Squabbling before SOTU

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In this Feb. 1, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The White House says Trump will call for optimism and unity in his State of the Union address, using the moment to attempt a reset after two years of bitter partisanship and deeply personal attacks. But skepticism will emanate from both sides of the aisle when Trump enters the House chamber Tuesday for the primetime address to lawmakers and the nation. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

In this Feb. 1, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The White House says Trump will call for optimism and unity in his State of the Union address, using the moment to attempt a reset after two years of bitter partisanship and deeply personal attacks. But skepticism will emanate from both sides of the aisle when Trump enters the House chamber Tuesday for the primetime address to lawmakers and the nation. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Trump squabbles with Democrats before speech on unity


AP Washington Bureau Chief

Tuesday, February 5

WASHINGTON (AP) — The bitter partisanship of the past two years was on full display Tuesday just hours before President Donald Trump was to call for optimism and unity in his State of the Union address.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York seems to have triggered the latest Trump twitter outburst when he said on the Senate floor that the president talks about unity in his annual addresses to the nation but “spends the other 364 days of the year dividing us.” He accused Trump of “blatant hypocrisy.”

Minutes later, Trump tweeted that Schumer hadn’t even seen the speech and was “just upset that he didn’t win the Senate, after spending a fortune.”

Skepticism was already expected from both sides of the aisle for Trump’s televised address to lawmakers and the nation. Democrats, emboldened after the midterm elections and the recent shutdown fight, see little evidence that the president is willing to compromise. Even Trump’s staunchest allies know that bipartisan rhetoric read off of a teleprompter is usually undermined by scorching tweets and unpredictable policy maneuvers.

The deeply personal attacks show the challenge for Trump as he attempts a reset with Congress. Still, the fact that his advisers feel a need to try a different approach is a tacit acknowledgement that the president’s standing is weakened as he begins his third year in office.

The shutdown left some Republicans frustrated over his insistence on a border wall, something they warned him the new Democratic House majority would not bend on. Trump’s approval rating during the shutdown dipped to 34 percent, down from 42 percent a month earlier, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders indicated the president would highlight what he sees as achievements and downplay discord.

“You’re going to continue see the president push for policies that help continue the economic boom,” Sanders said Monday night while appearing on “Hannity” on Fox News. “You’re also going to see the president call on Congress and say, ‘Look, we can either work together and get great things done or we can fight each other and get nothing done.’ And frankly, the American people deserve better than that.”

But Washington’s most recent debate offered few signs of cooperation between Trump and Democrats. Under pressure from conservative backers, Trump refused to sign a government funding bill that did not include money for his long-sought border wall. With hundreds of thousands of Americans missing paychecks, Trump ultimately agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow negotiations on border security to continue.

With the new Feb. 15 funding deadline looming, Trump is expected to use his address to outline his demands, which still include funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s teased the possibility of declaring a national emergency to secure wall funding if Congress doesn’t act, though it appeared unlikely he would take that step Tuesday night. Advisers have also been reviewing options to secure some funding without making such a declaration.

“You’ll hear the State of the Union, and then you’ll see what happens right after the State of the Union,” Trump told reporters.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he remains hopeful Congress can resolve the dispute.

“Democrats can call it a fence, the president can all it a wall and then we can call it a day, which I think is one way of skinning the cat,” said Cornyn, who is a close adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The president’s address marks the first time he is speaking before a Congress that is not fully under Republican control. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who won plaudits from Democrats for her hard line negotiating tactics during the shutdown, will be seated behind the president — a visual reminder of Trump’s political opposition.

In a letter Monday night to House Democrats, Pelosi wrote that she hopes “we will hear a commitment from the President on issues that have bipartisan support in the Congress and the Country, such as lowering the price of prescription drugs and rebuilding America’s infrastructure.”

In the audience will be several Democrats running to challenge Trump in 2020, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, will deliver the party’s response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become Georgia’s first black governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for Senate.

Schumer earlier previewed Democrats’ message for countering Trump, declaring Monday, “The number one reason the state of the union has such woes is the president.”

While Trump was still putting the final touches on the speech Tuesday, he was expected to use some of his televised address to showcase a growing economy. Despite the shutdown, the U.S. economy added a robust 304,000 jobs in January, marking 100 straight months of job growth. That’s the longest such period on record.

Trump and his top aides have also hinted that he is likely to use the address to announce a major milestone in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Despite the objections of some advisers, Trump announced in December that he was withdrawing U.S. forces in Syria.

In a weekend interview with CBS, Trump said efforts to defeat the IS group were “at 99 percent right now. We’ll be at 100.”

The U.S. military says the Islamic State group now controls about 5 square kilometers (less than 2 square miles) in the villages of the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria, where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated. Including the large swath of desert around the villages, the militant group controls more than 50 square kilometers (20 square miles). The figures do not include IS militants in other parts of the country.

That’s down from an estimated 400 to 600 square kilometers (155 to 230 square miles) that the group held at the end of November before Trump announced the withdrawal, according to two officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

However, a Defense Department inspector general report released Monday said the Islamic State group “remains a potent force of battle-hardened and well-disciplined fighters that could likely resurge in Syria” absent continued counterterrorism pressure. According to the Pentagon, the group is still able to coordinate offensives and counteroffensives.

Administration officials say the White House has also been weighing several “moonshot” goals. An announcement is expected on a new initiative aimed at ending transmissions of HIV by 2030. “He will be asking for bipartisan support to make that happen,” said White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

Trump’s guests for the speech include Anna Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman whose life sentence for drug offenses was commuted by the president, and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware, who was allegedly bullied because of his last name. They will sit with first lady Melania Trump during the address.

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller, Darlene Superville, Matthew Lee and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Virginia scandal could push newcomer into governor’s office


Associated Press

Tuesday, February 5

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Lingering doubts over Gov. Ralph Northam’s political future after the publication of a racist yearbook photo could propel an African-American political newcomer into the governor’s mansion.

If Northam stepped down, Justin Fairfax would be the second African-American governor in Virginia’s history and just the fourth in the entire United States since Reconstruction.

Fairfax has experienced a brief, meteoric rise through Virginia politics. His supporters have touted him as a fresh face whose charisma has allowed him to connect with voters. His detractors suggest he is unproven and inexperienced.

His ascension could mean that the racial scandal dogging Northam would end with an African-American governor trying to lead the Democratic Party to a takeover of the legislature in November and potentially, through a quirk of law, being able to serve more than one term.

On Monday, Fairfax was drawn into a controversy of his own. He denied an allegation of sexual misconduct first reported by a conservative website, calling it a “smear.” Fairfax said the 2004 encounter with a woman was consensual. The Associated Press is not reporting the accusation because AP has not able to confirm it.

The Washington Post said Monday that it was approached by the woman in 2017, carefully investigated, but didn’t publish the accusations. The Post said the woman had not told anyone about it, the account could not be corroborated, Fairfax denied it and the Post was unable to find other allegations against him.

The 39-year-old lieutenant governor has held elected office for only one year. A descendant of slaves, he carried a copy of his ancestor’s manumission papers with him as he was sworn in. Since then, he has become best known in Virginia for refusing to preside over the Senate chamber as lawmakers offered tributes to Confederate leaders on Virginia’s Lee-Jackson Day, in January. He said he stepped off the dais to honor his family.

Before entering politics, Fairfax served for two years as a federal prosecutor in Alexandria, a prestigious outpost within the Department of Justice that handles numerous high-profile cases. He did not work on any of those cases, however.

Gene Rossi, a 30-year veteran of the Justice Department and one of the prosecutors who helped train Fairfax, said the lieutenant governor has “an incredibly acute legal mind” and is a quick study who could “hit the ground running.”

“I think he has what it takes to become governor and lead us out of this,” Rossi said in a phone interview Monday morning, before Fairfax addressed the sexual assault allegation publicly.

Fairfax and Rossi ended up as opponents in the 2017 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, which Fairfax won handily.

Political observers say Fairfax would have an enormous learning curve ahead of him as Virginia’s governor.

His biggest challenge would be building effective relationships with the legislature, something it took Northam years to do before he was able to achieve such accomplishments as passing Medicaid expansion last year.

“Is he capable of doing this? Yes, he’s a smart person and organized, has some good people around him,” Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, said of Fairfax. “But this is an enormous job. A large part of the job is building relationship over time.”

Fairfax graduated from Duke University and Columbia Law School. He worked for Tipper Gore during Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. He also worked for former Sen. John Edwards.

A native of Annandale, his first run for office came in 2013, when he ran for attorney general against Mark Herring, a state senator who was much better known in Democratic political circles. Herring won, but Fairfax got 48 percent of the vote and impressed party leaders as a potential up-and-comer. He stayed active in Democratic politics and campaigned heavily for U.S. Sen. Mark Warner in his narrow re-election bid in 2014.

During the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, Republican opponent Jill Holtzmann Vogel attacked Fairfax’s lack of experience. At one debate, she said he was not sufficiently informed to “talk intelligently” about issues. Democrats saw the remark as an unfair attack with racial overtones.

Fairfax won with nearly 53 percent of the vote as Democrats, including Northam, swept all three statewide elections in 2017.

Should Northam resign, Fairfax would have the unusual opportunity in 2021 to seek another term as governor since he was not elected in the first place. Under Virginia law, governors can serve more than one term, but not consecutively.

“This scenario could not only create Virginia’s second African-American governor, but an environment where the second African-American governor would have the opportunity to have almost a seven-year term,” said University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth. The state’s first African-American governor, Douglas Wilder, served from 1990 to 1994.

Associated Press writer Ben Finley in Norfolk contributed to this report.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar to make 2020 announcement on Sunday


Associated Press

Wednesday, February 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota signaled on Tuesday she could become the next Democrat to enter the presidential contest, teasing a major announcement on Sunday in Minneapolis.

“Come to Boom Island in Minnesota … and you’ll find out,” she told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “Then you’ll find out my decision.”

She didn’t offer further details about whether the event would serve as a formal campaign launch.

If she enters the race, Klobuchar would likely use her Minnesota roots to make a strong play for the Midwest. The region backed Democrats in presidential contests for decades, but slipped away in 2016, playing a critical role in President Donald Trump’s victory. Democrats have made it a top priority to recapture Michigan and Wisconsin in 2020 to winnow Trump’s already narrow path to re-election.

Underscoring her focus on the Midwest, Klobuchar already plans to visit neighboring Iowa, home to the nation’s leadoff caucus, later this month.

Klobuchar is a third-term senator who overwhelmingly won re-election last year. On Capitol Hill, she’s known for her legislative productivity and genial demeanor.

The 58-year-old former prosecutor has won acclaim for her style of questioning of high-profile nominees who appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. During Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, she pressed him on whether he ever blacked out from alcohol use. He combatively threw the question back at her, for which he later apologized.

She would be the fifth Democratic senator to enter an already crowded primary. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey have already entered the race.

Other prominent Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, are expected to announce their 2020 decisions soon.

The Conversation

Should we judge people for their past moral failings?

February 5, 2019

Author: Andrew Khoury, Instructor of Philosophy, Arizona State University

Disclosure statement: Andrew Khoury 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: Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is facing a controversy after a photograph surfaced from his medical school yearbook showing one person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. The media alleged the governor was the one in blackface.

Northam, initially apologized, but later said that he did not believe that the photo was of him and called it “disgusting, offensive, racist.”

The controversy came just months after Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, faced allegations of sexual assault going back to his high school years.

As a philosopher, I believe these cases raise two ethical questions. One is the question of moral responsibility for an action at the time it occurred. The second is moral responsibility in the present time for actions of the past.

Most philosophers seem to think that the two cannot be separated. In other words, moral responsibility for an action, once committed, is set in stone.

I argue that there are reasons to think that moral responsibility can actually change over time – but only under certain conditions.

Locke on personal identity

Philosophers implicitly agree that moral responsibility can’t change over time because they think it is a matter of one’s “personal identity.” The 17th-century British philosopher John Locke was the first to explicitly raise this question. He asked: What makes an individual at one time the very same person as an individual at another time? Is this because both share the same soul, or the same body, or is it something else?

Not only is this, as philosopher Carsten Korfmacher notes, “literally a question of life and death,” but Locke also thought that personal identity was the key to moral responsibility over time.

“Personal identity is the basis for all the right and justice of reward and punishment,” he wrote.

Locke believed that individuals deserve blame for a crime committed in the past simply because they are the same person that committed the past crime. From this perspective, a person would still be responsible for any of the alleged actions of a younger self.

Problems with Locke’s view

Locke argued that being the same person over time was not a matter of having the same soul or having the same body. It was instead a matter of having the same consciousness over time, which he analyzed in terms of memory.

Thus, in Locke’s view, individuals are responsible for a past wrong act so long as they can remember committing it.

While there is clearly something appealing about the idea that memory ties us to the past, it is hard to believe that a person should get off the hook just by forgetting a criminal act. Indeed, some research suggests that violent crime actually induces memory loss.

But, I believe, the problems with Locke’s view run deeper than this. The chief one is that it doesn’t take into consideration other changes in one’s psychological makeup. For example, many of us are inclined to think that the remorseful don’t deserve as much blame for their past wrongs as those who express no regret. But in Locke’s view, the remorseful would still deserve just as much blame for their past crimes because they remain identical with their former selves.

Responsibility and change

Some philosophers are beginning to question the assumption that responsibility for actions in the past is just a question of personal identity. Philosopher David Shoemaker, for example, argues that responsibility doesn’t require identity.

In a recent paper in the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, my co-author Benjamin Matheson and I argue that the fact that one has committed a wrong action in the past isn’t enough to guarantee responsibility in the present. Instead, that responsibility depends on whether the person has changed in morally important ways.

Philosophers generally agree that people deserve blame for an action only if the action was performed with a certain state of mind: say, an intention to knowingly commit a crime.

My co-author and I argue that deserving blame in the present for an action in the past depends on whether those same states of mind persist in that person. For example, does the person still have the beliefs, intentions and personality traits that led to the past act in the first place?

If so, then the person hasn’t changed in relevant ways and will continue to deserve blame for the past action. But a person who has changed may not be deserving of blame over time. The reformed murderer Red, played by Morgan Freeman, in the 1994 film, “The Shawshank Redemption,” is one of my favorite examples. After decades in the Shawshank Penitentiary, Red the old man hardly resembles the teenager that committed murder.

How do we judge past misconduct?

If this is right, then figuring out whether a person deserves blame for a past action is more complex than simply determining if that individual did, in fact, commit the past action.

In the case of Northam, some see his denial, as well as his admission of donning blackface during a dance competition as more evidence of his persisting responsibility. Others, however, would like the public to look at Northam’s overall track record in fighting against racism and prejudice. In particular, one commentator noted that Northam was forceful in his denunciation of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally.

What I would argue is that when confronted with the issue of moral responsibility for actions long since passed, we need to not only consider the nature of the past transgression but also how far and how deeply the individual has changed.

This is an updated version of an article first published on Oct. 3, 2018.

In this Feb. 1, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The White House says Trump will call for optimism and unity in his State of the Union address, using the moment to attempt a reset after two years of bitter partisanship and deeply personal attacks. But skepticism will emanate from both sides of the aisle when Trump enters the House chamber Tuesday for the primetime address to lawmakers and the nation. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122265007-e04724b73f2b4b3eb06e4483b83f263a.jpgIn this Feb. 1, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The White House says Trump will call for optimism and unity in his State of the Union address, using the moment to attempt a reset after two years of bitter partisanship and deeply personal attacks. But skepticism will emanate from both sides of the aisle when Trump enters the House chamber Tuesday for the primetime address to lawmakers and the nation. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
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