Editorials from around New England:
In recent weeks, several commentaries have highlighted the growing popularity, in Democratic circles, of “court packing” - increasing the number of seats on the U.S. Supreme Court under the next Democratic president and Democratic-majority Congress. Among others, several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have gotten on board with this.
“Court packing” would set up a troubling situation. However, it doesn’t surprise that Democrats have fallen in love with the idea. Historically, they have proved more willing to politicize the Supreme Court than Republicans have.
To be sure, the Constitution allows Congress to decide how many members the Supreme Court will have. In other words, the current number of justices, nine, is not set in stone. However, as Washington Post history writer Gillian Brockell noted March 12, the current Democratic move is intended “to re-balance the court in their favor.”
Therein lies the problem. The Supreme Court, and the lower federal courts, are supposed to serve as a collective check on the president and Congress. Setting the number of high-court seats with political and ideological goals in mind would cut against this principle. That assuredly would undermine the public’s faith in the judiciary as an independent entity and, by extension, in government at large.
For the record, as liberal news site Vox reported last year, court-packing was last seriously talked about in the mid-1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt and Attorney General Homer Cummings - a former Stamford mayor and Democratic National Committee chairman - unveiled an ultimately unsuccessful packing plan intended to protect New Deal legislation from a largely conservative Supreme Court. When the high court had decidedly liberal leanings in the 1950s and ‘60s, Republicans and others on the right made no meaningful attempts at court packing.
The current Democratic push for a stacked Supreme Court is indicative of a party that cares more about politics and ideology than it does about the rule of law. Sure, some Democrats are motivated by lingering resentment of Senate Republicans’ successful effort to block President Barack Obama’s nomination, in the election year of 2016, of moderately liberal Judge Merrick B. Garland after the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Mr. Obama’s successor, President Trump, nominated conservative Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, who ultimately assumed the Scalia seat. While legitimate criticisms can be made of the GOP’s actions, it is important to keep a sense of perspective: the maneuvering only involved one seat. It also is worth noting that there is an excellent argument to be made that Democrats pioneered the idea of blocking election-year Supreme Court nominations, just as they largely are responsible for nominations devolving into fights over ideology, as opposed to ethics and legal bona fides.
Voters should take note come 2020.
The Boston Globe
Lost in the torrent of post-Mueller report rantings by Donald Trump was its confirmation that the 2016 presidential election was indeed the subject of a wide-ranging attack by Russia, which has given every indication it intends to do it all over again in 2020.
So perhaps when the president and his Republican cheering squad in the Senate finish high-fiving one another, they might get back to work on protecting the US electoral system from another invasion. Ignorance, after all, is no longer an excuse. It may not be “collusion,” but there is a point at which the failure to act would certainly constitute nonfeasance - and incompetence.
“A lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office this week. “I would say treasonous things against our country.”
He was, of course, talking about his political enemies here - not Vladimir Putin, who ought to be the real recipient of his wrath. That was one critical take-away from the Mueller report, or at least Attorney General William Barr’s summary of it.
“The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts,” Barr wrote in his letter to Congress. Those included “attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations… designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election.”
As a result, in February 2018, the Mueller team secured indictments against 13 Russians and three Russian companies for their role in plotting to disrupt the 2016 election.
The other element in Russian interference “involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election,” Barr wrote.
That resulted in the July indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers.
It would, of course, be helpful in preventing another round of electoral interference to learn from the details of the Mueller report itself - another reason its contents should be provided to Congress in short order.
We know from the February 2018 indictment that Russians were focusing on the presidential election as early as 2014. Russians traveled here as part of their due diligence. They targeted purple states and, more broadly, racial minorities.
It’s a safe assumption, confirmed by the nation’s intelligence community, that they are not about to quit now.
So what to do?
Social media companies, which were weaponized by the Russians, need to be better and smarter. Facebook announced Tuesday that it had removed 2,632 pages, groups, and accounts from both Facebook and Instagram for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Of those, 1,907 were linked to Russia.
Cybersecurity needs to go to the top of the congressional to-do list. Sure, the Democratic National Committee will no doubt learn from its 2016 mistakes, but federal law enforcement has a continuing role to play here - not simply advising, but giving targeted organizations a heads-up, as they attempted to do for the DNC in 2016.
And while elections remain a 50-state function, there must be at least minimal federal standards to assure that voting systems are as secure as humanly possible - that indeed every vote will be counted.
It is also of critical importance that interference in a US election carries with it punishment that is swift and sure. So far, it hasn’t. The indicted Russian operatives remain beyond reach. Trump has actually removed sanctions against three Russian firms with ties to a Russian oligarch implicated in the election subversion scheme. What kind of message does that send?
Perhaps when the president finishes crowing about the end of the “witch hunt,” he’ll focus on his real responsibility - to protect American voters from the next attack on their democracy.
The Providence Journal
The far left wing of the Democratic Party in Rhode Island makes a good deal of noise and generates a great deal of ink. But more moderate and pragmatic Democrats continue to govern.
We have seen this play out repeatedly.
Progressives were supposed to make immense inroads in last year’s election.
But they didn’t.
They were supposed to challenge the leadership of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.
But they fell far short, even though they branded themselves the Reform Caucus. (The brand quickly lost more of its luster when one of the “reformers,” Bristol Democrat Laufton Ascencao, quit under an ethical cloud.)
Last Sunday, they were supposed to throw a scare into the state party’s leaders.
But Chairman Joseph McNamara easily turned back a challenge by fellow state Rep. Moira Walsh, winning a roll call vote by 144 to 28.
In her quest to tear down Mr. McNamara, Ms. Walsh employed some slashing rhetoric. She described her party as one that “succumbs to one bully” and “gets national attention for treating women like second-class citizens.” (The state representative remains upset that the party formally endorsed another Democrat against her last year, a former Republican who had backed President Trump.)
For his part, Chairman McNamara sounded a gracious note in response.
“While we have our differences, we have more that unites us,” he said.
Mr. McNamara thanked Ms. Walsh, a member of the Reform Caucus, “for entering this race” and helping the Democrats “become a better party. Her views will help move the party forward.”
The vast majority of the women in the state committee supported Mr. McNamara. (In addition, all five women on the state committee’s ten-member executive board supported him.)
Earlier this month, the House passed a measure of great concern to many Rhode Island women: a bill to protect abortion rights in the unlikely event the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade. Speaker Mattiello worked to make sure the people’s representatives had their say on the issue despite his own beliefs about the sanctity of life.
It is true that the party’s left wing did well in the state’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary, when college students helped propel self-described socialist Bernie Sanders to victory over the eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton, despite overwhelming establishment support for Ms. Clinton.
But in legislative races, party organization and day-to-day governance, the state’s moderate Democrats fare well. They seem to reflect, at least generally, the values of the voters.
In recent years, this has been evident in the General Assembly’s focus on improving the economy and permitting citizens to keep more of their money through a reduction in the state’s onerous car tax. While Rhode Island’s overall business climate ranks near the bottom in some national indices, the legislature has refrained from raising broad-based taxes and has turned aside some of the more extreme and ill-considered attacks on the state’s businesses. At the same time, it has maintained a generous social safety net.
To be sure, no elected official should feel safe from a challenge, inside the party or out. Elections play a powerful role in holding politicians accountable and keeping them close to their constituents. To that end, we hope the state’s pipsqueak Republican Party can start to recover with the election of its chairman this Saturday.
The Bangor Daily News
It was a bittersweet Maine Maple Sunday for Patriots Nation, with tight end Rob Gronkowski announcing his retirement. But after nine years of rewarding fans with touchdowns and punishing his body with a long list of injuries, Gronk’s decision makes sense.
The stats that number 87 put up over his incredibly productive, if abridged, professional football career are likely to land him in the Hall of Fame: 521 catches, 79 touchdowns, nearly 8,000 receiving yards, three Super Bowl championships, and a host of individual records.
Perhaps an even more daunting list, however, is the number of injuries he’s stacked up over the years: a fractured vertebrae, ACL and MCL tears in his knee, two concussions, a broken forearm and a sprained ankle, among others.
We shouldn’t feel too bad for a guy who’s retiring before he turns 30, but we also shouldn’t hold it against Gronkowski for prioritizing his own future - and health - over a chance to defend the Patriots’ Super Bowl title next season.
Gronk has literally broken his back for the team, and undoubtedly put himself at risk for increasing health complications in the future. He may be physically able to keep playing right now, but, as with all other professional athletes, he gets to make the personal decision of when to call it a career.
The fans may want more, but in an age where we have increasing clarity about the long-term impact football and other contact sports have on athletes’ bodies and minds, players shouldn’t sacrifice their well-being.
Gronkowski didn’t specifically mention injuries in his retirement announcement on Instagram, but he discussed football’s physical grind in an interview leading up to the Patriots’ Super Bowl win earlier this year.
“Try to imagine getting hit all the time and trying to be where you want to be every day in life. It’s tough. It’s difficult. To take hits to the thigh, to take hits to your head, abusing your body, isn’t what your brain wants,” he said in January. “When your body is abused, it can bring down your mood. You have to be able to deal with that, too, throughout the season. You have to be able to deal with that going into games.”
With increased awareness of and league attention to the dangers of head trauma, decision’s like Gronkowski’s really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Studies continue to shed light on the link between concussions (and hits to the head generally) and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE. Mounting examples of retired NFL players struggling with health issues later in life or being definitively diagnosed with CTE after they’ve died must surely hit home for players today as they weigh their futures.
As a physical blocker and receiver with a hulking 6-foot-6 frame, Gronkowski has been one of the biggest targets for defenders across the league. And all those hits unquestionably add up. His retirement statement may have focused on the positive experiences he had as a Patriot, but there’s little doubt that long-term health concerns factored into his decision. And for good reason.
On Monday, Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN he’d discussed the possibility of the tight end coming out of retirement sometime in the future to start playing again. Rosenhaus was careful to note that was his idea, not something that Gronkowski was actively entertaining, so we shouldn’t get our hopes up.
Patriot fans would surely love to see him out there catching passes, blocking and spiking the football again. But after years of sacrificing his body, Gronk doesn’t owe us anything.
The Rutland Herald
Nancy Pelosi is offering some good advice.
In the days since the Mueller report marked the end of the two-year investigation, Democrats have been queasy that the probe did not yield either indictments or condemnations of President Donald Trump.
Yet, in meeting after meeting in the last week, the House Speaker has been clear in her leadership. The message: Stay cool and concentrate on the need for transparency, oversight and a full public release of Mueller’s findings - not on the frenzied speculation on social media and elsewhere, according to three people briefed on the exchanges who were not authorized to speak publicly.
“Be calm. Take a deep breath,” she told House Democrats during a closed-door meeting this week, according to attendees. “We have to handle this professionally, officially, patriotically, strategically.”
According to Politico and The Washington Post, Pelosi has been working various angles all week.
From reassuring and reining in Democrats galled by Attorney General William Barr for issuing only a summary of the special counsel’s findings, to rallying her colleagues to fight the Trump administration’s efforts to gut President Barack Obama’s health care law, Pelosi has taken charge.
And as the large Democratic presidential primary field still takes shape - and lacks a front-runner to serve as its pacesetter - Pelosi has stepped in to do just that, the Post reported online.
Speaking Thursday to reporters, Pelosi tried to deflect questions about the Mueller report and highlighted the Democratic efforts on health care and the environment.
“We are focused on meeting the needs of the American people in their lives,” she said.
According to a Post profile, Pelosi’s deliberate approach has been forged over decades, from a childhood steeped in the rough-and-tumble politics of Baltimore - where her father and brother served as mayor - to her years in the House, where she has watched as generations of zealous Republicans have pursued Democratic presidents and then suffered as they were accused of overreach.
National politics is a much trickier balancing act, of course.
Pundits are split (of course) on whether her approach can work. Some say Pelosi is showing solidarity with rank-and-file Democrats who are furious about Barr’s declaration that there was insufficient evidence to make an obstruction case against the president - even though Mueller failed to draw a conclusion on that matter. Yet, she is also trying to temper that fury so it doesn’t erupt and spark an impeachment push.
Almost everyone agrees: Pelosi is shrewd and calculated in her long-term strategizing.
But it remains to be seen whether she can herd the Democrats. The party is already split into factions, including a growing progressive movement that has gained significant media attention through individuals like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke.
According to Politico, Pelosi has been able to keep her colleagues with her, pressing Barr to release Mueller’s report while keeping her agenda fixed on legislative items she believes have appeal and could help Democrats win the White House and hold the House majority, particularly defending Obama’s health care law from Republican “sabotage.”
She also has gone where many Americans wished the Democratic Party had gone a long time ago. She’s urging Democrats to stop talking about a possible Trump conspiracy with Russia. This week, Pelosi has underscored her emphasis on “lower health care costs, bigger paychecks and cleaner government.”
In turn, many Democratic presidential contenders are following her lead, increasingly turning their attention this week to kitchen table issues.
Still, a vocal group of Democrats - and several members of the House Class of 2018, which has an independent streak and a faction of liberal stars - are not embracing Pelosi’s stay cool mantra, according to the Post.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, has asked her colleagues in a letter to investigate Trump for “impeachable offenses” and to pursue impeachment “if the facts support those findings.”
The response to Tlaib and others moving toward impeachment has been muted - and has echoed Pelosi’s outlook.
“We’re taking a look at it,” Ocasio-Cortez said this week when asked about Tlaib’s letter. “What’s tough is, impeachment in principle is something that I openly support. But it’s also just the reality of having the votes in the Senate to pursue that.”
Rep. Peter Welch has shared that very point of view.
It’s good Pelosi is leading effectively and thoughtfully. And it’s good the party is standing by Pelosi. Hopefully, cooler heads can prevail.
The Nashua Telegraph
Is New Hampshire - with its Democratic-dominated House and Senate, as well as an all-Democratic federal delegation - now a more liberal state than Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and even New York?
That is obviously a subjective question. However, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 204-137 to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, something the aforementioned states do not allow.
“It’s important to understand the function of a driver’s license. In short, it tells us who someone is, where they live, and whether they are permitted to drive in our state. It does not address anyone’s immigration status,” New Hampshire Rep. Casey Conley, D-Dover, told The Telegraph last week.
“We have roughly 15,000 undocumented people in New Hampshire. Many of these people arrived here at a very young age, through no fault of their own. Many of these people work and many already drive,” Conley added.
In Greater Nashua, 37 House members voted to give driver’s licenses to those who are unlawfully in the country, while 18 representatives voted in opposition and 12 did not vote on the legislation.
Those voting nay included House Minority Leader Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack.
“The consequences of this bill could be serious. With New Hampshire’s current laws, allowing illegal immigrants to receive a valid driver’s license could make it easier for them to participate in several other things, like vote in our elections,” he said.
“We should not be rewarding people in our state illegally, while millions of people around the world are waiting to come lawfully. It’s unfair,” Hinch added.
This is not an entirely new idea. In 1993, the state of Washington, home to the liberal bastion of Seattle, voted to license undocumented immigrants. States that have followed include New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, California, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.
Reasonable people can likely agree that this is a challenging issue. The Democrats are correct in that the state has no control regarding federal immigration matters. The Republicans rightly question whether the state should be extending rights to people who are already violating a law simply by being here.
We urge members of the Senate to carefully consider the consequences of this legislation upon receiving it from the House. If senators pass a version of it, Gov. Chris Sununu will have a significant choice to make in terms of signing or vetoing the legislation.
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