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“Congressional Inaction And Cowardice”: President Obama, Wiping Away Tears, Announces Executive Actions On Guns

On the issue of guns, President Obama has showed anger before. He’s made his sorrow visible, his frustration. But Tuesday, in his address to the nation, he showed us his tears.

In a speech outlining executive actions his administration plans to take in an effort to curb gun violence, many of which he has been trying to implement for years, he stressed the common sense of his directives, and urged Americans to stand up to those who oppose his efforts.

He invoked many of the incidences of gun violence that had compelled him to action, beginning with Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s shooting five years ago, on Jan. 8, 2011 in Tucson, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School – which inspired a bill that would have expanded background checks, but failed because of fierce Republican opposition – and then recited some of the mass shootings that have occurred since he took office in 2009, including Charleston, South Carolina; San Bernardino and Santa Barbara, California; Aurora, Colorado; Fort Hood, Texas; Binghamton, New York; the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

At times, he was greeted with sighs of assent, and later, standing ovations, as when he called out the NRA: “The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now. But they cannot hold America hostage.”

The president said he wondered how the issue had become politicized, quoting Republican standard-bearers John McCain, George W. Bush, and the grand pooh-bah of them all, Ronald Reagan, on their sensible stances on guns.

He compared the effort to reduce gun deaths – the majority of which are suicides – to past struggles for civil rights, whether it was women winning the right to vote, the emancipation of black Americans, or LGBT rights; in doing so, he urged Americans not to give in to cynicism and defeat, or to grow dispirited by the routine nature of these tragedies, a routine which extends even to his now predictably outraged post-shooting speeches. “Just because it’s hard is no reason not to try,” he said, allowing that the effort will not succeed within his presidency nor during the current Congress.

Despite the tears, his speech was filled with personal anecdotes and chuckles, reminding Americans that he had taught constitutional law so that he was very familiar with the Second Amendment — to which he reiterated his steadfast commitment. Radical gun owners and the NRA have created a culture that elevates the Second Amendment such that it overtakes other rights Americans have, he said, including the right to assemble peaceably, the right to worship freely, and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

But the crux of his speech rested on the initiatives his administration will take to strengthen and clarify existing laws on gun possession:

All gun sellers must get a license and submit purchasers to background checks. The distribution channel will no longer matter. Background checks would expand to buyers who try to hide behind trusts, or purchase online, and the actual mechanisms of the checks would be streamlined.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents will be empowered to crack down on stolen guns and lost weapons. The 2017 budget will allow for allow for 200 new hires at the ATF Bureau to enforce gun laws.

A proposed investment of $500 million to expand access to mental health across the country. This was perhaps the least detailed of his actions, but he called on politicians to back up their rhetoric on blaming mental health for mass shootings by supporting this policy: “For those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here’s your chance to support these efforts. Put your money where your mouth is,” he said. Obama also pledged to remove barriers between federal record keeping on mental health issues and background checks, which might have prevented the Charleston, AuroraVirginia Tech, and Tucson assailants from obtaining guns.

He called on manufacturers to ramp up the deployment of safety technology, which has existed for years but due to political pressure and strange laws has stalled before being allowed to come to market. Using common-sense comparisons with everyday smartphone technology – “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?” – he said that he would work with the private sector to make sure guns aren’t accidentally discharged by children, thereby reducing accidental deaths.

President Obama noted that we have regulation, safety procedures, and public health research for medicines, cars, and even toys, but that political inaction and cowardice have maligned and sometimes actively prevented public health professionals from studying and implementing reforms that could reduce gun deaths. On the whole, states that have stricter gun measures have fewer deaths, but those that that have weakened regulations, like Missouri, have seen gun deaths rise above national levels.

“Maybe we can’t save everybody, but we could save some,” he pleaded.

Invoking Martin Luther King, Jr., twice, he asked Americans to “feel ‘the fierce urgency of now’” and “find the courage” to vote and mobilize on this issue. He ended with the story of Zaevion Dobson, a 15-year-old from Knoxville, Tennessee, who died while shielding three girls who were caught in an accidental crossfire.

Republican presidential candidates predictably denounced Obama and his reforms, with Sen. Ted Cruz calling them “illegal and unconstitutional” and House Speaker Paul Ryan saying that without a doubt Obama’s actions will be challenged in court.

Anticipating a frequent anti-gun-control canard, the president clarified: “Contrary to the claims of what some gun rights proponents have suggested, this hasn’t been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation… This is not a plot to take away everyone’s guns.”

Josh Earnest, the White House spokesperson, said Tuesday afternoon that the president was “well within his legal right” to make these reforms and that the White House worked with the Department of Justice to coordinate these executive actions.

The president has said that Dec. 14, 2012, the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, was the worst day of his presidency, and that the failure to pass gun-control legislation in its wake was one of his most stinging defeats.

“Every time I think about these kids,” he said, referring to the 20 first-graders between the ages of 6 and 7 who were murdered, “it makes me mad.”

 

By: Stephanie Schwartz, The National Memo, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Congress, Executive Orders, Gun Violence, Sandy Hook | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ignoring Basic Principles Of Government”: Texas Judge’s Immigration Ruling Is Full Of Legal Holes

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s decision to block the Obama plan to defer deportation for about 5 million immigrants here illegally ignores a basic principle of government: For better or worse, the executive branch of government always has discretion as to whether and how to enforce the law.

The judge’s lengthy opinion is wrong as a matter of law and, worse, is based on xenophobia and stereotypes about immigrants. It is very likely to be overturned by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and, if necessary, the Supreme Court.

Every president must set enforcement priorities on immigration, choosing whom to prosecute or whom to deport. No administration brings prosecutions against all who violate the law. Resources make that impossible, and there are laws on the books that should not be enforced.

Nor has any administration, Democratic or Republican, sought to deport every person who is illegally in the United States. For humanitarian reasons or because of foreign policy considerations or for lack of resources, the government often chooses not to bring deportation actions. In fact, as recently as three years ago, the Supreme Court in United States vs. Arizona recognized that an inherent part of executive control over foreign policy is the ability of the president to choose whether to bring deportation proceedings.

That is exactly what President Obama’s executive orders on immigration have done. He has announced that the federal government will not seek to deport 600,000 young people who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children, or the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have resided in the country for at least five years. Millions of parents would be able to remain with their children because of this order and not need to live every day in fear of deportation.

The judge’s order makes several basic legal mistakes. For example, the law is clear that a federal court has jurisdiction to hear a matter only if the federal court’s decision would solve the problem. If the court’s decision would have no effect, it would be nothing but an advisory opinion, which is prohibited by the Constitution. Thus, the Supreme Court long has held that a party has standing to sue in federal court only if a favorable decision would “redress” its injury.

The lawsuit in Hanen’s court was brought by state governments that object to the Obama orders, claiming injury by the presence of immigrants here illegally. But the federal government deports only about 400,000 such immigrants a year. It is entirely speculative that stopping the executive orders would have any effect on the states that brought the suit. In fact, it is unclear what the judge’s order will mean. He cannot force the Department of Homeland Security to deport anyone.

The central argument in Hanen’s ruling is that the executive branch must promulgate a formal rule to defer deportation of these individuals. But the federal government constantly sets enforcement priorities without a formal rule. The Justice Department’s policies to not prosecute possession of small amounts of marijuana or credit card fraud below a designated dollar level, for example, were not adopted by formal rules.

In fact, recent presidents, including Republican ones, have deferred deportations without formal rules. In 1987, in response to political turmoil in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the Reagan administration took executive action to stop deportations for 200,000 Nicaraguan exiles. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush, post-Tiananmen, stopped deportations of Chinese students. He kept hundreds of Kuwaiti citizens who were illegally in the United States from being deported after Saddam Hussein invaded their nation. In 2001, President George W. Bush limited deportation of Salvadoran citizens at the request of El Salvador’s president, and ordered that deportation decisions include consideration of factors such as whether a mother was nursing or whether the person in question was a U.S. military veteran.

Judge Hanen, appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush, has the reputation of being especially conservative on immigration issues. That tone underlies his opinion, especially as he spoke of immigrants being “terrorists” and “criminals.” What he misses, though, is that the point of Obama’s executive orders was to set enforcement priorities to focus deportations on terrorists and criminals and not on breaking up families.

It is not surprising that a conservative Republican judge would try to stop the Obama immigration policy. But it is just the first word and one unlikely to be sustained on appeal.

 

By: Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law; Samuel Kleiner, a Fellow at the Yale Law Information Society Project; The Los Angeles Times; The National Memo, february 20, 2015

February 23, 2015 Posted by | Deportation, Executive Orders, Immigration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’ve Adapted Before, And We’ll Adapt Again”: Immigrants’ Energy And Vitality Ought To Be Celebrated

“This is a blessing from God.”

“I’ve always had to look behind my back. Now I don’t have to worry so much.”

“This is a very amazing moment.”

According to news reports, those sentiments — hope, relief, gratitude, joy — have been expressed by immigrants heartened by President Obama’s decision to delay deportation for as many as 4 million people who entered the country without papers. They are ordinary folks eager for a semblance of normalcy — the right to a driver’s license, the ability to get a job legally, the respite from constant worry — in the adopted country they now call home.

While Obama’s action has drawn withering criticism from his conservative critics, the president framed his decision as an attempt to keep families from being torn apart. According to the Migration Policy Institute, some 3.7 million adults who came into the United States without authorization have at least one child who was born here or has legal permanent status and has been here five or more years.

Those children are firmly ensconced in their communities, anchored in their schools or workplaces, and strangers to the nations in which their parents were born. They speak English; they surf the Internet; they obsess over the latest smartphone. In other words, they are as American as your kids and mine.

What sort of country would separate them from their parents or force them to leave? Why not embrace them for the vitality they bring to us?

Opponents of Obama’s executive order are given to a heavy reliance on the rules and regulations of permissible entry, the legal codes that govern borders and visas and citizenship. It’s certainly true that unauthorized immigrants have violated those statutes — stealing across a river, sneaking through a desert, ignoring a previously agreed-upon departure.

But surely there is something to be said for leniency, for mercy, for generosity toward those who have, after all, committed only a misdemeanor, which is how the law characterizes a first-time illegal entry. (Obama’s executive order pointedly excludes those who have committed felonies.)

That mercy ought to be freely meted out since Americans bear some complicity in the law-breaking, some responsibility for the unauthorized sojourns taken by so many gardeners, cooks and nannies, painters, ditch diggers and fruit pickers. Back in the go-go 1990s, we practically threw open the gates and invited in low-skilled workers who were happy to do the jobs that Americans didn’t want to do.

There was more than enough work to go around in an economy where the unemployment rate dropped to as low as 4 percent, and native-born laborers shunned sweaty work picking Vidalia onions, toting drain pipe and laying sod. Undocumented workers proved cheap and compliant, unable to complain when safety regulations were violated and wages were substandard.

So they came by the millions, in Democratic and Republican administrations. They stayed, they worked hard, they married and had children. They adopted our values and called this country their own.

Perhaps it was inevitable that a backlash would be swift and furious, especially after the economy turned sour and the middle class shrank. Besides, every immigrant wave in the nation’s history — whether Irish or Polish or Chinese — has provoked an eruption of anger and resentment.

This backlash has been building since at least the early aughts, when President George W. Bush tried to pass legislation that would give the undocumented legal status and a path to citizenship. Ultraconservatives in his party rebelled, even as business executives pleaded for a compromise that would satisfy their need for workers.

The resentment was seeded, in part, by the reality of demographic change — by, yes, the discomfort produced by racial and ethnic differences. Older Americans, especially, have recoiled at a country that grows browner and more diverse, where Spanish-language signs dominate some neighborhoods and soccer fields replace baseball diamonds. That, too, has happened before in our history as immigrants brought their customs and religions and languages.

But the nation adapted before, and we’ll adapt again. That constant rejuvenation is one of the nation’s strengths, that energy and vitality is one of our advantages. We, too, ought to be grateful those immigrants are getting a shot at the American dream.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, November 29, 2014

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, Immigrants, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Great National ‘Franksgiving’ Uproar”: Imagine The Reaction If Obama Used An Executive Order To Change Date Of A Major Holiday

The story of Franklin Roosevelt moving Thanksgiving is probably pretty well known, but with the holiday coming up tomorrow, and with the ongoing debate about executive powers apparently fresh on the political world’s mind, it’s probably worth a trip down memory lane.

Historically, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the final Thursday of November. But in 1939, with the nation still dealing with the effects of the Great Depression and the unemployment rate above 15%, there was a small problem with the calendar: Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 30.

This may not sound especially important, but for businesses relying on holiday sales, this was a threat to bottom lines – it shortened the number of shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Business owners, pointing to the weak economy, demanded action.

And FDR delivered, issuing an executive order that moved the official date of Thanksgiving up a week, from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23. As Andrew Prokop explained, this really didn’t go over well.

What may have seemed like a wonkish, technocratic, good-government policy clashed with what turned out to be deeply-ingrained feelings among many Americans about when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The Associated Press story announcing the move said Roosevelt “was shattering another precedent,” and quoted a town official of Plymouth, Massachusetts saying the traditional date was “sacred.” […]

Republicans pounced, and used the move to portray Roosevelt as a power-mad tyrant. In an early example of Godwin’s Law, FDR’s recent presidential opponent Alf Landon said Roosevelt sprung his decision on “an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire suggested that while Roosevelt was at it, he should abolish winter.

One Republican mayor labeled the new date “Franksgiving.” Extending the protest further, roughly half the states chose to honor the old date rather than the new one.

The date then bounced around for a couple of years, until Congress eventually passed a new law, moving the date from the final Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday in November.

So, FDR and businesses owners scored a partial win, at least insofar as the Nov. 30 problem is concerned.

The thing I like about this story now is its contemporary salience: President Obama, for example, is not the first Democratic president that Republicans compared to Hitler.

Plus, try to imagine the reaction if Obama used an executive order to change the date of a major holiday without congressional approval. If his critics go berserk when he uses prosecutorial discretion on immigration, Republicans might very well faint if Thanksgiving moved to create more shopping days.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, FDR, Thanksgiving | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Growing Fissure Within The Tea Party Movement”: Tea Party Nativists Seething Over Obama’s Immigration Reform Action

Even before President Obama entered the East Room of the White House to give his speech outlining a series of executive actions on immigration reform, some, though not all, national Tea Party factions were whipping up their followers into a nativist frenzy.

“This is by far the most serious communication I have ever sent,” wrote Steve Eichler, executive director of the 1776 Tea Party (aka TeaParty.org), in an email to supporters.  “Everything is at stake. Illegals will bankrupt our social, economic and financial systems. Terrorists will just blow it all to pieces. They’ll all be in our backyards in a matter of weeks, even days, if we don’t step up and demand action,” he warned.

That type of feverish nativism is no surprise coming from Eichler, who is also the executive director of the anti-immigrant vigilante group, the Minuteman Project. His email went on to predict “open rebellion” and “chaos” if Republicans don’t withhold funding for Obama’s executive order.

Echoing Eichler’s terror hysteria was one of the activists who helped shape the early Tea Party movement. Eric Odom, who now works for the Patriot Action Network, a Tea Party faction, also put forward the notion that executive action on immigration would somehow lead to terrorists destroying America.

What makes it so dangerous is that Obama’s announcement says to all of our enemies that now is the time to invade our nation’s borders. We’re no longer talking about innocent women and children riding trains to our borders then crossing with the hopes of gaining access to our welfare system. We’re talking about ISIS and other evil groups who want to embed individuals here with the plan of doing harm.Essentially, our President just made a proclamation that puts American lives, and the security of our nation, directly at risk. Obama said to the world that if they can get across our borders, we will not send them home. We will not enforce our immigration laws.

Grassfire, parent outfit of the Patriot Action Network, added “With his amnesty announcement in just a few hours, Obama will unilaterally defy the will of the people and Congress –becoming a threat to liberty.”

Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation went even further in denouncing President Obama, arguing that the immigration actions were part of a diabolical plot. In a prebuttal to Obama’s speech, Phillips told Tea Party Nation members, “Today, Barack Obama is going to announce his long-cherished goal of destroying America.”

Phillips, a birther racist and advocate of limiting voting to property owners, isn’t new to nativist extremism. In 2011, his group mourned the falling birth rate of native-born Americans, and warned that “American culture” will soon perish since the “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population is headed for extinction.”

Eichler, Odom, and Phillips weren’t the only Tea Partiers to adopt an inflammatory pose. Echoing their sentiments was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a favorite among Tea Party nativists, who warned portentously that President Obama’s executive actions and general “lawlessness” on immigration could lead to “ethnic cleansing.”

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) also joined the fray, contending that President Obama’s immigration executive order is “declaring war on the American people and our democracy.”

“This is truly an emergency. There’s not a moment to lose,” wrote Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin to her group’s members last Wednesday. While other Tea Party groups are busy inflaming nativism sentiment, the Tea Party Patriots are crafting a plan to scuttle any immigration reforms.

Having already primed their members with the October release of the gruesome anti-immigrant video, The Border States of America, Tea Party Patriots are focused now on organizing opposition.

As a first step, they plan to “melt the phones to stop amnesty” by having their members contact Congress en masse to register opposition. The next step is to flood congressional offices with protesters. According to Martin, the group “must deploy our thousands of local affiliates to congressional offices all across the country, demanding that they cut off all funding from this order immediately.” But the Tea Party Patriots do not have the “thousands of local affiliates” as Martin claims; instead they have around 300 remaining active local groups.

They plan to deploy those remaining local groups, however, to pressure the new Congress to defund anything relating to immigration reform. Kevin Broughton, a spokesperson for Tea Party Patriots, noted, “We expect [the new GOP majority] to use the power of the purse to defund amnesty, especially those—and there were many—who ran against it.”

The group is also canvassing its membership base to gauge possible attendance for a noon rally on December 3 in Washington D.C. called by the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, retiring congresswoman Michele Bachmann. The decision to possibly join Rep. Bachmann’s rally came after she declared on Wednesday that executive action on immigration will lead to a flood of “illiterate” voters.

Previous Tea Party Patriots anti-immigration rallies in Washington D.C., such as the muddled Immigration/IRS rally on June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill have not been well attended, so larger attendance at a December rally would be an indicator of some success for efforts to promote nativism without one of the largest Tea Party factions.

Not all national Tea Party factions are in agreement with the Tea Party Patriots’ plan. Obama’s move on immigration has uncovered a growing fissure within the Tea Party movement over the centrality of nativism. Curiously, while Tea Party Patriots, Patriot Action Network, and the 1776 Tea Party were rushing to sound more and more xenophobic  (and fundraising off the issue), some Tea Party factions tried to dance around the immigration issue, while others stayed conspicuously silent.

Indeed, although many members of the FreedomWorks social network were outraged by the president’s announcement last week, the organization’s leadership chose to duck the issue. FreedomWorks completely sidestepped the topic of immigration, choosing instead to concentrate the organization’s message on tried-and-true Obama bashing.  In a pre-speech press release, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe took a page from the GOP establishment playbook, sticking to the line about the president being an “emperor” and railing against the “expansion of executive power.”

Said Kibbe, “The president’s announcements tonight have nothing to do with immigration. This fight has to do with whether or not we are a country with laws and a separation of powers designed to protect the will of the American people from the arbitrary actions of Washington insiders.”

As other Tea Party groups have dug in for a massive fight around immigration, FreedomWorks appears fixated on getting Congress to let the Export-Import Bank expire. In fact, many in the Tea Party movement have been suspicious of FreedomWorks because of their unwillingness to wholeheartedly embrace nativism.

Unlike all the other factions, Tea Party Express hasn’t uttered a peep about the issue. That could be because the group is hoping not to call attention to the pro-immigration reform stance that Sal Russo, a Tea Party Express co-founder, expressed in an article for Roll Call last spring.

Russo’s commentary, titled “Conservatives Need to Fix the Broken U.S. Immigration System,” called for an approach remarkably similar to that proposed by the president. “We need to make the 11 million people who are here illegally obey the law, pay taxes and come out of the shadows. We have to get them right by the law in exchange for legal status, but not unbridled amnesty,” he wrote.

In the past, these disagreements have caused strains between various organizations in the network that comprises the Tea Party movement. Obama’s executive order is the first major test of these policy differences in years, and Tea Party organizations may well be held to account for their positions.

Expect the caution initially evident among Republican leadership to vanish if the Tea Party successfully mobilizes anti-immigrant sentiment. Given the vitriolic nativist tone already circulating in Tea Party circles, and the fusion of nativism with hatred of the first African-American president, the coming mobilization could make the ugly rancor and racism that erupted during the passage of Obamacare look polite. At the same time, if supporters of human rights stand strong for immigration reform and actively combat nativism, it could protect immigration reform gains for the long term and even split the Tea Party.

 

By: Devin Burghart, The National Memo, November 24, 2014

November 25, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, Immigration Reform, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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