Rodney Report: Welcome to the Spin Cycle


Nothing like starting off the New Year with a large grain of salt, which is likely the best way to take Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s first 2018 newsletter.

First, he assures us he’s just as upset as we are that Donald Trump’s administration canned the Gateway Project so vital to our region’s commuter infrastructure. (He has even written a letter to the administration about it.) He then plunges into a laundry list of 2017 “achievements” by the GOP-led House of Representatives, which is pretty much a master class in spin cycling. Oh, and it carefully skirts mentioning the fallout from the GOP’s new, Trump-lauded tax code whose impact continues to look terrible for average taxpayers.

Looks like we’re in for a dizzyingly spinworthy year of newsletters, to judge by this edition. Here’s a quick sampling to give you an idea of what lies behind the pleasant phrases.

Funding the War Machine

Frelinghuysen lists among his biggest accomplishments the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act and the House's approval of his twelve appropriations bills, alleging that this legislation is necessary to ensure our national security.  Indeed, these bills increase defense spending by a whopping $70 billion.  It’s strange that amid all this concern for national security, Frelinghuysen remains quiet about Trump’s breathtakingly reckless twittering about nuclear buttons. He also fails to mention that the increase in defense spending comes at a steep cost to critical domestic programs, including cuts to the EPA, Pell Grants, the National Endowment for the Arts, and infrastructure programs.  The Trump-Frelinghuysen budget means more money for tanks and bombs and less money for clean water and education.

Such an increase in spending comes at a time when the President taunts other nations about nuclear war, and conducts overseas military operations under the supposed authority of a 16-year old Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).  A more effective way to protect our troops and ensure our national security would be to enact a more limited AUMF and limit the President’s ability to unilaterally decide to push the nuclear button.  Instead, Rodney’s answer is to fund the war machine while shunning Congress’ constitutional responsibility to provide a check on the presidential war power.

Pandering to Anti-Immigrant Bias

Touting his role in passing bills that “improve the lives of Americans everywhere,” Frelinghuysen again echoed Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, in language that seemed more aggressive than usual.

He chose conservative buzzwords like “dangerous criminal aliens” over alternatives such as unauthorized immigrants or undocumented immigrants charged with crimes --  accurate descriptions that don’t dehumanize or conjure images of ominous “others.’’

Frelinghuysen’s strident tone on immigration is especially troubling today, as the Trump Administration announced the end of temporary protection status for 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants, living and working legally in the U.S. under a humanitarian measure enacted after a pair of earthquakes devastated El Salvador in 2001. The Salvadorans join thousands of Haitians and Nicaraguans whose status was similarly revoked by the Trump White House, with speculation that Honduran refugees may be the next on the list.

During and after his presidential campaign, Trump has repeatedly, and often viciously,  portrayed crimes committed by immigrants —  particularly undocumented immigrants — as an epidemic victimizing American-born citizens. In language that mixes dog-whistle rhetoric with blatant racism, he has perpetuated falsehoods debunked by copious research. According to many studies, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens born in the U.S., and undocumented immigrants are no more crime-prone than citizens.

Frelinghuysen is shamelessly trafficking in harmful stereotypes. Worse, he’s put our taxpayer dollars where his mouth is. Last year, Frelinghuysen granted nearly all of Trump’s anti-immigrant funding requests, including $185 million for additional U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol officers. He approved another $4.4 billion for detention and removal programs, including funding to expand by more than 4,600 the capacity of detention camps that house children and families. (The Senate’s version of the bill, released last November, rejected the extra detention beds and ICE agents, but kept much of the House’s measures intact.)

Trump’s harsh policies have done little to increase public safety. The 42-percent increase in ICE arrests between January and September 2017 included plenty of immigrants who weren’t charged with criminal activity--in many cases, long-time residents with families who had established footholds in their communities and endangered no one. According to a Human Rights Watch analysis, one in three ICE criminal arrests involved people who did nothing other than enter the country illegally.

Whose Protection Is It Anyway?

Frelinghuysen also sings the praises of a House bill he claims will curtail “rampant medical malpractice lawsuits.” That would be HR 1215, named in typical flim-flam fashion The Protecting Access To Care Act.

HR 1215 looks much more concerned with protecting providers of questionable care from lawsuits by the poor and/or elderly, according to an analysis from the New York Times, which wrote: “The bill would impose new limits on lawsuits involving care covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private health insurance subsidized by the Affordable Care Act.”

For these patients, it sets a $250,000 limit on “noneconomic damages,” such as compensation for pain and suffering. This applies to product liability claims, too. P.S. No exceptions for what is politely termed “egregious medical error” – for example, snipping off the wrong body part.

What Frelinghuysen wants us to think is a righteous, sweeping sword against counterproductive lawsuits is actually a laser pointer aimed mainly at the poor and the elderly. In other words, at the kind of patients less likely to afford fancy lawyers who can unspool expensive, lengthy litigation.

So much for that bit of spin-craft.

-- Liz Jarit, Jane J. Hunsecker, Liz Lynch