Cline versus the “tyrants”

Is a year-and-a-half of non-stop sycophancy to Donald Trump starting to take a toll on Congressman Cline?

At a moment when the COVID-19 cases are increasing in 40 of 50 states– when states like Texas which ignored warnings and reopened too early are reversing course and imposing restrictions– Cline has approvingly posted on Facebook a report from April about Attorney General Barr’s order to US attorneys to “consider legal action against governors if their efforts to stop the spread of the new coronavirus infringe on Americans’ civil rights.”

In a two-page memo, Mr. Barr directed all U.S. attorneys to “be on the lookout” for local and state directives that could violate religious, free speech or economic rights under the Constitution.

The clear purpose of the order (which as far as I can tell has never resulted in action against any state) was to pander to the small minority of Americans who opposed sensible measures (like mandatory facemasks in public) and to try to intimidate governors whom Trump believed were acting too aggressively to control the virus. Fortunately most of the states that did act aggressively months ago have been able to bring the virus under control and start to reopen responsibly.

You know. The states governed by “tyrants.”

Cline’s pathetic Biden-bashing

Congressman Cline was a guest this week on the radio show of Charlottesville-based right-winger Rob Schilling.

No tough questions, of course. Just some invitations to talk about how allegedly awful a candidate Joe Biden is (including the obligatory reference to “sleepy Joe”).

According to Cline, Biden is “gonna be led by the Left, by the antifas of the world.” (“Antifa” is the latest Republican scare word, deployed even more often than “Pelosi.”)

Schilling actually suggested that Democrats are desperate to ditch Biden as their candidate for president– perhaps having failed to notice that Biden is currently leading Donald Trump by about 10 points in the national polls and by substantial margins in many of the “swing” states.

Cline seemed to agree, saying incongruously, “There are always those who want to see democracy replaced with dictatorship rule.”

Cline writes that “Joe Biden has been nowhere to be seen for months – that is not the type of leadership America needs.”

In fact Biden appears regularly online and will speak to the Virginia Democratic Convention on Saturday. He traveled to Houston last week to meet with George Floyd’s family. But of course Cline can’t acknowledge a simple fact: that Biden, unlike Trump, is being careful not to endanger the public during the COVID-19 emergency, and this is to his credit.

Here’s the latest from the orange-skinned candidate Cline enthusiastically supports:

Cline’s latest non-response

In non-response to my recent message to Congressman Cline about President Trump’s increasingly deranged and dangerous Twitter posts, I received the following form letter:

Frankly, Congressman, given your sycophantic support for Trump– regardless of his indefensible statements and actions– it is hard to assume “good intentions” by you. And if, as you claim, you have encouraged civil discourse from Trump, I haven’t seen the evidence.

This was Cline’s pathetic reply to Ken Smith, a Lynchburg Army veteran, who complained at a January town meeting about Trump’s insulting comments about the late Sen. John McCain, as well as other remarks aimed at top military leaders:

“Some of his rhetoric is that of a New York businessman,” Cline said in response to remarks Smith pointed to. “I am neither a New Yorker nor a businessman.”

Until Cline provides details of his supposed efforts to encourage more decent behavior by Trump, how can we take anything he says about civil discourse seriously?

Wall Street isn’t Main Street, Congressman

Congressman Cline posted on Facebook Monday:

Before Cline and other Republicans pop the champagne corks, they should be aware that according to the latest jobs report:

— Many people who have hung onto their jobs in the current crisis have seen their hours cut. The number of workers who want full-time hours but are working part-time because their employer doesn’t have enough work for them has more than tripled, from 2.7 million in February to 9.4 million in May.

— Roughly a fifth (6.6 million) of those out of work because of the virus are being counted as having dropped out of the labor force. This is because jobless people are only counted as unemployed if they are actively seeking work, which remains impossible for many.

— If all the 32.5 million workers who are out of work as a result of the virus had shown up as unemployed, the unemployment rate would have been 19.7% in May instead of 13.3%.

Rising stock prices do not put food on the tables of families who are struggling to obtain basic nutrition.

Food banks and other anti-hunger advocates have been pleading with Congress to increase food stamp benefits to make it easier for households to buy groceries, arguing it’s a much more efficient way to get food to the hungry while cutting down on the stress and stigma of waiting in food lines. But the program has become so partisan the idea of expanding it has been almost a nonstarter, even as Washington has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on other forms of aid like unemployment insurance and stimulus checks.

The gridlock comes as data increasingly shows the country is experiencing some of the highest food insecurity numbers on record, even with all of the aid Congress has doled out in recent weeks.

And of course the stock market is not the real economy, especially as it affects tens of millions of working people. That was true even before the COVID pandemic, and it will be true afterwards.

A brief encounter with Congressman Cline

It seems that if you want to talk about anything with Congressman Cline these days, you need to make an appointment. I suspect that if it’s a matter he’d rather not discuss– such as the forcible dispersal of peaceful protesters so Donald Trump could have a photo op– an appointment is even more necessary (and harder to get).

Fortunately Cline’s website provides online forms to request a meeting– either in the Sixth District or in Washington, DC. If you request a meeting, please let me know the result.

Cline’s weak and selective response to protests

Congressman Cline has issued a statement on the protests following the killing by a police officer of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis:

Congressman Cline:

When are you going to call out Trump on his deranged and incendiary reactions to the protests– and about any number of subjects? That’s your necessary first step. Until you do that, everything else you say is beside the point

You express your respect and appreciation to those who protested peacefully. But you have nothing to say about the use of tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters outside the White House so Trump could have a photo op holding a Bible he has never read in front of a church where he was not invited. Or about the many other instances of unnecessary or excessive force by police. Until you can manage that, your denunciation of violence rings hollow.

You may want consider the the opinion of Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, one of only two African-American Republicans in Congress.

“But obviously, if your question is, should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo-op, the answer is no.”

Can’t you even acknowledge that?

Finally: It’s all very well to quote the Floyd family. I agree with them, as I hope most Americans do. I hope you will take a few minutes to watch a powerful statement by George Floyd’s younger brother Terrence.

The meaning of his words are clear enough. Not only is the Floyd family committed non-violence; it is committed to voting people like you and the president you so dutifully support out of office.

A letter to Congressman Cline

Dear Congressman Cline,

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump and the White House on Tuesday continued to promote a baseless conspiracy theory about a woman’s 2001 death, ignoring her grieving widower’s plea for peace and putting renewed pressure on social media companies about the president’s toxic use of their platforms.
“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Timothy Klausutis wrote last week in a letter to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey. “My wife deserves better.”
One Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), urged Trump to “stop creating paranoia,” adding that the divisive political strategy “will destroy us.” But most Republican lawmakers said nothing…

Unfortunately, but all too predictably, you are among the vast majority of Republican lawmakers saying nothing.

Congressman Cline, as the author the the Cline Watch website, I have had very little positive to say about you and your record in Congress. But I believe that– unlike the current occupant of the White House– you are not emotionally crippled. I know how rough politics can be, but you must understand at some level the horror of what President Trump is doing by needlessly inflicting pain on a grieving widower.

If that isn’t bad enough, Trump then retweeted a video of a Republican in New Mexico proclaiming to cheers: “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” Although the speaker claimed he wasn’t being “literal,” what possible reason could Trump have for sending out that hateful message to his tens of millions of Twitter followers? Do I need to ask how you would have reacted if President Obama had retweeted a video of someone saying: “The only good Republican is a dead Republican”?

Of course, as even you might acknowledge, Obama would never have done that.

Trump doesn’t care what I and my fellow Democrats say about him. But it just might get his attention if you and more than a brave handful of Republicans like Congressman Kinzinger spoke out for simple human decency– even at the risk of some flak from the pro-Trump “base.”

I look forward to hearing back from you on this.

Hundreds of COVID cases among Valley poultry workers, but Cline is mum

In a post at Cline Watch earlier this month, I wondered:

Has Congressman Cline ever shown any interest in the working conditions of employees of poultry processing plants in the Shenandoah Valley portion of his district?

After this report in The Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, I’m still wondering:

On May 20, 317 COVID-19 cases were Shenandoah Valley poultry workers, according to an email from a state health official to a local activist and obtained by the Daily News-Record on Tuesday.

The email was sent by Dr. Laura Kornegay, director of the Central Shenandoah Health District, to Michael Snell-Feikema, a local activist and member of Community Solidarity with the Poultry Workers, on Saturday night.


In previous interviews, Hobey Bauhan, the president of the Virginia Poultry Federation, said that plants have made moves to protect their employees from the virus and every plant wants to keep its workforce safe.

[Rockingham County Administrator Stephen] King said the measures have been working.

“I do not think we have a problem with people contracting this virus in the workplace in that particular industry. I can say that with a high degree of certainty,” King said.

Snell-Feikema said he has continued to hear from poultry workers who express concerns about working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. One example he provided is that when on the line, poultry workers stand in such close proximity that social distancing is not possible.

Poultry workers have also spoken to the Daily News-Record, but declined to go on the record, or even speak on condition of anonymity, about their concerns about safety measures at poultry plants in the Valley.

On his Congressional Facebook page, Cline frequently posts advice and information about COVID-19. But not once has he mentioned the outbreak among the mostly Hispanic workers at the Valley’s poultry plants– part of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in his district.

Has he made the effort to talk with any of these workers?

As the representative of these workers in Washington, shouldn’t he want to find out what is causing it (working conditions, living conditions or both), and what can be done to stop it?

Or would doing this raise too many inconvenient questions about the poultry processors who generously support his political campaigns?

Cline rejects federal aid for states and cities but demands it for coal, oil and gas companies

Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin wrote in Friday’s Washington Post:

With 14.7 percent unemployment and state and local governments on the verge of more layoffs, Senate and House Republicans are urging Trump to oppose relief that would keep hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, public hospital nurses and doctors, teachers and other essential workers on payroll. A group of bizarrely tone-deaf conservatives in the House — including … Ben Cline (R-Va.) … — wrote to Trump pleading with him not to send money to their cash-strapped states and cities. The voters … should know that their representatives are happy to see even more of them unemployed (although Republicans happily supported $500 billion for large corporations).

Senator Tim Kaine correctly called this approach “pure evil.”

On Monday Cline followed up with this Facebook post (including the obligatory dig at Nancy Pelosi):

Virginia taxpayers should not be forced to bail out Speaker Pelosi’s buddies in historically mismanaged states like California, Illinois, and New York. Instead, we should continue working toward bipartisan solutions, as we did with the CARES Act, that help families, small businesses, and those working on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.

You may notice that the three states mentioned by Cline have Democratic governors and Democratic-controlled legislatures. (Mismanagement is not unknown in “red states” either.) Of course they are not the only those states that face critical revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19. Plenty of other states and localities– including Virginia and here in Cline’s own Sixth District– are looking at fiscal emergencies when it comes to providing essential services and paying the workers who help keep us safe and healthy.

While Cline was urging Trump to tell state and local governments and their employees to “drop dead,” he revealed his priorities by signing another letter to the President insisting that fossil fuel companies get a share of federal bailout money.

According to The Washington Post:

Republican members of Congress are coming to the defense of oil, gas and coal companies they say face “discriminatory” lending practices from Wall Street banks that have caved to pressure from environmentalists.

They are worried that oil and gas companies, suffering from the economic shockwaves of the coronavirus pandemic, are not getting their fair share of $2 trillion in stimulus funding because many of the big banks playing a part in distributing the funds have policies against lending to certain fossil fuel projects.

In a letter sent late last week to President Trump, three dozen lawmakers urged the administration to take action against big banks that have decided to limit such lending.
They specifically point to a decision by BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, to limit its investment in the coal power business and make managing for sustainability and climate risk a key part of its investing strategy. The firm, along with other big banks, is playing a key role in distributing stimulus funds under the CARES Act.

Rather hysterically, the letter claims: “As every sector of our economy struggles to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks financial stability from the federal government, environmental extremists are using the pandemic to accelerate their goal of putting America’s energy jobs in the grave.”

What makes Cline’s signature on this letter strange is that– unlike most of the other signatories– he represents a district with no oil, gas or coal production. There are, however, a number of solar energy companies– in Fincastle, Madison Heights, Waynesboro, Staunton, Roanoke and Lynchburg— that actually provide jobs to his constituents.

Cline has received contributions to his Congressional campaign from the coal producer Contura Energy  and from William Holtzman of the Holtzman Oil Company, a petroleum distributor.

Does Cline care about poultry workers in the Valley?

Has Congressman Cline ever shown any interest in the working conditions of employees of poultry processing plants in the Shenandoah Valley portion of his district?

Please correct me if I’m missing something, but I can find no evidence that he has.

The Harrisonburg Citizen website reports:

The Valley’s poultry plants are under increasing pressure, including from concerned workers, to tighten safety measures in an effort to protect against the spread of COVID-19. It intensified [April 27] after an employee at one of the plants died from the virus and as community members led a “car rally” on the workers’ behalf.

A spokesperson for Cargill, which runs the poultry processing plant in Dayton, confirmed Monday evening the death of the employee.

The employee was identified as Lauro Carlos Bautista Lopez, 69, of Harrisonburg. He was near retirement after working at Cargill in Dayton for around 30 years, according to his son.

[Another employee of the plant] said other coworkers have tested positive and are quarantined at home, while others continue to work despite exhibiting flu- and cold-like symptoms. Not all workers who want to get tested for COVID-19 have been able to, including many who worked alongside Bautista in the whole birds area, said the Cargill employee.

In the meantime, the plant is short on workers. And even though the employee suffers from diabetes, which the CDC says could increase the risk of “severe illness from COVID-19,” they said they intend to work as long as possible.

“Everybody at the plant is scared,” the employee said.

In early April, workers at the Pilgrim’s plant in Timberville protested the lack of precautions against COVID-19.

Sal Romero, vice-mayor of the Harrisonburg City Council, said he has been communicating with poultry plant workers via phone and Facebook, where he posts informational videos in Spanish and invites the community to reach out.

“The workers have a lot of fear. They are not feeling that enough is being done. The plants are not providing the PPE (personal protective equipment) workers need to protect themselves,” Romero said. “I think a better job is now being done in the break rooms and staggering breaks. They’ve set up tents and expanded the areas for people to break.”

But, he added, “on the line, it’s still shoulder to shoulder.”

Despite the dangerous conditions at meat and poultry plants across the nation, and over the objections of unions representing workers, the Trump administration has ordered them under the Defense Production Act to remain open.

Trump directed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to “take all appropriate action” to ensure that meat companies continue operating under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The order did not detail additional precautions companies should take to protect workers, which has led to worries among unions and other worker groups.

The Agriculture Department has deferred to the CDC and OSHA instead of issuing its own rules. OSHA, however, has not imposed mandatory safety rules and instead only issued recommendations.

If workers who fear for their safety stay home, they face dismissal and denial of unemployment benefits.

Again: if any of this concerns Congressman Cline, I have missed it. As far as I can tell, Cline has not spoken a single word of criticism about Trump’s disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We can only dream of Cline responding to Trump’s order as Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and other Democratic senators did:

Among those applauding Trump’s order was the National Turkey Federation, representing the turkey industry.

Cline has received $5,000 in campaign contributions from the NTF so far during the current election cycle.