Supreme Court hears arguments in case that could have implications for independent contract truckers

The case could expand the definition of a “transportation worker” to include truckers who don’t work for a transportation company.

‘First line of defense against financial turmoil’; economists call for the destigmatization of ‘discount window lending’

Experts say increased discount window lending from the Fed can be used to reduce financial risk.

Industry leaders address shortfalls of Build America, Buy America provisions

Loopholes in the legislation expose vulnerabilities in American-made manufacturing.

Bipartisan bill targets burnout and suicide rate among health care providers

Committee for Energy and Commerce debates whether to renew the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act.

Senate questions FinCEN’s effectiveness in combating financial crimes

The Financial Services Committee scrutinizes FinCEN’s effectiveness in combating financial crimes, citing concerns over increased investment scam loss and privacy issues. The discussion also delved into efforts to prevent terrorist activities and international financial connections.

Latest in Politics

‘Damning, disturbing and despicable’: House Republicans grill VA’s chief over allegations of sexual harassment within agency

WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough faced intense questioning Wednesday from Republican lawmakers regarding allegations of sexual misconduct among the department’s high-ranking employees.

The House Veterans Affairs’ Committee decided in a bipartisan vote on January 11 to subpoena McDonough over documents related to accusations of sexual harassment within the VA’s Office of Resolution Management, Diversity & Inclusion. Committee Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.) called the office a “broken organization” poisoned by “toxic culture and bad leadership.”

“The findings of this report are damning, disturbing and despicable,” Bost said. “As a father of daughters, this blatant dereliction of duty makes me sick.”

Three employees of the division – Archie Davis, Gary Richardson and Harvey Johnson – have been accused in a whistleblower complaint of pursuing inappropriate sexual relationships with subordinate female employees. Davis exchanged “graphic” text messages with a subordinate, said Bost, citing a whistleblower.

Various whistleblowers testified behind closed doors shortly prior to the hearing. The transcripts of these testimonies have not been made public.

McDonough repeatedly denied knowing about sexual harassment occuring within his department, stating that he was not aware of a September 2023 letter detailing specific incidents of misconduct until Bost brought it to his attention in November. On Nov. 15, Gina Grosso – who declined to appear as a witness – quietly informed McDonough that she would resign as assistant secretary for Human Resources and Administration.

“The VA does not tolerate sexual harassment,” McDonough told the committee. “My unwavering commitment is to ensure that every employee works in a safe, welcoming, harassment-free environment.”

Republican lawmakers, however, were not swayed, saying the VA is “full of misconduct.”

“I don’t consider this to be a partisan or political process,” Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) said. “I find the conduct of this office deplorable. Culture starts at the top, and you have a top that is wrong.”

Democrats accused Republicans of both exaggerating the severity of the alleged misconduct as well as conflating sexual harassment with interactions of a sexually inappropriate nature.

“The conspiracy that the majority has pushed is not reflective of reality or facts,” ranking member Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said. “My colleagues across the aisle are either being intentionally reckless or cavalier with the truth or willfully blind.”

Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) pointed to Republicans’ histories of hypocrisy concerning the protection of women and underrepresented populations. Six of the eight Republicans on the committee, she said, voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2022 – a landmark piece of legislation that mandates protections for survivors of domestic violence.

Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) similarly slammed Republicans for weaponizing the sensitive nature of this topic, especially for women.

“I belive the approach my colleagues are following will cause lasting harm to how we as a nation address the very real threat of sexual violence and harrasment in the workplace,” Ramirez said. “Exploiting pain for political points is not going to get us closer to addressing the failures in federal policy that address sexual harassment.”

House committee members on both sides of the political aisle emphasized the importance of increased workplace oversight and advancing federal legislation that safeguards against harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex.

“Public servants at the VA deserve a safe work environment,” Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) said. “I hope we use this moment to figure out what we can do better.” 

Published in conjunction with UPI Logo

House Impeaches Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas over border laws and breaching the public trust

WASHINGTON – House Republicans narrowly impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a 214-213 vote, making him the second Cabinet secretary in U.S. history to be impeached on Tuesday evening. 

The former secretary is charged with willfully refusing to comply with border laws and breaching the public trust. 

“We’re happy to get the job done,” Speaker Mike Johnson told a reporter as he left. 

 The articles of impeachment will now be sent to the Democratic-led Senate where they are expected to be rejected

Last week’s House vote failed when three Republicans – Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado, Tom McClintock of California and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin joined all Democrats voting against impeachment, holding up the vote for a 215-215 tie. The same group reaffirmed their stance Tuesday evening. 

“[T]hey fail to identify an impeachable crime that Mayorkas has committed. In effect, they stretch and distort the Constitution,” Rep. McClintock stated. “Republicans don’t need to abuse the Constitution in order to prove our commitment to restore control of our border”

Republicans were able to pass the articles of impeachment on Tuesday night after House Majority Leader Steve Scalise returned to Washington after receiving blood cancer treatment.

“We have to be talking about securing America’s border if you want to have these other conversations about Ukraine, and [Speaker Johnson] has told that to the President,” Rep. Scalise said. 

House Democrats interpret the impeachment passage as a political ploy rather than justified charges based on “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” 

“It’s really unfortunate that the Congress has stooped to this level to actually impeach someone for effectively trying his best to do his job when you disagree with how he’s going about doing his job,” Rep. Daniel Goldman told Medill News Service. “If that’s gonna be the precedent, it’s opening up a whole Pandora’s box for this House.” 

A cabinet member has not been impeached in nearly 150 years. In 1876, secretary of war William W. Belknap faced articles of impeachment but was acquitted by the Senate. 

“House Republicans will be remembered by history for trampling on the Constitution for political gain rather than working to solve the serious challenges at our border,” Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg said.

President Biden responded in a statement Tuesday evening describing this impeachment as “baseless” and a “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship.” Earlier in the day the president also urged the House to support aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan in the national security supplemental bill. 

“Congress needs to act to give me, Secretary Mayorkas, and my administration the tools and resources needed to address the situation at the border,” President Biden stated. “The House also needs to pass the Senate’s national security supplemental right away.”

Under Secretary Mayorkas more migrants have illegally crossed the border than ever before. According to U.S. Customs and Border Control, more than 85% crossed the border illegally are released into the nation and awaiting court dates. 

“It’s our border that matters, not other countries’ borders, our border matters,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green said. “Finally we’ve held Alejandro Mayorkas accountable for his willful betrayal of the American people and breaking federal immigration laws.” 

Latest in Education

Ahead of DEI ban, UTD grapples with student expression, transparency

For 15 years, three large boulders located on the University of Texas at Dallas campus were used to publicize events, display art and present political messages. 

After Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack of Israel, which killed about 1,200 people, and Israel’s subsequent assault on Gaza, which has killed more than 17,000 Palestinians, the boulders – dubbed the Spirit Rocks – became a campus hot spot in the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian student messaging campaign. Sometimes, these designs changed in a matter of minutes

At 2:16 a.m. on Oct. 12, the main boulder was painted with the Palestinian flag with the message, “Free Palestine.” Nine minutes later, the rock was painted over with the Israeli flag. By 2 p.m. on Oct. 12, it was split in half: the left with a pro-Israel message and the right with a pro-Palestinian message.

Student Government President Srivani Edupuganti said leading up to Thanksgiving break, political discourse around Israel and Gaza had died down, and the Spirit Rocks weren’t being painted over as frequently. 

On Nov. 20, students planned to paint the Spirit Rocks for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. When they showed up, the three boulders were missing. In their place were three freshly planted trees. 

“The fact that they were removed so sneakily left students under the impression that they were removed because of the Israeli and Palestinian discourse,” Edupuganti said. 

In an email to students, staff and faculty, the Division of Student Affairs said the Spirit Rocks were removed because they “were not intended to be a display for extended political discourse.” The Division of Student Affairs did not respond to a request for a comment. 

However, since their beginning in 2008, the Spirit Rocks have continually displayed political messages. As early as 2009, students painted the rocks to support the Iranian Green Movement. In 2011, students used the rocks to protest the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and in 2015, students painted a design in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“It seems weird that now (the Middle East conflict), for some reason, was the breaking point, even though students have been civil and peaceful,” said Junior Anika Sultana. 

UTD is one of many national universities grappling with student expression amidst the conflict in Gaza. 

Jade Steinberg, soon to be UTD Hillel President, said UTD has also failed to take action after antisemitic events on campus. Steinberg said someone vandalized a student’s door, which had a mezuzah, a traditional Jewish doorpost decoration. Steinberg also said a Jewish student was called a slur on the way to class, and when UTD Hillel painted the Spirit Rocks, students shouted “baby killers.”

“We’ve tried to explain to (the administration) how we don’t necessarily feel safe or heard on campus,” Steinberg said. “And so far, unfortunately, nothing has really come of that besides the removal of the Spirit Rocks.”

Steinberg said the removal “lit a new fire” under the tension at UTD. Starting on Nov. 27, the Progressive Student Coalition organized a week of protests over the Spirit Rocks’ removal. Students gathered at the former site of the rocks, painted pebbles with the Palestinian and pride flag and drew pro-Palestinian art on the sidewalk by the student center.

Sultana said students are fearful UTD may take away other platforms for student expression. Fatimah Azeem, Editor-in-Chief of The Mercury, UTD’s independent student newspaper, said although the Spirit Rocks were not the only way to exercise free speech, they were the most popular and barrier-free. 

“It’s not like anything else on campus,” Azeem said. “It’s not like putting up a flier, which can be taken down or putting up a bulletin board, which you have to get pre-approval for. (The Spirit Rocks) don’t have all these layers of bureaucracy.”

Azeem said the administration has been “evasive” when students and Mercury reporters approach with questions regarding the Spirit Rocks’ removal. 

She said on Nov. 29, Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Gene Fitch hosted an event with pizza to help students relax ahead of finals week. Students asked Fitch about the decision to remove the Spirit Rocks, Azeem said. 

“He literally answered with, ‘I’m standing here serving pizza, thank you,’” Azeem said. 

Sultana, who is also a graphic designer and contributor for The Mercury, said UTD students have felt left in the dark when it comes to campus speech. 

“At this point, it’s really frustrating because whenever we go to admin for answers, they just run,” Sultana said. “And it’s not like the student body isn’t willing to compromise with them either.”

During Homecoming Weekend, Sultana said the administration requested students stop changing the Spirit Rocks’ design during the weekend. Sultana said students respected the administration’s wishes. The administration should work with students when making decisions that will impact campus life, Sultana said. 

Edupuganti said the administration did not consult Student Government when deciding to remove the Spirit Rocks, even though they were a “Student Government-supported installation.”

“(The Spirit Rocks’ removal) is something that dealt a blow to that trust in the relationship,” Edupuganti said.

Student Government Senator Avinash Chivakula said the administration’s choice to remove the Spirit Rocks is indicative of a larger problem on campus. He said the removal has further fractured the trust students have in the administration’s ability to facilitate productive conversations around nuanced political issues.

“It’s very much a lack of administrative foresight,” Chivakula said. “And we’re going to see more of that, especially with SB 17 and a further lack of administrative cohesion.”

SB 17 comes amidst a national conservative opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in higher education. The law prohibits Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) offices at public colleges and universities. 

The law also prevents institutions from asking for DEI statements; giving preferential treatment in the hiring process based on race, sex or ethnicity; and requiring participation in DEI training. 

SB 17 does not affect student organizations and academic course instruction. 

Chivakula, however, said the burden to foster open conversations around DEI and politicized topics will fall unfairly on students. These issues are intimate and emotional, Chivakula said, but that doesn’t mean the university’s response should be suppression. 

“A campus’s job is to facilitate opportunities for students to let out those emotions because I don’t think anger is inherently a bad thing,” Chivakula said. 

Steinberg said the elimination of UTD’s DEI office will make students feel less confident in the administration’s ability to support minority students. It is more difficult for Hillel UTD to feel it has “allies” within the administration, Steinberg said, especially after the antisemitic incidents. 

Since SB 17’s passing, Student Government has asked the UTD administration for greater transparency and clarity around its policies, Edupuganti said. In May, the Student Government passed a resolution asking for the administration to use an “open decision-making process” and use open forums to hear students’ input. 

In November, the UTD Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion attended a Student Government meeting and presented on what will happen to different programs once SB 17 takes effect in 2024. 

In a Nov. 29 email, Benson told students, faculty and staff the Office of Campus Resources and Support will replace the Office of DEI. The new office will “enhance student community-building and support employees and employee resource groups.” In the email, Benson said details were still being ironed out.

Azeem said since that email, the administration has been receptive to questions about DEI. But due to the uncertainty around SB 17, they may not be able to provide answers, she said.

Azeem said one step the administration can take to address campus unrest is reinstating the Spirit Rocks. Edupuganti said Student Government has passed a resolution calling for the reinstatement, but it has not gone to the president’s office yet. 

Chivakula said UTD should be transparent around its administrative decisions so that the school can work toward its goal, which should be to foster growth amongst its student body. 

“There’s no better place to talk about these topics than a campus where people are actively trying to learn and be better,” Chivakula said.

Changes to federal rules barring widespread transgender bans delayed again, with new timeline for next year

WASHINGTON — Transgender athletes in school sports left in limbo for months finally received an updated timeline from the Biden administration on its plan to update guidelines intended to protect them from discrimination.

In April, the Biden administration proposed a draft to update Title IX to include clear guidelines to protect for transgender athletes. Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination against students who attend schools that receive federal funding, has not previously addressed transgender student-athletes. But ever since then, the government has been inundated with comments about the proposed rule.

The Education Department delayed the release of the proposed rules in May and initially planned to release the guidelines in October. But since then, the guidelines have faced delays with no clear release date set. In early December the Education Department announced the guidelines are set to be released in March.

“The Biden administration has said they’re going to tell states they can’t just uniformly ban individuals not born female, from participating in female athletics,” said Stephen Vaughan, a law firm partner at Womble Bond Dickinson who specializes in Title IX. “In doing that, there will be a direct conflict between the law in many states and what the regulations require.” 

With the 2024 election on the horizon, Republicans have sought to leverage the issue of trans athletes to win over voters. In the meantime, 23 states have passed laws to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports to allegedly protect female athletics. 

The federal guidelines, once released, could overrule widespread bans popping up around the country that are a violation of Title IX. But the administration is facing intense backlash to the proposed rule, and federal courts have been drawn into the fight.

These updates on the guidelines are important to transgender advocates like Kaig Lightner. 

Growing up, Lightner primarily identified as an athlete. Participating in softball, basketball, rowing and soccer, served as Lightner’s anchor as he navigated through life as a transgender person. 

“If I had not had sports, I don’t think I would be alive,” said Lightner. 

Sports provided Lightner an outlet to forget about the shame, hurt and trauma he experienced on a daily basis. Being on teams allowed him to be part of something larger than himself, he said. His mind would focus on becoming the fastest, strongest and best rather than the discrimination he faced from the outside world. 

To give back to young athletes experiencing the same discrimination he faced as a kid, Lightner founded Portland Community Football club, the only soccer club in the country with all-gender inclusive teams.

“We have to think about the kids,” Lightner said, who is now 43 years old. “If the support I had received was suddenly taken away from me as a young kid, I would have been devastated.”

Lightner’s story, like several other transgender athletes, reflects the realities they’ve faced in sports: backlash at the state and federal levels.

Laws blocked and could go to Supreme Court

Temporary injunctions in Arizona, Idaho, West Virginia and Utah continue to block enforcement of many state laws. As new legislation and litigation continue to develop in states across the country, many believe this is just the beginning of a long legal battle that could ultimately end up in the hands of the conservative Supreme Court. 

As uncertainties continue to rise about how the Supreme Court might rule, many look at previous cases as an indication of what to expect. 

In 2020, the conservative Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County case, ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“I think the Bostock decision probably surprised many who would have expected the Supreme Court to go a different way,” Vaughan said. “But what doesn’t surprise me is that if we’re seeing individuals engaging in discriminatory practices against someone, regardless of their identity, those impacted are still human beings and they’re to be protected.” 

While Bostock expanded protections for transgender employees, Vaughan said he doesn’t expect a future case for transgender athletes to be as clear.

But that decision relied heavily on Title VII, which protects employees from discrimination;  protections for transgender athletes fall under Title IX, which protects students. Therefore, Vaughan said he believes their arguments could be different. 

Numerous groups have opposed having transgender student-athletes participate in female sports, arguing that allowing transgender athletes to participate discriminates against women in violation of Title IX. 

“I think ultimately, a lot of people are deciding to go against women’s rights and rights that women have fought for for so many years,” said Paula Scanlan, spokeswoman for the conservative group Independent Women’s Forum. “Title IX was passed 51 years ago, and this would be moving backward if they decide to rewrite what it means to be a woman.”

The guidelines the Education Department proposed, however, would allow schools the “flexibility to develop team eligibility criteria that serve important educational objectives, such as ensuring fairness in competition or preventing sports-related injury.”

The Independent Women’s Forum, a national organization that is fighting transgender-inclusive efforts in school sports, believes that over the years the government has “unconstitutionally twisted the law beyond recognition.” 

Citing instances of transgender athletes winning competition, including former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who was the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship, some politicians and groups believe allowing transgender athletes to participate creates an unfair advantage. 

“We’ve always had female and male categories in sports to provide opportunities for everyone,” Scanlan said. “If there were no such thing as these categories, sports would be dominated by males.” 

Scanlan pointed to natural advantages male athletes have including overall strength and body structures that she said highlight the difference between men and women. 

“Being a female athlete is something that takes a lot of time and dedication,” Scanlan said. “We believe that girls’ scholarships should only go to girls and they should not be taken by male individuals. We have the rights to our own spaces and our own sports teams.”

Congress steps into the fight

The views of the Independent Women’s Forum have dominated Congress as the GOP has worked to pass legislation. 

Days after the Biden administration released the notice of proposed rulemaking, House GOP members passed the “Protecting Women and Girls in Sports Act” in a 219-203 party-line vote, solidifying the GOP’s stance on the issue. 

Democrats in the House urged the Democratic-led Senate to kill the bill, and Democratic senators successfully blocked their colleagues from passing legislation. President Joe Biden had also vowed to veto the bill if it reached his desk.

“There’s a lot we could be doing to protect women in sports: addressing sexual harassment, discrimination in pay and other working conditions,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.). “The bill that my Republican colleagues passed will not do that.” 

As GOP lawmakers continue to fight for bans to protect female athletics, Bonamici said she believes these recent bans are tied to trends of rising discrimination in Congress against members of the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender women. 

The bill, which would prohibit any student-athlete whose biological sex at birth was male from participating in athletic programs for women and girls, makes no mention of the participation on men’s teams of athletes whose biological sex at birth was female. 

“It’s striking that they only care about transgender women, and they don’t care about transgender men,” Bonamici said. “Theirs is just a very narrow-minded, uninformed view of who transgender people really are.”

Pointing to book bans and minimal access to gender-affirming care, Bonamici said these attacks on transgender youth are based on “very egregious misinformation about what’s actually happening.”

Bonamici, who voted against the bill in April, has been joined by her Democratic colleagues as she stands by the protection of transgender athletes in sports. 

“Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t,” Bonamici said as she challenged claims about unfairness. 

Studies show that transgender youth continue to face an increased risk of suicide and poor mental health, which is something Bonamici said she believes bans would only worsen.

As she awaits the rule-making changes from the Biden administration, she said she hopes others look at Lightner’s work within her district to create an inclusive team environment for all, as an example of what can be achieved. 

“I think a lot of people haven’t really met a transgender person that they know of,” Bonamici said. “They’re just people, being who they are and living as their true selves, which in the United States of America everyone should have the freedom to do while being free from discrimination.”

Health & Science

As maternal mortality rates increase, medical professionals, moms look toward technology as a solution

Black women are at greatest risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications. Emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence and remote patient monitoring devices, are showing promise in helping prevent such deaths.  

The U.S. medical community is desperately looking for better ways to address the debilitating maternal mortality crisis. Over 1,200 women –– more than 30 percent of whom were Black –– died from maternal causes in 2021. 

Hundreds of AI-enabled medical devices have already been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, but innovations in maternal health, such as wearable ultrasounds, are relatively new and still awaiting approval. As these technologies begin reaching the market, some experts are concerned that, without proper guardrails in place, they may do more harm than good. 

“If we don’t do this carefully, in a few years we may see that it’s actually harming babies or the mother, and people will say shut it down,” said Dr. Michael Abramoff, who recently authored a publication on AI bias and equity in health care. 

Among wealthy nations, the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as “the death of a woman during pregnancy or within one year of the end of pregnancy.” 

Black mothers have historically had high maternal mortality rates, caused primarily by limited access to quality health care and structural racism, both of which also contribute to a higher predisposition for chronic illnesses. In 2021, the maternal mortality rate was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.6 times the rate for white women, according to a CDC report released earlier this year. 

“They’re the most at risk,” said Olivia Atley, a certified doula in Columbus, Ohio, who primarily works with Black women. “And not at risk because they’re deficient…but [because] their skin color is not the same as the majority of the folks who will be providing them care.”

Atley has guided dozens of moms through labor and birth and has provided postpartum care. Her experiences as a single, Black woman who struggled through her pregnancy motivated her to serve her community.

Efforts are already underway on Capitol Hill to improve outcomes for pregnant women, particularly Black women. Harnessing digital solutions like AI has growing support across party lines.

The Tech to Save Moms Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the House and the Senate in July, aims to integrate these devices into maternal health care. If passed, the legislation would make investments to promote the integration and development of telehealth services and require reports on the effectiveness of AI and wearable technologies. Preview (opens in a new tab)

The legislation is part of a bigger package of bills called the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which aims to address the maternal mortality crisis, particularly for underserved communities. 

Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), who sits on the Black Maternal Health Caucus, introduced the Tech to Save Moms Act because of her own experience with preeclampsia, a life-threatening pregnancy-related blood pressure condition, while she was pregnant with her son, Carter. 

“That is not the reality for so many other women that are in that situation. They don’t live to even tell the story and to see their baby grow up,” Williams said. “I have a role and a position of power now to speak up and to do something about this to change it.” 

The congresswoman said the telemedicine boom during the COVID-19 pandemic also inspired her to pursue the proposed legislation.

Some companies in the medical industry are already leveraging newer forms of technology to fight maternal health disparities. 

Lucina Analytics, a medical technology company, compiles data from health insurance plans, electronic health records and public data exchanges. It then uses that data to create AI predictive models to identify at-risk pregnant individuals by evaluating compounding factors such as disease, behavioral health disorders and chronic social stressors such as access to care or nutrition. Lucina founder and physician Dr. Matt Eakins said that, since 2020, the portion of pregnant women who they identified as “very high risk” has doubled to over 10 percent in 2023. 

“We hear from patients all too often that, by the end of the week, sometimes food runs out and [they] have to choose between feeding [their] older kids or feeding [themselves]. And that’s really unfortunate,” Eakins said. “We try to identify and pull together a complete picture and use our predictive models to understand who’s at risk of having a poor maternity.”

Eakins said he thinks it is possible for every woman to see the health care system as a safe, inviting place to have their babies and that technology and tools can make that a reality.

But Atley warns that technology alone will not solve the issue.

“The end to racism is the fix,” Atley said. “But I probably won’t need a job if that happened, which would be perfectly fine by me because I would rather people be giving birth safely.” 

The complicated relationship between Black individuals and the medical industry, one fostered by a history of racism and abuse, particularly regarding women’s health, poses a challenge. Atley said that this is a common reason why her patients seek out her support. 

“Every single family that I closed out let me know how necessary it was,” Atley said. She said the lack of trust in medical providers and the medical system must be addressed before integrating technology into maternal care. 

A whole new form of trust would need to be developed with innovations like AI, which have already shown racial biases. Rep. Williams said many are skeptical of AI because of these existing biases, even on Capitol Hill.

Both advocates and medical experts believe that, without implementing the necessary safeguards, this technology could further widen racial disparities.

“It can be said that it’s easier to change an algorithm than to change a human mindset,” said Dr. Jagmeet Singh, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of “Future Care: Sensors, Artificial Intelligence, and the Reinvention of Medicine.” 

Singh and other leaders in medical AI have outlined proactive steps to ensure algorithms address underlying human implicit biases.  

Because AI models are trained on existing data sets, ensuring data equity is crucial to improving health outcomes. For example, existing biases and distrust in data sharing may prevent marginalized groups from contributing to data banks. Experts advise evaluating algorithm performances within subgroups, such as specific gender and racial populations, and making that information public to ensure transparency.

“We have to get it right from the start and what we show is that this is entirely feasible,” Abramoff said.

Experts warned that racial biases can exist in wearable patient monitoring devices, too. 

Last month, more than two dozen attorneys general wrote a letter to the FDA urging officials to take action on the inaccuracy of pulse oximeters, electric devices attached to the fingertip to monitor oxygen levels, on people with darker skin. 

Singh said it is crucial to address these issues. 

“Digital inequity is equal to health inequity,” he said. Singh has researched the racial inequities in wearable devices.

Rural communities are also suffering from the maternal health crisis.

Providers, advocates and lawmakers are optimistic about technology’s use in rural and underserved communities, which are already benefiting from options like telehealth. 

“There are far too many women needlessly dying during childbirth, especially in rural communities where access to quality care is difficult to find,” Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), who co-sponsored the Tech to Save Moms Act, said in a statement to the Medill News Service. 

In 2022, over 500,000 babies were born to women who live in rural counties, while only seven percent of obstetric providers practice in rural counties, according to a report by the March of Dimes.

“In those areas, pregnancy is not happy. Pregnancy is something you survive,” said Linsey Griffith, who has been working as a certified doula for the last decade. Her upbringing in rural Ohio opened her eyes to the health care system’s disservice to expecting mothers like herself, with her own miscarriage inspiring her to advocate for other moms. 

However, emerging technologies like AI will not solve the need for compassionate, in-person care and the shortage of birthing centers and health care providers.

“I have folks that do telehealth, I have folks that do virtual with me, but they still have to drive an hour and a half in labor or schedule their induction or their C-section to birth at a competent health care facility,” Griffith said. She noted that the lack of internet access in rural areas is also an impediment to digital solutions.

In 2021, Congress empowered states to expand Medicaid postpartum coverage to one year, and 37 states and the District of Columbia have already done so.

Advocates and physicians say that more needs to be done and that the solutions offered in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, including continued research into the potential benefits of AI, are crucial for curbing the U.S.’ worsening maternal health crisis. 

This includes increased funding support for community-based doulas, as medical experts including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal–Fetal Medicine have noted the positive impact doula care has on a woman’s pregnancy and birthing experience. 

However, out of the 14 bills in the Momnibus, only two — Tech to Save Moms and the reintroduced Protecting Moms Who Served Act — have bipartisan support. Leaders of the package are optimistic that those single bills can pass before there is broader support for the Momnibus.

“It’s dealmaking season,” said Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, which is spearheading the Momnibus. “The Momnibus should be included in whatever legislative vehicles end up moving.”

Providers and advocates on the ground say urgent action is needed, but technology is only one piece of the puzzle. 

“We’ve got to re-establish and affirm some quality relationships and rapport before we can step into that space,” Atley said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all for the circumstances that are at hand right now.”

Native Americans, facing lack of access to clean water, press for a new bill to help fix problem

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers met Thursday to discuss a series of legislation meant to correct injustices facing Native Americans, some of which have been overlooked for centuries. 

Proposals to help provide tribes commercial independence, improved health care services and land reclamation were all on the table at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing. But access to clean water, a basic need that most Americans do not have to worry about, is a particularly pressing struggle for Indian Country. 

Nearly one out of every two tribal homes lacks access to clean water or proper sanitation, which equates to roughly 662,000 people. For some, the situation is even more dire. People of the Navajo Nation are 67 times more likely than other Americans to lack access to running water or indoor plumbing. 

“This is 2024. To know that statistic is one so many are living with is really very troubling,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Previous legislation, including the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, was a start to combating the crisis. The law is providing billions of dollars for the construction and repair of water sanitation facilities on Native lands, but tribes around the country still face challenges. 

Manuel Heart, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, testified that his tribe lacks the skills and time it takes to successfully apply for and obtain grants. It also doesn’t have the training and staff to adequately upkeep water facilities. 

He added that Native municipalities cannot rely on revenue from property taxes to fund operation and maintenance costs because tribal land is owned by the federal government. 

One proposed bill, Tribal Access to Clean Water Act of 2023, aims to fill the gaps. It would provide roughly $1.5 billion through 2028 for technical assistance to create self-sustaining facilities, like obtaining grants and construction contracts and ensuring investments are maintained. 

The U.S. has long promised sovereignty to American Indians. In 1832, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall said such groups are “distinct, independent political communities retaining their original natural rights.” 

“Without reliable clean drinking water, the Ute Mountain Ute people cannot maintain their sovereign right to self sufficiency and self government,” Heart told lawmakers. “I am here today to remind the United States of its obligations once again.”

The dearth of clean water is so normal in the White Mesa Ute community, Heart explained, that it is customary to bring bottled water as a greeting gift.

“No family in this country should have to raise their children without clean water. No member of a tribe should have to accept circumstances none of us would accept for our own family,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). “This hardship is particularly egregious because it is a direct consequence of the federal government’s failure to honor promises and treaties made to tribes across this land.”

Latest in Environment

U.S. will continue strong exports of natural gas, Biden official tells senators, in spite of pause on new projects

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Thursday attacked the Biden administration’s pause on reviewing liquefied natural gas export applications, saying it will harm the energy security of the U.S. and its allies, even as officials say the move will not prevent the U.S. from more than doubling its exports by 2030. 

During a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, David Turk, deputy secretary of the Department of Energy, said this pause will not halt the eight terminals currently exporting LNG nor the five under construction.

The move, however, would keep the Department of Energy from assessing over a dozen pending project applications to export LNG, a gas used to heat homes and generate electricity until the review is completed. 

“DOE has the responsibility to assess additional proposed exports using the most complete, the most updated and the most robust cost analysis possible,” Turk told lawmakers. “I would find it irresponsible if we weren’t taking a step back and undertaking this rigorous analysis.”

President Joe Biden’s announcement in late January of the pause cites environmental concerns, potential energy cost increases to Americans and health risks to communities that “disproportionately shoulder the burden of pollution from new export facilities.” The last time the DOE updated its analysis was 2018, when the country’s export capacity was less than a third of what it is now.

But several Republicans and some Democrats, like committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), criticized the decision, citing national security and global demand.

Calling Biden’s decision “political theater,” ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said “the world needs and wants more American energy, not less.”

Republicans said the move could shift energy markets to competitors like Russia and Iran and reduce potential economic growth in the U.S.

“We need to be able to send a message to our friends and allies, you can actually trust the United States to be true to their word,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). 

Two groups interrupted the hearing to protest the use of LNG, which contributes to global warming, before being escorted out. 

The U.S. had the world’s largest export capacity of LNG in 2023. Russia came in fourth, with around a third of the capacity of the U.S., and Iran did not make the top 10. 

The pause does not affect exports to countries that have free trade agreements with the U.S., which constitute around 20 percent of the country’s total exports. It also exempts national security emergencies.

“The European Commission has said publicly that the pause will not have any short- or medium-term impact on EU security of supply,” Turk noted.

He added that U.S. LNG exports will continue to increase while Europe’s demand goes down.

Turk also said global LNG demand must fall 75% by 2050 in order to reach net zero emissions. 

An NYU study found that the estimated climate costs of continuing to export LNG outweigh the economic benefits for American households.

“Under all scenarios evaluated, we found the gross climate damage greatly exceeded economic benefits,” said Minhong Xu, an economist who co-authored the study.

Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for LNG, a group that represents oil and gas companies, said future projects will benefit local economies by creating jobs and boosting revenue. 

In an interview with Medill News Service, Manchin warned that workers could lose their jobs if the DOE does not extend contracts for existing facilities.

All 23 Republican attorneys general signed a letter Tuesday urging Biden and DOE to resume review of export applications, claiming the pause is unlawful, economically damaging and “detrimental to our national security.” 

In a back and forth debate, Manchin said Biden “put the cart before the horse” by announcing the pause before discussing it with interested parties. 

But Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) replied: “I think just the opposite,” adding that it was the Energy Department’s legal responsibility “to see that export projects are in the public interest, not in the interest of the oil and gas industry. Isn’t what you’re doing here – simply looking before we leap?”

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Senators demand accessible, affordable flood insurance as Congress looks to reauthorize a federal program

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on Thursday stressed the urgency of renewing the National Flood Insurance Program, with reforms to rein in ever-increasing premiums that are becoming harder for homeowners to afford.

The Senate Banking Committee is working to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program before its March 8 expiration date, which has already been extended multiple times as Congress has struggled to pass the budget and other legislation. The latest version of the bill proposes to limit price increases, provide swift payments for homeowners and increase oversight for insurance vendors.

“Congress cannot allow the NFIP to lapse,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). “Whether you’re in Ohio or California or the New Jersey/New York area, the number of flood insurance policies in place is essentially nonexistent. Floods don’t simply happen when you live near the water. Floods today happen throughout the country.”

Destructive hurricanes and torrential rainfall and other weather disasters are adding to the urgency to provide affordable insurance across all coastal and inland states. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) pointed to drastic flooding events from coast to coast just this month, including in Rhode Island, California and Louisiana.

The insurance program, funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, serves residents with rates based on their property’s elevation within a zone on a Flood Insurance Rate Map.

Homeowners with a federal mortgage living in designated flood zones must buy flood insurance, while those living outside of the mapped areas may opt into a federal or private plan.

The proposed legislation intends to counter the increase in premiums from FEMA’s Risk Rating 2.0, implemented in April 2023. The new program incorporates more factors in calculating premiums, including how close a home is to a body of water and the estimated cost of rebuilding after damage. Of the 3.4 million single-family homes with policies under the federal program, only about 625,000 homeowners would see rates decline.

Since the introduction of the risk-rating change, senators have expressed concern of policyholders dropping their coverage because of higher rates, even as flood risk for all homes is increasing as a result of climate change. 

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) noted that the program has lost 100,000 policyholders so far, and FEMA estimates it could lose one million policyholders by the end of the decade.

“Families who are forced to drop their flood insurance coverage due to rising costs and later suffer damage in future disasters, that’s the ultimate disaster for them,” Menendez said.

FEMA caps rate increases at 18% per year, as informed by flood mapping data and catastrophe models. The proposed reauthorization would implement stricter rate caps at 9%, protecting policyholders from hasty price spikes.

Senators on both sides of the aisle criticized the increase in premiums, noting that they are becoming less affordable for working, middle-class American families.

“This is just an excuse to raise premiums,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), adding that he has seen price increases of between 300% and 500% in various counties of Louisiana. “The whole purpose of the National Flood Insurance Program is to provide a product that people can afford. FEMA lied, and they’re not going to do any better.”

In response to a lawmaker’s question, Michael Hecht, the president of the economic development agency Greater New Orleans Inc., said only about 4% of U.S. homeowners have flood insurance, “though that number should be much, much greater.”

Dr. Daniel Kaniewski, managing director at insurance company Marsh McLennan, also called for the legislation to get ahead of flood damage by including incentives for building in areas with less flood risk in the first place.

“Hazard avoidance is at the center of our universe,” he said.

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Latest in National Security

Pompeo and Panetta urge bipartisan action to deter China from collaborating with U.S. adversaries

WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned lawmakers on Tuesday that China is increasingly collaborating with nations hostile to the United States and urged lawmakers to provide more support to help Taiwan combat Chinese aggression. 

“I have been critical of many of President Biden’s foreign policy actions, but I must say the work that they continue to do to confront the challenge in China, I have approved and appreciated,” Pompeo said at a hearing organized by the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. 

China has undertaken one of the largest peacetime military expansions since World War II, according to committee Chair Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). China’s increasing fondness of Russia, Iran and North Korea has heightened tensions on the international stage, acknowledged Gallagher.

Pompeo, a longtime China hawk who led the State Department in the Trump administration, also warned that such nations are acting in concert with China to the detriment of U.S. interests. 

“China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela represent a new axis of evil regimes that is pushing a dangerous model for the world,” Pompeo said in his written testimony.

To keep China in check, Panetta encouraged members of Congress to support Biden’s $106 billion national security supplemental package, which would provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan to combat increasing aggression in these regions. 

“To fail would send a terrible message of weakness to adversaries and allies alike,” said Panetta, who first served as CIA director and later Defense secretary under President Barack Obama. “You cannot be weak on Ukraine and tough on China.”

Pompeo testified that China and Russia have increased their military strength and aggression, leading the U.S. to lose its ability to deter foreign adversaries in many regions, including Europe and the Indo-Pacific. He also noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared his intentions to absorb Taiwan, which he said is a serious security threat. He said he was dismayed that the U.S. did not do enough to prevent  Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine two years ago. 

“I’m glad that Europeans stood up, but we should remember that we did not conduct American foreign policy with the diplomatic excellence and the military power to actually convince Putin not to invade Ukraine,” Pompeo said. “If we simply play defense economically, defense diplomatically, we allow a spy balloon to travel over our country for five days,” he said, referring to a much-watched saga last year where a balloon was tracked flying from Montana to South Carolina before being shot down.

Lawmakers agreed about the dangers of China’s aid for foreign enemies. Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) described China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as a “global alliance against democracy.”

Panetta added that lawmakers should split Biden’s request for supplemental funding into independent aid packages if they are unable to pass the full amount. 

Lawmakers expressed bipartisan support for combating China’s collaboration with nations at odds with U.S., with Gallagher calling the committee “an oasis of bipartisanship.”

Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) agreed with Panetta, asserting that the U.S. must step up to protect democracies like Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. 

“Congress needs to do more to provide the resources that are requested in [Biden’s] national security emergency supplemental,” Brown said. “Without these essential resources, our allies will be left in the cold.”

Panetta also urged lawmakers to invest in training Taiwanese soldiers and providing military aid in order to prepare Taiwan to defend itself in the case of a Chinese invasion or blockade. He stated that “strength” is the only way to deal with China, a sentiment that resonated with Republicans and Democrats at the hearing.

Pompeo also warned in his testimony that China was at “economic war with the United States for decades; we pretended it wasn’t so.” He said the United States needed to win such a war and urged stronger policies to keep China’s economic ambitions in check.

Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Confirmation Hearings for Key Defense Nominations

WASHINGTON – The Senate Armed Services Committee convened to scrutinize the nominations of three crucial roles within the Department of Defense on Tuesday. Melissa Griffin Dalton, nominated for Under Secretary of the Air Force, Douglas Craig Schmidt, nominated for Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, and Aprille Joy Ericsson, nominated for Assistant Secretary, faced a thorough examination. The hearing delved into their qualifications, experiences, and commitment to national security, providing a vital step in the confirmation process for these key positions.

The committee questioned them on a variety of critical topics, such as the cost-effectiveness of missile defense systems, the need for urgency in addressing hypersonics and directed energy weapons, like lasers and particle beam technology used in combat, and the importance of collaboration with small businesses. 

Senator Angus King (D-Maine) underscored the critical challenges confronting the Air Force by highlighting the pressing issue of the U.S. lagging in hypersonics and directed energy, deeming it a “hair-on-fire” urgent priority.

“I’m always excited when I get my hypersonics,” Ericsson replied. “I’m hoping that perhaps we can leverage the technology developed at NASA, fostering collaboration between the Department of Defense and other agencies to advance this technology.”

Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) addressed the crucial challenge of boosting the STEM workforce, emphasizing the significance of recruitment, training, and retention. Ericsson replied by highlighting the need to cast a wide net, including adding more women. She stressed the importance of being inclusive and focusing on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which contribute significantly to African Americans in STEM disciplines. 

“It is very important for us to consider these diverse spots because we have unique experiences from the environments we are in, and it will ultimately be very important to have in our workforce so we can deliver the best technology for our future,” Ericsson said.

Another key challenge addressed by Sen. Reed is the rapidly growing field of artificial intelligence. He voiced concerns about seamlessly integrating AI into security systems.

“I’ve worked with artificial intelligence for many years. It’s a very promising yet challenging technology,” Schmidt said. “If confirmed, I am committed to collaborating with various stakeholders to ensure the responsible and effective utilization of AI.”

While Schmidt and Ericsson confidently addressed the senators’ inquiries, Dalton came under more intense scrutiny as her work in her previous role left some lawmakers casting doubt about her suitability for the role of Under Secretary of the Air Force.

“I think you have a lot of work to do to create some confidence in a lot of the members of this committee,” said Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Dalton, who had mentioned in her opening remarks how she was going to continue communicating with Congress promptly, was questioned by Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), and Eric Schmidtt (R-Mo.), on why she hasn’t been communicating with them in a timely and responsible manner. Sen. Wicker used an example from a letter he sent on March 16th, to which Dalton replied on August 1st. 

“I find your performance in your previous role so unsatisfactory that I have real doubts that it is going to get any better,” said Wicker.

Concerns were also raised about Dalton’s handling of the border wall and management of materials and associated costs. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) questioned her about the materials’ substantial daily storage costs and the decision to sell them off, emphasizing the significant financial impact on taxpayers. Dalton’s response said the matter was outside her portfolio.

“Forget about your portfolio,” Peters replied. “We’ve established that you don’t take responsibility.”

Latest in Living

Chicago gun violence activists ask Congress to follow suit in community health reforms

WASHINGTON – Chicago-area medical experts and community health advocates brought their advocacy to Washington on Tuesday at a Senate panel on gun violence led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

To local community leaders, gun violence is personal. Illinois has the 12th-highest rate of gun homicides and gun assaults in the U.S., and it had an above-average increase in gun suicide and homicide rates from 2012 to 2021. Chicago community advocates and physicians are also some of those who have taken the most action. 

“There are proactive ways we can respond to get in front of the problem,” said Franklin Cosey-Gay, director of the University of Chicago Violence Recovery Program and public health professional.

Cosey-Gay shared with lawmakers his experience in treating a 12-year-old patient with a gunshot wound. The response did not merely involve the medical care involved with taking out the bullet and sending him home to heal. Rather, his team included child life specialists, social workers and mental health counselors.

The team members identified the patient as being at high risk for potentially being shot again. So, they worked on transferring the patient and his family to a transitional housing shelter and offering continued assistance such as visits from trauma intervention specialists, emergency transportation and referrals to community-based activities, he explained. 

The Violence Recovery Program has worked with over 9,000 patients since 2018, 85% of whom were Black and 70% of whom were gunshot wound victims. Witnesses also said it was important to recognize that gun homicides in Chicago and across the country disproportionately harm Black Americans, therefore requiring community-based organizations to supplement medical care and work on preventing future violence.

“When it comes to addressing issues connected to trauma, you have to really understand the role of trust,” Cosey-Gay said. “Having individuals that understand that life is an important first step.”

Experts described other innovative approaches to gun violence that can serve as a model for broader congressional action. 

Vaughn Bryant serves as the executive director of the Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, a network of community-based organizations in Chicago neighborhoods hardest hit by gun violence. He explained to lawmakers the positive ripple effect trauma-informed care can have on communities.

“If we can get to those people and help heal those people, then they’re going to be not only better for their communities but better for their families,” said Bryant. Metropolitan Peace Initiatives offers victim services such as mental health support, transitional employment and safety planning. It also targets at-risk individuals through community-based interventions such as negotiating non-aggression agreements to combat street violence and hosting recreational events in parks.

Many doctors and medical students donned their white coats and attended Tuesday’s hearing to demonstrate how they are working on the front lines.

“The white coats that are represented in the audience here are men and women who have given their life to medicine and have to face the products of these violent actions and try to keep these poor people alive for another day,” Durbin said. 

Physicians in Illinois also tuned in, including Dr. Deanna Behrens, a pediatric critical care physician at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge. 

“I have seen kids who have been injured by guns in every way possible. Kids who were accidentally shot by siblings, a three-year-old child who shot himself in the head – because we know that kids two to three and up have the strength to pull a trigger – kids or adolescents who tried to harm themselves,” she said. 

Firearms are the leading cause of death among children and teens in Illinois, and Behrens herself has witnessed the toll gun violence has taken on young people.

In-hospital interventions are crucial, she said, as is the work of community partners. But further legislative action – both at the state and national level – is needed, Behrens said. 

“Normalizing the fact that gun violence is a public health epidemic and destigmatizing talking about guns is a way for us as a society to invest in decreasing the burden of gun violence on children,” said Behrens, who serves as the chair of the Gun Violence Prevention legislative committee for the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

She called on lawmakers to implement similar approaches Washington has taken to address other public health problems in the past, such as automobile accidents and deaths from smoking. This involves greater data-sharing efforts across hospitals, such as those implemented by Durbin’s Chicago Hospital Engagement, Action and Leadership, or HEAL, initiative, she said. 

“It is not unusual for my colleagues on the other side of the table to talk in negative terms about that city,” said Durbin. “I’m honored to represent it.”

Behrens said that while her group’s advocacy efforts have been successful at passing an assault weapons ban and safe storage rules within Illinois, other states must follow suit. Over half of the guns used in Illinois crime are from other states that have looser restrictions.

“This is not something that has happened overnight, it is something that’s been going on for decades,” she said.

Published in conjunction with SOUTHSIDEWEEKLY

As gun violence soars, lawmakers, experts debate how best Congress can address the crisis

WASHINGTON – Doctors and medical experts on Tuesday called on lawmakers to take a public health approach to the gun violence epidemic they say is plaguing the United States. 

Since 2020, guns have become the number one cause of death for children and teenagers, according to a study released earlier this year. In 2022, about 132 people died from a firearm-related injury each day. That’s more than the deaths for children caused by cancer or vehicle accidents.

A public health approach to the crisis would create multiple solutions to simultaneously attack the problem, said Dr. Megan L. Ranney, who is a practicing emergency physician and dean for the Yale School of Public Health. The approach involves gathering data on the problem to see who is most affected; defining risk and protective factors; and creating programs that would change existing patterns to avert injury, hospitalization or death.

“I have had a front row seat to our nation’s growing firearm injury epidemic, [and] I have worked to define and implement the public health approach to this crisis,” Ranney said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “We have example after example of how this four-step approach, when applied systematically, can improve human health without abrogating rights.”

Ranney said that community violence intervention (CVI) programs should be considered an important part of the solution. CVI programs use approaches like putting in place “violence interrupters” and case managers to prevent gun violence. 

Vaughn Bryant, executive director of the Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, a CVI program based in Chicago, said his program has produced real results. Metropolitan Peace Initiatives coordinates a cross-agency effort among community outreach and engagement organizations with the goal of reducing gun violence in the city’s highest-risk neighborhoods.

Bryant called on Congress to provide federal support and funding to CVI programs like his own.  

“It has a national impact,” Bryant said. “Giving a resource allocation can create standards of practice across the country that are important for this work.”

Other organizations working to prevent gun violence agreed. 

“Community violence intervention programs in general are a great proactive approach, in a lot of places across the country and in a lot of different communities, to address the crisis,” Zeenat Yahya, policy director at March for Our Lives said in an interview with the Medill News Service. 

Both sides of the aisle were divided on whether or not gun violence should be considered a public health crisis. 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said CVI programs are important in interrupting acts of violence before they happen. He said creating more of these programs could help build on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, an initiative passed last year that invests in mental health funding and violence prevention initiatives. 

“Surely we can find some common ground between parties to create real change for the American people when it comes to this public health crisis of gun violence,” the chairman said.

But Amy Swearer, senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, was critical of the framing of the gun violence crisis as an epidemic. She argued that “using the public health lens hasn’t changed the discussion.”

Swearer, along with Republican lawmakers, continued to emphasize the constitutional right to bear arms. 

“The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights is not a public health crisis,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said. 

The sharply divided Congress is unlikely to take up new legislation, especially in an election year, but both parties agreed that mental health initiatives and reducing homicides should be priorities. 

“I hope we look at the entire picture of gun violence, which includes focusing on repetitive acts of violence by a small percentage of our communities, focusing on mental health diagnosis and treatment, and finding ways that we can address gun violence like we did in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). 

Medical experts emphasized that bipartisan efforts are crucial to effectively combating the gun violence crisis. 

“Help our country have hope by demonstrating collaborative action as we have done before,”  Ranney said. “We have shown we can reduce the risk of a shooting long before semantics of the gun with intent to harm. Through your bipartisan commitment to this public health approach. Our country can reduce firearm injury and death.”

Latest Business

‘First line of defense against financial turmoil’; economists call for the destigmatization of ‘discount window lending’

WASHINGTON – Economists promoted increased usage of the Fed’s discount window to insulate the economy from risks of financial crisis at a hearing on Thursday. 

The economists stressed the importance of destigmatizing discount window lending from the Fed before the House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy. 

“The discount window is also, and has always been the bank’s first line of defense against broader financial turmoil,” said William Nelson, chief economist at the Bank Policy Institute. 

Discount window lending is one of the Fed’s lender of last resort functions, and is used to support banks through liquidity crises. 

The Fed lends to solvent financial institutions at the discount window against good collateral. Otherwise, the Fed is licensed under the Federal Reserve Act to make emergency loans in “exigent” situations

“Many banks now refuse to borrow under any circumstances except perhaps an obvious glitch affecting the entire payment system,” Nelson continued, pointing a finger at stigma. 

Hal Scott, a Harvard University professor of International Financial Systems, asserted that the Fed’s lender of last resort function should be conducted primarily through the discount window and minimized in emergency lending. 

The panicked mindset that underlies financial crises contributes to the stigma, according to Scott.

People think irrationally, “if this bank fails, every bank is going to fail–I’m getting my money out,” said Scott. 

Under the 2008 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform, which was enacted to crack down on financial risk-taking, the borrowing behavior of banks was obscured from the public for two years.

Nelson suggested a return to this system could reduce the stigma and disincentive banks from using the discount window.

However, Simon Johnson, professor of entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management, cautioned that keeping borrowing secret would be “problematic” since the ability to borrow from the Fed is already exclusive to banks.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) acknowledged that social media, artificial intelligence and 24-hour banking will only accelerate bank runs by amplifying market behavior fluctuations and facilitating rapid deposit withdrawals. 

“We live in a different world where this instantaneous ability to do things today is such that we got to be able to instantaneously react,” said Luetkemeyer. “If we don’t, I’m fearful.”

The vulnerabilities of the financial system were stripped bare last March with the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank,  the third largest bank failure.. 

The witnesses called attention to this financial crisis, asking that the Fed work on policies to destigmatize lending at the discount window. 

“The lack of capital or potential insolvency is absolutely intertwined with issues of liquidity pressure in many financial crises, and it was absolutely with Silicon Valley Bank,” said Johnson. 

To mitigate the contagion effect which can snowball into a full-scale bank run, the Fed can provide more financial support to prop up capsizing banks.

The Fed used emergency lending to bail out institutions after the Global Financial Crisis, the COVID-19  recession, and most recently, the Silicon Valley Bank collapse with the Bank Term Funding Program

Expanded use of emergency lending leads banks to think the Fed will open a new lending facility to bail them out, according to Nelson. 

“The safety net is expanding,” said Nelson.

The discount window should be used instead as a liquidity crutch for undercapitalized banking institutions, said Nelson in an interview with Medill News Service. 

“We want banks to see this as a tool they can use, we encourage them to count that potential access is one of the ways that they meet their liquidity contingencies,” Nelson said. “This is not a bailout, this is not an indication that the bank is in trouble.”

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Industry leaders address shortfalls of Build America, Buy America provisions

WASHINGTON – Officials from the construction, manufacturing and transportation industries outlined to lawmakers the challenges they are facing in implementing President Biden’s Build America, Buy America provisions enacted as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, during a subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

The provision, passed as part of the 2021 law, requires that United States workers and companies make and produce the iron, steel, manufactured products and construction materials used in domestic infrastructure projects.

Among the biggest hurdles has been that American companies and suppliers often can’t source these materials quickly enough to complete emergency repairs. 

The provision permits federal agencies to ask for exemptions through a waiver process so they can outsource materials from foreign trade partners. However, agencies must first post the proposed waiver online for 15 days for public comment.

“When we’re having a conversation with the different federal agencies, there’s a recognition of what the end goal is: we’re trying to save lives and make lives better,” said Carlos Braceras, the executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation. “We can do that while still meeting the provisions of Build America, Buy America if we all work together toward our common goals.”

The waiver exemptions are few and far between, according to Dan Needham, an executive vice president at Nucor Corporation, the largest steel producer in the United States. He said most exemptions granted to federal agencies happen because of time constraints, not access constraints, and that America can produce almost all materials it imports domestically.

The United States is among the top five crude steel-producing countries, making 94.7 million net tons in 2022. The nation reported a 2% decrease in total steel imports in the same year, according to an annual report from the American Iron and Steel Institute, in part demonstrating the provision is working.

Several witnesses agreed they would like to see the waiver process and foreign outsourcing become unnecessary because American companies would produce their iron, steel, manufactured products and construction materials.

“China’s steel companies do not adhere to U.S. regulations,” said Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.). “So when Department of Transportation policies allow the purchase of foreign steel, we undermine these very regulations and subject our companies and workers to an unfair playing field at the taxpayers’ expense.” 

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) pointed out that U.S. environmental laws strictly regulate carbon emissions in manufacturing production, an advantage she said the nation had over other developed countries.

“Strong Buy America policies act to prevent shifts in production possibilities to countries that have lower environmental standards and more pollution than us,” said Megan Salrin, a legislative representative for United Steelworkers. “We’re just exporting our pollution at that point.”

However, the United States relies on foreign trade partners for materials like geotextiles, signal cabinets, generators, ultraviolet disinfection equipment and geotextiles.  

Ty Edmondson, the CEO of T.A. Loving Company, a commercial construction contractor, said he now asks suppliers for a Buy America Certificate, guaranteeing the contractor that the materials are compliant. The responses Edmondson is receiving from suppliers are concerning, he said.

“We ask suppliers for compliance and receive asterisks on their quotes saying they cannot certify compliance,” Edmondson said. “Put simply, there is uncertainty, and in construction, that means increased costs because contractors must account for that in their bids to mitigate risk.” 

Still, both sides of the aisle praised the goal of having more products come from U.S. operations.

Chavez-DeRemer echoed a Morning Consult survey showing that 83% of Republican, Democrat and Independent voters agree that taxpayer dollars should go toward infrastructure projects that use American-made materials.

“I think we can all benefit if we get Buy America right,” she said.

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SOTU: Health Care

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Congress should approve his plan to replace Obamacare with a new health care program that would provide “affordable alternative” insurance options and criticized Democrats for trying to impose “a socialist takeover of our health care system.”

“A good life for American families requires the most affordable, innovative and high-quality health care system on earth,” Trump said in his third State of the Union address.

Trump said he has proposed health care plans that would be up to 60% cheaper than the Affordable Care Act plans. Both the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services did not respond when asked if a specific replacement plan has existed or ever will.

The president blamed Democrats for not providing the American people with the health care reforms he has promised.

“As we work to improve Americans’ health care, there are those who want to take away your health care, take away your doctor, and abolish private insurance entirely,” said Trump, referring to the Democrats.

Democrats stood up at this comment, pointed their fingers at Trump and shouted “YOU.”

Trump said 130 Democrats endorse legislation to impose a “socialist takeover” of the health care system by “taking away the private health insurance plans of 180 million.”

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are pushing for a “Medicare for All” plan that would end private health insurance while other candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are pushing to expand on Obamacare.

“We will never let socialism destroy American health care,” Trump said.

Trump emphasized the administration’s efforts to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, to which Democrats threw up their hands and shook their heads in disagreement. Led by House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate and House Democrats brought more than 80 patients, doctors and health care advocates from across the country as guests to the speech.

“President Trump will speak to an audience filled with Americans who are suffering because of his broken promises on prescription drug costs and his all-out assault on Americans with preexisting conditions,” Pelosi said in a press release Tuesday morning.

The president also called upon Congress to pass legislation to lower prescription drug prices.

“Get a bill to my desk, and I will sign it into law without delay,” the president said.

Democrats responded to this by booing and holding up three fingers to represent H.R. 3, legislation proposed by the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings that would require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to negotiate certain drug prices. The bill has been on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk for over a month after being passed in the House.

Generic prescription drug prices dropped 1% in 2018, the first price drop in 45 years, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Trump said it was the first time in 51 years. Brand-name drug prices, however, are still increasing.

Trump said the administration will continue to make health care more transparent by requiring hospitals to make their prices negotiated with insurers public and easily accessible online. He also pointed to the passage of administration-backed legislation called “Right to Try,” which allows terminally ill patients access to drugs not fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration if they feel they have tried all other options.

He also said he has launched new initiatives to improve care for Americans with kidney disease, Alzheimer’s and those struggling with mental health challenges, in addition to pursuing new cures for childhood cancer and AIDS.

The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday afternoon to further discuss Trump’s health care policies and overcoming pharmaceutical barriers in particular.

Trump Sticks By Wall in State of the Union Address

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s call for a wall to secure America’s southern border in his State of the Union address Tuesday night was no surprise to opponents.

Jennifer Johnson, the policy director at the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said Trump continually characterizes the southern border as a violent area.

“More of a reality check, these are families and children seeking protection, fleeing spiraling violence and poverty,” she said.

Chris Montoya, who served as a Customs and Border Protection agent for 21 years, said that “crime rates are pretty low in border cities. Being a border patrol agent is one of the safest law enforcement jobs. All those things together means a safe border.”

Rep.  Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., invited as his guest a mother who had been separated from her children at the border.

Other Democrats brought undocumented immigrants as their guests, including Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.

Rep. Sheila Jackson, D-Texas, was enthusiastic about their attendance at the address. “Their presence here today is representative of the big tent that America is,” she said.

In his address, Trump attributed what he called at crisis at the border to America’s “reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools, and hospitals that are so crowded you can’t get in.” He referenced San Diego and El Paso as being cities that were once violent, and now safe with the addition of physical barriers.

Trump also mentioned the prevalence of MS-13 within the country. “They almost all come through our Southern border,” he said.

Montoya said MS-13 members do enter through the southern border on rare occasions, but it is uncommon for CBP agents to make an arrest.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin is the ranking member on the Senate Subcommittee for Border Security and Immigration. He said nothing changed in Trump’s rhetoric. “If we’re waiting on him, we’re not going to get this solved,” he said.

Washingtonians alternately protest, celebrate the State of the Union

WASHINGTON – DC-area residents had very different reactions to President Donald Trump’s second State of the Union address Tuesday night. But whether they celebrated or denounced the event, emotions were strong.

Around 40-50 people gathered at each of two intersections near the Capitol ahead of the address  — far fewer than the 400 people who protested last year, according to Resist DC, the community action group that organized both years’ protests.

People lined the sidewalks along the streets that President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump cabinet members’ motorcades were expected pass by. They held homemade signs lit with string lights so they would be visible to government officials in their cars and chanted anti-Trump messages to music and drums.

Eileen Minarick, 70, said she was protesting simply “because the state of our union is terrible.”

Members of Herndon-Reston Indivisible, a group created to resist President Trump's policies and elect Democrats to office, held lit-up letters spelling “Fraud” and “Yuge Liar.” (Ester Wells/MNS)40-50 protestors were stationed at each of two points along 3rd Street NW in Washington, D.C. (Ester Wells/MNS)Protestors waved Russian flags as they waited along the sidewalk. (Ester Wells/MNS)A protestor held a lit-up sign as he shouted the words. (Ester Wells/MNS)Eileen Minarick, 70, said, “I don’t feel I’m protesting Trump. I’m protesting the policies of his administration, which are inhuman.” (Ester Wells/MNS)(Ester Wells/MNS)Police cars and officers patrolled the streets surrounding the Capitol, many of which were blocked off to both vehicles and pedestrians. (Ester Wells/MNS)Patrons don pink stickers and resistance apparel as they listen to activist speakers and wait for President Trump's State of the Union address to begin  (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Sitting in front of the projector, a stray star is caught on actor Danny Glover's face as he prepares to educate attendees about the conflict in Latin America. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Co-founder of CODEPINK, Madea Benjamin addresses the crowd as other speakers converse with audience members. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)The classic pairing of wine and board games is at every table, except with a twist. In order to ‘survive the night’ patrons mark a square every time President Trump utters a common saying. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Violence against women must end, said Chad Smith, a trainer with nonprofit organization Men Can Stop Rape. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)All eyes are trained on the screen as Trump enters the House Chamber for the State of the Union address. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Grinning, a man in a Make America Great Again hat listens as President Donald Trump announced “I will get it built” in reference to a southern border wall at a local Young Republicans watch party. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)A sign welcomes members of the DC Young Republicans and Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)Members of Republican organizations gather around as President Trump continues past expected time in his State of the Union speech. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)The scene is more mellow downstairs, where a few recluse bar patrons chat with each other as the television screens broadcast in synchrony. (Brooke Fowler/MNS)

Elsewhere in the city, local bar patrons gathered to drink beer, compete in presidential bingo and watch the State of the Union.

Grassroots activist group CODEPINK hosted a number of guest speakers, including actor Danny Glover, for a lively discussion before the main event. Topics ranged from the Bolivarian revolution to ending domestic violence.

Anita Jenkins, spokeswoman for Stand Up for Democracy, riled the crowd with a call to establish the District of Columbia the 51st state in the United States.

“The people of D.C. have no representation… We have nobody to speak for us,” she said. Modifying the words of America’s early founders, she said, “Taxation without representation is a rip-off.”

As President Trump appeared on the projector, shouts of disapproval rose from the bar patrons. The State of the Union 2019 had begun and the energy was energetic in its moroseness.

Across town, the atmosphere was also charged. Members of DC Young Republicans and Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans filled a restaurant for a celebratory viewing party.

“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall… but the proper wall never got built,” said Donald Trump. He paused and then said, “I’ll get it built.” Hoots and hollers erupted in the bar and two girls were seen smiling and hugging each other.

Though Trump stressed unity in his national address, DC-area residents remained divided in their reactions.

2020 Candidates Alternate Cheers, Hisses to Trump Wall, Immigration Proposals during State of Union

WASHINGTON – Several Democratic 2020 presidential candidates expressed their displeasure with many of President Donald Trump’s policies during the State of the Union address Tuesday.

Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., could be seen shaking their heads when Trump mentioned controversial topics such as his commitment to building a border wall and the dangers of migrant caravans heading to the U.S. southern border.

Harris, who announced her candidacy on Jan. 21, shook her head and visibly mouthed, “They’re not,” as Trump said, “Large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States.”

In a Facebook Live address before the State of the Union, Harris told viewers, “It’s a moment for a president to rise above politics and unite the country with a vision that includes all Americans, not just the ones who may have voted for them. It’s a moment to bring us together.”

Early in the address, Harris was often reluctant to give Trump a standing ovation, asking her colleagues, “Really?” as they cheered the president’s comments about space exploration.

The candidates and their Democratic colleagues booed and hissed as Trump labeled the numerous investigations into his campaign finance and relationship with Russia “ridiculous partisan investigations.”

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way!”

Democrats cheered later as Trump mentioned that women have filled 58 percent of new jobs in the past year. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has formed a presidential exploratory committee, pointed at the newly elected House Democrats, who stood up and chanted, “USA, USA.”

“I think he didn’t realize that all the female jobs he created were for [congresswomen],” Gillibrand said after the speech.

The Democratic candidates stood and applauded with everyone in the chamber when Trump recognized World War II veterans, a SWAT team member and a childhood cancer survivor.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sat stoically as Trump denounced socialism. Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist, is widely considered likely e to enter the presidential race. Unlike Sanders, Gillibrand and Harris stood and applauded as Trump said, “America will never be a socialist country.”


WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump got one of his biggest rounds of applause during his State of the Union address Tuesday night when he noted that Congress now has a record-high number of elected women, but it wasn’t lost on the crowd that when the women rose to cheer they were mostly on the Democratic side of the aisle.

“Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before,” Trump said as the women lawmakers rose to clap and celebrate. He then advised them “Don’t sit. You’re going to like this.”

“Exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than at any time before,” he said. There were 117 women elected to Congress in 2018.

Bipartisan chants of “USA! USA!” filled the chamber as both the Democrats and Republicans broke into uproarious applause. Many of the Democratic women wore white and donned pins that read “ERA YES,” in a nod to the women of the suffragette movement.

Trump called his list of priorities “the agenda of the American people” in his second State of the Union address Tuesday, which was delayed a week because of the 35-day government shutdown, which didn’t end until the previous Friday. The address was the first the president has delivered before the new Democratic majority in the House.

The president remained on-script for the duration of the 84-minute speech and touted his administration’s achievements from the past two years. He also laid out several legislative priorities going forward, including a “smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier,” an infrastructure bill and the eradication of HIV and AIDS.

Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., was glad that health care was a topic in the speech, while Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., described the speech as “terrific.”

“We haven’t gotten that right when it comes to protection our citizens with pre-existing conditions, correcting all the problems and costs associated with the ACA,” French said. “I like that he kept an emphasis on that while also tackling the prescription drug process.”

For Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., laying out these broad initiatives wasn’t enough.

“I wrote down a number of initiatives — defense spending, cancer research, transportation, infrastructure — and never heard anything of how we’re going to pay for them,” he said.

The president also pushed his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and to reduce drastically the number of troops in Afghanistan.

Among Democrats, reactions were mixed as Trump highlighted his achievements. When Trump lauded the U.S. increase in gas and oil production, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has championed a Green New Deal to address accelerating climate change, remained seated.

Many Democrats applauded Trump’s push for a new infrastructure bill and decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who sat behind Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, was clearly following a printed version of the speech. She applauded when Trump mentioned criminal justice reform and bipartisan efforts on lowering drug costs and furthering women’s rights.

After praising a recent bipartisan effort to secure criminal justice reform, Trump shifted to a project he said would require the same bipartisan effort: a southern border wall.

“Simply put, walls work and walls save lives,” he said. “So let’s work together, compromise and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.”

However, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was not encouraged by the president’s attempt to strike a bipartisan tone.

“I just don’t think he is to be trusted,” she said. “This is not a president who is working for the middle class of this country.”

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said that while parts of Trump’s speech were good, he was too combative at times.

“There should have been more emphasis on the fact that the government was shut down and we all need to work together to bring it back,” he said. “Blaming the Democrats is not going to keep the government open.”

Freshmen members of Congress excited, disappointed at their first State of the Union address

WASHINGTON — Before attending his first State of the Union address, Rep. Jefferson Van Drew, D-N.J., felt a sense of excitement and joy, but also feared the president might once again fan partisan flames by rehashing controversial issues.

“I hope that right now, he doesn’t talk about closing the government again. I hope he doesn’t talk right now about declaring a national emergency. I would so much rather see that we try to work together and get something done. That requires flexibility on Democrats side as well. Both sides have to do this,” said Van Drew.

Partisanship is the reason the approval rating for Congress is so low, but issues like border security, and infrastructure deserve cooperation between the two parties, said Van Drew.

“Rather than just argue and disagree and investigative and be hurtful on both sides, maybe we can actually get something get done.”


Chris Pappas, D-N.H.

Although having been full-fledged members of Congress for a little over a month, the freshmen class of senators and representatives still retains a “sense of awe” about the State of the Union address, said Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H. Pappas said he hoped Trump would strike a conciliatory tone with Democrats, allowing lawmakers to avoid a second government shutdown.

Pappas brought a transgender military veteran from his home state to hear the president as a symbol of his hope that Trump’s transgender military service ban will be lifted.

“That doesn’t make us any safer and in fact plays politics with the military,” he said.

In addition to passing social justice reform, Pappas said he would like Trump to speak about the opioid crisis, prescription drug costs and infrastructure — and Trump did.


Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill.

In Illinois Rep. Sean Casten’s dreams, Trump’s State of the Union address would make climate change a priority, but said his expectations were low. Trump did not in fact mention the environment.

“Truth is what I hope he doesn’t say is what I fear he will say,” Casten said, “which is that he’s going to threaten to shut down the government again if he doesn’t get a wall.”

Casten’s guest was Julie Caribeaux, the executive director of Family Shelter Service, which receives federal aid and provides support for victims of domestic abuse. He said domestic violence victims are some of the “primary victims” of Trump’s rhetoric.


Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-NY, was hoping for a message of bipartisanship and unity, things that “the American people are calling for.” Trump did call on Congress to act together on many issues.

Brindisi’s top priorities this year are trying to find common ground with the Republicans on immigration reform, infrastructure and lowering prescription drug costs. On infrastructure, he said he specifically wanted to hear Trump’s ideas on investing in job training programs. Trump mentioned all the issues, but with little specificity except that he wants a border wall and enforcement to stop what he called “caravans of migrants” heading to the southern border.

“Those are things that I talked about during the campaign that many people back in upstate New York are calling for and those are things I hope he does say,” Brindisi said.


Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., said she gets excited every time she walks onto the House floor, and Tuesday was no exception. Although there were parts of the speech she did not agree with, namely Trump’s insistence on a border wall, Lee said she appreciated the call for bipartisanship.

Lowering prescription drug prices, investing in infrastructure and a comprehensive border control strategy — these are all components of his speech Lee said she could agree with.

“These are all ideas I can get behind and they work together to produce some results for American families,” she said.


Rep. Deb Halaand, D-N.M.

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., said she was dismayed about Trump’s urgency regarding funding for a border wall.

“I wasn’t surprised. Let’s put it that way about the president’s speech. I mean, of course, we don’t want a wall,” said Halland. “He instilled fear and everybody about the danger, you know, the danger that’s coming across the border.”

Haaland hopes to focus on promoting awareness about climate change and wished the President would be more receptive to the diverse issues and people around the country.


Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., said he enjoyed his first State of the Union in a historical sense, but wanted President Trump to address issues he feels are important, including raising the minimum wage and healthcare.

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill.

He said while the president did mention lowering prescription drug costs, there was another area of healthcare that was not noted, such as the millions who do not have healthcare at all.

“He wrapped himself around a lot of patriotism and recognition of your courageous battles and victories and but in the end, I think he failed to address important things more,” Garcia said.



Post-SOTU Interviews with Illinois Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowski and Cheri Bustos

Our Alex Lederman sat down with Illinois Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowski and Cheri Bustos after the State of the Union to hear their thoughts on President Obama’s address.

Schakowski — Evanston’s congresswoman since 1999 — said “(Obama)’s vision of what makes our country strong was so human and so true.”

Bustos said Obama is focused on the future — our children and grandchildren — and working together to solve the nation’s problems.

Medill on the Hill produces live State of the Union broadcast

WASHINGTON — It was the third day of reporting for the 21 students in Medill on the Hill. It also happened to be the day the president would deliver his final State of the Union address.

Months ago, buoyed by the excitement of the possibilities and the folly of youth, some of us came up with the idea of taking Medill on the Hill to a new level — producing live TV while also finding new ways of storytelling for the website and social media.

On State of the Union night, Jan. 12, the Washington web team led by Alex Duner and Celena Chong managed the flow of copy and constant web updates streaming in from reporters around Capitol Hill and elsewhere in D.C. There also was a constant stream of @medillonthehill tweets and snapchats as well as several Periscopes.

Tyler Kendall, Allyson Chiu and Shane McKeon were responsible for the main story, and Chiu said the experience was, “the highlight” of her journalism career.

“It was hectic, crazy and we were definitely all running on adrenaline by the end of the night,” she said.

Other reporters were assigned to stories on specific issues the president mentioned, or how local college students reacted to the speech. One even tweeted the speech in Spanish.

My task was to produce the Washington end of a live television broadcast.

Nine months ago Jesse Kirsch came back from 2015 Medill on the Hill with an idea for Carlin McCarthy, another producer with the Northwestern News Network, and me.

He said, with the optimism of a television anchor, that for the 2016 State of the Union we should produce a live broadcast with analysts at our home studio in Evanston and reporters in our D.C. bureau and on Capitol Hill. I said, with the skepticism of a television producer, that I thought he was crazy.

It took long nights, patience and a lot of support from the Medill faculty and staff, but we pulled it off.

Jesse opened the show in Evanston and before we knew it Isabella Gutierrez was doing a live hit from the Washington bureau. Then we were live in Statuary Hall with Noah Fromson, followed by a live report from graduate student Ryan Holmes on what to watch for just minutes before we streamed the live feed of President Barack Obama addressing a joint session of Congress for his final State of the Union.

We did a live interviews with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, wrote scripts while we counted down the seconds until they were read and gathered quotes from senators and members of Congress. Alex Lederman also provided quick-turn video interviews with two congresswomen.

Associate Producer Geordan Tilley, who interviewed Durbin, was nervous before the show, but she said she is proud of the Medill effort.

“I thought the show was some of our best work, Tilley said. “Especially considering how many firsts were involved, not the least of which was our first time going live.”





Medill Today | February 15, 2024