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WASHINGTON – The Israel Defence Force has killed over 15,000 Palestinians since the Hamas terror attacks on Oct. 7, catalyzing intense public discourse on the ethics of government and military actions.
This polarization has struck the Jewish community specifically, with a large population of Jewish people speaking out against the Israeli Government.
Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg and activist Mindy Isser share the personal consequences of being Jewish anti-Zionists and how their advocacy impacts their identities.
Watch the video report here:
WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices on Wednesday engaged in a spirited discussion with attorneys before the court on what qualifies as workplace discrimination.
In the case before the court, Muldrow vs. City of St. Louis, Jatonya Clayborn Muldrow, a former sergeant with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, sued the City of St. Louis on the grounds that her transfer from intelligence to street operations was sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which will decide whether Title VII prohibits discrimination in transfer decisions, without proof that the transfer caused significant disadvantage for an employee.
“It’s discrimination ‘against’ by its ordinary meaning — and under this court’s precedent, means worse treatment,” Brian Wolfman, director of the Georgetown Law Appellate Courts Immersion Clinic that represents Muldrow, argued before the justices.
The federal government took Muldrow’s side, as Aimee Brown, assistant to the solicitor general, agreed with Wolfman and stated that discrimination was “inherently injurious.”
However, the justices said they were unclear about the basis of both counsels’ arguments.
“I found it extremely confusing looking at the briefs. You each say that the other concedes the point, and I don’t see that can be right,” Chief Justice John Roberts said, prompting chuckles from the audience.
Roberts also questioned why the bulk of the brief filed on behalf of Muldrow concerned adverse consequences of the transfer if the counsel’s position was that discrimination alone fulfills the harm requirement. Wolfman responded that these details were included to show the harm that these rules have done in the federal appellate courts.
The federal appeals courts were split in their interpretation of the Title VII statute. Most of them are consistent with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit decision that it is necessary to prove material disadvantage, although the level of harm required varies. However, the D.C. Circuit held in another case that any forced job transfer based on discrimination of a protected status does violate the statute.
Madeline Meth, a co-counselor on Muldrow’s legal team, said in an interview that many federal courts have been selective in their interpretation of Title VII over the past several decades.
“Courts, through this game of telephone, had narrowed the interpretation of this broad anti-discrimination law so that it only covered a subset of workplace discrimination,” Meth said. “That subset has excluded discriminatory job transfers.”
Some argue the exclusion goes against the statute’s phrasing that outlaws all employment discrimination based on sex, race and other protected characteristics.
The justices on Wednesday posed a number of hypothetical cases of discrimination, such as employees receiving pink or blue pens, a blue office or a red office, an office with an alley view or an office with a park view, and so on.
“What if the supervisor is always nasty to me?” Justice Samuel Alito said in one scenario. “Does that qualify?”
Robert Loeb, representing the City of St. Louis, argued against deviating from the traditional approach that requires a separate determination of harm. He said that removing that threshold would introduce trivial cases.
“It’s through the lens of an objective employee, not the frailties of a particular sensitive employee,” Loeb said.
Some say that broadening the interpretation of Title VII could open the door to lawsuits against DEI programs that some are claiming is reverse discrimination.
“Unlike many things in the courts, this isn’t necessarily a partisan issue,” Tony Rothert, director of integrated advocacy at ACLU Missouri, said in an interview. “It’s just an issue between strictly reading the text or adding on some judicial language as an extra requirement.”
The Supreme Court’s opinion on this case could come as late as June 2024 when the term ends.
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WASHINGTON — House representatives and experts are calling for urgent changes to United Nations humanitarian agencies involving Palestinian youth education on Israel over fears that the programs are spreading antisemitism.
“Hatred is taught,” said Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It’s being taught with aggressiveness every single day to the youngest of Palestinians. That is child abuse.”
Other members of the committee also accused the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) of perpetuating antisemitic narratives. Rep. Kathy Manning, D-N.C., said UNRWA is among the bodies of the U.N. that has a “single-minded, negative focus on Israel.”
UNRWA did not respond to several requests for comment. According to its website, UNRWA has operated in the Middle East for nearly 75 years “providing free basic education for some 543,075 Palestine refugee children.” The U.S. reinstated funding for UNRWA after Donald Trump halted American-backed finances during his presidency.
Lawmakers said they recognize UNRWA is a backbone to humanitarian assistance offered in Gaza, but asserted that bias and discrimination run rampant in their curricula.
“Many U.N. agencies provide essential services, such as vaccines for children, in countries where neither the host government nor any alternative can or will provide those services,” said Manning. “At the same time, I have also long raised concerns about the problematic content in textbooks used by UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza. We will continue to insist that this content be removed.”
In efforts to address this, the House passed the Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act last Wednesday. The law requires the U.S. secretary of state to annually oversee educational materials in schools in Gaza or governed by the Palestinian Authority.
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said that congressional actions can’t stop at observation.
“What is taught comes down to the teacher,” he said. “And we know many staff have an affiliation or affinity for Hamas that has to change.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, also shared Schanzer’s sentiment, citing a U.N. Watch report released Monday that claimed UNRWA teachers made statements that celebrated the Hamas attacks.
“The U.N. has failed,” Neuer said. “Its actions only incentivize Hamas to continue their strategy using Palestinians as human shields and maximizing casualties.”
Committee members said they warned of increasing levels of antisemitism in the U.N. in response to the Israel-Hamas war. Smith among others called for the disbandment of UNRWA entirely.
But Jonathan Lincoln, interim director for the Center for Jewish Civilization, said “replacing UNRWA with other U.N. agencies is unrealistic due to its entirely unique operational structure.”
“Despite its shortcomings, the U.N. is far too important an organization for the US to disengage from,” Lincoln testified. “This is for the sake of Palestinians, Israelis and the world.”
Ranking Member Susan Wild, D-Pa., called for “robust, pro-active diplomacy on the stage.” Manning said this could be achieved if the U.S. continues to be part of the conversation with UNRWA.
“U.N. agencies are imperfect. And in certain cases they’re even seriously flawed,” Manning said. “At the same time, the United States tends to have more influence when we have a seat at the table.”
Israel-Hamas war prompts lawmakers to debate limit free speech on college campuses, with Cornell incident in spotlight
WASHINGTON — Jewish students and faculty members implored lawmakers on Wednesday to condemn antisemitic incidents and push back against hateful language on college campuses as Congress grapples with flared tensions related to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.
There has been a documented increase in threats against Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, Middle Eastern and South Asian people, and groups on both sides say universities have not been productive spaces for debates on these political issues.
“Jewish students are being physically threatened and have legitimate cause to fear for their safety on campuses across the country,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler said during the House Judiciary Committee hearing. “There’s no excuse for that kind of violence at any school, against any student.”
The veteran Manhattan Democrat, who is Jewish, is making his call for more protections for Jewish students two weeks after Patrick Dai, a student at Cornell University, posted a series of antisemitic comments online, including a threat to “shoot up” a dining hall frequented by Jewish students. Dai, whose according to his family has dealt with mental illness, has been arrested and federally charged for posting the threats online.
Cornell student Amanda Silberstein, who serves on Chabad Cornell’s board, said she believes the increased tensions following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel contributed to Dai’s decision to post hate speech online.
“It’s evident that the sentiment created on campus by professors and students alike, of pervasive and just widespread antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric has created such an atmosphere that has enabled [Dai] to make these comments,” Silberstein said.
Silberstein said social media has “been fueling the fire” on campus by allowing students to falsely think they can hide behind a “veil of anonymity” without fear of repercussions.
“Your words have consequences,” she said. “All students should take that to heart.”
After the arrest, Cornell observed Nov. 3 as a “Community Day” to help students process the stress.
Nationally, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has reported 54 cases of antisemitic incidents on college campuses since Oct. 7.
“As a Cornell alum and a father of three children, I can guarantee you that if this is how this university is going to approach antisemitism, my children will not be attending Cornell,” said Rep. Wesley Hunt, a Texas Republican.
Students from other schools, including the state University of Buffalo and the University of Iowa, also testified about the atmosphere on college campuses.
Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns about how far their Republican colleagues were willing to go to prevent all forms of discrimination.
In March, President Joe Biden requested a 27 percent increase in funding for the Office of Civil Rights to protect equal access to education by enforcing civil rights legislation. As Republican lawmakers finalize a budget proposal for fiscal year 2024, Democrats said they are anticipating to see those funds slashed.
“If my Republican colleagues were serious about this issue, they would fully fund that request,” Nadler said. “Their promises about antisemitism and their actions disconnect in other ways as well.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a letter, reminding schools of their legal obligations under Title VI to provide all students a learning environment free from discrimination based on race, color or national origin.
Witnesses and lawmakers at the hearing also clashed over the difference between free speech and statements promoting violence.
Public universities operate under broad First Amendment protections for students and faculty. For example, they can protest and hand out flyers as long as the speech does not escalate into targeted harassment or threats, according to the ACLU.
Silberstein raised the issue of the phrase “from the river to the sea” commonly chanted at rallies by pro-Palestinian activists in a reference to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — an area that includes Israel as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The expression in its entirety is “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”; it has been flagged as antisemitic by the ADL, which describes it as a call for the “dismantling of the Jewish state.”
Silberstein contended that calling for such actions amount to the “genocide of the Jewish people,” a characterization that was has been challenged. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a Palestinian-American lawmaker, was formally censured by her House colleagues on Tuesday night after using the phrase, which she described as “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.”
In a tense exchange, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and Silberstein discussed the relationship between conduct and speech. Silberstein said action often follows words, citing Dai’s comments after marchers on Cornell’s campus had chanted “from the river to the sea.”
McClintock asked Silberstein whether the legality of speech advocating violence depends “on your viewpoint.”
“Who’s to decide, though, whose viewpoint is legal and illegal?” McClintock said. “In a free society, we put all those viewpoints (out in public) and let the people make the judgment themselves.”
The committee hearing itself was frequently interrupted by Palestinian supporters. Ten protesters were arrested for crowding or obstructing a public building, media reports said.
At the start of the hearing, pro-Palestine protesters waited in the back of the room — some with duct tape over their mouths with the word “Gaza” written on it. The protesters interrupted opening remarks, holding up posters with messages like “Free speech includes Palestinians” and “Stop silencing Palestinian students.”
Students who supported Palestinians said they have feared for their safety and losing out on employment opportunities. On college campuses, pro-Palestinian students often speak to reporters solely on the condition of anonymity over worries about “doxxing,” or having their personal information exposed online. Anonymous online blacklists such as Canary Mission compile names and pictures of those organizers deem to be critical of Israel — and some of those profiled have been questioned by the FBI.
Following pressure on college administrators to investigate campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, the ACLU last week penned an open letter in opposition to what it described as universities backpedaling on free speech. Republican lawmakers — who in the past have loudly protested what they see as the squelching of conservative voices on campus — have introduced legislation barring federal funding to schools they say promote antisemitism, citing SJP activities as an example.
The House’s vote to censure Tlaib was also raised during the hearing, by protesters and lawmakers alike.
“It’s ironic that we’re holding this hearing today about censorship and speech on campus, but last night MAGA Republicans and others censured the only Palestinian voice in the House of Representatives because they didn’t like what she had to say,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.
Johnson was joined by other Democratic lawmakers in the room as he said Tlaib didn’t advocate for violence but merely stated a different point of view, similar to what he believes is happening on college campuses.
“We’re not setting a very good example here in Congress,” Johnson said.
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Lawmakers investigate breakdowns of Georgia’s foster care system after independent inquiry revealed problems
WASHINGTON – A Senate bipartisan inquiry into the failures of the foster care system heard first-hand accounts of the neglect and abuse, with experts providing lawmakers with recommendations for changes on Oct. 25.
The inquiry came on the heels of an independent investigation into widespread neglect and child abuse in Georgia’s foster care system, which oversees about 11,000 children. In February, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) sent a letter to Georgia’s Department of Human Services, demanding answers. As chairman of the Senate Human Rights Subcommittee, Ossoff convened the first hearing on Wednesday on the treatment of children in the foster care system.
“Ultimately, this is not about statistics and bureaucracies,” Ossoff told reporters. “It’s about human beings. It’s about the most vulnerable human being in our state — foster children.”
Rachel Aldridge, a parent from Georgia, testified about the murder of her two-year-old daughter Brooklynn, whose case was managed by the state’s Division of Family & Children Services.
In July 2022, Georgia Office of the Child Advocate, an independent oversight group, found that caseworkers were “no longer adequately responding to child abuse cases.”
Aldridge had uncontested custody of her daughter. But she told lawmakers that after she was wrongfully arrested, DFCS placed the child with Brooklynn’s father, who was not a certified foster parent. His live-in girlfriend would later be convicted of killing Brooklynn.
Leading up to the murder, Aldridge reported to caseworkers at DFCS warning signs, like a bruise on Brooklynn’s leg and drug use in the home. Still, the agency did not remove the child, Aldridge recalled tearfully.
“Brooklynn would still be alive if anyone at DFCS had just been willing to listen to me — her own mother,” Aldridge said. “The system meant to protect children failed Brooklynn at every level.”
Ossoff, a father himself, told Aldridge that she had gone through “every parent’s absolute worst nightmare.”
According to an audit, DFCS failed 84 percent of the time when it came to risk assessment and safety management. Aldridge’s story illustrates that failure, said Melissa Carter, an attorney specializing in child law.
“Safety assessment is both an art and a technique,” Carter said. “Once the child is placed there, there’s this ongoing responsibility to check in, to just make contact with that child.”
Georgia DFCS receives upward of 120,000 reports of suspected child mistreatment annually. Many case managers lack the resources to solve problems that are presented to them, Carter said.
Carter added that Georgia has not invested enough in preventative measures to avoid forcing children into the child welfare system. The state has not used federal funds efficiently either, she said.
“This is about systemic failures,” Carter said. “Georgia lacks the operational capacity, policy, infrastructure and practice tools to support effective case management.”
OCA, the independent oversight body, also determined DFCS provided “inadequate” services for children who underwent human trafficking, sexual abuse and physical abuse. Foster children, especially Black, brown and LGBTQ+ youth, are “treated more like adults,” Emma Hetherington, a lawyer who works with survivors of child sexual abuse, told the Senate panel.
In DFCS documents and communications, the agency used phrases, like “promiscuous,” “sex addict” and “prostitute,” to describe youth in their care.
“Let me make it clear: There is no such thing as a child prostitute,” Hetherington said. “The foster care system in Georgia has always struggled with systemic challenges and barriers, but I’ve never seen it this dismal as it is today.”
In the past year, Georgia has spent $28 million to house foster children in hotels because DFCS could not find a home for them. The state came under fire for this practice, called “hoteling,” as some say it deprives youth of a stable environment and treatment.
When Mon’a Houston, a former foster child from Georgia, was in DFCS’ care, she cycled through 18 placements, including group homes and hotels, she testified.
Houston emphasized the need for good case managers. Of three case managers who were assigned to her from 2017 to 2022, only one visited her and answered her phone calls, she said.
“I felt alone,” Houston said. “I’m doing this, so other people know they can come out on the other side.”
Blackburn presented a hypothetical to Houston, asking her to rewrite the job description of a caseworker.
“Listen to the children,” Houston said. “Make them feel loved. Make them feel like they have a family.”
Ossoff emphasized that the Senate’s investigation is “ongoing.” Once the inquiry period ends, Ossoff expects lawmakers will have necessary information to draft legislation.
“We have an obligation to understand why and how (foster children) are being harmed, abused, neglected — and to change that system,” Ossoff said. “Reform is absolutely the ultimate goal.”
SCOTUS split on future of opioid recovery funds as Purdue Pharma bankruptcy, Sackler legal immunity at stake
WASHINGTON – Supreme Court justices appeared torn on whether Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement plan, which would protect the Sackler family ownership from civil liability in exchange for $6 billion in opioid relief funds, has legal standing during oral arguments on Monday.
Over 95% of the victims who brought lawsuits against Purdue, the developer of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, voted on the settlement to support the plan as it stands. Since OxyContin came on the market in 1996, over 645,000 people have died from opioid overdose.
“The billions of dollars that the plan allocates for opioid abatement and compensation will evaporate, creditors and victims will be left with nothing and lives literally will be lost,” warned Purdue’s lawyer Gregory Garre if the high court rules against the company.
Purdue, often credited with starting the lethal opioid epidemic, filed for bankruptcy in 2019 following thousands of civil lawsuits against the company and the Sacklers from states, hospitals and individuals affected by their addictive wonder pill. The lawsuits collectively sought over $40 trillion in damages. More than 130,000 plaintiffs, including individual victims and family members, have filed claims against Purdue and the Sacklers.
A bankruptcy court put lawsuits against Purdue and the Sacklers on hold and approved the company’s settlement in 2021. The plan would require the Sacklers to relinquish ownership of the company and contribute $6 billion of their own assets towards opioid recovery efforts.
The Department of Justice’s bankruptcy watchdog, the U.S. Trustee, asked the Supreme Court to take up the case. The federal government expressed concern that approval of Purdue’s plan would empower bankruptcy courts to issue blanket relief to responsible individuals via bankruptcy settlements.
At the core of Monday’s two-hour debate was whether the Bankruptcy Code, the federal law governing all bankruptcy cases, authorizes non-bankrupt individuals tied to a bankrupt party to escape legal liability via a bankruptcy settlement, as Purdue has outlined for the Sacklers.
Justices highlighted the “catchall” section of the Bankruptcy Code when probing both Purdue’s counsel and the trustee, which allows “any other appropriate provision” to be included in a settlement. Justices debated whether the term “appropriate” grants the broad authority to offer legal protections to the non-debtor Sacklers.
“It conflicts with the basic nuts and bolts of the Bankruptcy Code’s comprehensive scheme. It permits the Sacklers to decide how much they’re going to contribute,” said Curtis Gannon, a lawyer representing the U.S. Trustee.
Despite the vast majority of victims supporting the deal, Gannon and some justices expressed concern that without full consent, the liability release included in the current bankruptcy plan would infringe on the rights of victims who oppose the plan to sue the Sacklers.
“It would raise serious due process concerns,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said. Protesters outside the court, many of whom said they, too, were victims of Purdue’s opioid products and opposed the settlement, chanted, “Sacklers lie, people die.”
The court also weighed the importance of the Sacklers’ funds, noting that absent the current settlement, the wealthy family would not be required to contribute any of their own assets towards opioid recovery efforts.
“Your opening never mentioned the opioid victims. The opioid victims and their families overwhelmingly approve this plan because they think it will ensure prompt payment,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said to Gannon.
“When thinking about the term ‘appropriate,’ I’m not sure why we should cast aside that concern so readily,” the justice added.
Justice Elena Kagan also expressed concern about how denying this settlement may contradict the basic purpose of bankruptcy law.
“You’re supposed to maximize the estate and you’re supposed to do things that will effectuate successful reorganizations,” Kagan said. “It seems as though the federal government is standing in the way of that.”
The ramifications of this case have heavy implications for both the opioid crisis and the future of such settlements.
“What I came to realize, throughout this whole process is that we’re not going to put the Sacklers in jail,” said Cheryl Juaire, who lost two of her children to opioid-related deaths and is a member of the trustee-appointed victims’ committee represented on Monday. The committee supports the Purdue settlement.
“And at this point in time in this epidemic, we need that $6 billion.”
Juaire founded Team Sharing, an organization that leads peer support groups for families who have lost loved ones to addiction. Juaire warned that without the settlement, individual victims and states will be pitted against each other to fight for remaining funds.
From a legal perspective, experts say this is the most significant bankruptcy case to come before the Supreme Court in the past 30 years.
“Implicit in that is this extremely powerful grant of essentially the power to create your own little bankruptcy process for non-debtors,” said Ralph Brubaker, a law professor at the University of Illinois College of Law. Brubaker, who filed a brief in support of the government, said the ruling will have an impact on the “larger systemic issue” of using the bankruptcy process as a way to escape liability.
Based on Monday’s discussion, experts note that the justices are grappling with the various intricacies and concerns surrounding both sides of a future decision.
“There were those justices that were skeptical that statutory authority exists for this dramatic use of the Bankruptcy Code and even wondering if there might be constitutional problems. And on the other hand, you have justices who are aware that reversing this case and preventing the kind of settlement we see here could have devastating implications for the victims,” Edward Morrison, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, said.
The court is expected to rule on the case by the summer of 2024 while Purdue, the Sacklers and victims await their fate.
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WASHINGTON — The United States Botanic Garden’s annual holiday exhibit is now open, spotlighting model trains and D.C. landmarks made from plant materials. Upholding the tradition requires a large undertaking.
“We close the holiday show every year on January 1, and we immediately start having meetings right after that in January where we talk about each year’s show: what went well, what we want to do differently next year, deciding the theme for next year’s show,” said Devin Dotson, public affairs specialist for the USBG. “It’s a year-round endeavor to make the magic happen.”
This year’s theme is pollinators, which are featured throughout the outdoor train display, ranging from the familiar bird and bee to the less commonly known: a pygmy possum, a lemur, and a bat.
Applied Imagination designs and creates the train display and new models for the USBG every year. The elements of the exhibit are made ahead of time at its workshop in Alexandria and Kentucky and are shipped and assembled onsite at USBG over a week with staff from Applied Imagination as well.
“Over 30 years, the concept of botanical architecture has evolved through the hands of our artisans, each building taking 100 to 1000 hours to complete, and sometimes much more,” said Laura Busse Dolan, president and CEO of Applied Imagination, in an email interview.
The USBG and Applied Imagination began working together in 2004. One of the first models created for the USBG by Applied Imagination was the U.S. Capitol.
The D.C. landmarks collection now encompasses 22 models. The newest additions to the collection are the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the National Gallery of Art East Building, and the Summerhouse on Capitol Grounds.
Dotson encourages visitors to explore the plant-based models closely to see how artists have captured the fine details.
“You’ve got the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian Castle, which themselves are very ornate and have a lot of detail in real life,” Dotson said. “Our sculptural models have so many different seeds and cinnamon sticks and wheat and acorn caps, all sorts of stuff. I mean, there’s several hundred different plant parts that are used to create these.”
There will be extended hours for live holiday music in the evenings on three Thursdays in December: Dec. 14, Dec. 21, and Dec. 28. The U.S. Botanic Garden is free and open every day except Christmas.
WASHINGTON – Climate experts warned lawmakers about the effect of climate change on extreme weather during the first-ever congressional hearing on extreme event attribution, a field of climate science. They offered solutions to help Congress navigate more frequent and intensified weather events, like storms, droughts and heatwaves.
“We’re the first generation to suffer from climate change, but the last generation which can do anything about it, so that’s our challenge,” said Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).
Instances of extreme weather events are on the rise. This summer, Phoenix set a record of 31 consecutive days of temperatures at or above 110 degrees. On the other side of the country, Florida experienced severe rainfall, leading to flooding in the streets.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said extreme event attribution, which detects the extent to which man-made global warming influences extreme weather, can be an “important tool,” as Congress takes steps to manage and prepare for severe weather events.
“These questions matter because the human harms and costs of climate change are massive, and sadly, they are growing,” Carper said. “We are going to focus on how it’s fueling extreme weather and what we can do about it.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) stressed the importance of finding bipartisan solutions over debating the causes of extreme weather, highlighting that extreme event attribution can’t tell whether global warming “caused” a specific event.
Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at the Applied Mathematics and Computational Research Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, also emphasized the economic consequences of extreme weather. He estimated that global warming was responsible for about $50 billion in damages from flooding during Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that made landfall in Texas and Louisiana in 2017.
Extreme weather disproportionately impacts younger, older and low-income populations, Wehner added. Poor people are among the most vulnerable, as they are the least able to recover from these kinds of events, he said.
“These damages were not equally distributed within socioeconomic groups,” Wehner said. “The most vulnerable portion of the local population was disproportionately affected, and climate change exacerbated this injustice.”
Paul Dabbar, a former Department of Energy official, advocated for “technology-neutral innovation” and open strategies, which would further the competition of discovery.
“The right strategy for the world today is to continue discovery, innovation and deployment of new options,” Dabbar said. “While we certainly need to understand the drivers of climate change, we should focus on solutions also.”
Carper asked how attribution science could inform the designing and engineering of infrastructure, such that roads, bridges and pipes could better withstand severe weather. In response, Wehner described his experience working with the San Francisco city government on their waste management system, which had raised concerns about extreme precipitation. He quoted one city official, who said: “There ain’t no pipe good enough.”
“That has sent the engineers and designers back to the drawing room, saying ‘How will we accommodate these storms in a world that might be considerably warmer,’” he testified.
Wehner told the Medill News Service that cities need to adapt to increased extreme weather conditions by being more proactive, like adding green roofs or rethinking wastewater management systems.
“In order to avoid more dangerous climate change, we have to have the entire planet go to zero emissions to stabilize the climate — that’s not going to happen in my lifetime,” Wehner said. “So then, we have to adapt.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked how insurance companies were dealing with extreme flooding in Florida, to which Jennifer Jurado, the chief resilience officer for Broward County, Florida, replied that some local insurance companies in Florida are going bankrupt, while others are pulling out of the state altogether to avoid future risk.
Lawmakers stressed the importance of working together to find solutions to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events in the future.
“While climate change is driving extreme weather, we are not helpless. This situation is not hopeless,” Carper said. “Working together, we can prevent the worst impacts of global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
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WASHINGTON – For Ruby Chen, this Thanksgiving holiday served as a reminder of the dark reality his family has faced for 54 days.
“We celebrated Thanksgiving with an empty chair,” Chen said.
Chen’s 19-year-old son, Itay, has been held hostage by Hamas since its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, when about 1,200 people were killed and 240 were captured, according to Israeli authorities. Itay is a dual American-Israeli citizen and a soldier with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He is one of eight American hostages currently held by Hamas.
At a House Foreign Affairs Committee roundtable discussion on Wednesday, three families of hostages being held by Hamas called on Congress to do more and to continue pressuring Hamas for the immediate release of their loved ones.
“Time is running out,” Chen said after placing an hourglass on the table in front of lawmakers.
The roundtable comes amid a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel that began on Friday and has been extended through Thursday. Since then, Hamas has released 102 hostages, two of whom are dual American-Israeli citizens.
Israeli officials have publicly acknowledged that Hamas will demand the release of more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli men and soldiers, like Itay, according to CNN. Currently, three Palestinian prisoners are to be released for every one hostage freed by Hamas.
Only one male Israeli hostage has been released, as of Wednesday, according to NBC.
Four-year-old Abigail Edan was in captivity for 50 days after her parents were killed during the Oct. 7 attack. She was the first American hostage released during the pause in fighting.
“Abigail is the hope. We see that people are coming out. We need to keep them coming out,” Liz Hirsh Naftali, Abigail’s great aunt, said during the roundtable.
Lawmakers say they are doing everything they can to secure the release of all hostages. On Tuesday, the House unanimously approved a resolution condemning Hamas for its attack and calling for the release of all hostages in Gaza in a 414-0 vote.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, said Congress should continue its bipartisan efforts.
“You can see it’s heartfelt by Republicans and Democrats who stand with you and stand for the release of the hostages kidnapped so mercilessly,” he said.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said that every member of Congress “has the hostages on their minds,” adding that he has been critical of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because it did not prioritize the release of hostages in the early stages of the war.
Chen also urged Congress to pressure the International Red Cross to provide greater medical care to hostages.
“The International Red Cross needs to be vocal,” Chen said. “They are the witnesses. They are the ones who see the hostages going out.”
Orna and Ronen Neutra, whose son Omer is also an American-Israeli soldier for the IDF and is currently being held hostage, also expressed concern about medical attention for hostages. Orna Neutra said Congress should prioritize uniting the international community and demanding Hamas provide basic necessities, including food and medicine, to its hostages.
Ronen Neutra described Omer as a good friend “always with a smile on his face.” A true leader, he said, Omer joined the IDF after graduating high school on Long Island, N.Y. Orna Neutra last spoke to her son on Oct. 6. Omer said was looking forward to what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend.
“It is unimaginable that after 54 days, not only is [Omer] still held hostage, but that the Red Cross has not been allowed access,” Orna Neutra said. “It is unimaginable that we find comfort in the fact that he was taken hostage and not murdered on that day.”
Abigail’s relatives said that many families of the hostages feel helpless, and that it is up to Congress to fix the problem.
“We’re not politicians or military strategists,” Noa Naftali, Abigail’s cousin, said. “We really trust you to get that work done. All we can do is continue to tell our stories and continue to carry this pain.”
WASHINGTON — Over 100,000 people across dozens of U.S. cities came together on Nov. 4 to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
“I had never been to something as big as that in my life before,” said Fredi Cortes, an organizer of Solidaridad Boricua con Palestina in his home Puerto Rico. He was joined by other transportation coordinators across the nation, many of whom woke up as early as 3 a.m. to oversee travel to Washington.
Watch the video report here:
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Alongside doctors, Chicago-area public health experts and community advocates shared their own experiences with gun violence with lawmakers, calling on them to step up to do more to treat the crisis.read more
WASHINGTON – Doctors and medical experts on Tuesday called on lawmakers to take a public health approach to the gun violence epidemic they say is plaguing the United States.
Since 2020, guns have become the number one cause of death for children and teenagers, according to a study released earlier this year. In 2022, about 132 people died from a firearm-related injury each day. That’s more than the deaths for children caused by cancer or vehicle accidents.
A public health approach to the crisis would create multiple solutions to simultaneously attack the problem, said Dr. Megan L. Ranney, who is a practicing emergency physician and dean for the Yale School of Public Health. The approach involves gathering data on the problem to see who is most affected; defining risk and protective factors; and creating programs that would change existing patterns to avert injury, hospitalization or death.
“I have had a front row seat to our nation’s growing firearm injury epidemic, [and] I have worked to define and implement the public health approach to this crisis,” Ranney said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “We have example after example of how this four-step approach, when applied systematically, can improve human health without abrogating rights.”
Ranney said that community violence intervention (CVI) programs should be considered an important part of the solution. CVI programs use approaches like putting in place “violence interrupters” and case managers to prevent gun violence.
Vaughn Bryant, executive director of the Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, a CVI program based in Chicago, said his program has produced real results. Metropolitan Peace Initiatives coordinates a cross-agency effort among community outreach and engagement organizations with the goal of reducing gun violence in the city’s highest-risk neighborhoods.
Bryant called on Congress to provide federal support and funding to CVI programs like his own.
“It has a national impact,” Bryant said. “Giving a resource allocation can create standards of practice across the country that are important for this work.”
Other organizations working to prevent gun violence agreed.
“Community violence intervention programs in general are a great proactive approach, in a lot of places across the country and in a lot of different communities, to address the crisis,” Zeenat Yahya, policy director at March for Our Lives said in an interview with the Medill News Service.
Both sides of the aisle were divided on whether or not gun violence should be considered a public health crisis.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said CVI programs are important in interrupting acts of violence before they happen. He said creating more of these programs could help build on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, an initiative passed last year that invests in mental health funding and violence prevention initiatives.
“Surely we can find some common ground between parties to create real change for the American people when it comes to this public health crisis of gun violence,” the chairman said.
But Amy Swearer, senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, was critical of the framing of the gun violence crisis as an epidemic. She argued that “using the public health lens hasn’t changed the discussion.”
Swearer, along with Republican lawmakers, continued to emphasize the constitutional right to bear arms.
“The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights is not a public health crisis,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said.
The sharply divided Congress is unlikely to take up new legislation, especially in an election year, but both parties agreed that mental health initiatives and reducing homicides should be priorities.
“I hope we look at the entire picture of gun violence, which includes focusing on repetitive acts of violence by a small percentage of our communities, focusing on mental health diagnosis and treatment, and finding ways that we can address gun violence like we did in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Medical experts emphasized that bipartisan efforts are crucial to effectively combating the gun violence crisis.
“Help our country have hope by demonstrating collaborative action as we have done before,” Ranney said. “We have shown we can reduce the risk of a shooting long before semantics of the gun with intent to harm. Through your bipartisan commitment to this public health approach. Our country can reduce firearm injury and death.”
WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration divulged details of its investigation into defective airbag inflators, manufactured by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive. The agency seeks to recall 52 million airbag inflators — one of the largest automobile callbacks in recent history.
Thursday’s meeting, which was open to the public, was cited as a “rare move” by the agency. The NHTSA first announced the recall last month.
Most automotive companies choose to comply with voluntary recalls issued by NHTSA. But when NHTSA called for one in May, ARC Automotive refused to comply. On Sep. 5, the agency struck down an initial decision to recall ARC Automotive’s airbag inflators — a step toward an official recall.
According to federal auto safety regulators, the airbags were prone to rupturing, which could cause metal fragments to hurl at passengers. So far, the airbags have injured seven people and killed one person. The airbag inflators were incorporated into vehicles made by 12 carmakers, including Ford, General Motors and Hyundai.
“Airbags have saved approximately 50,000 lives in the last 30 years,” said Cem Hatipoglu, NHTSA’s Acting Associate Administrator for Enforcement. “However, airbags that failed to perform appropriately are also a serious safety problem.”
Based on the NHTSA’s investigation, debris left in the inflator during the manufacturing process can loosen. During a deployment, large debris blocks airflow out of the inflator, which can cause the rupture.
“This issue doesn’t only render the airbag ineffective of doing its job of saving lives,” Hatipoglu said. “It also turns the airbag itself into a device that can cause serious injury.”
Donna Glassbrenner, a mathematical statistician at the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, said the agency can reasonably assume that ruptures will continue, based on available information. One out of 370,000 future airbag deployments is likely to result in a rupture, she said.
“While there is always uncertainty in predictions, using available data allows the agency to make the best possible decisions in the face of that unavoidable uncertainty,” Glassbrenner said.
Any one of ARC Automotive’s 52 million inflators presents a risk, so a complete recall is needed, said Sharon Yukevich, Division Chief of the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation.
Stephen Gold, who represented ARC Automotive, pushed back on the NHTSA’s characterization of the airbag inflators. He described the seven ruptures as “isolated incidents,” rather than a “systemic defect.”
“Setting a low threshold for establishing a safety effect is simply unprecedented in the history of NHTSA,” Gold said.
The meeting presented a chance for victims of ruptured airbags to share their stories.
In August 2021, Jacob Tarvis lost his mother when her vehicle’s airbag inflator ruptured in a car collision. Following her death, Tarvis, who was then 22, was appointed guardian of all six of his siblings, as the family struggled to process their grief. He hopes no one else has to experience what his family has, he said.
“How many others have suffered or will suffer?” Tarvis said. “More moms don’t need to die. More kids don’t have to be raised by their siblings.”
Kevin Fitzgerald represented Recall Awareness, an organization that advocated for the ongoing recall of Takada airbags. He expressed frustration at ARC Automotive’s refusal to comply with the recall.
“Our loved ones are not statistics,” Fitzgerald said. “ARC, Delphi — hear me now, your refusal to act is not just corporate negligence, it is a moral failing of the highest order. We can’t afford to let history repeat itself.”
The public can file written submissions until Dec. 4, which NHTSA will take into consideration as to whether to order an official recall.
After China’s surprised chip breakthrough, Washington has new worries about future of export controls
Some lawmakers and experts have called for tougher and more comprehensive sanctions, while chipmakers and China watchers have warned against cutting Chinese companies out of the global semiconductor supply chain.read more
Senators debate effects of regulating Wall Street and press corporate CEOs on exploitation of American consumers
WASHINGTON — Ordinarily, Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, begins each hearing in the Senate Banking Committee with an opening statement on the matter at hand, but he was beaten to the punch on Wednesday by JPMorgan Chase CEO and billionaire establishment Democrat mega-donor Jamie Dimon.
Minutes before senators entered the room, Dimon walked in and turned to the crowd, puffing out his chest and issuing a reverberant greeting: “Good morning! They should make you pay to come to this!”
Shortly after, senators sparred with some of the wealthiest corporate executives from the most powerful banks in the country over regulations and corporate lobbying in the committee’s annual hearing to conduct oversight of Wall Street firms on Wednesday.
Brown gaveled the hearing into session and proceeded with a scathing opening statement, decrying Wall Street firms’ lobbying efforts against recent regulation proposals and condemning the reckless corporate conduct that has negatively impacted working-class Americans’ access to equal opportunity.
The chairman said the “enormous” influence that banks and their CEOs wield should come with reasonable regulation and significant responsibility to protect American consumers’ best interests.
“You may be private companies, but the risks you take and the mistakes you make don’t just affect you. They don’t even just affect your customers, not even just your shareholders, not even just your workers,” Brown said. “The mistakes you make affect the whole economy, and as we all remember from 2008 and 2009, they can certainly affect American taxpayers.”
Alongside Dimon, other banking CEOs called to testify before the committee as expert witnesses included Charles Scharf from Wells Fargo, Brian Moynihan from Bank of America, Jane Fraser from Citigroup, Ronald O’Hanley from State Street, Robin Vince from BNY Mellon, David Solomon from Goldman Sachs and James Gorman from Morgan Stanley.
The banks owned by these eight CEOs collectively hold nearly $15 trillion in assets and trillions of dollars in investments. They also hold more than half of the deposits in the United States and more than $80 trillion in client assets. Brown dubbed these corporate executives “eight of the most powerful people in the country.”
Before the hearing commenced, several senators walked down to the witness podium and jovially greeted each of the eight corporate CEOs, which does not normally happen between committee members and expert witnesses before testimony or questioning.
During the hearing, however, exchanges were sometimes less friendly.
Senators debated mostly along party lines about whether corporate executives or bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. were primarily responsible for adverse economic consequences on American consumers and working-class citizens.
Indeed, while Democratic committee members pressed the banking CEOs about their resistance to reasonable regulations, Republican senators sided with the private sector titans, suggesting that government intervention in Wall Street firms’ dealings would actually hurt average people more.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pressed Dimon and the other executives on criminals’ use of major banks and cryptocurrency to facilitate transactions that ultimately fund terrorists, drug traffickers and sanctioned countries.
Warren said terrorists are now using “cryptocurrency” to circumvent obstacles previously created by the Bank Secrecy Act in 1970 so they can continue to use American banks for bad-faith financing.
“I believe that none of you want your banks to be used to finance terrorist attacks, but let’s be clear: none of you runs these anti-money laundering programs out of the goodness of your hearts,” Warren said.
Dimon echoed Warren’s concerns about cryptocurrency, saying if he had “a government role,” which some argue he already does through mere financial influence, he would “shut down” cryptocurrency due to the threats it poses in being exploited by bad actors.
In March, the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department fined Wells Fargo $125 million for allowing a foreign bank to make hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions on its platform and thus violating prohibitions on dealing with Iran, Syria and Sudan, which are all presently subject to U.S. sanctions.
Scharf brushed over the significance of this previous sanction violation, further ensuring his bank’s general commitment to rooting out illicit transactions.
“Preventing bad actors from abusing our services is a top priority,” Scharf said. “We work in industry groups, we work with the government, we work with the regulators to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to prevent that abuse.”
Despite several senators’ concerns, the corporate CEOs continued to emphasize the important role they believe their banks play in trickling wealth and opportunity down through the economy.
Dimon touted the role he feels Chase banks play in creating jobs for ordinary Americans, growing wealth for the U.S. economy and representing national interests abroad. He said large banks are the “guardians of the financial system.”
“The country benefits from thousands of banks and credit unions of all sizes serving all corners, and we must acknowledge that there are some things that can only be done by large and complex banks, things that are essential to a thriving U.S. economy and American competitiveness,” Dimon said. “Our collective work is important in good times but essential in troubled times.”
The executives also called on Congress to impose less stringent restrictions on their institutions and allow them to navigate the market freely.
Gorman expressed particular frustration with Congress’ most recent proposed regulations that specifically target excess fees imposed by banks and other financial institutions.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Gorman said. “You shouldn’t punish institutions for making fee-based businesses.”
Some senators echoed this sentiment, scapegoating “Washington bureaucrats” for the lack of American working-class opportunities.
Among senators who appeared keenly receptive to the corporate arguments, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., thanked the CEOs for their contributions to the U.S. economy and directed subtle shots at Democratic colleagues who had pressed them earlier in the hearing.
“Unlike some, I do not think you are crooks,” Kennedy said. “In fact, you’re all American companies and I’m proud of you. And I thank you for supporting the most sophisticated and powerful economy in all of human history, and the jobs you create for Americans in doing it.”
Other senators assigned the blame to corporate greed and unregulated wealth monopolization on Wall Street, commending the CFPB for clawing back funds from banks.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who still attends committee hearings despite facing broad calls to resign after being indicted on federal bribery charges and allegedly conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Egypt, pressed each CEO about the money they had to return to customers in redresses at the direction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the last 12 years.
Menendez revealed that CFPB clawed back $360 million from JPMorgan Chase, $819 million from Bank of America, $1 billion from Citigroup and $2 billion from Wells Fargo, which he said would have come “out of the pocket of American consumers” without the bureau.
“From just the four of you, that’s over four billion dollars returned to hard-working consumers in the past dozen years,” Menendez said. “And yet this critical agency is under constant attack from my Republican colleagues. A lawsuit before the Supreme Court is threatening its very existence. And time and time again we’ve seen why the CFPB is so necessary.”
Senators will have one week to submit questions for the record, which the banking CEOs will then have 45 days to answer as lawmakers continue to quarrel over how to grow the economy and whether regulating Wall Street firms will return prosperity to the average American consumer.
‘A slow and subtle corruption of confidence in government’: How the push for stronger ethics rules in Congress is routinely derailed
WASHINGTON – Many of them have become household names: Rep. George Santos, Sen. Bob Menendez, former Rep. Charlie Rangel. The list goes on.
Members of Congress facing allegations of engaging in brazen corruption often land in the center of very public scandals, then subsequently come up against the wrath of the media and their colleagues alike. But even amid widespread vocal outcry, most lawmakers have been less keen to act legislatively on ethically questionable behavior that has not been prohibited by law.
A 2021 Pew Research Center study found that two in three Americans agreed with the phrase “most politicians are corrupt,” and according to a similar New York Times/Siena College poll, 68% of registered voters surveyed in 2022 expressed that the U.S. government “mainly works to benefit powerful elites,” and not “ordinary people.”
Some lawmakers have identified the problem, but have yet to pick up traction on reform despite recent allegations. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has long advocated for stronger ethics standards throughout the federal government, said the response to corruption in Congress has been “very crisis-driven.”
Warren added that despite her repeated attempts at enacting legislative reform, “there just hasn’t been much appetite for change.”
Most recently, Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey, has faced broad calls to resign after being indicted on federal bribery charges and allegedly conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Egypt.
Santos, the freshman Republican from New York, has been the target of many jokes made both in the chambers of Congress and on late-night comedy shows after being indicted on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements to Congress.
A motion to expel Santos from the House of Representatives was introduced by his New York GOP colleagues in early November but failed to reach the necessary two-thirds vote threshold. Just a few weeks later, a new resolution to expel Santos was introduced after the House Ethics Committee released a damning report detailing the findings of its investigation into the disgraced Congressman.
The report revealed evidence that Santos violated several federal laws and stole from his campaign, using money from donors to pay for personal expenses, including Botox and his account on OnlyFans, an online service used primarily by sex workers who produce pornography in exchange for paid subscriptions.
The second resolution to expel Santos succeeded by a vote of 311-114 on Dec. 1, making the freshman New York congressman just the sixth ever lawmaker in Congress to be expelled.
While Santos has recently become a figurehead of corrupt government officials after committing especially egregious ethical violations, he is hardly alone in Congress. Just days after the Ethics Committee published findings in the Santos investigation, RawStory investigative reporter Alexandria Jacobson uncovered 10 more members of Congress who violated financial disclosure requirements in 2022.
The additional lawmakers in violation are Reps. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., Ami Bera, D-Calif., Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, John Rose, R-Tenn., Shri Thanedar, D-Mich., Dina Titus, D-Nev., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-U.S. Virgin Islands.
Even after waves of disapproval and publicity following scandals, however, no new laws or concerted attempts to adopt more scrutinizing ethics standards have taken root this term in Congress.
In recent years, Warren has introduced a steady stream of anti-corruption-related bills targeting all branches of government, including the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act (2018, 2020), the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act (2022) and the Presidential Conflict of Interests Act (2023).
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., said eventually he may also consider introducing anti-corruption legislation, but “never thought it would come to that kind of place” where addressing the type of behavior detailed in the Menendez indictment would be necessary.
“It’s sad that we need to have a law to say you shouldn’t have bribe gold bars in a mattress,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman has been the most vocal advocate for Menendez’s resignation in the Senate. He appeared receptive to the idea of working with Warren to tackle ethics violations, saying he is “open to anything,” especially if the reform is introduced by “somebody like Senator Warren.”
In an interview with Medill News Service, Warren also decried the so-called revolving door that allows private sector professionals to become government officials who regulate their one-time bosses and then return to private sector firms with additional benefits.
“The revolving door, which spins between federal government and private industry, and literally puts people from private industry in government, temporarily creating rules that favor their former and future employers, and then they spin back onto the private side with big pay bumps and promotions, that’s wrong. And we need to close that down,” Warren said.
Ethics reform also has some vocal advocates among leadership in the House of Representatives. Several of Warren’s recent bills were co-authored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who champions and directs the push behind anti-corruption reform in the House of Representatives.
Jayapal said leaders of the push for ethical reform in Congress like herself have “had some success” in assembling a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to support legislation.
She added, however, that those who have united to tackle corruption in government have faced obstacles “across the board” from members who have different interests, “and their own stock portfolios in some cases,” she murmured behind a chuckle and an eye roll.
“People sometimes look at things and say, ‘Well, this isn’t consistent with where I am right now,’” Jayapal said. “And what we try to say is, ‘You don’t have to be perfect. Once we enforce it, then everyone will be on the same page.’”
While touting bipartisan support for ethics reform legislation, Jayapal specifically mentioned her bill to ban members of Congress from owning or trading individual stocks, co-authored by Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., and Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., which goes further than previously passed legislation, like the STOCK Act of 2012.
Buck said members of Congress owning individual stocks is “an obvious conflict of interests,” which has shown itself when lawmakers make “profits off of insider information.” He added that the bill is stuck in committee and had not been made a priority by previous leadership.
“I asked (former Speaker Kevin McCarthy) to work on it. He said he would,” Buck said. “It has not been worked on.”
Just two months after Buck introduced this bill with Jayapal and Rosendale, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., also introduced legislation seeking to ban individual stock trading.
Gaetz, an outspoken advocate for anti-corruption reform in Congress, said he expects members to try to raise the threshold to file a Motion to Vacate the Speakership after he was able to bring a resolution to oust McCarthy by himself in early October.
The congressman said he will push House leadership to adopt several accountability measures, including his bill to ban individual stock trading, in any MTV negotiations.
“I care a lot about banning members of Congress from becoming lobbyists or registered foreign agents. And I care a lot about stopping the influence of lobbyists and PAC money in the decision-making here,” Gaetz said.
Despite the bipartisan support these measures have accrued among some of the most notable members of the House and Senate, however, the bills have not had much success in gaining enough traction to pass through either chamber of Congress.
Gaetz said he is optimistic his efforts will be taken more seriously under Mike Johnson’s speakership. He worked with Johnson for seven years on the House Judiciary Committee, where he said he grew confident in the Speaker’s commitment to ethics reform.
But, according to Gaetz, it has been difficult to pass any accountability measures in the recent past because leadership has not been receptive or committed to change.
“Kevin McCarthy would be one obstacle,” Gaetz said. “…When we talked to him about it, he did like he does on most issues: paid it lip service and then did nothing.”
Senators seeking to reduce the influence of corporations and special interest groups in politics have also faced significant pushback from leadership in their chamber.
On Oct. 31, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced the Ending Corporate Influence in Elections Act of 2023, directly challenging the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which established that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money in candidate elections.
Many of the latest ethical criticisms hurled at members of Congress stem from the pursuit and flow of donations from big corporations who seek to influence elections and policies.
In the aftermath of Hawley’s proposal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who uses the Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC he is closely affiliated with, to help elect Republicans to Congress, erupted into an animated argument behind closed doors in opposition to the senator’s proposal to ban publicly-traded companies from giving to Super PACs, making independent campaign expenditures, creating political ads or engaging in other communications directly involved with a candidate’s campaign, according to a Punchbowl News report and additional Medill News Service reporting.
McConnell also reportedly asserted that money from his Super PAC is the “only reason” that Hawley won his election to the Senate in 2018. McConnell reportedly threatened other Senate Republicans that if they signed onto or supported Hawley’s bill, there would be “heavy incoming” against them.
The minority leader’s office declined to comment on the bill or the ensuing argument.
Hawley said in an interview with Medill News Service that extracting “big corporate money” from campaigning and politics is imperative. A Yale-educated lawyer, Hawley also questioned the constitutional basis for McConnell’s argument and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission itself.
“(McConnell) is totally dead wrong about it. He’s dead wrong about the Constitution.” Hawley said. “There is no originalist case for saying that for-profit business corporations should be able to give political contributions. It was totally unknown at the time of the founding. No principle of the First Amendment requires it. I’m frankly not even sure that Citizens United requires it, but to the extent it does, it’s wrong.”
Hawley added that corporations also have “monopoly power” over the U.S. economy, sending American jobs overseas and further harming working-class voters. He then sounded the alarm against corporate attempts to increase influence on politicians and power over voters.
A recent Pew survey published in September revealed that 73% of U.S. adults believe lobbyists and special interest groups have “too much influence” in the “decisions members of Congress make.” By contrast, the polling shows that 70% of U.S. adults believe the voters in their districts who elect representatives and senators have “too little influence.”
Researchers also found that younger adults are less likely to have faith in democratic processes and the effect of their votes on election results.
Freshman Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., the first member of Generation Z elected to Congress, said lawmakers, and people in general, will always hesitate to “add more rules to themselves.”
Frost expressed concern about the Senate’s ability to bring anti-corruption legislation to a vote even if it were to pass in the House. He also questioned whether a Speaker of the House who supports ethics reform enough to bring it to the floor for a vote could even be elected in the current state of Congress.
The freshman representative added that he does have hope, however, that reform may be passed in the near future because “the composition of this institution is changing quickly.”
“It seems like it’s not just about ideology. It seems like it’s also a generational thing,” Frost said. “And I think that’s important to call out because that means that there might be good opportunity over the next decade to really pass some good reforms.”
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.”