The Rodney Report: Nothing Up My Sleeve

  • A week he’d like to forget
  • Is this proposed tax plan really a win?
  • Cook Takes A Look, Downgrades Rodney’s NJ-11 Forecast
  • Protecting Officers, Endangering Citizens
  • What to know about special counsels and select committees



A week he’d like to forget:

It’s was quite a week for our congressman, one that began with news that he’d been caught interfering with the  employment of a constituent and NJ 11th for Change member, and ended with his chance for a 2018 reelection diminished by two publications. In between, the Campaign for Accountability (CfA)  filed a complaint about his note to our member’s employer, in which he called her a “ringleader” at NJ 11th for Change. As CfA director Daniel Stevens said, “If trying to get someone fired for exercising her constitutional right to engage in political activity doesn't reflect poorly on the House, what does?"  Frelinghuysen reportedly told members of The Morristown Jewish Center Sunday morning that he had retained legal counsel in response to these events.  We wonder if this means a statement will finally be forthcoming — in addition to his office’s previous comment that his note was an “innocuous.”

Is this proposed tax plan really a win?

In his weekly E-newsletter Congressman Frelinghuysen touts the tax plan being mapped out in the House, as “pro-jobs.”  A closer look shows that it’s a big win for corporations and the top one percent of income earners.  Corporate tax rates would be chopped by more than half under the president’s plan, from 35 percent  to under 15 in the House plan.  The top rate for high-income earners will be sliced from 40 to to 33 percent.


 Yet we do have to balance the budget, right? So, to make up for the shortfall in income, the new plan offers some neat tricks. The Trump/Ryan Tax plan does away with deductions for state and local taxes. Not only do New Jersey residents currently pay some of the highest property taxes in the country, but taxpayers in NJ-11 pay among the highest in the state.  Average property taxes in Morris county were over $10,000, in Essex they topped $11,500. But currently, residents can deduct the cost every year on our federal returns (i.e., not pay taxes on our taxes). Not if this plan is passed. The result will be an unfathomable  burden for middle class families.  New Jersey already has the highest foreclosure rate in the country, but  rather than offer relief, Congress would burden most of us further while offering tax cuts to huge corporations and the wealthiest sliver of Americans.

Then there’s the border adjustment tax, a  tax on imported goods that will wind up being paid by shoppers.  The National Retail Federation estimates a 15  percent increase in the price of clothing and shoes. This could mean the end for many troubled retail chains like Macy’s. Prices for electronics and home goods would likely rise. Hard to see how that will be good for American pocketbooks and the consumers who drive our economy.

 Consider the Source

Frelinghuysen cites the “nonpartisan Tax Foundation” as his source for evidence that the tax plan “...will, jump-start our economy.” In his E-Newsletter, he trotted out these statistics on the plan’s benefits:

• 1.7 million new full-time jobs.
• Household incomes increase by 8.7% after taxes.
• Families could save  $4,917 more of their income each year.
• Raising economy from 31st to 3rd in competitiveness among OECD nations

Following the link to the cited article reveals detailed informatoin on only the fourth item, competitiveness; the other points are not mentioned at all. Possibly the Congressman’s office meant to link to two other articles on the site that seem to be the actual source of the numbers (here is the first and second).

Calling the President’s one-page proposal a “blueprint,” the Foundation finds that the jobs and economic benefits are dependent on a prediction of economic growth that can only be described as voodoo: a $2.4 trillion deficit the first year would be nearly erased by the dream growth.  Analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center views this “blueprint” differently, "While the White House insists that its plan would effectively pay for itself by boosting economic growth to three percent, no tax cut has ever been self-financing.” Former CBO director Doug Holtz-Eakin goes further, calling the self-funding tax cut claim by the White House “detached from empirical reality.”

Frelinghuysen fails to mention the potentially massive budget hole these tax cuts would create, up to 5.5 trillion dollars over 10 years, with nearly all benefits going to the wealthy and corporations. The brief Tax Foundation article gives a “tell” towards this higher purpose, specifically noting that “after-tax income for the top one percent” will be 5.3 percent higher.  Good news for the Ryans and the Frelinghuysens and not surprising. The head of the Tax Foundation is Scott Hodge, who used to work at the conservative Heritage Foundation. The Tax Foundation received significant funding from the Koch Brothers. Trump would also likely be a major beneficiary of such changes.  Have we seen his tax returns?

 Cook Takes A Look, Downgrades Rodney’s NJ-11 Forecast

Last week, the influential Cook Political Report shifted Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s seat from the “likely Republican” to the “lean Republican” category, signifying a view that NJ-11 is now competitive.

 “It would have been unthinkable several years ago,” Cook’s David Wasserman told reporter Jonathan Salant.  Wasserman cited a combination of factors for the shift, including the incumbent’s continuing loyalty to Donald Trump’s key policies, and a recent outpouring of criticism over Frelinghuysen’s identifying a member of NJ 11th For Change to her employer.

Spokesmen for both major parties naturally read these tea leaves differently. “Frelinghuysen is ripe for replacement,” declared Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Evan Lukaske. But the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Chris Martin disagreed:  “Congressman Frelinghuysen has a long, proven record of getting results for the 11th district.”

The Cook Political Report was founded in 1984 as an independent, nonpartisan newsletter (since 2004, it’s been online). The Report analyzes races for the House, the Senate, governors and president. Cook rates how strongly a district leans Republican or Democratic compared to the nation as a whole. Updated weekly, congressional races are rated on a seven-point scale (Solid Democratic, Likely Democratic, Lean Democratic, Toss Up, Lean Republican, Likely Republican, Solid Republican).

 Protecting Officers, Endangering Citizens

In his E-Newsletter last week, Rep. Frelinghuysen touted his support for legislation that would “improve the breakdown in trust between police and...communities” and provide officers added resources to “protect themselves.’’

The false-narrative that the police have been under attack since Obama’s presidency is belied by the statistics.  During the Obama administration, intentional attacks on police decreased nationally. Shootings were slightly up in 2016, but police deaths have decreased by approximately 50 percent since their height in the 1970s (from 280 to 143).

Some measures approved by Frelinghuysen are useful regulations with bipartisan support. Others are more controversial, potentially granting law enforcement increased authority at the expense of civil liberties and increasing distrust between law enforcement and the people they serve, communities of color most specifically. Such legislation contributes to the problem of mass incarceration at a time when there is consensus for criminal justice reform. In contrast to the  bills Frelinghuysen supported, experts instead recommend diversifying police forces, requiring implicit-bias training, and reducing aggression through de-escalation to help police-community relations.

Here’s a breakdown of the more controversial bills:

  • H.R. 1428 – American Law Enforcement Heroes Act: This bipartisan bill requires that veterans be given priority in hiring to maintain federal funds for training officers. Critics say that it perpetuates the militarization of police departments and note that such hiring policies have benefited whites disproportionately.
  • H.R. 115 - The Thin Blue Line Act: The bill makes killing or targeting law enforcement, firefighters, or first-responders an aggravating factor in determining whether a death sentence is justified. Critics argued that current law already takes these factors into account, and the legislation could strain relationships between law enforcement and communities of color. Thirty-nine civil rights organizations came out against the bill, noting the racially disproportionate impact of the death penalty on people of color.
  • H.R. 1039 - Probation Officers Protection Act: This bill allows probation officers to arrest non-probationers (that is, anyone) without a warrant if there’s probable cause that the person has assaulted, resisted, opposed, impeded, intimidated, or interfered with a probation officer, despite statistics that uncooperative third parties are involved in only 2 percent of cases. The bill gives over-broad powers of arrest to probation officers who receive only six weeks of training.  Flagging serious Fourth Amendment questions (protection against unreasonable search and seizures), critics say the bill could also lead to an increase in warrantless searches of the homes of third parties which could impede successful reentry by deterring family members from hosting their loved ones who are released from prison.  Forty-four civil rights groups opposed the legislation.  

 Obstruction of justice, and not a word from Rodney

The past two weeks have arguably been the worst in the Trump administration so far. The president is facing accusations of obstruction of justice for reportedly meddling in the FBI’s investigations of Michael Flynn and the Trump campaign. But our democracy relies on a system of checks and balances, and without Congressional action the president is unlikely to be held accountable to any significant degree.

What to know about special counsels and select committees

On Wednesday, May 17, deputy Attorney General Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigations into the ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, a move praised by Frelinghuysen in his recent newsletter.   While “special counsel”, “special prosecutor” and “independent counsel” may be used interchangeably, they can function very differently according to who appoints them, what branch of government oversees them and the limits of their jurisdiction. In contrast,a select committee, has a much wider purview but lacks the prosecutorial powers of a counsel.

Special Counsel Mueller is authorized to continue and direct the FBI’s continuing investigation, as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”  According to the Code of Federal Regulations, title 28, chapter VI, section 600.4, a Special Counsel may expand their jurisdiction as they see fit in consultation with the Attorney General, or in this case the Deputy Attorney General since Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia probe. The scope of the Special Counsel is restricted to criminal and illegal activities so cannot explore those that are merely unethical.  Moreover, if Mueller does not ultimately bring charges against the Trump campaign or any individuals, the findings of the investigation may never be available to the public leaving countless questions unanswered.

The Special Counsel is ultimately within the executive branch and as such, the president can command Deputy AG Rosenstein to fire Mueller or be fired himself instead. This was the case in the “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1973 when AG Richardson and Deputy AG Ruckelshaus resigned rather than fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox as per President Nixon’s instructions.

While the appointment of a special counsel is a step in the right direction,  it is not enough to assure that the American public will ever know the truth about Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election or the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Vladimir Putin. Action must be taken.  If the charges are true, then our democracy is under attack.  We demand Representative Frelinghuysen, who, aside from praising the recusal of Sessions,  has been shamefully silent on these issues, join his fellow Members of Congress in calling for a select committee to work concurrently with the Robert Mueller investigation.  Americans deserve the full truth, and for that, a select committee is absolutely vital.

— By Lynn Halsey, Jane J. Hunsecker, Elizabeth Juviler, Liz Lynch, Naomi Rand, Karen Rose, Adam Tucker and Mara Novak