President Trump is closing in his first 100 days in office, and everyone is seeking to assess the early progress of the country’s 45th president. Marvin Kalb, distinguished journalist and current senior fellow at Brookings, believes that “the learning curve has been very dramatically on the upside for this president.”
Experts in Russia and cybersecurity revealed that deliberate distribution of false news on social media by Kremlin-funded news source RT was part of Russian active measures throughout the 2016 presidential election. Though an investigation by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees is looking into Russia’s interference during this period, active measures go beyond that timeframe.
Fake personas on social media, some operated by bots, were engaged in a major effort to push fake stories to the top of social media trending topics. Clinton Watts, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, March 30 that Russian active measures include cybersecurity hacks and were not limited to the 2016 presidential election.
“We have accounts dating back to 2009 that are tied to active measures,” Watts said. “2016 was the push into the U.S. audience landscape to build audience. ”
Russia developed their influence campaigns in 2014 and began combining “hacking and influence together for the first time, specifically during the [Democratic National Committee] breaches,” Watts added.
Russia also hacked emails of former Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta during the 2016 campaign. Watts said he was also a cyber attack target in November 2015.
Robert Orttung, Associate Research Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, emphasized that the severity of such active measures was heightened due to the current polarization of the American public, particularly during this contentious election season.
While lawmakers from both parties find common ground to further investigate Russian active measures in the recent years, people in Washington D.C. expressed varying degrees of concerns on this issue.
Embroiled in a week-long confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the fate of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch may rest in the hands of Democratic senators who are torn whether to play politics in a hyper-polarized era.
While Gorsuch’s judicial leanings have been the focus of his confirmation hearing this week, much of the Democratic opposition to the 49-year old judge stems from other places. Some Democrats consider Gorsuch to be an invalid nomination, citing Republican opposition to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, who never received a hearing last year.
“It’s hard not to remain deeply frustrated and upset about the, what I would argue, theft of this seat,” Sen. Chris Coons, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said. “But I think our challenge if we’re gonna try and elevate our deliberations at all is to move past it and look at this nominee on his merits.”
By most accounts polite, pleasant and without skeletons in his closet, Gorsuch has been on a charm offensive since President Trump nominated him in a nationally-televised event on January 31. And the Denver appeals court judge has emanated this aura throughout the week on Capitol Hill, with plenty of “goshes” and “gollys” to go around.
He has consistently sidestepped Democratic efforts throughout the hearing process to reveal how he would vote on specific cases, which follows a long-standing tradition for Supreme Court nominees. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously avoided answering questions regarding the constitutionality of certain issues during her confirmation hearing in 1993. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative political campaign organization, reminded the public of this in a highly-politicized ad released on Monday.
“They’re doing exactly what they said they were going to do and I think they’re coming up short when they’re trying to get views on specific cases and he can’t answer that because it would be pre-judging and he wants to be independent,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s following the Ginsburg rules very carefully – Ginsburg’s standards – and I think that’s what people ought to do. He’s doing very well I think.”
While Republicans are saying that Gorsuch has applied the law to facts in every case without personal opinion or politics, Democrats are pointing to a number of cases where they believe Gorsuch expressed an interest in corporations over individual plaintiffs. When pressed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Gorsuch responded by saying, “I’m a fair judge.”
He declined to comment on a number of topics, including abortion, gun rights and campaign finance reform.
On Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, pressed Gorsuch regarding President Trump’s travel ban, but Gorsuch would not budge. He noted that the issue is currently being litigated in court and thus it would be imprudent for him to comment further. When Leahy asked more broadly about the constitutionality of religious tests, Gorsuch responded by saying, “I will apply the law faithfully.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, was among those frustrated by Gorsuch’s response to this particular matter. When asked if he was satisfied, Durbin responded, “No, but I’m not gonna be satisfied because he’s not gonna answer it.”
In an attempt to convince the nation that he would be a fair-minded justice and prove he is not beholden to President Trump or any special interest, Gorsuch reiterated his private criticism of the president’s attacks on judges who had ruled against the administration. He said that he would have no trouble ruling against President Trump if the law required it.
“When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity or motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening and demoralizing,” Gorsuch said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, pressed Gorsuch on this vagueness of this statement, to which Gorsuch responded, “Anyone is anyone.”
The votes of eight Democrats are needed to get Gorsuch over procedural hurdles to a final confirmation vote, but if those votes are not secured, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears confident to invoke the “nuclear” option and confirm Gorsuch with a simple majority vote.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, believes that Gorsuch’s hearing should be delayed.
“I’d like to point out that it is the height of irony that Republicans held this Supreme Court seat open for nearly a calendar year while President Obama was in office, but are now rushing to fill the seat for a president whose campaign is under investigation by the FBI,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
McConnell is on record saying that Gorsuch will be confirmed before the April recess, though Democrats may have a lot to say in whether or not that is the case.
Gorsuch, who would replace the conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, would not change the makeup of the court. But the president would have the power to dramatically reshape the Supreme Court in the event that one of the older justices retires in the coming years.
For this reason, Democrats need to think carefully before invoking the rule change from Republicans. Like many Democrats, Blumenthal’s final answer on Gorsuch could be categorized as “to be determined,” but he is not satisfied.
“He has to be more forthcoming about the right to privacy and Roe v. Wade, about border safety and consumer protection, about judicial independence,” Blumenthal said.
BOSTON – Hand-in-hand with thousands across the nation, Boston residents took to Boston Common on Monday for a “Not My President’s Day” rally in opposition of President Donald Trump and his recent policies.
In what has become a nationwide trend since the 45th president was inaugurated on Jan. 20, protesters stood in opposition to Trump on a wide range of issues. Among the concerns of those in the Common were women’s rights, immigration, lack of respect for veterans, potential ties to Russia and other foreign policy issues.
“Trump has no idea on any of this,” Julie Rogers of Georgetown, Massachusetts said. “He’s clueless. He’s just a showman. He doesn’t have any knowledge of the world. He’s insulting leaders everywhere.”
Julie and her husband, both adorned with cat-eared hats, were among the roughly twenty people that gathered just outside Park Street Station.
More were originally scheduled to attend the protest, which began at about noon, but the low turnout was due to the fact that the event’s organizer, Kofi Jones, was unable to obtain a permit by Monday.
The Facebook event pertaining to the event anticipated 172 to attend, and had an additional 587 interested. The protest’s description read, “Donald Trump does not represent our values. He is not our President.”
Boston’s rally paled in comparison to protests in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., but the fact that protesters still showed up despite the event’s official cancellation speaks to the liberal grassroots opposition to Trump in Massachusetts.
In November, Trump lost Massachusetts with 32.8 percent of the vote, and citizens like Dan Kontoff are concerned with how he is structuring the government.
“These are not government people working in the government,” Kontoff said. “And these are people who should not be in the government, that’s the problem. They’re working against everything they were picked to be in.”
Kontoff, who refers to himself as Dan the Bagel Man, is an activist and vendor outside of Park Street Station. Wearing a hat with roughly 75 buttons spanning decades and causes, he is known to many in the area for his outspoken political views.
In 1990, he received a warning from the landlord who manages pushcart vendors, and now is an advocate for “Act-Ma,” which helps to organize and promote progressive events in the Greater Boston area.
“Well, it’s not just Trump – it’s Pence,” Kontoff said. “And people don’t realize that he’s [Trump’s] security because if you impeach him, you get Pence – and he’s very well-connected in the Republican party, which is not too good. And his politics are anti-gay, anti-women – very evil. Trump doesn’t have those politics; he’s just doing some bad things.”
If you ask Joe Kebartas of South Boston, who was a medic in the Vietnam War, among those “bad things” is not taking care of veterans.
“[Trump] doesn’t stand with the veterans by sending the troops into Afghanistan and Iraq,” Kebartas said. “16 years of war, and you mean to tell me no one is protesting that? When I was in Vietnam, there were thousands of people on the street trying to save my life. Right? And they did save my life because I got a shorter tour. I got out of Vietnam a couple months earlier than I’d have to because the people protested, Nixon pulled me out, and I’m alive today because the people protested.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump said in a December phone call with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that he would consider sending more troops to bolster the country’s security. Kebartas is dismayed by the fact that roughly one million people came to celebrate the Patriots’ recent victory in Super Bowl LI, but few are protesting the deployment of troops.
When it comes to Trump’s relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin, protesters expressed varying views.
There are concerns regarding Russian hacking during the election, Russian operatives having information that could be used to blackmail Trump, and most recently, a report from the New York Times that claimed multiple Trump aides had repeated contact with Russia during the campaign.
Trump has continually denied affiliations with Russia, stating in a Feb. 15 tweet that, “This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.” He has also blamed the “fake news” media.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
“It might not be dangerous because there’s definitely a chance to talk – talk instead of troops,” Kebartas said.
Kontoff, though, was a bit more weary of Trump’s ties to Russia.
“We don’t know how bad Russia is or not,” Kontoff said. “Russia’s problem is the oil connections, and you also have to look at Trump’s connections. Where is his money connected to? Does he owe Russia a lot of money? And he does. I heard they bailed him out. And he owes big-time.”
Among the posters in the Common on Monday was one from Rogers that said, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” in reference to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s silencing of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on Feb. 7.
Another referenced Boston’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has pledged to protect all residents and would even use City Hall as a last resort.
In response to Trump’s claim that the media is the “enemy of the American people,” one poster read, “Fake your tan, not your news.”
“We need the press,” Rogers said. “The press needs to keep reporting the truth, you know. I think [the administration] is just telling lies. I think they’re continuing to tell lies so that everybody will start to believe the lies.”
WASHINGTON – In front of a packed audience at George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium on Tuesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Ted Cruz debated the future of the controversial Affordable Care Act as part of a CNN town hall event.
Though the two senators are virtually on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes health care, they engaged in a thoughtful, civil debate and were in agreement on some points.
“It was really cool to experience,” GW student Laura Geraci said. “You want to see bipartisanship and the fact that a major news network is sponsoring this conversation and that these two senators, who are both very influential people in their respective parties, were able to come together and have a civil discourse is a really important thing.”
The event comes at a time when Republicans and Democrats cannot seem to find common ground on what could turn out to be one of the fiercest political fights of the coming years. President Donald Trump has consistently criticized the law, and Cruz has vowed to “repeal every word,” while Democrats have promised to defend former President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation.
After tweeting on Jan. 13 that “The “Unaffordable” Care Act will soon be history,” President Trump said in an interview with Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly last week that an ACA replacement may take until 2018, but Americans could expect tax cuts this year. In contrast, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he expects to pass legislation to replace the law before the end of 2017.
Moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, the senators took questions for more than 90 minutes from an audience that included both supporters and critics of the ACA, but began by expressing their varying views on the issue.
Sanders warned that the GOP plan to repeal the law would have negative consequences for millions of Americans.
“If you are one of 20 million Americans who finally has received health insurance, forget about it – you’re gone,” Sanders said. “That means when you get sick, you ain’t gonna be able to go to the doctor. And when you end up in the hospital, you’ll be paying those bills for the rest of your life, or maybe you’ll go bankrupt.”
Cruz countered by saying that Sanders and the Democrats want the government to control health care and this election proved that the American people want something different.
“2010, 2014, 2016 I believe was a mandate from the voters who said we’re tired of premiums going up, we’re tired of deductibles going up, we’re tired of less choices,” Cruz said. “So yes, Congress should move swiftly to repeal Obamacare. Absolutely.”
Citing a number of “broken promises” by President Obama, Cruz claimed that six million people had their plans cancelled against their wishes. However, independent researchers estimate that number to be fewer than one million.
Though he conceded that the ACA needs improvement, Sanders believes that the United States, like all major countries in the world, should be moving toward guaranteeing health care to all people as a right.
One area where the runners-up in the 2016 presidential nominating contests agreed was regarding the large profits taken in by the pharmaceutical industry.
“I would love for us to work together in going after big Pharma,” Cruz said.
On most other issues, though, such protecting people with pre-existing conditions, how to make health care more affordable, and how to reform Medicaid, the leading lawmakers expressed opposing views.
Neosho Ponder, a breast cancer patient, said she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to get coverage without Obamacare.
Cruz said that Republicans support prohibiting insurance companies from cancelling coverage for someone just because they are sick, but Sanders responded that “it’s a direct contradiction of everything you ran for President on.”
Sanders faced a question from Melissa Borkowski, who said that she fears she may have an undiagnosed cancer because she could not afford the health services that she needs.
Sanders called it “absurd” that Borkowski had such an “outrageous deductible,” and again stressed that America needs to join the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteeing health care for all.
“There are many people in America struggling with exactly what you are in the wreckage of Obamacare – with skyrocketing premiums, with deductibles that are unaffordable, and with really limited care,” Cruz said to Borkowski.
Cruz noted that coverage options have gone down considerably under the ACA and that the answer is not more government control, but less.
At GW’s student center, where there was a live watch-party for the event, a number of students holding posters like “Big Government Sucks” and “Socialism Kills” echoed Cruz’s sentiments.
The role of the government in an Obamacare replacement is among the issues that those in attendance are concerned about, as many are wondering what this new health care legislation will look like.
“I think it’s really unfortunate how vague the GOP is being,” GW sophomore Zachary Slotkin said. “I think they aren’t doing the American people any justice by basically repealing it without telling us what the replacement is going to be and essentially saying, ‘Get behind this, and then later you’ll find out exactly what you’re getting behind.’”
Sara Kaplin, another GW student who attended the event, said that compromise may be the best option.
“Speaking from my family perspective, my dad’s a doctor, and so he actually texted me during this thing and he said that the best solution would be maybe to have like a combination of both,” Kaplin said. “I think that having a different type of health care system, like a single-payer system, would actually be better than a universal health care system like Obamacare just because then it would allow people to pick who they want to go to for insurance.”
While a partisan divide on health care remains, Tuesday’s town hall was an important conversation to have regarding one of the most pressing issues facing the country today.