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.

Vital workers deserve more than “Thank you”

Thank you, Congressman Cline, for recognizing the hard and selfless work being done by millions of Americans to help sustain us during the COVID-19 emergency.

But Congressman: Many of these absolutely essential workers are at or near the bottom of the ladder when it comes to pay, health care and job rights. Now that we can see how vital they are, I hope you will agree that they deserve more than thanks. They deserve living wages, guaranteed access to health care, paid sick leave and basic on-the-job protections– and not just during pandemics.

Unfortunately your voting record as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and as a member of Congress does not reflect a serious concern about these inequities. I hope the current circumstances are causing you to do some serious rethinking. Your constituents will be watching.

Cline’s statement on the CARES Act

To his credit, Congressman Cline overcame his usual objections to “big government” and deficit spending to support the more than $2 trillion CARES Act relief package responding to the COVD-19 emergency.

Unfortunately Cline couldn’t resist taking a shot at Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He rarely does resist. (Congressman: We know by now that Pelosi is your go-to target when you want to denounce “progressives” and “liberals.” But it’s possible that at a moment when most Americans believe government should be doing more, your rhetoric is ringing hollow.)


I hope Cline will inform us of which provisions he disagrees with and provide us a list of the items on “Speaker Pelosi’s progressive wish list” of which he disapproved.

Cline will hold town hall in Rockbridge County on March 18

Sixth District residents will have a chance to ask Congressman Cline about his vote against the coronavirus response bill and other matters at a town hall on Wednesday March 18 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at VFW Post 1499, 105 Memorial Lane, Lexington (between Lexington and Buena Vista).

You may register here.

Citizens of Rockbridge County will be given priority regarding comments during the town hall.

Cline votes NO on coronavirus response bill

The Washington Post reports:

The House overwhelmingly passed an economic relief bill early Saturday for the coronavirus, dedicating tens of billions of dollars for paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, free testing and other measures to help Americans impacted by the crisis.

The 363-40 vote — gaveled down just before 1 a.m. — capped two days of volatile negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that threatened to fall apart entirely for hours Friday amid GOP misgivings. But even after President Trump criticized House Democrats at an afternoon news conference Pelosi and Mnuchin kept at it, speaking by phone 13 times in the course of the day Friday and finally clinching a deal.

Not long thereafter Trump endorsed the legislation over Twitter, ensuring widespread GOP support.

“This Bill will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers,” Trump wrote, adding that he was directing Cabinet secretaries to issue regulations ensuring small businesses would not be hurt by mandates in the bill.

“I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES! I will always put the health and well-being of American families FIRST,” the president wrote. “Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!”
The agreement reached Friday is primarily aimed at expanding the safety net to cope with the potentially catastrophic economic impact of the coronavirus. In addition to ensuring free coronavirus testing, the plan would dramatically increase several benefits, particularly family medical leave and paid sick leave, while also bolstering unemployment insurance; spending on health insurance for the poor; and food programs for children and the elderly.

Congressman Cline joined 39 other Republicans to vote NO– the only member of Congress from Virginia to do so. It’s unfortunate that in a rare instance when he defied Trump’s wishes, it was to oppose a vital measure to protect the health and well-being of all Americans in a national emergency– especially low-income workers and those with few resources.

Cline likes to remind us: “In one of my first speeches after being sworn in, I reintroduced four words to Congress that Washington needs to hear again and again: we can’t afford it.” However he is very selective about what he thinks we can and can’t afford.

In case you were unaware, Congressman: Sometimes there are moments when we can’t afford not to act.

Update: Cline tries to justify his vote. Surely he must understand the gravity and urgency of the situation. I’m not sure why he’s smiling.