Posted on October 03, 2019 in Countdown

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Who’s loving the Whistleblower Protection Act now?

There are no Twitter tirades like Trump’s Twitter tirades. And there are no Trump Twitter tirades like whistleblower-exposed, impeachment-facing Trump Twitter tirades. In what looks like an attempt to raise the stakes and incite violence in case he’s impeached, Trump declared that impeachment efforts are a “coup” attempting to rob Americans of their “God-given rights as a [sic] Citizen of The United States.” This is all scary stuff. But telling you that the president is putting his own personal aggrandizement before the well-being of the country isn’t exactly news. What might be news to you, though, is that the term “whistleblower” used to have negative connotations, until Arab American citizen advocate Ralph Nader helped mainstream it as a positive reference to people who disclose wrongdoing at great personal risk. For the many reasons to be grateful for Ralph Nader’s advocacy (we especially like clean water and seatbelts!), we add whistleblower protections to the list. Now, this is what we call #ArabAmericansLead.

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UPU-betcha shipping costs affect voter engagement!

Last week, the U.S. agreed to stay in the Universal Postal Union (UPU). “The wha?” The Universal Postal Union! You know, the United Nations group that has regulated international mail service for over a century! The UPU does the hard work of setting the rules for international mail exchanges and connecting the postal sector network worldwide. The Trump admin threatened to leave the UPU if its members didn’t alter the fees system for delivering mail and small packages internationally. The system is outdated and other presidents have expressed frustrations about it, but to up and leave the UPU (a truly Trumpian move) would be…rash. As members of the UPU, U.S. election officials can send ballots at a low cost to our Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters. Not only would exiting the UPU increase the shipping costs of your Korean skin care products, it would also increase the cost of sending and receiving ballots - from an average of $7 per ballot to $30-70 per ballot. And a DoD study showed “the voting rate of Americans living abroad would have increased from 7-37.5%, if overseas obstacles to voting were removed.” Increasing the cost of sending and receiving ballots overseas seems like an obstacle to us. Good news is, we very narrowly averted a crisis by not withdrawing from the UPU. The deal struck last week will allow the U.S. and other countries to start setting their own postal fees next year. And while we won’t know for certain what the costs will be until the new rates are set, we’re breathing a sigh of relief because common sense reigned supreme here.

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Dropping like Flies

So far, 15 House and 4 Senate Republicans have announced they will retire instead of seek re-election in 2020. Similarly, in total 39 House Republicans retired before the 2018 midterms. That means during the Trump presidency so far, 58 Republicans have chosen to leave Congress. Why? The National Review points to a few potential reasons: normal effects of political cycles, suburban districts becoming more competitive, and Trump driving many away from the Republican Party. That 6 Republicans from Texas alone are retiring likely points to the changing demographics of the electorate in that state. But competition alone can't explain the Republican Exodus (Rexodus?): most retirees are leaving safe, reliably conservative districts likely to be won by a new Republican. The driver most likely pushing retirements beyond the normal forces is Trump himself: unless you and your constituents agree with him, and his style of politics, completely, it's hard to be a Republican in Washington. Before they leave, we hope they can lead by co-sponsoring bills like the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act (as Representative Olson has) or the NO BAN Act on their way out.

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Why Tunisia’s Upcoming Parliamentary Elections Matter

A couple of weeks ago, we welcomed the inaugural cohort of the U.S.–MENA Experiential Partnership in DC. What’s this partnership, you ask? It’s a pioneering initiative spearheaded by AAIF, with support from the U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), pairing Arab American public servants with newly-elected officials in the Middle East and North Africa region for a year-long co-mentorship exchange that champions decentralization, good governance and public private partnerships. Tunisia (the sole successful democratic transition of the Arab Spring) was chosen for the inaugural cohort. The visiting Tunisian delegation of 12 municipal officials were part of the historic 2018 Tunisian elections, which ushered in the first generation of elected officials at the local and city level. Their trip to the US  exposed them to American democratic institutions and systems of governance. They left us just in time to return for the upcoming legislative elections scheduled to take place on October 6, the fourth round of national voting since the Jasmine Revolution in 2011. The elections are highly contested between the Islamist Ennahdha party, the secular Tahya Tounes led by the current Prime Minister, and Nidaa Tounes led by late president Caid Essbsi’s son. Unlike the presidential elections recently held, the winning party of the parliamentary race will get to select the Prime Minister, and effectively hold a greater say in the running of the country. The presidential role is focused on defense and foreign affairs – areas that rank much lower in terms of priorities for a nation still struggling with high unemployment rates and deteriorating economic conditions.  

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Critical Decisions at the Neglected Branch

With all eyes on the executive and legislative branches of the federal government as they spar over the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, you might have forgotten about the judiciary. In the last few weeks we have seen a few big rulings in federal district and appellate courts, not to mention the Supreme Court’s recent decision to grant the administration’s request to lift the injunction against its contemptible asylum ban, thereby allowing the government to summarily reject asylum seekers on the southwestern border. Next week the Supreme Court will hear its first oral arguments of the October 2019 term, including three cases that could prove to be earth-shattering (slight exaggeration, not fake news). Each case hinges on the meaning of “sex” in federal civil rights law. The Court must decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination “because of sex,” encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity. While decades of federal rulings and policy have affirmed anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, these challenges demonstrate the need for the House-passed Equality Act, which would write inclusive protections into Title VII.  

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Three Arab Americans Walk into a Congressional Race

Sorry, there is no punchline here, but there is something unusual happening in the race to replace Representative Duncan Hunter in California’s 50th Congressional District. Hunter, who has been indicted on a number of charges related to campaign finance fraud, is also not really such a great guy). This leaves the seat open for the first time in decades, setting the stage for a first-of-its-kind showdown that has not one, not two, but THREE Arab Americans vying for the seat. Ammar Campa-Najjar, who mounted a formidable campaign in 2018 against Hunter, is running again as a Democrat. On the Republican side, former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed and former U.S. Representative Darrell Issa are in the race. We know what you’re thinking, “How is Issa, who represented CA-49, able to run in CA-50 now?” All we’ll say is, it happens. (#DemocracyReformNow). Since Issa jumped in, Sam Abed withdrew from the race and offered Issa his support. So, technically there are only two Arab Americans in the game now, but we still think it is kind of cool.