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Recent Missouri Editorials

May 7, 2019

The Kansas City Star, May 3

In Barr hearing, Josh Hawley stirs the same partisan contempt he ran against

Yes, the Democratic presidential contenders who questioned Attorney General William Barr on the Mueller report this week were in top prosecutorial form. Most pointed was California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose question about whether anyone in the White House had suggested Barr open any new investigations we don’t know about left him sputtering that he was “trying to grapple” with the meaning of the word “suggest.” Was that a yes?

But another aspirant of limitless ambition on the Senate Judiciary Committee was hard at work at that hearing, too. And as usual with freshman Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, the work in question involved playing to the balcony, at Fox News Nation.

When Hawley’s lips are moving, chances are he’s fueling the same kind of partisan contempt that he regularly accuses liberals of indulging. “The liberal elites who call themselves our leaders refer to us as flyover country,” Hawley said in his Senate campaign kick-off speech. “They deride not just our location but our whole way of living.” He’s been sounding that theme ever since.

So when his turn came at the Barr hearing, he did not have any real questions for the attorney general, but said what he found “most shocking” about the day’s testimony was the reading of an Aug. 26, 2016, text message from Peter Strzok. Hawley called Strzok “a top counterintelligence investigator who we now know helped launch this counter-spy investigation of the president of the United States.”

We know no such thing. On the contrary, the investigation into the many contacts between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians seems to have started after a tip from Australian officials worried about the implications of a Trump aide who’d told an Australian diplomat over drinks that he’d heard Russia had some stolen emails that were going to be very damaging to Hillary Clinton. After WikiLeaks began releasing what seemed like those same emails, the FBI heard from Australian leaders about their concerns. Which is how you’d expect a democratic ally to respond.

Anyway, the shocking text that Hawley focused on was exciting proof of at least one man’s disdain for Trump supporters. “Peter Strzok says, ‘Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support.’ Smell is capitalized,” Hawley crowed. ”‘Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support.’ In my view, do you want to know what’s really going on here? You want to know why the counterintelligence investigation really happened? Do you want to know why we are all sitting here today? That’s why. Right there.

“An unelected bureaucrat, an unelected official in this government who clearly has open disdain, if not outright hatred for Trump voters, like the people of my state for instance. ‘I could SMELL the Trump support?’ They tried to overturn the results of a democratic election. That’s what’s really gone on here. That’s the story. That’s why we are here today.

“I cannot believe that a top official of this government with the kind of power that these people had, would try to exercise their own prejudices — and that’s what this is; it’s open, blatant prejudice — would try to use that in order to overturn a democratic election. And to my mind, that’s the real crisis here. And it is a crisis. Because if there’s not accountability, if this can go on in the United States of America, well then my goodness gracious we don’t have a democracy anymore.”

My goodness gracious, Sir Laurence Olivier, yes, we do. Strzok was disgraced and fired from the Mueller investigation and from the FBI, too, for the political opinions he texted his FBI lawyer girlfriend about. Is that not accountability? So is the Wall Street Journal review of Strzok’s communications that found that “texts critical of Mr. Trump represent a fraction of the roughly 7,000 messages, which stretch across 384 pages and show no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr. Trump.”

Hawley also suggested darkly that FBI officials had discussed using the 25th Amendment to oust the president “for political reasons.” Doesn’t that effort, he asked Barr, give the public reason “to question what the FBI is doing and to fear that there may be abuses of power?”

Whoa, there: Fired former FBI Director Andrew McCabe said exactly one person, outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, had briefly raised invoking the 25th Amendment, but out of genuine concern rather than for political reasons.

Rosenstein has denied doing even that, and saluted the president on his way out the door recently. Yet Hawley is determined to make one man’s panicked, nation-saving passing thought into something sinister, and if it really had been motivated by “just political differences of opinion,” an act of treason.

In Hawley’s first year back in Washington — the city where he previously clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts, worked for the international law firm now known as Hogan Lovells and for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — he complained, “It’s all politics all the time.”

But it doesn’t have to be. His fellow Republican from Missouri, Sen. Roy Blunt, occasionally takes an independent stand even as a member of GOP leadership. Blunt, for example, stood up for the separation of powers by voting against the president’s declaration of a national emergency in order to override the congressional denial of funds for a border wall. He’s loyal to the president, but also to the Constitution that Hawley so frequently references.

After several months on the job, Hawley has yet to show that he wants to represent all Missourians. Maybe that’s because some of the fellow Republicans he’s accused of telling him to “sit down and shut up” are right to assume that he’s already running for even higher office.

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The Jefferson City News-Tribune, May 5

Our Opinion: Lawmakers, leave Clean Missouri alone

Missouri lawmakers still are working feverishly to dismantle changes voters made to the state Constitution to clean up politics in Jefferson City.

The House on Monday sent the Senate a proposed constitutional amendment that would erase parts of Clean Missouri, passed by 62 percent of voters last November. Among other things, Clean Missouri:

. Changed the process used to redraw state House and Senate district boundaries every 10 years, after the federal census is finished. It created the post of “nonpartisan state demographer” — to be chosen by the state auditor from applications — to oversee the redistricting process.

. Reduced the limits on campaign contributions that candidates for state Legislature can accept from individuals or groups.

. Limited the gifts state lawmakers and their employees can accept from paid lobbyists to items that cost $5 or less.

. Prohibited lawmakers and their employees from serving as paid lobbyists for a two-year period after the lawmaker leaves office.

. Prohibited political fundraising on state property by candidates for, or members of, the Legislature.

. Required legislative records and proceedings to be open to the public under the Sunshine Law.

Republicans are the driving force behind the attempt to undo voters’ will. For them, the hardest change to swallow is the first — the change to the House/Senate redistricting process.

Their proposed amendment would change the criteria for drawing new legislative districts. It would eliminate the nonpartisan state demographer’s position created by Amendment 1, as well as the requirement that the demographer draw redistricting maps using mathematical formulas based on partisan fairness and competitiveness.

Missouri Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill, arguing it more closely follows the state Constitution and federal law than Clean Missouri. But he hasn’t shown that Clean Missouri violated either.

Politicians seem to praise voters as being well-informed (especially when voting for them), but ill-informed if they approve something that’s distasteful to them.

Plocher has said his “bipartisan committee” will be better than “a single bureaucrat whose appointment will be controlled by a partisan elected official” to draw the maps.

“This removes the danger of a single redistricting czar under the sway, if not outright control, of one political party or set of special interest,” he said.

But before Clean Missouri, the Constitution required bipartisan commissions to redraw the state legislative districts, with a fall-back to six appeals court judges if the commissions failed to do their work.

For most of the last three decades, the judges — not the commissions — drew the maps, because the commissions didn’t work.

Lawmakers should respect voters’ will and leave Clean Missouri alone.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1

Editorial: Trump’s plan to charge fees for asylum is an affront to a core American principle.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free — provided they pay a fee first. This is the gist of President Donald Trump’s latest attempt to undermine America’s proud tradition of embracing newcomers, including those seeking asylum.

Trump on Monday ordered fundamental changes to the way America takes in asylum-seekers on the southern border. He wants to impose new work-permit restrictions and further strain the nation’s already-overwhelmed immigration courts by demanding faster turnaround on cases.

Most appallingly, he wants to charge an application fee to asylum seekers, who in many cases show up with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Trump’s all-out assault on America’s immigration norms previously encompassed falsely vilifying migrants as dangerous, separating children from their parents, militarizing border zones and threatening to bus migrants to “sanctuary cities” as a way of retaliating against communities that don’t cooperate with federal immigrant-detainer requests. It was only a matter of time before he turned this xenophobic campaign against the most vulnerable migrants — those not just immigrating, but fleeing danger and persecution.

The current asylum system isn’t perfect; there are many migrants whose true basis for leaving their home countries is to escape desperate poverty — not, say, religious or political persecution. Threatened U.S. aid cuts to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala only promise to make those poverty conditions worse and prompt more outward migration.

But in general, the system works. Asylum-seekers appear before immigration judges to state their case. Only about 20 percent of applicants actually are granted asylum.

However, as always on immigration issues, this administration seems determined to circumvent workable solutions and to use whatever scare tactics necessary to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria among Trump’s base.

Instead of weeding out false claims of persecution, Trump’s new policy will make it more difficult for even those genuinely in need of asylum to get it. Tightening restrictions on work permits while asylum-seekers’ cases proceed, for example, will make it harder for those who follow the rules to successfully navigate the asylum system.

Trump and others, particularly his enthusiastically anti-migrant immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, long ago relinquished any benefit-of-the-doubt expectation on immigration issues. Trump’s assertions that he is trying to repair a broken immigration system are belied by policies clearly designed to punish the weakest and most vulnerable.

Trump has given immigration officials 90 days to comply with his order — more than enough time for human rights advocates to do what they’ve had to do so many times already by pulling the administration into court. Federal judges have repeatedly rejected this administration’s feeble attempts to legally justify its harsh actions. Human rights advocates should waste no time challenging this latest bid to smother those whose only offense is yearning to breathe free.