Palm vs. the Senate GOP

M.D. Kittle wrote this Saturday:

One state senator wants Gov. Evers to withdraw his embattled health secretary’s looming rule that could shut down Wisconsin again, while another is asking the secretary to step down.

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) issued a statement Friday asserting Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm has failed to see the writing on the Wisconsin Supreme Court wall. Palm and her staff were busily working on a new agency rule that would replace the emergency order she signed last month extending Evers’ lockdown order. The Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this week struck down the emergency rule, ending Evers’ stay-at-home order.

“Now, most rational public servants would get the message that the rule of law and the constitutional limitations on government are not optional or mere suggestions,” Nass said. “The DHS Scope Statement leaves little doubt that Secretary-Designee Palm is no longer acting in a lawful capacity by circumventing the Supreme Court ruling and once again trying to improperly take control of the daily lives of every Wisconsin citizen.”

As Empower Wisconsin reported, Evers on Thursday sent notice to his agency heads that he approved an “emergency statement of scope” by the Department of Health. The statement gives DHS authority “to establish protections for Wisconsin citizens by maintaining appropriate social distancing or other measures to slow and contain the spread of COVID-19 and protect health and safety.” The statement also is supposed to, as the governor puts it, turn the dial to reopen Wisconsin’s economy.

Actually, what it does is layout the broad powers Team Evers and his DHS Secretary-designee, Andrea Palm, believe they have under Wisconsin’s public health emergency statutes. And, while the agency just began the process of promulgating “new emergency rules to address” COVID-19, it seems clear they want control back.

Outgoing state Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) said it’s time for the secretary-designee to step down.

“Secretary-designee Andrea Palm must immediately resign from her appointment as Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary,” he said in a statement. Tiffany easily won Tuesday’s election for the 7th Congressional District, filling a seat long left empty by Evers’ political maneuvering.

“The recent Supreme Court ruling confirmed that Ms. Palm’s power grab exceeded her authority. Her shotgun approach to lock down Wisconsin has produced disastrous consequences.”

Evers sounded indignant when asked by reporters what he thought of Tiffany’s comment.

“Senator Tiffany, please, you just won an election. Just relax. This is an insane statement. We talk about trying to tone down the rhetoric, and I’ve done everything I can to do that, and to make a statement about someone who’s dedicated her life to saving lives. Please sir, give us a break,” Evers said at a press conference Thursday.

The governor’s record, however, doesn’t reflect his words. Was Evers’ toning down the rhetoric when he tweeted that a legal challenge to his lockdown by Republicans in the Legislature was tantamount to homicide?

“Today legislative Republicans told the 4,600+ people in the state of Wisconsin who have contracted COVID-19 and the families of the 242 people who have died, we don’t care about you —we care about our political power,” he wrote late last month.

And the idea that Palm has “dedicated her life to saving lives” is more than a stretch. The former Obama administration official has committed much of her professional life to the political advancement of the left’s health care agenda.

Tiffany isn’t the only one calling for Palm’s resignation, but it seems unlikely the Republican majority in the senate — which just increased to 19-13 after Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling’s (D-La Crosse) resignation — will hold a confirmation vote on Palm in the foreseeable future.

Nass has been a vocal critic of the DHS secretary-designee. The co-chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules says the panel’s powers to suspend emergency rules like the one DHS is promulgating “are not in doubt.”

“DHS is needlessly creating a political fight that does nothing to move the state forward on the legal and proper path of fighting COVID-19,” the senator said.

“I call on Gov. Evers to withdraw the Scope Statement and end this needless confrontation before it escalates and leads to greater public discontent with the public health officials in the state,” Nass added.

That was Saturday. On Monday, DHS announced it was withdrawing the scope statement, apparently ending the attempt to recreate Safer at Home by rule. But on Tuesday, Empower Wisconsin reported:

Gov. Tony Evers’ health chief was prepared to take her power play local after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state lockdown.

In her “Safer at Home and Badger Bounce Back Template for Local Health Officials,” Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm laments that the court“diminished the Department’s ability to respond to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”

Not exactly. What the 4-3 ruling declared is Palm grabbed up power that was not unilaterally hers in defiance of state law. That law calls for legislative oversight. More so, her extended order locking down the state failed to follow the constitution.

But no worries, Palm says in her guidance. “Local health officials may still issue local orders to protect their communities from communicable diseases like COVID-19.” In short, If the Republican-led Legislature and the conservative-controlled Supreme Court won’t allow me to take away your civil liberties in the name of public health, maybe local government can do it.

Palm points to state statute which says local health officers “shall promptly take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases” within their county. Another statute, the DHS director said, allows local health officials to “do whatever is reasonable and necessary for the prevention and suppression of disease,” including forbidding public gatherings.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision does not affect this authority,” the DHS document asserts.

Liberal Attorney General Josh Kaul argued the same points in an opinion insisting the local orders are legal. His opinion was not shared by other prosecutors.

Green County District Attorney Craig Nolen on Monday wrote to local Health Officer RoAnn Warden and county officials that regardless of the attorney general’s opinion, he highly recommends rescinding Green County’s extended stay-at-home order. Green County, as of Monday morning, was one of about 20 counties and cities statewide that had continued some form of lockdown.

“The enforcement of the order is frankly impossible, as Section 4-4-4 applies to places only under County Zoning Restrictions, and likely to be struck down if challenged,” Nolen wrote in an email obtained by Empower Wisconsin. “My office will not be enforcing it in any criminal action, after further review and analysis of the issues presented. I foresee significant liability to the County at this point with no real ability to enforce the order.”

Warden finally heeded the DA’s advice and the order was rescinded Monday afternoon.

Green County’s neighbor to the north stayed the course on its lockdown while playing lip service to reopening. Public Health Madison and Dane County on Monday released its Forward Dane plan. It “allows” businesses to begin Tuesday to prepare to reopen, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

“If key metrics are in a favorable position for at least one week, the county will step into the first of three reopening phases. Each phase will last for at least 14 days — the incubation time of the coronavirus — before Public Health assesses whether to move to the next phase,” the newspaper reported.

In other words, it may take more litigation for Dane County businesses and citizens to get their rights back.

The number two isn’t accurate anymore. Kittle and Joshua Waldoch report:

At least five Republican senators want to send Gov. Tony Evers’ Department of Health Services-designee Andrea Palm packing, as discontent continues to grow among conservatives about the former Obama administration official’s handling of the COVID-19 response.

Empower Wisconsin sought comment from all 18 Republican state senators. Sens. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon), Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), and Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) are calling for a Senate confirmation hearing on Palm’s nomination. They all say they would vote against her confirmation.

“She’s exceeded her authority, and broken the law,” Kapenga said. “We’ve removed people for less.”

Craig has been on record saying Palm has shown “incredibly poor judgment in dealing with COVID-19.”

“Her pervasive disregard for the law, the constitutional rights of citizens and the very data and ‘science’ she claims to follow is clear justification for her immediate removal,” the senator said in a statement last month. Craig announced on Tuesday that he would not seek another term.

“As he’s told our leadership and said publicly last year, Sen. Nass opposed her pre-COVID-19,” said Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen. His position hasn’t changed. Palm, he said, has shown no remorse for her “illegal actions” in trying to “ram through” emergency rules that were the same as the stay-at-home orders. “Steve believes that any day the Senate comes back to floor this session her nomination should be on the agenda and voted down.”

The Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee approved Palm’s nomination last year on a 4-1 vote. Jacque cast the lone “no” vote, citing concerns about Palm’s deputy Nicole Safar, former vice president of public Affairs for Planned Parenthood. His position has not changed, particularly after watching Palm’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Sens. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Pat Testin (R-Stevens Point) did vote to confirm her in the Health Committee vote.

Stroebel, who has been a vocal critic of Palm and the DHS during the pandemic, told Empower Wisconsin he is open to a vote, and he would vote against the secretary-designee’s confirmation.

Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua), who resigned from the Senate this week to take the 7th Congressional District seat he won earlier this month, also has called for Palm’s ouster.

“Ms. Palm came here as Governor Evers’ hired gun, and she will leave with Wisconsin’s corpse if she continues,” Tiffany recently said in a statement.

Before being tapped as Evers health chief, Palm served as senior counselor to the secretary of Health and Human Services under former President Barack Obama. She has held leadership positions with Hillary Clinton, when Clinton was a U.S. senator from New York, and other liberal politicians and organizations.

Republicans hold an 18-13 majority. It had been 19-14 before Tiffany’s departure and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling’s (D-La Crosse) sudden resignation. 

Many senators did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comments.

Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) doesn’t believe it’s an appropriate time to hold a confirmation hearing, said the senator’s chief of staff, Scott Kelly.

Senate President Roger Roth (R-Appleton) said he does have serious concerns about Palm’s leadership, but many Republican caucus members have “agreed it would be best for there to be stability with the position.” He noted Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has made it clear that Palm would not be removed from her position during the crisis.

Post-pandemic, however, Roth said he thinks it would be best to re-refer her confirmation appointment back to the Senate Health Committee for another public hearing.

“We have seen how DHS operates, sometimes unlawfully, so it is prudent for Senators and the public to be allowed an opportunity to weigh in again after seeing how this pandemic was handled in Wisconsin,” he said.

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