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Congressional Black Caucus Shows Trump Its Policy Vision for Black America

Mother Jones

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In the lead-up to their meeting today with President Donald Trump, Congressional Black Caucus leaders said they would focus on explaining what African Americans stand to lose under a Trump presidency. Now, the caucus has shared its vision for black America in a new document released this afternoon.

Shortly after the meeting with the president ended, the CBC released “We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century,” a 130-page policy document drafted by the caucus in response to a question frequently posed by the president (“What do you have to lose?”) when he addressed black voters on the campaign trail. During the campaign, Trump was frequently criticized for characterizing black America as being uniformly decimated by crime and violence.

“We honor this opportunity to enlighten President Trump on the history and diversity of African Americans and offer bold policy solutions to advance our communities, and all Americans, in the 21st century,” the document says, adding, “If President Trump is sincere in his interest in advancing the Black community, this document should be the guiding post of his Administration.” A copy of the document was delivered to the president during the meeting.

“There were many areas where we disagreed with the policy solutions, but it was a meeting where both sides listened and where we were candid about disagreements,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) the caucus chair, said at a press conference after the meeting. Richmond said members shared their concerns about how Trump has discussed black communities in the past, but that there was agreement on some issues, like the need for improved infrastructure.

“He listened,” Richmond said of Trump.

According to an excerpt sent to Mother Jones ahead of the meeting, the policy document highlights several areas that the CBC wants the president to focus on—including voting rights, the economy, health care, environmental justice, and rural America—and offers detailed solutions. In a section on criminal justice, for example, the document notes that in contrast to Trump’s emphasis on adopting “tough-on-crime” policies, the caucus would rather see an end to racial profiling, continued federal oversight of police departments, and reforms to the corrections system. “Taxpayer money would be better spent on the front end of the criminal justice system to prevent crimes from occurring in the first place,” the document states.

To solve these problems, the caucus suggests things like de-prioritizing arresting non-violent drug offenders and establishing a permanent White House commission aimed at addressing the needs of black men and boys. The CBC also suggests permanently authorizing and funding the Second Chance Act, a law that provides federal grants for state and local programs aimed at improving reentry into society from prison.

The CBC also delivered letters from several caucus members addressed to the president and members of his Cabinet. In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Richmond and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) write that “the first several weeks under your tenure have given us many causes for concern.” The congressmen note that they are particularly worried about the fate of criminal justice reform, racial profiling, voting rights, and policing under a Sessions’ Justice Department. In January, Richmond and other members of the CBC testified against Sessions’ nomination for attorney general, citing his history on racial controversies.

In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Richmond and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) cite their concerns with the administration’s focus on school choice vouchers, arguing that diverting funds to private schools will further endanger public schools and leave “the most disadvantaged students with the fewest resources.” The letter also notes that despite a highly publicized meeting between the Trump administration and the leaders of historically black colleges and universities, the president’s proposed budget offers little insight into how it will address educational institutions specifically aimed at helping minorities.

During the meeting, Trump said he would work to help the black community. “Throughout my campaign, I pledged to focus on improving conditions for African American citizens,” he said at the beginning of the meeting. “This means more to me than anybody would understand or know.”

The CBC says it will continue to push its agenda and stand against the president when necessary. “We’re going to keep advocating,” Richmond said as the press conference came to a close. “We’re not called the ‘conscience of the Congress’ for nothing.”

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Congressional Black Caucus Shows Trump Its Policy Vision for Black America

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Is Another Nominee For Labor Secretary About to Spontaneously Combust?

Mother Jones

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I really don’t know if this is a justified line of attack, but hoo boy, this is a headline you really don’t want to see about a cabinet nominee:

Labor Secretary is turning out to be a little like being the drummer for Spinal Tap. The previous one not only had to withdraw under a hail of criticism, but he even lost his old job in the process. Now we’ve got a guy accused of going soft on child rapists. Maybe it’s time for Donald Trump to take this whole vetting thing a little more seriously.

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Is Another Nominee For Labor Secretary About to Spontaneously Combust?

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Inside Trump’s Border Crackdown on Women and Kids

Mother Jones

Despite President Donald Trump’s dire warnings of “bad hombres” and drugs flooding into the United States from Mexico, the most urgent issue along the border has been the influx of Central American families and unaccompanied children, many of whom are fleeing gang-fueled violence in their home countries. And the latest statistics from the border show that one of the main goals of the White House’s immigration crackdown is being realized: targeting and deterring these asylum seekers from heading to the United States in the first place.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released new data on the number of migrants stopped at the US-Mexico border in February. Customs and Border Protection caught 18,762 people trying to enter the country, a 40 percent drop from January and the lowest monthly total since at least 2000 (the earliest year for which there are statistics). Of those migrants, just 27 percent were unaccompanied children or family groups, typically women traveling with kids—a huge dropoff from the last three months of 2016, when they made up 48 percent of apprehensions at the border.

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The administration was quick to celebrate the numbers. In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly crowed, “The early results show that enforcement matters, deterrence matters, and that comprehensive immigration enforcement can make an impact.” But immigration advocates caution that Trump’s border enforcement ramp-up—like earlier attempts by the Obama administration to stem the flow of Central American migrants—could be particularly devastating for thousands of women and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras hoping to claim asylum in the United States.

“I think what we’ve seen over the past three years is that you can’t enforce away a refugee crisis,” says Jen Podkul, the director of policy at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a legal aid nonprofit for unaccompanied child migrants and refugees. “Unfortunately, these executive orders and memos are going to push everybody underground.”

Katharina Obser, a senior program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), says she’s interviewed countless women in family detention over the past few years. “When we ask them, ‘Knowing what you know and given what’s happened, would you make the decision to leave again?’ The answer is almost always, ‘Yes, I had no other choice…’ There continues to be a lack of recognition that these are asylum seekers who are fleeing very real harm and who should have access to a fair and just immigration system.”

Here are seven ways that the White House has gone about squeezing Central American refugees:

1. Shutting down a safe path for kids

In September 2014, after the huge numbers of Central Americans at the southern border became national news, the Obama administration approved a plan to allow a select group of kids from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras apply for refugee status from within their home countries. The initiative was meant to keep the most vulnerable people from embarking on the dangerous journey north. Though the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program was slow to get off the ground, the New York Times reported that 11,000-plus people have applied to the program, with a little more than 2,400 gaining admittance by late February—including 316 during Trump’s first month in office.

Trump’s revised travel ban, however, put the Central American Minors program on ice. In his March 6 executive order, the president suspended all refugee admissions for four months and cut the number of refugees the United States will admit annually to 50,000, down from 110,000 under Obama. And while a federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order on the ban, the CAM program’s future remains cloudy. In his February executive order on border security, Trump pointed a finger at “the abuse of parole and asylum provisions” that can allow immigrants without valid asylum claims into the United States.

2. Turning away asylum seekers at the border

In mid-January, eight immigrant rights organizations sent a complaint to DHS claiming that Border Patrol agents were turning away immigrants seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border. Under federal and international law, the United States must screen people asking for asylum to see if they have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries. If they do, they can get a full hearing in front of an immigration judge. (If they don’t, they can be summarily deported.) According to the complaint, Border Patrol agents in Texas and California had told migrants that they weren’t accepting more people and wouldn’t allow them to meet with asylum officers to file claims.

The incidents mentioned in the complaint began last summer. In one case, a Mexican police officer in a wheelchair was allegedly denied entry several times near San Diego, despite claiming he had been targeted and beaten by a drug cartel. Advocates say the situation could become untenable. “These northern Mexican border towns are so dangerous as it is,” Podkul says. “If there are just vulnerable migrants sitting around, they’re just waiting for something to happen to them.”

3. Threatening to separate moms and children

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the Trump administration was considering separating migrant mothers from their children upon entry into the United States. Instead of detaining them together, or letting them go while they await a hearing in immigration court, federal agents could split them up—sending moms to detention and kids to government-run shelters.

Following the border crisis in 2014, women traveling with children were detained in special family detention centers that were criticized by attorneys and immigrant rights groups for their poor conditions. Last December, around 400 women and children were released from family detention facilities in Texas after a judge denied the centers the necessary state licenses for detaining kids. Separating moms from their children could get around the problem of holding kids in substandard centers and needing to build more facilities to accommodate families.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on March 7, DHS Secretary Kelly confirmed the Reuters report: “Yes, I am considering it, in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.” Kelly later said he thought parents who brought their children across the border are manipulating the system “because they know up till this point we will keep the families together.” “As this word gets out that we’re considering it and maybe we’ll implement it,” he said, “that will add again to this factor of people not coming.”

4. Making asylum screenings more difficult

Refugees who do manage to meet with an asylum officer may now face a tougher screening than they would have in the recent past. In mid-February, DHS updated the lesson plans it uses to train asylum officers on handling “credible-fear” interviews. According to the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit group that provides legal services for women and girls fleeing gender-based violence, the changes include increasing the burden of proof on asylum seekers at a very early stage in the process—when many are particularly vulnerable and often do not have a lawyer.

The lesson plans have also dropped language emphasizing the low threshold for passing the credible-fear interview. For example, earlier lesson plans included passages reminding officers that when there was a reasonable doubt regarding an asylum seeker’s fear of persecution in her home country, “the applicant likely merits” a full hearing before a judge. “The credible-fear process was always intended to be an intentionally low threshold,” the WRC’s Obser says. “It was not meant to be a full-blown asylum hearing.”

5. Detaining asylum seekers awaiting their day in court

The feds used to have several options for dealing with asylum seekers who have passed their credible-fear interviews. They could release them on a written promise to appear at an immigration hearing, they could let them go with an ankle monitor, or they could detain them. Over the last several years, many immigrant families with pending asylum claims were set free, a policy that immigration hardliners have derisively called “catch and release.” During his campaign, Trump promised to end this practice, and his executive order on border security called for detaining every immigrant caught at the border.

To that end, ICE has suggested doubling the number of immigrants it can detain on a daily basis to 80,000. With detention facilities already near capacity, that could mean working with local governments to reopen empty state prisons or even renting beds in local jails. Meanwhile, a February memo from DHS Secretary Kelly says that asylum seekers may be released if they pass their credible-fear interviews and prove to ICE who they are and that they’re not a security risk. If not, they face prolonged detention—and, because it’s especially hard for them to find lawyers and make their cases while held by ICE, likely deportation.

6. Getting tough on unaccompanied kids

According to Kelly’s memo, some 155,000 unaccompanied child migrants have been apprehended at the border in the past three years. Those kids pass through shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services and are often then reunited with relatives living in the United States. Kelly wrote that 60 percent of them have been placed in the care of one or more undocumented parents. The memo suggests that the government will be taking a closer look at these cases and reclassifying unaccompanied kids as simply undocumented immigrants—and deporting them.

KIND’s Podkul argues this will simply keep parents from collecting their children from government shelters, which could put kids in precarious situations—and could keep the federal government from being able to know where kids are and make sure they’re living in safe environments. “You’re either going to have kids lingering in detention,” she says, “or you’re going to have a stranger or a family friend or a neighbor who comes forward to get the kid.”

7. Charging parents with human trafficking

Many of the unaccompanied children reuniting with their families in the United States arrive at the border with the help of smugglers hired by their parents or relatives. “Regardless of the desires for family reunion, or conditions in other countries,” Kelly wrote in his memo, “the smuggling or trafficking of alien children is intolerable.” To that end, Kelly states that anyone who contributes “directly or indirectly” to the smuggling of a child could face deportation or criminal prosecution.

To advocates, this move seems especially punitive. “No person is more concerned about the safety of a child than a parent,” Podkul says. “They’re doing the only thing they know how to do to save their child’s life. By going after them, that’s not going to stop any sort of problem. It’s not going to stop the problem in the home country. It’s not going to stop kids from needing to flee.”

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Inside Trump’s Border Crackdown on Women and Kids

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Trump May Not Care About Climate Change, But the Pentagon Does

Mother Jones

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This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has asserted that climate change is real and a threat to American interests abroad and the Pentagon’s assets everywhere, a position that appears at odds with the views of the president who appointed him and many in the administration in which he serves.

In unpublished written testimony provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee after his confirmation hearing in January, Mattis said it was incumbent on the US military to consider how changes like open-water routes in the thawing Arctic and drought in global trouble spots can pose challenges for troops and defense planners. He also stressed this is a real-time issue, not some distant what-if.

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Mattis said in written answers to questions posed after the public hearing by Democratic members of the committee. “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

Mattis has long espoused the position that the armed forces, for a host of reasons, need to cut dependence on fossil fuels and explore renewable energy where it makes sense. He had also, as commander of the US Joint Forces Command in 2010, signed off on the Joint Operating Environment, which lists climate change as one of the security threats the military expected to confront over the next 25 years.

But Mattis’ written statements to the Senate committee are the first direct signal of his determination to recognize climate change as a member of the Trump administration charged with leading the country’s armed forces.

These remarks and others in the replies to senators could be a fresh indication of divisions or uncertainty within President Donald Trump’s administration over how to balance the president’s desire to keep campaign pledges to kill Obama-era climate policies with the need to engage constructively with allies for whom climate has become a vital security issue.

Mattis’ statements on climate change, for instance, recognize the same body of science that Scott Pruitt, the new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, seems dead-set on rejecting. In a CNBC interview last Thursday, Pruitt rejected established science pointing to carbon dioxide as the main driver of recent global warming.

Mattis’ position also would appear to clash with some Trump administration budget plans, which, according to documents leaked recently to The Washington Post, include big cuts for the Commerce Department’s oceanic and atmospheric research 2014 much of it focused on tracking and understanding climate change.

Even setting aside warming driven by accumulating carbon dioxide, it’s clear to a host of experts, including Dr. Will Happer, a Princeton physicist interviewed by Trump in January as a potential science adviser, that better monitoring and analysis of extreme conditions like drought is vital.

Mattis’ statements could hearten world leaders who have urged the Trump administration to remain engaged on addressing global warming. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet Trump on Friday.

Security questions related to rising seas and changing weather patterns in global trouble spots like the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa are one reason that global warming has become a focus in international diplomatic forums. On March 10, the United Nations Security Council was warned of imminent risk of famine in Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan.

As well, at a Munich meeting on international security issues last month, attended by Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence, European officials pushed back on demands that they spend more on defense, saying their investments in boosting resilience to climate hazards in poor regions of the world are as valuable to maintaining security as strong military forces.

“You need the European Union, because when you invest in development, when you invest in the fight against climate change, you also invest in our own security,” Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said in a panel discussion.

Concerns about the implications of global warming for national security have built within the Pentagon and national security circles for decades, including under both Bush administrations.

In September, acting on the basis of a National Intelligence Council report he commissioned, President Obama ordered more than a dozen federal agencies and offices, including the Defense Department, “to ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.”

A related “action plan” was issued on Dec. 23, requiring those agencies to create a Climate and National Security Working Group within 60 days, and for relevant agencies to create “implementation plans” in that same period.

There’s no sign that any of this has been done.

Whether the inaction is a function of the widespread gaps in political appointments at relevant agencies, institutional inertia or a policy directive from the Trump White House remains unclear.

Queries to press offices at the White House and half a dozen of the involved agencies 2014 including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Energy and Commerce Department 2014 have not been answered. A State Department spokeswoman directed questions to the National Security Council and the White House, writing:

“We refer you to the NSC for any additional information on the climate working group.”

Mattis’ statements were submitted through a common practice at confirmation hearings in which senators pose “questions for the record” seeking more detail on a nominee’s stance on some issue.

The questions and answers spanned an array of issues, but five Democratic senators on the committee asked about climate change, according to a government official briefed in detail on the resulting 58-page document with the answers. The senators were Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking member, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Excerpts from Mattis’ written comments to the committee were in material provided to ProPublica by someone involved with work climate change preparedness at various government agencies. Senate staff confirmed their authenticity.

Dustin Walker, communications director for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said responses to individual senators’ follow-up questions are theirs to publish or not.

Here are two of the climate questions from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, with Mattis’ replies:

Shaheen: “I understand that while you were commander of US Joint Forces Command you signed off on a document called the Joint Operating Environment, which listed climate change as one of the security threats the military will face in the next quarter-century. Do you believe climate change is a security threat?”

Mattis: “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

Shaheen: “General Mattis, how should the military prepare to address this threat?”

Mattis: “As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”

In a reply to another question, Mattis said:

“I agree that the effects of a changing climate 2014 such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others 2014 impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”

Here is some recommended reading for those seeking more depth:

Here’s How US Allies Are Trying to Convince Trump To Take Climate Change Seriously

UN Dispatch, Feb. 22, 2017, by John Light

Mattis on Military Energy Strategy

New America, Jan. 13, 2017, by Sharon Burke

Climate and Security Advisory Group: Briefing Book for a New Administration

The Center for Climate and Security, Nov. 14, 2017

(The Center for Climate and Security also has a helpful chronology of US defense and intelligence output on these intertwined issues.)

A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks

A 2015 report commissioned by the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven

The National Security Case for Funding the EPA

The Hill (opinion), March 11, 2017, by Sherri Goodman (a deputy undersecretary of defense from 1993 to 2001)

Also, I ran a discussion on the subject at the Washington offices of the Hoover Institution last month with retired Navy Admiral Gary Roughead, who was chief of naval operations from 2007 to 2011; Alice Hill, who directed work on the intersection of climate and national security policy at the National Security Council during the Obama administration; and David Slayton, a retired Navy officer who is now at Hoover tracking Arctic security and energy policy. Watch the video.

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Trump May Not Care About Climate Change, But the Pentagon Does

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White House Says CBO Is Wrong, AHCA Would Actually Make 26 Million People Uninsured

Mother Jones

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My brain is imploding. HHS Secretary Tom Price said today that CBO’s estimate of insurance losses under the Republican health care bill “defy logic.” But it turns out the White House—which Price works for—agrees with the CBO. In fact, they think CBO is a little too optimistic. Here is Politico:

The White House’s own internal analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare show even steeper coverage losses than the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a document viewed by Politico on Monday.

The executive branch analysis forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimate — a finding that undermines White House efforts to discredit the forecasts from the nonpartisan CBO.

But…no…that’s completely…it doesn’t make…it’s…it’s…it’s…I mean…WHAT THE FUCKITY FUCKING FUCK-ALL FUCK IS GOING ON HERE?

Sorry about that. But I’m afraid this is about the most incisive analysis I have to offer. The Republican health care effort is a fiasco beyond even my wildest imagination.

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White House Says CBO Is Wrong, AHCA Would Actually Make 26 Million People Uninsured

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