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Missing In Action — Nebraska’s Congressional Delegation

The Republicans in Nebraska’s Congressional delegation were absolutely thrilled after Trump won his surprise (and tainted) victory in the electoral college last year. Representative Jeff Fortenberry said the election results made him “optimistic” and that Trump’s inaugural address “was a striking and direct call for a new healthy nationalism.” Deb Fischer was gushing in her praise for Trump: ““There’s been a shift in feeling in the state. People are hopeful again. Companies are making plans to expand and hire.” Don Bacon was also on the Trump Train expressing his hope that Trump would be good for farmers, ranchers, small businesses and community banks.

The reality of Trump’s first month in office has been completely different. He has spent most of his time tweeting, picking fights with the press, going on vacation at his estate in Florida and trying (without success) to implement his promised Muslim travel ban. At the same time, Trump’s approval ratings have plummeted to the high 30s in most polls. That is well below where Obama and even Bush stood around one month into their presidencies. Obama and Bush both enjoyed early approval ratings in the 60s and 70s.

Trump has made almost no progress on the legislative front. After five weeks in office, Trump has yet to introduce any legislation on health care, taxes or immigration. In comparison, by February 2009, President Obama had signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the Recovery Act. Bush introduced his regressive and budget busting tax cuts by February 15, 2001. The only bill that Trump has signed into law so far would allow oil companies to conceal any payments they made abroad. Can you feel the populism?

The legislative record of the Republicans in Congress is equally dismal. Thus far, the Republicans have passed legislation that would allow financial advisers to give you bad advice, allow the mentally ill to obtain guns and permit coal companies to dump pollution in streams. The Republicans in Congress even voted to add $9 trillion to the national debt and to return to the days of annual $1 trillion deficits. All five of Nebraska’s Congressional Republicans voted for these legislative items.

The repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was at the top of the GOP’s wish list after the election. The Republicans had high hopes of putting a repeal bill on Trump’s desk by January 20. However, the efforts to gut President Obama’s landmark health care act have been stalled by furious opposition inside and outside of Washington — and by divisions within the GOP itself.

Late last week, the health care plan being proposed by Speaker Ryan leaked out and the details caused a firestorm in Washington. The House GOP plan would: take away insurance from millions of Americans, give a big tax break to the top 1%, raise insurance premiums for older people, raise insurance premiums for low income people, raise premiums for women who might become pregnant, allow “free riders” in the health care system with no penalty, lower standards for required coverage, and cover pre-existing conditions through a very expensive “high risk pool.” The 40 members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus came out in opposition to Ryan’s plan and called it “Obama Care Lite.”

Despite these failures, the Congress began an undeserved vacation beginning on February 18. Usually, members of Congress hold town hall meeting when they are on recess but most Republican members of Congress chose not to. The few Republicans that held town hall meetings were greeted with angry crowds who demanded answers on the fate of the ACA. Millions of people (justifiably) fear losing their insurance coverage and the return of the hated pre-existing condition clauses.

Nebraska’s delegation took the cowardly way out and none of them held town hall meetings. Representative Fortenberry went on a junket to India financed by a special interest group. Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer appeared in front of friendly audiences at meetings of right wing special interest groups. Fischer’s appearance at a LIBA meeting in Lincoln attracted a large crowd of protesters and she sneaked out the back door of the building in order to avoid her constituents. Adrian Smith was nowhere to be found.

Endangered freshman Representative Don Bacon was very vocal about avoiding his constituents. Bacon foolishly insulted nearly half of the voters in CD02 when he said: ““It doesn’t make sense that you would allow the fringe to take over a town hall. It’s not fair to the people there, and it’s what they’re going to try to do. And I just don’t see putting myself in that situation or those who want to attend.”

Bacon’s cowardly and insulting refusal to meet his constituents constitutes a major violation of one his 2016 campaign promises. Last fall, Bacon (falsely) criticized Brad Ashford for not holding enough town hall meetings and promised: “But I think part of that is doing town halls. Getting out and hearing more people. Part of doing town halls and getting out throughout our community is hearing the voices of the people. So I commit that once elected that I will be doing town halls in every part of this district … north Omaha, South Omaha, the west, Valley, Waterloo, Gretna, Papillion, you name it. We’re going to be accessible and available. You shouldn’t be just in your office.”

The refusal of Bacon and the rest of the Nebraska Congressional delegation to hold town hall meetings was blasted by the Nebraska press. The Omaha World Herald correctly pointed out that Ben Nelson and Lee Terry held numerous town hall meetings during their tenure in Congress and were not afraid to stand up to sometimes angry constituents. As Lee Terry said: “I don’t know how you can represent people if you don’t know their concerns. Whether it was Tea Party or most liberal or everyone else in the middle, they were heard. It is tough to have angry people in your face. I never liked it. But being an elected representative means you suck it up and listen. It’s part of the job.”

The fact that Nebraska’s members of Congress are afraid to meet with us tells me that they know they have an indefensible record in Congress so far this year. In addition, it also means that our resistance is working and has been effective. The Republicans are unpopular and on the defensive. They are in political trouble and they know it.

We are off to a very encouraging start as the opposition. Nevertheless, we must take nothing for granted. We must continue to speak out, contact our members of Congress and attend demonstrations. We have it in our power to save the country from the destructive agenda of the radical right. Most importantly, we need to turn out to vote in 2017 and 2018 in mass numbers. We have important city elections in Omaha and Lincoln this year. Let’s win those elections and lay the foundation for a big victory in 2018!

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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