Latest in Politics
Human rights groups condemned the violence against protesters and religious minorities in India.read more
WASHINGTON— Construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border is destroying sacred indigenous sites while federal agencies fail to properly consult tribes, experts on indigenous rights and tribal members told a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
“For us, [the construction of the border wall] is no different from [the Department of Homeland Security] building a 30-foot wall along Arlington Cemetery or through the grounds of the National Cathedral,” said Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, which is located in southern Arizona.
DHS has undertaken a series of infrastructure projects in sacred tribal land along the U.S.-Mexican border, including the construction of roads and controlled detonations. Many of these areas once served as indigenous burial grounds, and many still contain ancestral human remains and sacred archeological remains, said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.
According to U.S. law, the Trump administration has the authority to suspend federal laws protecting the environment and indigenous rights in order to construct border protection barriers. This enables the DHS and other federal agencies to start construction projects on indigenous land without consulting tribes.
“We urge Congress to withdraw or at least limit the DHS’ waiver authority that is dangerously broad and has allowed DHS nearly dictatorial authority to run rough-shot over the rights of the Tohono O’odham and other border communities in the United States,” Norris said.
Despite Trump’s waiver of several federal laws protecting indigenous tribes, U.S. Customs and Border Protection still makes an effort to consult tribes informally, said Steve Hodapp, a retired independent contractor and environmental specialist who worked for Customs and Border Protection.
But federal agencies’ informal conversations with tribes are insufficient and agencies have failed to appropriately contact tribes with regard to the border wall, Norris said.
The Government Accountability Office recommends improvements to tribal consultation practices. It urged federal agencies to be more transparent with how tribal input is weighed in approving infrastructure projects. Government agencies also should consult tribes in a timely manner, said Dr. Anna Maria Ortiz, the GAO’s director of natural resources and environment.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R- Ariz., said the border wall is necessary to protect the environment in the sacred tribal areas. He said illegal crossings between the U.S.-Mexico border result in trash, water pollution and illegal foot and vehicle crossings in nature reserves.
“In pursuit of a political open borders agenda, you are happy to ignore and minimize the environmental impact [of illegal border crossings,]” said Gosar to Democrats on the committee.
“You can’t equate [the destruction of] sacred sites and burial grounds with trash [left behind by illegal crossers],” Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., responded.
WASHINGTON — Wealth inequality in the United States now resembles the massive wealth gap of the Great Depression, with the top 0.1% of today’s wealthiest Americans holding more than 20% of the nation’s wealth, and the future of working class families is threatened, several mayors and a leading public policy scholar said Wednesday.
Duke University public policy professor William A. Darity, speaking at a Washington Post event, expressed concern that the working class may be permanently damaged if more resources are not allocated to help the average American’s needs.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that one of the issues central to helping the working class is making sure neighborhoods can be less stratified by income.
Bottoms said that the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is in the heart of a community facing gentrification so the city designated the area a displacement-free zone and for the next 20 years the City of Atlanta will cover the anticipated increase in property taxes for residents who would not otherwise be able to afford to live in this neighborhood.
“We see that we are bringing people together who otherwise wouldn’t live in the same neighborhoods,” Bottoms said. “When the communities look better, it’s for everyone, not just a segment of the population.”
Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer said that it is important to give money to communities that have historically been disadvantaged, whether by raising the minimum wage or by enacting something like the Freedom Dividend, Andrew Yang’s plan to give every American $1,000 a month.
“When people have an adequate amount of money, they can take care of issues that prevent them from earning money,” Fischer said.
Philadelphia Councilwoman Kendra Brooks and other panelists agreed that those in the working class should have a voice in the decisions that directly affect them.
“I have experienced a lot of these issues firsthand,” Brooks said. “We need people in politics that are able to speak to the people, not the numbers, not the statistics, but the people that are primarily affected by these issues.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said the House of Representatives is working to ensure that Americans have the health care they need to survive.
“Democrats are 95% united, I mean the media focuses on the 5% where we have differences,” Khanna said. “Every Democrat that I know believes that health care is a human right.”
Khanna added that it is up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow the Senate to act on legislation that the House has passed that directly assists working class Americans.
Latest in Education
Flexibility or rollback? Experts clash on impact of USDA’s proposed changes to school meal regulations
Under the Jan. 17 changes proposed by the USDA, schools would have more flexibility in the types of foods that fall under the umbrella of vegetables. The regulations would also give states more time to review school districts’ meal programs, from the current requirement of once every three years to five years.read more
WASHINGTON – Several Democrat and Republican members of the House agreed Thursday that current federal child care policies have set families back, hurting children and disproportionately affecting poorer families.
At the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, policy experts advocated for federal subsidies for child care providers and caps on family payments for child care.
Last year, a report conducted by the Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan advocacy group, found that gaps in America’s child care system cost roughly $57 billion a year “in lost earnings, productivity and revenue.”
Taryn Morrissey, an associate professor at American University, said the high costs of early care programs make children from low-income families less likely to attend than other kids. She said the resulting differences in cognitive development perpetuate the income and achievement gap.
Democrats in Congress have proposed a bill that would place a cap on the amount working families pay for child care. No parents earning less than 150% of the median area income would have to pay over 7% of their annual income towards child care programs. Families earning under 70% of the area median income wouldn’t have to pay anything.
The bill would also raise the salaries of child care professionals to a living wage. The Economic Policy Institute, which studies ways to improve the lives of working and middle class families and has funding from labor unions, reported in 2015 that the average hourly salaries of child care workers are 23% less than those of workers in similar occupations. Child care workers are also less likely to receive benefits and pensions. Morrissey said these factors have led to high rates of professional turnover.
“As a result, too many children spend their days in mediocre or low quality care, or across a patchwork of arrangements, a missed opportunity for providing their school readiness, and their long term educational economic and health outcomes,” she said.
But Linda Smith, director of the bipartisan think tank Early Childhood Initiative, said the bill is a one size fits all solution that would leave out many low-income families. She said the majority of child care centers in America operate on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, failing to meet the needs of the roughly 50% of Americans whose hours don’t match up.
Smith suggested a revamp the entire child care system, prioritizing low-income families whoare raising infants, operating at flexible hours, and encouraging subsidies for home-based child care. Smith also said the government should encourage businesses to partner with employees to implement customizable child care options.
“I think that parents know their children best,” Smith said. “And all children don’t fit in one particular setting.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will prioritize supporting working families by mandating paid leave and lowering barriers to education. Members of Congress from both parties said they agree with the sentiments, but disagree on how to implement the policies.
Trump’s statements on family leave came in the wake of a December 2019 law that guarantees up to 12 weeks of paid leave to roughly 2.1 million federal employees. The law was the first update to the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which protects workers from being fired for taking unpaid family leave.
Trump called on Congress to pass the Advancing Support for Working Families Act, a bipartisan bill that offers a loan to new parents, repayable through reductions to their Child Tax Credit.
Critics say the bill only provides leave to new parents, though over 70% of those who use paid leave need it to care for loved ones who are ill or injured. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. said a tax credit system would disproportionately hurt the working class.
“The problem is for certain folks, who are at the lower end of the income spectrum, tax credits aren’t going to be as useful,” Krishnamoorthi said.
Democrats have instead proposed the FAMILY Act, which would levy a 0.4% payroll tax on all families to fund paid leave programs. This would apply to new parents or those taking care of sick family members.
Trump also called on Congress to enact school choice legislation, which would allow parents to send their children to alternative public schools or private schools if they feel the traditional public schools in their area are not meeting their needs. Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has long been a proponent of school choice.
Philadelphia resident Stephanie Davis and her fourth-grade daughter Janiyah were in attendance Tuesday night. According to a White House statement, Janiyah has been assigned to a “low-performing school” and is one of an estimated 50,000 students on a waitlist for a tax credit scholarship.
Trump says Janiyah is an example of a student who he believes has been harmed by anti-school choice policy — Pennsylvania Gov.Tom Wolf vetoed a school choice bill in June 2019.
“For too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools,” Trump said. “The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”
At a White House “school choice roundtable” in December, Trump said children who were “trapped in failing government schools” would be “forgotten no longer” in his administration.
In February 2019, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., introduced the Education Freedom Scholarship bill, with backing from DeVos. The policy would direct $5 billion annually into locally controlled scholarship programs that promote school choice policies.
Trump touted the bill Tuesday night, saying it would give 1 million American children the opportunity to attend the school of their choice.
Critics of school choice, however, argued that such policies would deprive public schools of the resources they need to be successful.
“Remarks about how schools are failing is tragic because when you’re defunding schools,” former Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., said. “Calling it school choice is a misnomer. It’s just another way of saying we want to hand over a public service to for-profit communities.”
CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- John Legend told the crowd at a Wednesday rally for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren that “Elizabeth listens to us” before singing classics such as “All of Me” and “Redemption Song.” Warren spoke to the approximately 1,400 supporters...read more
LAS VEGAS – More than 80 employees at Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino used their lunch break on Saturday to vote in Nevada’s Democratic caucus. State party officials use such examples as proof that the caucus system worked, but critics say too many voters still were left out of the process.
The employees were given lunch boxes and were greeted by young campaign volunteers attempting to win them over. As the workers sat on the floor and ate their chips and sandwiches, they listened to instructions in both English and Spanish.
Within about 30 minutes, the caucuses at Harrah’s was complete and the diverse coalition of workers rushed back to their jobs.
Harrah’s was one of seven locations on the Las Vegas Strip that hosted a Democratic caucus this year. The locations on the Strip were added to open the process to more working-class voters, part of a broader effort to modernize a system that many have said was not accessible to large portions of the electorate.
“I am grateful to the NV Dems team who worked with community leaders to secure caucus day locations that will serve every Nevada Democrat from our tribal communities in East Las Vegas to our vast rural counties,” State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II said in a statement.
Another major change this year was the addition of early voting in the four days leading up to the caucuses to include voters who would not have been able to set aside the time needed to participate in a caucus.
The state Democratic party said close to 75,000 Nevadans cast early ballots this year, close to the 84,000 total votes cast in the 2016 Democratic primary.
“I think a caucus can be not ideal for people to participate in, to be able to show up at a certain place and time, but I think Nevada has done a good job of trying to find ways to expand the opportunity to be able to participate in the process,” said Faiz Shakar, campaign manager for Bernie Sanders.
But some say the caucus system still leaves out certain groups.
Erica Castro, organizing manager of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the caucuses are still not accessible for many Nevadans and that the state should eventually move to replace the caucuses with a traditional primary.
The popularity of voting early this year shows it would be in the best interest of Nevadans to discontinue the caucuses altogether, Castro said.
Nevada is the third state to cast votes in the primary cycle, but it is the first state with a substantial number of minority voters. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the state is nearly 30% Latino and 10% Black.
Many of the workers in hotels and casinos on the strip are members of minority groups.
The Culinary Workers Union is the largest union in Nevada. With over 60,000 members, the Culinary Union claims to be the largest political force in the state. The union’s membership is 54% Latino and 55% female, said spokeswoman Bethany Kahn.
The union has provided opportunities for its members to get involved and get to know what each of the Democratic nominees stand for.
Khan said the Culinary Union held seven town halls with candidates so members could weigh in on the issues important to them.
The Culinary Union also served as an early voting location. According to Khan, 2,500 voters came to the union to cast an early ballot last week. Khan said that it is important that the state Democratic party is continuously looking for ways to include working class, minority voices.
Caesars Entertainment, which owns nine hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, hosted three of the caucuses. Caesars Entertainment said it supports workers’ participation in the caucuses but did not want voting to interfere with work time.
“Caesars Entertainment employees are encouraged to participate in the caucus during their scheduled work breaks or before or after their shifts to ensure their department is not affected,” said a Caesars Entertainment spokesman.
In addition to questions over whether the caucus system is an inclusive and accessible way to vote, Iowa’s Democratic caucuses tried a new technology – a phone app to count and record votes – that broke down, leading to a days’ long delay in declaring a winner. The chairman of the state Democratic party eventually decided to step down.
Following the debacle in Iowa, Nevada decided not to use the app. Instead, the state Democratic party amended its own system and used an iPad to bring early voting results into each precinct’s in-person caucus. Volunteers then phoned in the final results and texted a photo of the sheet they used to record results to party officials.
Volunteers at the East Las Vegas Community Center said they were pleased with the amended process and didn’t report any major problems.
“From my perspective, everything went really well,” precinct chair Alfonso Ruiz said. “It was easy to participate.”
Ruiz said he understood that caucuses were not accessible to all voters, but that the process helps to build party organization and loyalty.
But President Donald Trump from weighed in on the caucus system in Nevada at a rally in Las Vegas the day before the caucuses.
“You know, they say they’re gonna have a lot of problems tomorrow,” Trump said. “I hear their computers are all messed up, just like they were in Iowa. They’re not going to be able to count their vote.”
The caucuses were called in favor of Sanders early Saturday evening, but as of Sunday, votes were still being counted. Party officials said that short delay was normal in a caucus system – and scored a victory for the system.
LAS VEGAS — The Nevada caucuses had a starkly different demographic landscape from the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states largely bereft of racial and ethnic diversity. And while the result was the same – a third win for Bernie Sanders, this time the front-runner could thank Latino voters for helping elevate him to victory.
Exit polls from The Washington Post and NBC News showed Sanders with a majority of Latino support and up to a 37-point lead over the next closest candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sanders’ campaign had been courting Latino voters for months, buying ads, deploying volunteers and honing a working class message his campaign believed would win over the Latino voters who comprise nearly 30% of the state’s population.
As the nomination contest moves on to South Carolina and Super Tuesday, the Latino vote could play a pivotal role in the outcome.
On Super Tuesday, 15 states and territories will divide up 1,357 delegates. The two biggest prizes of the day – and of the primary – are California and Texas, where Latinos make up 30 percent of eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center.
Roxanne Perez-Guzman voted in her first presidential election Saturday in Nevada. She caucused for Sanders and volunteered with his campaign.
“I believe that Bernie has the most progressive campaign,” Perez-Guzman said at a Sanders event the night before the caucuses.
Perez-Guzman’s mother emigrated from Mexico and her father from Cuba. She brought her parents to Sanders’ event and said she is most attracted to his campaign because of his immigration policies. Sanders has called for wide-ranging immigration reform and the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But Sanders’ appeal to Latino voters goes beyond his immigration policies. His campaign has staked its legitimacy on the readiness of voters to embrace a liberal agenda to the left of any of his rivals. Many Latinos in Nevada said they felt disaffected by a political and economic system they believe has failed them. They sought a candidate who could upend that system.
“It’s more than just immigration,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said at an immigration forum hosted by Amnesty International. “It’s that if you are a decent human being you should have basic health care, you should have basic education, you should have an ability to retire comfortably, to provide for your family, hope that your children can grow up in a world in which they will have a better life than us. That’s it.”
After the event, Shakir said Sanders’ progressive proposals like Medicare for all, free college and expanded union rights will increase the campaign’s appeal to the working class. Sanders’ support among the that group has been central to his strong showings in the first three states.
Sanders’ campaign has said it believes Latino support can continue to be a central part of its coalition.
“When you look at the Latino community in the United States right now, this is the working class of America,” Shakir said after the event.
Geraldine Duenas and her husband caucused for Sanders. For them, the high cost of health care in the U.S. has made Sanders’ proposal for a publicly funded universal coverage option increasingly appealing as it has for many Americans who struggle to afford medical expenses.
“Right now, I have a son who’s 20 who can’t afford healthcare on his own,” Duenas said. “I struggle paycheck to paycheck.”
Erica Castro, organizing manager of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said some campaigns, like Sanders’, have dedicated resources to courting Latino voters and hiring Latinos onto their staffs. But two candidates whose polling numbers with minority voters have teetered between abysmal and nonexistent have been conspicuously absent from Nevada, she said.
“Honestly, I haven’t had any interaction with Amy Klobuchar’s campaign here, very little with Mayor Pete’s campaign,” she said.
Part of the reason is resource limitations, as Klobuchar dedicated money and time to Iowa and New Hampshire before saying she was pivoting to Super Tuesday.
Buttigieg, meanwhile, has repeatedly said minority voters will support him once they get to know him better. But he was the only major candidate running in Nevada who did not send a surrogate to the immigration forum or attend in person.
Biden, once the favorite to win, has continuously claimed his popularity among minorities will energize a campaign weighed down by disappointing finishes in the first two states.
Biden was indirectly assisted by Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union, which said Sanders’ health care proposal would strip its members of their coverage. Fifty-four percent of the union’s members are Latino.
Biden finished second in Nevada, and multiple exit polls showed him having the second-most support among Latinos. He was also the only other candidate to win a precinct with a majority-Latino population, according to an analysis by the Latino Politics and Policy Initiative at the University of California Los Angeles.
But as the campaign trail now winds through states with far more diversity than Iowa and New Hampshire, candidates will need to prove they can create a coalition of Democrats of many races and ethnicities.
“There is no one better running right now that has done more for minorities,” Amy Wiwuga, a Biden volunteer said. “I feel as a minority he will have our back.”
In November, about 13% of eligible voters will be Latinos – a record high, according to the Pew Research Center. And in Florida, whose ability to swing a presidential election is proven, one in five eligible voters will be Latino.
While Democratic candidates have been jockeying for Latino support in the primary, the nominee will need to retain or increase their support in the general election. A Telemundo poll released late last year found 25% of Latinos said they would vote to give President Donald Trump a second term.
Latinos’ support for the president defies the xenophobic comments he has made about them that extend to the beginning of his presidential campaign when he called Mexicans “rapists.”
“It’s only the Democrats that spin it around and make it seem like it’s bad,” Natalie Hernandez said at a Trump rally in Las Vegas where supporters brandished “Latinos for Trump” signs. “But you know what? He didn’t say anything that offended me.”
Many Latinos there said they were pleased by the strength of the economy and his conservative stances on domestic issues.
Even Trump’s stringent policies on immigration have earned him the support of some Latinos.
“Most of the Latinos are conservatives,” Hernandez said, although the Pew Research Center says 34% of Latinos identify with the Republican Party. “They don’t vote for abortion. They don’t vote for open borders, believe it or not, because the illegals come in and take over the jobs of the American-Mexicans that live here.”
Two days before an underwhelming finish at the Nevada caucuses, Tom Steyer told reporters the Democratic nominee will need to prove his or her ability to engage a wide range of voters. Steyer himself has spent tens of millions of dollars in Nevada and South Carolina in an effort to court minority voters.
“I think everybody in the Democratic party who expects to actually pull together the party and win in November has to be able to show that they can pull together a diverse coalition,” Steyer said. “Our country is diverse. Our party is fantastically, wonderfully diverse. If we’re going to win, we’re going to have to show up. And that means we’re all going to have to show up.”
Latest in Environment
A bill that would pledge U.S. participation in a global plan to plant 1 trillion trees by 2050 endorsed by President Donald Trump at Davos had environmental stakeholders split Wednesday at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing.read more
WASHINGTON – Controlled forest cutting and development of a public-private bank to fund infrastructure changes to respond to climate change were some of the fixes recommended by experts at a House Energy and Commerce committee hearing on Tuesday.
Anthony Davis, interim dean of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, said that the high density of western forests means that fires can spread more quickly.
“As we started to put out fires more and more effectively…then those trees grew into a continuous forest,” said Davis. “The ability for flame to travel over greater distance increased.”
Put another way, “fire suppression has caused fire explosion,” said Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-N.Y.
Davis said wildfires are a natural occurrence, but he and another firefighting experts suggested controlled cutting and controlled burns would help reduce the severity of wildfires that the West is experiencing today.
John MacWilliams, with Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said he supports a recent proposal that would establish a national climate bank. The bank would provide funds which would enable national infrastructure to respond to threats from climate change.
“What we need is a public-private entity to be able to support infrastructure investment,” said MacWilliams. “If we just use our traditional methods of infrastructure investment, we will never get there.”
By creating a national climate bank, utility companies would have an incentive to improve things like conductors and electrical grids.
“I think we’ve got to provide incentives for utilities to be able to invest in all these necessary upgrades in infrastructure and technologies,” said MacWilliams. “Much of those regulations, governed by state law, do not incentivize utilities to do that.
William Johnson, CEO and President of PG&E Corp., which filed for bankruptcy after it was found responsible for recent wildfires in California, spoke about small improvements to the company’s systems.
“The most important technology in the short term is materials that keep conductors from sparking,” said Johnson.
WASHINGTON – Expert testimony on ocean health, emissions and nuclear energy was overshadowed Wednesday by a clash between Republican members and witnesses on the role China and India have to play in addressing global climate change.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing was called by Democrats to seek solutions to global warming.
But Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., veered in a different direction, citing a European Union report that shows that India is responsible for 7% of all carbon emissions and China is responsible for 29%.
“My question to each of you…is what do you propose to stop India and China from emitting so much carbon?”
Pamela McElwee, associate professor of human ecology with Rutgers University, was the first to attempt an answer.
“The reason why we have global accords like the Paris agreement is precisely for this problem. It’s a global problem and everyone contributes to it” said McElwee.
Brooks cut off McElwee, saying that what he was looking for was a solution to “force” China and India to cooperate. Adherence to the Paris Climate Accord is voluntary.
“I’m asking what can we do to force them to cut their carbon emissions inasmuch as they are the principal problems of the increases of carbon emissions over the last seventeen years?” said Brooks.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Deputy Director Rick Murray declined to answer the question, saying he was not a specialist in diplomacy, China or India.
Heidi Steltzer, a professor with Fort Lewis College, said she is opposed to “forcing [her] will on another person.” Brooks moved onto the next witness, saying “That’s nice, but that’s not answering my question.”
Environmental Progress President Michael Shellenberger asserted that it would be “unfair” to punish China and India’s growing economies by keeping them from accessing natural gas.
“[Nuclear energy] is a dual-use technology so the main obstacle to nuclear’s expansion has always been fears of its use to make weapons and that’s the main reason that I think most progressives and Democrats are concerned about it,” said Shellenberger.
Latest in National Security
Experts say that Trump should be tougher on Kim Jong Un to reduce his nuclear program and stop his human rights abuses.read more
WASHINGTON— The Trump administration should impose sanctions on Egyptian officials to prevent the deaths of at least four American citizens detained in Egypt, said human rights activists and members of Congress. Mustafa Kassem, an American citizen, died in an Egyptian prison last month after being detained for seven years.
“If we don’t acknowledge … [the] dire prison conditions that affect thousands of Egyptians and the need to make better efforts for Americans imprisoned abroad, this will happen again,” said Praveen Madhiraju, a lawyer at Pretrial Rights International who represented Kassem.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Egyptian officials responsible for imprisoning Kassem. He was arrested during a military crackdown in 2013 and imprisoned. At one point he wrote to President Donald Trump asking for help. Leading up to his death, he was on a hunger strike.
“We have an obligation to defend Americans anywhere in the world,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., at an event honoring Kassem in January. “We have the absolute obligation to do what we can do to bring Americans home. [This is] especially true when the country [imprisoning American citizens] involves an ally.”
Some members of Congress have criticized Trump for being too lenient on Egypt’s human rights violations. The U.S. sent Egypt $1.4 billion in assistance in 2019, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“There has to be a consequence [for Kassem’s death]— a consequence that serves as a strong reminder that President (Abdel-Fattah El-)Sissi can no longer fight the rule of law with impunity,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “[American citizens detained in Egypt] should be released immediately.”
American Haled Hassan was detained by Egypt in January 2018 and accused of being a member of el-Sissi’s political opposition. Reem Desouky is an art teacher from Pennsylvania who was arrested at the Cairo airport when returning to the U.S. in July 2019. She was detained for criticizing el-Sissi on social media. Mohamed Hashem and Mohamed Amash are another two Americans detained in Egypt, although little is known about their arrests and current circumstances.
While some reports indicate that seven Americans are detained in Egypt, Human Rights Watch could only confirm four of them. It is hard for human rights organizations to confirm the identities of Egyptian-American detainees because they might be scared to reveal their dual nationalities, said Ahmed Benchemsi, communications and advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
“There might be more American citizens in jail in Egypt but the reason that we don’t know about them is that they’re dual citizens and they are afraid to inform the authorities that they have other passports [other] than the Egyptian one,” said Benchemsi. “They believe they will be subjected to more harassment if they do.”
Medical neglect is one of the primary concerns for Americans detained in Egypt; the Egyptian government has repeatedly blocked the International Committee on the Red Cross from visiting prisoners. The U.S. should withhold security assistance to Egypt until the ICRS can routinely access American detainees, said Allison McManus, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
McManus also called for improved communication between the U.S. government and the families of Americans imprisoned in Egypt to help inform families about the status of American detainees and facilitate their release.
The Trump administration secured the release of Egyptian-American detainees in the past. In 2017, aid worker Aya Hijazi was released after Trump met with el-Sissi. Student Ahmed Etiwy was released in 2018 after Vice President Mike Pence pressured Egyptian officials. Still, the administration’s current efforts to release other American detainees in Egypt are insufficient, said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
“When this administration allows for that kind of treatment to happen over and over and over again by our allies, it’s understandable why people like President (el-) Sissi perceive that there will be no consequences if they continue to take a harder and harder line on political dissent,” said Murphy.
Many administrations have failed to hold Egypt accountable for its human rights abuses because they are too distracted with other countries in the region, said Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“People in the United States and in Europe just really aren’t aware of the magnitude of human rights abuses in Egypt,” said Dunne. “There is just so much else going on in the world and in the Middle East— it gets lost. This story gets lost.”
WASHINGTON—The Institute of Peace on Tuesday welcomed former U.S. Government senior officials to discuss recent developments in U.S.-Taliban negotiations.
“We believe we are close to executing a period of a significant and lasting reduction in violence,” said former U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Molly Phee.
The new agreement followed an attack that killed two American soldiers by an Afghan national on Feb. 8. The insider attack displays a constant threat to American servicemen coming not only from the Taliban.
Trump has repeatedly admitted his desire to withdraw troops. Now, he says, this will be dependent on the Taliban to uphold their promise to reduce violence. U.S. officials hope that once American troops leave Afghanistan the Taliban will sit down with the Afghan government to develop a final peace plan.
Latest in Living
Sexual assault and sexual harassment cases by employees are pervasive at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and major reform is needed, House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman T.J. Cox said at a hearing on Thursday.read more
WASHINGTON — Highly rated businesses in black neighborhoods sustain revenue losses totaling about $3.9 billion and do not grow any faster than low-rated businesses, a study released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution and Gallup found.
The study by Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program and Gallup is part of a larger project that evaluates the devaluation of different assets in black neighborhoods. In an earlier report, researchers found that when compared to similar homes in white neighborhoods, homes in black neighborhoods, on average, were devalued at a rate of 23 percent.
To examine the devaluation of businesses, researchers matched customer ratings on Yelp and data of the financial performance of businesses from the National Establishment Time-Series Database.
“This distortion of the market is robbing people and communities of profit,” said Andre M. Perry, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program and an author of the study.
He also highlighted myths surrounding black entrepreneurs. “The notion that they [black entrepreneurs] are not there is false,” Perry said.
Perry said these issues exist because federal policy has devalued black communities.
On average, minority-owned businesses are rated just as highly or higher than white-owned businesses on Yelp, but businesses in black neighborhoods receive fewer reviews and are rated 0.2 stars lower on average, the report found.
Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, president and CEO of a company that seeks to achieve social benefits through financial investments, said supporting black-owned businesses helps close the racial wealth gap and generates income. She noted that a recent Association for Enterprise opportunity report found one-fifth of employed black people are employed by black business owners.
Jonathan Rothwell, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who contributed to the report, said that no matter the ethnicity of the owner, businesses located in black communities were still being devalued.
He said he hopes this report motivates people who don’t live in majority-black neighborhoods to think about how distorted their consumption decisions might be.
“Are there hidden gems they couldn’t otherwise find about?” he said. “And (they could) actively go out and find those restaurants and be a patron of them rather than going down the street to the one that everybody in the neighborhood is talking about or the one that has a celebrity chef.”
WASHINGTON — U.S. territories like the Virgin Islands are in need of more federal funding to improve infrastructure so they can withstand hurricanes or improve trade, the head of the Virgin Islands Public Works Department told a House hearing on Thursday.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is chair of the Highway and Transit Subcommittee, said the transportation needs of tribes, federally managed land and U.S. territories have been neglected.
The last time a hearing was held on the problem was 2002.
Nelson Petty Jr., commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Public Works, told the subcommittee that the infrastructure of the islands is advancing to accommodate trade throughout the Caribbean. Petty said it’s vital for infrastructure to be able to withstand this traffic as well as hurricanes.
U.S. funding is crucial for economic growth on the islands, but it has not significantly increased over the years, he said.
“When infrastructure investments are made on the governmental side, private investments are sure to follow. It is beneficial to the socio-economic stabilization.” Petty said.
For transportation infrastructure to be properly built,Petty said, many factors, such as tourism and environmental changes have to be taken into account. Keeping up with these changes requires millions in funding that is not often granted.
National Forest System Deputy Chief Christopher French said the agency needs $5 billion to complete deferred infrastructure maintenance, including $3.6 billion just for roads. The NFS has 60,000 miles of roads and bridges.
“In Central Pennsylvania, a single forest service bridge is the only connector to a small subdivision and it’s in such disrepair that the community fire trucks cannot serve their homes,” French said.
French criticized the FAST Act, which provides funding for transportation infrastructure investments, because it has helped to reduce backlogged maintenance by only 3%. He said he has not seen the funding he expected from the program.
Joe Garcia, head councilman of the Ohkay Owingeh tribe, agreed that the FAST Act does not provide enough funding, especially for tribal communities.
Native tribes are falling behind the rest of the country economically because of the lack of investment in transportation infrastructure, he said. The tribes’ most traveled roads, he said, are also the ones in the worst condition and are often times unpaved.
Garcia called on the subcommittee to create a self-governance office for tribes in the Department of Transportation that would help to better allocate funds.
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.”
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
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.”