Our silent senators

It’s a good thing that, when the president announces a bizarre policy that’s bad for Americans, they have senators willing to stand up for them. It would be a better thing if one of those senators was from North Carolina.

That’s apparently wishful thinking, as we learned again when Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he would impose a 5% tariff on all imported goods from Mexico beginning June 10 “until the illegal immigration problem is remedied.” The tariffs could be raised to 10 percent on July 1 and an additional 5 percent each month for three months, he said later.

The threat doesn’t define “remedied.” What it does do is put a potential new burden on consumers and businesses. Mexico is Washington’s largest trading partner, and a 5% tax on goods from tomatoes to cars would amount to billions of dollars passed on to Americans, including the N.C. consumers and businesses that Sens. Thom Tillis and fellow Republican Richard Burr represent.

While Burr is apparently content to meekly serve out his final term, Tillis is facing the anger of Democrats and wariness of independents who don’t support President Trump. He’s also facing a GOP primary challenger who says Tillis isn’t sufficiently in the president’s corner.

The result is that Tillis, who has comically wavered between standing up and cowing to the president, now appears to be fully at Trump’s side. It’s not an easy political choice, but North Carolinians shouldn’t feel particularly sorry for him.

You know who else is in a difficult position these days? N.C. farmers who feel the very real pain of the trade war Trump escalated with China. In response to Trump’s reckless tariffs on Chinese goods China has imposed stiff tariffs on soybeans and other products that are key to North Carolina’s farm economy.

You know who’s also hurting? Even more N.C. farmers who are feeling a labor crunch thanks to the president’s harsh rhetoric and uneven immigration policies.

You know who may soon feel more pain? Everyone else, if Trump follows through with his Mexico threat. That’s why other members of Congress, including Republicans, were quick to speak up. They need to do more than that. And now more than ever, they should craft comprehensive immigration reform that can pre-empt the president’s impulsiveness.

All of which likely won’t come from North Carolina’s senators, including Tillis, who once at least pretended to stand up to the worst of Trump. Now, apparently, he has abandoned the state he represents for the president he thinks he needs.

The Charlotte Observer

Unhealthy politics

Health care was a winning issue for Democrats in North Carolina in 2018. Republicans in Raleigh seem bound and determined to make it an even bigger winner for Democrats next year.

Gov. Roy Cooper is building on 2018 by making Medicaid expansion a big part of his budget showdown with the Republican-led General Assembly. But that’s just one of the health care issues Republicans are giving Democrats for 2020.

Earlier this year, Republican Treasurer Dale Folwell declared he was going to single-handedly change how the State Employees Health Plan pays hospitals and doctors. If the current standoff holds, teachers, state employees and retirees can expect longer drives and higher bills in 2020 as they search for a doctor or hospital that has agreed to accept the treasurer’s new payment scheme.

Last week, the Republican-led Senate declared war on its own rural eastern N.C. political base, passing a budget that eliminates payments to Vidant Medical Center, which help sustain the viability of ECU Medical School. Senate leaders are apparently attacking ECU and Vidant in defense of the Republican-led Board of Governors and UNC Healthcare.

I had a front-row seat for the political fight that ECU undertook to get its medical school in the 1970s, over strong opposition from Chapel Hill. Trust me: This is a political landmine. And Senate Republicans stepped on it.

Gary Pearce, from the blog “Talking About Politics”

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