Governing in Divided Government

The pre-primary season is winding down and the primary season is upon us. The field of candidates will now start dwindling a little faster than it has over the past year. There have been numerous televised debates, town halls, campaign rallies, and new stories.

We have heard countless questions from moderators and from voters themselves. But in all this time, there has been one question that I have not heard asked that should be asked of every candidate that is running. How do they plan to govern with the other side?

independent2It essentially doesn’t matter which candidate wins the presidential election in November when it comes to this simple question. It all hinges on the Senate. Regardless if the winning candidate’s party is in control of the chamber, the opposition will still have enough to invoke the filibuster. And there is the possibility that the opposition could be in control of the chamber as well. Neither side will have a filibuster-proof majority.

Partisan divisiveness has gotten worse in the past several years. We have seen what happens when neither side want to work together and instead just point fingers. This goes for the halls of the Capitol and the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

We need candidates that are willing to step up and acknowledge that in divided government it becomes necessary to govern with the other side and govern by that mentality. It cannot be an all-or-nothing approach. And it is up to us, the voters, to ensure this and to hold our elected officials accountable to it.

Presidential candidates will spout off promises and tell their voters what they want to hear. But when the dust settles, and we have a winner, then it’s an entirely new situation. They must figure out what they have in common and work through their differences keeping open communication the entire time.

A recent RCP poll average gives Congress a 14-percent approval rating. As we vote, we should remember that as well. We have repeatedly said that we are tired of brinkmanship and going from one crisis to another with only immediate fixes and not long-term solutions. The time has now come to elect candidates that can and will work together regardless of the ideological divide.

So how do the various candidates plan to govern with the other side? I guess we should start asking and find out.

The Politics of Syrian Refugees

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The above appears on the Statue of Liberty and is part of a larger poem by Emma Lazarus. With its location near Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty became the symbol for new immigrants and refugees entering the United States in search of a better life. Even though the massive immigration center no longer processes new people into the country, the statue still retains its symbol for those that are yearning to be free. Yet it would appear that the quote above doesn’t apply to the 21st century… at least to some.

Syria has been bogged down in a civil war since the Arab Spring. In the past couple of years, a new terrorist group (ISIS) has emerged as a major threat both to the stability of Syria and neighboring Iraq and to the western world. It has become a confusing mix of who is fighting who. (The following video tries to simplify the ongoing war in Syria. https://www.facebook.com/ezraklein/videos/10153737513773410/)

On November 13, Islamic extremists went on a rampage throughout Paris killing 129 people. It turns out that one of those responsible is a Syrian refugee that got into France with thousands of other refugees that have been entering Europe as the war in Syria has escalated. This was one out of thousands yet there is no way to determine if there are more. It was always a concern that ISIS would try to slip agents into Europe and the US through the mass migration of Syrian refugees. It would appear that at least one did and possibly others, but it may not warrant the mass hysteria that seems to be coming from this horrible event.

The rest of the attackers that night, though still Muslim extremists, were European nationalists. As Republican governors, members of Congress, and even candidates for President have started foaming at the mouth about not accepting any Syrian refugees now, they say absolutely nothing about allowing Europeans into the country. These are the same Republicans that say one can’t blame all law-abiding gun owners any time there is a mass shooting. Yet somehow they are going to accuse all Syrian refugees because of one terrorist that came in with all the others.

Governors throughout the US have been declaring that they will not accept Syrian refugees within their state. This is more political posturing than reality. The Refugee Act of 1980, which was an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, created explicit procedures on how to deal with refugees entering the US by creating a uniform resettlement and absorption policy. Basically this makes it a federal matter, not a state. So all of these governors have no real say. Once someone has been approved and is allowed to enter the US, they are free to move about the country and settle wherever they would like just the same as anyone else.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, under new House Speaker Paul Ryan, are preparing legislation to halt Syrian refugees. It’s unclear as to whether such a bill would pass the Senate where Democrats can still filibuster. And it’s more likely to get a veto from President Obama if it were to reach his desk. Republicans need to tread more carefully and watch their words and their tone though. According to an article on POLITICO, faith-based groups as well as Evangelical Christians are largely in favor of the Syrian refugees.

The words of President Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear and hate aren’t the answers. True, we can’t tell which of the refugees are good and which might be members of ISIS or another extremist group. But we can’t even say that about our own citizens. We have to remember that 99% of those that are coming to this country are in search of safety and a better life… something that was ripped away from them in their home country.

In early 2015, several Bosnian refugees that had settled in St. Louis in the 1990s were arrested for sending money and military supplies to terrorist groups overseas. Did this mean that all the Bosnian refugees that entered our country were terrorists and should be deported? Of course not. Just a few bad apples in a community that has been a valuable asset to the city as a whole.

According to the American Immigration Council, the United States took in approximately 70,000 refugees in 2014 (the same as 2013). Almost half have came from the Near East/South Asia which includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. The cap for the number of refugees is set at 70,000 for 2015 as well.

Our nation has always been a melting pot of different people. It makes our culture quite unique as we have found a way to blend it all together. There have been times when immigrants and refugees haven’t been given a fair chance… the Irish, Catholics, Italians, Eastern Europeans, etc. In the end, the fear that was largely rampant was proven mostly unfounded. The vast majority melted into our society. The new Syrian refugees will be no different than those that have come before.

Sure we all want to feel safe and protected. The majority of those refugees want the same thing. Is it possible that a member of ISIS could slip in? Sure. But they could always slip in another way, too, or influence an American citizen. We know the latter has happened already. We can’t blame all Syrians any more than we can blame all Americans. It is a risk we take, but it is part of our values as well. And we can’t lose sight of those. We must rise above hate and fear to see the bigger picture… the humanitarian aspect.

The Curious Case of Kim Davis

At the end of June, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that state bans on same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment and were thus unconstitutional. This led to same-sex marriage being legal throughout the country.

The majority of places began to make the necessary changes within the coming weeks. There was no more uncertainty where the law stood. But in Rowan County, the elected clerk Kim Davis decided to take a stand and defy the Court’s ruling. Not only has she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she has refused to issue any marriage license.

Davis filed a lawsuit in federal court after Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear told clerks throughout the state that they had to comply with the ruling and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The court ruled that she had to comply with the law. So she filed an appeal to the Supreme Court which also ruled this week that she had to comply with the law to which she is still refusing to do today.

Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman at a protest outside the Rowen County Clerk's Office. (c) Chris Hartman

Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman at a protest outside the Rowan County Clerk’s Office.
(c) Chris Hartman

This ordeal has opened up the old debate of religious liberty protected under the First Amendment and equal rights for all citizens. Kim Davis has been quoted saying that she was not issuing marriage licenses “under God’s authority.” As an Apostolic Christian, she says that she cannot issue marriage licenses as it goes against her religious beliefs.

Another Kentucky clerk that is standing alongside Kim Davis is Casey Davis who has stated that they haven’t tried to prevent same-sex marriage just exercise their First Amendment rights and that same-sex couples could go to a neighboring county to get their marriage licenses.

From that it would seem, we’d be going from the patchwork of states that either legalized same-sex marriages or banned them to the counties. This would seem to be even more confusing if it came to this. Sadly, what Kim Davis is failing to recognize is that the law is the law. It has been ruled upon and even affirmed now.

Kim Davis has the right to believe what she wishes. However, she is a public servant and should do her job. The key words in that sentence are “public servant.” If she is unable to perform the tasks of her job then she either needs to be fired or resign on her own. She does not have the right to decide which laws she will follow and which she will not.

I’m sure we could all get into a huge discussion about what is actually written in the Bible about same-sex marriage, women’s rights, shellfish, slavery, and many other things but that is not the point of this. Yes, we all have the right to freely believe and practice whatever religion we wish to so long as it does not affect anyone else.

When James Madison originally proposed what would eventually become our First Amendment this is what he had written regarding our Freedom of Religion:

“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.”

The civil rights of NONE shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship. Same-sex marriage is a civil right. It has been ruled upon and affirmed. The Supreme Court even ruled back as far as Loving v. Virginia (1967) that marriage was a civil right and therefore was protected under the Constitution.

Let’s put this into a difference scenario. How would Ms. Davis feel if someone told her that because she is a woman that she cannot voice her own opinion and was subservient to her husband? The Bible does state this in Ephesians 5:21-30, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.”

I’m sure Ms. Davis would be quite vocal in her objection if someone were to enforce that upon her. Just like with the law, she doesn’t get to pick which parts of her religion she is going to practice and which she will not.

Despite what her religious beliefs or objections may be, the US Constitution is still the supreme law of this country (Article 6, Clause 2) and not the Bible. One may use the Bible for their own personal well-being and for their spirituality but it ends there. If Ms. Davis cannot separate these two things then she has no business being a public servant and should probably find a job at her church.

The Demise of the Bulk Collection of Data

fbi_wiretapRarely do I heap any praise on a politician. I always keep a skeptical eye toward them and am not afraid to call them out when necessary. But today, that praise is necessary. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (and also a 2016 presidential candidate) was a wrecking ball in the past couple of weeks when it came to allowing certain provisions in the Patriot Act to expire.

The Patriot Act was passed by Congress out of fear in the days after the 9/11 attacks. The way it had been interpreted by the National Security Agency (NSA) was that it legally allowed them to spy on everyday Americans. Most of the time it was without a warrant, but if one was needed, it had created a secret FISA court that basically granted one each time (only 11 times was one rejected) as it only heard the government’s side.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to collect “any tangible things” that the government proves are “relevant to” an investigation into suspected terrorists.

A lot of what the NSA was doing was brought to light when Edward Snowden blew the whistle about the operation. I don’t consider Snowden to be a patriot or a traitor. I consider him to be an American who saw the federal government overstepping its authority and letting the public know what was happening.

So if the law states the government can collect the data then what’s the problem? The problem is that it violates your right to privacy which is guaranteed under the Constitution. Law enforcement must request a specific warrant, not a blanket warrant that encompasses everyone, from an actual court… not some secret court that the public knows nothing about nor has any defense in. If Congress really wants to do this then they need to go about the proper way of amending the Constitution to allow it.

Republicans are tearing him apart for allowing the Patriot Act to expire. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has gone so far as to claim that it was a publicity stunt since Senator Paul is running for president. I can’t say whether that is true or not, but it has been one of his biggest issues since he entered the Senate back in 2011.

Senator Paul may also have something else to back him up. In early May, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the NSA’s bulk, warrantless collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal though stopping short of deciding its constitutionality. This came almost a year after a lower court ruled the program “almost-Orwellian.”

“Because we find that the program exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized, we vacate the decision below dismissing the complaint without reaching appellants’ constitutional arguments.”
Judge Gerald Lynch

The public has been undecided on what should be done. On the one hand they don’t want the government overstepping their constitutional authority and violating our right to privacy. However, on the other hand they want to feel protected from terrorists as it was born out of the fear from that. In the past several weeks, national security analysts have been hitting the media airwaves stating that the bulk collection of data has been worthless and has had no result on anything.

So what should be the path forward? In the past month the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act. Is it perfect? No. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be added to the debate on how we proceed forward. POLITICO posted an article recently that reported how this new piece of legislation would “reform” the Patriot Act.

However Congress chooses to proceed forward in the days and weeks ahead, they should be mindful of our constitutional rights when deciding on national security. Though we take national security very seriously, we will not allow our rights to be disregarded.

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
Benjamin Franklin

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