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Cal Thomas: The Trump-McConnell detente

That was some chaotic scene in the White House Rose Garden Monday. After lunch with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the president assured combative reporters and the country that the two are getting along just fine, in spite of the Senate’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare and an uncertain future over tax reform, the other Republican signature issue party members promised to get done.

Under McConnell’s “leadership,” the Senate has failed to pass any major legislation since President Trump took office. It has been known instead for the divisions among its members rather than for the unity voters expected when they gave control of the government to Republicans.

McConnell made a statement which perfectly summarized why so many voters distrust the establishment and are wary of what Republicans will do: “The goal here is to win elections in November (2018). My goal is to keep a Senate majority.”

McConnell has it backward. Advancing policies that improve the economy, create conditions under which the private sector thrive, reduce unnecessary regulations (as the president is doing by executive order in some cases), cut spending and reform entitlements ought to be the goals. Do that and Republicans will deserve to win elections. What is the point of winning elections if, having won them, little or nothing is done about changing policies that may promote the interests of some politicians and interest groups, but not the general welfare?

McConnell added: “Our operating approach will be to support our incumbents and in open seats, to seek to help nominate people who can actually win.”

This is in stark contrast to the goal of former White House aide and Breitbart head, Steve Bannon, who seeks to nominate and elect people who can make changes and upend the establishment. The notion that these two goals are irreconcilable is wrong. People are fed-up with politicians — especially Republicans — who promise to do things in order to win an election, like repealing and replacing Obamacare, but after they win vote against doing exactly that with flimsy excuses as to why they reneged on their promises.

This is the reason for the anger and frustration felt by many, especially conservative voters. It isn’t about deportment and playing nice with the opposition. That isn’t the way most Democrats play the game. Democrats play hardball. Too many Republicans seem to prefer badminton. Democrats know the only reason to gain power is to use it. Republicans too often seem embarrassed by power and appear to care more about what liberal journalists and critics think of them than what the voters who elected them think.

Writing in Politico, National Review editor Rich Lowry succinctly summarizes the condition of today’s Republican Party and too many of its members: “This is the state of the GOP in a nutshell. It is a party locked in mortal combat between an establishment that is ineffectual and a populist wing that is ineffectual and inflamed.”

Can something be constructed out of the flames and ineffectualness that achieves the twin goals of maintaining a majority and advancing conservative policies? If not, what is the point of having a Republican majority beyond the worthy goal of populating the judiciary with more judges who will properly interpret and not ignore the Constitution?

Other View: George W. Bush's unmistakable takedown of Trumpism - and Trump

For the last nine years, George W. Bush has largely stayed out of presidential politics; he declined to criticize his successor, Barack Obama, and he chose not to endorse but largely ignored President Donald Trump. While Mitt Romney and others spoke out publicly against Trump, Bush stayed above the fray.

That changed in a big way Thursday.

Speaking at the George W. Bush Institute in New York, Bush didn’t use Trump’s name, but his target became clearer as the speech progressed. Here’s a sampling:

—”Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

—”We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism.”

—”We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty . . . Argument turns too easily into animosity.”

—”It means that bigotry and white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed, and it means the very identity of our nation depends on passing along civic ideals.”

—”Bullying and prejudice in our public life . . . provides permission for cruelty and bigotry.”

—”The only way to pass along civic values is to live up to them.”

Any one of these quotes in isolation could be dismissed as highflying rhetoric aimed at the general coarsening of our political culture—or the rise of forms of nationalism and extremism that clearly exist outside the Oval Office.

But almost each of these quotes have some connection to Trump. “Conspiracy theories and fabrications?” Check and check. “Nationalism and nativism?” Check and check. A “degraded discourse?” Big check. “Bigotry and white supremacy?” Trump was criticized for not calling them out strongly enough in Charlottesville. “Bullying?” Huge check. Not “living up to civic values?” Check, definitely.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently drew plenty of attention for alluding to “spurious nationalism” in a speech this week. But Bush’s comments actually hark back to a more thorough takedown of Trump’s worldview that McCain delivered back in February. Here’s what McCain said at the Munich Security Conference in Germany:

—”[The founders of the Munich conference] would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarianism.”

—”They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see toward immigrants and refugees and minority groups—especially Muslims.”

—”They would be alarmed by the growing inability—and even unwillingness—to separate truth from lies.”

—”They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”

Sound familiar?

It’s possible Bush would argue that Trump is more a symptom of all of these unhealthy trends in American democracy than the root of them. But in drafting a prepared speech like that, he had to know how those words would be interpreted.

Trump, during the 2016 campaign, repeatedly attacked Bush for not doing more to stop 9/11 and for the Iraq War. More recently, he has favorably compared his own hurricane response to Hurricane Katrina, on Bush’s watch.

On Thursday, Bush clearly decided that silence was no longer tenable.

Reader Comment: Idaho has come a long way in a short time in dealing with sexual assault

Idaho’s police officers have a tough and dangerous job, not to mention an ever-expanding one. Not only must officers enforce the law, they are periodically called on to play the role of counselor, social worker, community liaison and referee. In these myriad roles, officers are asked to make tough decisions on a daily basis. In order to make good decisions, police need the tools necessary to protect communities. How best to utilize those resources dominated discussion at last week’s Idaho Chiefs of Police Association conference in Twin Falls. That debate will continue. However, as we both made clear during our speeches to the chiefs, there is no debate over how we must treat victims of sexual assault.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in 5 women have been victims of rape. About half of Idaho’s women and a quarter of the men have been victims of sexual violence other than rape. Those are staggering numbers, especially when you consider that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in America. Often, the best evidence police can gather in these cases is from a sexual assault forensic exam or sexual assault kit. Unfortunately, as recently as two years ago, there were no uniform protocols or practices in Idaho to collect, process and store sexual assault kits. That is starting to change in a big way.

In 2016, after consulting with a multi-agency team tasked with solving this problem, we introduced legislation establishing uniform practices for collecting and processing sexual assault kits. The law required kits be processed in all sexual assault cases with limited exceptions. It also required a yearly audit of all kits to ensure they are being processed correctly. In 2017, working with this same group of experts, we introduced a bill setting forth standards for how long the kits should be preserved based on the severity of the crime. Both bills passed unanimously. From that legislation sprung a tracking system designed at the Idaho State Police Crime Lab which is the first of its kind in the nation. State Crime Lab Director Matthew Gamette continues to get calls from other states wanting to replicate the technology.

Despite this progress, more work is needed. There are problems with how sexual assault kits are paid for in Idaho. While much of the money for the kits comes from Idaho’s Victim’s Compensation fund, often times a victim’s health insurance provider will get billed for them. That may sound a little puzzling. After all, sexual assault kits are crime-fighting tools, not medical exams. Can you imagine if police investigated a break-in at your house and your homeowner’s insurance got billed for the finger-printing kit? However, due to a glitch in Idaho state law, hospitals are directed to seek out health insurance to cover the cost of sexual assault kits when it is readily available.

As you might guess, this can lead to some troubling results. You may remember the story from over the summer about a former North Idaho woman who kept getting billed for the sexual assault kit used in her case. After more than three years of being told it was a mistake, she finally paid the $400 invoice because it was affecting her credit rating. She summed up the experience in a Facebook post, saying “I just paid $400 to get raped.” It was a heart-breaking story — one that’s been recounted from other women who went through similar experiences. That is why legislation is needed in 2018 to cut insurance companies out of the mix completely. Sexual assault victims go through unspeakable trauma. The last thing they should have to do is haggle with an insurance company. Police departments don’t call their insurance agent to cover the cost of handcuffs. They shouldn’t have to do that for sexual assault kits.

The kits have proven to be super effective crime-fighting tools. After all, that is their primary purpose. Beginning in 2013, law enforcement agencies in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, started sending thousands of old rape kits to the state crime lab for testing. From those kits, prosecutors have secured more than 500 indictments. Of the cases that have gone to a final disposition in court, the conviction rate is 93 percent. Those are serious CSI-like numbers.

Given how far we have come in Idaho in so short a time, there is no reason we can’t replicate that kind of success. At the end of the day, no matter where in Idaho you live or what your profession, we all want better, safer communities. That’s why we must continue to identify and clear away barriers to reporting sexual assault so we can hold perpetrators accountable and provide justice to victims in a caring and compassionate way. On that point, there can be no debate.