Christie: Just one question, President Trump, ‘Where’s the plan?’

President Donald Trump aims to reset his agenda with the American people through his first speech to a joint session of Congress tonight. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump aims to reset his agenda with the American people through his first speech to a joint session of Congress tonight. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

When President Donald J. Trump speaks to a joint session of Congress tonight to lay out his budget priorities, he hopes to reset his agenda with the American people.

It’s been a rough month or so for the new president as he’s stubbed his toe more times than he would have liked stumbling around the dimly-lit hallways of government policymaking.

This Joint Address to Congress — not technically called a State of the Union because he’s in his first year — though comes at a pivotal moment and with a crucial bottom-line question: What’s the plan, Mr. President?

To this point, there has been plenty of rhetoric (some of it caustic and divisive) and arguably ill-conceived executive orders that have certainly pleased the base of supporters who voted for him. But poll after poll has shown that these moves — and Twitter rants — haven’t galvanized a broad swath of the American people behind him. A mere 44 percent of Americans approve of the job President Trump is doing as a newly inaugurated commander-in-hief. In contrast, 48 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Trump’s performance, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Feb. 18–22.

Again, this won’t begin change until he begins answering the big question: What’s the plan?

It’s no longer good enough to call Obamacare “a disaster” despite the facts showing otherwise. Trump now needs to show us a viable plan for repealing and replacing the beleaguered and belittled health care law. There are at least 20 million increasingly vocal and impatient Americans waiting on an answer.

And Trump’s statement before the National Governors Association on Monday that no one knew how “unbelievably complex” and complicated the nation’s heath care system is didn’t give anyone confidence that a plan is coming anytime soon.

It’s no longer good enough to say “we’re going to destroy ISIS,” also known as Islamic State. How are we going to do that without putting more military on the ground, and thus put more U.S. soldiers in harm’s way? Do Americans really have the stomach for another foray into Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or even Yemen? And for how long?

Where is the plan to deliver the promised help to the nation’s inner-cities beyond sending in U.S. troops? How will that bring the jobs and better schools that Trump promised on the campaign trail and since?

Then there’s the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Where is the plan to rebuild roads and bridges that seem to be collapsing on a weekly basis from California to Missouri to Texas to Georgia?

The time for tough talk, and incremental executive orders attempting to erase the previous president’s legacy is over. We know that President Trump can talk a good game, and can sign paperwork accompanied by specious claims of creating 70,000 jobs.

What we need to know is now is whether he can govern and push through legislation to fulfill promises to fix whatever problems ail us.

In other words, “What’s the plan, Mr. President?”

Goodman: Appeals court hits bull’s-eye with ‘Docs v Glocks’ takedown

Score one for good thinking. A federal appeals court Thursday struck down the inane Florida law that prohibited physicians from asking their patients whether there’s a gun in the house that’s stored safely.

The law, the only one like it in the United States, has helped mold our risible reputation as the “Gunshine State.” It was signed in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott with strong backing from the National Rifle Association and the GOP-led Legislature, who said doctors were overstepping their bounds and pushing an anti-Second Amendment agenda.

Medical groups and others quickly challenged the law, and it’s been winding through state and federal courts ever since.

Now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta has ruled, in a 10-to-1 decision, that the law infringes upon doctors’ freedom of speech. Any patient who doesn’t like a doctor’s questions about gun ownership can find another doctor, the court said.

“The Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms does not preclude questions about, commentary on, or criticism for the exercise of that right,” wrote Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan in one of two majority opinions. “There is no actual conflict between the First Amendment rights of doctors and medical professionals and the Second Amendment rights of patients.”

The American Civil Liberties Union had fought hard against the law. “We are thrilled that the court has finally put to bed the nonsensical and dangerous idea that a doctor speaking with a patient about gun safety somehow threatens the right to own a gun,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

The Associated Press reports:

The 11th Circuit noted that Florida lawmakers appeared to base the law on “six anecdotes” about physicians’ discussions of guns in their examination rooms and little other concrete evidence that there is an actual problem. And doctors who violated the law could face professional discipline, a fine or possibly loss of their medical licenses.

“There was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights,” Jordan wrote for the court.

The Washington Post explains why doctors might want to ask patients about guns:

Several large professional medical groups have said it is within the bounds of ethical medical care for doctors to ask about gun safety at home, in the way a physician might ask parents of small children if they have a backyard pool. A May 2016 review, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, noted that the majority of physicians believe that “they have the right to counsel patients about firearms.”

“Firearm violence is an important health problem, and most physicians agree that they should help prevent that violence,” Garen J. Wintemute, a co-author of the paper and a public health expert at the University of California Davis, told The Washington Post in May…

Doctors are not wholly united on this front. Some groups, such as Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, have voiced their dissent, believing that doctors should not discuss guns with their patients. (Medical groups had “declared a culture war on gun ownership,” the DRGO said on its website. It also warned that “your doctor may have a personal prejudice against gun ownership, shaped by her training in medical school or residency.”)

The appeals court, to its great credit, upheld the primacy of the First Amendment as a bedrock of American liberties. That reminder came from Circuit Judge William Pryor, who was a finalist in President Donald J. Trump’s search for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

In a separate concurring opinion, Pryor said that the First Amendment must protect all points of view.

“The promise of free speech is that even when one holds an unpopular point of view, the state cannot stifle it,” he wrote.

Pryor added:

The First Amendment is a counter-majoritarian bulwark against tyranny. “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” [as the Constitution states,] cannot mean “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech a majority likes.”…

If we upheld the Act, we could set a precedent for many other restrictions of potentially unpopular speech …

The First Amendment requires the protection of ideas that some people might find distasteful
because tomorrow the tables might be turned.

Well said.

Take our poll, and let us know whether you agree.

Christie: GOP silencing of Elizabeth Warren was outrageous, divisive

The U.S. Senate’s rebuke of Elizabeth Warren last night for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King that criticizes Sen. Jeff Sessions is an outrageous abuse of freedom of speech and a dismaying display of the extreme partisanship that has helped poison our politics.

Republican senators formally silenced Sen. Warren, the Democratic firebrand from Massachusetts, during debate on Sessions’ nomination for attorney general as she read from a letter that King wrote in 1986, when Sessions was being considered for a federal judgeship.

In that 31-year-old letter, the widow of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged senators to reject the then-U.S. Attorney in Alabama because he had “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, interrupted Warren as she read the letter, objecting that she had demeaned a peer, invoking a rule against insulting fellow senators. The Senate then voted, 49-43, along strict party lines, to force Warren into silence, at least on the Senate floor, until the battle over Session’s attorney general confirmation is finished.

In one blow, the Republicans moved to muzzle both Warren, who has been a piercing critic of the new Trump administration, and Mrs. King, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

They looked clumsy in doing so. Warren later went on Facebook Live outside the Senate chambers to read the letter in full. Twitter and social media erupted with support for her.

And hours later, Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, picked up the Coretta King letter and read it in full. He received no censure.

That fact alone suggests powerfully that, as much as Republican senators wanted to protect the reputation of Sessions, one of their own, they were equally keen to squelch Warren. She must be getting under their skin.

They sure didn’t worry about the optics of sexism. Especially when McConnell justified his move by saying this:

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The hashtag #ShePersisted became a top trender on Twitter.

And quite frankly, the notion of being forbidden to criticize a fellow senator when that senator is up for confirmation for a Cabinet post — especially top law-enforcement official — is ludicrous.

Animosities are clearly rising to boiling point in the Senate, where the Democrats are doing all they can to slow, if not defeat, the confirmation of Trump cabinet nominees. Republicans, some of whom had once promised to be a check on Trump, are complaining that the Democrats are being obstructionist. But the Democrats are fighting an almost comically inappropriate host of nominees: an education secretary who doesn’t believe in public education; an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who opposes the Environmental Protection Agency; and an attorney general who disdains the Voting Rights Act.

But these heavy-handed tactics by McConnell are likely to backfire. Yes, the Republicans look like heroes to their base, but Warren is also looking more heroic to progressives.

As Barack Obama’s former political adviser, David Axelrod, put it:

 

 

Christie: Post reader raises voucher issue in opposing DeVos as education secretary

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate poised today to confirm Devos by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence expected to break a 50-50 tie, despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to sink the nomination. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate poised today to confirm Devos by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence expected to break a 50-50 tie, despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to sink the nomination. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

UPDATE: Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education after Vice President Mike Pence voted to break a 50-50 tie.

As a divided U.S. Senate moves closer today to voting on the confirmation of billionaire Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary, the country appears just as divided over whether she should be the next person to guide policy for our public schools.

There is of course, the division over DeVos’ unfettered support for “school choice” in the form of taxpayer money going to charter schools and private school vouchers.

But there is also the question whether she is qualified to make decisions about our traditional public school system. The concerns largely arose from her testimony before the Senate committee wherein she apparently gave less-than-stellar answers to questions about public schools — which she admitted that she has have very little experience with.

A demonstrator holds signs during a gathering with Democratic Senators and education advocates calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)
A demonstrator holds signs during a gathering with Democratic Senators and education advocates calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Today’s controversial vote motivated West Palm Beach attorney Kimberley Spire-Oh to write a Point of View op-ed opposing DeVos — but for an unexpected reason.

Spire-Oh echoed the concerns of a growing number of parents who favor school choice, but oppose DeVos based on her lack of concern around vouchers — especially those used for disabled students like Sprie-Oh’s own son.

“I am not opposed to school choice. My son is a beneficiary of choice programs, having attended an arts magnet school that provided him with support and motivation by allowing him to pursue one of his passions. There are excellent private schools in the McKay program (and charter schools) that work collaboratively with families and meet a need in the community. On the flipside of this success, I have seen that the voucher programs being held as shining examples often do not serve the needs of many of the most difficult-to-educate students, the ones these programs are touted to help.

We need a Secretary of Education who understands these considerations and is willing to do the hard work required to make high-quality school choice options available to truly all students, not just those that are easy to educate.”

Do you believe that DeVos is qualified to be the next Education Secretary?

 

Goodman: Those politically charged Super Bowl ads: What did you think?

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-12-27-48-pm

With the nation so divided politically these days — and with almost every subject tinged with politics — advertisers would have been forgiven for trying to be as neutral as possible during last night’s Super Bowl. What company, after all, would want to risk alienating half the audience with an ad that costs $5 million for 30 seconds?

Quite a few, as it turned out.

There was Airbnb, which showed an array of faces of people from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds, capped with the message: “We all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” The ad followed the home-sharing site’s announcement last week that, in defiance of President Donald Trump, it will give free housing to refugees and others barred from entering the U.S. because of Trump’s travel ban. 

There was 84 Lumber, which told a story of a Mexican mother and daughter trudging toward the United States. The ending wasn’t aired. Fox rejected it as too controversial. So viewers were told to go to the company’s website to see the finish. The entire ad is almost six minutes long — a short film, really — which shows the determined immigrants stymied by an imposing wall at the border until entering through a door. The building-material company’s message: “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”

A company spokesman said the ad, an obvious slap at Trump’s proposed border wall, was meant to be a “patriotic” statement about the U.S. as “a great land of opportunity.” The firm’s bet on controversy may have been worth it; there was so much curiosity to see the commercial’s ending that the website reportedly crashed. 

Budweiser also delved into immigration, telling the story of one of its founders, Augustus Busch, as he voyaged from Germany and overcame obstacles that faced a newcomer with a dream of starting a brewery in 19th century America. 

Coca-Cola re-aired an ad from an earlier year showing a multi-national array of people singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. Google mined similar territory with an ad showing a variety of Americans (black, white, southeast Asian) coming home to diverse dwellings — one with a gay-pride flag, another a Jewish mezuzah — while a new device, Google Home, makes life cozier for everyone. 

Audi highlighted the lack of equal pay for women with a spot about a young girl competing with boys in a soapbox derby race, while her father speaks in a voice-over about his worry that she’ll be valued “less than every man she ever meets.” The issue of equal pay for equal work was a keynote of the Hillary Clinton campaign. 

So what do you think? Were ads like these — and there were some others — an unwelcome intrusion of politics into America’s biggest sports event? Or did they signify that the election of Donald Trump and his brand of “America first” cannot suppress a more accurate portrayal of the nation as a place that thrives on the energies of many different cultures and kinds of people?

Or, is it a matter of cold business? That companies realize that the voters who went for Clinton (a majority, remember) live in counties that generate almost two-thirds of the American economy. Trump’s counties, though far more numerous, generated only 36 percent of economic activity in 2015.

Perhaps it’s all as simple as that: Business aiming where the money is.