Under Trump, HHS Acts to Protect Religious Freedom

The Trump administration took a step toward protecting religious freedom Thursday by establishing a new division of the nation’s largest social services agency that marks a dramatic shift from the Obama administration.

“We face today a time of rising religious persecution … a new orthodoxy, and it is intolerant of dissent,” @GOPLeader says.

During a ceremony at the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services, officials announced the opening of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. The division is part of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, an enforcement arm.

In remarks at the event, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the Obama administration’s message was, “Now is not the time for freedom; it is time for you to conform.”

“We face today a time of rising religious persecution,” McCarthy said. “It’s not violent. It’s not done in the name of God. But it is a new orthodoxy, and it is intolerant of dissent.”

During the Obama administration, the Department of Health and Human Services was involved in yearslong litigation with an order of Catholic nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as other faith-based charities who did not wish to pay for employee health plans that cover the cost of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, as mandated by Obamacare regulations.

McCarthy noted that the government of his own state, California, has required pregnancy centers to publicize where women may get abortions. The measure is in court.

“Nuns have been forced to put aside their lives of service to the elderly and the sick and have to go to court, humbly requesting that they not be required to pay for practices that end the lives of children,” McCarthy said.

Referring to the lack of protection under the Obama administration HHS for deeply held religious beliefs and matters of conscience, the California Republican added:

What a difference a year makes. This same agency is now opening a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office of Civil Rights devoted to nothing more than treating people fairly and with justice.

The new division is geared toward vigorously enforcing existing laws protecting fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion protected by the First Amendment, officials said.

“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced,” said Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office of Civil Rights, adding:

No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said Congress also needs to pass conscience protections.

“Health care providers who are Muslim, Sikh, Orthodox Jewish, or any other faith, deserve the right to provide medical care without violating their deeply held religious beliefs,” Lankford said at the event.

“For a nation as diverse as America, it is important for our civil rights laws to protect our First Amendment rights as much as possible,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “In America, we have the free exercise of religion—individuals cannot just have a faith, but they can also live out their faith outside of the confines of their home or place of worship.”

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In March for Life Address, Trump Prods Senate to Pass Late-Term Abortion Ban

President Donald Trump called on the Senate to vote on banning late-term abortions when delivering live-streamed remarks to the 45th March for Life in Washington.

“I strongly supported the House of Representatives’ Pain Capable bill, which would end painful late-term abortions nationwide, and I call upon the Senate to pass this important law and send it to my desk for signing,” Trump said during his Rose Garden remarks Friday.

Trump’s message went live on the jumbotrons to the thousands gathered in Washington for the event protesting abortion just two days before the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that required abortion be legal in every state.

“Roe vs. Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world,” Trump said. “For example, the United States is one of only seven countries to allow elective late-term abortions along with China, North Korea, and others.”

The House-passed bill includes exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the pregnant woman.

The House passed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in October with a vote of 237-189. Currently, only seven–Canada, China, the Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States–allow the procedure.

Trump seemed to misspeak when he said, “in a number of states, the law allows a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month. It is wrong. It has to change,” likely meaning torn instead of born.

Vice President Mike Pence introduced Trump as the “most pro-life president in history,” noting his accomplishments.

Trump remarked that Americans are more pro-life than ever, and that only 12 percent support abortion on demand at any time. While past presidents have delivered recorded addresses to the movement, Trump’s live speech marked a first.

He called the March for Life a “movement born out of love.”

“I’m honored and really proud to be the first president to stand with you here at the White House to address the 45th March for Life. This is a truly remarkable group,” Trump said. “Because of you, tens of thousands of Americans have been born and reached their full, God-given potential. You are living witnesses to this year’s theme, love saves lives.”

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7 Areas of Successes and ‘Incompletes’ for Trump’s First Full Year

Coming up on one full year in office, President Donald Trump is faced with the prospect of a government shutdown forced by Congress—even as the first year of his presidency is marked by both demonstrable accomplishments and incompletes on the economy, national security, and health care.

“If for any reason [the government] shuts down, the worst thing is what happens to our military,” Trump said Thursday during a visit to the Pentagon.

Trump also noted his economic accomplishments, citing news that Apple will expand and give most employees bonuses because of the new Republican-crafted tax law, which he said Democrats hope to derail with the shutdown threats.

Trump hailed Apple’s plan to invest $350 billion in the United States because of tax reform and create 20,000 new U.S. jobs.

“So our tax cuts and our tax reform have turned out to be far greater than anyone ever anticipated,” Trump said. “I’m sure the Democrats would like to blunt that by shutting down government.”

On the “incomplete” side: Trump didn’t start construction on a border wall along the border with Mexico—a multibillion-dollar project he is demanding in spending negotiations with Congress.

He also didn’t get a bill repealing and replacing Obamacare out of Congress. The tax bill, however, chopped out Obamacare’s mandate that all individuals buy health insurance.

But besides the initial economic payoff of tax reform law, the Trump administration is showing progress on enforcing immigration law and battling terrorists.

At the one-year mark Saturday, here’s a look at how Trump has performed in seven key areas.

1. Producing the ‘Trump Bonus’

In the week Trump logs his first full year in office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high of 26,000 after a year of strong job growth and, more recently, wage increases.

Trump’s signature legislative accomplishment of his first year—the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—showed almost immediate results. Apple’s announcement  came after more than 150 other examples of companies’ making new investments and rewarding employees.

At least 164 companies so far have announced bonuses or raises for a combined total of more than 2 million employees, according to data from the group Americans for Tax Reform.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the pay hikes, including higher minimum wages, the “Trump bonus.”

The tax reform legislation, which cut rates and closed loopholes, represents the first overhaul of the tax code since the 1986 changes signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

The new tax law also partially compensated for Trump’s biggest legislative failure—not winning congressional passage of a bill repealing and replacing Obamacare. That’s because the tax bill eliminated the penalty imposed by government on those who don’t buy health insurance, a key funding mechanism for maintaining Obamacare.

The U.S. economy, as measured by gross domestic product, also grew by more than 3 percent for the second and third quarters of 2017. Through most of the Obama administration, the economy grew at 2 percent.

Trump has pledged to reach 4 percent growth.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent, a 17-year low, while 13 states hit record low unemployment, according to the White House.

The White House asserts that its deregulation drive—which amounts to ditching 22 regulations for every one added—has saved the economy $8.1 billion in compliance costs.

Although Trump didn’t sign other big pieces of legislation during his first year, he signed 15 bills under the Congressional Review Act that rolled back Obama administration regulations that conservatives consider stifling to economic growth.

Trump also withdrew the United States from the Obama administration’s Paris climate accord, which NERA Economic Consulting projected could have cost the U.S. economy nearly $3 trillion and 6.5 million industrial sector jobs by 2040.

2. Enforcing Immigration Laws

Making good on hallmark promises of  Trump’s campaign, the administration took numerous actions to curb illegal immigration and enforce existing laws.

In other areas, Trump’s still trying.

Trump didn’t begin substantial construction of a wall at the southern border. Nor did his administration deport all 11 million-plus illegal immigrants, as he had suggested during the campaign.

In legal flux is the administration’s “extreme vetting” policy temporarily blocking travel from terrorism-prone countries that have unstable governments and don’t have sufficient security to share information with U.S. officials.

Some critics of the policy called it a Muslim ban right off the bat. The administration altered the list of affected countries to include nations such as North Korea and Venezuela along with Iran, Syria, Libya, Chad, Somalia, and Yemen.

In early December, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the full travel ban could take effect, and that lower court rulings blocking it should be put on hold while the policy works its way through the appeals process.

However, in late December, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals partially blocked the travel restrictions, asserting that Trump exceeded his authority. Because of the earlier high court ruling, the 9th Circuit ruling won’t have an immediate impact.

Also yet to be determined is what happens with the Obama administration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

In September, Trump reversed Obama’s 2012 executive action shielding from deportation, and allowing work permits for, about 800,000 illegal immigrants brought to the United States as minors.

However, Trump gave Congress until March to figure out a legislative solution. Now, though, Democrats in Congress seek to require amnesty for these so-called “Dreamers” in exchange for their votes for a continuing resolution to keep the government open.

The Trump administration can point to several areas of demonstrated progress on the immigration front.

The administration rescinded another Obama executive action, the 2015 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, which had shielded almost 5 million illegal immigrants, the parents of “Dreamers,” from deportation. Lower courts had held the Obama administration action was unconstitutional.

The Trump administration’s Justice Department announced it would withhold federal grants from sanctuary jurisdictions, those that refuse to cooperate with federal enforcement of immigration laws.

From Trump’s first day in office through the end of fiscal year 2017 on Sept. 30, Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 110,568 arrests of illegal immigrants, a 40 percent increase over the same period the year before.

More than 92 percent of illegal immigrants arrested by ICE had criminal convictions, were fugitives, or had illegally re-entered the country. The agency also arrested 36 percent more criminal gang members in fiscal year 2017 compared to the year before.

3. Reshaping the Federal Judiciary

Trump’s first big success came in April with Senate confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, to replace Antonin Scalia, the reliably conservative justice who died in February 2016.

Trump also made significant progress in lower federal courts, with a record of 12 circuit court judges confirmed by the Senate in the first year.

Still, only 22 of Trump’s 73 nominations to lower courts were confirmed by the end of 2017.

Although Senate Republicans often draw criticism for lack of action, some conservative court watchers such as Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, applauded Trump and Senate leadership for the confirmations.

“One of the greatest and most lasting successes of President Trump’s first year was appointing a record number of highly qualified judicial nominees,” Severino said in a public statement last week. “President Trump is keeping his campaign promise to fill the federal bench with brilliant judges who follow the Constitution, and thanks to the strong leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they are being confirmed by the Senate.”

4. Serving Military Veterans

Aside from tax reform, one of the most sweeping bills Trump signed in his first year was the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which allows senior officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire failing employees and establish safeguards to protect whistleblowers.

The action followed the VA’s waiting list scandal of 2014, in which veterans died while waiting for medical care. An inspector general’s report found that agency employees altered documents and officials held few accountable, largely because of civil service protections.

After Trump signed the accountability bill into law, the department fired 1,298 employees, suspended 425, and demoted 73, the White House said.

Trump also created a new White House hotline for veterans staffed by veterans and family members. A new program called Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care allows providers to use “telehealth” technology to serve veterans no matter the location of the provider or veteran.

5. Improving National Security

In Trump’s first year, administration officials note, the Islamic State, the brutal terrorist army operating in Iraq and Syria, lost nearly all of its territory.

Trump campaigned on avoiding foreign entanglements. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that U.S. forces would remain in Syria even after the final defeat of the Islamic State, or ISIS, to ensure neither Syrian dictator Bashar Assad nor the Iranian government seize control of the territory the group once controlled.

During a May meeting with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, Trump helped develop an agreement for allies to increase spending on national defense spending to combat ISIS more effectively and be more in line with NATO commitments.

North Korea continues to be a nuclear threat, but the Trump administration won adoption of a tough new United Nations Security Council resolution.

The administration increased sanctions on North Korean entities as well as Chinese financial institutions that aid dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime. Trump, who worried some observers by ridiculing Kim as “Rocket Man” on Twitter, also redesignated the communist regime as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Trump did not withdraw from the deal that Obama struck with Iran to delay its development of nuclear weapons, but signaled that he wanted both allies and Congress to assist in putting more teeth and accountability in the deal. Earlier this month, he chose not to reimpose sanctions in place before the deal.

6. Protecting Life

Early in his campaign, Trump lacked the complete trust of pro-life activists because of previous stated positions accepting the easy availability of abortion.

But the president planned to cap his first year in office Friday by becoming the first president to deliver a livestream address, from the White House, to the annual March for Life event in Washington.

During his first week, Trump reinstated the so-called Mexico City policy, preventing $9 billion in foreign aid from being used to fund abortions abroad. The existence of the policy historically has ping-ponged back and forth between Republican and Democratic presidents.

Trump also pulled U.S. tax dollars from the United Nations Population Fund, which advocates abortion throughout the world.

Among the deregulation actions signed by Trump under the Congressional Review Act was one overturning an Obama administration rule put in place after Trump’s election but before his inauguration. The rule prohibited states from defunding abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.  

7. Energizing American Resources

Trump pledged during the campaign to unleash U.S. energy resources.

The Trump administration approved the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the Obama administration had halted, and the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which had been an uncertainty the previous year. The two pipelines will create about 42,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic benefits, according to the White House.

Trump recently signed an executive order to expand offshore drilling for oil and gas and reissued a leasing program to develop offshore resources. The administration also streamlined the permit process for liquefied natural gas terminals and increased natural gas exports to allied countries.

The Trump administration also directed the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That policy would have increased electricity rates by as much as 14 percent and cost American households up to $79 billion, NERA Economic Consulting estimated.

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CNN on Top in Trump’s ‘Fake News Awards’

CNN won four out of 11 “Fake News Awards” on Wednesday night, while The New York Times captured two of the dishonors hyped for weeks by President Donald Trump, but actually given in the end by the Republican National Committee.

The “awards” to the cable network and other media organizations cited reports darkly predicting an economic collapse under Trump, detailing the Russia investigation, and mistakenly asserting that the new president had removed a bust of civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office.

The White House had kept details close, but at 8 p.m. Trump tweeted a link to a Republican National Committee’s website page showcasing “The Highly Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards.”

 

However, traffic was so heavy that the page crashed. It later was restored.


The Republican National Committee announced the prizes for questionable journalism shortly after two former Obama administration lawyers warned against the involvement of White House staff in deciding the “winners.” Such activity would constitute an ethics violation because it would involve government time and money devoted to helping or hurting a private corporation, they said.

The “winners” are:

—The long-running “Russia collusion” story, of which the RNC asserted, echoing Trump: “There is no collusion.”

—CNN’s report that the Trump campaign and Donald Trump Jr. had access to hacked documents from WikiLeaks.

—A CNN report suggesting Trump overfed fish during a visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

—CNN’s report, later retracted, claiming short-term White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci had ties to Russia.

—A CNN report that fired FBI Director James Comey would dispute Trump’s claim that Comey told the president he was not under investigation. (Comey actually confirmed this point.)

—The New York Times’ report that the Trump administration concealed a climate change study.

—An assertion by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, an economist, that financial markets “never” would recover from Trump’s 2016 election victory.

—Washington Post columnist Dave Weigel’s tweet that Trump’s December rally crowd wasn’t as large as it was in Pensacola.

 


The Republican National Committee also noted:

An incident in which “ABC News’ Brian Ross CHOKES and sends markets in a downward spiral with a false report,” referring to Ross’ later retracted story about former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

ABC News suspended Ross for reporting that Flynn would tell prosecutors that Trump directed him to contact the Russian government.

A reporter for Time mistakenly asserted in a pool report that Trump had removed a bust of King from the Oval Office.

—Newsweek incorrectly reported that Polish first lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda didn’t shake Trump’s hand during his visit to Poland.

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Mystery and Controversy Loom Over Trump’s Fake News Awards

As President Donald Trump prepares to hand out the “Fake News Awards” today to his journalist critics, a new study and a separate survey shed light on the negative news coverage of the Trump presidency and how the public defines “fake news.”

“We’ll keep you posted on details around that potential event and what that would look like,” @PressSec says.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred to the awards as a “potential event,” implying it might not happen. Earlier Tuesday, two former Obama administration lawyers said such an awards show would amount to an ethics violation.

During Trump’s first year in office, 90 percent of TV news coverage of the president on ABC, NBC, and CBS was negative, according to the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog.

Meanwhile, Republicans are more likely to define perceived biased coverage as fake news compared to Democrats, who are more likely to only view knowingly falsely reported stories as fake, according to a survey on media trust by the Knight Foundation, a journalism nonprofit, and Gallup.

The White House has been mum about the details, regarding questions about categories and who would judge the award “winners.”

“We’ll keep you posted on details around that potential event and what that would look like,” Sanders said Tuesday during the press briefing.

If Trump’s goal was to stir attention, he succeeded.

Norman Eisen, a former special counsel for ethics for President Barack Obama’s White House, and Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration, both said the awards could amount to an ethics violation.

If the awards do proceed, there is apparently plenty of material, based on the MRC study of network coverage in 2017.

The three big networks devoted about 100 hours of airtime covering Trump, a little more than one-third of all evening news airtime. Of the 5,883 “evaluative statements” made about Trump on those networks, 90 percent were negative, according to the MRC.

Further, the Russia investigation, which the president has consistently called a fake story, was the number one issue of coverage, consisting of one in five minutes of all Trump coverage, or 20 hours. That compared to 475 minutes on repealing and replacing Obamacare; 364 minutes on North Korea; 258 minutes on border security; 251 minutes on the extreme vetting policy; and 222 minutes on tax reform.

The Knight Foundation/Gallup survey found the following.

  • On what might seem like a clear definition of fake, in the question of, “People knowingly portraying false information as if it were true,” only 43 percent of Democrats saw this as always fake news, compared to 52 percent of Republicans.
  • Conversely, what would seem to not be fake, 42 percent of Republicans consider “accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be ‘fake news,’” while just 17 percent of Democrats believed this was always fake news.
  • A majority of Republicans, 53 percent, believes “news organizations slanting their stories to promote a certain point of view” is always fake news, while only 20 percent of Democrats believed this.
  • Almost half of Republicans believed “journalists reporting stories before they check all their facts and sources to be sure they are accurate,” always constitutes fake news, while only 24 percent of Democrats believe that.
  • The survey found that 67 percent of Republicans view fake news as a threat to democracy, while just 49 Democrats believe it is. Further, among those who identified as “very conservative,” 75 percent said it was a “very serious threat to democracy,” compared to just 46 percent of those that counted themselves as “very liberal.”

Trump’s escalating feud with the news media has been a trademark of his presidency. When a group of House Democrats introduced articles of impeachment against Trump in November, one accused the president of “undermining freedom of the press” by calling media organizations “fake news,” for “circulating a video of himself violently wrestling a man covered by the CNN logo,” and for disparaging remarks about TV news hosts Megyn Kelly and Mika Brzezinski.

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3 Out of 4 Terrorists Since 9/11 Are Foreign-Born, but Over Half Are Citizens

About three-fourths of those convicted on terrorism charges since 9/11 are foreign-born–and more than half of them aren’t U.S. citizens, according to a new report from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

Still, the joint report issued Tuesday finds that prosecutors lodged more than half of all terrorism charges—295 out of 549—against U.S. citizens either by birth or naturalization.

A merit-based immigration system that favors immigrants who are able to fill needed jobs is more likely to attract immigrants who will be successful than does the current family-based system allowing chain migration, a senior Trump administration official told reporters in a conference call.

President Donald Trump favors the merit policy along with stronger border security and an end to the visa lottery system.

More successful immigrants would contribute to the prosperity and security of the country, the senior administration official said.

Though a merit-based system would be economically beneficial, it largely would be disconnected from security, said David Inserra, a policy analyst in homeland security at The Heritage Foundation.

“It depends on how we look at why someone becomes a terrorist. If we think it’s just poor people, then an economic system would change that, but we know that’s not case,” Inserra, who maintains a database of terror plots against U.S. targets for The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal.

Noting the number of naturalized citizens who become radicalized on the list in the Justice and Homeland Security report, Inserra said the bigger problem is with assimilation.

“If someone comes to the United States and becomes a terrorist 20 years later, that’s not a vetting problem, that’s an assimilation problem,” Inserra said.

Trump signed an executive order in March that required the report, which is focused on vetting immigrants and protecting Americans.

Other key highlights include:

—At least 549 individuals were convicted of international terrorism-related charges in federal courts between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2016. Of them, 402 were foreign-born.

—A total of 254 of the 549 convicted were not U.S. citizens; 148 were foreign-born, naturalized, and were granted U.S. citizenship. Another 147 were U.S. citizens by birth.

—Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 1,716 immigrants based on national security concerns.

—The Department of Homeland Security encountered 2,554 individuals on the terrorist watch list traveling inside the United States during fiscal year 2017, which began Oct. 1, 2016. Of them, 335 tried to enter the country by land, 2,170 sought to enter by air, and 49 tried to enter by sea.

—Authorities arrested 355,345 noncitizen offenders from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2017 after they were convicted of an aggravated felony. During that same time, 372,098 non-U.S. citizen offenders were removed from the United States after conviction of an aggravated felony or two or more felonies.

—Citizenship and Immigration Services referred 45,858 foreign nationals who applied for immigration benefits to ICE on suspicion of fraud between 2007 and 2017. Officials indicated that the foreign nationals had committed egregious, public safety-related offenses within the U.S.

—From 2010 through 2016, Customs and Border Patrol identified and prevented the boarding of 73,261 foreign travelers on flights destined for the U.S. because they posed a risk.

In a written statement, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said:

This report is a clear reminder of why we cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists, and why we must examine our visa laws and continue to intensify screening and vetting of individuals traveling to the United States to prevent terrorists, criminals, and other dangerous individuals from reaching our country.

Without legislative change, DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] will continue to see thousands of terrorists a year attempt to enter the United States, and while we must be right every time, the terrorists only need to be lucky once.

Attorney General  Jeff Sessions called the findings in the report “sobering.”

“And the information in this report is only the tip of the iceberg: We currently have terrorism-related investigations against thousands of people in the United States, including hundreds of people who came here as refugees,” Sessions said in a prepared statement, adding:

Our law enforcement professionals do amazing work, but it is simply not reasonable to keep asking them to risk their lives to enforce the law while we admit thousands every year without sufficient knowledge about their backgrounds. The pillars of President Trump’s immigration policy—securing our porous borders, moving to a merit-based immigration system that ends the use of diversity visas and chain migration, and enforcing our nation’s laws—will make their jobs easier and make the United States a safer place.

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There Are 633 Key Administration Positions. Trump Hasn’t Appointed Nominees for 252 of Them.

As of Jan. 12, Trump hasn’t nominated people to fill key positions at the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, State Department, and other bureaucracies, some of which he had stressed a desire to make major changes in. In many cases, that means career government employees from the Obama administration are filling the mid-level positions on an interim basis.

Trump has no nominee for 252 of the 633 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which tracks presidential appointments. That’s well behind every predecessor going back to at least President George H.W. Bush, each of whom had the bulk of nominees confirmed by this point in their administration, according to the organization.

The Senate, where the Democratic minority has held up many nominees, has confirmed 241 Trump nominees, while another 136 nominations are pending.

“President Trump has yet to fill key political policy and management jobs across the government, ranging from the IRS, to the Census Bureau and the Drug Enforcement Administration, to important diplomatic positions such as the ambassador to South Korea,” Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, told The Daily Signal in a statement.

“This administration is about to enter the second quarter of the game, and many crucial players are either in the locker room or waiting to be recruited,” Stier continued. “The absence of these political appointees certainly could handicap the president’s ability to provide effective services to the American people.”

In December, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to a question about the lack of appointments.

Look, we’ve been focused on filling positions as quickly as possible. But at the same time, the president has said before he doesn’t think that every single position in the government needs to be filled. He’s going to cut back on some of those positions. We’ve been focused on some of the top priority places and we’re going to continue filling out individuals. But, we’ve also seen a massive slowdown and obstruction by the Democrats. Hopefully, they’ll continue to push our people through, particularly in individuals that were held up, whether it’s in the judiciary or something that falls under the national defense profile.

Trump nominated 559 overall positions, with 301 confirmations. As of Jan. 12, 2010, President Barack Obama nominated 658 and had 452 confirmations. President George W. Bush had 493 confirmations out of 741 nominees as of Jan. 12, 2002. President Bill Clinton had 471 confirmations out of 633 nominees as of Jan. 12, 1994. President George H.W. Bush had 405 confirmations out of 478 nominations.

The Partnership for Public Service’s tracker counts of Trump appointees are a subset of a broader set related to Trump’s historic counts. The numbers vary since some presidents had more open positions, while some had more holdovers. The tracker includes announcements, but historical and comparative numbers only include positions submitted to the Senate. Both measures exclude judiciary or holdover positions.

The only way to control the federal bureaucracy filled with career government employees is to name political appointees to set policy, said Robert Moffitt, senior fellow of domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation.

“It’s a complete disaster,” Moffitt told The Daily Signal. “If you are going to drain the swamp, you need the people to do it. You either control the federal bureaucracy or the federal bureaucracy controls you.”

Looking at the positions with no nominee, Moffit noted how many directly affect the president’s policy agenda. Trump hasn’t appointed a new IRS commissioner since the controversial John Koskinen’s term expired last November. Further, Trump could appoint nine spots to the IRS Oversight Board, which is an internal watchdog of the tax collection agency, but the posts are still vacant.

Trump has not named an assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, which could tie in with his jobs agenda, Moffit noted. Meanwhile, as Trump talks about addressing the opioid crisis, there is no nominee for either the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration or a director of National Drug Control Policy.

A president risks giving up some of his leadership by not filling political positions, said Martha Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project.

“Trump has as one of his goals from the campaign the reduction of the size of government, so, for him, cutting back on the number of people there are in the campaign is a positive, no matter what those positions are,” Kumar told The Daily Signal.

“You need people in positions at the top of departments and agencies because career people are going to follow the lead of the politicals,” Kumar said. “That’s why you want to have the political positions filled and why you want to have them filled early so that you can make the most use you have in office of that four years. You don’t want to wait and start leading a department or agency two years in.”

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After Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Freezes Data Collecting, Sen. Elizabeth Warren Demands Reversal

A federal court last week again ruled in favor of Mick Mulvaney as the rightful head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which strengthens his hand on such issues as the recent decision to freeze data collection in light of cybersecurity concerns.

But Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who conceived the idea of the consumer agency, which critics say has too much and often undefined power, strongly objected to the agency’s temporary halt in data collection just last week.

“CFPB cannot fulfill its core functions without collecting personally identifiable information,” Warren wrote in a Jan. 4 letter to top CFPB officials.

“When a consumer submits a complaint, the CFPB asks for information, such as their name and account number, to enable the agency to help resolve the dispute,” Warren continued.

“CFPB bank examiners and enforcement lawyers regularly use account-level data provided by regulated institutions to detect improper and unlawful activity.”

President Donald Trump appointed Mulvaney to be acting CFPB director, in addition to continuing to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. In December, Mulvaney announced plans to halt personal-data collection after an inspector general’s report warned of cybersecurity problems with the agency.

“I think we should find ways to have as rigorous a data-security program as possible here before we start expecting that from people who we oversee out in the industry,” Mulvaney told reporters at the time.

However, in her letter last week, Warren—who was previously critical of metadata collection by the National Security Agency—said hobbling CFPB data-gathering endangers consumers vis-a-vis financial institutions.

“Examinations are data-driven and granular. If examiners aren’t able to request information from the relevant financial institution, they can’t do their job,” Warren’s letter said.

In June 2013, as a first-year senator, Warren joined a bipartisan group of 26 senators in a letter to then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, raising questions about the NSA metadata gathering.

Warren’s office did not respond to inquiries from The Daily Signal for this article.

Even former CFPB Director Richard Cordray has said the personal information isn’t entirely safe, countered House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.

“The American people should rightfully be worried about the massive amounts of private information a single government agency collects on their personal lives, especially when the former director of the agency acknowledged that the data held by the CFPB is ‘not 100% secure,’” Hensarling told The Daily Signal in an email statement.

“In this age of criminal hackers, data breaches and identity theft, we must safeguard the privacy and security of America’s private, personal information,” the Texas lawmaker added. “Considering the scale of data-collection efforts by the CFPB, I applaud Acting Director Mulvaney for taking such bold action to protect Americans.”

The temporary halt is perfectly reasonable, said Ronald L. Rubin, a former CFPB enforcement lawyer and a former chief adviser on regulatory policy for the House Financial Services Committee.

“If you would like to know what Elizabeth Warren is going to protest tomorrow, just look at whatever Mick Mulvaney is doing tomorrow,” Rubin told The Daily Signal. “Given Equifax and other problems, it’s hard to understand why you wouldn’t be cautious about data collection in any shape or form.”

Rubin added that the stop is temporary.

“Data collection has always been something Republicans were worried about at the CFPB,” he said. “People of all political backgrounds are concerned about their information being compromised.”

In a report released Oct. 30, CFPB Inspector General Mark Bialek said:

The Office of Inspector General has likewise identified information security as a major management challenge for the CFPB, due to the advanced, persistent threat to government information technology (IT) infrastructure.

CFPB management needs to continue improving its information security program, overseeing the security of contractor-operated information systems, transitioning IT resources from the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), and ensuring that personally identifiable information is properly protected.

Before that, a Government Accountability Office report from September 2014 noted serious concerns about the privacy and security of the consumers whose data are being collected by the CFPB.

The GAO found the CFPB was collecting more information than was necessary for its regulatory mission, from 87 percent of the credit card market. It further said the agency’s 12 mass data collections had information on 173 million loans.

The agency already has accountability issues, said Norbert Michel, director of the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation, who has been a CFPB critic.

“It brings up questions of why do they need to collect so much information,” he said. “We know the potential for problems with personal data. If the mass data collection isn’t well-defined, who knows if it is secure?”

Warren’s letter identified Leandra English as the “acting director” of the CFPB, despite a court ruling rejecting a request for a temporary restraining order to block Trump from appointing Mulvaney as acting director. The letter identified Mulvaney only as the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

After Trump named his budget director to temporarily lead the consumer agency, English, the deputy CFPB director, sued to retain the position to which she had been appointed by Cordray when he departed, and has appealed the court ruling.

The post After Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Freezes Data Collecting, Sen. Elizabeth Warren Demands Reversal appeared first on The Daily Signal.

6 Actions States, Federal Government Could Take on Obamacare, Health Care in 2018

Many states are eager to reverse the damage from Obamacare in 2018, but in some cases, they will need help from Congress, leading health care experts say.

“A lot of states would like to act in 2018, but there is a lot of uncertainty while they are waiting on Congress and the administration,” Grace Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a free-market health care advocacy group, told The Daily Signal.

In 39 states where the federal government administers health exchanges, health insurances premiums increased an average of 105 percent between 2013 to 2017. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of U.S. counties have only one or two health insurers.

The following are six ways the states and/or the federal government could push for change or reforms in the year ahead.

  1. State innovation waivers

Under Section 1332 of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the federal government can grant “state innovation waivers” from the law for up to 11 statutory requirements.

Among the requirements, the waivers must provide as complete coverage to as many people as under the Obamacare law and can’t add to the federal deficit.

However, in 2015, the Obama administration placed strict “guardrails” on the innovation waivers, which have made it difficult for states to apply.

The Trump administration pledged maximum flexibility for states, but hasn’t fully delivered on that, said Naomi Lopez Bauman, director of health care policy at the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based conservative think tank.

So far, the Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t changed the strict guidelines for state waivers as was anticipated, she said.

“What HHS has messaged is not what we’re seeing,” Bauman told The Daily Signal. “Obama’s guidance in 2015 was very strict, and there has not been a lot of innovation. Changing the guidance is not a big lift for any new administration, but we haven’t seen it.”

Arizona will be applying for an innovation waiver at the end of the year, Bauman said.

This year, the HHS approved waivers for Alaska, Minnesota, and Oregon. However, HHS rejected a waiver application from Massachusetts, while Iowa and Oklahoma dropped their requests.

“It’s better if Congress can amend Section 1332, but the administration can rewrite the regulations, which the Obama administration made so strict,” Turner said.

2. Revived Graham-Cassidy

More federal block grants to states for health care would also provide a boost, similar to the failed proposal by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Turner said.

“Congressional action will take threading the needle in the reconciliation process,” Turner said. “Block grants to states are needed as much as possible, similar to Graham-Cassidy, but with refinements. Graham-Cassidy was very hurriedly thrown together.”

The Graham-Cassidy bill was initially a last-ditch effort at repealing and replacing Obamacare. However, after the tax-reform bill passed Wednesday ending the individual mandate to buy health insurance, Graham said there will be more urgency for a fix.

“I think we’re all going to say that we ripped the heart out of Obamacare with the individual mandate,” Graham said. “It’s pretty hard to rip the heart out of it, and not replace it.”

3. Direct primary care

Direct primary care allows doctors to be paid directly, rather than through health insurance plans. The idea is to offer doctors and patients the choice to avoid a cumbersome claims process, which could be less costly for the health care provider, who would then charge lower fees.

“Direct primary care would provide more options,” Turner said. “It was originally something for the wealthy. Doctors are bringing it to the middle class. It’s access to primary care, without running it through insurance, for a relatively low monthly fee.”

That could promote competition and is increasingly important for states that could use it to reduce Medicaid costs, said Robert Moffit, a senior fellow in health policy at The Heritage Foundation.

It could be used under Medicaid waivers, also known as Section 1115 waivers, which existed before Obamacare was passed.

“Most people on Medicaid are in the acute care populations, relatively young and healthy, mostly low-income women and children,” Moffit told The Daily Signal. “What they really need is direct access to physicians. Direct primary care could actually improve their situation.”

4. Medicaid work requirements

Seema Verma, head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, recently announced that the agency will allow states to experiment with work and community involvement requirement for able-bodies recipients of Medicaid, a federal state health program for the poor.

Such experiments could be worthwhile, Nina Owcharenko Schaefer, senior research fellow for health policy at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal.

“By definition, a demonstration is about testing new ideas and new approaches, but this would be optional for states,” she said “It will be interesting to see how plans vary. The idea of a demonstration is to see what does and doesn’t work, and if it is successful, to consider changing policy.”

Schaefer added, “However, such demonstrations, do not replace the need for more fundamental reform of the Medicaid program.”

CMS granted a Section 1115 waiver to Kentucky for a work requirement, and is considering waivers from the states of Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, New Hammpshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

More states could follow, said Rea S. Hederman Jr., vice president of policy at the Ohio-based Buckeye Institute.

“The Trump administration should give states more flexibility with Medicaid,” Hederman told The Daily Signal. “One way to do that would be work requirements for Medicaid for able-bodied adults. Medicaid expansion encouraged people to leave the labor force.”

5. Telemedicine to cut costs

States are showing a strong interest in telemedicine, said Moffit, also the chairman of the Maryland Health Commission, a state government body that makes recommendations to the governor.

“States are very interested in promoting telemedicine to improve access for people in rural areas for specialized care,” Moffit said.

He said demonstrations to the Maryland commission showed both improved outcomes and lower costs.

Telemedicine uses online technology to help administer medical care and puts patients in contact with a doctor through telecommunications.

The Department of Veterans Affairs rolled out a major model to promote telemedicine this past summer for VA patients.

6. Regulations for new hospitals

During the administration of President Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s, a federal law went into effect to withhold federal dollars from states that didn’t adopt “certificate-of-need” laws that require builders of health care facilities to prove to regulators that the community needed the planned services.

By the mid-1980s, Congress repealed the requirement and 15 states dumped the laws.

However, most states still have what critics call an anti-competitive law in place that drives up the cost of health care.

“States should review and reform the certificate-of-needs laws for permission to expand medical facilities,” Moffit said. “About 35 states right now require certificates of need for construction of hospitals or the expansion of medical facilities. It’s really long past time for state officials to reform this.”

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Trump Joins Governors in Backing Prison Reform

President Donald Trump has dedicated his administration to “law and order.” Perhaps keeping that in mind, ahead of his meeting with the president, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said prison reform isn’t soft on crime, but “smart on crime.”

Numerous states have enacted criminal justice laws to lighten penalties for non-violent offenders and help ex-prisoners transition into society to reduce recidivism. At the encourage of White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump is taking a national look at the matter.

Brownback, a Republican, said his state can offer a national example for what the country wants to do with the federal Bureau of Prisons, talking about two things that worked in Kansas.

“One is mentoring. Mentoring is critical. We’ve matched 7,500 prisoners who came out with a mentor on the outside. They’ve got to be matched,” Brownback told The Daily Signal outside the White House before the meeting with President Donald Trump and other governors Thursday about prison reform.

Brownback joined the Trump meeting in the Roosevelt Room with fellow Republican governors, Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Nathan Deal of Georgia. Both enacted similar policies to shift the focus to better integrate former prisoners for reentry to become productive and not return to crime.

“The second is to really engage their inside, their hopes, their dreams, their soul, that you can be better,” Brownback continued. “We have a lot of people [who] are generally faith-based that become involved in these programs. They mentor, but they also engage the person’s soul. Everything is voluntary. We’ve dropped the recidivism rate in half with mentoring and really engaging the soul.”

Reform the justice system to help focus on job training and rehabilitation for inmates about to be released has bipartisan support. Many conservatives back it, asserting fiscal success at the state level, while effectively reducing crime and recidivism. Also, liberals have long opposed overcrowded prisons and mandatory sentencing.

In Texas, crime dropped by 31 percent over the last decade, while incarceration has decreased by 21 percent over that time, with eight prisons closing even as the state’s population has sharply increased, noted Brooke Rollins, president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which founded the Right on Crime initiative.

“This is a big opportunity for the country,” Rollins told The Daily Signal before the meeting.
“Texas has closed eight prisons even while our population has exploded. These people are all nonviolent offenders,” Rollins continued. “We’ve done this through drug courts, mental health treatment, and probation to keep people out of prison and put people back to work.”

Trump told the gathering that the administration “is committed to helping inmates become productive law-abiding members of society” through job-training programs, mentoring, and drug addiction treatment.

“We’ll be discussing a number of opportunities to improve our prison system and promote public safety,” Trump said. “We can help break this vicious cycle.”

Trump added that rehabilitation and re-entry initiatives could be “a ladder of opportunity for the future.”

The policy is not at all contrary to law and order, said John Malcolm, head of the Institute for Constitutional Government at The Heritage Foundation.

“If you focus on the population that is going to be released from prison and is reentering society, you should want to reduce the risk they will go back to a life of crime,” Malcolm told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the number one topic at the meeting was reducing former inmates returning to crime. She also confirmed that Kushner was leading the effort.

“He’s hoping to lead that conversation and put stakeholders together from a number of different areas that have expertise on this matter,” Sanders said during the press briefing Thursday.

Bevin made an economic case.

“The workforce in America demands this, is begging for this,” Bevin said during the top of the meeting. “There are millions of jobs that need to be filled. ,,, We need them to become a functional part of our economic society.”

Sessions, who has made tough action a hallmark of the Justice Department, welcomed the ideas.

“Frankly we got a report late last year that the money isn’t being spent well,” Sessions said., speaking of the federal prison system.

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