Tag Archives: politics

Will the Government Shut Down This Week?

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office will see the federal government shut down if Congress can’t come to a budget agreement by the end of the week. Congress needs to pass a funding bill by the end of the day Friday, or else federal programs will no longer be able to spend money on Saturday, Trump’s 100th day in the White House.

Both Republicans and Democrats are largely content to maintain current funding levels by passing a continuing resolution rather than hashing out an entirely new budget. (The budget Trump introduced earlier this year calls for massive cuts across nearly every part of the federal government except the military.) But there are a few policy differences that could muck things up and send federal employees packing next week. And Republicans can’t count on getting enough votes from their own caucus to pass a spending bill, since Senate Democrats can filibuster any measure they find objectionable.

Here are the issues that could prevent a deal:

The wall

Trump might have promised throughout the campaign that Mexico was going to pay for a border wall, but everyone in Washington knows that if Trump is actually going to begin construction on the wall, he’ll need Congress to appropriate the funds. So far, that’s a nonstarter among Democrats.

Last week this looked like it could be the disagreement that would break the government. But on Tuesday, Republicans handed Democrats a funding plan offer that doesn’t include the wall.

Still, Trump could insist on getting at least a partial victory on the wall. On Tuesday morning, he took to his favorite medium to reiterate his plans:

Obamacare

Despite Trump’s goal of seeing the Affordable Care Act repealed during the first 100 days of his presidency, Republicans haven’t settled on a repeal bill that can clear the House, let alone the Senate. But as Mother Jones explained last week, Trump has a backup option that he could pull out if he truly wants to send the ACA marketplaces into a death spiral. The White House doesn’t need congressional approval to end funding for a provision of the law that forces insurance companies to offer lower deductibles, copayments, and other out-of-pocket expenses to low-income families. Cutting off those funds would cause premiums to spike and more insurers to leave the marketplaces.

Earlier this month, Trump threatened to do just that in order to get Democrats to help Republicans repeal Obamacare. Trump’s famed negotiating skills backfired this time, and some Democrats now say they’re willing to block the spending bill and shut down the government if these funds aren’t included (though the message hasn’t exactly been unified among Democratic leaders). Unfortunately for Trump, it sounds as if House Republicans might agree with the Democrats. “I don’t think anybody wants to disrupt the markets more than they already are,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs a House subcommittee on health care, told the New York Times earlier this month, saying he supports the funds.

Defense spending

It’s the least likely of these three issues to prompt a shutdown, but Democrats and Republicans are still hashing out the details of defense spending levels. Trump asked for a ton of extra money—a $54 billion increase—for the Pentagon budget. Democrats are fine with a more modest defense spending hike, but only if it’s paired with extra spending for domestic programs, as has been the case in the past few budget deals. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned that his party wants to maintain that same ratio for the current deal.

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Will the Government Shut Down This Week?

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Will Forcing High School Kids to Make a Post-Graduation Plan Actually Help Them?

Mother Jones

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel got a lot of attention two weeks ago when he announced a new graduation requirement for high school seniors: They would have to have a plan. Starting with the class of 2020, Chicago Public School students will be required to show proof of their next step after graduation—such as a college acceptance letter or a job offer. It may seem like a good motivational tool, but in a city where access to resources depends on your neighborhood, and where budget cuts have strained existing programs, some observers consider the mayor’s proposal “deeply insulting.”

So says Stacy Davis Gates, the political and legislative director for the Chicago Teacher’s Union, who adds, “It spits in the face of everything we know about CPS right now.”

Emanuel announced the proposal (“Learn. Plan. Succeed: A Degree For Life”) in early April. Students will have to show a school counselor that they have a post-secondary plan. It needn’t be college or a job: A kid also can enlist in the military or find an apprenticeship or a “gap-year” program, among other options. There are exceptions for students facing special circumstances, including incarceration. Emanuel wants to “make 14th grade universal,” as he told CBS. Graduates of the school system, meanwhile, are automatically eligible to attend the City Colleges of Chicago.

The mayor first explored the idea in conversations with Arne Duncan, who served as Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, and who once ran the Chicago schools. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to greenlight “Learn. Plan. Succeed” at its next meeting.

On its face, the program reflects the goals of teachers and principals: to prepare kids for a bright future. Janice Jackson, the chief education officer for the Chicago schools, compares Emanuel’s proposal to others that faced opposition at first, such as mandatory ACT testing and the requirement that kids complete a program of community service in order to graduate.

According to internal reports from local high schools, about 60 percent of students already graduate with a plan. Emanuel is intent on ensuring that half of all public school students end up with a college or career credential (from internships, work experience, etc.) by 2019—up from around 40 percent today. Under his new proposal, the school district will spend $1 million to make sure each school has at least one counselor well trained in college advising. Additional specialists will be hired to work externally with colleges and employers, Jackson says.

Emanuel’s critics, however, doubt that $1 million is enough. They also express frustration that the city isn’t doing more to tackle systemic problems, including: slashed budgets, school closures, and overcrowded classrooms—city schools may even end classes three weeks early this year due to a lack of funding. The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined the dissenters this week, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times that “a majority of young black high school graduates are looking for work and can’t find it. The mayor’s plan does nothing to address this grim reality.”

The same morning Emanuel introduced “Learn. Plan. Succeed,” he also announced that the city may close multiple schools on the South Side and build one new high school there at a cost of $75 million. (A school district spokeswoman said on Thursday that no final decisions have been made.) Gates, the teachers’ union rep, claims this is in line with Emanuel’s “lead by press release” style: using a flashy proposal to steer the media away from the district’s persistent troubles.

According to research from the Urban League, more than half of Chicago public school students are in majority-black, majority-poor schools. The district has a 37 percent achievement gap in grade-level proficiency between its white and black students.

The district’s Janice Jackson says the funds generated for the new program should allow all schools to meet the new requirement by 2020. She acknowledges the resource disparities between richer and poorer schools, but “now that it’s a requirement, I think that that 40 percent of kids who don’t have a post-secondary plan will have one, and they’ll benefit as a result.”

Gates begs to differ. She says the counselor-to-student ratio varies widely across the city, and that 63 percent of high schools have counselors handling more kids than recommended. “As a district, we would fail miserably in meeting this harebrained idea,” she told me. “There are not enough resources to support something like this. Remember, getting a diploma is not a senior year activity. Getting a diploma and getting ‘college ready’ is something that starts in early childhood.”

Chicago’s budget woes largely come from the top. The district had to cut $46 million from its budget earlier this year, meaning less money for textbooks, afterschool programs, and field trips. Emanuel’s handling of the schools has been repeatedly criticized. Teachers called a 2012 strike to seek better benefits, proper job evaluations, and additional training. In 2013, the mayor decided to close 50 schools, mostly in black and Latino communities.

Sheryl Bond, who works as a counselor at George Washington High School, says she supports the goals of the the new policy, but considering that counselors are already trying to help kids plan their futures, and since it’s easy enough to put a “plan” on paper, she’s skeptical whether the “plan” requirement will change anything. “Is this going to be a compliance issue,” she asks, “or are we going to make sure that kids have a real plan?”

Kristy Brooks, a Chicago elementary school counselor, also doesn’t see how giving kids another hoop to jump through will help. “The only thing standing in the way of our kids having a bright future is that nobody’s forcing them to have some sort of plan? I don’t think so,” Brooks says. “If a kid makes it far enough to graduate high school, they’re doing it for a reason.”

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Will Forcing High School Kids to Make a Post-Graduation Plan Actually Help Them?

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Trump Invites Sarah Palin, Kid Rock, and Ted Nugent to the White House

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump hosted a trio of eyebrow-raising guests at the White House on Wednesday, reportedly dining with Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock.

It’s not clear why Palin and her musician pals, one of whom has praised the use of the word “nigger” and suggested Barack Obama “suck on” his machine gun, were invited to the Oval Office, but here we are:

The guests even managed to sneak in a photo posing in front of a portrait of Hillary Clinton—seen in this Facebook post by Nugent’s wife, the self-avowed “Healthy Lifestyle Ambassador” Shermane Nugent:

The photos were roundly mocked when they first began appearing on social media:

Perhaps this is just one more reason the Trump White House is opting to keep its visitor logs secret?

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Trump Invites Sarah Palin, Kid Rock, and Ted Nugent to the White House

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Bernie Sanders Is the Most Popular Politician in the Country, Poll Says

Mother Jones

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According to a new poll, Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America. The Harvard-Harris survey, published first in The Hill, found almost 60 percent of Americans view the Vermont senator favorably.

Among certain demographics, the progressive politician’s ratings are even higher: 80 percent of Democratic voters, 73 percent of registered black voters, and 68 percent of registered Hispanic voters view Sanders favorably.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also scored positively, with 38 percent approving of the liberal icon and only 32 percent disapproving.

This isn’t a marked change from prior polling. In late 2016, Sanders was also viewed as the lawmaker with the highest favorability ratings, earning approval from more than 50 percent of the electorate.

The least popular political figure in America? Look to the White House, but not the Oval Office—though Donald Trump is 7 points underwater, 44/51. His beleaguered chief strategist, Steve Bannon, came in dead last in the survey. Only 16 percent give the former Breitbart publisher a thumbs-up, while a full 45 percent offer the opposite.

“In losing to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders has floated above today’s partisan politics while Bannon has, rightly or wrongly, taken the blame for the administration’s failures,” poll co-director Mark Penn from Harvard-Harris told The Hill. “Sanders is an asset to the Democrats while Bannon is a liability to the administration.”

Read the full findings of the poll here.

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Bernie Sanders Is the Most Popular Politician in the Country, Poll Says

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Dianne Feinstein Town Hall Shows Why She’s a Conservative by San Francisco Standards

Mother Jones

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Before they could enter the San Francisco Scottish Rite Masonic Center, the roughly 1,200 people who showed up for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s town hall meeting yesterday morning had their bags searched and their bodies scanned for metal objects. As they filed into the thickly carpeted auditorium, attendees passed several tables covered with literature laid out by Indivisible, the liberal grassroots group that had helped organize this rare public meeting with the senator. The leaflets included a list of recommended questions for a senator who doesn’t often field questions from constituents, even here in her liberal hometown.

When the 83-year-old Democrat walked onto the stage in a jet black suit, the crowd, largely women, awarded the four-term senator a warm round of applause. But the mood quickly soured and tension between the famously moderate Feinstein and the highly charged, anti-Trump audience was a motif of the 70-minute event. A man interrupted Feinstein’s opening remarks to loudly ask his fellow audience members to “wake up,” before they shushed him and audibly told him “shut up.” Feinstein waved it off and plowed forward with a metered explanation of the need to reform Social Security and Medicare before indicating she was ready to take questions.

Questioners were selected at random by raffle. Once called, they made their way to the front of the auditorium where stood just a few yards from Feinstein. The first was a woman who was worried that “trigger happy” President Donald Trump might deploy her son to Syria, and wanted to know what Feinstein would do to ensure peace in the Middle East. “The world is not an easy place, and it is not a stable place,” Feinstein replied. She continued, somewhat confusingly, with an explanation of how North Korea presents an “existential” threat and an “acute danger” to the United States. After speaking for some time about the “ruthless” Kim Jong-un’s attempts to build a nuclear tipped missile capable of striking “anywhere in the United States,” Feinstein pivoted back to the Middle East. When she mentioned, without reservation, Trump’s recent missile attack on a Syrian air base, the crowd erupted with a cacophony of boos.

A few minutes later, a man asked the senator if she would support a single-payer health care system. “If single payer healthcare is going to mean a complete government takeover over of the healthcare system, I am not for it,” Feinstein replied, again to boos.

After Feinstein was asked to eschew “business as usual” politics and to vocally resist Trump, the senator tried to explain her model of politics. “I would be surprised if you found too many senators, if any, that have gotten more done,” she said, visibly frustrated by the crowd’s repeated interruptions. “I don’t get there by making statements I can’t deliver. I get there through some caution, some discussion, some smart help, our lawyers—and we generally get where we need to go.”

Feinstein found some common ground with her constituents, however. In her response to a question about Trump’s laundry list of ethical conflicts, she hinted at both impending legislation and litigation targeting the president’s conflicts of interest, which elicited broad agreement from the crowd.

Monday’s town hall was the product of more than two months of work by several dozen Indivisible activists. Several Bay Area Indivisible chapters had expressed interest in holding a town hall with the senator in January. Feinstein didn’t show at a meeting at an Oakland high school in late February. The event was branded as an “Empty Chair Town Hall where attendees presented questions to caricature of the senator.

In February, Indivisible members confronted Feinstein at a tony lunch event at the Public Policy Institute of California. Feinstein politely expressed interest in attending a town hall but didn’t commit to a time. After two months of calls and meetings between Indivisible members and Feinstein staffers, two town hall events were announced—this one in San Francisco, and another on Thursday in Los Angeles.

Amelia Cass, one of the leaders of Indivisible East Bay, said the need for a town hall was born out of the senator’s notorious inaccessibility. “It’s our government, and they’ll listen to us if we speak up. There’s a quote I saw in a newspaper that said ‘It’s not that Senator Feinstein doesn’t want to have town halls, it’s that nobody’s ever asked before.’ She has many opportunities to speak her mind. But her constituents don’t have very many opportunities to speak directly to the senator.”

Many who attended the town hall said they were grateful that the senator took the time to listen to their queries. Yet many left the meeting feeling less than confident that Feinstein is really representing their interests on Capitol Hill. “What we’re saying is that we have an existential threat from our own president, not North Korea,” said Steve Rapport of Indivisible San Francisco. “We want to hear some fighting talk and feel like our representatives have our back.”

That sentiment was echoed by Linh Nguyen, an organizer with Indivisible East Bay. “If Feinstein has this coalition that she’s built over the decades that she’s served in the senate working across party lines, I want to see evidence of it,” Nguyen said. “Where is your coalition from the middle and right to push against this? If she does have this large coalition, let us use it to our advantage.”

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Dianne Feinstein Town Hall Shows Why She’s a Conservative by San Francisco Standards

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