Trump Backtracking on Religious Liberty?

The Trump Justice Department, headed by pro-life AG Jeff Sessions, is inexplicably backtracking on promises of religious liberty. Obamacare, which many of us had hoped would be gone by now, attempted to force a birth-control mandate on Christian organizations that opposed it in principle.

Trump loudly proclaimed throughout his campaign that he would be a champion of religious liberty, that the federal government would not interfere in deeply held religious beliefs. But look what’s happening now.

A district court ruled in favor of the religious organizations, which led to the Obama Justice Department (yes, I know the oxymoronic quality of that title) appealing the decision. Everyone expected the new Justice Department, led by the conservative Sessions, would drop that appeal.

It hasn’t happened. In fact, . . . well, I’ll quote from a newspaper report:

Several religious groups are dismayed and confused by the Trump administration’s move, including the Little Sisters of the Poor — a group of nuns — that fought the mandate for several years but expected an immediate reprieve under the GOP president. They believed either the Justice Department would halt its appeal in the case or the administration would seek a rules change from the Department of Health and Human Services.

East Texas Baptist University and other plaintiffs represented by the nonprofit law firm Becket are now asking the Justice Department to drop its appeal of a district-court ruling in their favor, allowing them permanent relief from the mandate.

Conservatives who oppose the birth control mandate on religious liberty grounds are bewildered by the move at a Justice Department headed by former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who is well known for his conservative views.

As things stand now, it appears that Justice plans to continue defending the way the Obama administration applied the birth-control mandate, said Eric Rassbach, a Becket attorney.

Continue defending the Obamacare mandate on birth control? Why on earth would this administration act like the Obama administration on this issue?

I’m willing to wait and see. My hope—giving the benefit of the doubt here—is that there is some confusion in the department that will be straightened out. Perhaps the outrage over this report will awaken them to what they are doing.

Meanwhile, I continue to offer the same caution I’ve been offering all along: don’t expect principle from an administration that is headed by a man without principle. Sometimes, he will do what is right, but one can never depend on that.

Principles and Christian character remain the cornerstones for good government. Without them, it’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.

Bombs Away? A Reagan-Trump Comparison

President Trump has stirred the criticism pot with his military actions: striking an air base in Syria and using the largest bomb in the US arsenal to destroy terrorists’ caves in Afghanistan. It has led some to question exactly what authority a president has to use the military without first consulting Congress.

That’s an important question because the Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war, not any president unilaterally. Of course, Congress hasn’t passed an actual war declaration since WWII. All of our actions militarily since then have either been in conjunction with the UN (Korea, Persian Gulf War) or with tacit approval of Congress to defend American lives (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq). The latter were with congressional resolutions that fall short of true declarations.

Yet are there times when a president cannot wait for Congress to debate a matter because surprise is essential? Can the use of the military for one specific action be taken by presidential authority without a full declaration of war?

Let’s look at the Reagan years for a couple of examples.

In 1983, a militant pro-Castro faction overthrew the government of Maurice Bishop, a moderate Marxist, on the island of Grenada. Reagan immediately understood the implications of the coup: if the new government survived, a third Cuba (Marxist Nicaragua was viewed as the second Cuba in Reagan’s mind) would have come into existence during his watch. Grenada would become another Soviet client-state in the Western hemisphere.

The new Grenadian administration brought in 600 Cubans to construct an airstrip that could accommodate large military planes. This worried not only the US but other island-nations in the region. Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica came to the White House to share her concerns with Reagan and ask for help.

Another factor Reagan had to take under consideration was several hundred Americans who were attending a medical school on the island. He wanted to ensure their safety, but knew that if word got out that action was being contemplated, those Americans could easily become hostages. The threat of another Iranian-type hostage situation loomed.

So, for national security reasons and fear for the safety of American lives, Reagan chose to act swiftly and as quietly as possible. He did bring in congressional leadership, both Republican and Democrat, before taking action, informing them of the situation. He got the go-ahead from them to proceed.

On October 25, Reagan sent 10,000 U.S. marines and army airborne troops to invade the island. All resistance was eliminated after three days of fighting. At first, some members of Congress were outraged, but public support for the invasion soared as TV coverage featured interviews with the grateful American students.

Then there was Libya in 1986.

This radical Islamic state ruled by strongman Muammar Qaddafi had used its oil revenues to bankroll terrorists in Europe and the Middle East. On April 15, 1986, having concluded that Libya had supported and financed the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin frequented by American military personnel, Reagan ordered the bombing of five targets in Libya, including the presidential palace.

Reagan wanted to send a message to Qaddafi that he needed to back off his financial support for terrorism, and that he should think twice before aiding and abetting attacks that might kill and injure US soldiers.

Again, Reagan felt that giving advance warning for this punitive action would allow Libya to prepare for it and minimize the damage. He had already publicly proclaimed the US perspective on Libya and other nations directly involved with terrorism when he said in a speech that Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Libya were “outlaw states run by the strangest collection of misfits, loony-tunes and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich.” Of Qaddafi, he said, “He’s not only a barbarian, he’s flaky.”

In both of these instances, Reagan took into consideration national security and saving the lives of American citizens. Both actions were short-term, not full-fledged wars, and required secrecy for their success.

Trump’s decisions have to be evaluated in that same light. I have no problem with the Afghanistan bombing, as it is part of an ongoing effort to eliminate terrorism aimed at America. It would be nice, though, for Congress to go the whole way for a declaration of war and make it more constitutional. Yet I realize that it is difficult in this situation because terrorism is not confined to one nation; it is a continuing problem that pops up everywhere.

As for Syria, I have mixed feelings. Trump apparently decided to go ahead with that bombing because of the use of chemical weapons on Syrian citizens. He saw pictures of the results and was horrified. Who wouldn’t be?

But was there a direct danger to American citizens over Syria’s use of chemical weapons? Was our national security threatened by this terrible action? We are a compassionate people who want to stop atrocities, but can we do that everywhere in the world? Aren’t atrocities occurring in many nations? Where do we strike and where do we not?

Decisions need to be made on the basis of national security and saving American lives first and foremost. Other reasons may enter in as well, but there needs to be a compelling need to act; we can’t merely make emotional decisions.

My concern is that Trump often makes decisions based on emotion. He has little understanding of constitutional authority and limitations; neither does he care to learn.

While I can inwardly cheer that the bombing in Syria sends a message, I can wonder about the wisdom of that decision and whether it really accomplished its purposes.

My concerns about how Trump makes decisions and whether he has any bedrock principles have never gone away. I’m also concerned that too many Americans don’t care about those principles. Yet without a proper understanding of the rule of law, we are in trouble.

The Credibility Problem: Russia & Susan Rice

I try to stay away from definitive statements on current issues until most or all of the facts are known. That’s why I’ve written so little on the whole controversy about Russia’s influence over the presidential election.

Of this I am certain: Trump is not now president because Russia somehow sabotaged voting machines. Trump is president primarily because he ran against Hillary Clinton, arguably the worst major-party presidential candidate in the last . . . oh . . . well, perhaps since the birth of the Republic.

Hillary still hasn’t come to grips with that. She’s still out there making comments about how discrimination against women is why she lost. Fortunately, what she thinks doesn’t matter much now; she’s free to live in whatever fantasy world she chooses.

But did Russia try to influence public opinion toward Trump in devious ways? Keep in mind that Russia always has tried to do whatever it could to undermine America. Back in the Reagan years, there is evidence the old USSR was using Sen. Ted Kennedy to get Reagan out in the 1984 election, and the senator was a willing accomplice. He was never a model of pristine character.

By the way, Russian interference in 1984 didn’t exactly count for much in the final tally:

As the current probe slogged along, Republican Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, made a misstep by making a public announcement about how our intelligence services incidentally caught information on Trump transition members apparently being mentioned by Russian operatives, but that such incidental information did not reveal any collusion. Nunes’s false step was to say something about this publicly rather than going directly to his committee.

That bad decision led to a political furor by the Democrats (who are well-practiced in political furor), and now Nunes is under investigation for an ethics violation. He has had to recuse himself from the Russia probe.

The names of those Trump people somehow were made public. That is against the law. All kinds of suspicion, entirely warranted, has been directed at the Obama administration in its final days doing whatever it could to weaken the incoming administration.

The name that has come to the surface is Susan Rice, Obama’s former UN ambassador and national security advisor. Isn’t it amazing how she always seems to show up whenever there is a need to find someone to explain away Obama’s misdeeds?

Rice doesn’t have a history that engenders confidence in her integrity. Anyone recall that she became the face of the Obama team when they totally mishandled Benghazi? Anyone recall how she went on all the Sunday talk shows and peddled the Big Lie about a video causing the attack on American personnel in Libya? Anyone recall how she did it with no embarrassment at all?

Well, she’s back. She started off by saying she knew nothing about the intelligence gathering that caught some Trump people. Then that shifted into an admission that she did request to know the names of those people—within the legal allowance—but that she certainly wasn’t responsible for leaking those names to the public.

That’s her story and she’s sticking to it.

Susan Rice has no credibility.

What really happened with Russia and what should we be concerned about? The investigation is ongoing. The real question is whether it will be a real investigation or merely another in a long line of political one-upsmanship.

The House Intelligence Committee needs to demonstrate that it has more credibility than Susan Rice.

Political Honesty: Not an Oxymoron

Oxymorons are words that don’t ordinarily go together—they come across as inherently contradictory. The classic is “jumbo shrimp.” I’ve always liked “congressional ethics”; others prefer “military intelligence.” I held an oxymoron contest one year with students. The co-winners were “study lounge” and “intense apathy.”

Why am I pondering oxymorons this morning? It has to do with the recently failed GOP healthcare fix. It wasn’t really a fix because it left the infrastructure of Obamacare largely intact, fixing virtually nothing, thereby qualifying as an oxymoron in practice.

Those within the GOP who stood firmly against this oxymoron are now being castigated by their fellows. Blame is being cast on the Freedom Caucus for undermining the Trump presidency. They are being told they have to back the president on everything he supports regardless of their own personal views on the efficacy of a proposed bill.

Personally, I’m grateful for those who held to principle, seeing that this bill was not better than what we currently have in Obamacare, and that it could actually be worse in that it undermines more than a temporary resident of the White House—it undermines conservative governing policies.

Yes, President Trump took his lumps with this one, but that’s fine. When you push something wrong, you deserve some lumps.

As is his usual practice, he now distances himself from a failure because . . . well, he simply doesn’t fail. It’s always someone else’s fault.

Here’s where the title of today’s blog comes in. We are in dire need of political honesty, a term that shouldn’t be an oxymoron. What I’m seeing now from some Republicans and/or supposed conservatives is an attempt to shift blame rather dishonestly.

Paul Ryan is the culprit, you see, not Donald Trump. He is the RINO who came up with this failed approach to repeal and replace; Trump is blameless.

Well, I certainly agree that Ryan followed a bad path here. Why he was willing to compromise the pledge Republicans made to wipe out Obamacare is discouraging, to say the least. Yet it’s time for political honesty on the part of those who are excusing Trump.

The president was just as much on board with this failure as Ryan was, yet Trump’s most stalwart defenders refuse to acknowledge it. How do they look past his open advocacy for the proposed bill? How do they ignore that his self-appointed proxy, Steve Bannon, went to the Freedom Caucus and told them they had no choice but to vote for this bill?

After the bill went down to inglorious defeat without even a vote, he was all aTwitter, ranting against those who held to principle. Now he’s saying he can get a better deal working with Democrats.

Right. Can you imagine what kind of compromise would come from that?

Donald Trump owns this just as much as Paul Ryan. But don’t tell AlwaysTrumpers that. They have become blind and deaf to his shortcomings.

He’s now trying to change the subject.

He’s the captain, regardless of what his defenders want us to believe. If you are upset at Ryan and see nothing amiss in what Trump did with this phony bill, political honesty is missing. If Ryan is to blame for it, so is Trump.

Please stop the dishonesty. Don’t be a walking oxymoron.

By the way, Democrats are playing this as a win, but let’s keep one thing in mind.

We’re all losers with Obamacare. It’s time for a genuine repeal and a principled plan for replacement.

Obamacare, Reality, & Leadership

Yesterday was supposed to be the big vote on the Republican bill to repeal (?), replace (?), revise (?), surrender on (?) Obamacare. It didn’t happen. Now today  is supposed to be the big day.

What’s the problem? Republicans can’t agree on whether this proposed bill does much of the above, and that has led to this impasse. This is a mess; it certainly doesn’t indicate competent leadership.

The most conservative House members say it leaves the essence of Obamacare in place; the majority of House Republicans blame the conservatives for blocking the best opportunity to reverse the Obamacare train wreck. Who is right?

I understand the strategy the GOP leadership says it is following: a three-step plan to eventually rid ourselves of this monstrous error. However, I don’t blame anyone for having doubts that the other two steps ever will occur. Yes, there are political realities, but if you campaign on a complete repeal and then do something less than that, you open yourself up to charges of hypocrisy.

And that’s what many conservatives are now charging the leadership with: rank hypocrisy.

Then, to make matters worse, we have Trump coming out and saying, in effect, either vote for this or else. I’ve also heard the voices of Republicans chastising conservatives because we all must get behind our president even if you don’t like this bill—even if you think it’s a joke.

As if the most important thing is to support President Trump above all else, regardless of what you believe about his policies (or his temperament or public accusations against anyone who dares oppose him).

I’m all for the Trump presidency being successful. I’m not for the attitude, “My way or the highway,” to repeat the cliché currently being bandied about.

Is this where we are today?

Is it any wonder why people get tired of politics?

Yet we cannot retreat and live in our own little bubbles. We cannot evade our responsibility to take these issues seriously and contribute what we can to the discussion.

For Christians, that’s what Jesus’s “salt and light” comments are all about, and no matter how dismayed we are over our politics and our culture at large, if we retreat, what then?

Get Rid of the “Precious”

The “Replace Obamacare Saga” continues. Critics of the whole idea of getting rid of this failed policy don’t really get it yet:

I’m not sure, though, that enough Republicans get it either:

The problem, as I see it, is that too many of the Republican leaders, and the guy in the White House, remain committed to the idea that the federal government has the authority to dictate healthcare. Republicans want to tinker with the Obamacare disaster, but they haven’t really grasped the fact that the government both shouldn’t and can’t succeed in this endeavor:

No matter how much Trump railed against Obamacare during the campaign, he persisted in promising that the government would make sure everyone is covered. Well, isn’t that what Obama promised? What’s the difference?

Why not free up the system and get the government out of it? Well, says the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the new Republican plan will throw a lot of people off health insurance. What it doesn’t take into account is that many of those are the ones who were forced to get the insurance in the first place. Maybe now they might opt out.

But that would be called liberty . . . and we certainly don’t want that. The Nanny State must be upheld.

Republicans, hear this message, please. Rid yourself of the “Precious.” Throw that Ring into the fires of Mordor once and for all.

Once that is accomplished, perhaps peace and common sense will prevail in the American Shire.

Countering False Images

My previous post highlighted some of my ongoing concerns with President Trump. In the spirit of balance, let me offer some positives today because even though my concerns will probably never disappear, it’s always important to counter the false images being presented by Democrats and their minions in the media.

For instance, take that presumed travel ban on Muslims. I critiqued the administration for a bungled announcement about it that gave opponents what they needed to play the bigot card. The substance of that order, though, was widely mischaracterized. Let’s look at what it did and didn’t do.

But a little thing like facts is not what interests the ideologically blind.

I’m also, at this point, hopeful that Trump has a better understanding of what needs to be done to combat Islamic extremism. He, at least, unlike Obama, seems to realize it’s a genuine threat:

I didn’t comment earlier on his address to Congress. I have my concerns about his domestic plans when it comes to the amount of money he wants to spend on things that even the Democrats like. But what’s more interesting is that those Democrats are now exhibiting furrowed brows over domestic spending. When has that ever happened before?

It couldn’t be that it’s all just political, could it?

After Trump’s speech to Congress, the Democrats were ready with their response. I thought this particular cartoon was able to dispel the fog of vacuous verbiage and get to the heart of the matter:

Hypocrisy is never admirable, regardless of political party or particular politician.