Plus, the big IG report and a food stamps question.
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Today’s read: 9 minutes.
The IG report everyone has been waiting for, news on impeachment, and a great question about the cruelty of the food stamps cut.
Screenshot: NBC News
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At the top.
- This morning, House Democrats revealed their two articles of impeachment against President Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of justice. Noticeably absent from the charges was bribery, a claim Democrats leaned on heavily during the impeachment inquiry but have apparently abandoned for the final stretch. You can read more here.
- Less than an hour later, House Democrats announced they had come to terms with the White House on an agreement to support the new U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada, a huge victory for President Trump, who ran on replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 2016. The new agreement, U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), is aimed at creating more manufacturing jobs. Many liberal pundits questioned the wisdom of handing Trump a victory and agreeing to a trade deal on the same day articles of impeachment were announced.
What D.C. is talking about.
The inspector general report. Yesterday, Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his report on the FBI investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign (all 400+ pages of it). An inspector general report is an oversight tool. Think of the IG like a professor grading your final term paper, except in this case the term paper was written by the FBI about Russian interference in the election and people can go to jail or lose their job for plagiarism. Trump and his allies have claimed the FBI investigated him as part of a deep-state coup to undo the election. The IG pushed back on that, saying the FBI had reason to open its initial investigation and there was no evidence that political bias amongst agents influenced their inquiry. But the report also said the FBI committed “serious performance failures” when it monitored Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The report also concluded that the FBI had information which undercut the now-infamous Steele dossier but withheld it when re-upping Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to surveil Page. Here’s how the report played:
What the right is saying.
Told you so. Many on the right view the IG report as vindication: it confirms James Comey was running an inept FBI. The report also destroys key details of the Steele dossier, which it knocks down as little more than propaganda and hearsay. It reveals the FBI abused the FISA program by lying about or doctoring evidence it had to renew surveillance warrants on Carter Page. In the report, the juiciest details of the Steele dossier — that Page had met with a senior associate of Vladimir Putin or was coordinating the theft of Democrats’ emails with Russia and the Trump campaign — were eviscerated. The report found “zero” evidence to corroborate the allegations. Steele, in interviews with the IG, said his report was based on notoriously shotty “raw intelligence” and was never meant for public consumption. President Trump said the report was “far worse than anything I would have imagined” and said “This was an overthrow of government.” In the meantime, Attorney General and Trump ally William Barr took the extraordinary step of saying he disagreed with some of the IG’s findings. John Durham, an attorney Barr tapped to launch his own investigation into the investigation, said he had developed additional information that called into question the FBI’s decision to open the investigation. Durham’s response was particularly notable because he is highly respected across partisan lines.
What the left is saying.
Told ya so. For months, conservatives have been claiming that FBI agents were acting out of political hatred of Trump to undermine the election. Trump and his allies said the FBI tapped Trump’s wires, opened an investigation without cause, planted informants on the campaign, and hated Trump so much they leaked and smeared him to the press. The IG report didn’t really confirm any of that: it determined the investigation into Trump-Russia connections was warranted, that the FBI did not act against Trump out of political bias (in fact, the report uncovered some very pro-Trump FBI agents) and that there were no informants inserted into the campaign. As for the FBI abusing its surveillance powers, the left can only laugh. For decades, liberals have been sounding the alarm about FBI abusing its surveillance powers. And for most of that time, conservatives have said: “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Now they want to cry foul? Little late to join the party. The ACLU also commented on the report, saying “While the report found that there wasn't an improper purpose or initiation of the investigation, it also found significant problems that are alarming from a civil liberties perspective.”
It’s sort of a classic case of Trump overplaying his hand. One of the most interesting things about Trump, for how often he works the media and dominates the narrative, is also how often he shoots himself in the foot. The IG report looks very, very bad for the FBI, and depicts both a dysfunctional investigation and underlying problems with how the FBI gets court approval to surveil someone. In a normal world, it would be a good bit of political news for Trump. It was bad enough that current FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, said he would make as many as 40 changes to address the report’s finding, including how the FBI’s confidential human-source program (which allowed Steele to deliver the infamous dossier) is used. Instead, though, Trump and Fox News’s Sean Hannity and a bunch of other people have over-exaggerated and blown up conspiracies about what the FBI was doing.
The short and skinny on the IG report is this: the FBI is still using some shady tactics to spy on Americans, which has been happening for decades. In this case, they made quite a few “errors” — too many to be a coincidence, in my estimation — while monitoring Carter Page. It also made clear that the bar to open an investigation was low, something civil liberties experts have also been warning about for decades. But the report clearly said it did “not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced” the opening of the investigation. It also said the Steele dossier was not what caused the FBI to launch the investigation, something Republicans in Congress are still claiming today. The report was a perfect split to give the left the chance to say Trump and Hannity’s insane conspiracies — which they are now claiming have been vindicated — were lies. Trump was not wiretapped, nor was there anti-Trump bias at the FBI that impacted the investigation (FWIW, anyone who has covered the FBI is aware that if political bias exists, it’s a right-leaning organization). It also gave the right a chance to say the FBI abused its spying powers on Page, that James Comey ran a dysfunctional investigation and that the organization needs reform. It appears everyone is going to take their talking points and run.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: You can ask a question, too. All you have to do is reply to this email or — if you’re reading this online — tweet at me here: @TangleNews
Q: “Question: the whole thing about Food Stamps being taken away… I don't have enough access/knowledge with enough other sources of info to determine how much of what I have seen is accurate with how "evil" it sounds. Is this really a thing... or do I just follow too many whiny folks who just truly don't like Trump?”
- Rob, Washington, D.C.
Tangle: I guess it really depends on what you qualify as “evil” or how you view the government’s role in addressing poverty. First, let’s be clear about what the Trump administration did: it completed a new rule that eliminates states’ ability to waive certain requirements for food stamps. That means many thousands of able-bodied adults without children will no longer qualify for food stamps, as states will no longer be able to waive the work requirements that block some of them from being eligible. It’s estimated that more than 700,000 people will be removed from the program by mid-2020. Over five years, the change will save $5.5 billion from food stamp spending.
Currently, if you live in a state without a waiver, you can receive food stamps for no more than three months over a three-year period if you’re an able-bodied adult, unless you’re working 20 hours a week (or in training for 20 hours a week). Waivers can also be issued if unemployment runs 20% above the national rate in the area where someone lives. But the new rule says unemployment rates nationally must be at 6% or higher for states to issue waivers (right now, the unemployment rate is at 3.6%). Basically, the idea is that there are lots of jobs available, a strong economy with low unemployment and a great opportunity to incentivize people back into the workforce.
The issue is that despite historically high employment rates, people are still struggling to eat. That’s because 44% of U.S. adults are working low-wage jobs, the median salaries of which are about $18,000. In other words, much of the country is working, but they’re working poor. And because so many hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people struggle to get 20 hours of work a week, or work in the gig economy or under the table, or their work is so unstable that three-month periods of unemployment are common, food stamps are necessary. Without savings, someone who works a low-wage job and can’t find work or hours for three months could be in serious trouble. But if they’re “able-bodied” and have no children, they’ll no longer be able to qualify for food stamps in this economy.
Wall Street Journal’s editorial board backed the change, noting that many states have gerrymandered their way into providing food stamps in areas that were thriving economically. They also leaned on the big picture, noting that less than two percent of the 36.4 million people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be impacted. “Remember that the changes won’t affect parents, the disabled, or anyone over age 50,” the board wrote.
I think these are all fair points worth considering. With all of that in mind, here’s a bit of my own opinion: One, it’s a pretty hypocritical move from a purely conservative standpoint. Republicans harp on states’ rights all the time, but only when convenient. The new rule puts a really strong federal mandate on how states can run their SNAP programs and basically ties their hands on who they can give this money to. Two, $5.5 billion is a lot of money, but it’s worth contextualizing. This same administration just ran up $1 trillion of debt after giving rather large tax cuts to some of America’s wealthiest. Third, I’ll note that nobody wants to be on food stamps. The idea that able-bodied adults are getting government assistance because they are moochers is, best I can tell, a fabrication. Yes, I’m sure some people abuse the system. And yes, I’m sure some people enjoy getting food credit. But food stamps aren’t some windfall. People aren’t rolling into grocery stores, loading up on expensive foods paid for by taxpayers and driving home in their Ford Mustangs. Living on food stamps is hell, as is being a low-wage worker or living in poverty in this country. The fact that nearly 40 million people in the United States, the richest nation on earth, need government assistance to eat is not evidence of a healthy economy. This is why I’ve written about how we need to change the way we measure our economy (GDP and unemployment rates are dated tools that give little insight into how average Americans are doing). Finally, I’ll also comment on the will of the people here. Trump is taking executive action on food stamps because Congress couldn’t reform the SNAP program, and that’s because elected officials know that it’s very popular. It’s one of the few really successful large-scale government assistance programs. Proposed legislation got hundreds of thousands of negative comments online. And it’s only going to get worse: the administration is just beginning its cuts to food stamps, and they plan to go much further, which is why the outrage is bubbling up now.
So, is it evil? To the 700,000 single folks who will be pushed out of the program, I’m sure it is. While there may be a few, maybe even a few thousand, who are “mooching” on the program, I think the vast majority go through the trouble of getting food stamps because they’re truly struggling to eat. Whether the $5.5 billion in savings is worth those 700,000 people struggling to eat, or is worth rolling the dice on whether those 700,000 people will be able to make ends meet without the assistance, is a judgment I’ll allow you, the reader, to make. My best-educated guess is a lot of struggling people’s lives just quite a bit harder.
A story that matters.
Nearly half of U.S. companies have workers sign non-compete agreements, according to the Economic Policy Institute. These agreements often prevent workers from taking jobs in similar fields for months after their term at a current job ends. The contracts can reduce wages and increase income inequality, according to EPI, and the contracts further limit competition between companies. Workers often get their biggest raises when they leave one job for another, so noncompetes can inhibit those salary jumps. Somewhere between 36 million and 60 million workers in the private sector have signed non-compete agreements. Click.
- 241. The number of Republicans in the House of Representatives when Trump was inaugurated in January of 2017.
- 104. The number of Republicans in the House of Representatives since inauguration who have retired, been defeated or are forgoing re-election in 2020.
- $21 million. The amount of money the National Republican Congressional Committee raised so far in 2019, more than the entire 2018 election year.
- 62%. The percentage of new donors to the NRCC in 2019.
- 1.29%. Pete Buttigieg’s support amongst black voters in South Carolina.
- 2.57%. John Delaney’s support amongst black voters in South Carolina.
- 55.93%. Joe Biden’s support amongst black voters in South Carolina.
- 3%. The percentage of Americans who said they actually had an argument about politics at their Thanksgiving dinner.
New Monmouth national poll:
Have a nice day.
There may soon be an end to robocalls. The U.S. House of Representatives finally passed a bill making it harder for robocalls to get through to consumers. “The robocall issue is one issue, maybe the one issue, that’s united everybody, Republicans, and Democrats,” Tennessee Republican Rep. David Kustoff said. If you’re anything like me, you get tons of horribly annoying robocalls a day. This new legislation might reduce that number. I am crossing my fingers. Click.
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