- On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo broke long-standing precedent by issuing his support for a presidential candidate during President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign at the Republican National Convention
- Even before his speech, a House committee announced it was launching an investigation over concerns Pompeo violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits executive branch employees from political activities while on-duty.
- The White House has argued that Pompeo was off duty and not on government grounds when he gave the speech, though Pompeo may have still violated his own State Department guidance.
- Tuesday night’s RNC events also included another possible Hatch Act violation, according to critics. This occurred when Trump hosted a naturalization ceremony for five immigrants, with federal employees also in attendance.
House Committee Probe
Night two of the Republican National Convention featured major controversial moments that critics and legal experts say could have violated federal law.
The most notable was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to speak at the RNC while on a diplomatic trip in Jerusalem. In fact, the move is now the subject of a House committee investigation.
That probe, launched by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is investigating whether or not Pompeo violated the Hatch Act by appearing at the RNC. According to the Office of the Special Counsel, which promotes compliance with the law, it limits “certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs.”
Specifically to this situation, the law bars executive branch employees from using their positions to influence a presidential election. While those employees can still participate in political activities, the Hatch Act prevents them from doing so while in government buildings or while wearing an official uniform or insignia.
“It is highly unusual, and likely unprecedented, for a sitting Secretary of State to speak at a partisan convention for either of the political parties,” Representative Joaquin Castro said in a letter Stephen Biegun, deputy secretary of state. “It appears that it may also be illegal.”
Castro continued by asking Beigun to provide a host of details about Pompeo’s current trip to Jerusalem, including:
- Any potential involvement in the speech by State Department employees and their responsibilities.
- Information about whether or not the State Department will be paying for all of the travel costs of this trip or if part of it will be reimbursed by the RNC or the Trump campaign.
- The date the State Department was first made aware of Pompeo’s decision to make this address from Jerusalem while on a trip abroad.
Despite the House inquiry, the State Department has argued that Pompeo didn’t use his official title and only spoke on a “personal capacity,” A spokesperson with the department also said Pompeo didn’t use any departmental resources or staff to deliver his speech.
“The State Department will not bear any costs in conjunction with this appearance,” the spokesperson added.
Reportedly, lawyers for Pompeo, the State Department, the RNC, and the White House all reviewed Pompeo’s speech to ensure that it would not violate the Hatch Act.
In his letter, Castro addresses the State Department’s explanation, saying Pompeo “has not made any of this supposed legal analysis public. Instead, the legal analysis that has come to light shows precisely the opposite.”
Other critics have also cited departmental guidance approved by Pompeo himself last month, which states that “the Department’s longstanding policy is that U.S. citizen employees and family members may not engage in partisan political activity while posted or on [temporary duty travel] abroad, even on personal time.”
Therefore, it is also possible that Pompeo broke his own guidance by giving his address; however, that would not constitute a violation of federal law, unlike the Hatch Act.
Pompeo Praises Trump’s Foreign Policy
When it came time for Pompeo’s pre-recorded speech to finally air, he praised many of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy decisions; however, Pompeo was careful to never actually reference his position as Secretary of State.
“He’s pulled back the curtain on the predatory aggression of the Chinese Communist Party,” said. “The president has held China accountable for covering up the China virus and allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world, and he will not rest until justice is done.”
Like Trump’s repeated use of the phrase, Pompeo’s explicit choice to use the “China virus” has been condemned by many as racist. While China has been accused by U.S. intelligence of covering up COVID-19 cases, as of Wednesday, John Hopkins University reported just under 90,000 cases in the country of over 1.4 billion. By comparison, the U.S. has nearly 5.78 million cases but only has a population of 328 million.
Additionally, as The New York Times points out, “Trump has taken no specific action to punish China for its virus response.”
Continuing to praise Trump for his response to China, Pompeo toured Trump’s trade war with China, saying that China “punched a hole in our economy” and that “jobs are coming back home.”
Pompeo then shifted gears to Trump’s historic talks with North Korea and later, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, where he said that NATO is stronger today because of Trump.
Over the past four years, Trump has repeatedly bashed NATO and mischaracterized its funding. Many western officials reportedly worry about its future.
In his address, Pompeo also praised the Trump administration for the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in January. That move was highly controversial in nature, and some claimed that it violated international law because the U.S. justification was not strong enough. Others criticized it for sharply escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
“The president exited the US from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran and squeezed the ayatollah, Hezbollah, and Hamas,” Pompeo said, praising other controversial Trump decisions. “The president, too, moved the US embassy to this very city of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland.”
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal wasn’t popular at all with US allies. In fact, it was even opposed by his advisers.
Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem broke decades of U.S. policy and came at a tumultuous time for Israel.
Trump Naturalization Ceremony
Tuesday night also featured a pre-recorded naturalization ceremony hosted by Trump. In that ceremony, acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf administers the Oath of Allegiance to five immigrants..
Notably, because this event was recorded in the White House, critics argued that Wolf was violating the Hatch Act.
In addition to Wolf, two uniformed Marines took part in the ceremony, which could also be at odds with the Hatch Act, according to a long-standing policy from the Department of Defense. The basis of that would likely depend on whether those Marines knew the ceremony was being recorded for the RNC.
According to an anonymous White House official who spoke with The Washington Post, the ceremony was part of the president’s official schedule that was publicized on a public website
“The campaign decided to use the publicly available content for campaign purposes,” that official told The Post. “There was no violation of law.”
But as The Post reported, the White House press corps was never informed about the ceremony and that ceremony was not listed on the president’s public schedule.
The Trump administration has a history of violating the Hatch Act. In 2018, six White House staffers were found to have violated the act, but no official punishments were even enforced. They were simply sent warnings.
In 2019, the Office of the Special Counsel recommended that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be removed from her position for multiple violations of the Hatch Act.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (Politico) (Business Insider)
Senate Democrats To Introduce Voting Rights Bill This Week
Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.
Voting Bill Set for Floor
Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.
The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.
While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.
The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.
However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.
Pathway for Filibuster Reform
Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed.
That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.
It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.
As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).
This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.
Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)
McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024
The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.
McConnell Doubles Down
During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.
“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.”
McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.
The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.
McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.
“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.
Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.
“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).
Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.
“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.
Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.
The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.
On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”
With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)
Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico
The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.
Texas Border Wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.
Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.
While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.
Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.
During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.
The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.
Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.
While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.
“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”
Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.
Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months.
Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.
Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.
The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.
During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.
“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”