Humane Society Legislative Fund fails to endorse enough Democratic challengers to slow anti-animal Republican momentum in the U.S. House & Senate
WASHINGTON D.C.––If voters who care about animals follow the recommendations of the Humane Society Legislative Fund arm of the Humane Society of the U.S. at the polls on election day, November 6, 2018, and all of the Humane Society Legislative Fund-endorsed candidates win, but no other Democrats, those voters will nonetheless awaken on November 7, 2018 to the reality that nothing has changed to help animals during the next two years of the Donald Trump presidential administration.
And this is saying nothing––yet––about California Proposition 12, a Humane Society of the U.S.-backed measure on purported behalf of farmed animals, which in the views of the Humane Farming Association, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Friends of Animals, as well as ANIMALS 24-7, will only further entrench the status quo.
All HSUS-endorsed candidates could win but still change nothing
If the Humane Society Legislative Fund-endorsed candidates enjoy a clean sweep, but nothing else happens to change the balance of governance in Washington D.C., the Donald Trump presidential administration, the Republican-controlled Senate, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, working for two years in partisan lockstep, will be able to continue to pursue the most viciously anti-animal slate of legislation and regulatory changes seen at the federal level since the 19th century, with no possibility of effective checks or balances coming from the House and Senate minority Democrats and small likelihood of enough Republicans breaking ranks to keep any Trump-favored bill from passage.
No help for animals likely from U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court cannot be expected to exercise checks and balances on anti-animal policies and legislation, either. The U.S. Supreme Court rarely ruled in favor of animals even before the October 2018 appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh solidified a conservative majority; Kavanaugh may have the most anti-animal record now on the Supreme Court.
In 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, for instance, Kavanaugh heard 18 lawsuits brought under the Endangered Species Act. Kavanaugh ruled against animal and habitat protection in 17 of those cases, according to an analysis by Washington College of Law assistant dean William Snape, who doubles as senior counsel for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.
The U.S. Senate
There are 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Flipping two seats could break the Republican monopoly in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the federal government, to the advantage of animals, but it will have to be done without Humane Society Legislative Fund help.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund has endorsed two Senate candidates, both Democrats, but one of them, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, is an incumbent. Only if Heinrich loses his seat will the Senate balance of power be affected.
The “Dirty Lick” dance
The other Humane Society Legislative Fund-endorsed Senate candidate, former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen, is running against Marsha Blackburn, a Republican member of the House of Representatives.
Blackburn’s record of support for the “Big Lick” walking horse industry in July 2018 prompted Nashville Tennessean columnist Roy Exum, a diehard Republican, to call her “the very worst in all of politics,” adding “If you think horses suffer as the acid eats into their forelegs, the ‘Dirty Lick’ dance ain’t nothing like what you’d see if Marsha got the reins of power.”
Breseden, however, entered the last week of the 2018 campaign trailing in the polls, albeit in a close race––and even if he beats Blackburn, his election would only deadlock the Senate if the Democrats fail to win at least one more seat without Humane Society Legislative Fund help.
13 candidates endorsed, but 23-seat gain needed
There are 41 open or vacant Republican seats in the House of Representatives, of which 24 could flip to the Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Altogether, the Cook Political Report considers 72 Republican seats to be in play, against only five Democratic seats.
The Democrats need to gain 23 seats to break the Republican majority.
But the Humane Society Legislative Fund has endorsed only 13 Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives, three of them incumbents, along with seven incumbent Republicans.
If all of them win, without at least 13 more Democrats winning, the balance of power in the House of Representatives will remain unchanged.
2018 election circumstances vary from past political wisdom
If neither the U.S. Senate nor the House of Representatives flips to the Democrats, the outcome bodes poorly for animals throughout the balance of the Trump presidency––which has already been the worst for animal issues of any presidency since the 19th century.
Normally, from an animal advocacy perspective, there is wisdom in supporting both Republicans and Democrats, as well as in trying to ensure that the same party does not hold both the Senate and the House.
Pro-animal legislation thrives when balance of power is split
Animal issues, historically, have cut diagonally across the political spectrum. Major pro-animals federal legislation has tended to pass when the U.S. President, regardless of party affiliation, tends to be sympathetic toward animals, while the House and Senate are either held by differing parties or are both held by the opposite party from the President.
Under those circumstances, pro-animal legislation often moves ahead as something both Republicans and Democrats can agree about.
When either the Republicans or the Democrats control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, however, the party in power has historically pursued legislation specifically central to their partisan agendas––and often, as in the past two years, partisan agendas tend to ride roughshod over animal concerns.
Changes at the top
One could ascribe the failure of the Humane Society Legislative Fund to endorse enough Democrats to potentially flip both the Senate and the House to inexperienced Humane Society Legislative Fund leadership––except, despite recent changes at the top, that is not really true.
Kitty Block, president of the parent Humane Society of the U.S., has headed HSUS only since February 2018, but is a 26-year HSUS staff member, with considerable background working on legislative issues.
Block inherited two lobbying arms, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Doris Day Animal League, both acquired through mergers brokered by her predecessor, Wayne Pacelle.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund had been directed since the Fund for Animals merged into HSUS in 2005 by former Fund national director Mike Markarian, who leaned Republican until 2016, when HSUS and the Humane Society of the U.S. opposed Trump.
The Doris Day Animal League had been headed since 1987 by founding executive director Holly Hazard, who came along when HSUS absorbed DDAL in 2006. Hazard also leaned Republican; retired actress Doris Day, her longtime employer, was a longtime close friend of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.
Markarian retired in August 2018; Hazard in September 2018. Block then merged DDAL into the Humane Society Legislative Fund, under Sara Amundson.
Who is Sara Amundson?
Recalled Markarian in introducing Amundson as his successor, “Sara has spent her entire professional career in animal protection lobbying and advocacy, starting with the Doris Day Animal League in 1988. She came to the Humane Society Legislative Fund in 2006 as executive director, and was one of our first employees.”
Though Amundson might also be expected to lean Republican under pre-Trump circumstances, she appeared to recognize the important of breaking the Republican stranglehold on the federal government in a July 19, 2018 message to Humane Society Legislative Fund supporters.
“During the past year and a half, “ Amundson began, “the Trump administration and the 115th Congress have launched over a hundred attacks on the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats.”
Trump vs. Endangered Species Act
If the 116th Congress retains Republican majorities, it can be expected to continue advancing a Trump agenda, disclosed on July 19, 2018, which, as summarized by “Extinction Countdown” columnist John R. Platt for the Center for Biodiversity news web site The Revelator, , centers upon “Making it easier to remove protection from species; weakening protections for critical habitats; changing the approval process federal agencies must follow when making decisions that could impact protected species; changing the definition of the requirement that the Endangered Species Act must protect species that are at risk of extinction in ‘the immediate future’; and rescinding rules intended to protect species newly designed as ‘threatened’ (one step above ‘endangered.’
Noted Platt, “Trump’s Fish & Wildlife Service called for public comment on the proposals, but in a sign of how much it actually supports public input, the press release was only posted to the agency’s newsroom, not to its home page. There the lead headline on July 19, 2018 was ‘Texas Refuge Has the Cure for Summertime Blues.’”
Trump administration directs concealing Endangered Species Act enforcement records
That was in keeping with a Trump administration memorandum leaked to the Center for Biological Diversity, disclosed on October 19, 2018, in which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service directed staff “to withhold, or delay releasing, certain public records about how the Endangered Species Act is carried out. That includes records where the advice of career wildlife scientists may be overridden by political appointees in the Trump administration,” the Center for Biological Diversity summarized.
Why? Explained Guardian writer Jimmy Tobias, “The interior department, to which the Fish & Wildlife Service belongs, hopes to change the way it implements the Endangered Species Act. Among other things, the department wants to revoke regulatory language that prohibits Fish & Wildlife Service officials from considering economic impacts when determining whether to protect a species,” meaning that business interests will be able to trump science for the first time since the Endangered Species Act was passed by Congress in 1973.
“Rolling back protections”
Observed Miranda Green for the online political newspaper The Hill, “Susan Combs, appointed by Trump as acting assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, has in the past compared Endangered Species Act listings to ‘incoming Scud missiles.’ In her previous post as Texas comptroller, Combs played a key role in wresting control of the endangered species program from the state’s Parks & Wildlife Department,” in effect dismantling it.
Meanwhile, assessed Green, “The Trump administration is systematically rolling back protections for endangered wildlife [at the federal level] and expanding rights for hunters,” including a soon-to-be-finalized National Park Service proposal to rescind regulations “that prohibited the hunting of bear cubs, as well as wolves and pups, in their dens in Alaska’s national preserves,” as well as “targeting animals from boats and planes and the use of bait to lure animals for hunting.”
“The Interior Department also announced it was expanding hunting access at 30 National Wildlife Refuges across the country,” Green noted.
“The rule would open or expand 248,000 acres to hunting and allow for the first time a number of new activities on the public land, including big game hunting.”
The aggressively pro-hunting Trump administration agenda took many animal advocates by surprise, after Trump tweeted in 2017 that trophy hunting is a “horror show,” despite his two sons’ prominence as avid trophy hunters.
Elephant & lion heads
Later in 2017, “Trump formed an advisory board to steer US policy on the issue,” wrote Tacoma-based business and outdoors reporter Jake Bullinger for The Guardian.
“But rather than conservation scientists and wildlife advocates,” Bullinger continued, “it is composed of advocates for the hunting of elephants, giraffes and other threatened charismatic species. And observers say that since Trump took office, court rulings and administrative decisions have in fact made it easier for hunters to import the body parts of lions, elephants and other animals killed in Africa.”
Only two members of Trump’s advisory board, called the International Wildlife Conservation Council, “are not active advocates for trophy hunting,” Bullinger explained.
“The rest belong to groups such as Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association. The hunting advisory council operates under the auspices of the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, who received $10,000 from the Safari Club during his 2016 congressional campaign.”
Among the Trump appointees to the International Wildlife Conservation Council is Indiana coal executive Steven Chancellor, who reportedly raised more than $1 million dollars in support of the Trump election campaign in 2016.
Having already shot at least 482 animals, according to Safari Club records, including at least 18 lions, 13 leopards, six elephants and two rhinos, Chancellor recently obtained a retroactive permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to import remains of three lions he shot in 2016, while lion trophy imports were suspended.
HSUS president Kitty Block on the Farm Bill
Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block on September 24, 2018 also seemed to recognize the importance of derailing the partisan Republican juggernaut in Congress, contrary to the narrow and ineffective scope of the Humane Society Legislative Fund recommendations.
“One of the core issues at stake in the 2018 Farm Bill,” Block wrote, which the 115th Congress is expected to pass during the “lame duck” session following the November 2018 election, “is the degree to which it favors factory farming operations over independent family farmers committed to more humane and sustainable approaches to animal welfare, environmental stewardship, social cohesion, economic opportunity and healthy communities.
“The Farm Bill covers everything from farm safety nets to land conservation programs to nutrition programs for low-income citizens,” Block explained. “At approximately 956 pages, and a cost in the hundreds of billions of dollars, the legislation affects each and every one of us — farmer or not.
“We are also in a fierce fight,” Block added, “to scuttle the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, H.R. 4879, a pet project of Representative Steve King (R-Iowa). If King’s amendment makes it into the Farm Bill, the lowest legal standards on the production or manufacture of an agricultural product could control all states — regardless of the negative effects on health, the environment, the welfare of the animals raised and the well-being of local communities.”
King may be dethroned
King, in Congress since 2003, was until recently believed to have a secure hold on his seat, with the support of Purina, the Land O’Lakes dairy conglomerate, United Egg Producers, and the National Pork Producers Council, among other agribusiness giants.
That has abruptly changed. Actions by King described by Bloomberg News as “incendiary comments about race and association with white nationalism” have cost King key supporters, including Purina, Land O’Lakes, and Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten at last report trailed King by just 1% in the polls.
Amendment would undo California Proposition 12
The Protect Interstate Commerce Act, if incorporated into the 2018 Farm Bill, would in effect dismantle California Proposition 12 even if Proposition 12 passes, and would forestall any further efforts to improve farmed animal welfare through state-level legislation.
Donald Trump, in an exclusive interview with the online farm industry trade journal AgriPulse, made clear his hope that Republican victories on November 6, 2018 will reinforce his administration’s positions in the final phase of reconciling and passing the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill.
Should the Republicans retain control of both the House and Senate, the inclusion of the King amendment in the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill looks like almost a done deal, even if King himself is defeated.
Trump administration has killed Animal Welfare Act & Horse Protection Act enforcement
The 2018 Farm Bill, like other Farm Bills emerging annually from Congress, also includes the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service budget for enforcing the federal Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act.
Under the Trump administration, Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act enforcement appear to have all but ceased.
Reported Karin Brulliard of the Washington Post on October 18, 2018, “Two years ago, the Agriculture Department issued 192 written warnings to breeders, exhibitors and research labs that allegedly violated animal welfare laws, and the agency filed official complaints against 23, according to agency data.
“No warnings, no complaints, no penalties”
“This year, those figures plummeted: The department had issued 39 warnings in the first three-quarters of fiscal 2018, and it filed and simultaneously settled one complaint — with a $2,000 fine for an infamous Iowa dog breeder who had already been out of business for five years.
“In August 2018, USDA issued no warnings, filed no complaints, and imposed no penalties through settlements with any of the 8,000 or so facilities it licenses and inspects under the federal Animal Welfare Act.”
Hiding the records, too
Further, Brulliard recounted, “In two years, the agency’s records have gone from being publicly searchable online to often available only by Freedom of Information Act requests and in redacted form. The agency stopped posting enforcement records in August 2016. In February 2017, it abruptly removed all animal welfare and horse protection records from its website, citing litigation — an apparent reference to a show horse [industry] lawsuit.
“USDA judges began suspending all hearings over alleged animal welfare and horse protection violations in 2017,” Brulliard continued, because of the potential impact of a Supreme Court case,” which will now be decided by a Supreme Court stacked against animal protection by the Trump appointments of Justices Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.
The Trump administration has also crippled or killed enforcement of most of the other foundation federal legislation protecting animals and habitat, with no chance of redress by a Republican-dominated Congress.
The Clean Water Act?
The nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project recent examined Environmental Protection Agency records for the 98 largest U.S. slaughterhouses, finding that 74 of the plants had exceeded their permit limits for discharging nitrogen, fecal bacteria, or other pollutants at least once between January 2016 and June 2018.
Fifty slaughterhouses violated their permits at least five times, and 32 committed at least 10 violations.
“At least 18 slaughterhouses racked up more than 100 violations per day from 2016 to 2018,” the Environmental Integrity Project discovered. “But so far, eight of those 18 have not paid any fines at all during this time period.”
The Marine Mammal Protection Act?
The Trump administration in June 2017 “canceled proposed limits on the number of endangered whales, dolphins and sea turtles that can be killed or injured by sword-fishing nets on the West Coast,” Dan Weikel of the Los Angeles Times reported. “Although the restriction was recommended by the Pacific Fishery Management Council,” which represents the fishing industry, “the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division said studies show that the pending rule is not warranted because other protections have dramatically reduced the number of marine mammals and turtles trapped in long, drifting gill nets.”
The NOAA claim was not accepted by other observers.
“The Trump administration has declared war on whales, dolphins and turtles off the coast of California,” Turtle Island Restoration Network director Todd Steiner told Weikel, predicting “This determination will only lead to more potential litigation and legislation involving this fishery.”
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act?
Recounted Reveal science reporter Elizabeth Shogren in January 2018, “Since the 1970s, federal officials had used the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to prosecute and fine companies that accidentally killed birds with oil pits, wind turbines, spills or other industrial hazards. But a legal decision issued in December 2017” by Trump appointees within the Interior Department “revoked that ability.
“For example,” Shogren wrote, “under the new interpretation, the law no longer applies to oil spills. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which researchers estimate killed more than a million birds, BP [formerly British Petroleum] paid a $100 million settlement for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, among other fines.
“Federal wildlife officials also had used the threat of prosecution to prompt oil companies to cover waste pits with nets, which saved millions of birds.”
This too will not be reversed by a Republican-dominated Congress.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund has endorsed the following candidates for the House of Representatives––
Democratic incumbents in the House of Representatives: Earl Blumenauer, Oregon; Josh Gottheimer, New Jersey; Conor Lamb, Pennsylvania.
Republican incumbents in the House of Representatives: Vern Buchanan, Florida; Carlos Curbelo, Florida; Jeff Denham, California; Brian Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania; Lance Gooden, Texas; Guy Reschenthaler, Pennsylvania; Peter Roskam, Illinois.
Democratic challengers for seats in the House of Representatives: Colin Allred, Texas; Veronica Escobar, Texas; Steven Horsford, Nevada; Brendan Kelly, Illinois; Susie Lee, Nevada; Mike Levin, California; Joe Neguse, Colorado; Harley Rouda, California; Kim Schrier, Washington; Susan Wild, Pennsylvania.
Urges defeat of Pete Sessions, R-TX
The Humane Society Legislative Fund has also produced a television ad airing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area urging the defeat of Representative Pete Sessions, explaining that “as chair of the House Rules Committee, Sessions was a one-man barricade against animal welfare, preventing bills from reaching the floor even when they enjoyed widespread support within the House itself. No one sent him to Washington to defend and protect horse slaughter, trophy hunting, predator killing, and animal fighting, and to prevent other elected representatives from voting on these practices, but that’s the kind of record he’s amassed.”
Why didn’t HSUS step up for change?
The Humane Society Legislative Fund may be right about the pro-animal bona fides of every endorsed candidate, and about Pete Sessions too.
The open question, however, is why the Humane Society Legislative Fund has not endorsed enough candidates––who in this particular election would have to all be Democratic challengers for Republican-held seats––to really make a difference in the composition of Congress on behalf of animals.