Lame duck power grab


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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the lighting of the state Christmas Tree in the Capitol Rotunda, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. The Senate and Assembly are set to send dozens of changes in state law to Walker's desk Tuesday. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the lighting of the state Christmas Tree in the Capitol Rotunda, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. The Senate and Assembly are set to send dozens of changes in state law to Walker's desk Tuesday. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)


FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2018, file photo, Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers speaks at the Ward 4 building in Milwaukee. Evers said Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, he's not optimistic that outgoing governor Scott Walker will veto bills approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature that would limit the new governor's power. (Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File)


Walker: Partial vetoes possible on some lame-duck bills

By SCOTT BAUER and IVAN MORENO

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 11

PEWAUKEE, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday he’s considering at least one partial veto of bills Republican lawmakers approved in a lame-duck session that would cut into the powers of the Democrat who defeated him.

But he also downplayed concerns over what the Legislature approved, voicing support for some of the most consequential changes. Among them is a limitation on early voting to no more than two weeks before an election.

“For all this hype and hysteria — much of which I think is driven by fundraising for political purposes — the bottom line is there is not a fundamental shift in powers, no matter what happens with this legislation,” Walker told reporters in Pewaukee following an event celebrating small businesses. “Read it. Just read it. There is not a fundamental shift out there.”

The Republican power play in Wisconsin comes as Michigan Republicans consider similar moves against incoming Democrats in that state. North Carolina lawmakers took similar steps two years ago, and court challenges are ongoing .

Walker did not say what specifically he may veto, but he has been facing bipartisan calls — including from former Republican Gov. Scott McCallum — to strike down everything.

Earlier Tuesday, Walker praised the measures in a lengthy Facebook post where he stressed incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers would still have broad powers unaffected by bills passed in the lame-duck session.

“Let’s set the record straight — the new governor will still have some of the strongest powers of any governor in the nation if these bills become law,” Walker wrote.

Evers said over the weekend that he had made a personal plea to Walker to veto the bills but that the governor was noncommittal. Evers and other Democrats are weighing lawsuits to block some of the measures.

“The people of Wisconsin demanded a change on (Election Day),” Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said. “Governor Walker knows this and needs to decide whether he wants the final act of his legacy to be overriding the will of the people.”

The bills in Wisconsin would limit early voting to no more than two weeks before an election; shield the state’s job-creation agency from Evers’ control until September; limit his ability to enact administrative rules; block Evers from withdrawing Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act; and weaken powers of incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Walker voiced support for early voting, but only if it’s the same amount of time everywhere in the state. Wisconsin’s two largest cities of Milwaukee and Madison, which are also overwhelmingly Democratic, held early voting hours up to several weeks longer than many other smaller communities with fewer people.

“The idea that in some communities it’s a couple weeks and in other communities it’s twice or three times as long, I think is a legitimate concern that people who live in communities where they’re not able to afford to do longer early voting,” Walker told reporters.

He noted in the Facebook post that the new governor’s broad veto power, including a line-item veto on budget bills, remains unchanged. Walker also highlighted the governor’s ability to appoint members of his Cabinet and other positions, including judges, district attorneys and sheriffs. And, Walker said the governor’s ability to present a two-year state budget and pardon convicted felons — something Walker has never done over his eight years in office — would remain unchanged.

Walker, in the Facebook post, cited his support for portions of the bills including requiring a report on anyone pardoned by the governor; requiring all money obtained from lawsuit settlements to be deposited in the state’s general fund; and requiring legislative approval when the governor seeks a federal waiver related to Medicaid or other health care programs.

Walker was also on the defensive over the weekend in the face of Republicans, including the former governor McCallum, GOP donor Sheldon Lubar and conservative commentator Charlie Sykes, saying Walker’s legacy will be tarnished if he signs the bills.

Walker issued 21 tweets on Saturday each beginning with “OUR LEGACY” where he spelled out his accomplishments in office, such as eliminating the state property tax and cutting college tuition.

The bills will be automatically sent to Walker by Dec. 20 if he doesn’t request them from the Legislature sooner. Walker hasn’t responded to questions about whether and when he will call for the bills before Dec. 20. Once he has them, he has six days not counting Sunday to sign or veto them.

Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

The Conversation

Wisconsin GOP’s power grab is a danger to democracy

December 12, 2018

Author: Christopher Beem, Managing Director of the McCourtney Institute of Democracy, Pennsylvania State University

Disclosure statement: Christopher Beem does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

In Wisconsin, Democratic candidates won the 2018 elections for governor and attorney general.

But the Republican-controlled legislature quickly introduced and passed lame-duck legislation that takes power away from these incoming officeholders and hands it to the state legislature, which will remain in GOP control.

Outgoing Republican Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign these bills into law, but as of this writing has not yet done so.

The Wisconsin GOP’s actions have incited outrage across the country, and they’ve been characterized by some commentators as unprecedented and undemocratic, even a coup.

Others argue that while these moves surely constitute hardball politics, they are neither that unusual nor that much of a concern.

As the head of an institute dedicated to democracy, and as a proud former resident of Wisconsin – we call ourselves “cheeseheads” – I have been following these events closely.

I believe that these actions subvert the results of Wisconsin’s election.

But there is a larger and more important context in which these actions have occurred: American democracy. I believe that these actions both reflect and abet the perilous condition of our democracy – nationwide.

Hobbling the Democrats

The proposals in the Wisconsin Republicans’ 141-page bill are sweeping and specific. For example, the Democrats campaigned on withdrawing Wisconsin from a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act; the bill prohibits that withdrawal.

The bill would also take away some of the governor’s power over the state’s economic development agency and gives it to the legislature. In addition, the bill gives the legislature the power to veto the governor’s political appointees.

The bill would also limit early voting, which is conventionally understood to increase Democratic turnout to two weeks before the election. Finally, in addition to this bill, the lame-duck session also included the approval of 82 nominees presented by the governor for various boards and councils.

Soft guardrails of democracy

Wisconsin Assembly Leader Robin Vos explained that he and his party believed the founders wanted political power to predominate in the legislative branch, not in the governor’s office.

These changes are therefore simply ways to create a more democratic state, said Vos, who did grant that it would have perhaps been better if these actions had been brought up earlier, when the governor was a Republican.

These explanations are convincing to few people outside the Republican caucus. But even if the Republicans’ actions do indeed constitute a hypocritical power grab, they may well be correct to argue that they are legal. And how can legal actions undermine American democracy?

In their book, “How Democracies Die,” Harvard government professors Stephen Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue that the laws of a nation are not sufficient to sustain a democracy.

Because you cannot predict, let alone legislate for, every situation that may come up, democracies can only survive if political norms and traditions are developed and upheld, write Levitsky and Ziblatt. They call these “the soft guardrails” of democracy.

Central among the norms they outline is forbearance: restraint against doing anything, even if it is technically legal, that would undermine the system to which all parties claim to be committed.

Each U.S. senator, for example, can object to “unanimous consent” – meaning no one objects – and thereby bring legislative work to a standstill. But because no senator wants that, everyone understands that such power should rarely, if ever, be used.

Legislators in Congress have similarly adopted ways of referring to their opponents as “my good friend,” not because it is mandated or even because they mean it, but because it is a long-standing tradition, one that members believe helps create a climate more conducive to fair debate, collaboration and compromise.

Wisconsin Republicans’ efforts have been similarly constrained. Of course legislative Republicans have every right to contest the actions of the incoming governor.

But in this lame-duck session, Wisconsin’s GOP lawmakers are using power that the majority of the electorate has just taken away from them, in order to make it more difficult for the incoming administration to undertake actions that the majority has just shown that it wants.

Such a deeply undemocratic act should be prohibited. Not by law, but by forbearance.

Breaking norms

Political norms like these have power only because everyone agrees that they do. Without that agreement, norms are easy to break and difficult to restore. Thus, actions like those of the Wisconsin Republicans should not be seen in isolation. The true effect of such acts is that they both accumulate and escalate.

That accumulation and escalation can lead, eventually, to the collapse of a democracy into authoritarianism. Indeed, this is for Levitsky and Ziblatt the very pattern by which democracies most often die.

Most frequently, they argue, the collapse can be traced to a series of actions that lead to more extreme counteractions, causing both sides to view the other with growing animosity, even enmity. The other side is not simply mistaken, but dangerous.

Under such conditions, forbearance and ultimately even legal constraints become luxuries that true patriots can no longer indulge. A leader emerges, most often an outsider, who promises to restore order, and in that effort, takes on power that leave civil rights and free elections in the dust.

Bad behavior not new

The actions in Wisconsin are not unprecedented.

Throughout American history, both Republicans and Democrats have used lame-duck sessions to hamstring an incoming administration when power switched parties. Indeed, even in Wisconsin, the outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle quickly negotiated labor union contracts in late 2010 so that they were in place before Republican Scott Walker assumed the office.

But the Republicans’ recent actions in Wisconsin are unprecedented in how direct, systematic and premeditated they were. In this sense, they most resemble the actions of the Republican legislature in North Carolina in 2016.

In that case, as in Wisconsin, the Republicans called a special session specifically to drive through extensive legislation, prepared well in advance, which gravely limited the power of the incoming governor.

The GOP-led Michigan legislature is likewise using its outgoing governor and legislative majority to curtail the incoming governor’s intentions to reform campaign finance in the state.

After the norm was broken – or more accurately, broken so brazenly by Republicans in North Carolina – it was easier, and will continue to be easier, for other legislators in other states to do the same.

And, of course, political memories are long. If and when circumstances are reversed, it’s likely that Democrats will respond in kind.

Unsettling future

Will these legislative actions bring down democracy in Wisconsin and in the United States?

No.

But what happened in Wisconsin should be seen as one more example of a pattern that can ultimately degrade democracy.

As Levitsky and Ziblatt note, democracy most often dies one little piece at a time. And the more lines are crossed, the more norms are spurned, the more perilous our situation becomes.

All those who call themselves democrats with a small “d” should therefore view the actions in Wisconsin as evidence of two conclusions: Our democracy is in bad shape and it is likely going to get worse.

Comment

Terrence Treft: thanks for the interesting article.

and, as you note, this kind of political posturing is nothing new, but are not the powers of the governor and ag assigned by the constitution, not the legislature?

this is an inherent problem to our two party system (which is not of the constitution), which ergo is not at all democratic in the overview. it is an exercise of the status quo, by which the two parties perceive themselves as living entities striving for their own preservation, fooling the people into believing there is no alternative.

were it not for trump, i would continue as an independent voter, but stopping him now is most important. what will bring down democracy in the u.s. is trump and his desire to be the nation’s sovereign.

Closer legal peril for Trump in probes; he sees no collusion

By ERIC TUCKER, CHAD DAY and JIM MUSTIAN

Associated Press

Saturday, December 8

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in touch as far back as 2015 with a Russian who offered “political synergy” with the Trump election campaign and proposed a meeting between the candidate and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the federal special counsel said.

Court filings from prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office Friday laid out previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries and suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Trump and his campaign by playing to both his political aspirations and his personal business interests.

The filings, in cases involving Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort , capped a dramatic week of revelations in Mueller’s probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. They bring the legal peril from multiple investigations closer than ever to Trump, tying him to an illegal hush money payment scheme and contradicting his claims that he had nothing to do with Russia.

Trump was undeterred, tweeting early Saturday: “AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!”

The court documents make clear how witnesses previously close to Trump — Cohen once declared he’d “take a bullet” for the president — have since provided damaging information about him in efforts to come clean to the government and in some cases get lighter prison sentences.

One defendant, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, provided so much information to prosecutors that Mueller this week said he shouldn’t serve any prison time.

In hours of interviews with prosecutors, witnesses have offered up information about pivotal episodes under examination, including possible collusion with Russia and payments during the campaign to silence a porn star and Playboy model who said they had sex with Trump a decade earlier.

In one of the filings, Mueller details how Cohen spoke to a Russian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.’”

The person repeatedly dangled a meeting between Trump and Putin, saying such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well.”

That was a reference to a proposed Moscow real estate deal that prosecutors say could have netted Trump’s business hundreds of millions of dollars. Cohen admitted last week to lying to Congress by saying discussions about a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016 when in fact they stretched into that June, well into the U.S. campaign.

Cohen told prosecutors he never followed up on the Putin invitation, though the offer bore echoes of a March 2016 proposal presented by Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who broached to other advisers the idea of a Putin encounter.

Prosecutors said probation officials recommended a sentence for Cohen of three-and-a-half years in prison. His lawyers want the 52-year-old attorney to avoid prison time altogether.

In an additional filing Friday evening, prosecutors said Manafort lied about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.

The court papers say Manafort initially told prosecutors he didn’t have contact with any people while they were in the Trump administration. But prosecutors say they recovered “electronic documents” showing contacts with multiple administration officials not identified in the filings.

Manafort, who has pleaded guilty to several counts, violated his plea agreement by telling “multiple discernible lies” to prosecutors, they said.

Manafort resigned from his job on the Trump campaign as questions swirled about his lobbying work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in Cohen’s case said that even though he cooperated in their investigation into potential campaign finance violations, he nonetheless deserved prison time. Though he has portrayed himself as cooperative, “his description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others,” prosecutors said.

“After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the Presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty – rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes – does not make him a hero,” they wrote.

Cohen, dubbed Trump’s “legal fixer” in the past, also described his work in conjunction with Trump in orchestrating hush money payments to two women — adult actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — who said they had sex with Trump.

Prosecutors in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance crimes in connection with those payments, said the lawyer “acted in coordination and at the direction” of Trump. Though Cohen had previously implicated Trump in the payments, the prosecutors now are linking Trump to the scheme and backing up Cohen’s allegations.

Federal law requires that any payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing Friday makes clear that the payments were made to benefit Trump politically.

A court filing also reveals that Cohen told prosecutors he and Trump discussed a potential meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for president. In a footnote Mueller’s team writes that Cohen conferred with Trump “about contacting the Russia government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting.” It never took place.

Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister in New York and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.

For first time, prosecutors connect Trump to a federal crime

By MICHAEL BALSAMO

Associated Press

Saturday, December 8

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department says that President Donald Trump directed illegal payments to buy the silence of two women whose claims of extramarital affairs threatened his presidential campaign, the first time prosecutors have connected Trump to a federal crime.

In a court filing, prosecutors said former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen arranged the secret payments at the height of the 2016 campaign “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump. Cohen has previously said Trump was involved in the hush-money scheme, but court documents filed ahead of Cohen’s sentencing made clear prosecutors believe Cohen’s claim.

The filing stopped short of accusing the president of committing a crime. Whether a president can be prosecuted while in office remains a matter of legal dispute.

But there’s no ambiguity in Friday’s filing that prosecutors believe Cohen’s act was criminal and Trump was directly involved, a remarkable disclosure with potential political and legal ramifications for a president dogged by investigations. The payments are likely to become a target for House Democrats gearing up to investigate the president next year. It’s unclear whether Trump faces legal jeopardy over his role.

Federal law requires that any payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing Friday makes clear that the payments were made to benefit Trump politically.

In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign finance violations, and detailed an illegal operation to stifle sex stories and distribute hush money to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who had both claimed they had affairs with Trump. Trump has denied having an affair.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement signed days before the 2016 election and is currently suing to dissolve that contract.

Trump denied in April that he knew anything about Cohen’s payments to Daniels, though the explanations from the president and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have shifted multiple times since then.

Another attorney for the president, Jay Sekulow, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Trump, in a Saturday morning tweet, said: “AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!

In August 2016, the National Enquirer’s parent company reached a $150,000 deal to pay McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair, which it never published, a tabloid practice known as catch and kill. In 2015, the company’s chairman met with Cohen and Trump and “offered help with negative stories” about Trump’s relationships with women by buying the rights to the stories, prosecutors said.

After McDougal contacted the Enquirer, the chairman of its parent company, American Media Inc., contacted Cohen about the story. After Cohen promised the company would be reimbursed, the Enquirer paid McDougal $150,000, according to court documents.

An audio recording released by Cohen in July appeared to capture Trump and Cohen discussing buying the rights to McDougal’s story from the Enquirer’s parent company. Trump’s lawyers have said the payments were never made.

Legal experts have said the issue of whether Trump violated the law would come down to whether Trump tried to influence the election and whether he knew it was legally improper.

Former Sen. John Edwards, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, was indicted in 2011 in connection with payments made on his behalf by a wealthy campaign donor to keep Edwards’ mistress quiet, which prosecutors argued amounted to illegal campaign contributions.

Edwards argued the payments were meant to keep his wife from learning about the affair — not to protect his campaign — and were therefore not political donations.

A jury acquitted the North Carolina Democrat of one charge and deadlocked on the rest in 2012. The Justice Department did not retry the case.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the lighting of the state Christmas Tree in the Capitol Rotunda, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. The Senate and Assembly are set to send dozens of changes in state law to Walker’s desk Tuesday. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/12/web1_121940760-61184c2f571746e4bead18713ca3ee7b.jpgWisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the lighting of the state Christmas Tree in the Capitol Rotunda, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. The Senate and Assembly are set to send dozens of changes in state law to Walker’s desk Tuesday. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

FILE – In this Dec. 2, 2018, file photo, Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers speaks at the Ward 4 building in Milwaukee. Evers said Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, he’s not optimistic that outgoing governor Scott Walker will veto bills approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature that would limit the new governor’s power. (Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/12/web1_121940760-a6539329bf99452a889a663b2894f782.jpgFILE – In this Dec. 2, 2018, file photo, Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers speaks at the Ward 4 building in Milwaukee. Evers said Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, he’s not optimistic that outgoing governor Scott Walker will veto bills approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature that would limit the new governor’s power. (Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File)
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