Latest in Politics
Calls to remove statues that honor the United States’ discriminatory past from public display have gained traction nationwide, but efforts to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol have been slow.read more
WASHINGTON – For years, political prognosticators prophesied the coming civil war within the Republican Party, and for years, the expected reckoning on the right has failed to come to pass. Now, with the GOP out of power and former president Donald Trump still hung up on his 2020 loss, some cracks have begun to emerge within the Republican coalition.
“There are signs that Trump’s grip on the party is more fragile than it may look,” American Enterprise Institute senior fellow and Republican Party expert Matthew Continetti told Medill News Service.
In yet another move to purge the GOP of anti-Trump forces, the Republican National Committee voted last month to censure Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) for their involvement with the House select committee investigating the insurrection.
In its resolution, the RNC accused Cheney and Kinzinger of “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
The characterization of the events of Jan. 6 as “legitimate political discourse” set off a round of Republican infighting, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.) — among many other dissenting statements from prominent GOP officeholders — asserting that what took place that day constituted “a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election, from one administration to the next.”
Amid all the tension between different camps within the party, Trump is in the process of attempting to punish Republicans who voted to impeach him in the wake of Jan. 6.
The former president went so far as to say “the censure of Cheney and Kinzinger is a good and very appropriate thing to do as it pertains to our great Republican Party!”
Of the 10 House Republicans who voted in the affirmative on the question of impeachment, seven are running for re-election. Six of those seven have drawn primary challengers endorsed by Trump.
Given the former president’s apparent grip on the Republican Party, one might be expected to assume the Trump-endorsed challengers have dominated their opponents financially. That assumption would be incorrect.
“Donald Trump remains the most popular individual among rank-and-file Republicans,” conservative commentator Matt Lewis told Medill News Service, “but that popularity is not transferable — his endorsements are not guarantees of success in GOP primaries. Likewise, Republicans who become targets of his attacks are not predestined to lose internecine battles.”
If fundraising constitutes part of success, Lewis is absolutely right.
AND THE MONEY KEPT ROLLING IN…
All six House Republican incumbents running for re-election who voted to impeach Trump have dramatically outraised their Trump-endorsed challengers.
Washington Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse raised $2.257 million and $967 thousand during 2021, respectively. Herrera Beutler’s opponent, Fox News favorite Joe Kent, was more successful in fundraising than most of the Trump-endorsed challengers, pulling in $1.394 million during 2021, but still did not come close to matching the incumbent’s total. Newhouse’s opponent, Loren Culp, raised $145 thousand that year.
Continetti said the disparities between incumbents’ fundraising and that of their challengers is a sign of Trump’s weakening grasp over the GOP.
“The fundraising numbers are a sign of a divided party,” Continetti said, “and the large-money donors in the GOP are more likely to have been offended by President Trump’s behavior after he lost the election in November — and mortified by January 6 — than the small-dollar donors who have been feeding Trump’s PAC haul.”
“Many of the challengers Trump has endorsed,” said Continetti, “tend to be from the fringes of the party, making them more likely to support Trump’s actions after the election and around January 6. It also limits their viability.”
J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of election analysis newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball, echoed Continetti’s assessment of the electability of Trump-endorsed candidates, pointing to Meijer as someone who may be able to tout his general-election appeal as a reason why Republicans should choose not to support his challenger.
“He could potentially have a tough primary,” Coleman said of Meijer, “but redistricting has made his seat more Democratic. He could at least argue to his primary voters, ‘Okay, well, I have a certain crossover appeal, I won a very tough general election in 2020, and if you don’t stick with me, we could lose the seat to the Democrats.’”
University at Buffalo political science professor James Campbell, though, said the fundraising gap may actually be a bad sign for the Trump-opposed incumbents.
“There’s a long, long history of research on campaign finance,” said Campbell, “and what it demonstrates is that incumbents who tend to raise the most money are the ones who are in the most trouble…they need that campaign finance advantage to hold their seats.”
It is important to note that it is still very early in the election cycle.
“The most obvious thing to look for,” Continetti said about the rest of primary season, “is whether this trend holds…This is shaping up to be a big Republican year, and so Republicans are going to earn a lot of money. A lot of that money is going to flow to incumbents, and what’s interesting is that this money is flowing to incumbents regardless of their records on impeachment.”
The most important thing to keep in mind, according to each expert, is that nothing is certain in politics.
“It would be simpler if Trump were either completely omnipotent or entirely incompetent,” said Lewis. “The truth about his influence within the GOP is more complex and messy. When it comes to punishing Republicans, I think Trump has limited bandwidth. I think he can take down a Jeff Flake or a Liz Cheney — high-profile figures who have consistently crossed him.”
“But taking down multiple incumbent Republicans,” Lewis said, “requires a degree of organization and an attention span that is beyond him.”
It began with Missouri and Maine back in 1890.
It ended in 1959, when Democrats pressured Republican President Eisenhower to grant statehood to Alaska if he hoped to make Hawaii the 50th state.
For decades, states were added into the Union in pairs, the intent of this being to balance electoral power — hoping to preserve an even number of leaning Democrat and Republican states.
Now, some advocates hope the next pair of new states can be the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) has supported statehood for Puerto Rico and has often referenced how two states have come into the union at once in the past, usually a blue state and a red one.
Supporters of D.C. statehood, like congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Bo Shuff, the executive director of D.C. Vote and Bill Lightfoot, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign chairman, have also supported this joint statehood pact.
“We want statehood for D.C.,” Lightfoot said. “And we’ll get it in whatever way we can, with Puerto Rico or without it, we just want statehood.”
But for Puerto Rico, agreeing to join this pact isn’t cut and dry.
A Not So Significant Majority
Around 52.5% of Puerto Rican voters favored statehood in the 2020 Puerto Rican status referendum, and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colon (NPP-Puerto Rico) used these results to justify these results co-sponsoring a statehood legislation for Puerto Rico to become a state.
Contrast these numbers with D.C.’s overwhelming 86% of the population in favor of statehood, and you see a clear difference regarding interest in the movement by Puerto Ricans and Washington residents, respectively.
This statistic has even made previous supporters of statehood hesitant to continue supporting it.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — who in the past said he’d “love” to make Puerto Rico a state — recently told “El Nuevo Día” that the plebiscite “did not reflect the strong consensus required to advance a pro-statehood bill.”
The Red, Blue Balance & The Purple Mix
Since being given the right to vote in general elections, Washington D.C. has consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates since gaining the right to do so.
It’s because of this that all Republican senators have opposed statehood for the District.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made it clear in 2019 that he will never allow Washington D.C. or Puerto Rico to become a state since he considers that the idea is part of the “socialist agenda” of the Democrats to control the Senate.
While Puerto Rico has long been a potential Democratic bastion — when participating in the 2016 presidential primaries in Puerto Rico, the vote leaned Democrat by more than two to one — Republicans have also influenced Puerto Rico’s political representation.
Officially, González Colon belongs to the New Progressive Party, but she caucuses with the House Republican Conference.
Pact advocates see this contrast between Washington and Puerto Rico as a way to guarantee the electoral balance needed to satisfy both parties.
However, island leaders like the Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi see Puerto Rico as a potential swing state, sullying the validity of these claims.
“Our rural communities are populated by people with conservative values and could very well vote Republican. Our urban areas are more liberal,” Pierluisi said. “We will be a swing state.”
The resident commissioner also predicts that Puerto Rico would be a swing state, but she bets that voters would favor Republican candidates.
The reality seen by Republicans is that admitting Puerto Rico as a state along with Washington D.C. would be to the Democrats’ advantage. Sentiments brought up for discussion by “Latino Rebels” after President Biden told González Colón he’d vote for statehood if he were living in Puerto Rico.
The status bill presented in this session has reaffirmed the Republicans’ disinterest in this debate.
“I do respect the real concerns of the people of D.C.,” González Colón said at a press conference. “But my priority is the people of Puerto Rico, the 3.2 million Americans, that have been waiting for [statehood] a very long time.”
However, as previously mentioned, not all 3.2 million Puerto Ricans favor statehood.
A vocal population of independentists, including “Radio Independencia” co-host Andrés González Berdecía, have more than “123 years worth of reasons” to want to avoid assimilation with the United States — the biggest example being the debt crisis.
Puerto Rico got into debt after companies took advantage of a U.S. tax break and then went back home after it was phased out. The island tried to sell Wall Street bonds to fill this hole, but that only deepened its debt crisis.
The U.S., wanting the island to pay what they say it owes, has made it take funds away from things like pension plans, infrastructure and public schools — since 2016, 523 schools have closed in Puerto Rico.
“Seeing young people react to all these systems of oppression shows me that they understand that the status quo no longer works and that statehood continues to be unreachable,” Adriana Gutiérrez Colón, co-host of “Radio Independencia,” said. “They’re seeing independence as a potential first step to begin to develop ourselves as a sovereign nation.”
An alternative to González Cólon and Rep. Darren Soto’s (D-Florida) bill is the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021.
Introduced in the House by representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and by Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in the Senate, the measure calls for creating a “status convention“ made up of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters.
The delegates would be responsible for coming up with long-term solutions for the island’s territorial status — statehood, independence, a free association or other options beyond its current territorial arrangement.
The bill has been able to garner support from independentists like González Berdecía and Gutiérrez Colón, saying that a bill like this is one that those at the Puerto Rican Independence Party “have tried to push,” and is one they believe would be “favored by most Puerto Ricans.”
The legislation has also generated support from the movement “Victoria Ciudadana” and the speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, among others.
“A colony is incompatible with democracy, it’s incompatible with full citizenship, and we should all be able to enjoy the right to vote for our leaders,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Latest in Education
Many Afghan refugee students have not been able to produce transcripts, meaning they either have to start over or find alternative schooling. If they are able to go to school, Afghan refugee students find themselves having to relearn an entirely new school system.read more
WASHINGTON – Four stamps commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX were unveiled by the U.S. Postal Service at a ceremony in the U.S. Department of Education Thursday.
“The stamps we are about to unveil are not merely a recognition of Title IX,” said Amber McReynolds, a governor on the Postal Service Board of Governors. “They are also a tribute to the women who set the stage and who continue to fight for the future of girls.”
First passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs that receive federal financial assistance. It is best known for ensuring schools have procedures for responding to sexual harassment and violence and for expanding opportunities for women in sports.
“The passage of Title IX was a seminal moment in our nation’s history,” said Cindy Marten, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. “One that forever changed how women would experience life in the United States.”
WASHINGTON—At 3 a.m. on the first day of Black History Month, Spelman College, an Atlanta-based HBCU, received its second bomb threat of the year.
Six hours later, Spelman junior Sophia Parker found out about the threat through an email sent by the school.
At noon, Parker went to class on campus.
“My high school had a lot of bomb threats, so I kind of was used to false threats that weren’t actually going to happen,” Parker said. “Because the first one happened, I just had a gut feeling, like, it’s some kids. Probably some racist white kids being cruel and targeting HBCUs.”
Parker’s instincts weren’t far off. A day later, the FBI identified six juveniles as persons of interest in bomb threats sent to at least 17 HBCUs in February. These threats followed the ones made in January when most students were not yet on campus.
On Feb. 8, Spelman received a third bomb threat, prompting them to close campus and cancel classes for the day. Two days later, Spelman junior Zoë Huey said no one on campus was talking about the threats. The third threat, Huey said, felt predictable. Students across the HBCUs say life on campus has largely returned to normal—though they still want the threats to be taken seriously.
“There’s very much a sense we’ve been desensitized to this kind of violence, not just Spelman specifically but what the U.S. has been facing,” Huey said. “It’s normal for us to hear about these sort of things, and it’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten so used to it and we can go about our lives two days later as if this threat didn’t happen.”
“Should we have to be resilient?”
Bomb threats against Black institutions aren’t new. Many students said they weren’t surprised by the threats—and that they automatically thought they were hate crimes or motivated by white supremacy.
“In this country, we have a long history of Black people being terrorized just for being successful,” said Leslie Jones, an HBCU alumna who founded the Hundred-Seven, a website promoting HBCUs.
Jones pointed to a civil rights era nickname for Birmingham, Alabama: “Bombingham,” due to the local Klu Klux Klan terror campaign against Black residents moving into segregated white neighborhoods. Fifty bombings occurred between 1947 and 1965 alone.
The first college owned and operated by Black people, Wilberforce University, had several buildings damaged by arson in 1865. Lemoyne-Owen College was burned to the ground during the Memphis Riot of 1866, which killed 46 Black people and injured almost 300 more. Both institutions still operate today.
“Historically we have these stories, ‘Yes, we’re resilient, we want to continue our education.’ But at the same time, should we have to be resilient to get an education?” Jones said. “It’s not a fair expectation of Black people as they continue to be mistreated and attacked just for basic things, and then think, ‘OK, we’re going to rebound from it.’ Yeah, we will, but we shouldn’t have to rebound in the first place.”
Students of the moment
When her school shut down, Bowie State University sophomore Niyah Norton’s first thought was an active shooter. When she found out it was a bomb threat, she was “slightly relieved.”
“In high school, I actually went through an active shooter incident. I won’t say I had PTSD from it, but it was very traumatizing,” Norton said, adding that she knew it would be difficult for her to evacuate safely from her fifth-floor apartment. “I guess I kind of panicked, like, oh, no, not again. But once I heard it was a bomb threat, I was like, it’s not gonna happen.”
Rondez Green, a senior at Bowie State, said his school district in Maryland, like Parker’s, experienced numerous shooting and bomb threats.
“It’s very sad to see the way it is just normalized to live under constant threats of violence and targeted hatred,” said Green. “It’s just honestly really embarrassing. It’s very embarrassing.”
Green wishes people would consider the connections between episodes of violence and the marginalization and othering of minority communities.
“You hear a lot the day of, throughout the fallout of the event. But no one asks about it again,” Green said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s conversation on what this means in the consistent pattern of political violence in this country and acts of oppression.”
On the importance of HBCUs
Advocates say HBCUs provide students with the opportunity to learn about history often whitewashed in classrooms, especially at a time when Republicans have launched a coordinated attack on teaching race in schools under the term “critical race theory.”
“HBCUs have been able to fill that gap and provide students a better understanding of their history, and not have history that is is this glamorized slave story like some movie or show, but the true movement,” said Alyssa Canty, director of youth programs at a democracy watchdog group called Common Cause.
Parker said she chose an HBCU in part because she felt she could learn more about Black history. She feels HBCUs allow her to learn about traumatic historical events in a safe space.
“Even though I went to a very diverse high school and I’ve always been around great teachers, I still didn’t get the full story at all. Black history is American history,” Parker said. “We built this country quite literally, so not teaching it to its fullest extent is only going to produce more racist, ignorant, bigoted people.”
Without HBCUs, Jones said there would be a “severe vacuum” in not only higher education, but in society as a whole.
“There are some amazing things happening daily on the campus of an HBCU,” Jones said. “Realistically, if there weren’t great things happening on HBCU campuses, they wouldn’t be calling any bomb threats in the first place.”
The threats haven’t stopped: Howard University received its fourth bomb threat this year on Valentine’s Day. Less than two hours after the shelter-in-place order was put into effect, students received an “all-clear” message.
“happy vday,” one 19-year-old Howard student wrote on Twitter in response to the alert.
Health & Science
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WASHINGTON – Six-year-old Isa says she doesn’t mind being a girl with a penis.
“Yep, very happy,” said Isa, formerly Isaac, who, according to her mother Violet A., has identified herself as a girl since she started speaking at two.
Though she’s too young to know that she’s a transgender woman and part of the LGBTQ+ community, Isa says she’s felt “different.”
“One of the questions that she asked me was, ‘why don’t the other girls have penises?’” recalled Violet, who says her daughter frequently chooses her own sparkle and pattern-bedazzled outfits. “‘Why am I different from the other girls?’”
But for Texans like Isa and Violet — as well as trans individuals and advocates nationwide — alarm bells blared after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in an opinion last Friday that providing gender-affirming health care to minors can be considered child abuse under Texas law.
“[Lawmakers are] using trans people and trans youth as political pawns,” said Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser for the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT). “The primary election being at the height of next week, this isn’t a coincidence… If [it] garnishes [Republicans] more votes, then [they’re] going to do it, which is very harmful and alarming.”
As Segovia confirmed, an attorney general’s opinion alone cannot change state laws, so agencies, such as the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), can decide whether to follow and utilize the opinion. But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded to Paxton’s statement, encouraging DFPS to investigate trans children, as well as prosecute their parents as child abusers, should the minor be suspected of receiving gender transitioning treatment.
“We’ve not yet seen the response from DFPS, other than they’re trying to look at the opinions, investigate what’s happening and go from there,” Segovia said.
But experts say Texas already is unwelcoming to trans individuals. According to Lone Star Legal Aid, only about 1 in 10 trans and gender nonconforming Texans have all their IDs align with their gender identity. And 1 in 3 have IDs reflecting their correct name and gender.
“You’re watching [Texas] leadership be bullies that then citizens of the state, people of the state, are then saying, well, if you don’t care about trans people, I don’t have to care about trans people,” Segovia said.
“Trans people are, especially in Texas, just wanting the ability to survive, not even to thrive, because we’re not there yet, but to survive,” Segovia added.
According to a December 2021 study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, access to gender-affirming hormone therapy drastically reduced depression and suicide attempts in trans teens aged 13-17 by 40%. Erin Reed, a trans rights advocate and trans woman herself, says such medical care is one of the most effective treatments, as well as prevention of suicide among trans teens.
“These are real lives,” Reed said. “These are people that will, that can harm themselves and are very vulnerable.”
Such anti-trans agenda and legislation have been surging nationwide since 2021, particularly in GOP-dominated legislatures, with the midterms fast approaching. Trans rights advocates and experts say a primary focus is maintaining a Democratic, pro-equality majority in Congress.
“In the upcoming midterm elections, the stakes for LGBTQ+ people — and all of us — are huge,” said Geoff Wetrosky, HRC national campaign director, in HRC’s “Equality Magazine” Late Fall 2021 issue. “Passing pro-LGBTQ+ federal legislation like the Equality Act becomes much more difficult if pro-equality majorities in the U.S. Senate or U.S. House are lost.”
With a total of 469 congressional seats – 34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats – as well as 36/50 state governor seats up for grabs during the 2022 midterm elections, experts predict Republicans could soon dominate the House. They say Democrats may have a better shot at maintaining control of the Senate.
“We are now in what is a fairly familiar cycle of the conservative Republican base being mobilized by appeals to a fabricated threat of trans people in educational settings,” said Katherine Franke, director of The Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University. “It’s just heartbreaking to see the horrible things that are being said about trans kids and the ways in which health care professionals and educators, parents, community members and others are being asked to play an active and hateful role.”
Though the political playing field is recurring, experts say there is a key difference this time around.
“They’ve ratcheted up the panic from one in which it was cisgender girls who were the ones at risk to now, it’s the actual trans kids themselves who are at risk by their very own identity and their own reasonable medical needs,” Franke said.
Both experts and trans rights advocates alike say that Democrats must address Republican pushes for anti-trans legislation head on, noting this could help rack up Democratic voters come November.
“To the extent that the Democrats don’t stand up for the fight and don’t provide a kind of defense of the people who are most vulnerable in the state, the Democratic base is not going to get out and vote for them,” Franke said. “Tacking to the middle has not been a great strategy for the Democrats, but they can’t seem to help themselves.”
On the other hand, more conservative Republicans may show up at the polls, Franke added.
There’s also shared disappointment by experts and trans individuals at the lack of Democrat response, both at the state and federal levels.
“The Democrats are often caught on their heels in the face of a well-orchestrated and fabricated panic that’s mobilized by the Republican right… rather than stepping up and asserting an affirmative agenda,” Franke said. Democrats “tend to be much more reactive than proactive around these issues.”
Some left-leaning voters and trans rights advocates, however, are also expressing uncertainty on whether their votes might matter this election cycle, especially when it comes to trans issues.
“I’m politically active, especially for this specific topic,” said Noelle Eve Palmer, a Northwestern junior, who transitioned in March 2020.
While Palmer still plans to head to the polls, come the midterms, doubt remains about whether the power of a single vote could solve this particular issue. “It’s scary to feel like you’re up against the government that wants you dead,” Palmer said.
Yet another fear of the political implications: Reed says she’s worried the political playbook can mean violence.
“If [Democrats] do nothing, things are going to get bad, bad, bad, bad and worse and worse and worse for us, starting in these red states,” Reed said. “It can just take a moment, it could just take one election, and then we lose it all. And a lot of people get hurt.”
For many trans individuals, physical identity very much ties into overall identity.
“[Isa] said, ‘I hate myself, because I hate boys,’” Violet said. “That was before the transition. The second thing that she said, which was a four-year-old version of a suicidal statement, was, ‘I just want to get smashed by a train.’”
To this day, Isa still says she wants to “cut off her penis.” Violet believes moving to California will offer safety and refuge for her daughter, whom she’s struggled to keep sheltered from the lack of support in their home state.
“The straw had already broke the camel’s back,” Violet said. “[Paxton’s announcement was] a little bit more alarming, because now I feel like anti-trans people are going to be more vocal.”
TENT’s Segovia blames a lack of statewide safety for the large population move out each year, especially during legislative cycles, in which parents of trans children grow increasingly concerned.
“[Lawmakers] could let us parent our children and make the decisions that we know are best for our children, instead of trying to put laws on us that would limit our ability to do what’s best for our kids,” Violet said.
Violet, with the help of Reed’s large social media following, has created a GoFundMe page to help her and Isa’s relocation to California. The single-mother says most of the donations came from outside of Texas.
“When I finally affirmed what she said [about being a girl]… she just came out of her shell, and she was vibrant and happy,” Violet said. “I just hadn’t seen her smile really until that day, so I’ll never forget it.”
And while Violet believes California will prove a more nurturing home for her daughter, she says she can’t help but worry for Isa’s future.
“[Isa’s transition] was still very scary for me as a parent because I’m like, wow, the world knows her as a boy. The world knows her as Isaac.”
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
WASHINGTON – For Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and ranking member Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Thursday’s hearing on dual-enrollment in Medicare and Medicaid was an opportunity to tout an accomplishment all too rare in today’s political climate: a true bipartisan legislative collaboration.
“One of the things I enjoy and appreciate about this committee,” Scott said, “is that we put seniors first, and not red ones or blue ones, Black ones or white ones, just seniors.”
To put seniors first, in Scott’s parlance, Casey announced the introduction of the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) Expanded Act.
The bill, Casey said, “would reduce administrative barriers that prevent the development and expansion of PACE programs” that “enable people with Medicare and Medicaid to receive all their benefits through a single organization, providing primary care, long-term care and more in one place.”
For many elderly Americans, this legislation comes not a moment too soon.
Jane Doyle, a resident of Bartonsville, Pennsylvania, and grandmother of three, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis over 20 years ago. Because of further medical complications, she has been unable to work since 2017. In Pennsylvania, Doyle said, Medicaid offers a waiver for home care expenses.
“Our family viewed this as a great alternative to a nursing home,” said Doyle, “but to qualify, someone must first apply for Medicaid and then apply for the waiver. This process was long and difficult.”
Harvard University associate professor and physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital Dr. Jose Figueroa said that — though the American health care system is difficult for anyone to fully comprehend, regardless of status — the process is “far more difficult for the 12.3 million dual-eligible patients living with disability, serious mental illness, frailty, multiple chronic conditions, and importantly, living in poverty.”
“One of the greatest failures of our health care system,” said Figueroa, “is that so much of dual-eligible patients’ time is lost navigating the complex and confusing rules and regulations of the two programs, which they must do to ensure they get the care and services they need.”
Eunice Medina, chief of staff of South Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, also stressed the importance of making the dual-enrollment program easier to understand.
“Streamlining programs and focusing efforts and funding on an integrated program,” Medina said, “can help avoid confusion and administrative burden among dual beneficiaries and providers.”
“When states are looking to integrate care,” Medina noted, “they may also need to consider the capacity of their Medicaid agency to manage the programs they have already committed to … resources that would allow states to strengthen their agency to support these massive internal and external changes would be most welcome.”
Scott surely embraced Medina’s analysis with open arms.
“To help states further improve coverage,” Scott said, “I have introduced legislation to provide further assistance to state Medicaid agencies to help integrate coverage. It creates a $100 million grant for states to improve care coordination for their dually-eligible population.”
“You have so many layers of complexity in your life as you age,” he said. “If we can eliminate any of it, it helps all of it.”
Latest in Environment
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WASHINGTON — Changes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard program could lead to wide-ranging economic impacts like increased gas prices and shutdowns of small refineries, experts told lawmakers during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Wednesday.
“If we proceed with a(n) (EPA) mandate, we prohibit innovation and alternatives to come forward,” said Lucian Pugliaresi, president of the Energy Policy Research Foundation. “Everyone who wants to proceed with these exotic fuels of the future should keep in mind that I don’t believe that the American people will react very positively if we go into a period of sustained, high gasoline prices.”
Lawmakers heard from several stakeholders, including members of the biofuel industry and a lawyer who represents small oil refineries, about their experiences with the EPA’s RFS program. The RFS, first established in 2005, sets guidelines for the amount of biofuels required to be blended with fossil fuels each year. The EPA recently announced new volume requirements for 2020, 2021 and 2022 in December.
Wednesday’s hearing marked the first time since 2016 that the committee re-examined the program — a gap that “speaks to the intricacies of the program,” according to ranking member Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
“The potential fault lines between opponents, supporters and would-be reformers don’t always align between one party or another,” Capito said.
Both experts and lawmakers expressed concern about how EPA policies might impact fuel costs, particularly in light of American prices hitting their highest level in eight years. Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, said challenges toward EPA policies have been one cause of higher fuel prices. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ July 2021 decision to vacate the EPA’s policy of year-round sale of E15, a gasoline mixed with ethanol, has been impactful as well, Skor said.
“Undermining the RFS and delaying the rollout of E15 means increasing gas prices for American consumers,” Skor said. “Gas prices are driven by the price of crude — not the cost of the RFS.”
Pugliaresi disagreed with Skor’s interpretation. While crude oil costs are contributing to overall higher fuel prices, he pointed to an analysis indicating that the EPA’s RFS policies contribute an additional 30 cents per gallon to gas prices.
On Feb. 7, Democratic members of the House Biofuels Caucus wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Regan in support of the updated RFS guidelines proposed in December, including the new volume targets and denial of economic hardship relief for 65 small refineries.
During Wednesday’s hearing, however, Senate Republicans said they were concerned about these changes, particularly regarding the refineries.
“This unprecedented and drastic step to propose a blanket denial of outstanding small refinery hardship petitions is especially puzzling as we see increasing gas prices and several small refinery closures around the nation, eliminating good-paying jobs in some of our rural communities as well,” Capito said.
Some panelists said one solution could be allowing several types of biofuel to compete on the open market, giving consumers a greater number of choices. Pugliaresi called for both greater market competition and greater research into biofuels with “substantial long-term public benefits.”
Skor echoed Pugliaresi’s calls for consumer choice, saying she was disappointed with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ July 2021 decision, which will pull E15 fuel off the market in June and leave buyers with less options.
“Consumers do need choices,” Skor said. “They need options at the pump… When it comes to competition, as we all pursue lower-carbon intense energy, that’s very important. And critical to that is making sure that the modeling, the incentives, the performance standards are technology-neutral. In this country, let the best win, right?”
WASHINGTON —Four years after Congress reauthorized the EPA’s brownfields program, House lawmakers met with city and county officials from across the country to discuss what can be changed before the next reauthorization deadline in 2023.
”How can we sustain this level of funding and secondly, what can we improve?” asked ranking member David McKinley, R-W.Va., during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday.
McKinley’s question to the panel of experts appearing before the committee guided much of the hearing on restoring potentially contaminated lands sites.
Brownfields are sites that were formerly used for industrial or commercial purposes and are not currently in use because of real or perceived contamination. They are usually plots of land on which commercial enterprises created pollution or soil contamination. Examples of brownfields can be former gas stations, metal facilities or laundromats. The EPA estimates that there are at least 450,00 brownfield sites nationwide. Sites require assessment and possible restoration under the program.
“Each site helps tell the story of that community’s economic past,” said committee Chairman Paul Tonko, D-N.Y. “But today we need to examine how we can make these sites part of our district’s economic futures.”
The brownfields program has changed the way contaminated property is dealt with in the 27 years since it was created, according to the EPA. Projects leveraged $20.13 per every EPA dollar expended to revitalize a site. Assessment, cleanup and restoration of a site require hundreds of employees to create a new, economically viable structure on the land. The EPA says more than 170,724 jobs have been leveraged nationwide as a result of this program.
Congress reauthorized the brownfields program in early 2018 after it lapsed in 2006. This most recent law set the next reauthorization date for 2023 and increased the cap on each site’s grant to $500,000 with the option to waive the cap and increase the grant amount to $650,000 per site.
Lawmakers kept the 2023 deadline in mind during their discussion.
McKinley said he applauds the bipartisan infrastructure bill that granted the brownfields program $1.5 billion but now the concern is sustaining that level of funding and improving the program.
“We want to make sure this remains a public private partnership,” he said. “We don’t want this to be a government bailout.”
Paul Ford, business development director at Frontier Group of Companies, said in response that the committee should consider allowing private for-profit applicants to access funds in a similar way to how some state programs grant money to public entities because he says those private companies have the ability to “leverage those government dollars into private investment and job creation.”
New York, among other states, has a state-specific brownfield program that focuses on community led initiatives to revitalize sites. More states may be able to develop their own brownfield programs through multipurpose grants from the EPA, which allowed New York City to provide funding to local governments and nonprofits that know the issues in their area, according to Lee Ilan, chief of planning in the mayor’s office of Environmental Remediation.
Most committee members agreed that technical assistance grants to small communities, especially rural and low-income areas are vital. These grants allow communities without resources like a planning department or grant writing office, to receive expert planning advice on revitalizing their lands.
“Most of our small towns and, in particular, our county and the rest of the small rural counties, we simply don’t have the infrastructure to even begin the projects,” said Michael Largent, a Whitman county commissioner in Washington state. “We don’t have somebody in our county that could even initiate this program.”
When the city of Palouse had a brownfield problem, Largent said the outside assistance they received from the EPA in applying for a grant and assessing the land made it possible for that site to be restored.
Jason Seyler, brownfields coordinator at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, said these communities would not have been able to hire experts to assist in these processes themselves.
“The community was really able to see the effects of this planning effort and visualize what this property could become and it was just phenomenal to see that transformation in the belief in the community,” Seyler said.
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WASHINGTON –– When Jen Burch first returned from a tour in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago, she was seriously sick.
Her temperature was so high that it was flagged going through the airport en route to Okinawa, her home base at the time. When she arrived, she took a cab straight to the ER, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and bronchitis. Since then, Burch has endured painful migraines, post-traumatic stress disorder and significant weight loss as a result of toxic exposure.
“You know when you turn the car on and all the lights come on? That’s how I felt,” Burch said.
Toxic exposure occurs when military members are exposed to harmful chemicals and toxins while serving. For Burch, it was burn pits in Afghanistan. For Vietnam veterans, it was Agent Orange. For World War II veterans in Japan, it was radiation. Exposure to such toxins can cause wide-ranging, long-term health impacts.
But the U.S. government has historically moved slowly to address such conditions. Following the Vietnam War, it took over a decade of advocacy and lawsuits to prompt the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to recognize the damaging effects of Agent Orange.
Now, over 20 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, granting benefits to toxic exposed veterans is gaining momentum. President Joe Biden addressed it during the State of the Union, announcing nine new medical conditions the VA will link to toxic exposure. Both the House and Senate have passed varying versions of toxic exposure legislation.
“For one of the first times, it feels like we’re being seen,” Burch, now an advocate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said. “It’s been a journey. I’ve been out of Afghanistan for 10 years now. But there’s other vets who have been out even longer, who have been battling this for much longer than I have, that have gone through some pretty tough hardships to get where they are. Unfortunately, some veterans have died.”
Many lawmakers and advocates alike want to get toxic exposure to the president’s desk. But the path forward is uncertain. The legislation passed by the House, the Honoring Our PACT Act, is markedly different from the legislation passed by the Senate, the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans’ Act.
The House version, the Honoring Our PACT Act, expands health care coverage for over three million veterans and draws presumptive connections between 23 different illnesses and toxic exposed service members.
The Senate version, Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act, however, doesn’t link any medical conditions to toxic exposure, instead expanding the timeline for eligibility for VA health care to 10 years after service and training VA service providers to look for toxic exposure. The act is just one segment of a three-part legislative push, with plans to address connections between illness and service and expand benefits in the future.
With two different bills, veterans’ advocates and lawmakers are divided on where to go from here. Rosie Torres, founder of the veterans’ advocacy organization Burn Pits 360, said the expanded eligibility in the Senate legislation doesn’t go far enough.
“It’s a delay tactic,” Torres said. “That delay, deny, wait until you die tactic on behalf of the government, just to say, ‘We won’t give you compensation and the burden of proof will still be on you, but here’s some more health care.’ We know that the onset of these conditions [can be] more than 10 years. It’s not always 10 years, it could be 20 years when these issues start to surface.”
Burch called the House version the “most comprehensive” legislation Congress has ever created to address toxic exposure. She worries that the Senate’s idea of passing a three-part plan is not enough, saying breaking apart the legislation runs the risk that it might not pass in the future.
“You get the whole package there,” Burch said of the House version. “It’s not this cut-up part. [After] Vietnam, it took years, decades to get stuff passed and it would just be these tiny pieces. Instead of waiting decades and just slowly running smaller packages, let’s do it all now in one big one.”
Some leaders of the American Legion, however, said they would support either piece of toxic exposure legislation. Ralph Bozella, chairman of the American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, said the two different acts don’t have to compete, saying he will be happy as long as toxic exposed veterans receive expanded health care.
Now, it’s up to lawmakers to figure out which piece of legislation to move forward with.
The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans’ Act passed unanimously in the Senate, while the Honoring Our PACT Act passed unanimously among House Democrats. The latter didn’t perform as well among House Republicans, however, only garnering 34 votes in favor.
For some Republicans, the price is a sticking point. The House version would cost $208 billion over the following decade, while the Senate version would cost less than $1 billion.
Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has frequently criticized the price tag of the House legislation. In a March 3 statement, Bost took issue with the House passing the Honoring Our PACT Act rather than taking up the Senate’s legislation.
“Instead, House Democrats’ shoved the deeply flawed policies and wildly expensive costs of the PACT Act through the House with no regard for finding common ground,” Bost wrote in the statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, condemned the idea that the cost should deter Congress from passing the House version. She said what the act will do for veterans should outweigh any price concerns.
“This is a cost of war that we should recognize when we go,” Pelosi said in a March 2 press conference outside the Capitol. “And that is – there should be no question. Because this is not going to be expensive, it’s going to be worth it.”
In a statement, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has been working closely alongside Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and colleagues in the House to get “bipartisan, comprehensive toxic exposure legislation” through Congress as soon as possible.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Regardless of which legislation veterans’ advocates support, many are at a consensus: they want greater acknowledgement of toxic exposure, and they want it signed into law soon.
Torres, a supporter of the House version, said she feels the bill has the support of the White House and President Biden, who spoke about expanding presumptions during the State of the Union. Now, one priority of hers is to change Republicans’ minds that the bill is “fiscally irresponsible.”
American Legion National Commander Paul Dillard noted that cost concerns remain a dividing factor. But his colleague Bozella said they remain heartened by the bipartisan support for toxic exposure.
“This battle is not going to be a battle because it’s non-partisan,” Dillard said. “Both chambers [were] all jumping in, so I think we’re in the right direction.”
Burch, now over a decade removed from her service in Afghanistan, was heartened by the passage of the House legislation. But she’s not ready to let the momentum slow anytime soon.
“Now the push is there,” Burch said. “It lifts your spirits, and it’s like, ‘Okay, we got a victory. Let’s keep going.’”
WASHINGTON – On August 25, 2021, Aryan Fardeen, along with his wife, mother, and three siblings, boarded a plane in Kabul in an urgent attempt to escape the Taliban. Over the span of three months, they traveled to Kuwait, Germany and Philadelphia, before settling in Virginia.
Since arriving six months ago, Fardeen and his family are slowly adjusting to life in America. They have found work, established new routines and made connections in their community. Even so, Fardeen says he misses his former life – and his father – who remains in Afghanistan.
The Medill News Service spent several weeks documenting Fardeen and his wife, Sodaba Mohebbi, as they have adapted to life in Virginia.
Watch the short documentary here:
Latest in Living
Toxic exposure occurs when military members are exposed to harmful chemicals and toxins while serving. For Burch, it was burn pits in Afghanistan. For Vietnam veterans, it was Agent Orange. For World War II veterans in Japan, it was radiation. Exposure to such toxins can cause wide-ranging, long-term health impacts.read more
WASHINGTON – A day after President Biden’s State of the Union, a Texas judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from investigating two parents for providing gender-affirming health care to their 16-year-old transgender daughter.
The restraining order only applies to the Doe family and its lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal on Tuesday. However, District Judge Amy Clark Meachum will consider a request for a broader injunction next Friday.
Advocates are encouraging at-risk families to seek legal assistance prior to any potential investigations.
“This is a critical victory and important first step in stopping these egregious and illegal actions from Texas officials,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project, in a press release. “We are relieved for our plaintiffs and ready to keep fighting to stop the governor, commissioner, and DFPS from inflicting further harm on trans people and their families and communities across Texas.”
After Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s call to consider gender-affirming health care for minors as child abuse under state law — and Gov. Greg Abbott’s public support of the opinion — parents supporting trans children were put at legal risk, with some even considering moving out of state.
President Biden condemned anti-trans legislation in Texas and nationwide in a statement released on Wednesday.
“Elected leaders in Texas have launched a cynical and dangerous campaign targeting transgender children and their parents,” Biden said.
Abbott and Paxton’s push to consider parents’ provision of gender-affirming health care to minors is “government overreach at its worst,” the president added.
“The Governor’s actions callously threaten to harm children and their families just to score political points. These actions are terrifying many families in Texas and beyond. And they must stop,” he said.
Biden also referenced his State of the Union promise to always have transgender Americans’ backs, adding that he and the first lady “will continue to fight for a future where all children can thrive.”
Medill News Service spoke with Erin Reed, a trans right advocate and transgender woman, on what the above federal guidance and provision of resources mean for her community. Reed had previously told MNS that Biden’s remarks on “LGBTQ+ Americans” during the Tuesday address were hopeful but not enough.
“This mobilization of federal resources feels like a breath of air in the middle of this experience where it feels like we’re just drowning in legislation targeted towards trans people,” Reed said. “There’s more morale now, and it seems like people are hopeful now.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra called the current treatment of transgender Texans “discriminatory” and “unconscionable” and encouraged Texans to contact the Office for Civil Rights to report their experience if feeling unsafe or threatened.
“At HHS, we listen to medical experts and doctors, and they agree with us, that access to affirming care for transgender youth is essential and can be life-saving,” Becerra said.
HHS has released guidance on how local governments can use state child welfare agencies to “advance safety and support for LGBTQI+ youth,” as well as guidance on illegality of denying health care based on gender identity, as well as restricting doctors and health care providers from providing medical assistance.
“I definitely still don’t have any hope on legislation, on the Equality Act, anything like that,” Reed said. “Our best bet is through a mixture of state and local laws where these laws can be passed, and then executive branch guidance and support and mobilization of resources and enforcement of federal law in non-discrimination and constitutional protections that we have.”
More details and resources can be found in the HHS statement.
Both the Texas and federal decisions come as a variety of advocates across the nation – including immigration and trans rights – demanded Congress and Biden actually take action, rather than reiterate promises of protection.
“I want to see the follow through,” Reed said.
WASHINGTON – A father slept by his sister’s side as she cried in the hospital after losing four of her limbs to unchecked diabetes.
The family didn’t have insurance, so they couldn’t have treated her condition earlier.
Laura Guerra-Cardus witnessed their struggle first-hand as a med student in Texas. The experience pushed her to fight against the reasons why many Americans lack medical coverage and access to health care.
“I was constantly struck by times when medicine could only provide bandaid solutions for problems with much deeper roots, like poverty and racial injustice,” said Guerra-Cardus.
Health advocates like Guerra Cardus, policy makers and activists from across the country gathered virtually on Tuesday to listen to panel conversations on the multifaceted issues that surround health and racial inequity, and to engage in workshops about social media activism, new technologies for campaign strategizing and lessons from the COVID-19 vaccine.
“COVID-19 has made it impossible to ignore everything that is wrong with this balkanized and still badly broken healthcare system, where people of color are the first to get sick, yet last to get access to care, and in the frontlines when it comes to discrimination,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, which hosts the conference.
Panelists noted how racial injustice, a large factor in health care inequity, encompasses many issues including reproductive rights, disability rights and housing security.
“You can see [it during the] pandemic, in which people with disabilities are seen as expendable and disposable, and that has everything to do with racism, eugenics and who is deemed worthy of survival and who is not,” said Ola Ojewumi, founder and director of Project ASCEND.
The problem of systemic racism becomes even more complicated with housing. The history behind the housing market and current practices of gentrification have been rooted in race-based discrimination, according to Sidney Betancourt, a housing advocacy organizer for the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“We know there’s been studies shown that depending on your zip code, that will be a determinant of your health outcomes later on in life,” Betancourt said.
The activists who should be leading the solutions to these problems, explained reproductive rights organizer Monica Simpson, are those who are people of color, who are disabled or who are themselves impacted because these populations have lived experience that can inform their work.
“People are understanding that we do not live single issue lives,” said Simpson, executive director at SisterSong. “Audre Lorde told us that. And now we’re seeing what that looks like in practice.”
As an example of how intersectionality can be applied to advocacy, Ojewumi pointed to the rallying of disability activists through social media.
By connecting large groups online voicing similar concerns over the ableism of Center for Disease Control and Prevention policies, disability rights activists were able to sit down with the CDC director and discuss potential harms towards their high risk community.
With a growing need for affordable medical care and lowered prescription drug pricing, the benefits of Biden’s proposed Build Back Better bill were emphasized by several speakers including the president himself, in a pre-recorded keynote address.
“I’m sure what ultimately comes out of this Congress will not fulfill our hopes nor our needs, but we must secure all of the progress we can achieve when we can achieve it,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).
During Tuesday’s closing remarks, Laura Guerra-Cardus received the award of Health Justice Advocate of the Year for her work as deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund in Texas. She spoke on the health coverage gap and urged health advocates and activists at the conference to continue their fight to close it.
“What I know is that the pendulum doesn’t just swing back our way,” Guerra-Cardus said. “It’s not something we ride on passively when we are down. We don’t just sit, we organize. We build power and we pull the pendulum back towards justice.”
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WASHINGTON — President Biden is expected to sign an executive order Wednesday outlining a nationwide governing approach for cryptocurrency. The measure suggests potential for clarity in a murky financial market that was designed to be difficult to regulate, but which recently re-surpassed $2 trillion in global value.
The language of the executive order reflects an early attempt to regulate a market that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair Rostin Behnam told Congress in February is “in essence, unregulated.” Executive agencies from the Department of Treasury to the Financial Stability Oversight Council are tasked with developing reports, policy recommendations, studies and regulatory frameworks, as well as identifying risks associated with cryptocurrency use.
New York Times reporters say the executive order was months in the making.
A White House press release outlining Biden’s executive order stressed the importance of the U.S. “maintain[ing] technological leadership in this rapidly growing space, supporting innovation while mitigating the risks for consumers, businesses, the broader financial system and the climate.”
Notably, the order directs government agencies to explore the possibility of developing a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) — essentially a government-sponsored Bitcoin.
The move is popular with some international economists who believe the U.S. needs to develop a digital dollar to stay competitive, especially after China developed and began rolling out a digital yuan.
The order also calls for an “unprecedented focus of coordinated action across all relevant U.S. Government agencies to mitigate” the risk of cryptocurrencies’ use in financing illegal activities, according to the press release.
WASHINGTON — Last Thursday, President Biden signed into law a bipartisan bill to bar companies from contractually forcing sexual assault and harrassment complaints into arbitration. Now, the change has reinvigorated efforts to pass similar legislation in the financial services industry.
Forced arbitration agreements require consumers to waive their right to sue in open court or as part of a class action lawsuit, instead bringing their case individually before a private arbitrator. The arbitrator is often selected by the company writing up the contract and is not necessarily required to document its findings.
“Studies have shown consumers do not understand what they’re signing in these agreements. It’s not because we aren’t smart enough — it’s because corporations pay high-priced lawyers. It’s what they do for a living,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Development Committee.
“Corporations even write these arbitration clauses so they can handpick the arbitrator, who works behind closed doors,” Brown said. “They choose the venue, they choose the referee – anywhere else we would call that gaming the system.”
Most brokerages include mandatory arbitration agreements in their contracts, including Charles Schwab/TD Ameritrade, Fidelity Investments, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan Chase and Robinhood. (And Coinbase, for crypto fans.)
Disputes between brokerage firms and investors are mostly handled by the arbitration arm of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a private nonprofit corporation overseen by the SEC.
The majority of consumer banks, credit card issuers and payday lenders also contain forced arbitration clauses. These companies choose among large arbitration firms like the American Arbitration Association (AAA) or Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS) to resolve disputes.
Under forced arbitration, “consumers can’t go to court if they’re cheated or injured,” said Paul Bland, Executive Director of Public Justice, in a written opening statement. “They have to go to a secretive, unreviewable system, selected by the corporation that wrote the contract.”
“Even if arbitrators make very egregious errors in their decisions, those decisions are almost completely unreviewable by any court,” Bland said.
Law professor Myriam Gilles of Yeshiva University told senators that forced arbitration agreements prevented regulators from noticing and reacting to corporate fraud. As an example, she cited Wells Fargo’s history of opening up fraudulent accounts without customers’ permission.
“The customers were aware of this back in 2013, but it took the rest of us until 2017 to figure out what was really going on. That’s because Wells Fargo used their forced arbitration clause as a shield,” Gilles said.
Disagreeing on the Data
Senators, and the academics and lawyers seated before them, offered varying – and sometimes conflicting – accounts of how common these agreements are in the financial industry, and whether arbitrators were biased toward companies when awarding damages.
Citing data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gilles told senators that arbitrators tend to award damages to companies more often, and in larger volumes, than they do to consumers.
Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) cited more recent, conflicting data that showed consumers prevailed 14% more often in arbitration and urged the committee not to ban mandatory arbitration agreements.
“If these efforts are successful, consumers would receive less money less quickly,” Toomey said.
“The arbitration process uses impartial decision-makers and is subject to strict fairness rules,” said Steven Lehotsky, a lawyer representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He told senators the Chamber supports arbitration as a “lower-cost alternative to our overburdened court system.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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., 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”