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Though an additional FEC Commissioner is set to bring a quorum back to the agency, there has been a desire to clean house one the remaining commissioners, in order to bring in a full six-member body.

Women could lose insurance coverage for birth control if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Trump administration

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THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL State of the Union Address

Exclusive Medill on the Hill coverage of the Presidential State of the Union Address. 

Latest in Politics


WASHINGTON — When Matthew Petersen left his role as a commissioner in the Federal Election Commission at the end of August, the campaign finance oversight agency no longer had a quorum four commissioners — leaving it unable to meet. 

The Senate Republicans finally appear ready to confirm the Trump administration’s nominee for Peterson’s slot — Trey Trainor. But in the current environment at the FEC, there is no guarantee the three existing commissioners — each having served past the end of their terms — would stay, former Republican FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman said. The commission is supposed to have six members, three Democrats and three Republicans – there have only been three commissioners since August. At least four commissioners — two-thirds of the six commissioners legally allowed to serve — are needed for a quorum to conduct oversight on the nation’s campaign finance laws.

“You oughta be asking, are any other commissioners considering leaving the commission?” Goodman said. “Because they’ve all been there a very long time, and there’s no guarantee that any of them would stay much longer.”

To ameliorate this possibility and assemble a lasting quorum, the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have expressed a willingness to have a slate of six new commissioners – three from each party, according to a source familiar with the politics of commissioner appointments. 

However, Senate Minority Leader Schumer has only given the name of one potential Democratic appointee — FEC Executive Assistant Shana Broussard — to fill the only vacancy left of the Democratic commissioners. 

Watchdog role stalled 

In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress enacted the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974, which created limits on donations to political campaigns. 

To enforce the new laws, Congress also established the FEC — composed of three Democrats and three Republicans — to make rulings and uphold the campaign finance laws. 

Before the days of stringent campaign finance laws, there was little accountability regarding issues such as foreign contributions, former Democratic Commissioner Ann Ravel said.

“The whole purpose of the FEC was because there was very little disclosure of violations of law and new enforcement of those violations prior,” Ravel said. “There was no agency to enforce the law.”

Though day to day operations in the FEC remain intact, an essential function of the FEC is to deliver decisions on campaign finance laws in federal elections. Because the commission requires four commissioners to conduct business, Petersen’s departure stalled vital decision-making duties of the commission. 

Without a quorum, the FEC could not enforce penalties on campaign finance laws and deliver advisory opinions to candidates looking for guidance on campaign finances. 

“Many functions of the agency continue uninterrupted in the absence of a quorum on the commission,” Goodman said. “Those penalties actually can’t be imposed unless there is a quorum on the commission… In order to even issue an administrative fine for misreporting data, the commission must vote on that. And without a commission, you can’t.”

Clean slate 

Though a Senate confirmation of Trainor would bring a quorum back to the FEC, McConnell and the White House have both expressed interest in clearing the current commissioners and appointing a new slate of six commissioners. 

“The White House has been prepared to appoint six new commissioners, if Sen. Schumer would send them the names of three Democrats to take the Democratic seats,” a source familiar with the politics and inner workings of the commission said. “The hold-up is that Sen. Schumer will not send three names to the White House.” 

The White House did not respond to requests for comment. 

A McConnell spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the Majority Leader’s agenda for the FEC, but he did offer the overall mission for the Majority Leader.

“The goal has always been to have a full commission,” the spokesman said. “That will take bipartisan cooperation. Discussions continue on how to accomplish the goal.”

Others speculated that the motivation was to lessen the extent to which the FEC takes an oversight role. To Schumer, Trainor’s record on campaign finance shows McConnell’s desire to loosen the rules and weaken the commission, along with the existing campaign finance laws. 

Ravel said the talk of cleaning house on the commission comes from a desire to alter the way the FEC administers campaign finance laws. 

“What the Republicans in the Senate have wanted is to eliminate all of the present commissioners and just put all new commissioners,” Ravel said. “This was viewed by the Democrats as an effort by the Republicans to pack the commission… (with members) who don’t believe in the central mission of the FEC.”

Besides being able to appoint more lenient commissioners to the FEC, others worry that cleaning house on the commission would force all appointees to learn at the same time. Instead, by adding Trainor and then getting Democrats and Republicans to each nominate one more, the current commissioners would be able to help the newcomers learn the ropes of the federal watchdog. 

Daniel Weiner, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program, expressed concern with appointing six commissioners all at once to the FEC. 

“There’s some risk in sweeping in all six people at the same time,” Weiner said. “It would be better to stagger the replacements… There would always be some commissioners with experience, and the new people could get acclimated.”

A quorumless precedent? 

Though the body has lacked a quorum, even in the midst of a presidential election year when millions in campaign contributions will be made, some people were concerned about what precedents would be set when the independent commission goes without a functional number of commissioners. 

Weiner said that leaving the body quorumless heading into an election year only further deteriorates liberal democratic functions in the government. 

“We’re living in a time when many norms are being eroded,” Weiner said. “And I do worry that the FEC not having a quorum would further undermine the norm that we do need these campaign finance laws.” 

While the question of precedent remains, it is worth noting that day-to-day operations continue, and candidates still must file their documents to the FEC every quarter. 

A quorum will eventually be reached, Goodman said, so there is no reason to avoid providing these documents to the FEC. But if they didn’t, the current commission could not meet to enforce these campaign finance laws. 

“People know there will be quorum at some time in the future, and so no one has stopped reporting their campaign finance data to the commission,” Goodman said. 

Ravel, though, struck a hopeful tune about the future of the commission, during this election year and without a quorum. This instance may prove to the public that they need this watchdog and these campaign laws, she said. 

“The lack of an FEC during the election, I think, is going to…create even more of a desire on the part of the public to have an agency that has an ability to act,” Ravel said.

Women could lose insurance coverage for birth control if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Trump administration

WASHINGTON — Rachel Fey remembers struggling to get health insurance to cover her birth control costs – more than $400 out of pocket for three months of her pills.

For some women, paying for food and shelter often doesn’t leave enough left over to pay for birth control, said Fey, now the senior director of policy for Power to Decide, a birth control advocacy organization.

But the prospect of shouldering this cost could become a reality for many low-income women.

In April, the Supreme Court will hear Trump v. Pennsylvania and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, a consolidated case that would allow virtually any employer or university to deny women access to birth control based on religious or moral objections.

Under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, employers have to provide birth control coverage. However, in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that requiring family-owned corporations to cover contraception under the ACA violates religious liberties guaranteed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Due to this ruling, religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor are exempt from the ACA mandate.

In October 2017, the Trump administration released a regulation to make it easier for employers with religious objections to exclude contraceptive coverage from health plans for employees. Enforcement of these regulations has been blocked by federal courts in Pennsylvania and California.

Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, emphasized the Trump administration is pushing for its regulation to become a permanent exemption.

“The exemption means nobody is paying for coverage, whether the employer or the insurance companies, and the employees are just blocked from coverage,” Amiri said.

The Little Sisters

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic nursing home, claims it is being forced to comply with the ACA mandate to cover birth control despite the order’s religious objections when big corporations like Exxon and Visa are let off the hook. On their website, the Little Sisters say 45 million Americans are covered by health insurance under “grandfathered” employer plans that are required to comply with some of the Affordable Care Act, but are exempted from the contraception mandate.

In a statement, the religious organization said, “The government exempted these corporations for the sake of convenience.”

But according to Amiri, the Little Sisters of the Poor has never been required to provide contraception coverage for employees through their health plans for two reasons: the Little Sisters is on a church plan, which is exempt from the contraception coverage requirement, and the Little Sisters secured an injunction in the Colorado federal district court preventing the government from enforcing the requirement against them.

“It’s incredibly frustrating that so much attention has gone to Little Sisters and people have bought into this narrative that they shouldn’t be forced to cover contraception, which has never been really a possibility,” Amiri said.

Every year, fewer health insurance plans are covered under the “grandfather” protection. When a plan is renewed, it will no longer be grandfathered.

Under Obamacare, the Little Sisters of the Poor must sign an opt-out form saying it will not pay for contraceptive coverage for their employees, allowing for the government to ensure employees receive coverage separately. In the past, officials of the religious order argued that even signing the opt-out document is prohibited by their religion. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania said that filling out an opt out form is not a substantial burden on religious beliefs.

The Trump administration took the side of religious organizations and enforced new regulations that included an exception for employers “with sincerely held moral convictions opposed to coverage of some or all contraceptive or sterilization methods.”

Last May, the state of Pennsylvania fired back, arguing that the Trump administration’s new rules put a burden on the state to shoulder the costs of providing contraceptives to women who lost their coverage.

“A Patchy System”

Without insurance, some women won’t be able to pay for birth control, Amiri said. She finds it “very cynical” that the federal government points to the Title X program as the place for women to turn to if they lose their coverage.

The Title X program provides reproductive health care services to low-income, under- and uninsured people across the country. The Trump administration’s gag rule rule would separate Title X services from abortion services, prohibiting Title X funding recipients from referring patients for abortion care and rescind a prior requirement that all Title X funding recipients offer information and counseling to pregnant patients regarding prenatal care and delivery, infant care, foster care and adoption, and abortion.

The Trump administration has not increased funding for Title X, while proposing onerous regulations on its enforcement and closing some Title X-funded programs, Amiri said.

“It’s disingenuous to say that Title X can meet these women’s needs if their employer doesn’t cover contraception when at the same time you’re implementing rules that are decimating the Title X clinic network,” Fey said.

Four million people rely on Title X for affordable birth control and reproductive care, and nearly two-thirds of those earn below the federal poverty level. If employers are able to opt out of covering contraceptives, the number of women turning to clinics that receive Title X funding will increase, even as funding has not.

Right now, the Title X gag rule would prohibit clinics that offer affordable contraceptive services from receiving Title X funding if they also offer abortion services. As a result, providers across the country had no choice but to leave the Title X program and subsequently lose millions of dollars needed to provide women with affordable birth control. Fifteen states have lost some or all of their Title X funding, and more than 8.8 million women have lost access to affordable contraception because the clinics they once depended on have lost federal funding.

Power to Decide’s Fey explained that in practice, the remaining clinics will no longer be able to afford to give a woman the method of birth control that works best for her at the low price they once offered it. In addition, they might have to cut back on their hours or the number of providers, which would increase wait times and ultimately make it harder for a woman to go to a clinic.

It is “already a patchy system when it comes to what women are able to get if they’re struggling to make ends meet,” Fey said. “Now, on top of that, her employer isn’t covering the contraceptive methods that she needs. So she has less resources in her community to turn to and no insurance coverage to cover it. So she’s facing a double barrier now.”

Fey said Title X is meant to be there as a last resort for women who don’t have insurance. Title X also provides support dollars for clinics that serve women with private insurance.

“The gag rule doesn’t just hurt people who are dependent on Title X paying for their services, it hurts any woman that depends on a clinic that gets Title X funding, which is a much larger universe of people,” Fey said. “For Title X to take on top of that women whose employers want to decide what health care they’re going to cover and not cover is a burden that it wasn’t intended to take and it’s not set up to be able to handle.”

There are over 19 million women on low incomes who are living in contraceptive deserts, counties lacking access to a clinic offering a full range of methods, according to Power to Decide.

What’s at stake: Impossible Choices

Dr. Jamila Taylor, health care reform director at The Century Foundation, said a Supreme Court ruling favorable to the Trump administration would disproportionately affect low-income women and women of color.

“For women of color, they tend to lack the coverage that they need to have contraception and also the financial resources to purchase contraception out of pocket,” Taylor said. “Any sort of denial of free birth control is going to impact those communities the hardest.”

According to the Center for American Progress, women experiencing economic hardship are less likely to start using contraception or continue usage due to out-of-pocket costs. Additionally, the rate of unintended pregnancies for Latinas and black women is 58 percent and 79 percent, respectively, while the rate for white women is 33 percent.

“All women no matter their racial or economic background need access to contraception,” Taylor said.

Fey said if the rules from the Trump administration go into effect, women would be forced to make impossible choices in order to get something that is basic health care: their contraception.

“It should not be making women choose between one essential and another, when birth control is related to healthcare,” Fey said. “We don’t do that to any other kind of health care. So why are we doing it when it comes to a basic part of women’s healthcare, something that 99 percent of American women have used at some point in their life?”

Latest in Education

DeVos explains proposal for fiscal year 2021 budget at Senate subcommittee hearing

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promoted the Trump administration’s school choice program and criticized America’s “antiquated approach to education” Thursday before a Senate subcommittee while defending her department’s proposed $66.56 billion budget request for fiscal 2021.

The budget request is a reduction of 8.4 percent from fiscal 2020.

DeVos said the federal government cannot continue to increase spending for primary and secondary education while shifting power and control back to teachers.

“The achievement gap has not closed one little bit,” DeVos said. “By multiple measures, it’s widened. How can you make the argument that putting more money behind the exact same approach is going to yield different results?”

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, challenged DeVos, calling public education “the great equalizer” and questioning why the federal government would cut nearly $5 billion in funding for it.

But the subcommittee chair, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, called DeVos’ proposed budget a “bold request.”

“No matter how much we spend, we don’t seem to be making the improvements we’d like to make,” Blunt said. “Average math and reading scores have been mostly flat for a decade now.”

During his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump promoted Education Freedom Scholarships, which would give students in low-performing public schools the opportunity to attend the schools of their choice. DeVos supported the program Thursday, saying money for the scholarships would not divert funding from public school students or teachers.

The budget also includes a proposal to consolidate 29 federal elementary and secondary education programs into a single $19.4 billion block grant program. DeVos said this will be beneficial for charter and magnet schools, two education systems for which she has long been a proponent.

“It’s a budget that recognizes that no student and no state, no teacher and no town are the same,” DeVos said. “Students of all ages need the freedom to find their fit.”

The subcommittee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said schools across Washington state, which has had more coronavirus-related deaths than any other, have had to cancel classes and the Trump administration’s response has “not inspired confidence.”

Murray said her daughter messaged her in the middle of the night saying her school will be closed for at least two weeks. Murray called on DeVos to make sure children who receive reduced-price school meals will still have access to them if schools close, and to ensure that school districts address bullying, harassment and discrimination against students of Asian descent.

“Parents, students and teachers need facts. They need to know what to do so they can respond effectively,” Murray said. “So I want to make certain today that you are doing everything you can to support school districts, colleges, teachers, other school staff and students during this time.”

DeVos said her department has been in contact multiple times daily with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has information on coronavirus as well as an email address that will respond to specific questions.

Across South Carolina, college campuses find ways to get out the vote for Democrats

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — During his freshman year at The Citadel, Matthew Miller went to events with the College Republicans — because they were the only political activists on campus. Then he decided to create an alternative option.

The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, South Carolina, has long been a common stopping point for Republican presidential candidates and is considered one of the most conservative college campuses in the United States. But Miller felt the College Republicans did not align with his values, so he co-founded The Citadel’s College Democrats in October 2018.

“By the time senior year happened I had found my own voice and found there’s a large portion of students who do think alternatively to the Republican mantra,” Miller said. “They wanted to engage in a different level of conversation.”

The group had between five and 10 members at its founding, and by the end of the 2018-19 school year had an email list of 60 students. Miller graduated in 2019, but the chapter has remained strong, with current sophomores Ron Prince and Tyler Mitchell taking over as co-presidents.

Although The Citadel is overwhelmingly conservative, some of its most politically active alumni have been Democrats, including Fritz Hollings, a former South Carolina governor and U.S. senator, and Joe Riley, a former longtime mayor of Charleston.

The chapter was involved in one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 midterm elections, when Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham flipped a district that includes Charleston and most of the South Carolina coast. The district is now represented by a Democrat for the first time since 1981.

Prince said The Citadel’s College Democrats aim to reflect the school’s values of honor, duty and respect.

“I’ve found that when you look at the people in government who honor America and what her values are, fulfills its duties to the fullest and is respectful toward all other people, you’ll find most of those people are Democrats,” Prince said.

* * *

Even in a conservative state, The Citadel is an outlier when it comes to the political leanings of college students. The University of South Carolina in Columbia, the state’s flagship university with more than 26,000 undergraduate students, is much more politically diverse, with well-established student organizations supporting both Democratic and Republican causes.

More than half of the university’s students come from within South Carolina, including Hayden Blakeney, a senior from Greenville County who serves on the executive board of the USC College Democrats. Blakeney said at such a large school, many students have little interest in politics and knew next to nothing about Saturday’s presidential primary or even how to vote.

USC’s College Democrats set up tables on campus in the run-up to the primary with information on registering to vote. Blakeney said although most students passed by their tables without a glance, it was worth it if even one person signed up to register.

“That’s one more person who’s engaged. And that one more person who’s engaged can engage other people,” Blakeney said. “Even though the mass of college students wearing hoodies and sweatpants with their AirPods don’t care, there is a group of people that are open enough to come up. Even though it may seem futile in some spaces, any positive impact is good.”

Blakeney said USC leans more progressive than South Carolina as a whole, but a number of political organizations exist on both sides of the spectrum. The College Democrats and College Republicans host a formal debate every semester. They have also hosted joint meetings in the past, which Blakeney said can turn messy but can also lead to genuine, productive debate.

College Democrats and College Republicans are far from the only political organizations at USC. On the left, there are groups like the Young Democratic Socialists of America, Planned Parenthood Generation Action and Students for Justice in Palestine, and on the right are Turning Point USA and the Advocates for Life.

Those groups do not always get along so well. PPGA has refused to debate the Advocates for Life because PPGA members do not see abortion as an issue up for debate — they see it as a basic human right. Turning Point also backed out of a debate with the YDSA.

Laceasar Sherrod, a senior from Sumter, South Carolina, and the former treasurer of the YDSA, said his organization hosts events where they put up signs reading “Ask a Democratic Socialist” because many students do not understand what being a Democratic Socialist means. Although the national organization has not endorsed a candidate, Sherrod said nearly his entire chapter was involved in Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

“When we say we’re Democratic Socialists, we specifically say our only goals are to make people who are out there and working, make their lives better,” Sherrod said. “So our focus is trying to get things like increased minimum wage, affordable college and universal health care.”

* * *

Historically black colleges and universities in South Carolina, such as Columbia’s Benedict College, tend to have a more liberal and engaged student body. Freshman Janaisha McMillan, a political science major from Aiken, South Carolina, said Benedict students were encouraged to vote in Saturday’s primary — there was even a polling site on Benedict’s campus.

Benedict hosted the Presidential Criminal Justice Forum, which featured eight Democratic presidential candidates, in October. The university also held a workshop titled “African Americans and Why They Vote” on Feb. 18, with panelists who tried to convince the students of the importance of voting.

While former vice president Joe Biden, who picked up a much-needed win in South Carolina on Saturday, was the most popular candidate among the black community in the state, McMillan said Sanders had the most support at Benedict.

“There’s been so much, ever since we got here in August,” McMillan said. “It’s been a lot of push (to get out the vote). It’s the community, it’s the faculty and staff, and there’s also students who are advocates for voting. There’s a voter registration drive, (and) we also use social media as an outreach.”

* * *

Politically active students at all three schools underscored the importance of voting — and of educating their peers on how to vote. Mitchell said at The Citadel, which attracts roughly 70 percent of its students from South Carolina, many students do not realize they can vote without going to a polling place. He said his chapter has been sharing links on social media to get people registered.

“Some people have never voted before, and they’ve been in college three or four years,” Mitchell said. “You ask why have they not voted, and they say, ‘I don’t know how.’”

Prince added that although The Citadel skews Republican, many of the issues that affect its students tend to be winning issues for Democrats, including climate change — Charleston frequently experiences sunny-day flooding — as well as student debt and health care.

Benedict has a program called “BC Vote, BC Voice,” which has been handing out T-shirts to students to encourage voter registration. Kymm Hunter, assistant vice president of communications and marketing at Benedict, said the student government has been holding debate watch parties and that many of the candidates have visited campus.

At USC, several left-leaning groups have made efforts to increase turnout at the polls. Blakeney worked for a nonprofit called the Welcome Party, which reaches out to independent voters. South Carolina is one of just seven states to hold its primary or caucus on a Saturday rather than a weekday, which Sherrod said should make college students more likely to vote.

Blakeney said apathy is a major problem among college students — they frequently would like to vote, but feel they don’t have time, see themselves as uninformed or feel like their vote doesn’t matter.

“I wish I had a thousand clones of myself so I could go up to everyone to shake them and say, ‘this is what a primary is,’” Blakeney said. “A lot of it is a lack of education, and I wish I could run through the streets and be like, ‘Please vote, you have to vote.’”

Campaign 2020

“It’s not easy”: Bernie Sanders struggles with youth voter turnout ahead of the general election

WASHINGTON – It’s not easy.

Sen. Bernie Sanders began his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination with hopes of bringing millions of young voters into the political process. On Super Tuesday he got the youth vote, but it wasn’t enough.

According to Pew Research Center, generation Z and millennial voters make up 37% of the 2020 electorate. Their vote could be critically important to secure the Democratic nomination – if they vote.

Following his Super Tuesday losses to former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders held a news conference at his campaign headquarters in Burlington, Vermont.

“We’re making some progress but historically everybody knows that young people do not vote in the kind of numbers that old people vote in. I think that will change in the general election,” Sanders said. “But to be honest with you, we have not done as well in bringing young people into the political process. It is not easy.

The Vermont senator is widely popular with young voters because of his focus on issues such as universal health care, environmental policy and student debt forgiveness. The left-leaning polling firm Data for Progress conducted a survey shortly before the Nevada caucuses that found Sanders winning 64% of voters under age 45.

But when put to the test, generation Z and millennial voters did not show up in high numbers on Super Tuesday. According to exit polls in Virginia, young voters comprised 13% of all voters in the state on Super Tuesday, compared with 16% in 2016. This downward trend was felt nationally in states including Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

In order to win the Democratic nomination, Sanders will likely need higher youth turnout in every state.

VCU WATCH PARTY from Medill Washington on Vimeo.

On Super Tuesday, across all the contests, exit polls showed that among voters under 30 years old, Sanders won 61% compared with Biden’s 17%. In the general election Sanders will not only need the majority of the youth vote to win, he also will need more young people to vote in much larger numbers than their primaries’ turnout.

On Friday, Sanders tweeted, “Young people: this is your election. You have a chance to transform this country. Vote!”

Miles Coleman is the associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ nonpartisan newsletter on American campaigns and elections.

“Looking toward the general election, let’s say that [voters] end up nominating Bernie Sanders, a key part of that win would be turning out the youth vote,” Coleman said.

Despite lower young voter turnout for Super Tuesday this year compared with 2016nationally trends show young people’s turnout on an upward trajectory – possibly meaning 2020 Super Tuesday was just a blip.  If the long-term trend continues, it will bode well for a Sanders nomination.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University estimated that 31% of youth (ages 18-29) voted in the 2018 primaries, an increase from 21% in 2014.

Abby Kiesa, director of impact at CIRCLE, said there are a number of reasons for this jump.

“There were a lot of different people reaching out to young people, so it was some campaigns and the parties,” Kiesa said. “But at the same time, there were a lot of young people mobilizing, both around issues and around voter registration.”

Kiesa said the 2018 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed and injured 17 injured, precipitated conversations nearly two years before the election on connected the issue of gun violence to voting among young people.

“Making turnout jump by 20 points isn’t something you can do by just starting in August of an election year, it requires significant volunteers, it requires significant outreach in a number of communities,” Kiesa said

After Super Tuesday, however, Sanders has been hedging his youth bet by releasing a campaign ad featuring former President Barack Obama saying Sanders has, “great authenticity, great passion, and is fearless” in a clear attempt to appeal to traditional Democrats.

Coleman said higher youth voter participation in recent years can be attributed to many young people’s opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies.

“[Republicans have] been able to turn out the older voters and Bernie, if he gets to the election, he would be trying to flip that equation,” Coleman said.

How Warren fell, and took down Bloomberg with her

WASHINGTON — Before she ended her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren went after fellow candidate Mike Bloomberg about sexual misconduct allegations against him.

At the Feb. 19 debate three days before the Nevada Democratic caucuses, Warren, standing next to Bloomberg, said she lost a teaching job at age 22 because she was pregnant, but that her discrimination paled next to the systemic sex discrimination at Bloomberg’s company, which relies heavily on nondisclosure agreements to settle sexual harassment allegations.

“The question is, are the women bound by being muzzled by you?” Warren asked, turning to face Bloomberg. “We are not going to beat Donald Trump with a man who has who knows how many nondisclosure agreements, and the drip, drip, drip of stories of women saying they have been harassed and discriminated against.”

After the debate, analysts expected Warren to gain momentum in the polls. But Warren got no delegates from the Nevada caucuses and in the days after Super Tuesday, both Bloomberg and Warren dropped out.

The  barrage reviving Bloomberg’s history of discrimination and harassment accusations effectively ended the former New York mayor’s  campaign — but it also, unexpectedly, ended Warren’s own campaign.

Betty Fischer Martin, executive director of the American University Women and Politics Institute, said voters do not reward candidates who go on the attack, especially female candidates.

She said the attack on Bloomberg paralleled an attack on former Vice President Joe Biden from Sen. Kamala Harris at a June 2019 debate. Harris went after Biden’s record on busing, but did not gain traction after the debate. Much like with Warren, the attack on the debate stage was the “beginning of the end of her candidacy,” according to Martin.

Women playing offense on the debate stage suffer more because they are perceived as too tough and, in turn, unlikeable, Martin said.

“There’s a different standard for women than there is for men when it comes to confrontation,” said Gregg Johnson, a community activist in East Moline, Illinois who had supported Warren.

“Women for Mike”: Bloomberg pushes a counternarrative, fails

Bloomberg launched the “Women for Mike” effort in January to rally female voters across the country. He tries to get one message across – that despite the lawsuits and Warren’s words on the debate stage, Bloomberg has a record of supporting women.

The billionaire ex-mayor and his corporation have faced nearly 40 lawsuits claiming sexual harassment and sex discrimination. According to court documents, Bloomberg called his employees “fat broads” and “horse-faced lesbians.” In addition, as New York mayor, Bloomberg vetoed expanding rape victims’ access to emergency contraceptives.

“Good morning, Women for Mike! I’m Mike for women!” said Bloomberg, kicking off a women’s rights-centered rally in McLean, Virginia, in the days before he ended his campaign.

Behind him was a riser filled with women supporters. He was introduced by 13 women, employees of Bloomberg for decades, wearing pink pins that read, “I have been a woman for Mike since” with the year they started working for him noted.

The rally in Virginia a few days before Super Tuesday was one of dozens of women rights-centered rallies the Bloomberg campaign held across the country. At the rallies, Bloomberg would tell voters women are “the backbone” of his campaign.

“You can’t fully get to know a person from a TV ad or a debate or from reading interviews. But you can get to know a measure of a person by working with them for decades,” said Fatima Shamah, Bloomberg’s national director for women’s outreach.

But the “Women for Mike” message did not translate into votes on Super Tuesday.  After putting hundreds of millions of dollars into his campaign, Bloomberg only took a small slice of the delegates. Bloomberg took away no delegates in Virginia, the state where he invested the most resources.

Kati Hornung, a women’s rights advocate in Virginia who organized an effort that eventually led to the state ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment in January, said voters are holding Bloomberg

accountable for his misogyny and gender discrimination.

Jeanette Olson, a 57-year-old resident of Virginia Beach, Virginia, wants a Democratic nominee who will advocate for women’s rights and equal pay and a fair workplace. After the Nevada democratic debate, Bloomberg’s past started to worry her.

Warren tries to gain traction, brings about her own demise

Warren effectively ended the mayor billionaire’s campaign for presidency, but hurt her own candidacy in the process.

Monica Beaston did not vote for Warren on Super Tuesday, in part because of the Massachusetts senator’s attacks on Bloomberg.

Beaston found the attack contradicted Warren’s positive warrior persona. She said she got frustrated when Warren continued to bring up Bloomberg — at the South Carolina debate a week later and in her stump speech at a rally in northern Virginia.

“Warren could’ve let it go a little more…It’s almost like it’s getting personal,” she said.

But Johnson, the Warren supporter from Illinois, said the real issue is that neither Democrats nor Republicans are ready for a woman president. He doesn’t know how to explain this to his 8-year-old daughter.

Johnson acknowledged that the attacks on Bloomberg hurt Warren’s candidacy. But he’s still glad she went after him.

“She was probably the number one reason that Bloomberg absolutely tanked…But there are some people that held that against her.,” said Johnson. “I don’t regret what she did.”

Latest in Environment

Presidential power is big question on climate emergency

WASHINGTON — Climate activists have been calling on the next president to declare a national climate emergency within his first 100 days in office. But the legality of such a move will be tested when the Supreme Court rules on whether President Donald Trump can proceed with his wall on the southern border.

So far, over 20 countries have declared climate emergencies, including Canada and the United Kingdom. Many of these declarations have come from their legislatures, akin to what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have included in their “Green New Deal.”

“The time is now for Congress to declare a climate emergency and swiftly mobilize federal resources” the two say in their climate emergency resolution, “to protect the interests of our nation and its people.”

The resolution had little, if any, chance of getting through Congress, with a Republican-controlled Senate. Instead, the resolution represented part of a larger effort by Democrats to test climate legislation so that if a Democrat wins the White House in November, they will already know what legislation has a chance of passing and what doesn’t. In this scenario, climate action could begin on day one of the next presidency.

A resolution like the Green New Deal would be able to influence what is on the table in a legislative session. Congress declaring a climate emergency would help in clarifying legislative priorities on the environment.

But the president declaring a national climate emergency is not so easy – it runs into constitutional questions governing the use of executive power.

That power is being tested on the border now – and the result could answer whether a national climate emergency declaration by the president is a realistic goal.

On Feb.15, 2019, Trump released Proclamation 9844, declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States. Under statutes including U.S .Code 1431-1435, declaring a national emergency allows more flexibility in the use of Defense Department funds.

For this emergency, Trump intends to put billions of newly flexible defense funds toward wall construction.

The declaration faced many legal challenges from the outset. But one, Trump v. Sierra Club, cuts to the question of executive power in national emergencies. The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit alleging one key requirement of a national emergency is that the threat be immediate and time-sensitive.

The lawsuit is on its way to the Supreme Court, and the court’s decision on the breadth of executive power will affect how other presidents approach their agendas. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was one of the first public figures to point this out.

“If today, the national emergency is border security … tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change,” said Rubio in January 2019. At that point, the emergency declaration was a hypothetical, while wall funding was being used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations.

Now, that hypothetical is closer to becoming a reality. In July 2019, the Supreme Court allowed the federal government to continue progress on building the wall while legal arguments played out in the courts.

University of California, Berkeey law professor Dan Farber said this decision provides insight into how justices are leaning on the case.

“[The Supreme Court] generally won’t intervene unless they think that in a case like this, the lower courts are off track,” said Farber. What is unclear, he said, is the justices’ reasoning.

“There seem to be big issues of standing in these cases,” he said, referring to the question of whether a group like Sierra Club, or any organization that isn’t part of the federal government, can challenge a national emergency declaration.

“I read the Supreme Court’s action as probably being based on those doubts,” said Farber. “So we don’t know one way or the other what they think about the emergency action.”

What the court’s decisions on the border wall so far do show, Farber said, is what the court is prone to consider in a case on executive emergency power. If the court is willing to allow the emergency because the Sierra Club does not have standing to sue, the question would change from whether a national emergency has to present an immediate danger, to who, if anyone, has the ability to challenge a presidential emergency declaration.

Farber said , he is concerned that if the president gets the go-ahead from the court this year, there would be a dramatic expansion of what the president can do unencumbered.

“I don’t think that should become the new normal, that we’re just going to do things by declaring emergencies and then presidents will jump in with both feet,” he said.

If the court does allow the wall emergency to move forward, what would a national emergency on climate change even look like? Federal code governing emergency procedures was written with the idea that an emergency would present a physical or medical threat to the population.

This means that a lot of the code allows the president to take direct control over federal operations and take actions, like increasing defense production or rolling back environmental regulations.

Because the code allows for executive control of defense functions, defining a climate emergency could allow for defense production systems to be converted to produce climate-sensitive products, like solar panels and batteries.

Expanding a national emergency would open up presidential power in all directions. “What about malnutrition among children?” Farber asked. “It seems to me there are a lot of social problems where you could make some kind of argument” for declaring a national emergency.

If the court were to rule that not only does Sierra Club have standing to sue, but the president cannot declare an emergency on an issue so broad, then a president looking to declare a climate emergency would be facing the same set of issues as Trump with the border wall.

In that instance, activists may be better served pursuing legislation like the Green New Deal. Most other countries that have declared climate emergencies have done so through their legislatures.

Farber also points out a difference between a border emergency and a climate emergency. “I think climate change is a stronger case…because you’ve already got pre-existing government statements that it involves national security,” he said.

In early 2019 the Pentagon released a report saying in part, “The effects of climate change are a national security issue.” The report explains that over 60% of military outposts surveyed are currently suffering increased natural disasters linked to a changing climate. A national security threat could put climate change in the realm of a more traditional national emergency.

“I think you can make an argument that although it’s a long-term problem, we have a decreasing window of opportunity to act that makes it urgent,” said Farber.

For now, construction of the border wall will proceed as lawsuits are fought in court over the emergency order. It is likely that at some point this year, the court will hear a case relating to the issue, which may, or may not, clarify the question of presidential power.

However, the idea of a national climate emergency will not necessarily die in the courts. If the president wins re-election in November, it is all but guaranteed a climate emergency will not be declared in the next four years. If a Democrat wins the White House, executive power could see a new use in the fight against climate change.

“That would be the trade off,” Farber said, referring to trading executive climate action for an expansion of presidential power that could be difficult to walk back. “Is this something we really want to establish as being the new normal?”


WASHINGTON—Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director of Operations Michael Nedd was rebuked from several Democratic and Republican members of a House Natural Resources subcommittee Tuesday for not answering multiple questions on the basic functions of his organization.

National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee Chair Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., asked Nedd for various personnel statistics, such as the number of employees of color who lost their jobs as a result of BLM’s relocation last year to Western states. Nedd responded with “Madame Chair, I do not have a number here to provide you with today.”

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, asked Nedd to commit to a BLM briefing to Congress on how the new Land and Water Conservation Fund plan being drafted by Senate Republicans will affect the BLM.

“I will certainly take that back to the secretary and the director, and we will do our best,” said Nedd.

“That wasn’t a commitment,” responded Curtis.

To five questions from Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., on how an agency should handle staff reorganization, Nedd declined to answer, saying each time, “I will be glad to speak to the BLM relocation.”

“Do you understand the question, Mr. Nedd?” asked Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. “He’s asking your opinion.”

Huffman expressed dissatisfaction at Nedd’s preparation for the hearing on the BLM budget.

“Your unwillingness to answer the most basic questions about the operations of your agency,” he said, “is shocking.”

“It is incumbent on this administration to at least provide a modicum of cooperation in the oversight process” said Huffman. Though his presence has been requested, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has not appeared before the House Natural Resources committee since May 2019.

Huffman complained that the administration was sending officials who “repeat pat answers devoid of information over and over like a wind-up doll” and keep the committee from getting the information necessary to perform oversight.

“This is a disgrace,” said Huffman.

Latest in National Security

Horrors of history recalled as white supremacist propaganda is on the rise

WASHINGTON – Gabriella Karin was eight the first time she heard Nazi propaganda. It was the day after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in Europe. Within four years, officials announced the plan to declare her home country “judenrein” — cleansed of Jews.

Karin, a Jewish woman born in Czechoslovakia, survived the Holocaust by adopting a Christian identity, taking a new name, attending daily mass and living in a convent. She then spent years in hiding with her mother in a house across the street from a Gestapo headquarters.

“What bothers me the most is how people can hate each other,” Karin said. “That people can turn against each other, I cannot understand.”

Nazi propaganda encouraged Europeans to adopt anti-Semitic views. According to Steve Luckert of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Nazi propaganda — including Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf — led to the murder of 6 million Jews.

“The Nazis were ardent anti-Semites from the very start but they had to convince many Germans to support their radical agenda,” Luckert said.

Today, 75 years after the Nazi death camp Auschwitz was liberated, Nazi ideology still exists around the world.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 2,713 cases of white supremacist propaganda documented in the United States in 2019. It’s the highest number the ADL has ever recorded.

“It’s upsetting me,” Karin said. Karin, a professional artist, shares her story through art at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and in schools across the city.

The 2,713 incidences recorded by the ADL include only propaganda in physical spaces, including “the distribution of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners and posters.” The ADL separately tracks hate speech posted online. 

“This is really significant because it’s the highest we have tracked,” ADL Investigative Researcher Amy Iandioro said. “We have this increase partly because of coordinated efforts by white supremacist groups.”

The 2,713 incidences include only propaganda in physical spaces, including “the distribution of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners and posters.” The ADL separately tracks hate speech posted online.

To combat the distribution of hate speech, especially that of an anti-Semitic nature, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., sponsored a bill in the House of Representatives that would expand funding for Holocaust education programming. It passed the House 393-5 in January. The bill was then referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“I feel that we not only need to be reactive to these attacks,” Maloney said, “but also be proactive in stopping them before they even occur – and that happens through education.”

Karin hopes Holocaust education will be sculpted around survivors’ stories.

“I don’t believe something can substitute the survivors,” Karin said.

Maloney recognizes the “tough truth” that Holocaust survivors will soon no longer be here to share their stories personally.

“We can at least make sure that all teachers have the tools they need to bring this hard-to-teach subject into their classrooms in a meaningful and appropriate way,” Maloney said.

Karin said in her experience Holocaust education can make young people more empathetic and help them grapple with issues they face in their own lives, like racism or trouble at home.“Many, many times kids come up to me and say, ‘You can do it, I can do it too,’” Karin said.

More than 600 of the 2,713 incidents tracked by the ADL in 2019 took place on college campuses. At Northwestern University, a series of stickers bearing a white supremacist logo were discovered around campus last spring.

“It makes me feel like I shouldn’t be in these spaces,” said student Rishi Mahesh, who was the first to find a sticker.

Luckert said there are elements of white supremacist distribution today that are reminiscent of the 1930s. For example, the Nazis technology like radio to spread propaganda across borders is akin to internet usage today.

“The idea for the Nazis is to expand their messages, tailor to those particular audiences abroad to promote anti-Semitism,” he said. “The Nazis saw that as an important tool as propaganda.” Nazis also targeted campuses with Hitler Youth and book burnings even before they came to power, according to Luckert. “Essentially the student youth organizations had become Nazified.”

Luckert said the threat posed by distribution of white supremacist propaganda today is “a very real one,” citing violence incited by white supremacists, including the synagogue shootings in Poway, California, and Pittsburgh. 

However, unlike the rise of Nazism, he said, white supremacists today don’t have the massive base of followers that the Nazis built before coming into power.

Scott Blackburn, research director at the Institute for Free Speech, said the government cannot and should not regulate political speech. He said existing regulations limiting freedom of speech should stay in place, but remain narrow. Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.

“It’s much harder for hate speech because it’s so context-dependent,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s important in debates about speech restrictions and debates about hate speech specifically to remember that applications of these laws will never be done perfectly.” 

Said Luckert: “It’s really up to all of us to counter these messages of hate.” Iandioro with the ADL said reporting white supremacist propaganda to the appropriate authorities is paramount.

Karin said she has been a victim of white supremacist propaganda and harassment. Prior to a speaking engagement at a Los Angeles bookstore, a white supremacist organization threatened to disrupt the event.

“Very upsetting, I can’t tell you how upsetting,” said Karin. “I am worrying about the next generation a lot.”

Ending an endless conflict: efforts beyond the White House to bring peace to Israel and Palestine

Ending an endless conflict: efforts beyond the White House to bring peace to Israel and Palestine from Medill Washington on Vimeo.

WASHINGTON – In the Israeli settlement of Shiloh, located where the ancient Biblical city of the same name is rumored to have been situated, a Jewish woman defends her decision to move to there.

“We can have different views about who this land can belong to,” Eliana Passentin said, “but if we want to teach the next generation to move together, we don’t teach hatred.”

About 60 miles north, a Palestinian artist runs a gallery in the Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, which borders the Green Line separating the State of Israel from the West Bank. Said Abu Shakra said he hopes his gallery can attract Arab-Israelis, Jewish-Israelis and Palestinians.

“We started to collect our pieces and to create again our identity,” Abu Shakra said.

Despite some efforts in Israel and the Palestinian territories to live peacefully, peace has not prevailed. Since the Carter administration, the United States has repeatedly attempted to broker peace in the region. Some efforts have nearly succeeded, but ultimately come up short.

Two bloody Intifadas plagued the region between 1987-1993 and 2000-2005. Over the past five years, violence has continued to escalate. The Palestinian militant group Hamas governs the Gaza strip, and over the course of 2019, fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Between March and November 2018, Israeli military forces killed 189 Palestinian demonstrators, according to Human Rights Watch.

In January, the Trump administration released its own Mideast peace plan. The 181-page plan proposes giving control of Jerusalem to Israel and allows Israel to oversee security of the West Bank. It also calls for Hamas to disarm. It does not discuss the right of return, referring to the approximately 7 million Palestinians displaced around the world.

It was applauded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rejected by Palestinian leadership. The plan also was criticized by Democratic members of Congress and former diplomats.

“It’s not a peace process,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif. “It does not call for the two sides to come together and talk about it.”

Before the Trump administration unveiled its proposal, Lowenthal sponsored a resolution approved by the House of Representatives in December that puts forth a different proposal. It calls for a two-state solution: “that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians, and their neighbors can both ensure the state of Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.”

The bill passed 226-188, with four Democrats voting against it and five Republicans voting for it.

Trump’s proposal is the right approach and “marks an historic opportunity that must be seized upon,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

Lowenthal said the resolution was not drafted with the intention of immediately establishing peace in the region. In fact, he said, language in the resolution makes it clear it is ultimately up to the Israelis and Palestinians to make a peace deal. The U.S. can help set the stage.

“Time is not on our side,” Lowenthal said, urging Israelis and Palestinians to come to the negotiating table. “How you deal with the settlements, national security, the rights of return, all those have to be discussed in negotiations between the two sides.”

And while Congress and the White House attempt to mediate peace in different ways, think tanks and nonprofits are working on less grand issues, known as “track two” discussions, like bringing clean water to the West Bank.

“We need to do something that’s highly practical, that sends a message that when you cooperate, something good comes out of it,” former ambassador Dennis Ross said. Ross worked in Middle Eastern diplomacy from the Reagan administration through the Obama administration before stepping down to become a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Working at a think tank, Ross said, “you can do things formal officials can’t do.”

These “highly practical” efforts work best when they involve Israelis and Palestinians on the ground, Ross said. Citizens like Passentin and Abu Shakra are affected by the conflict on a daily basis and can offer ideas that would make their day-to-day existence easier.

“If I didn’t see Israelis and Palestinians who were willing to work together,” Ross said, “it wouldn’t matter what I wanted to do.”

Even the coronavirus could offer an opportunity for collaboration.

“Here’s an area where an operation is unmistakably in mutual interest,” Ross said. “How do you take advantage of a crisis to advance a larger cause?”

At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another Washington think tank, attention has been diverted from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years. Will Todman, who works in the center’s Middle East Program, cites fatigue and pessimism.

“There’s probably been a sense that nothing is shifting,” Todman said, “or at least that nothing is shifting in a positive direction.”

Todman said another bout of violence could reignite interest in the conflict.

The dynamics in the region have shifted in recent years, as Israel demonstrated its military and economic prowess and formed alliances with Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Ross said the United States should take advantage of its diplomatic relationships with these nations to help bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

“If Arab leaders say, ‘Here’s a serious basis for negotiations,’” Ross said, “Palestinians cannot say no.”

Ultimately, Ross said, a two-state solution is the only solution. A one-state solution is, he said, “a prescription for an endless conflict, not ending the conflict.”

Latest in Living

Former Wells Fargo board members criticized for failure to oversee management malpractices

WASHINGTON – Both Democrats and Republicans vehemently criticized two former Wells Fargo board members Wednesday for not changing practices after repeated management failures that have led to consumer abuses and compliance breakdowns.

Former board members Elizabeth Duke, the chair, and James Quigley resigned two days ago, after a House Financial Services Committee report released last week outlined the board’s failures to address the bank’s malpractices and management’s deficiencies.

At a committee hearing, Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters said that “their resignations do not absolve them of their failures,” emphasizing that the committee intends to examine “misconduct and dereliction of duty.”

The committee’s report found that Duke and other board members “appeared reluctant” to engage in oversight with regulators. The report said Duke questioned why she was being included in letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requesting actions from the bank: “Why are you sending it to me?”

The report also said the board of directors allowed management to repeatedly submit unacceptable plans in response to consent orders from federal regulators.

“You two have been on the board throughout the entire germination of this shameful attack on the trust and confidence of the American people and your bank,” said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. “You did not hold your management accountable.”

Both the Federal Reserve and a separate report released by the committee’s Republicans echoed findings that the board did not effectively oversee management.

“I have deep concerns about the responsiveness of the board,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the top Republican on the committee. “There are severe deficiencies in management practices that are unique to Wells Fargo and the board of directors.”

Both Duke and Quigley said they did their job as well as they could, using their “best judgment.”

“I did my very best,” Quigley said. “I could do nothing more.”

They emphasized that the bank’s new CEO, Charles Scharf, who testified in front of the committee Tuesday, will reform the culture at the company. However, Democrats expressed doubt that a change in culture will be enough, saying the bank may have become “too big to manage” and should be prosecuted for its actions.

Wells Fargo has had a troubled history of sales malpractices and fraud in the past decade: The bank created millions of false accounts in customers’ names and charging customers exorbitant mortgage fees. The bank then paid off fines to federal regulators. Last month, the bank agreed to pay $3 billion to settle criminal charges of consumer abuse for opening up fake accounts without consent.

Lawmakers from both parties said Wells Fargo should be prosecuted for the criminal activity.

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said the “arm of the law is not reaching Wells Fargo.”

“Wells Fargo cannot be too big to prosecute, too big to jail,” Green said. “We cannot allow $17,296,835,949 in penalties to become simply the culture of doing business. While these criminal activities were taking place, you were making billions. You sat on the board and you knew what was happened.”

According to Duke and Quigley, no one in the company has been prosecuted.

“If you believe this board could have done more to bring to justice those who perpetrated these criminal activities, raise your hand,” Green said to the pair

Neither raised a hand.

Congress members debate the effectiveness of social safety net programs, aim to reduce silos at Ways and Means Committee

WASHINGTON — As high numbers of children in the United States continue to be born into poverty, members of Congress agreed Wednesday they should do more to provide for poor families and help their children — primarily by making it easier for parents to work.

At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on childhood poverty in the United States, Rep. Danny K. Davis D-Ill., pointed out that racial inequalities have made black children far more likely to live in poverty than white kids. He said the disparities could be reduced by expanding the earned income tax credit and improving child care affordability.

About 15 million children in the United States live below the federal poverty threshold, according to Child Trends, a think tank focusing on child policy and welfare. The National Center for Children in Poverty found in 2019 that 43% of American children live in low-income families.

Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said programs that subsidize work, such as the earned income tax credit. “have the biggest effect on poverty” because they require people to be working in order to qualify for the credit.

“You get a double benefit here,” Haskins said. “Government benefits increase income. And then you get more work, which also increases income.”

The earned income tax credit is a refundable tax advance for ndividuals and families, particularly those with children.

Haskins also advocated for increased access to child care tax credits. He said one of the main barriers to employment for young families is the high cost of child care, which makes it difficult to ensure children are safe while parents go to work. He said expanding child care benefits would appeal to both Republicans and Democrats because people would be benefiting from social safety net programs while also working more.

Angela Rachidi, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative leaning think tank, said Congress should reassess the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, engaging with TANF users who have disabilities, and holding states, which administer program funds to their citizens, accountable for getting TANF users employed and “making sure they stay employed.”

Rep. Jackie Walorski R-Ind., agreed and said the social safety net of programs such as TANF to combat child poverty is important, but the effectiveness of individual programs should be reviewed. She said the program has been renewed 42 times without important checks to its efficacy and accountability.

“For too long, there’s been a lack of accountability and evidence as to which programs actually work,” Walorski said.

SOTU: Health Care

SOTU: Health Care

On the eve of President Donald Trump’s likely impeachment acquittal, the commander-in-chief drew catcalls from Democrats when he tried to accuse them of taking away quality health care in his third State of the Union speech.

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Washingtonians alternately protest, celebrate the State of the Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chris Pappas, D-N.H.

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

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

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

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


Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill.

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

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

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


Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y.

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

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

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


Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev.

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

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

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


Rep. Deb Halaand, D-N.M.

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

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

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


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

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill.

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

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



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

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

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

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

Medill on the Hill produces live State of the Union broadcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



What do senators do after the State of the Union? Not much

As police with bomb-sniffing dogs swept the halls of Congress in preparation for the State of the Union early Tuesday night, senators began trundling into the Capitol on the small subway tram that runs between their offices and the Senate basement. Medill intercepted them on their way to the elevators to ask about what happens after the cameras shut off.

What do senators do when they leave the Capitol after the State of the Union?


– Sen. Charles Schumer,D-N.Y.

“He goes back home with his wife.”

– Iris Weinshall (Schumer’s wife)


“Normally I do press with my press in Michigan … I’m usually on the phone talking to folks or doing interviews.”

– Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.


“You go through Statuary Hall, you do press, and then I’m going to try to find my guest who is a laid off skill worker and make sure he gets back to the Holiday Inn … One time [Sen.] Jeff Sessions and I did joint press afterwards because we were dates for the State of the Union. That was quite romantic.”

– Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.


“I’m going to watch the Republican response and collect my wife and reflect on the day. Get ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow’s another day.”

(Medill: That sounds rather unglamorous.)

“Yes it’s boring, very boring. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

– Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho


“I go home and go to bed.”

(Medill: There are no cocktails with colleagues or anything like that?)

“No. That may be a perception somewhere out in America, but I can assure you that a vast majority of senators are going home and going to bed and getting up to go to work early in the morning.”

– Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Mary Landrieu, D-N.D.Louisiana


State of the Union 2016: Preview and Excerpts

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama delivers his seventh and final State of the Union address Tuesday night. Excerpts released by the White House indicate that the speech will express optimism for the country’s future in “a time of extraordinary change.”

“It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families. It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate,” according to excerpts released by the White House.

The speech will likely be light on specific policy proposals with the president  talking instead about how the country has improved since the crises he inherited when he took office in 2009.

“We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people. And because we did — because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril — we emerged stronger and better than before.”

The president is also expected to discuss the political climate leading up to the 2016 presidential election, saying that change will come “only happen if we fix our politics.”

“A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and imperatives of security.”




Medill Today // March 19, 2020