Labor: Lobbyists, Lawyers, Liars, What Did You Expect?

Amidst the flurry of appointments, bombastic bulletins, mendacity, and over-hyped housekeeping that has marked the incoming Trump Administration is the question of policy, its implementation and those who will implement it. The popular criticism of Donald J. Trump, the man who will be the 45th president of the United States, is that he has no positions, no ideology, no logical internal consistence.

Like many popular criticisms this is a falsehood; the most comprehensive statement of the man’s ideology is his 2011 book Time to Get Tough. Crippled America, with that glowering, not “nice”cover is too filled with the superfluous self-absorbed asides of Donald Trump to paint a clear picture of the new president’s values. It’s a campaign book, and reads like one. Time to Get Tough suffers from none of these defects: issues are treated at the length they usually are in conservative popular tracts, legislation is recommended, and Trump postures as a Neo-Reagan whenever he, with a rabbinical lilt, asks “Mr. President” if he’s satisfied with himself.

Neo-Reagan is where Donald Trump would like the “neo” comparisons to end, though the temptation is always great to add a certain sinister suffix to that stem. He is not a neo-conservative (though his Departments are stacked with them), and he is not a neo-liberal; he feels no need for the faux-probity and measured countenance that afflicts those two similar breeds of politician.

Donald Trump is instead a creature familiar to America. He is not a break from the norm, and the rumors of his erraticity are greatly exaggerated. He is an American Conservative.

Dianna Furchtgott-Roth, who is a member of Trump’s Labor Department Landing Team wrote this the day after the election: “Many people say Donald Trump is a different kind of Republican. Yes, he is unusual in that he isn’t a politician by trade and eschews politicians’ doublespeak. But most of his political positions are right down the traditional Republican line.”

She’s right, and she would know.

“Bush Has Been So Bad, Maybe the Worst President in the History of this Country”

Those were Donald Trump’s words in the aftermath of Obama’s election in 2008. His spat with Jeb Bush and supposed repudiation of the Bush legacy on the Iraq War was a through-line for the 2016 election, and allowed him to position himself against the neoconservative foreign policy defended casually by Hillary Clinton.

The public presentation of his domestic policy hits more familiar marks.

Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers, likened Andy Puzder’s selection as incoming Labor Secretary to putting a fox in a chicken coop. Those foxes have already multiplied, and come from all quarters but a single direction. That direction is the Bush Administration, the supposed enemy of Trump.

The first pair of foxes are a dynamic duo from Americans for Limited Government, a conservative organization with the motto “Rolling Back Government on Every Front.” Nathan Mehrens and Richard Manning are two members of the transition landing team preparing to bulldoze the Labor Department. Manning is the President of Americans for Limited Government, and Mehrens the General Counsel and President of Americans for Limited Government Foundation. The two men write at the organ of the their organization, NetRightDaily, as well as publishing op-eds in places like The Hill and Investor’s Business Daily. Mehrens and Manning were also both former members of the Bush Labor department, and much of what they write concerns the department, disagreement about regulations, and distrust of unions in government.

Nathan Mehrens

A couple of weeks after the election of Donald Trump, Mehrens wrote an article about a tranche of regulations that should be repealed immediately. He calls the regulations “impos[itions] on business,” language he uses often. He called an OHSA questionnaire “ludicrous” and claimed it contained “exactly zero questions dealing with matters of health and safety.” Section IV of the questionnaire is titled Corporate control over safety and health policies and practices at the franchise, and includes some of the following questions:

“Does corporate provide franchisee with any type of safety program…

Does corporate set any standards for safety training…

Does Corporate provide any instruction to franchisee about keeping injury and illness data…”

Change his sentence to “exactly zero questions dealing with matters of health and safety [appear on the first page and a half]” and his statement becomes remarkably accurate; the real value of it though is its uncovering (buried shallow) of his boilerplate conservative position against regulation for business (which is tediously but effectively referred to as “employers” throughout nearly everything written by everyone referred to in this article). This aversion to regulation does not extend to the monitoring and increased oversight of any and all union and unionization activity.

Mehrens reveals his labor position most succinctly in an article dealing with the coming Labor defeat in the Supreme Court on the “agency shop agreement.” With Donald Trump tasked with appointing the next Supreme Court Justice, who will break the 4-4 stalemate, that case is guaranteed to go against unions. He disputes the idea that public sector unions can provide employees with any services that are not inherently ideological.

“Since all bargaining with a public sector employer (bargaining with you and me as the taxpayers)” he writes, “is essentially a political act attempting to achieve a desired result from the government, it stands to reason that no public sector employee should be forced to pay any agency fees at all.”

Mehrens has worked as head of the organization since 2013. He’s spent much of his career at various political advocacy agencies, including one called Stop Union Political Abuse. His time there was spent first as Director of Research, where he described his role as “Manag[ing]Congressional lobbying efforts and lead[ing] programs to influence federal agencies.”

Mehrens has also written that the National Labor Relations Board should have its authority “pared back,” something that would be under the purview of Congress. Requests for comment from Mehrens (and everyone else mentioned in this article) were not answered, but according to the Labor Department the landing teams have been busy meeting with officials in the department since before Thanksgiving.

Mehrens’ work has been defined by anti-union activity, backed by an assumption of implicit malfeasance in the activities of the organizations. In his work at SUPA the organization disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Congress members and a federal bureaucracy it sought to bend to its anti-regulatory agenda. Money was given to people like Representative Tom Feeney, who from 2006-2008 made the Center for Responsibility and Ethics’ “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress” report.

In his time at the Bush Labor Department under Elaine Chao, Trump’s incoming Transportation Secretary, Mehrens’ worked on drafting regulations to beef up the Office of Labor-Management Standards, whose function is to provide oversight and regulation of labor unions.

Rick Manning

Rick Manning worked in the same Labor Department as Nathan Mehrens, where he served as the chief of staff for the Office of Public Affairs, the public relations wing of the Department. He included within his expertise labor union oversight, Mehrens’ field of expertise. Manning also has a history of work in conservative political organizations. In 1999 He worked as coalitions and outreach coordinator for the campaign of J.C. Watts, who as a representative from Oklahoma stuck closely to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America agenda. Gingrich (who wrote a letter to the New York Times praising Andy Puzder as Labor Secretary pick) is one of many Vice Chairs on the Transition Executive Committee, and has written (in his 2008 book Real Change) about increasing funding to the Office of Labor-Management Standards, an office both Mehrens and Manning have experience with.

Manning wrote an article for The Hill in October titled ‘Sorry, Allstate CEO: Profit is the Only Responsibility of a Corporation’ taking to task Tom Wilson for suggesting that corporations should look at other aspects of business practices outside the maximization of profit. In it he also bashed pension funds that take into account social and environmental concerns, calling such activity “play[ing] social do-gooder.”

Americans for Limited Government

Both Nathan Mehrens and Rick Manning are the only paid employees of Americans for Limited Government Research Foundation Inc. and Americans for Limited Government Inc. Nathan Mehrens, whose services to the transition have been offered on a volunteer basis, was paid $104, 015 in 2014, the last year records are available, while Rick Manning, who is also volunteering for the transition, received $18,000. Compensation throughout the years reviewed in IRS 990 filings are inconsistent, with salaries varying in some years from $0 to $100,000 and slightly above.

Over the past five years the Americans for Limited Government Foundation took in support totaling $5.8 million.

The organization maintains two websites monitoring large unions, UFCW Monitor and SEIU Monitor. Mehrens and Manning will now direct hiring of the federal employees that will likely regulate and provide oversight for the unions they so clearly dislike, from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union, both among the top five largest unions in the United States, to smaller organizing movements trying to get off the ground.

Dina Furchtgott-Roth

The Trump Labor Department’s landing team is stacked with ex-Bush officials, some of whom served as far back the administration of Bush I. Diana Furchgott-Roth took her first turn under a Bush from 1991-1993, when she was the deputy executive director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and the associate director of the Office of Policy Planning. She came to H.W. from the Reagan administration, where Bush had been a powerful Vice President through both terms, and where from 1986-1987 she was an economist on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors.

Under the second Bush she returned to her Reagan Administration role from 2001-2002 before becoming the chief economist of the Chao Labor Department from 2003-2005.

Since then she’s been a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, housed on Vanderbilt Avenue just blocks away from J.P. Morgan’s constellation of buildings over on Madison. Furchtgott-Roth has argued against raising the minimum wage in articles for the institute. In a video published the day after the election her colleague Oren Cass, another Senior Fellow at the Institute (where there are a preponderance of Senior Fellows, many quite senior fellows), proposes wage subsidies as an alternative, which has the government rather than businesses cover small rises in wages.

F. Vincent Vernuccio III

Vernuccio was once called a “top union watchdog” by Fox Business’ Stuart Varney. Like Nathan Mehrens and Rick Manning, Vernuccio has a rich history of loudly calling for less regulation on businesses and more oversight of labor unions. Vernuccio is another member of the Chao/Bush entourage. He was special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Administration & Management in the last year of Bush’s second term. There he worked administering the Labor-Management Reporting & Disclosure Act, which was passed in 1959 ostensibly to crack down on undemocratic and corrupt union behavior. The law regulates to a degree the internal workings of unions, as well as mandating reporting by union officials of potential financial interest in spheres their work might bring them into.

After government Vernuccio spent nearly four years as a labor consultant before he hooked up with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another free enterprising policy shop which does not publish its donor list but is tightly intertwined with big business (Myron Ebell, a climate change denier who ran the Trump EPA transition team that produced future EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, is a longtime CEI member). Vernuccio spent two years at the Institute as Labor Policy Counsel, writing articles denouncing “Big Union” before heading on to righter pastures at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. There, as Director of Labor Policy, he’s consistently made the case for “Right to Work,” a setup endorsed roundly by the Republican National Platform and explicitly by Donald Trump, who said in February “I like right-to-work better.”

Eric Dreiband

Dreiband works at the massive law firm Jones Day, which according to Above the Law employs over two and a half thousand lawyers and pulled in revenues of $1.9 billion during the last reporting period. Eric Dreiband was Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division from 2002-2003, where he worked on the regulation that raised the salary limit for overtime workers. Trump’s new Labor Department will work on getting rid of the Obama Labor Department’s rule that raised the limit again, to make employees earning under $47,476 eligible for overtime. Dreiband’s expertise in the Wages and Hour Division, the office in the Labor Department that manages regulation governing overtime, will position him well to pick employees and draft clarifying documents on the extent of the change. Dreiband is, like many on the landing team, an opponent to secret-ballot union elections.

He will also be spearheading the transition over at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was General Counsel from 2003-2005.

Mark Cowan

Before Mark Cowan served in the White House he was an operations officer and country desk chief for the CIA, and then from 1973-1979 the Assistant Legislative Counsel to the Director of the CIA. He served under three in that time; William Colby, George H.W. Bush, and Stansfield Turner. That wasn’t the last Cowan saw of Bush. Cowan served as a presidential appointee under three administrations, through which one similarity ran: Bush. Under Reagan’s presidency with the powerful H.W. as Vice President Cowan was at the labor department, first as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, then Chief of Staff & counselor to the Secretary of Labor. Then under H.W. Cowan was the Commissioner of the National Commision on Employment Policy. After a break in the Bush run, Cowan came back for a tenure on George W. Bush’s Council on the 21st Century Workforce, established by an Executive Order and replacing Bill Clinton’s Commission on Workers, Communities, and Economic Change in the New Economy. Clinton’s council head was chosen by the president from the members of the commission (who he appointed), while Bush’s was de facto the Secretary of Labor. Clinton’s commission was to be made up of, among other groups, individuals who represent labor organizations, while Bush’s only demanded “individuals who represent the views of…labor organizations.”

Cowan parlayed his government career into private lobbying, spending 12 years as a partner at the high powered Patton & Boggs law firm (since merged with Squire to become Squire Patton Boggs), which made $42 million in 2012. He now works with The Spectrum Group, a vague, massive consulting group which is working closely with the transition. In 2013 the company made just north of $7 billion. Cowan found time to found his own firm as well, Cowan Strategies. With many of these companies it’s difficult to pinpoint what it is they say they do, but Cowan Strategies lays it all out on the table:

“We are able to effectively impact federal policy development, shape the perceptions of decision makers and facilitate investment opportunities in Washington and in capitals around the world. Cowan Strategies’ network includes former senior Congressional staff, Administration officials, retired military officers, intelligence professionals, scientific experts, C-level business executives, public relations specialists, and others who possess extensive legislative, regulatory, political and subject-matter expertise to ensure that our clients and their interests are addressed in an efficient and effective manner.”

The company’s slogan is “The Intersection of Global Business and Government.”

In April Donald Trump gave a speech warning against the “false song of globalism.” Mark Cowan is one of its singers.

Loren Smith

Smith’s time as special assistant in the Chao Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs overlapped with Rick Manning’s. Before his tenure there he worked in public affairs at the Office of Special Counsel, and as legislative assistant to Representative Vito Fossella of New York. Since 2009 he’s been at Capital Alpha Partners, LLC, which describes itself as “an independent research boutique, specializing in the investment implications of government actions.” To that end, it caters to “the institutional investor community,” drawing analysts from Wall Street and policy backgrounds. Capital Alpha Partners itself came out of Prudential Equity Group’s Washington Research Team. Smith’s areas of expertise at the firm include Labor and Industrials coverage, which the company announced he would halt his coverage on during his time on the transition.

Some of his other areas of expertise are transportation and infrastructure, which he has not indicated he will stop covering. Like all the other members of the landing team, he is working on a voluntary basis. This volunteering extends to heading the transition in the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Board, the National Mediation Board and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Mark Zelden

Zelden is ostensibly more in the private sector than any of his landing team companions. After directing Louisiana US Senator Bill Cassidy’s Southwest Regional office for a year, he moved to CRC Global Solutions, where he is an executive and claims a specialization in importing and exporting to European markets, “primarily from the Port of New Orleans.”

He is also a longtime lobbyist. Before his two latest jobs he spent time at a string of lobbying firms including two he founded. In 2009 Bell, Heroux & Zelden earned $325,000 and from 2008 to 2014 pulled in a total of $1,275,000. From 2001 to 2005 Zelden Consulting Group earned $400,000.

Andy Puzder

The incoming Labor Secretary was praised by the Wall Street Journal editorial board when Donald Trump picked him, and identified Puzder’s chief challenge as “flipping an entrenched bureaucracy.” Flipping is a good word for what will likely be the path, from the bureaucracy staffed by Obama appointees and hires back to the one Elaine Chao and George W. Bush oversaw.

Puzder is a committed free market ideologue. In 2010 him and David Newton wrote “Job Creation: How It Really Works and Why Government Doesn’t Understand It,” a book ProPublica described as a “deregulatory manifesto.” Puzder’s co-author, reported ProPublica, opposes raising the minimum wage and supports “right-to-work.”

In an email back in November Newton was “really looking forward to Trump’s economic and tax plans to get America back to 4.5%-to-5.5% GDP growth with ‘true’ U6 unemployment at/under 5% and robust new job creation with limited govt spending/deficits.”

Puzder has laid out arguments in the Wall Street Journal detailing consequences he sees setting a minimum wage will have, particularly in restaurants like those owned by the company he is chief executive of, CKE Restaurants, as well as testifying in front of the Republican chaired Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to detail flaws in the Affordable Care Act. With the prospect of fiery hearings expected on such nominees as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff sessions, and perhaps Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, one might think that certain nominees, and Puzder himself could be blocked (they won’t be). But Puzder has faced subdued scrutiny after a flurry of media attention and perfunctory press releases following the announcement of his nomination; there is little opposition to him in the HELP committee and that which does exist is made irrelevant by the simple majority Republicans hold in that chamber. And Puzder comes from the same ideological lineage as those Republicans; were he not confirmed the bureaucracy installed by the landing teams would remain, and any alternative to him could hardly be any different.

-By Marlon J. Ettinger


The Empowerment Of Puzder Means the Empowerment of Senate Republicans

Like EPA administrator pick Scott Pruitt’s relationship with Senate Environment & Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, Donald Trump has chosen for his Labor Secretary another man who hails from the same state as the Senator tasked with overseeing the agency he will helm.

Andy Puzder, who was officially announced as the proposed nominee for Secretary of the Department of Labor last week, will work closely with his fellow Tennessean Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. In a statement released by Alexander on December 8th, the Senator called Puzder a “respected Tennessee business leader,” a phrase he repeated after meeting with the proposed Labor nominee on Monday.

Alexander’s December 8th statement also notes that CKE Restaurants, the company Puzder is the Chief Executive of, is moving its headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee. Tennessee is one of nine states that do not have a federal income tax.

Opposition to federal income tax, and many types of government regulation, is a hallmark of Puzder’s more than business-friendly philosophy. Near the beginning of the 2015 session, he testified in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at a hearing examining a bill called the Forty Hours is Full Time Act. That bill was reported to the Senate Finance committee, but no report was issued or additional act taken.

Puzder’s testimony came shortly after the grace period for the employer mandate on companies with over 100 employees had expired, and a year before it would come into effect for those with 50-99 employees. The bill would have redefined “full-time” work under the Affordable Care Act as 40 hours or more, where the ACA had defined “full-time” as only thirty hours or more.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) encapsulated the criticisms of most of the Democrats by calling that redefinition an example of big corporations asking for corporate welfare and by citing Congressional Budget Office figures which asserted the change in eligibility would cause at least 500,000 and up to 1 million people to lose their coverage, as well as shifting health-care funding from business to government to the tune of $53 million.

Puzder disputed that criticism, repeating multiple times “it’s not about corporate welfare” and asking of the CBO “[when] have they ever estimated anything that’s accurate?”

I’m telling you what’s happening in the world, in the business world,” he said. In response to a question from Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), who in calling for a universal system asked the assembled witnesses whether they prefer as businesses not to have to be involved in health care at all, Puzder told the hearing “you’re not helping. I know you think you are, I know you want to, I know the intent was there.”

Puzder’s relationship with the Republican controlled Senate committee will serve him well as he advances his anti-regulation agenda. And while Senator Sanders may use his enhanced national role to highlight some of the policy moving through the committee the bare majority will ultimately carry the day, with the Republican membership ideologically congruent with the National Platform on Labor. That will mean a committee committed to minimum wage as a state or local decision, a push of unions out of exclusivity on government projects (something the platform describes as “a form of peonage to the NLRB) and the advancement of so-called “Right-to-Work” laws.

The Platform asserts too that “both the Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board have scrapped decades of labor law to implement the agenda of big labor.” Through close collaboration between HELP and a Labor Department helmed by corporate free-marketeers like Andy Puzder, the agenda of the Republican National Platform will be implemented aggressively in an effort to scrap the past eight years of Obama administration policy.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

New EPA Administrator Has Close Ties to Senate Environment Leadership

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, is a familiar face around the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. He testified in a subcommittee hearing as recently as last year examining the legal impact of the Clean Power Plan, regulation issued by the EPA requiring states to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 30% by 2030.

Mr. Pruitt, who prior to his new EPA role was Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, has been involved in efforts to combat both the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which he argues overreaches the agency’s Clean Air Act enforcement authority, and the Waters of the U.S. rule, which he characterized as an attack on private property rights.

In his May 5th, 2015 testimony, Mr. Pruitt laid out his line of thinking, claiming that “the EPA does not possess the authority under the Clean Air Act to do what it is seeking to accomplish in the so-called Clean Power Plan.”

In glowing testimonials triumphantly issued by the Transition’s Public Relations department he was praised by a variety of figures for these actions.

Included was a statement from the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, and fellow Oklahoman, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) who called Mr Pruitt “a leader and a partner on environmental issues for many years,” as well as commen him for fighting “back against unconstitutional and overzealous environmental regulations like Waters of the U.S. and the Clean Power Plan.”  The two also coauthored an opinion piece published in the Tulsa World in 2015 outlining their joint efforts to oppose the Clean Power Plan at the state and federal levels.

In a February 2015 Joint Hearing with the House Transportation Committee examining the Waters of the USA Act, Mr. Inhofe called Pruitt a “best friend” while introducing him. Pruitt then testified that the implementation of the act would “strike a blow to private property rights” and called the rule a “naked power grab by the EPA.”

Pruitt repeats often that Washington views states as “vessels of federal will,” a stance he’s firmly against. Part of the thrust of his argument against the EPA using its authority to regulate water and air quality is his interpretation of EPA legislation giving states the power to create their own plans for oversight. However, the EPA is empowered to step in and regulate if states present plans the agency finds insufficient, and to enforce in the absence of state-level efforts to do so.

The agency under Pruitt will likely step back from these powers and adopt a policy of non-intervention, leaving states free to adopt diluted plans, especially concerning CO2 emissions; it’s not likely the EPA will take a robust enforcement role. Coupled with Senator Inhofe keeping his chairmanship of the committee, and continued Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the Trump Administration’s environmental policy will hew closely to the efforts put forward by Senate Republicans during the Obama years, but now with the explicit endorsement of the agency that had previously been their greatest enemy.

by Marlon J. Ettinger


Cornyn Disputes Dysfunction

The Chief Majority Whip, John Cornyn, R-TX, challenged the idea that the Senate fails to get things done today.

He held up the 240 bills acted on by the Senate, 140 of which were signed into law. He compared this to the 15 passed while Harry Reid, D-NV, the current Minority Party leader, was the Majority party leader and the Democrats had control of Congress.

Mr. Cornyn went on to blame Democratic Party obstruction for any gridlock in the chamber.

“It’s because of their inaction,” he said, “they’re the ones who have blocked the appropriations process.”

Lamar Alexander, R-TN, backed up Mr. Cornyn while praising some of his Democratic colleagues for their willingness to work with Senate Republicans. He said it was important to recognize contributions from across the aisle, and give credit where credit is due.

Mr. Alexander also called the most recent Congress a productive one, and mentioned newspaper reports calling it one of the most productive since the 1990s.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Party Leaders Give Accusatory Introductory Remarks After 7 Week Recess

The Republican and Democratic party leaders gave critical speeches of their rivals across the aisle this afternoon, in their first day back since the summer recess began in July. The two politicians painted pictures of discord caused by the other side around the flashpoints of Zika funding, which will come to a vote today, defense funding, and partisan intransigence.


The Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened by emphasizing how much needs to get done, and underlined the twin issues of Zika and National Security funding at the top of his list of priorities.

He criticized Democrats in the chamber for filibustering those appropriations. Mr. McConnell said that there is “no good explanation for blocking these important funding bills.”

He praised the work of the Centers for Disease Control and reported that they had informed him of reduced Zika transmission in areas sprayed to exterminate mosquitoes.

Mr. McConnell also noted what he called increased threats from North Korea, and continued attacks by the Islamic State worldwide.

“I hope our colleagues will join us now to end senseless filibusters,” he finished.


Harry Reid, the Democratic Minority leader, criticized the long summer break. He called the 7 week pause the longest he had seen in sixty years.

“The Senate has a mountain of work to do and no time to do it,” Mr. Reid charged.

He countered Mr. McConnell’s argument that the Democrats bear responsibility for blocking Zika funding.

“We offered compromise to Republicans but they said no to compromise,” he claimed.

He called Zika a growing threat and accused Senate Republicans of stalling while the virus spread, and recited the list of cases in US states and territories. 17,000 cases have been reported, 1,600 of which are pregnant women.

He charged that the Zika bill House Republicans sent back is impossible to pass because of sections in it Democrats find unacceptable. One such section are the cuts to the Veterans Administration, part of funding offsets demanded by the House.  A provision allowing the continued flying of the Confederate flag over military installations was called “unacceptable” by the minority leader.

Along with objections to the makeup of the funding bill, Mr. Reid also complained about reports that Republicans may seek to pass continuing resolutions to fund the government through the next year.

He called the use of a continuing resolution “a permission slip to Congress not to do its jobs next year.”

Mr. Reid cited the need for immediate action on campaign finance reform, college tuition reform, gun control actions, and the continued refusal of the Senate to hold meetings with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

“We have a logjam of important legislation that [the majority leader] created,” said Mr. Reid.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

GMO Legislation Passes Despite Day of Opposition

A Genetically Modified Organism(GMO) labeling amendment passed tonight by a 63-30 vote. The measure is viewed as a serious compromise, and faced sustained opposition on the floor today.

In response to states like Vermont beginning to label food made with GMO ingredients, the Senate proposed federal guidelines.

Critics like Jeff Merkley, D-OR, though, who championed an alternate version of the law that did come up for a vote, are calling the act the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK, Act.

Rather than requiring a label with a symbol or text identifying a product as containing GMO ingredients, the passed measure opts for a Quick Response(QR) code on packaging instead. These codes can be read by a smartphone or a reader installed in a store.

The assistant minority leader Dick Durbin, D-IL, speaking in opposition to this method, called it the “’secret decoder ring’ approach.”

“I really believe that it’s an attempt to obfuscate the subject,” Mr. Durbin went on, calling it impractical to expect people to scan every item while shopping to find out what is in them.

Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, had harsh words for the bill, arguing that it is not a viable alternative to the information provided by labeling that the measure in in his state mandates.

“This is not an effort to provide information,” he said, “this is an effort to deny information to customers.”

He further criticized it for lacking in enforcement mechanisms.

“This bill provides no federal penalties for violating [it]” Mr. Sanders said.

Mr. Merkley’s attempt to provide discussion and a vote on amendments by Senators Leahy, D-VT, Sasse, R-NE, Paul, R-KY, and Murkowski, R-K, including one of his own were blocked, forcing a late night vote that passed the bill.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

FBI Official Reports No Reduced Terror Capability, Wariness With Encryption, Utility of Cooperation with Muslim Community

A top FBI official, Michael Steinbach, the Executive Assistant Director of the Bureau’s National Security Branch, expressed today his agreement with recent testimony by Director James Comey that the Islamic State’s terror capabilities remain the same as they did in 2014.

Testifying at the Senate committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Mr. Steinbach maintained that the success of the US military in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State has not diminished the terror group’s ability to strike here.

Mr. Steinbach was following up on testimony in which he noted that “preventing terror attacks remains the FBI’s main priority.” He detailed the three main types of threats which the FBI sees. There are those enabled by the guidance of extremists, those directed explicitly by terror groups, and those inspired by the acts of terrorists.

Asked by the chairman of the subcommittee, Rob Portman, R-OH, if these “lone wolves” are the biggest threat, Mr. Steinbach replied simply “yes.”

Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, asked Mr. Steinbach whether it was his estimation that the FBI has the appropriate tools it needs online. She referenced a bill recently voted down in the Senate that would have given FBI field agents the ability to issue National Security Letters, and inquired whether or nor he thought they were needed.

“We need a robust set of tools,” he replied. “We need those tools in the online space.”

Mr. Steinbach also commented on the difficulty of discerning who is just passively consuming extremist content online and who might be disposed to acting on it.

Mrs. Ayotte asked him if the Orlando shooter was consuming that content, to which he replied characteristically, “yes.”

Earlier, Mr. Steinbach had identified the two challenges he says the FBI has to overcome. The first is volume; the sheer amount of data intercepted by the Bureau leaves identifying communications they find worrisome a difficult task.

The second is encryption.

“[Encrypted] apps make communications more secret than before,” explained Mr. Steinbach, and asked that the public keep open a conversation on the value of encryption versus the value of national security.

“We need to continue to have conversations on that,” he opined. “Without the ability to see those communications, we’re dark, we’re blind.”

Mr. Steinbach also cited the increasing alacrity of what he called the “flash to bang” of radicalization.

“Many of the cases [begin] with an online anonymous moniker…[and a] concerning trend is the speed to which they mobilize.”

While in the past he said it took months or years, it now often takes days or weeks.

Claire McCaskill, D-MI, asked the Executive Assistant Director what percentage of leads are generated from Muslim communities. While he said that the FBI does not categorize who tips, he noted that field officers do work closely with mosques, and added that there is “quite a bit of communication back and forth…at the foundational level.”

“I will say,” he went on, “we get a lot of information and assistance from those communities.”

Mrs. McCaskill followed up by asking if the Muslim community is helpful.

Mr. Stein praised religious communities in general, calling them “overwhelmingly…helpful,” and said there is not an adversarial relationship with the Muslim community.

“We couldn’t do our jobs without them.”

by Marlon J. Ettinger