Latest in Politics
Websites like Mayday Health are facing an increasing number of legal challenges, especially as a federal judge in Texas looks to halt abortion pill prescriptions nationwide.read more
WASHINGTON — In March 2020, the economy was grinded to a halt, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced sudden widespread shutdowns of businesses. As Congress watched the economy fall off the cliff, it responded by doing something lawmakers have resisted since the 1960s: a large expansion of the social safety net.
Emergency paid sick and family leave, modernizing and expanding unemployment insurance, monthly tax payments to families with children and expanded health care access all were passed during the emergency. These programs provided a critical lifeline and saved millions of families financially. In turn, it rescued the U.S. economy from a crash that could have rivaled the Great Depression.
“It was just sort of a sense of hope for the future,” said Piper Stiles, a Maine resident and a single mother of a 10 year old, about the importance of the assistance.
But these programs were temporary. President Joe Biden tried to extend them through his Build Back Better agenda, but Congress failed to find the votes. And despite calls in Washington to cut the deficit rather than expand programs at this time, activists are pressing to foster the permanent return of these benefits.
How Congress acted
The first action that passed Congress at the beginning of the pandemic was emergency paid leave, through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The law created paid family, sick and medical leave for the government and employers with less than 500 employees.
Despite its limited form, it was still a major victory for advocates, like Dawn Huckelbridge, director of Paid Leave for All. “Congress suddenly felt the urgency that working families every day had about a lack of paid leave,” she said.
Soon thereafter, Congress temporarily altered unemployment insurance (UI) in the CARES Act. They increased weekly payments by $600, created a benefit program for those outside UI qualifications, like gig workers and contractors, and extended how long recipients can receive checks.
The National Employment Law Project’s UI Campaign Coordinator Alexa Tapia credited workers for why Congress acted boldly, compared with weaker responses to other recessions. “Workers really organized and advocated and made the urgency and the need for this known,” she said.
One year later, a Democratically controlled Congress moved forward even more provisions through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Newly-created ones included Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium subsidies eligibility expansion and subsidy increases for low-income recipients. It also expanded the child tax credit, from $2,000 per child to $3,000 for children 6 to 17-years-old and $3,600 for children under 6. The provision also made half of the credit come available as a monthly payment.
Elisa Minoff, senior policy analyst at the Center for the Study of Social Policy and the center’s lead in work on the ABC Coalition, a group dedicated to creating a guaranteed income for children, said momentum had been building for years. “Giving cash to poor families helps lift them out of poverty,” she said. “The pandemic really shined a light on the disparities in our economy. So I think there was interest in thinking about what are the supports that can actually help families who are left behind.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) championed an expanded child tax credit for nearly two decades, and it’s that longer term activism that Bob Greenstein, a visiting fellow at the Brooking Institute’s Hamilton Project, said is the reason why Congress could act so quickly. “While most of the provisions that got enacted did not look in January 2020 like they were about to be, it is worth noting years of groundwork had been laid.”
But even despite bipartisan support for some of these initiatives, there was pushback even from the beginning from conservatives concerned about spending and government expansion. “In the early days of the COVID pandemic, Club for Growth was way ahead of the curve recognizing the damage inflicted on economic freedom, opportunity, and liberty,” a Club for Growth, a conservative economic group, spokesperson said. Over two years, the debt expanded by $5.9 trillion, a concerning figure for conservative spending hawks like the Club. Slowly, Republicans started backing away, to the point where ARPA had zero Republican support.
‘It kept families from sinking’
Stiles worked jobs that shut down early on in the pandemic, so she relied on unemployment benefits, which she called a huge help. When the monthly expanded child tax credit payments started coming, Stiles said they didn’t suddenly make her financially sound, but they provided optimism.
“Could this be sort of an inoculant for our culture,” she said, “to (be) willing to extend actual meaningful support to people who are struggling economically?”
The benefits for Stiles were in addition to her support from Maine’s Parents as Scholars program, a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefit that aids parents in college. And while Stiles said the extra cash injection wasn’t life changing, she paid off debt that improved her credit rating, and used payments to open a savings account for her daughter.
The government’s interventions had meaningful effects. After the child tax credit expanded in 2021, child poverty fell from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2%. The drop was even larger for Black and Hispanic children.
During UI expansion, despite the unemployment rate hitting 14.7%, the poverty rate in 2020 fell to 9.3% in June from 11% in February. The national uninsured rate fell to a record low of 8% by early 2022, and the paid leave scheme prevented an estimated 15,000 cases of COVID-19 per day nationwide.
“It saved people’s lives,” Huckelbridge said about emergency leave. “It kept families from sinking.”
Kali Daugherty, a Wisconsin resident and also a single mother of a 10-year-old, was working three jobs before the pandemic. When it hit, she lost one of them. While financial difficulties are constant in her life, she said the expanded child tax credit payments alleviated that. “We weren’t better financially off completely, but we weren’t struggling.”
Using the payments, she didn’t rely on her credit card between paychecks to get last minute groceries or other essentials to last until the next pay day, avoiding acquiring more debt and paying off some. Daugherty also used it for things she wouldn’t do otherwise, like using some of the last payment through the program to take her son to a waterpark, thanks to the increased financial security.
But the child tax credit expired at the end of December 2021, and emergency paid leave ended a year earlier, with ARPA only partially bringing it back via a tax credit. UI expansion and reform lapsed in September 2021.
Some of these programs were supposed to be extended through Build Back Better. UI reforms weren’t in the bill the House passed, but a paid leave scheme was, along with extensions of both the expanded child tax credit and health care subsidies.
But when it came time to pass the bill in the Senate, support dried up. “When we got past the sense of dire emergency, and the economy began to rebound, the support gradually diminished,” Greenstein said.
The final iteration of Build Back Better came through the Inflation Reduction Act. The climate and tax focused bill only included an extension of the ACA subsidy expansion and increases, until 2025, and changes to Medicare.
Ben Day, executive director of Healthcare NOW, a group advocating for a national single-payer health care system, said he thinks health care survived because of what the pandemic revealed. “It just dramatically exposed how employment based health insurance doesn’t make sense at all.” Even then, he said he was disappointed at how few of the health care items from Build Back Better became law.
Return to the status quo
A stereotype of the American social safety net programs is that once you start one, it’s hard to do away with it. An example is the public outcry against the GOP push to repeal the ACA in 2017. Americans, according to polling, were split on whether the expanded child tax credit should be permanent, but broadly support paid leave.
Huckelbridge said the Trump Administration’s Labor Department failed to advertise emergency paid leave, so when it expired there wasn’t outrage. Meanwhile, Greenstein said that trope isn’t exactly true, as Congress before has expanded access to government benefits during economic downturns then taken them away as the economy recovers, though not on a scale like this.
When the programs expired, millions who benefited suddenly lost support. The child poverty rate rose from 12.1% in December 2021 to 17% in January 2022 after the expanded child tax credit’s end.
Daugherty said when payments stopped she returned to the financial struggles expansion temporarily ended. “We just went back to how things were,” she said. Daugherty’s income is just over the limit for other programs, meaning she doesn’t have access to other support. “This is all we had to rely on.”
Tapia contended that paring back the expanded unemployment benefits harmed some workers more than others. “Many Black and Brown workers were left without the benefits they need,” she said. “Every job loss is a crisis, and we need to ensure we have UI benefits that allow workers to meet their family needs, and be able to find good jobs.”
That disproportionate effect on who programs help is partially why Minoff thinks securing a permanent solution is difficult. “There are still a lot of myths and stereotypes about families that are steeped in racism that sort of have a hold on the political discourse,” she said.
The path forward
While coming so close to a long-term law on paid leave Huckelbridge said was “devastating,” the advancement on the issue she said is enormous. “We’ve made more progress in the last three years than we had in the decades prior.”
Day said a key part of that has been an increasing embrace of government, a shift that he thinks was accelerated by the pandemic. “The more the US government provides these programs that have life saving impacts, the more that narrative (of demonizing government) changes.”
That change is happening with voters. In the 2010 elections, exit polls reported 56% of voters said the government was doing too much. But in the 2022 elections, 53% said the government should do more.
Now that some programs have already been implemented, the case for bringing them back gets easier, Greenstein said. Driving that is now-existing evidence for the activists’ arguments. “We have the data showing how immensely successful this program was,” Tapia said about UI enhancement.
And despite the more partisan nature of the debate in the latter half of the pandemic, there are some residual areas where activists see bipartisanship. Republicans have expressed openness to paid leave in the past, particularly parental leave, and Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have their own proposals to expand the child tax credit, though different than what activists support.
Overall, Minoff said more lawmakers are prioritizing bringing back the expanded child tax credit, because it benefited so many of their constituents. “They’ve heard directly from families in their communities,” she said. “Now that we’ve tried it, I think it can definitely be easier to get something permanent.”
Stiles and Daugherty are now, after being beneficiaries of the programs, involved in the ABC Coalition’s Parent Advisory Board. If and when the expanded credit returns permanently, they’re pushing it be stronger with more robust benefits.
But while they’re involved in this fight specifically, they also stressed this benefit can’t stand alone. Instead, all of the programs previously mentioned and more need to return or be created for there to be a more effective safety net.
“Welfare in the United States is such a dirty world, and it’s just not in other areas,” Stiles said. “What really needs to shift to allow the change that needs to happen is something that is more subtle and internal, and I feel like that’s the conversation that we need to be having.”
WASHINGTON – Congressman James Moylan (R-Guam) is the first Republican to represent Guam in Congress in 30 years, but he hasn’t wasted any time making an impact.
While Moylan’s transition to Capitol Hill has come with challenges – his home and constituents are over 7,000 miles away – the lawmaker secured a spot on multiple House committees and quickly earned the support of some prominent Republicans. Because he is a non-voting member, Moylan says developing relationships with other members of his caucus is crucial to ensure his constituents are well-represented.
Watch the video below to experience a typical day in the life of the freshman congressman.
Latest in Education
The Biden administration’s $400 billion student-debt relief is being challenged by two borrowers who could invalidate the program altogether.read more
WASHINGTON –– Hundreds of activists gathered outside the Supreme Court Tuesday morning to urge the justices to allow President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program to take effect. Inside the high court, the justices heard oral arguments in Biden v. Nebraska, a case challenging Biden’s authority under federal law to cancel student debt.
Nonprofits including the NAACP paid to send seven buses of students from six states to protest in front of the court Tuesday morning. The speakers, including several Democratic lawmakers, emphasized that student debt relief is not only legal but also just and necessary.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday for Biden v. Nebraska, a case which challenges President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 for those with federally held student debts.
The case looked at two major issues: standing and merit.
The first questioned whether the respondents, in this case the six Republican-led states suing, had standing to challenge Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona for their loan forgiveness plan.
In other words, if Cardona’s plan caused injury to these states, it gave the states the ability to challenge it.
To that end, the arguments largely focused on whether or not the states had standing. Nebraska Solicitor General James Campbell said that the Missouri-based entity MOHELA, which the state argued suffered financial losses due to the program, gives the states standing.
Video by Julia Narvaez Munguia/MNS
But some Justices argued that MOHELA could have filed its own lawsuit but decided against it. Notably, Trump-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she didn’t understand why the states stood in for MOHELA in the lawsuit.
“If MOHELA is an arm of the state, why didn’t you just strong-arm MOHELA and say you’ve got to pursue this suit,” Barrett said.
If the Justices agree the states have no standing, the case would be thrown out before getting to the second issue of merit.
Cardona’s plan to forgive loan debt hinges on the Higher Education Relief for Students Act, which gives the executive branch authority to provide emergency relief without express authorization from Congress if it modifies or waives existing protocols.
Campbell said that Cardona’s loan forgiveness does neither of these things, but instead creates a “breathtaking and transformative power beyond [the secretary’s] institutional role and expertise.”
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said that she wasn’t clear on the distinction between creating a power and modifying or waiving one.
“Why doesn’t it all reduce to the same thing?” Brown said.
It’s unclear how the Court, which is led 6-3 by conservative Justices, will rule. Some experts believe that Biden does not have much of a case on the merits, while others argue the states have no standing to sue the federal government.
But the program has broad sweeping implications for millions of current and former students who have borrowed money from the federal government. Over $400 billion in federal loans would be forgiven should the Court decide against striking down the program.
“There’s 50 million students who will benefit from this, who today will struggle,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. “Many of them don’t have assets sufficient to bail them out after the pandemic. They don’t have friends or families or others who can help them make these payments.”
A ruling against Biden’s plan could invite further suits by Republican-led states that would impact all kinds of future executive actions. It’s why the courts may decide to focus on the first issue of standing, which would help avoid questions of the Biden administration’s authority going forward.
“What you’re saying is now we’re going to give judges the right to decide how much aid to give them instead of the person with the expertise and the experience the secretary of Education who’s been dealing with educational issues and the problems surrounding student loans,” Sotomayor said.
Health & Science
Websites like Mayday Health are facing an increasing number of legal challenges, especially as a federal judge in Texas looks to halt abortion pill prescriptions nationwide.read more
WASHINGTON – Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe testified before lawmakers on Tuesday and said the COVID-19 Chinese lab leak theory is the “only plausible explanation” and is backed by “our intelligence, by science, and by common sense.”
During his testimony before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, Ratcliffe stressed that the intelligence and evidence supporting the theory of a lab leak as the origin of COVID-19 far outweighed the evidence pointing to a naturally occurring “spillover” theory.
According to Ratcliffe, if the two theories were placed side-by-side, the evidence for the lab leak theory would be overwhelming compared to the “spillover” theory, which would have very little support. He said he based this claim on an “informed assessment, as a person with as much or more access than anyone to our government’s intelligence during the initial year of the virus outbreak and pandemic onset.”
The investigation is part of the select committee’s efforts to understand the origins of the pandemic and prevent future outbreaks.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who chairs the subcommittee, expressed his continued trust in the select committee and its ability to uncover the origins of the pandemic. Wenstrup emphasized the committee’s determination to investigate all possible leads, despite a chorus of criticism that it is politically motivated.
“There was an unwillingness to investigate this together. The good news is in the intelligence committee, that rift is now gone, and we work together very well,” he said. Wenstrup stressed that “if we are going to do all that we say we want to with this committee to move forward, we have to consider these types of things, the motives, whether they’re political or personal so that we don’t let someone do that again in the future.”
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said the politics surrounding the subject could impede attempts to stop the next epidemic. Dingell also noted that “no one definitely knows” the precise scientific consensus on the origins of COVID-19. However, she emphasized that “China has not been forthcoming,” which is the fundamental problem.
Wenstrup echoed this sentiment in his description of how China employs coercion to stifle efforts to learn more about the origins of COVID-19.
“While the specific origin of COVID-19 may not be 100% clear, there’s mounting evidence suggesting a research or lab-related incident. What is clear, though, is that China does not want the globe to know its origins,” he claims.
Wenstrup disclosed an email the Chinese embassy sent last week in an effort to convey its “grave concerns” about the committee’s ongoing efforts to learn more about the history of COVID-19. “Well, we have some news for Beijing: these intimidation tactics will not work,” he says.
Wenstrup continued to urge other committee members to join his efforts in a letter he would write decrying the “intimidation tactics” used by China.
WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pressed Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel on the company’s plan to increase the price of their COVID-19 vaccine to $130 per dose as sales shift to the commercial market in May when the Biden administration ends the national emergency.
Up until now, the U.S. government purchased the Moderna vaccine for between $15 and $26 per dose and made them available to the public at no cost.
Moderna’s proposed price hike has raised concerns among lawmakers who fear that it could lead to unequal access to the vaccine, especially among low-income families.
During his testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Wednesday, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel defended the company’s plan to raise the price, saying, “this is not the same product.” Bancel outlined the difficulties the pharmaceutical company would likely encounter after the U.S. government stopped purchasing and delivering the vaccines.
In order to ensure adequate protection for individuals, Bancel said they would need to produce more vaccine doses than anticipated. The higher costs of production would need to be covered.
Sanders vehemently opposed Moderna’s proposal, suggesting the vaccine be made available to all at no cost in order to reach the maximum number of people. He argued that Moderna should prioritize public health over maximizing profits.
Sanders mentioned Moderna as an example of the “unprecedented corporate greed” he claims has pervaded the pharmaceutical industry. In his opening remarks, he noted that “a recent survey found that 37% of Americans could not afford the prescription drugs their doctors recommended,” while 10 big pharmaceutical corporations made over “$100 billion in profit in 2021, an increase of 103% over the previous year.”
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the ranking member of the committee, criticized the hearing, complaining it resembled more of “a public shaming show-trial than a fact-finding mission.” He further expressed his concern that the title of the hearing presumed guilt and accused the committee of having the wrong goal, suggesting that they should first focus on fact-finding before attempting to hold anyone responsible.
Regarding the profiteering of pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic, he disagreed that there was a direct link. Cassidy said the vaccine was made available as soon as it was developed and implemented, saving many lives.
Sanders pointed out $12 billion in federal government funding had been spent on research, development, and procurement of the vaccine. He asked Bancel whether Moderna would be willing to charge less than $130, given that the United States already pays the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs in general. Bancel admitted that he could not guarantee that the prices would be lower than those of other countries.
Several lawmakers urged for more information on how patients might take advantage of Mordena’s assistance program to help them get access to the Covid-19 vaccination. Moderna has pledged to make sure that the vaccines are accessible at no cost to those who are uninsured or have inadequate insurance, but the company has provided very little information about how it would actually operate the program.
Sanders expressed his criticism of Moderna’s vaccine assistance program, calling it “poorly designed and extremely difficult.” He demanded more transparency and data about how the program will benefit the public, particularly considering that patients will still end up paying higher insurance premiums.
Latest in Environment
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) pushed for more climate spending but Republicans remained skeptical.read more
WASHINGTON — Senators on Wednesday grappled with the already-existing and looming-future economic costs of climate change, and how to prevent them.
At a Budget Committee Hearing, experts delivered testimony that revealed a concerning state that America is in: unmitigated climate change could lead to economic chaos worse than the 2008 financial crisis and further strain budget deficits.
Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) kicked off the hearing by discussing how the climate crisis is different from others that have stressed the economy in the 21st century.
“Look at our national debt. One thing that stands out is how much of it was incurred as a result of exogenous shocks to the economy,” he said, adding that both the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic added $10 trillion to the debt. “Headlights, and better attention to what they illuminated, could have helped… Now we have all these warnings.”
Dr. Mark Carney, former governor of both the Banks of England and Canada, said coastal erosion will weaken property values in those regions. Extreme weather will increase food costs. And increased flooding will damage infrastructure not built to withstand the new environment.
“The hit to GDP growth from unmitigated climate change is expected to be significant,” Carney said. He added global GDP per capita could fall between 10 to 20% without efforts to curb climate change.
Dr. Robert Litterman, the chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee, made the case that pushing incentives is the way to get action on this issue.
“We need to create incentives to reduce emissions, we all understand this,” he said. “People respond to incentives. If we get the right incentives, we’ll get the right behaviors.”
He added those incentives need to also be applied on a global scale, as the U.S. needs to work diplomatically with other nations to “harmonize” the incentives across the world and therefore hopefully yield stronger emission reductions.
The need for a global push was echoed by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). He voiced frustration that those engaged in the climate debate often forget the U.S. isn’t the leader in emissions.
“We have to do things that have a global impact,” he said. But Romney also listed policy proposals he’d be supportive of. “Research and technology and a price on carbon are the things that would make a difference.”
A carbon tax has long been an idea to address climate change, but it failed to make it into the Inflation Reduction Act last year.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned the panelists about how a carbon tax could impact American households. Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin explained his case for pricing.
“The literature says very clearly that the right way to do this is a revenue-neutral carbon tax.” He explained that means taking the revenues from a carbon tax and using it to offset corporate and income taxes so people don’t feel the burden of it.
But Graham was skeptical and went back and forth with the panelists about what the tax could mean for utility bills, gas prices and other services.
Overall, both sides acknowledged there is a need to take action, but differ on its urgency and how to do so.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) summed up the general sentiment in his remarks: “We know that the cost of doing nothing is huge.”
WASHINGTON – The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) hosted the 24th Great American Water Taste Test on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill
44 state-winning water samples were sent to Washington and the five finalists were judged in front of a crowd of supporters. Watch to see which state has the cleanest water in the United States.
Watch the video report here:
Latest in National Security
Transgender service members say whiplash in policy has taken a toll on their financial stability, mental wellness
WASHINGTON — Kora Delta was one of thousands of U.S. troops who helped evacuate more than 100,000 people from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021. The mission came as she was awaiting gender-affirming care, a few months after the Biden administration announced that transgender people could serve openly in the military, reversing a Trump-era policy.
“I still put my best foot forward and we still got those people out of that country,” said Delta, an Air Force command and control battle management operator. “I was at my worst. I still acted for my country.”
Delta is one of the thousands of openly transgender service members who would be prohibited from serving in the military as part of new legislation introduced in Congress.
The legislation, dubbed the Ensuring Military Readiness Act and introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would largely disqualify transgender individuals from serving in the military; companion legislation introduced by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) is being considered in the House this week. Rubio has long been a vocal opponent of policies that aim to increase diversity or protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
While the legislation has little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate and becoming law, it represents an ever-present spectre of policy reversal hanging over the transgender community. If a conservative Republican captures the White House in 2024, they could use executive action, as the Trump administration did, to re-impose the ban.
Transgender service members and veterans say the whiplash in policy over the last six years — from the Trump-era ban to the Biden administration revoking it to the new legislation — has taken a toll on their financial stability, mental wellness and long-term planning.
David Stacy, who leads the federal policy team at the nonprofit advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said Republicans are also likely to propose amendments on the issue during the debate on the annual defense policy bill later this year. However, he said Democrats in the upper chamber would likely block any action on transgender military service.
“The bottom line is we don’t expect this bill to move, although who knows if the House Republicans decide to bring it to the floor,” Stacy said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we would have a majority of both chambers that would be in favor of continuing the effective current policy and not making a change here.”
As the House Armed Services Committee decides whether to move companion legislation forward in the House, its personnel subcommittee is also set to hear testimony from military leaders on related issues Thursday, signaling that the military’s diversity policies remain a top issue for Republicans.
The hearing, titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Impacts to the Department of Defense and the Armed Services,” will focus on the impact of DEI policy on the military’s readiness, lethality, and cohesion, per the committee.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), one of the bill’s original cosponsors, contends that allowing transgender people to serve sows division within the military.
“We’ve got to go by an agenda that people understand, that they believe in, and I think this has caused us problems,” Tuberville said. “You know, being a former coach and coaching teams, you don’t need anything that causes division. I think this is gonna cause division.”
After former President Donald Trump tweeted his opposition to allowing transgender people to serve in July 2017 and later followed through, his administration faced a wave of legal challenges from civil rights organizations challenging the ban. With the approval of the Supreme Court, transgender people were largely prohibited from enlisting in the military beginning in April 2019, and those already serving were mostly required to serve in their sex assigned at birth.
One of President Joe Biden’s first executive actions upon taking office in 2021 was to repeal the ban and prohibit discharges from the military based on gender identity. Since 2021, transgender individuals have been able to serve openly in the military, but many say the fight is far from over.
The legislation introduced by Banks and Rubio comes on the heels of a wave of state bills from Republican elected officials targeting transgender people, including bans on participation in school sports and barriers to gender-affirming care.
“This is part and parcel of a larger legislative effort we are seeing across the country in various states to exclude transgender people and write them out of equal access to very public spaces or healthcare,” said Kara Ingelhart, a senior attorney at LGBTQ civil rights organization Lambda Legal. “That’s incredibly harmful to the entire community and everyone who loves and supports them, especially young people who are looking up at elected officials for an example of how to be and how to envision their futures.”
The bill faces an uphill battle in both the Senate and the House, where Republicans hold a narrow majority.
Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who was an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s policy, said Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for attacking transgender service members.
“The trans troop ban is a bigoted and ignorant policy that is a slap in the face to courageous trans Americans who serve and seek to serve our country in uniform,” Wexton said in a statement to Medill News Service.
Biden is also expected to veto the legislation if it were to make its way through Congress, but Ingelhart said simply debating the validity of gender identity does harm to transgender individuals, who are at higher risk for mental health challenges.
Studies have found that transgender individuals are up to six times as likely as the general population to have been hospitalized for a suicide attempt.
The bill’s opponents argue that banning transgender people, who are about twice as likely as the general population to have served in the military, excludes a critical population from enlisting when the armed forces are consistently struggling to meet recruitment goals. The Army missed its goal last year by 25%.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said the bill has the potential to impede military strength.
“This legislation imposes a baseless and discriminatory restriction that harms our national security,” Ellis said in a statement to Medill News Service. “Transgender Americans have been serving openly for years and their service and sacrifice make our military and our entire country stronger.”
Research undertaken in 2020 by the Palm Center, an independent think tank that focused on LGBTQ+military issues, concluded that the Trump-era ban harmed military readiness by impeding recruitment, retention, cohesion and morale in the military, in addition to hurting the military’s reputation.
Those who support the proposed ban argue that the issue is discouraging many potential recruits from enlisting. Conservatives are also slamming Biden’s reversal as one of many unneeded diversity initiatives pushed by the Pentagon.
Jon Schweppe, director of policy and government affairs at the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank that has endorsed Rubio’s bill, said people from the South who disproportionately join the military are skeptical of new policies such as the Biden administration’s stance on transgender service.
“We want to make sure we have a full fighting force,” Schweppe said. “But I would actually posit that this direction the military has gone, which is very out of step with the American people… and probably hurting recruitment numbers.”
A RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Department of Defense in 2015 found that “there has been no significant effect of openly serving transgender service members on cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness” in 18 foreign countries.
Transgender service members and veterans, however, note the benefits they offer the military, including diversity of perspectives.
Alleria Stanley, director of communications at SPARTA, a transgender military advocacy organization, said allowing transgender people to serve strengthens the military beyond just expanding the recruiting pool.
“There are no negative impacts to our deployability, and the diversity that we bring brings increased readiness and increased lethality,” said Stanley, who served in the Army for 20 years. “By our diversity, we increase additional ideas, perspectives and insights from our unique points of view.”
Delta also said that, in addition to the diversity brought by transgender service members, permitting them to serve openly allows troops to serve to the best of their ability.
“Once people transition and become their true selves, there’s not a mental block that they have. They can be their true selves” Delta said. “With that they become exceptional. They soar above everyone else. They become absolute rock stars. They become an even better, stronger, faster, more intellectual performer than they previously were.”
In making the argument that allowing transgender people to serve harms military strength, conservatives have also likened gender dysphoria to other physical and mental conditions that disqualify individuals from enlisting, such as peanut allergies and ADHD.
“Americans who were treated for ADHD in the past two years must receive a waiver to enlist,” Banks said in a statement about the new bill. “Our military holds recruits to stringent medical standards for a reason and the Biden administration’s special carveout for those suffering from gender dysphoria was purely political.”
Danni Askini, co-executive director of national programs at Gender Justice League, said this comparison runs contrary to the current consensus in the scientific community.
The American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization no longer classify gender dysphoria as a mental disorder, and the American Medical Association explains transgender identities as “normal variations of human identity and expression.”
“It’s specious and frankly disgusting that people would try to liken being a transgender person to having a disease. [It] shows an immense amount of ignorance about — and a lack of relationship to — transgender people,” Askini said.
It remains unclear whether culture war issues like restricting the ability of trans people to participate in sports or seek gender-affirming care as minors is a winning issue for Republicans. Even as many Republican candidates highlighted these issues in the 2022 midterm elections, less than 5% of voters surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign after the elections identified them as motivators at the ballot box.
Stacy said that in the midterm election cycle, the salience of transgender issues diminished significantly from Republican primaries to general elections, noting the tenacity of public support for allowing transgender people to serve in the military.
Public opinion polling has consistently found that a substantial majority of Americans — including veterans, military families and active duty troops — support allowing transgender individuals to serve.
While Schweppe acknowledged that Democrats have at times succeeded at framing the debate over transgender military service in a way that benefits them, he remains confident Republicans will ultimately win voters over on the issue.
“Ultimately, when we’re talking about fighting what I would call a really dangerous and destructive ideology, I think we are winning, in large part because once people know the consequences of how this has been impacting society, how this is impacting kids, schools, all that, they really don’t like it,” he said.
As the future of transgender military service comes under debate, though, advocates say troops’ economic stability and freedom to pursue their plans are threatened.
Askini pointed out the importance of military service as an economic opportunity and a stabilizing force for many people, including transgender troops. With estimates placing the number of transgender people serving in the military around 15,000 as of 2018, the military remains the largest employer of transgender people in the country.
Specialist Adrian Daniel, the first transgender person to transition in the Mississippi Army National Guard, said he hopes to remain in service for the foreseeable future but could not continue to do so if he were forced to serve in his sex assigned at birth.
“It really made my heart drop because I want to retire out of the military,” Daniel said of the new legislation. “And that’s always been my dream. But at the same time, I’m not going to fight for a country that’s taken my rights away.”
Activists said transgender people should not be dissuaded by elected officials who aim to limit their ability to serve.
“There are activists and lawyers who are out there who are going to fight these fights and people should continue to make the plans that they want to make, pursue their dreams and pursue their careers and opportunities without having to fear or think about stupid legislation like this, because it will never become law,” Askini said. “We will never let it.”
WASHINGTON — At the first field hearing of the new session, expert witnesses called on the GOP-led House Homeland Security Committee to pass legislation to support agencies working on immigration and border security.
Raul Ortiz, the chief of U.S. border patrol for the Department of Homeland Security, said that the border is not under the agency’s operational control due to a “policy crisis.” However, despite scrutiny from Republican congressmen, he maintained that this problem has existed since he was a deputy chief almost 10 years ago and is not unique to President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Today’s border environment requires a whole of government solution… which could be in the form of legislative or policy adjustments,” Ortiz said. “And that is where I ask for your help. We need more options.”
While House Republicans promised to bring immigration legislation onto the floor within the first few weeks of the new session, they have failed to do so thus far.
Steven Cagen, the assistant director for Countering Transnational Organized Crime Homeland Security Investigations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency needs additional infrastructure to continue drug seizures along the border. While Biden and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s current approach includes increased funding for ICE and Customs and Border Protection, Congress’s deadlock has stalled additional funding.
“HSI is dedicated to using its broad and unique authorities to stop illicit drugs at every critical location in the supply chain,” Cagen said. “HSI will need additional staffing to support complex investigations and prosecutions to dismantle TCO threats to the homeland.
According to CBP data, there were almost 2.4 million encounters on the southern border in 2022, the highest annual total on record. This number was about 650,000 more than 2021 and over five times more than 2020, which saw a dip in migration that experts attribute to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Committee members asked Ortiz whether he thought this sharp increase could be attributed to Biden’s campaign promises around immigration. Ortiz, who has worked in border patrol since 1991 and has been chief of the agency since 2021, did not answer affirmatively.
He said they also “had some vulnerabilities” on the southern border in 2019 under President Donald Trump’s DHS. He said he did not agree with the actions taken in response to influxes in migration during that time period, such as the family separation policy.
“Separating families was a significant challenge for our organization,” Ortiz said. “And I will tell you that once again, there’s got to be another way to solve some of the issues that we’re faced with right now.”
The hearing took place at South Texas College in McAllen, Texas. Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said this trip to the Rio Grande Valley, a region on the U.S.-Mexico border, was meant to expose committee members to the needs of on-the-ground border security agents.
However, in press releases leading up to the trip, Republican congressmen said the hearing was meant to “examine Secretary Mayorkas’ Border Crisis.” Democrats on the committee did not attend because of the political skew of the hearing. But the chairman condemned his colleagues across the aisle: “You can’t have bipartisanship if the other side fails to show up for their duty.”
“We came to Texas for this hearing for several reasons: to get members of Congress and their staff out of the cubicles back in Washington and down here to the border to see it for ourselves,” Green said. “You cannot read about being a doctor and then go do brain surgery.”
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WASHINGTON — The National Gallery of Art opened up its doors last Thursday night for an evening of music and dancing.
The theme of the event was “Sheroes,” in celebration of women’s history month.The event also offered a preview of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, which was approved by Congress in December 2020.
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Ashburn, Va. — William Hennessy has worked as a court artist for over 40 years. He began in 1982, covering the Senate before C-SPAN coverage began.
Currently, he covers the U.S. Supreme Court and has covered major historical moments, from Ketanji Brown Jackson’s appointment to the Court, to President Bill Clinton’s presidential impeachment.
In the video below, Hennesssy describes his creative process and why he’s passionate about his work.
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WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) kept up the pressure on attacking corporate interference to unionization on Wednesday, a day after he secured the voluntary cooperation of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to testify before a Senate committee.
Sanders, chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, better known as the HELP Committee, was planning to hold a vote on Wednesday to subpoena Schultz to testify after the CEO had initially refused to appear. But Sanders announced Tuesday night that Schultz would voluntarily testify on March 29.
Still, Sanders was highly critical of Starbucks, saying that the company had thwarted numerous union efforts at various coffee branches and stymied numerous efforts by workers.
“Despite the fact that over 280 Starbucks coffee shops have successfully voted to form a union over the past year, Starbucks has refused to negotiate in good faith to sign a single first contract with their employees,” Sanders said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Sanders emphasized the importance of the committee hearing as a means to address the challenges faced by Americans in a society where an unfair and unusual economy exists.
“In America today, from coast to coast, we have people by the millions, working for starvation wages,” Sanders said in his opening statement.
Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation composed of 60 unions, called for more federal action to support workers’ legal rights, especially to address the pushback from employers against unionizing.
In her testimony, Shuler mentioned corporations such as Starbucks, Delta Airlines, and Apple, which she said have had some of their most profitable years in history but have failed to provide fair pay to their workers. She emphasized that unions are the strongest means for employees to fight for justice and equity in the workplace.
“What do workers have to show for fair pay?” Shuler asked.
Mary Kay Henry, the international president of the Service Employees International Union, echoed those worries, saying that “working families all over this country are at a disadvantage.”
But several GOP members of the committee questioned whether more legislation was necessary to protect unions and instead called for an end to so-called “union-security” agreements, which require all employees in a bargaining unit to become union members.
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) gave his own experience as an example, having started a plumbing company with only six employees though now employs around 300 individuals.
Mullin recounted an incident from 2009 when some organizations attempted to unionize what he said were “his satisfied and well-compensated workers.” Mullin suggested that the unions were hampering his company, which had successfully bid for jobs that would have otherwise gone to unionized firms.
Mullin questioned Sean O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, on whether he had been able to create any jobs and hire people.
O’Brien said no but said that the union creates create opportunities to hold “greedy CEOs accountable.”The March 29 committee hearing with Schultz will likely result in a similar faceoff between Sanders and the Starbucks CEO. Starbucks said in a letter to the committee on Tuesday that it looks “forward to continuing to work with the Committee to foster productive dialogue.”
WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House garnered bipartisan support for a measure aimed at putting checks on presidential power by passing the REINS Act in a 272-148 vote on Wednesday.
The measure, which stands for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, would require the Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Economic Advisers to inform the president of inflationary effects of any executive order that would affect the budget by at least $1 million.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) said the bill is a necessary step to reduce inflation, which several Republicans claim is a result of President Joe Biden’s 107 executive orders since taking office.
The legislation “ensures that costly actions the president decides to take solely under his own authority under executive order will not go into effect until he’s informed of and considers the inflationary effects,” Comer said.
Though the bill got several Democrats on board, leaders of the party slammed the legislation as a waste of government resources, saying it isn’t a tangible solution to address inflation costs.
The bill, however, has not passed in many previous sessions of Congress, so may not move through the Democratic-controlled Senate. In addition, it is unlikely that Biden would sign the measure into law.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said the legislation is not designed to provide meaningful solutions to economic concerns. He said his party members have been waiting to see Republicans “big, grand” plan and this legislation is consistent with their lack of focus on real “kitchen table, pocket book concerns of American people.”
“The bill is three pages, and what does it call for? It calls for reports,” Jeffries said. “You’ve been focused on the wrong things.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asserted that many of Biden’s executive orders fueled the inflation crisis, and this bill would require the president to acknowledge his role in inflation.
“This is about transparency to the American people,” Stefanik said.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said House Democrats have implemented several tangible pieces of legislation to help families with rising costs of living.
“We’ve seen how people’s lives improve when government stepped up to enact a moratorium on evictions or sent urgently needed stimulus checks to families or expanded the child tax credit or cap insulin at $35 a month,” Bush said. “Those are the actions that saved lives, that’s what we need and we need more of that now.”
Several amendments were adopted as part of the vote, including one from Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) to require inflation estimates to be made publicly available, and one from Rep. Scott Perry (R-Calif.), which decreased the amount of major executive orders affected by the bill from $1 billion to $1 million.
Some Democratic House members attempted to amend the legislation to use different economic indicators to provide assessments of the potential budgetary effects of executive orders, but all of their amendments were rejected.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced an amendment that would require the legislation to use “Genuine Progress Indicator” economic measure tools, which she said would provide a more accurate and inclusive assessment of the economic well-being of all Americans.
“It would give us the chance to finally account for important but overlooked aspects of society like wealth distribution, economic sustainability and the overall quality of life for everyday Americans,” Omar said.
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.”