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“You won’t make it past Nevada:” Latino community leaders see promise in DNC’s 2024 primary plan

Under President Joe Biden’s and the Democratic National Committee’s new proposed primary schedule, Nevada and other more diverse states would move up in the order. While local leaders and community organizers expect the pressure on them to increase, they say they are excited for how this change will help them build grassroots Latino political power.

Latest in Politics

As Biden pushes to lower drug prices, Congress focuses on powerful drug pricing middlemen

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has long been vocal about lowering drug prices nationwide, but his plan has avoided a part of the problem.

Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or PBMs, comprise a $450 billion industry and are crucial in determining the costs consumers pay at the drugstore. These little-known middlemen negotiate prices between health insurers and drug manufacturers, though not much is exactly known about their actions.

Questions on PBM practices mainly focus on rebates, a discount given by the drug manufacturer to these middlemen. PBMs place the best-discounted drugs higher on their distribution lists, known as formularies, to the pharmacies they work with. 

There’s been little to no government oversight of their practices ever since the sector gained a foothold in the 1970s. After years of activism by patient advocacy groups, Congress is finally looking at regulating these mysterious middlemen, but the Biden administration continues to focus solely on manufacturers.

Anne Cassity, senior vice president of government affairs at the National Community Pharmacy Association, which represents independent pharmacies across the nation, said activists have been integral in bringing the role PBMs play to Congress’ attention. 

“I’m going to give community pharmacy much of the credit because they have been carrying this and screaming from the rooftops for the last 18 years,” she said. 

But she said there’s been a significant increase in involvement over the past few years; patient groups, physicians and state Medicaid agencies are now all calling for action.

PBMs market themselves as expert negotiators who secure lower drug prices, but slowly there’s been more and more questions about if those benefits are actually trickling down to the consumer, according to a representative from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

A 2021 study found that drug rebates are increasing costs for all consumers –– medications go up an average of $6 for those with private insurance, $13 for people on Medicare and $39 for people without insurance. 

Grassroots groups like Patients for Affordable Drugs Now have pushed for transparency in PBM practices.

“We have called on Congress or the Federal Trade Commission to investigate PBMs, and basically just lay it all out,” Sarah Kaminer Bourland, the organization’s legislative director, said. “Are they doing right by patients? Or are they lining the pockets of their shareholders?”

Advocates for changes in the industry speculate that in exchange for better placement on PBM formulary lists, manufacturers have been raising their prices to have more attractive rebates and secure better placement on formularies. But, little to nothing is known about what happens behind closed doors between PBMs and drug manufacturers.

Congress is starting to try to increase transparency through legislation. The Pharmacy Benefit Manager Transparency Act of 2023, a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), aims to discover what PBM’s practices actually are.

“We’re trying to bring daylight into that very dark corner,” said a staff member for the Senate Commerce Committee, which Cantwell chairs. “How does all this work when you have a particular entity that has all of the information about pricing in the market, and it’s the only entity that has all that information? There are all the opportunities for mischief and arbitrage.” 

The bill seeks to require that PBMs publicize their negotiations and make sure drug companies aren’t inflating prices. PBMs would have to file annual reports with the Federal Trade Commission under the bill. It also says PBMs are required to pass along 100% of their rebates to health plans or payers so they can’t pocket a portion of the discounts. 

Representatives for both Grassley and Cantwell said they are hopeful about the bill’s opportunity to advance, thanks to its bipartisan nature. A hearing about the bill was held last month in the Commerce Committee, but it has yet to receive a vote. 

The bill’s limited provisions mean it’s only a first step at solving this problem, according to Cassity. “I don’t think there’s one golden bullet to sort of stop all these practices,” she said. “I think this is a really good step, but there’s going to be multiple steps.”

Still, Cassity said, the bill allows the FTC to go after PBMs engaging in bad practices. She said that’s a 180 from how the FTC has viewed consolidation and its impact on consumers in the past. 

Only three PBMs control more than 80% of the market –– making them incredibly powerful. CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and United Health’s Optum Rx have slowly become large conglomerates through mergers over the last two decades. 

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents the major PBMs, wholly opposes legislative intervention on their practices, saying PBMs have a proven track record of securing savings for consumers.

“Any assertion that pharmacy benefit companies increase drug costs is false. The fact is PBMs are the only member in the prescription drug supply chain that are negotiating to lower costs,” the association said in a statement to the Medill News Service. PCMA contends drug companies set and raise prescription drug prices, independent of their relationship with PBMs. 

The association has also said bills like Grassley and Cantwell’s risk increasing costs for patients rather than lowering them. 

Groups seeking to change the practices say PBM’s lobbying influence over lawmakers poses an obstacle. 

“Both pharmacy benefit managers and drug manufacturers are highly profitable industries, which makes them very powerful forces on Capitol Hill,” Kaminer Bourland said. “When they try to dissuade Congress from doing something to investigate or reforms or industry, I do think in many ways, they are making threats.” But even with their lobbying power, members across the aisle are taking a second look. 

Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled House Oversight committee called on the three large companies in the industry to turn over any documents, communications, and any information related to their behaviors. 

Despite significant bicameral congressional action, the White House has yet to highlight the problem. In Biden’s State of the Union Address last month, he targeted only manufacturers in his remarks about drug pricing. 

Cassity said she is hoping the administration will start to focus on the issue. “We would like the White House to engage more,” she said. “Unfortunately, they really have been silent on the PBM issue. Hopefully that might change with all the noise we’re seeing come out of Congress already.” 

The White House directly declined to comment, referring questions to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Center said it is committed to working with President Biden and other actors to help Americans access affordable prescription drugs.

But a spokesperson for Grassley said PBMs must be a target of the administration to accomplish that goal.

“If President Biden is serious about lowering the cost of prescription drugs,” the spokesperson said, “we must look at all aspects of the prescription drug industry.”

“You won’t make it past Nevada:” Latino community leaders see promise in DNC’s 2024 primary plan

Watching votes trickle in on primary election night in 2020, Laura Becerra said she felt a mix of excitement and anxiety. As the Latinx Constituency coordinator for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign in Nevada, Becerra was anxious to see if the months of events they had thrown — from Animal Crossing meetups to lotería nights to soccer tournaments — had paid off. 

But on top of the pressure from her fellow organizers, Becerra felt the eyes of the country on her state. Nevada was one of the few states with sizable minority communities that held its primary before Super Tuesday—and the only state with a large Latino population. 

“I know that we were going to be able to make a significant influence,” Becerra said. “Everybody was watching Nevada.”

In the past, Nevada has been third in the primary schedule. Still, because they came after Iowa and New Hampshire, the results of their primary — and therefore, Latino voters’ input — have historically been overshadowed by the results from two overwhelmingly white states. 

Under President Joe Biden’s and the Democratic National Committee’s new proposed primary schedule, Nevada and other more diverse states would move up in the order. While local leaders and community organizers expect the pressure on them to increase, they say they are excited about how this change will help them build grassroots Latino political power. 

The new presidential primary order, which was approved by the DNC on February 4, would start with South Carolina, the only state on the 2020 schedule with a significant amount of Black voters. Three days later Nevada and New Hampshire would follow, succeeded by Georgia and then Michigan. Iowa, whose caucus-style primary is well known for being an indicator of who will win the nomination, would fall off the early primary schedule entirely. 

However, the proposed schedule has faced notable pushback, particularly from leaders in Georgia, Iowa and New Hampshire. While the DNC voted to approve the plan, that does not guarantee it will be used in 2024. 

In a letter sent to the DNC Rules and Bylaws committee in December, Biden wrote that the change was designed to give voters of color a larger influence over the nomination. Black voters in particular, he said, have been the “backbone” of the party’s base, yet the vast majority did not live in early-voting states. Moving South Carolina and Georgia up in the process means amplifying Black votes.

“It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process,” Biden wrote. 

Judith Whitmer, former chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, echoed Biden’s sentiments that increasing the number of diverse early primary states will benefit the entire party. 

“That’s good not only for Nevada, but good for the country as a whole,” Whitmer said. “That is hopeful sign, to me and to others, that the Democratic Party is taking this seriously… and not just paying lip service — that we’re taking action to live our values.”

The new slate of states doesn’t actually have higher Latino populations — the 2024 plan would technically decrease the average number of Latinos in early primary states. However, advocates say that moving Nevada to the number two slot gives the state a real chance of setting momentum for the rest of the primary season, something local organizers have been asking for. 

Leo Murrieta is the Nevada director of Make the Road Action, a grassroots organization that organizes to build political power and engagement in Latino and working-class communities. He said that in the past, candidates were too busy campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire to spend time with voters in Nevada. 

“Oftentimes we were an afterthought,” Murrieta said. “Everyone was so busy with the two smallest, white states.”

And the time candidates spend on the ground matters. Murrieta said in 2020, the two candidates Make the Road Action NV was considering endorsing, Sanders and Julian Castro, spent time with the homeless population living in tunnels under Las Vegas and gave speeches about DACA recipients—issues Latino Nevadans care about. 

Murrieta said other candidates made hollow attempts to connect with Latino voters, playing what he called “mariachi politics.” But because Sanders and Castro spent time with community members, they were better equipped to represent them on a national scale. 

“They came to Nevada and they were forced to understand that we are a diverse community with really diverse needs,” Murrieta said. “And we need real solutions.” 

Becerra said she and other lead organizers see an enormous influx of money in the six months leading up to elections — so much they didn’t know what to do with it. But in non-election years, funding runs dry and fewer people are willing to volunteer.

She and Murrieta said they hope moving Nevada up in the schedule will encourage Democratic leaders to set a precedent of remaining engaged with working-class communities of color all year round. Murrieta emphasized that if candidates fail to authentically connect with their voters, it could now have dire consequences on the viability of their campaign.

“Democrats have to come right,” he said. “You have to come right to our gente. You have to come right to our communities — and if you’re not ready, then we will tear you apart. And you won’t make it past Nevada. 

This new plan comes amid a rise of reports that Latino voters are increasingly voting Republican. According to the Pew Research Center, Latino voters’ Democratic margin has been decreasing since at least 2016. A CNN exit poll of the 2022 midterms reported that Democrats have lost a significant amount of Latino voters, especially men.

However, a recent analysis from Voto Latino, a grassroots organization that works to educate and mobilize Latino voters, showed high Latino turnout helped solidify major Democratic Senate wins in Arizona and Nevada. The study predicts that Latino voters will become increasingly critical to the party’s base. 

Kenneth Sandoval, the Vice President of Campaigns and Partnerships at Voto Latino, said the narrative that Latino voters were significantly swinging right was unsubstantiated by polling. The overall concept of a monolithic Latino vote is also problematic, he continued: it oversimplifies a diverse community with diverse needs into just one voting bloc. 

Becerra said grouping all Latino voters together is a problem she has experienced, too. Although she is a Venezuelan immigrant, she said people frequently assume her culture is the same as Mexican voters in her area. She said event organizers always order tacos for Latino events instead of other, more diverse Latin food. She was once asked if she spoke “Mexican.”

Becerra attributes this larger lack of cultural competence to the fact that the Democratic party hasn’t been forced to listen closely to the needs of people of color. She and Sandoval said they hope the revised primary schedule will force politicians to stop oversimplifying Latino voting blocs. 

“When you break down the Latino vote into smaller, more significant pieces, you do see more nuances and the needs of the communities,” Sandoval said. 

According to a 2022 study from the UCLA Latino Politics and Policy Institute, Latinos have been the ​​largest contributor to U.S. population growth over the past two decades. The Pew Research Center reported that they are the second-biggest voting bloc as of 2022, and among the fastest growing: every 30 seconds, a Latino turns 18. 

Sandoval said they hope the updated primary schedule reflects how the DNC is reckoning with these statistics. Candidates in the past have blamed Latinos and other voters of color for losses but rarely thank them for wins. Sandoval said this change might indicate the party now realizes how heavily they rely on these voting blocs “to get over the top” 

Although the most recent election cycle just wrapped up, Becerra said she is looking ahead to 2024. She knows it’s going to be different than 2020 and 2022 — she said she hopes it will be for the better.

No matter what the primary schedule looks like during the next presidential election, she said she wants Democratic candidates to use the opportunity to genuinely connect with the voters who could decide their electoral fate. 

“It’s important to talk to all demographics,” Becerra said. “If you want to use us, then you gotta actually truly care about our life experiences.”

Latest in Education

Slideshow: Activists urge Supreme Court to approve student debt relief

WASHINGTON –– Hundreds of activists gathered outside the Supreme Court Tuesday morning to urge the justices to allow President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program to take effect. Inside the high court, the justices heard oral arguments in Biden v. Nebraska, a case challenging Biden’s authority under federal law to cancel student debt.

Nonprofits including the NAACP paid to send seven buses of students from six states to protest in front of the court Tuesday morning. The speakers, including several Democratic lawmakers, emphasized that student debt relief is not only legal but also just and necessary.

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fl.) speaks to reporters after attending the rally outside the court. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks to reporters outside the court. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Mass.) urges the court to allow student debt cancellation to take effect. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks about the need for student debt relief. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaks at the rally. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

A protester takes a photo of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks in favor of student debt relief Tuesday morning. (Jacob Wendler/MNS)

Supreme Court hears student loan forgiveness arguments in $400 billion case

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday for Biden v. Nebraska, a case which challenges President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 for those with federally held student debts.

The case looked at two major issues: standing and merit. 

The first questioned whether the respondents, in this case the six Republican-led states suing, had standing to challenge Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona for their loan forgiveness plan. 

In other words, if Cardona’s plan caused injury to these states, it gave the states the ability to challenge it.

To that end, the arguments largely focused on whether or not the states had standing. Nebraska Solicitor General James Campbell said that the Missouri-based entity MOHELA, which the state argued suffered financial losses due to the program, gives the states standing. 

Video by Julia Narvaez Munguia/MNS

But some Justices argued that MOHELA could have filed its own lawsuit but decided against it. Notably, Trump-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she didn’t understand why the states stood in for MOHELA in the lawsuit.

“If MOHELA is an arm of the state, why didn’t you just strong-arm MOHELA and say you’ve got to pursue this suit,” Barrett said.

If the Justices agree the states have no standing, the case would be thrown out before getting to the second issue of merit. 

Cardona’s plan to forgive loan debt hinges on the Higher Education Relief for Students Act, which gives the executive branch authority to provide emergency relief without express authorization from Congress if it modifies or waives existing protocols. 

Campbell said that Cardona’s loan forgiveness does neither of these things, but instead creates a “breathtaking and transformative power beyond [the secretary’s] institutional role and expertise.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said that she wasn’t clear on the distinction between creating a power and modifying or waiving one.

“Why doesn’t it all reduce to the same thing?” Brown said.

It’s unclear how the Court, which is led 6-3 by conservative Justices, will rule. Some experts believe that Biden does not have much of a case on the merits, while others argue the states have no standing to sue the federal government.

But the program has broad sweeping implications for millions of current and former students who have borrowed money from the federal government. Over $400 billion in federal loans would be forgiven should the Court decide against striking down the program.

“There’s 50 million students who will benefit from this, who today will struggle,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. “Many of them don’t have assets sufficient to bail them out after the pandemic. They don’t have friends or families or others who can help them make these payments.”

A ruling against Biden’s plan could invite further suits by Republican-led states that would impact all kinds of future executive actions. It’s why the courts may decide to focus on the first issue of standing, which would help avoid questions of the Biden administration’s authority going forward.

“What you’re saying is now we’re going to give judges the right to decide how much aid to give them instead of the person with the expertise and the experience the secretary of Education who’s been dealing with educational issues and the problems surrounding student loans,” Sotomayor said.

Health & Science

HHS could implement new rules to protect reproductive health information under HIPAA

WASHINGTON — Abortion-rights lawmakers in Congress are aiming to close loopholes that may force providers and hospitals to disclose a patient’s medical records if they are subpoenaed or requested by law enforcement. 

These exceptions have become especially worrisome to patients in states that are imposing restrictions on abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned the federal right to an abortion and kicked the issue back to the states.

According to Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), there are a number of ways that patient information could be shared with law enforcement despite HIPAA law, which is supposed to keep health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent.

“There are some exceptions that allow health care providers to share patient’s abortion data,” Jacobs said in an interview. “I think it’s important to know that right now, your health records aren’t necessarily protected. And that is because HIPAA privacy protections weren’t prepared for this moment.”

Jacobs has teamed up with Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) to the Secure Access for Essential Reproductive (SAFER) Health Act to close those loopholes.

The Biden administration also could act to close those loopholes almost immediately through rulemaking at the Department of Health and Human Services, said health care lawyer Linda Malek of the Moses Singer Law Group. 

Malek said HHS could change HIPAA disclosure provisions and require that doctors and other covered entities under HIPAA obtain explicit consent from patients before sharing health information with law enforcement.

Other legal experts also expect the HHS to release guidelines requiring consent from the patient before doctors disclose reproductive health information, especially with a Democratic, abortion-rights president in place. 

“Generally, physicians don’t want to ignore what a court tells them to do,” said Roy Wyman, a privacy and security attorney. “They’re wanting to have some guidance that would allow them to keep the relationship with the patient secure and not have their patients worrying about this. The big concern is that women are not going to receive treatment that they need for fear of law enforcement.” 

Jacobs said she has been speaking with both HHS and the Biden administration to work on closing some of these exemptions in privacy law via rulemaking. A rulemaking session allows the department to develop and publish rules after soliciting comments from the public and other stakeholders.

Gabriela Sibori, a spokesperson for HHS, said that the department is in a session of rulemaking and could not comment on any potential changes to data privacy law around HIPAA and reproductive health. She also could not say when HHS will finish its rulemaking session. 

But even if HHS changes its policies, Jacobs said congressional legislation would enshrine the safeguards. Jacobs, however, acknowledged that her bill is unlikely to pass in a Republican-controlled House. 

“Executive rulemaking by the Department of Health and Human Services would be enough to close some of them,” Jacobs noted “But if this administration can make this change, the next administration could reverse it.”

Wyman said it’s still possible that women seeking abortions will be prosecuted even if HHS institutes a consent provision before doctors can legally disclose reproductive health records. 

For instance, law enforcement and courts will still be able to subpoena grocery stores to see when someone buys or stops buying menstrual products like tampons, he said. Even rideshare companies could be forced to disclose routes to abortion clinics, he said. 

Stacey Tovino, a professor at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law, said that congressional action would be needed to extend privacy protections under HIPAA to additional persons and organizations. Apps, fitness watches, Google Maps routing a trip to Planned Parenthood and health care providers who take cash or credit cards (but not insurance) all hold reproductive health information and are not covered by HIPAA.

If we want to expand the application of the HIPAA pivacy rule so that all of the people who collect, maintain, use and disclose reproductive health information are regulated, then we’d need Congress to amend HIPAA,” Tovino said.

Jacobs said she is still helping with a Senate companion bill for the SAFER Health Act. She said she thinks it’s necessary to begin thinking about privacy protections both under and separate from HIPAA in a post-Dobbs world. 

“The Dobbs decision has prompted a lot of conversation around what we need to do to protect privacy, and especially the privacy of people who are in states criminalizing abortion,” Jacobs said.

Published in conjunction with  STAT News Logo

House Judiciary subcommittee tackles causes of fentanyl crisis

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday blamed immigration at the southern border for an increasing number of fentanyl deaths, stepping up their criticisms of Biden administration policies and calling for stricter regulations and more surveillance at the border.

During a hearing by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance, Chairman Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.. and other lawmakers zeroed in on the role of Mexican cartels and Chinese manufacturers in counterfeit drug trafficking.

“Last year, we seized about 700 pounds of fentanyl” along the Arizona border, Biggs said. “That’s enough to kill everyone in Arizona 21 times, or half the population of the United States. The majority of that was encountered in the field, being backpacked across the border.”

The committee directed a number of national security questions to Derek Maltz, who worked with the Special Operations Division at the Drug Enforcement Administration. Maltz, who retired after 28 years with the agency, said he gained significant knowledge of Mexican cartels during his tenure with the DEA.

He stressed this is not the same drug crisis as 10 years ago or in the 1990s. Instead, Maltz labeled fentanyl as a national security crisis.

“The president should immediately declare a national security and public health emergency,” Maltz said. “They [the cartels] need to be held accountable, even if it means using our U.S. military.” He noted that the cartels are “killing more Americans than any terrorist organization,” including Al Qaeda and ISIS.

During a separate oversight hearing Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland also was asked about what the administration was doing to prevent fentanyl from entering the country.

“We have a huge epidemic of [a] fentanyl problem created by intentional acts by the cartels,” Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We are doing everything we can within our resources to fight that.”

Although House Democrats tried to avoid conflating migration across the southern border with the problem, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, condemned the Trump administration’s focus on building a wall across the southern border while a fentanyl crisis exploded throughout the United States.

Jackson Lee praised the Biden administration’s recent collaboration with the Mexican government, which aims to stop people in China and India from creating chemical precursors to fentanyl and sending them to Mexican cartels.

“The Biden administration and Congress have both taken decisive steps to address the scourge and disrupt the supply chain of fentanyl,” Jackson Lee said. “We are giving them the resources they need to be the Superman, Batman and the mighty man.”

Jackson Lee said the Biden administration invested in advanced inspection technology to help detect fentanyl at the border in this year’s spending bill.

She emphasized the importance of education in ending the fentanyl crisis in the United States. She said she intends to introduce a bill that provides funding for teachers to give lessons about adverse effects of drugs.

She added a particular need exists to raise awareness of the dangers of fake prescription pills, noting that the cartels have mastered creating fake bills that resemble prescription oxycontin.

“We can disrupt the flow of things and also reduce the demand [for counterfeit pills,” Jackson Lee said. “For far too long, this country has chosen the wrong approach for parents, families and communities. Addiction treatment is a difficult and challenging path that impacts all of our communities.”

Some of the most gut-wrenching testimony came from Erin Rachwal, of Wisconsin, who lost her son to fentanyl poisoning in his freshman year of college.

“Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 18 to 45, and it’s only getting younger,” Rachwal said. “These are the ages when young adults like Logan should be thriving and excelling. But, instead, thousands of them are dying. Death leaves no opportunity to recover.”

Rachwal is a licensed clinical therapist and runs the Love, Logan Foundation, a nonprofit named for her son that aims to increase support and education about fentanyl and end stigma around mental health and drug addiction.

She encouraged Congress to pursue education campaigns to combat the opioid crisis. Rachwal said she met with 120 young children Tuesday as part of an education initiative, and 98% of them hadn’t heard about fentanyl or Narcan, the brand name of a drug containing naloxone that can be used to treat overdoses.

Maltz said families like the Rachwal’s should not be using their own money to erect billboard messages and travel to raise awareness.

“Protecting kids must be number one,” he said, arguing that social media and other tools should be harnessed to reach children. “You have to keep seeing if the death rate has slowed down. And if not, you have to change.”

Published in conjunction with UPI Logo

Latest in Environment

Senators hear how climate change could lead to economic pain

WASHINGTON — Senators on Wednesday grappled with the already-existing and looming-future economic costs of climate change, and how to prevent them. 

At a Budget Committee Hearing, experts delivered testimony that revealed a concerning state that America is in: unmitigated climate change could lead to economic chaos worse than the 2008 financial crisis and further strain budget deficits.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) kicked off the hearing by discussing how the climate crisis is different from others that have stressed the economy in the 21st century.

“Look at our national debt.  One thing that stands out is how much of it was incurred as a result of exogenous shocks to the economy,” he said, adding that both the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic added $10 trillion to the debt. “Headlights, and better attention to what they illuminated, could have helped… Now we have all these warnings.”

Dr. Mark Carney, former governor of both the Banks of England and Canada, said coastal erosion will weaken property values in those regions. Extreme weather will increase food costs. And increased flooding will damage infrastructure not built to withstand the new environment.

“The hit to GDP growth from unmitigated climate change is expected to be significant,” Carney said. He added global GDP per capita could fall between 10 to 20% without efforts to curb climate change.

Dr. Robert Litterman, the chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee, made the case that pushing incentives is the way to get action on this issue.

“We need to create incentives to reduce emissions, we all understand this,” he said. “People respond to incentives. If we get the right incentives, we’ll get the right behaviors.”

He added those incentives need to also be applied on a global scale, as the U.S. needs to work diplomatically with other nations to “harmonize” the incentives across the world and therefore hopefully yield stronger emission reductions.

The need for a global push was echoed by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). He voiced frustration that those engaged in the climate debate often forget the U.S. isn’t the leader in emissions. 

“We have to do things that have a global impact,” he said. But Romney also listed policy proposals he’d be supportive of. “Research and technology and a price on carbon are the things that would make a difference.”

A carbon tax has long been an idea to address climate change, but it failed to make it into the Inflation Reduction Act last year.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned the panelists about how a carbon tax could impact American households. Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin explained his case for pricing.

“The literature says very clearly that the right way to do this is a revenue-neutral carbon tax.” He explained that means taking the revenues from a carbon tax and using it to offset corporate and income taxes so people don’t feel the burden of it.

But Graham was skeptical and went back and forth with the panelists about what the tax could mean for utility bills, gas prices and other services.

Overall, both sides acknowledged there is a need to take action, but differ on its urgency and how to do so. 

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) summed up the general sentiment in his remarks: “We know that the cost of doing nothing is huge.”

Video: Judges name cleanest rural water in US

WASHINGTON – The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) hosted the 24th Great American Water Taste Test on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill

44 state-winning water samples were sent to Washington and the five finalists were judged in front of a crowd of supporters. Watch to see which state has the cleanest water in the United States.


Watch the video report here:

Latest in National Security

Border security officers ask House Homeland Security Committee for supportive legislation

WASHINGTON — At the first field hearing of the new session, expert witnesses called on the GOP-led House Homeland Security Committee to pass legislation to support agencies working on immigration and border security.

Raul Ortiz, the chief of U.S. border patrol for the Department of Homeland Security, said that the border is not under the agency’s operational control due to a “policy crisis.” However, despite scrutiny from Republican congressmen, he maintained that this problem has existed since he was a deputy chief almost 10 years ago and is not unique to President Joe Biden’s administration. 

“Today’s border environment requires a whole of government solution… which could be in the form of legislative or policy adjustments,” Ortiz said. “And that is where I ask for your help. We need more options.”

While House Republicans promised to bring immigration legislation onto the floor within the first few weeks of the new session, they have failed to do so thus far. 

Steven Cagen, the assistant director for Countering Transnational Organized Crime Homeland Security Investigations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency needs additional infrastructure to continue drug seizures along the border. While Biden and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s current approach includes increased funding for ICE and Customs and Border Protection, Congress’s deadlock has stalled additional funding.

“HSI is dedicated to using its broad and unique authorities to stop illicit drugs at every critical location in the supply chain,” Cagen said. “HSI will need additional staffing to support complex investigations and prosecutions to dismantle TCO threats to the homeland.

According to CBP data, there were almost 2.4 million encounters on the southern border in 2022, the highest annual total on record. This number was about 650,000 more than 2021 and over five times more than 2020, which saw a dip in migration that experts attribute to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Committee members asked Ortiz whether he thought this sharp increase could be attributed to Biden’s campaign promises around immigration. Ortiz, who has worked in border patrol since 1991 and has been chief of the agency since 2021, did not answer affirmatively. 

He said they also “had some vulnerabilities” on the southern border in 2019 under President Donald Trump’s DHS. He said he did not agree with the actions taken in response to influxes in migration during that time period, such as the family separation policy. 

“Separating families was a significant challenge for our organization,” Ortiz said. “And I will tell you that once again, there’s got to be another way to solve some of the issues that we’re faced with right now.”

The hearing took place at South Texas College in McAllen, Texas. Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said this trip to the Rio Grande Valley, a region on the U.S.-Mexico border, was meant to expose committee members to the needs of on-the-ground border security agents. 

However, in press releases leading up to the trip, Republican congressmen said the hearing was meant to “examine Secretary Mayorkas’ Border Crisis.” Democrats on the committee did not attend because of the political skew of the hearing. But the chairman condemned his colleagues across the aisle: “You can’t have bipartisanship if the other side fails to show up for their duty.”

“We came to Texas for this hearing for several reasons: to get members of Congress and their staff out of the cubicles back in Washington and down here to the border to see it for ourselves,” Green said. “You cannot read about being a doctor and then go do brain surgery.” 

Select committee on China aims to reverse decades-long economic trends, strengthen U.S. security

WASHINGTON — The House Select Committee on China convened for the first time on Tuesday night and its members vowed to work together to improve the United States’ standing in economic competition with China.

“We must practice bipartisanship and avoid anti-Chinese stereotypes at all costs,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member. “The CCP is counting on us to be divided. We must rise to the occasion and prove them wrong.”

As tensions with China have spiked on multiple fronts in recent weeks, committee members highlighted the importance of investing in U.S. manufacturing, technology and defense. Lawmakers and witnesses also said the U.S. needs to take a stronger stand against the human rights and censorship abuses being committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China and beyond.

“We need to make it easier for Chinese people to connect with the outside world and see news and information flowing in safely without the digital panopticon of the Chinese Communist Party,” said Matthew Pottinger, former deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration. “I don’t think we’ve tried very hard.”

Former national security advisor H.R. McMaster testified and said the United States has “fallen behind” China in a wide range of areas relating to economic development. The committee’s ranking member Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) noted that the United States’ trade deficit with China has increased dramatically since the U.S. normalized trade relations with China in 2000.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, testified that the U.S. “big company” investment in China grew tenfold over the last two decades and he condemned businesses, sports leagues and retail outlets who rely on Chinese labor and consumers for being “silent in China.” He also said allowing China to enter the World Trade Organization in 2001 was a “spectacular failure of conventional failure and elite opinion.”

“We have helped to feed the baby dragon of the CCP until it has grown into what it is now,” said Tong Yi, a human rights activist who provided compelling first-person testimony at the hearing.

While there was a focus on the past shortcomings, members of the committee made it clear that threats from China are greater now than ever before as it continues to not “play by the rules” and spends massive amounts bolstering its military.

“We may call this a strategic competition, but it’s not a polite tennis match,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the committee’s chair. “This is an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century. The most fundamental freedoms are at stake.”

The new select committee on China was formed in January after the House voted in favor of its creation 365-65.

Its first hearing was held just weeks after the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina and just days after the Department of Energy said with “low confidence” that COVID-19 pandemic likely began with a lab leak in Wuhan, China. FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed with the Department of Energy’s assessment in an interview on Tuesday.

Another hot-button issue discussed in Tuesday’s hearing was the future of Tiktok in the U.S. The Chinese-owned social media app has come under scrutiny for the excessive amount of personal information it collects from its users. Though Tiktok’s parent company ByteDance has denied any association with China’s state intelligence services, Pottinger said the app poses “a real problem for our privacy and our national security.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted across party lines Wednesday on a bill that would allow President Joe Biden to effectively ban Tiktok in the U.S. It’s unclear when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

While the China select committee’s purpose will likely be more investigative than legislative, Paul stressed that competing with China will require cooperation from both parties and all branches of government moving forward.

“It takes intent. For too long we did not have the intent,” Paul said. “There is no single policy that will change this. It is going to take an all-of-government approach.”

Latest in Living

Video: A night at the Museum, in Washington

WASHINGTON — The National Gallery of Art opened up its doors last Friday night for an evening of music and dancing.

The theme of the event was “Sheroes,” in celebration of women’s history month.The event also offered a preview of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, which was approved by Congress in December 2020.

Watch the video report here:


Video: Drawing history, one sketch at a time

Ashburn, Va. — William Hennessy has worked  as a court artist for over 40 years. He began in 1982, covering the Senate before C-SPAN coverage began.

Currently, he covers the U.S. Supreme Court and has covered major historical moments, from Ketanji Brown Jackson’s appointment to the Court, to President Bill Clinton’s presidential impeachment. 

In the video below, Hennesssy describes his creative process and why he’s passionate about his work.

Watch the video report here:

Latest Business

Sanders presses ahead with labor rights at hearing after showdown with Starbucks CEO

WASHINGTON –  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) kept up the pressure on attacking corporate interference to unionization on Wednesday, a day after he secured the voluntary cooperation of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to testify before a Senate committee.

Sanders, chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, better known as the HELP Committee, was planning to hold a vote on Wednesday to subpoena Schultz to testify after the CEO had initially refused to appear. But Sanders announced Tuesday night that Schultz would voluntarily testify on March 29.

Still, Sanders was highly critical of Starbucks, saying that the company had thwarted numerous union efforts at various coffee branches and stymied numerous efforts by workers.

“Despite the fact that over 280 Starbucks coffee shops have successfully voted to form a union over the past year, Starbucks has refused to negotiate in good faith to sign a single first contract with their employees,” Sanders said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Sanders emphasized the importance of the committee hearing as a means to address the challenges faced by Americans in a society where an unfair and unusual economy exists.

“In America today, from coast to coast, we have people by the millions, working for starvation wages,” Sanders said in his opening statement.

Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation composed of 60 unions,  called for more federal action to support workers’ legal rights, especially to address the  pushback from employers against unionizing. 

In her testimony, Shuler mentioned corporations such as Starbucks, Delta Airlines, and Apple, which she said have had some of their most profitable years in history but have failed to provide fair pay to their workers. She emphasized that unions are the strongest means for employees to fight for justice and equity in the workplace. 

“What do workers have to show for fair pay?” Shuler asked.

Mary Kay Henry, the international president of the Service Employees International Union, echoed those worries, saying that “working families all over this country are at a disadvantage.” 

But several GOP members of the committee questioned whether more legislation was necessary to protect unions and instead called for an end to so-called “union-security” agreements, which require all employees in a bargaining unit to become union members.

Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) gave his own experience as an example, having started a plumbing company with only six employees though now employs around 300 individuals. 

Mullin recounted an incident from 2009 when some organizations attempted to unionize what he said were “his satisfied and well-compensated workers.” Mullin suggested that the unions were hampering his company, which had successfully bid for jobs that would have otherwise gone to unionized firms. 

Mullin questioned Sean O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, on whether he had been able to create any jobs and hire people. 

O’Brien said no but said that the union creates create opportunities to hold “greedy CEOs accountable.”The March 29 committee hearing with Schultz will likely result in a similar faceoff between Sanders and the Starbucks CEO. Starbucks said in a letter to the committee on Tuesday that it looks “forward to continuing to work with the Committee to foster productive dialogue.”

House passes bill to impose new rules on executive orders to reduce inflation

WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House garnered bipartisan support for a measure aimed at putting checks on presidential power by passing the REINS Act in a 272-148 vote on Wednesday.

The measure, which stands for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, would require the Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Economic Advisers to inform the president of inflationary effects of any executive order that would affect the budget by at least $1 million. 

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) said the bill is a necessary step to reduce inflation, which several Republicans claim is a result of President Joe Biden’s 107 executive orders since taking office.

The legislation “ensures that costly actions the president decides to take solely under his own authority under executive order will not go into effect until he’s informed of and considers the inflationary effects,” Comer said. 

Though the bill got several Democrats on board, leaders of the party slammed the legislation as a waste of government resources, saying it isn’t a tangible solution to address inflation costs. 

The bill, however, has not passed in many previous sessions of Congress, so may not move through the Democratic-controlled Senate. In addition, it is unlikely that Biden would sign the measure into law.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said the legislation is not designed to provide meaningful solutions to economic concerns. He said his party members have been waiting to see Republicans “big, grand” plan and this legislation is consistent with their lack of focus on real “kitchen table, pocket book concerns of American people.”

“The bill is three pages, and what does it call for? It calls for reports,” Jeffries said. “You’ve been focused on the wrong things.” 

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asserted that many of Biden’s executive orders fueled the inflation crisis, and this bill would require the president to acknowledge his role in inflation. 

“This is about transparency to the American people,” Stefanik said. 

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said House Democrats have implemented several tangible pieces of legislation to help families with rising costs of living. 

“We’ve seen how people’s lives improve when government stepped up to enact a moratorium on evictions or sent urgently needed stimulus checks to families or expanded the child tax credit or cap insulin at $35 a month,” Bush said. “Those are the actions that saved lives, that’s what we need and we need more of that now.” 

Several amendments were adopted as part of the vote, including one from Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) to require inflation estimates to be made publicly available, and one from Rep. Scott Perry (R-Calif.), which decreased the amount of major executive orders affected by the bill from $1 billion to $1 million. 

Some Democratic House members attempted to amend the legislation to use different economic indicators to provide assessments of the potential budgetary effects of executive orders, but all of their amendments were rejected. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced an amendment that would require the legislation to use “Genuine Progress Indicator” economic measure tools, which she said would provide a more accurate and inclusive assessment of the economic well-being of all Americans. 

“It would give us the chance to finally account for important but overlooked aspects of society like wealth distribution, economic sustainability and the overall quality of life for everyday Americans,” Omar said. 

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 | March 2, 2023