Today's news - February 2, 2017


Two GOP senators say they will vote against DeVos

Two Republican senators on Wednesday said they would vote against President Trump’s nominee for education secretary, delivering a blow to the White House and raising the possibility that Vice President Mike Pence would have to break a tie to win her confirmation. The nominee, Betsy DeVos, a billionaire with a complex web of financial investments, had already faced fierce opposition from Democrats and labor unions because of her political contributions to Republicans and her involvement in pushing alternatives to public education. But her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, during which she flubbed answers on education policy, also brought concerns from Republicans. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said DeVos had failed to demonstrate that she understood what public schools needed to succeed. “I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education who has been so involved in one side of the equation, so immersed in the push for vouchers, that she may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools, and also what is broken and how to fix them,” Murkowski said. Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said she respected DeVos’ clear devotion to students and “valuable work” in education. But she said she remained troubled by DeVos’ focus on alternatives to public education, as well as what Collins called a “lack of familiarity” with federal laws protecting children with special needs and disabilities. “Her concentration on charter schools and vouchers, however, raises the question about whether or not she fully appreciates that the secretary of education’s primary focus must be on helping states and communities, parents, teachers, school board administrators, school board members and administrators strengthen our public schools,” Collins said. “I will not, I cannot, vote to confirm her as our nation’s next secretary of education.” Senators and education advocates from both sides of the aisle were taken aback by DeVos’ comments at her Jan. 17 confirmation hearing about core responsibilities of the Department of Education. One exchange with Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, was later promoted heavily on social media by the Democratic Party and activist groups, including national education unions. In it, Kaine asked DeVos whether all schools that receive public money should have to follow the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA. DeVos responded, “I think that’s a matter that’s best left to the states.” In fact, under IDEA, a landmark 1975 civil rights law, states and school districts are required to provide special education services to children with disabilities. During the hearing, Collins said she had “heard repeatedly” from school officials that the most important action the federal government could take on education would be “to fulfill the promise” of IDEA by providing more funding for those students. DeVos responded to Collins that she would look at funding levels, but said, “Maybe the money should follow individual students instead of going directly to the states.” The pushback against DeVos played out in thousands of emails and phone calls urging senators to vote against her. Protesters showed up at her confirmation hearing, outside senators’ offices and in Michigan, where DeVos has been involved in pushing education policies. Her nomination now hangs precariously on whether Republicans will rally the support of a few undeclared colleagues, or woo Democratic dissenters. Her chances got a boost on Wednesday with the support of two Republicans who were originally believed to oppose her, Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania. If the Senate’s Democrats and independents vote together, just one more Republican defection would be fatal to Ms. DeVos’ prospects. If all other senators vote along party lines, Pence could break a 50-50 tie in his capacity as president of the Senate. But three Republican votes opposing her confirmation would result in an outright rejection of her nomination.

A DeVos adviser said administration officials are still sure DeVos can hold the rest of the GOP together. "Who else are they going to peel? I don't think they can peel anyone else,” the adviser said. “I have a pretty high level of confidence that she's going to get through.” White House spokesman Sean Spicer was more adamant, declaring Wednesday he is "100 percent confident she will be the next secretary of education." The Senate began voting to advance DeVos' nomination on Wednesday afternoon, but the real show will be her final confirmation vote. Democrats are doing everything they can to delay the confirmation and encourage voters to call their senators and urge them to oppose her.

Collins and Murkowski also created a possible speed bump in confirming another Trump nominee, that of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Once Sessions, who was approved by Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, becomes the country's top law enforcement officer, he will have to vacate his seat and can no longer cast a vote supporting DeVos. With voting margins so thin, his departure would put her nomination in peril.


Broad, billionaire charter school backer, urges senators to oppose DeVos


Rubio, Nelson face onslaught of pressure to vote against DeVos


Merrow to the Senate: Why DeVos should not be confirmed


Democrats troubled by views of education appointees

Six Senate Democrats said Wednesday that they're "deeply troubled" by "racist, bigoted, and misogynistic statements" made on social media by several of President Donald Trump's Education Department hires. In a letter to Jason Botel, new senior White House adviser for education, and Acting Education Secretary Phil Rosenfelt, the senators said they want a briefing on the agency's "efforts to promote a diverse and inclusive workforce free of prejudice or malice, the administration's vetting procedures for appointees, and how the department intends to handle reports of inappropriate communications or behavior from staff."  The letter comes after POLITICO reported that several of Trump's political appointees, before being given jobs at the Education Department, shared unflattering views about African-Americans, transgender people and “fat chicks" on social media.


Lawmakers say money’s not there for Scott's education budget


Gulf district, union settle labor complaint (Emily McCann quoted)


Marion district plan shifts 14 positions to schools (Chris Altobello quoted)


Scott: Hike pre-K funding (but proposal still below 2005 levels)


Former Florida education commissioner is now a county commissioner in Indiana


With Falwell as education adviser, his own university could benefit


Oh goodie, silly season is about to begin in Tallahassee

The assault on your sanity has already begun. On the day the governor released his budget wish list, the House speaker announced he was going after Tallahassee's cockroaches and the Senate president had to remind everyone of a constitutional amendment that lawmakers have ignored for two years. This is typical of the days and weeks before Florida's legislative session. There's posturing and there's positioning. There are sound bites and suck-ups. Mostly, there's a lot of partisan politicking that leaves very little room for big-picture conversations. Which brings us to Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. In two short sentences, she captured the essence of Florida's shortcomings this week. "Our state doesn't have a revenue problem or a spending problem,'' she said. "What we have is a problem in priorities." Yes. Yes! YES! It isn't about one policy or another. It isn't about micromanaging every dollar collected or spent. It's about a state with no sense or vision of the future. Gov. Rick Scott has been ultra-focused on creating jobs for six years now, and it is true Florida's unemployment rate is much lower than when he took office (although still higher than the national rate). And while the number of jobs is important, the quality of those jobs is equally critical. And that's where Florida has been short-sighted for far too long. We have great weather, hundreds of miles of coastline and room to grow. We have a handful of major metropolitan areas, millions of tourists and the third-largest population in the United States. Yet we struggle to attract high-paying jobs and the quality-of-life improvements they would bring. Consider the rate of Fortune 500 companies versus state populations: The five most populous states in the country are California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. Four of those states also have the most Fortune 500 companies. The outlier is Florida. We're 12th among states with the most desirable companies. And it's not as close as it sounds. New York, California and Texas all have more than 50 of those coveted companies. Florida has 17. For all the talk of being a business-friendly state, we never invest in ourselves. We're near the bottom of the nation in education spending per pupil. Ditto for mental health spending. Our poverty rate is too high, and mass transit options are pathetically absent. Do you suppose corporations take any of that into consideration? Scott wants a bundle of money to lure out-of-state companies with financial incentives, which is sort of like shopping with coupons. It's not sustainable and it rarely attracts the big boys. Meanwhile, his modest proposal to boost education funding with revenue from increased property values already seems to be in jeopardy from the House. "We have an $83 billion budget, and we still can't fund education the right way," Cruz said. "I think if the taxpayers fully understood what is going on in Tallahassee, they'd be outraged." This is the time for meaningful conversations about the state's direction, and instead we're going to be talking about guns, corporate tax cuts and the silly topic de jour in Tallahassee before the legislative session begins in March. Can we give up the slogans and work on strategies?


Scott's budget cuts would be focused largely on Medicaid, hospitals


Governor’s budget proposal includes more money for body cameras


Women’s march activists to hold meetings throughout Florida this weekend


Corcoran demands data from 38 economic, tourist groups


State employee pay hikes on the table


Ausley bill would ban for-profit companies from overseeing state charity campaign


Businesses that ban guns could be held liable for leaving patrons defenseless


Steube starts filing individual bills to break up his major guns proposal


Convicting killers in Florida may soon get harder


Florida agency head won't support fees for kayaks, canoes


Florida pipeline protests grow as construction continues


Negron: Lake Okeechobee land-buy bill won't put sugar mill out of business


It's no place for fracking


Judge orders Trump-owned golf resort to pay millions


Trump heads to his “winter White House” in Florida this weekend


Republicans are planning to break unions for good

Alternative facts are nothing new; politicians have been making stuff up since they first crawled out of the primordial swamp. One of the most successful lies in modern U.S. politics has been that of “right to work” laws, which break unions under the guise of protecting workers, one of which was introduced in Congress on Wednesday afternoon and will likely break unions in the country for good. A national right to work law has been a pipe dream of corporate lobbyists, the chamber of commerce, the Koch brothers and the politicians on their payroll for decades, and is about to become a reality. Right to work laws already exist in more than half the states in the country, where unions are weak or nonexistent, wages are correspondingly low, and workers are correspondingly disposable. In theory, these laws are about guaranteeing workers’ freedom of association. In practice, they’re about keeping workers from forming unions, by making unions financially unsustainable. The main lie told by right to work proponents is that such laws put an end to “compulsory union membership.” It’s flat out false; there is no such thing, and hasn’t been since 1947, when the Taft Hartley Act made the closed shop – a type of contract where union membership was a condition of employment – illegal. Nowhere in the U.S., whether you’re in a right to work state or not, can you be forced to be a member of a union, or fired for refusing to join one. The second lie is that such laws protect workers from having their dues money go to political causes they don’t support. Nowhere in the country can you be forced to donate to a politician, campaign or political organization you don’t support. If you’re a dues-paying union member, you already have a right to simply not donate to your union’s political fund and plenty of union members exercise it. What right to work laws, including this bill, do is outlaw a specific type of voluntary, private employment contract that employers and employees may agree on. Under this agency shop contract, which must be voted on and approved by a majority of employees, workers agree to pay a fair share provision – a fraction of the dues amount that union members pay – to cover the costs of bargaining and enforcing the workplace contract. The reason such contracts exist at all is because, under the same 1947 law that banned compulsory union membership, unions are bound by what are called “duties of fair representation”. Under DFRs, they are legally required to provide the same services to everyone in a workplace, such as filing grievances, providing legal counsel, or defending someone if they’re disciplined, whether they are union members or not.  This also assures that everyone gets the same benefits from a union contract: health insurance, vacations, rules that say your boss can’t just fire you if he wakes up one day and decides he doesn’t like your face. The idea is to prevent unions from discriminating against those who choose not to join. Obviously, if you’re going to receive a benefit automatically whether you join or not, the incentive is to free ride. Agency shop contracts are set up to make sure everyone shares the costs so that those grievances get filed. Right to work laws encourage everyone to free ride until the union is broke, can’t provide those benefits to anyone, and eventually ceases to exist.


Trump's blue-collar populism is dividing unions (Randi Weingarten and Richard Trumka quoted, NEA mentioned)


Trump says “go nuclear” as Democrats gird for Gorsuch fight


Democrats’ strategic choice: How aggressive to be on Gorsuch?


The Democrats who will decide Gorsuch's fate


Trump, Democratic leaders aren’t making it easy to build bipartisan support


Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat -- and are putting another Scalia in it


It’s time to make Republicans pay for their supreme hypocrisy


McConnell: Democrats, ditch the apocalyptic rhetoric on Gorsuch


Supreme Court fight is more about Trump than Gorsuch


Gorsuch and the search for the Supreme Court mainstream


Conservative groups unify to push Gorsuch’s confirmation


Florida liberals oppose Gorsuch


At Harvard Law, Gorsuch stood out on a campus full of liberals


Gorusch led club called “Fascism Forever” against faculty at his elite prep school


Draft of Trump order reveals sweeping plans to legalize discrimination


Trump vows to “destroy” law banning political activity by churches


Judge orders Feds to let in immigrant visa holders


Trump pushes dark view of Islam to center of U.S. policymaking


Trump to focus counter-extremism program solely on Islam


Trump’s Muslim ban snares grad students, researchers (Lily Eskelsen García quoted and Jennifer Proffitt mentioned)


South Florida universities scramble to protect students from Trump’s order


How these Iranian students in Miami are dealing with Trump's immigration order


Protesters vow defiance after Miami heeds immigration order


Following Trump, two state lawmakers also want to penalize sanctuary cities


For Syrian girl in need of medical care, Trump’s travel ban adds to tragedy


“Everyone is welcome here”


CNN editor sues after being detained at Atlanta airport under Trump travel ban


Artists from Muslim-majority countries deal with chaos from “absurd” travel ban


Rubio “worried” about total ban on refugees


Rubio pushes back a little while other senators in GOP get behind Trump


Many support Trump’s order. Many backed Japanese internment camps, too.


An apology to Muslims for Trump


Immigrant shock: Can California predict the nation’s future?


Trump isn’t a fan of dissent — inside or outside the government


Email shows Trump team initiated effort to replace all inspector generals


Obamacare more popular than ever, now that it may be repealed


GOP talk shifts from replacing Obamacare to repairing it


The Trump administration threatens to imperil women’s health worldwide


Senators set to huddle on Russia hacking probe


Civilian job loss imminent, Matt Gaetz fears


How to build an autocracy


American institutions won't keep us safe from Trump's excesses


White House Inc.


The peculiar populism of Trump


Is Bannon the second most powerful man in the world?


Bannon: “We're going to war in the South China Sea ... no doubt”


Stephanie Murphy files bill that would remove Bannon from NSC


Trump Cabinet picks advance as Republicans outmuscle Democrats


Everything you want to know about the Trump Cabinet confirmation hearings, votes


Tillerson is confirmed as secretary of state amid record opposition


Is Sessions ready to say no to Trump?


VA “will not be privatized under my watch,” nominee says in clash with Trump team


Yellen: First female Fed chair and economics trailblazer faces Trump's ax


Trump reportedly threatens to send U.S. military to Mexico during call


Mexico takes first step before talks with U.S. on NAFTA]


Trump’s senseless war on Mexico


On call with Australian prime minister, Trump badgers and brags


Trump's clash with Australia strains alliance


Iran is threatened with U.S. reprisals over missile test


Authoritarian leaders greet Trump as one of their own


Trump’s black history talk: From Douglass to media bias and crime


Trump threatens to pull university funding after protests against Breitbart writer


Trump asks for prayers for Schwarzenegger’s ratings at National Prayer Breakfast


How World War II opened the door for one of the first black women at NASA


How worried should environmentalists be about Trump?


Trump “taking steps to abolish Environmental Protection Agency”

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