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Carl Pope: Another Tea Party Assault on Democracy

Politics

The House Freedom Caucus is correct in lamenting that the media have trivialized their true goals by focusing on the personality of the next Speaker of the House. They are wrong to believe that a focus on their deep agenda would help their cause—for that agenda is to restore minority, not democratic, control of the “People’s House.”

U.S. House of Representatives Chamber. Photo credit: Lawrence Jackson / Official White House Photo

The Tea Party wing of the House Republican party is seeking changes in the rules and procedures, changes designed to strip the Speaker of the ability to assemble a majority within the House and enable that majority to govern. They cloak their demands in the language of bottom-up democracy—let members offer whatever amendments they desire, let committees choose their own chairs, deny the Speaker the ability manage the flow of legislation on the House floor.

But their complaints about John Boehner’s leadership give away the game. Boehner, they claim, has betrayed conservatism by seeking legislative outcomes like lifting the debt ceiling or funding highways. These bills transparently enjoyed not only the support of a majority of the House, but a support of a majority of the Republican caucus. But to the Freedom Caucus these are treasonous compromises.

What the Freedom Caucus seeks is not more democracy, but a House in which a minority – actually 10 percent—of the House can shut down the government and destroy the full faith and credit of the U.S. government—unless in response to this blackmail wildly unpopular policies like defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing Affordable Health Care are part of the package.

The rule changes they seek in the House would make that body—the heart of the majoritarian, democratic experiment embodied in the Constitution—more like the Senate, always the House of the Elite. The ability of a Senate minority, even a single Senator, to say “No” has plagued the U.S. since it’s early days, bringing on the Civil War, empowering corporate rule in the Gilded Age, blocking ratification of the League of Nations, preventing action of civil rights for decades, and enabling Senate Republicans to block the legislative agendas of the last two Democratic Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, even in periods when Democrats nominally controlled both Houses of Congress.

Since 1999 , when Dennis Hastert became Speaker, the House Republican caucus has imposed a parliamentary politics on Madison’s anti-parliamentary Constitution. The “Hastert rule" enables the Republican caucus to impose its will by refusing to allow coalitions on specific issues to emerge between Democrats and Republicans. “No bill goes to the House floor without the support a majority of Republicans,” was the essence of the Hastert rule. Madison would have vomited—this kind of party discipline was precisely what he loathed about British parliamentary practice—a block of votes representing only slight more than a quarter of the public could rule.

But there was a Hastert corollary—once that majority of the Republican caucus chose a path, Republicans had to follow it. The Freedom Caucus wants the benefits of the Hastert Rule—no cross party coalitions—without its unavoidable costs—Republicans must practice party discipline.

The Freedom Caucus could win. There is ample precedent for minority control of the House. Indeed, the powerful Speakership which the Freedom Caucus wants to change originated only recently, in the 1970’s work of the Democratic Study Group (DSG), led by Minnesota progressive Don Fraser. The DSG challenged and eventually reformed a House which after WWI had become the captive of the seniority system. From 1918 until 1974, single party districts, mostly in the Democratic Solid South, controlled both committee chairmanships and the Rules Committee.

For decades Southern Democrats controlled the committee system based on seniority, thwarting Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s Fair Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Only in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal was the DSG able to obtain such fundamental reforms as roll-call votes and control of the flow of legislation to the House floor by the majority. The DSG reforms restored the ability of the House majority to legislate—by empowering the Speaker, the only House figure elected by all of the members. (Newt Gingrich pulled even more power into the Speaker’s office in 1995, so the current rules are the DSG reforms on steroids).

The democratizing DSG reforms, in turn, had earlier precedents—which sometimes required trimming, not enhancing the powers of an overweening Speaker. In 1910, 42 Progressive Republicans led by Nebraska Republican George Norris and frustrated by the refusal of Republican Speaker Joe Cannon to allow President Theodore Roosevelt’s agenda to be voted on, joined with the Democratic minority to strip Cannon of his powers and re-empower the full membership of the House. But only 15 years earlier Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed had been forced seize the authority to restore majority rule to the House by overturning a “disappearing quorum” practice, which, for a period, imposed Senate style filibusters on the House. So Cannon’s abuses were rooted in Reed’s reforms.

The Freedom Caucus thus appears to be following in the footsteps of progressive Republicans and Democrats. But not really. The fundamental question about the House Rules ought not to be, strong Speaker or weak Speaker—it should be, “Can the people’s House enact the laws that the American people support?” That’s the function of the Rules. The House is, and was, designed to be the quintessential majoritarian body in the U.S. government. Whether it is allowed to play that function is, and for most of our history has been, the hidden question behind most leadership battles in the House of Representatives. And here, it is clear, the Freedom Caucus is in favor of minority rule.

In an article in National Review, former Virginia Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli is refreshingly candid on this point. “The withholding of votes prior to obtaining conservative changes is virtually the only leverage conservatives have at this point, and so they must use it.” But, of course, if conservatives were the majority of the House, blackmail would not be their only leverage.

Now that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan have refused the poisoned chalice the Freedom Caucus offers—assume the Speakership to neuter it—what is the way forward?

Well, the Freedom Caucus could compromise and agree to allow a conservative candidate for Speaker (perhaps Ryan if he changes his mind) to take power without the changes they seek in the House Rules. This would probably yield a continuation of grid-lock, periodic flirtations with defaulting on the national debt or shutting down the government, and a continued decline in public disgust with a spineless Congress that allows itself to be black-mailed.

Or mainstream Republicans could embrace the Rule Reforms sought by the Tea Party, ensuring a full scale constitutional crisis between the House and the White House. Both of these outcomes seem likely to produce enormous political costs for the Republican party, endangering its hold on Congress and the chances of its 2016 Presidential nominee.

There is, however, a third option. Boehner has avoided long-term government shutdowns or default on the debt by breaching the Hastert rule, and governing with a combination of House Democratic votes and enough Republicans willing to risk a primary defeat to create a majority. Such a cross-party coalition is also what enabled Norris to break Joe Cannon’s power in 1910, and is not uncommon in closely divided state legislatures. It’s how Madison would want the problem resolved, which is why the Constitution requires a majority to elect a Speaker.

Of course, coalition governance would give back to the Democratic minority power, a lot of it, which the Hastert Rule and the Hastert Corollary stripped. That would be the final irony of the Tea Party assault on democratic, majoritarian governance of the House of Representatives. But it may be essential to save the country and the Constitution. Stay tuned.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

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Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

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Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal 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.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

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Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.