a child from the Soviet Union and who has literally bled for his adopted homeland (earning a Purple Heart in the process), was recently branded as “Vindictive Vindman” by first-term Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Other witnesses, like Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, have been branded as “Never Trumpers” by the president himself. And the Intelligence Community whistleblower whose complaint touched off the entire impeachment inquiry has been labeled — without evidence — a “Democrat operative” by Trump defenders such as Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the Intelligence Committee’s ranking member.

Some observers may see the constant counterpunching and impugning of witnesses’ motives as just another part of Republicans’ strategy to defend President Trump. But it’s not.

It’s much more frightening than that.

The attempt to smear these nonpartisan civil servants is part of a long-running attempt by Trump and his allies to delegitimize the entire concept of a non-partisan civil service.

It’s a project that stems both from Trump’s obsession with loyalty combined with his misguided belief that federal employees work for him, and from his administration’s goal to “deconstruct the administrative state.”

It began shortly after Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2017, when his allies in conservative media began complaining about “Obama holdovers” serving on the staff of the National Security Council, and in places like the Defense Department, State Department, and pretty much every other executive branch agency.

These “holdovers,” Trump allies said, were to blame for many of the president’s failures, and were part of a Democratic “deep state” working to frustrate Trump’s goals.

The problem with that, of course, is that there is no such thing as a “holdover” — at least not the way Trump and his allies mean.

It is possible for an agency official to be a holdover from a previous administration. When President Obama was preparing to take office in January 2009, he asked then-Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remain in his position.

Gates, a political appointee, was literally held over from the previous administration.

But that’s not what the term means to Trump and his allies.

To them, “holdovers” are the career civil servants and subject matter experts who keep the government running. Such people been a fixture in American government since 1883, when then-President Chester Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which created a competitive exam process for selecting government employees and made it illegal to fire them for political reasons.

Arthur was an unlikely booster for the idea of a professional civil service. He was a “stalwart,” part of a faction of the Republican Party that supported the “spoils” system, which gave the president — and the party controlling the White House — complete control of federal hiring. He was elected as James Garfield’s running mate to placate those Republicans who were concerned about Garfield’s potential for turning off the spoils system’s spigot of graft.

But the abundance of patronage jobs — and the president’s control over them — ended up costing Garfield his life in September 1881, months after he’d been shot twice by Charles Guiteau, a mentally ill man who’d attacked Garfield in a Washington, D.C. train station because he’d been denied the job of consul to Vienna or Paris.

The horror of Garfield’s assassination galvanized public support for a civil service bill, and Arthur — who’d been the subject of unfounded suspicions after his name was invoked by Garfield’s assassin — signed it.

Since then, nonpartisan civil servants have been a fact of life for presidents.

Most have understood that the career professionals who staff the executive branch departments have a vital function.

But not Trump.

For Trump, having served in government during Barack Obama’s presidency is enough to cast suspicion on any federal employee, and his suspicion of career professionals has extended throughout the executive branch.

At agencies large and small, policy planning meetings are routinely restricted to political appointees, and some policies — like the proposed (and dead-in-the-water) merger between the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration — have been designed to give the White House more control over hiring.

Many of those policies have not come to fruition, but the goal of getting rid of “disloyal” employees has now become an article of faith for Trump defenders.

A Senate trial will give Republicans yet more reasons to attack career professionals as disloyal.

The next election will determine whether punishment for “disloyalty” will become more than a conservative pipe dream.

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