This week we learned that Mike Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor, was in regular contact with Russian diplomats in December, before the new administration was in place. According to this Washington Post article – which was heavily sourced – not only did Flynn chat with Russian officials before the new POTUS was sworn in – but he was in contact with them before the election. (“The talks were part of a series of contacts between Flynn and Kislyak that began before the Nov. 8 election and continued during the transition, officials said.”) So, during a presidential campaign that our intelligence agencies have said was influenced by Russia, a top advisor to one of the candidates was in regular communication with … Russia. And, of course, Russia wanted Trump to win. While the major news agencies may tiptoe around it, I think we can all connect the dots here, can’t we?
Obviously this is distressing, although I may finally be able to utilize the few words that I memorized during 8th grade when I was so enamored with Russian history. (Does anyone want to order an ice cream in Russian? If so, I have you covered.) And although we do have a number of things to advocate for this week – it’s been yet another busy week in Trump-land – I think it’s worth keeping the magnitude of this story in mind. National security is – or is normally – a bipartisan issue. Reports suggest that intelligence agencies are no longer providing the White House with all of their intel. If it’s shown that this administration has consistently put our national security at risk and has colluded with a foreign power to win the election… Well, suffice to say that we may have found an issue that will finally cross party lines. So let’s keep our eyes out for this, and keep calling and asking what our representatives are going to do to get to the bottom of this issue. (See some scripts below.)
Also this week, we saw creepy-teleprompter-reading-authoritarian-in-training Steve Miller on the Sunday news circuit claiming that Trump’s authority “shall not be questioned,” and all sorts of other crazy stuff. Here’s a video rundown of the best of the worst. In other crazy news, KellyAnne Conway finally forced Jason Chaffetz’s ethics out of hiding by endorsing Ivanka’s brands on national television – thereby violating the rules so clearly and so publicly that even he couldn’t let it slide. Chaffetz is the chairman of the House Committee on Ethics and Oversight – and up until now he’s been allowing ethical violations left and right. But apparently KellyAnne went one bangle too far. See his joint letter with Elijah Cummings here.
Now for some positive news (and I don’t mean adorable animal pictures, although you can go here for some Valentines-themed baby animal cuteness). Jason Chaffetz (see above) had a “rousing” town hall with his constituents chanting “do your job.” Other representatives had similar meetings. The newly activated electorate is making headlines and opinion pages all over the place, and it appears to be difficult for the major news outlets to fully understand just how motivated and inspired we are by one another. (I’m kindof surprised they are surprised, aren’t you?) So, I suppose it’s time for us to tell them to stay tuned, because I don’t think we’re going anywhere… And from a nerdy data-crunching perspective, it looks like the GOP has squeezed every last voter out of its base; demographically the GOP is in serious trouble – especially since it already lost by three million votes in the last election. In fact, it seems like the GOP is trying to give the Democrats inspiration; Mitch McConnell’s use of Senate rules to keep one of the most powerful women in the Senate (and in the U.S.) from reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King unleashed a feminine fury that won’t go away any time soon. Far from embarrassing Senator Warren, they made her into a feminist folk hero.
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. ~Mahatma Gandhi
I’m getting fired up just writing about all of this good news. So let’s get to work, shall we?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of actions, here’s a great idea that originated in a group of women that I meet with every Wednesday. After we make a call or take some other action, we tweet and tag the elected official, using the hashtag: #RUListeningMO (because we live in Missouri). It’s a great way to share your action publicly, encourage others to do the same thing, and keep track of how many times your elected official has been contacted on that issue. Try it out – it takes 30 seconds. (If you want to follow on twitter, I’m at @smalldeedsdone) Side note: If you haven’t found a group of like-minded people, I really encourage you to go to Grassroots Groupings, Indivisible, Huddle – and just start looking around for your peeps. Activism is much more fun over coffee.
We’ve talked about these bills before, but with the new developments this week they have become even more relevant, and even more important. Note that your reps will likely (or should) have town halls or constituent meetings next week during recess, and if so it will be a great time to ask them where they stand on these bills and on Russian influence generally. (Look below for more information about recess!)
- Senate Bill 26: Presidential Tax Transparency Act
- Would require POTUS to release tax returns, which is supported by 74% of Americans. Currently in Senate Rules Committee. Richard Shelby is the current chair. If you are a constituent in Alabama call him and ask him to move the legislation along.
- Call your own senator to support the bill and/or ask them to become a co-sponsor. Say: My name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ____. I am calling to ask that Senator ___ cosponsor Senate Bill 26, the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. Particularly now that it is becoming clear that there was communication between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, it’s important that we know what Pres. Trump’s financial holdings actually are, and whether he is being influenced. This legislation would also make sure that we are never in this situation again – because it would require that all presidential candidates in the future disclose their taxes. I’m sure Senator ____ believes in transparency and accountability, so I’m looking forward to hearing what he/she thinks of the act when he/she is in town next week. What town halls do you have planned?
- Senate Bill 27: Independent Commission re: Russian Interference.
- Would create a bipartisan commission to investigate and report on the Russian interference in the election. An 8 member panel (4 GOP, 4 D – all non-governmental) would prepare a report within 18 months. Currently in Senate Rules Committee. See link for membership. Shelby (AL) is the chair, and committee chairs help create the calendar, so if you are an Alabama constituent call him and ask him to move the legislation along.
- Call your Senator to support the bill and/or ask them to become a co-sponsor. Say: My name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ____. I am calling to ask that Senator ___ support Senate Bill 27, which creates an independent commission investigating the Russian interference in our election. Particularly now that it is becoming clear that there was communication between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, this legislation appears particularly important. I’m sure Senator ____ believes in transparency and accountability, so I’m looking forward to hearing what he/she thinks of the act when he/she is in town next week. What town halls do you have planned?
- Senate Bill 65: Presidential Conflits of Interest Act
- Requires divestment of the President’s conflicts of interest. Currently in the Homeland Security Committee. (Membership in hyperlink.) Claire McCaskill (MO) is the ranking democrat on that committee, so call her and let her know that you support this bill and want her to do what she can to push it through the committee.
- Call your senator to support them becoming a co-sponsor. Say: My name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ____. I am calling to ask that Senator ___ support Senate Bill 65, the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act. Particularly now that it is becoming clear that there was communication between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, it’s important that we know what Pres. Trump’s financial holdings actually are, and whether he is being influenced. I’m sure Senator ____ believes in transparency and accountability, so I’m looking forward to hearing what he/she thinks of the act when he/she is in town next week. What town halls do you have planned?
Andy Puzder: On February 16 (Thursday) at 10:00 a.m. the HELP Committee will consider Andy Puzder for Secretary of Labor. Puzzler is the CEO of Hardee’s – and as such he’s been an opponent of a variety of pro-worker initiatives, like raising the minimum wage and overtime. Recently he admitted to having hired an undocumented immigrant as a household employee – and he didn’t pay household employee taxes for that individual while she worked for his family. Remember when not paying household employee taxes used to be disqualifying? Yeah. Me too.
The upshot is that four GOP Senators haven’t yet said whether they will be voting for Puzder. They are Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Tim Scott (S.C.). If you’re a constituent of any of those folks, call them early and often. Remember, if the Democrats vote as a block, which seems likely, the GOP can only stand to lose two votes. Although it sounds like Mitch McConnell is pushing Puzder hard, the undocumented immigrant/back taxes issues may be too much to bear. And let’s not forget that Trump’s base of working class whites may feel warm and fuzzy about a Senator that publicly votes against Puzder because he/she claims they will not adequately represent them.
The actual confirmation vote won’t be until after recess, which gives us plenty of time to chat more about Puzder. Because his HELP Committee hearing is this week, it’s time to call the members of that committee (if you are a constituent). The HELP Committee members are here.
Script: My name is ____, and I’m a constituent of ____ at [zip code]. I want to encourage Senator ___ to vote against Andrew Puzder for Labor Secretary. As the CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., he was a forceful opponent of pro-worker policies like raising the minimum wage. Not only is his track record at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. anti-worker, but he personally employed an undocumented immigrant in his own household, and neglected to pay taxes on that employee. I’ll be watching the confirmation hearings for Mr. Puzder closely.
[If you are in MO: Senator Blunt states on his website that “our top domestic priority should be growing more good-paying, full-time jobs” and that “[e]very American deserves the opportunity to succeed.” I agree, and that’s why I expect Senator Blunt to vote against Andy Puzder for Labor Secretary. As the CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Puzder fought minimum wage increases and violated the FLSA. His track record shows that he does not share our vision of “good-paying, full-time jobs” – and Senator Blunt should reject his nomination.]
Steve Mnuchin: The Treasury Secretary nominee’s vote will likely come around 7:00 p.m. Monday. The vote is expected to go along party lines, and because the GOP has 52 votes, his confirmation is expected. Still, call your Senator and let them know that they should vote against him.
Script: Hello, my name is ____ and I am a constituent at ___. I am calling to urge Senator ___ to vote against Steve Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary. He is yet another Goldman Sachs alum, who is well-known as the “foreclosure king.” With that kind of background, I think it’s clear that he won’t prioritize protecting small investors and regular people. After the economic melt-down we had in 2008, we need someone who will help protect the American people, and Mnuchin’s record shows that he’s not that person.
First: town halls. Indivisible has just put out (hot off the presses!) their guide for how to best capitalize on town halls – or how to “encourage” your elected officials to have a town hall during recess. It’s very much worth the time to read and to implement this week.
Last week, Claire McCaskill asked the FBI for a briefing to the Homeland Security Committee on any FBI investigations of Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia. Let’s give her a call and say thank you for doing the right thing and looking into this issue. (While you’re at it, you can say thank you for her “no” vote on Betsy DeVos and tell her that you’re thinking of her family during the recovery of her husband – who just had heart surgery.) Her D.C. office is at (202) 224-6154; St. Louis is at (314) 367-1364.
Missouri State issues
For those of us living in red/red/red states, we have our work cut out for us. But even here, we’re seeing an impressive amount of resistance. Yesterday, 200 protesters turned out for an anti-abortion rally at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis. But over 4,000 counter-protesters turned out in support of Planned Parenthood. Woot!
Right to Work: it’s not over
Governor Greitens signed Right to Work into law last week. Even so, last week the AFL-CIO and the NAACP filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office for a veto referendum – which allows the voters to put a law that’s been passed and signed by the Governor on the ballot so voters can “veto” that law. To put the referendum on the ballot, organizers will have to get the required number of signatures by August 28. The required number of signatures is based upon how many people voted for governor in the last election; the petitioners need to get signatures equal to five percent of the people who cast a vote for the gubernatorial election – in six of Missouri’s eight state congressional districts. (So, getting all of the votes in a large metro area like Kansas City or St. Louis won’t cut it.) We can’t yet know the exact number of signatures needed because the Secretary of State hasn’t released the gubernatorial votes by congressional district. But, in years past it’s been close to 30,000 for each district.
You want to help out with this, right? Stay tuned for more updates as the organizers start to get this initiative under way. In the meantime, shoot an e-mail to email@example.com and let them know you are ready to help.
Charter School Expansion Bill Alert
Missouri Education Legislative Advocacy is sending out the alerts for HB634 – a charter school expansion bill. They have such a great explanation of it that I’m just sending you their direction for talking points and contact info. Check it out and call your state reps tomorrow!
Saint Louis is having a mayoral election this spring; the primary is March 7. Because St. Louis is a heavily democratic city, the primary election is essentially the general. The leading three democratic mayoral candidates are Lyda Krewson, Lewis Reed, and Tishaura Jones. Aldermanic races for odd-numbered wards are also on the ballot. Wondering what ward you’re in? Check here. Here’s a sample ballot so you can see who is running for alderman in your ward. It’s also a good time to check to see if you’re registered to vote.
Cool Stuff to Read/What’s on My Bookshelf:
- I’m hoping to (eventually) hit the books on the stop Trump reading list from Haymarket Books.
- How to protect your data. (An unfortunate necessity these days.)
- The Action Planning Template from Organizing for Power. A cool jumping-off place for brainstorming ways that your group(s) can organize.
- A recent recommendation (hat tip to reader Christine!): I’m Right and You’re an Idiot (The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up), by James Hoggan. After checking the reviews of this book, it looks like something we all could benefit from.
And there you have it, folks. Another week on the books.
Let’s get to work.
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