Nel's New Day

November 18, 2015

Ryan Abandons Promises, Moves Bill against Syrian Refugees

Filed under: Immigration — trp2011 @ 10:00 PM
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ryan

How long does it take for the new House Speaker to break his promises? It depends on how long Congress is in recess. In this case, Paul Ryan (R-WI) started his job by leading a fairly quiet session for the first week of November. Dana Milbank wrote, “It was nice while it lasted.” I’m now at the place where I appreciate recesses because the GOP seems to cause less damage when they wandering around trying to look important rather than making stupid decisions.

While campaigning for the job that Ryan said he didn’t want, Ryan promised “regular order”: the House of Representatives would operate by deliberation rather than fiat, and the House members could amend and shape legislation. Ryan said, “The committees should retake the lead in drafting all major legislation…. When we rush to pass bills, a lot of us do not understand we are not doing our job.”

After a week off, the members returned day before yesterday. Last night Ryan put a “rush job” onto a bill to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States.   At 10:15 pm, House leaders presented a brand new piece of legislation, written during the day, to rewrite mandates for the U.S. refugees from Syria and Iraq. No hearings, no expert testimony, no consultation with any agencies, no committee action, no amendments, nothing. The vote is planned for tomorrow.

In his first address as speaker, Ryan said:

“The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them. … We are supposed to study up and do the homework that [the people] cannot do. So when we do not follow regular order—when we rush to pass bills a lot of us do not understand– we are not doing our job. Only a fully functioning House can truly represent the people.”

H.R. 4038, the “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act” (SAFE Act because the GOP loves to give things the opposite name of what they mean) may make people feel “safe” because of new vetting requirements. Yet current rules demand an 18-to-24 month rigorous examination of refugees to certify that they are not security threats. Is the new one better? No one knows because there have been no hearings. The new bureaucracy of the proposed SAFE Act , however, shuts down the refugee program for years. This from the party that hates federal intervention.

President Obama has promised to veto the bill, which would first need to survive the Senate, so the GOP “emergency” is simply to get push more Republicans into getting elected in 2016. Ryan refused to allow a vote on an alternative Syrian refugee bill.

Today House and Senate negotiators gathered together to somewhat harmoniously blend their versions of a transportation bill. The bill had cleared the House by a large majority during Ryan’s first week when he permitted over 100 amendments. Actually compromising on bills with amendments and hard work is exhausting, which may be why Ryan made the Syrian refugee bill the 45th “closed rule” of the year, establishing a record for the number of bills on the House floor without the possibility of amendment.

Ryan is following the leadership style of former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who resigned as of Halloween. Boehner’s promises of “regular order” also began with allowing over 100 amendments on a bill before he broke this promise of “openness.” Ryan made promises to get his job—such as refusing to work with the president on immigration reform—but his only vision was what he wouldn’t do. On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Ryan what the one thing he could accomplish in six months. Ryan detoured the question by talking about working families falling behind and the disaster of “Obamacare.”

One thing Ryan did accomplish: he gets to go home every weekend to be with his family instead of doing the Speaker’s job of fundraising and campaigning for GOP congressional candidates. Family values are important to Ryan unless they include paid child care, sick leave, and maternity/paternity care for people in the United States, one of just three countries–out of 185—without guaranteed paid maternity leave. Amanda Marcotte wrote that Ryan “sees a family life as a privilege for the elite, instead of a right for all.” Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, who expressed herself as a feminist in her book Lean In, praised Ryan for his desire to parent. Only the wealthy deserve such advantages as family time, according to the powerful.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., arrives at a news conference following a House Republican meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Ryan told GOP lawmakers that he will run for speaker, but only if they embrace him by week's end as their consensus candidate, an ambitious bid to impose unity on a disordered and divided House. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Not every GOP House member was pleased with Ryan’s demands. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) compared Ryan to a maid applying for a job who says “I don’t clean windows, I don’t do floors, I don’t do beds, these are the hours I’ll work.”  For many years, the Speaker was a prestigious job; now it’s comparable to being a “maid.”

Before the faux crisis of the Syrian refugees, the House had passed another partial repeal of The Affordable Care Act, but the Senate has had to shelve it because he may not be able to get even 51 necessary signatures. Of the 54 GOP Senators, three of them may refuse to vote against it because the House bill defunds Planned Parenthood, and other object because it doesn’t repeal the entire law. Even the House members who voted in favor of the bill are having buyers’ remorse because it repeals only six of the 419 provisions—1.4 percent of the law.

Next year, Congress will have less time to mess up: they’ve assigned themselves a two-day work week with only 111 days in session. That’s over $1,500 a day for all those GOP legislators who think that $15 an hour is too much for hard work. The GOP must become the “proposition” party; it’s not enough to be an opposition party, said the new speaker. He’s found his vision and “proposition” in trying to keep all desperate Syrian refugees out of the United States. And he may get the bill passed in two days, leaving him another 109 days to save the United States.

Ryan called the attacks in Paris “an act of war” and said that the annual National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday requires the president to have a plan to defeat ISIS. The U.S. Constitution requires Congress to authorize the president to engage in war, something that this Congress has avoided for over a year. If the House can put together a bill to stop Syrian refugees from coming into the country in less than a week, they have time to work on a plan of “war.”

In the past, the Speaker of the House of Representatives sometimes served all the people in the United States, not the GOP. It’s time to return to that practice. Ryan is right: the House is broken. And with Ryan at the helm, it’s still broken.

August 31, 2013

A Look at Who Might Decide a War on Syria

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 1:24 PM
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Syria dominates the news after Secretary of State John Kerry gave an impassioned speech about the tragedy of at least 1,419 deaths from chemical warfare. Last week most people were opposed to involvement in Syria with 25 percent saying that they might change their minds if chemical weapons were used. Thus Kerry made the case yesterday that that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used these weapons, and President Obama is weighing “limited and narrow” action. Britain voted against military action so France has now become the United States’ BFF after they said they would strike. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a delay in any military action until inspectors present their findings.

Only the day before Kerry’s assurance, U.S. intelligence officers said that the picture is “not a slam dunk,” referring to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that intelligence about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk.” It was that “intelligence” that sent the United States into a disastrous and expensive war ten years ago, intelligence that as just plain wrong.

At least one-third of representatives in the House, led by Tea Party members, think that the president should consult with Congress before making any decision, possibly with the hope that they can vote down any military action. Today President Obama announced his decision to “seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.” In another world, this might make sense. Intellectually, this makes sense if we consider that these legislators are rational and thoughtful beings. Many of them aren’t.

The House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans whose only goal is to defeat every Democrat candidate by disagreeing with everything that the president recommends. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will shut down the government to get his own way in defunding Obamacare and cutting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. He said that his position “may be unfair” but he’ll do it anyway, holding the United States’ people hostage.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the House GOP’s budgetary chieftain, said that the GOP will only negotiate with Democrats over the budget if they can stop votes about the U.S. economy.When they aren’t threatening to shut down the government, the House GOP concentrates on blocking legislation, passing restrictions against women, and defunding Obamacare.

Impeaching the president is also on the GOP agenda. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) bragged about calling in lawyers to tell him how to impeach the president of the United States. In a sane world, he would need evidence, but GOP-land has its own rules. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) told people at a town hall meeting that the House would probably have enough votes to impeach but the Senate wouldn’t convict. He didn’t have any reasons either.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) was a little more careful; he told his constituents that the president was “perilously close” to the standard for impeachment. He also said, “Thank goodness it doesn’t have to happen in the Senate until they’ve brought charges in the House.” Once again, no evidence. The same with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who claimed that the only reason they couldn’t impeach the president is that Democrats control the Senate.

In addition to Cruz’s other insanities, he thinks that he can become president if he drops his Canadian citizenship. Although quiet during the entire “birther” kafuffle, he gets most of his support from Tea Party birthers. One of them has total faith that Cruz is a natural-born citizen because “as far as I am concerned, Canada is not foreign soil. That’s the way I look at it.” (It’s worth watching several times!)

Ten days ago after he failed to bring the IRS up on charges, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) promised to expand the probe of the four deaths at Benghazi. Yet when the U.S. government flew its personnel out of Yemen and the State Department urged all Americans in Yemen there to leave “immediately” because of an “extremely high” threat of a terrorist attack, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) described that people who left as “cowards that go running away.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) asserted that there is no such thing as white collar crime, because “for a criminal practice there has to be a gun.” (Maybe there’s no crime in Syria because they used chemical weapons?) Would he then think that there was no crime in Syria because chemical weapons may have been used?)
He asserted that bad financial decisions are the responsibility of the individual because that’s “the price we pay for the freedom to make all of the good decisions in our lives.”

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) has invited a clown to perform in his district–the same clown who gained notoriety by wearing an Obama mask and a broom sticking out of his baggy-pantsed rear. Stockman is also known for tweeting, “The best thing about the Earth is if you poke holes in it oil and gas come out.”

In GOP-land, legislators vote against anything that doesn’t benefit themselves. Arizona Republicans Sen. Jeff Flake, Sen. John McCain, and Rep. Paul Gosar all voted against emergency relief funding for SuperStorm Sandy victims, but after an Arizona wildfire, they complained that FEMA isn’t helping their state. The agency tried to explain that they had funded firefighters but couldn’t pay for uninsured private residences damaged in the fire. McCain said he’d call the president.

Along the same lines, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), whose family was on food stamps for two months, told an audience that huge proposed cuts to food aid would not impact anyone, that “not one person would lose a calorie or crumb that deserves it.” He thinks most Americans on food stamps actually deserve to starve although more than 50 million people in the United States don’t know where their next meals are coming from.

Those in GOP-land will make up any excuse to refuse immigration reform. After the president delayed one part of Obamacare because of administrative issues, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) said on the House floor that he wouldn’t vote for any part of the immigration plan. “One of the biggest fears we have about the Senate amnesty bill … is we can’t trust the president. We can’t trust him.”

McCain has wanted to support the Syrian rebels with “heavy weapons” for several months, despite the fact that ABC’s Martha Raddatz reminded him that some of the rebels are terrorists swearing allegiance to al Qaeda. “There aren’t that many” terrorists that he would provide with “heavy weapons,” McCain said. After a trip to Syria, a photo distributed to news organizations showed McCain with a group of rebels, two of them later identified as kidnappers of 11 Lebanese Shi’te pilgrims. On CNN, McCain told Anderson Cooper, “We can identify who these people are. We can help the right people.” It’s hard to tell who the “right people” are. 

Here’s a preview of debate about invading Syria. Two days ago, Gohmert insisted that Saddam Hussein “had weapons of mass destruction” and may have moved the stockpiles “over into Syria.” Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) supported Gohmert: even though Terry is opposed to military intervention in Syria, his “gut feeling” is that the Syrian government now possesses chemical weapons that came from fallen Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He added, “[W]e all we know that Iraq had … chemical and biological weapons and then they weren’t there.”

Once again! Iraq’s WMD stockpiles didn’t exist. They couldn’t have been moved to Syria because Iraq didn’t have any.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) worries that U.S. might be “used to kill Christians.” He also thinks that debate should “start with the Constitution,” despite the fact that this document never refers to Christians—or God or religion–except to declare that people can be free from it. About 10 percent of the Syrian population, many of them Palestinian refugees, identifies as Christian. Has a bomb been invented yet to identify religions?

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) hopes he has a compelling reason for staying out of Syria: the United States cannot afford it. “Our military has no money left,” the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee said in a statement three days ago. He cited the $500-billion cut over the next decade mandated by the sequester. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disagrees, having assured the president that they are ready to “strike whenever we choose,”

The body that should approve any action against Syria is the United Nations, according to former President Carter. “Punitive action” without a mandate from the U.N. Security Council or “broad support from NATO and the Arab League” would be “illegal under international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war,” Carter said.

We’ve regressed ten years—just with a different president. The disaster that started in Iraq ten years ago was all about oil—and this proposed war with Syria has the same motivation. That topic, however, probably won’t be mentioned in the debates.

May 10, 2012

House Republicans Waste Taxpayers’ Monday

The United States is poor, right? We want limited government instead of providing a safety net for the people who live in this nation, right? We’re badly in debt and need to cut back on the budget, right? That’s the view from the Republican side of Congress. So what are they doing?

This week the U.S. House of Representatives Defense Appropriations Subcommittee approved over $948 million in funding for Israel’s various anti-missile defense programs. That’s almost $1 billion. Over two-thirds of the money goes to the anti-missile initiative, Iron Dome, and the rest to the short-range David’s Sling ($149.7 million), and the current long-range Arrow anti-ballistic missile system and its successor the Arrow 3 ($119.3 million).  The $948 million is $169 million more than President Obama requested, an increase of almost 20 percent, and would bring military aid to Israel to over $4 billion.

Today 218 Republicans in the House voted to override steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget mandated by last summer’s debt deal, adding $72 billion to the Pentagon budget and covering that funding with massive spending reductions to food stamps and other social programs. The Republicans say that these cuts would reduce the deficit by $243 billion which shows how badly the safety net will be damaged.

In addition, the House Armed Services Committee voted for a $642 billion defense bill that calls for construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast at a cost of $5 billion, restores aircraft and ships slated for early retirement, and ignores the Pentagon’s cost-saving request for another round of domestic base closings. The committee rejected the Pentagon’s call to mothball 18 Air Force Global Hawk drones, and it restored four Navy cruisers slated for early retirement in next year’s budget.

Republicans insisted that the East Coast site is necessary in case Iran or North Korea develops an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of attacking the East Coast. Since the mid-1980s, the Pentagon has spent nearly $150 billion on missile defense programs (some people say $274 billion) and envisions another $44 billion over the next five years. The problem with all their work is that they have consistently failed in successfully creating any way to shoot down ballistic missiles.

Scientists had endeavored to equip a 747 with a powerful laser system that could knock ballistic threats out of the sky, but the Missile Defense Agency officially announced last February that it would abandon the study, citing scientists’ failure in trials to ever shoot down a missile. During testing of the laser technology in 2010, scientists failed to demonstrate that the defense system was effective at knocking out ballistic technologies. The failed testing also cost the federal government more than $100,000 per hour.  Just last month, the nation’s test of a new ballistic technology failed and crashed in the Sea of South Korea. No matter—lawmakers want to keep going because the government has already spent its billions of dollars on the program.

Republicans refused to permit Democrats to submit their alternative plan as an amendment. That proposal would have cut $24 billion in farm subsidies, saved $5 billion by reforming the National Flood Insurance Program reform, and raised $84 billion by imposing a “Buffet Rule” tax on the wealthy and increasing taxes on the five biggest oil and gas companies. Notice that just the last recommendation would more than cover the $72 billion Republicans want for the Pentagon, despite the constant conservative cry that the “Buffet Rule” tax is useless because it doesn’t raise any money.

Even the Pentagon knows that the House Republicans are wrong. Hours after the Armed Services Committee added money for the East Coast missile defense site and aircraft that the Pentagon didn’t propose, Leon Panetta told Congress that their actions were jeopardizing national security. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said that the committee’s addition of up to $5 billion for a new East Coast missile defense site is not needed.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the House budget would leave 1.8 million people without food stamps and take away money for vaccinations, prenatal care, and nursing homes for seniors. Hundreds of thousands of children would lose health insurance and school lunches.

President Obama’s budget plan includes job-creation initiatives for infrastructure, job-training, and innovation. The cost is offset by raising $1.5 trillion over 10 years from the wealthiest taxpayers and closing some corporate tax breaks, chiefly for oil and gas companies. He also proposed a higher tax on dividend income of the wealthiest taxpayers, which would raise about $206 billion over 10 years.

Last March, all except ten House Republicans passed a budget that cuts deeply into domestic spending, transforms the tax code (translate as more tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations), and transform (translates as beginning to eliminate) Medicare and Medicaid.

House Speaker John Boehner and presidential wannabe Mitt Romney continue to claim that they are interested only in the economy and jobs. Perhaps true because their approach destroys the economy and eliminates jobs. Add to that the concept of Congress trying to tell the military what to do, and this country could be in a world of hurt if the nation takes the wrong turn six months.

Oh yes, that jobs’ approach for the House? Last night, the House voted 245-171 to stop the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to actively oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, preventing marriage equality, as part of Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations legislation. Of course, the House is spending its own money to fight court cases and protect DOMA. Sixteen Democrats voted with the GOP for the amendment, while seven Republicans opposed it. The conservatives are playing for the vote: although the Justice Department is no longer defending DOMA in court, the Obama administration is still enforcing it.

May 4, 2012

‘Do-Nothing’ House of Representatives Better than Damaging Bills

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:11 PM
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The House of Representatives is in recess this week—nothing too shocking because they’ve worked in Washington only 41 days of the first 127 days so far this year with eight of those days marked on Rep. Eric Cantor’s calendar as not starting until 6:30 pm. During the 34 weeks until the end of 2012, they plan to be doing the nation’s work, making law and stopping progress, for only 17 weeks. That means a total of 51 more days. Their 92 days when they aren’t recessed comprises one-fourth of the entire year, nice work if you can get it.

What have they actually accomplished in these 41 days? Thus far, they have passed 106 laws, compared to the 908 laws passed by the notorious “Do-Nothing” Congress of 1947-1948. Okay, they do have at least 51 days to get 802 laws to match this Congress.

Of the 195 roll-call votes thus far this year, they have managed 60 pieces of legislation. Among these:

  • The Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act
  • The Sportsman’s Heritage Act
  • The Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act
  • The World War II Memorial Prayer Act
  • The mandate that the Treasury mint coins commemorating the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Marshals Service

The House also voted overwhelming to award the Congressional Gold Medal to professional golfer Jack Nicklaus, the medal awarded for acts of heroism, especially during war. George Washington was the first recipient. Nicklaus got the medal for promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf.

The House also addressed the Polar Bear Trophy issue. The legislation was “to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting.” Hunters who killed endangered polar bears can now legally bring these trophies into the United States.

Under duress on Republicans, the House managed to pass the payroll-tax break and the debt-limit increase, the only major actions in 41 days.

The benefit of their not creating laws for three-fourths of the time, however, is that the House can do less damage. They did pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which would further take away privacy from people in the United States as well as a $46 billion small business tax cut bill. They also managed to pass the bill keeping federal student loans at 3.4 percent by eliminating $3.2 million for breast and cervical cancer screening for women, immunizations for children, and screening of newborns for congenital heart defects, hearing loss, etc. None of these bills has a chance of surviving a Senate vote or a presidential veto, but the representatives want to look busy.

Republican representatives hold themselves up as following the will of the people. All but five of the 234 Republicans present in the chamber at the time voted down the “Buffett Rule,” which would raise taxes on millionaires despite the nearly three-fourths of people in this country who want these taxes raised so that millionaires don’t pay a lower rate than those who make much less than they do. At the same time more anti-choice bills are wending their way through House committees, not only the Judiciary but also the Energy and Commerce. Those will show up in the 51 days that the House has left to meet this year.

The Senate can also be held up as an example of “do-nothing,” with the majority of the 87 votes on only three bills: highway (25), postal (16), and insider-trading (13). While Republicans sneer at Democrats for their inability to get anything accomplished, however, they neglect one fact. Whereas House Republicans need only a simple majority to pass a bill, the Senate is held to 60 of 100 votes to pass anything because of the Republican filibuster intransigence. Even so, the Senate Democrats have managed to get bills through recently: renewal of the Violence against Women Act, postal reform, a long-term renewal of the surface transportation bill, and one making it easier for companies to go public. Of course, despite passing the last of these, Republicans in the House plan to kill the others by voting against them or attaching damaging amendments to them. Congress remains at its infamous “gridlock.”

The House leadership does spend some of their time being clever. The Sportsman Heritage Act includes this provision: “Pending the adoption of a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2013, the provisions of House Concurrent Resolution 112, as adopted by the House, shall have force and effect in the House as though Congress has adopted such concurrent resolution.” The House Republicans are trying to convince themselves that the Senate has passed the House budget—without passing the House budget.

With so few bills in evidence, what does the House do in its spare time? One example is HR 2087, “To remove restrictions from a parcel of land situated in the Atlantic District, Accomack County, Virginia.” The House is giving  full floor debates, and therefore full attention, to allowing development on a 32-acre property with five roll-call votes. They call this one of their “jobs” bills.

Where are the jobs bills that the freshmen legislators promised? Where are the infrastructure projects to repair our crumbling country? Where are intelligent ideas to move our economy forward? All these seem to be caught under the determination of Republicans to do nothing—except try to defeat the opposition.

The prior session of Congress, with its Democrat-controlled House and almost-60 Democrats in the Senate, moved toward economic recovery, saved the American auto industry, invested in energy research and infrastructure, somewhat reformed the financial sector, passed a health care act, reinstated equal pay for women, created hate crimes legislation, allowed gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military, and addressed many other critically important issues.  But 112th Congress, with the House controlled by Tea Party extremists, has either performed destructive acts or done nothing.

There are two solutions: the Tea Party leadership in the House of Representatives can realize that government is important to the nation and that it’s their job to solve problems, not create them. When you finish laughing about this solution, think about the other one. Vote them out. With 25 more seats, Democrats can take back the House majority. That, too, may be improbable with the massive amounts of funding from the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and Dick Armey machines, but it’s more likely than a Grover Norquest sycophant changing its spots.

The Republican House Republicans have developed a bad case of megalomania. As soon as it became apparent that Mitt Romney would be on the ballot this coming November, they made sure that he understood their position, that the House is driving the policy agenda for the entire Republican party. “We’re not a cheerleading squad,” said Rep. Jeff Landry (R-LA). “We’re the conductor. We’re supposed to drive the train.” (The man has obviously lost his copy of the Constitution.)

The Ryan plan, which Romney endorsed at one time, cuts education, law enforcement, and health research by 25 percent if programs were permitted to grow with inflation or 21 percent below spending caps agreed to last July by President Obama and Congress, including those recalcitrant House Republicans. But Romney also said he could live with the law that allows women to sue in equal pay cases, opposed by all Republicans.

One of Romney’s priorities, according to one of his earlier statements, is dealing with China’s currency manipulation in the same way as a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Lindsey E. Graham (R-SC) which the Senate passed last year. Now languishing in the House, the bill would require tough tariffs on some Chinese goods, a measure that House Speaker John Boehner has called “dangerous.”

Now Boehner is complaining about President Obama spending his time campaigning instead of running the country. Boehner needs a mirror.

It’s going to be a wild and rocky year—not only between the two parties but almost within the multi-layered GOP.

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