Democrats’ attempts to subpoena evidence fail as impeachment trial begins

Democratic impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff on Tuesday urged senators to vote against the Republican-supported resolution outlining rules for the Senate impeachment trial and instead approve a measure that would allow them to permit more evidence to be submitted.

Protesters demand the Senate to remove Trump, stop war with Iran

At noon, the protesters from across the country met outside the Capitol before entering the Russell Senate Office Building. The directions were simple: assemble in the building’s rotunda, deploy a massive flag reading “REMOVE TRUMP” and chant that the Senate should take action.

Trump broke the law, GAO says

According to the GAO, the administration specifically violated the Impoundment Control Act, legislation designed to affirm Congress’ “power of the purse” — the ability to appropriate government funds.

Senators sworn is as jurors as trial gets under way

Nearly a month after the House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment against the president, Roberts asked all members of the Senate to raise their right hands and take the oath that would make them jurors. The trial is expected to begin with oral arguments Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Before being sworn in for impeachment trial, senate passes Trump administration’s USMCA trade deal

Shortly before the Senate formally accepted the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump from the House, senators delivered the president a major legislative victory Thursday, passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.

Latest in Politics

Democrats’ attempts to subpoena evidence fail as impeachment trial begins

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday rejected an amendment that would allow its members to subpoena documents and witnesses related to the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced the amendment as the Senate prepares to vote on a resolution that would establish the rules of the trial. The House of Representatives Democratic impeachment managers urged the Senate to adopt the amendment. Instead, the resolution was tabled until later.

The President’s lawyers said allowing further evidence in the Senate trial would infringe on Trump’s executive privilege and due process rights.

“To turn this body into the investigatory body would permanently alter the relationship between the house and the senate in impeachment proceedings,” Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin said.

Impeachment managers Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif, argued from the House floor that the Senate should support the amendment and seek further evidence.

“Not only does congress have a right to see them, the public does too,” Lofgren said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week said the trial rules would be similar to those that governed President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial more than two decades ago. As in the 1999 trial, House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team will have 24 hours to plead their cases on the two articles of impeachment.

The House voted in December to impeach President Donald Trump on two charges – obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. The charges stem from a telephone conversation in which Trump asks the president of Ukraine to do him a favor by investigating Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son; at the same time, military aid for Ukraine ordered by Congress was put on hold by the White House.

Trumps is trying to “hide graphic evidence of his dangerous misconduct,” Schiff said during the rules debate.

But the president’s top lawyers, Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, said the rules were appropriate and urged a quick vote.

“It’s long past time that we start this so that we can end this ridiculous charade,” Cipollone said.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced an amendment that would allow the Senate to subpoena documents related to interactions between Ukrainian and top U.S. officials, including President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Trump personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani. McConnell is expected to offer a proposal to table the resolution.

Another Democratic Impeachment manager, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif, said the White House has documents that relate to many of the key issues in the impeachment articles, including the reasoning for the decision to withhold Ukraine aid. “We know these documents exist,” she said, citing news reports and nonpartisan government watchdog reports.

She, like Schiff, said previous impeachment trials have included witnesses and documents, and that those documents should be subpoenaed now instead of voting on the issue later.The Democratic managers argued for a resolution introduced by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that would subpoena additional evidence at the start of the trial. “Common, sense, tradition and fairness all compel that the amendment should be adopted,” Lofgren said.

President Trump’s lawyers said they are protecting the president’s executive privilege and due process rights by not permitting more evidence in the trial.Previously, Schumer has said that McConnell “is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through. On something as important as impeachment, Senator McConnell’s resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace.”

Democrats in both chambers have called on Republicans to allow further witnesses and documents to be permitted in the Senate trial.

“The Senate jurors are permitted to consider any evidence they want,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. Romney is one of the Republican senators whom Democrats hope might break with Republicans. The others include Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Also being watched as long shots to vote with Democrats are Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

But Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Utah, and Kevin Cramer, N.D., said no more evidence is needed. “There’s no evidence of a high crime or misdemeanor,” Hawley said.

Cramer argues the House Democrats have a weak case. “I think it’s unfortunate we’re dragging the American public through this at all,” said Cramer.

Democrats would need to win three different votes to allow more evidence or witnesses in the trial. The potential witnesses include former national security adviser John Bolton and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, both of whom Democrats have said they want to testify.

Under the rules, if the Senate decides to allow more evidence, the impeachment managers and the president’s legal team would be permitted to call for additional witnesses and documents. The Senate would then vote on whether it would issue subpoenas. Witnesses would be deposed, and the Senate would vote on whether a particular witness would testify publicly.

Protesters demand the Senate to remove Trump, stop war with Iran

WASHINGTON – About 100 protesters swarmed Capitol Hill on Thursday to call for the removal of President Donald Trump and demand that Congress take action to stop war with Iran. A dozen were arrested.

The protest was organized by a diverse network of grassroots organizers including Women’s March, By The People and Remove Trump. Using the the hashtag #SwarmTheSenate, the protesters exhorted their senators to convict Trump of the two impeachment charges and remove him as president.

At noon, the protesters from across the country met outside the Capitol before entering the Russell Senate Office Building. The directions were simple: assemble in the building’s rotunda, deploy a massive flag reading “Remove Trump” and chant that the Senate should take action. They were instructed beforehand to clear out of the rotunda after the third warning from Capitol police to avoid arrest, but to have a valid ID and $50 ready if they were willing to be arrested. Twelve were arrested after refusing to leave.

A day earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the articles of impeachment, officially paving the way for a trial in the Senate. Alexandra Flores-Quilty, the executive director of By The People, said the purpose of the protest was to demand senators to uphold their oath to the constitution.

“He is a danger to our democracy and the people of this country,” Flores-Quilty said. “Every single day he is in office he continues to pose a danger to the American people. Just right now we have the immediate threat that has been illuminated in the past couple weeks as he recklessly threatens war with Iran.”

Twenty-year Army and Air Force veteran Colleen Boland was among those detained by Capitol police. Boland spoke out against the potential war with Iran, claiming that Trump’s policies are a “danger to national and global security.”

Boland said when she joined the military she took an oath to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

“I never imagined I would have to come home and do it here,” Boland said.

Once in the Russell rotunda, the protesters began chanting, “Trump is a danger to our country, to our democracy, impeach him, remove him from power.” Demonstrators wore black t-shirts with the words, “Remove Trump,” and laid out a black flag showing the same phrase. Capitol police immediately warned demonstrators to clear out or face arrest. However, some persisted and began to chant messages aimed at senators: “Do your job” and “Trump is guilty.”

After three warnings, Capitol police began to arrest the protesters. As the 12 remaining protesters were detained, they sang “I Shall Not Be Moved,” a common protest song popularized during the Civil Rights Movement.

Women’s March Chief Strategy Officer Caitlin Breedlove said if people don’t want to go to war with Iran and they want Trump to be removed, they need to get involved.

“I’m here because I have a two-year-old son, and I don’t want him being in a world where someone like Trump is president,” Breedlove said. “As a queer person, as someone with a mixed race family, as someone who lives in Arizona, in a border state, it’s not acceptable. It’s not always easy, but it’s critical.”

The protest is one of multiple events in which Women’s March is participating leading up to its nationwide march on Jan. 18. The Women’s March formed in response to Trump’s inauguration in 2017, and the organization immediately advocated for his impeachment. Rachel O’Leary Carmona, chief operating officer at Women’s March, said the removal of Trump and the war with Iran are issues that affect women everywhere.

“Women are disproportionately affected by war,” O’Leary said. “[War] displaces women, it puts women at a greater risk of sexual assault and rape, it causes disruption in families and it makes women less safe. This is absolutely a women’s issue.”

Latest in Education

CALLS TO FIX SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE LED BY BALTIMORE, CONGRESS

BALTIMORE, Md. — Public school principal Rachel Brunson has seen every infrastructure problem that a large urban school can have. But only one stumped her — the “dirt room.”

“It’s just nothing but dirt,” said Brunson.

A Baltimore native, Brunson has been principal for the last six years at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary Middle School, a nearly 50-year-old school that has had poor air and water quality, mold, broken toilets, rusted elevators, leaking pipes and rodents.

But the “dirt room” is one problem she inherited that hasn’t been solved. When she arrived at the school, the room, about the size of two large classrooms, was covered with wall-to-wall dirt in piles that almost reach the ceiling in many areas and were dotted with corroded pipes. She said the costs of clearing out the space to create a “functional, safe classroom” were too high.

So, Brunson just closed the door and locked it. But the room, it still harms the school by destroying the flooring and causing corrosion to pipes. The “dirt room” is an extreme example of the types of pressing maintenance needs with year-round impact on students and teachers that plague many Baltimore City Public Schools.

Last year, all 188 Baltimore City Public Schools closed for four days as emergency maintenance crews were sent to 60 Baltimore City Public Schools to solve heating and flooding problems in early January.

Because of the “dirt room” and a slew of other maintenance failures, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary Middle School will be closing in June 2020, joining 75 schools in the Baltimore school system that have closed since 2004.

With over 80,000 students, the district has a massive maintenance backlog that would cost $3 billion to fix, nearly double the district’s annual operating budget, said Dr. Lynette Washington, interim chief operations officer of Baltimore City Public Schools.

For many education advocates, Baltimore schools epitomize the broader national problem of crumbling schools nationwide.

Stories of rats, roaches and mold in Detroit public schools or toxic asbestos in Philadelphia schools have led educators and parents to question the state of education infrastructure. A 2014 Department of Education study estimated that it would cost $197 billion to bring all public schools into “good condition.”

The “dirt room” has been locked up by Principal Rachel Brunson for six years to limit the safety and health risks in the school. (Samantha Handler/MNS)In Maryland, the ACLU of Maryland and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund went to court two weeks ago to reopen a case against state leaders to improve the education quality of Baltimore schools. (Samantha Handler/MNS)Since 2004, 75 schools in Baltimore City Public Schools have closed due to the $3 billion maintenance backlog. (Samantha Handler/MNS)The Rebuild America’s Schools Act was introduced into Congress in late February and would provide over $100 billion to schools in low-income communities to rebuild infrastructure. (Samantha Handler/MNS)The school suffers from a myriad of infrastructural issues, including corrosion and flooding to stairs. (Samantha Handler/MNS)Eighty schools need of repairs in Baltimore City Public Schools for issues such as leaking pipes. (Samantha Handler/MNS)

“Baltimore is a perfect example of crumbling schools in lower-income communities,” said Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund. “It’s a product of how we treat education. These are the kids, the future. It’s worth investing in where they learn.
Filardo said most educators are not trained to advocate for infrastructure issues that hurt education equity.

“If you’re living in a house built in the 1940s or 1950s, it’s obvious to upgrade that house. Why don’t we do the same with all schools throughout the country?” said Filardo.

Federal gridlock stunts education funding

Federal lawmakers are gridlocked in discussions about funding for education, although in a December 2018 poll conducted by POLITICO and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, over 65 percent of Democrats and Republicans said increasing K-12 funding is an “extremely important priority” for Congress.

In late February, the House Education and Labor Committee approved the Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2019 to provide $100 billion for school modernizations, with priority given low-income communities.

“I think that if you don’t have, for instance, air that is fit to breathe, it’s hard to see how people can learn,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who serves on the committee. “At the end of the day, schools are about learning.”

The bill is expected to pass in the Democratic-controlled House. The Republicans prefer the issues be addressed on a state-by-state basis, pointing to the success of opportunity zones, which focus on private investment in low-income communities in exchange for preferential tax treatment.

“Refocusing our efforts on community development and local innovation will rebuild our communities far more effectively than the federal government can,” said a spokeswoman for Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the top Republican on the House Education and Labor committee.

The GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass a companion bill, introduced in late January.

Two weeks ago, President Trump unveiled his budget that would slash funding for the Department of Education by more than 10 percent.

A 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers’ report found that the federal government contributes little to no funding despite education infrastructure being the second largest infrastructure sector in the country.

“The federal role is really important to support states to ensure low-wealth districts, like Baltimore, aren’t penalized in terms of the quality of school facilities,” said Filardo.

State and local communities rally to repair Maryland Schools

The Maryland State Department of Education said its public schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion every year, according to a 2016 report.

Washington, of the Baltimore City Public Schools, said that she does not anticipate state or local funding to significantly increase in the next year. “Without having additional resources, it means the district continues to piecemeal and grapple with infrastructure issues for our students,” she said.

Because local funding is obtained through property taxes, schools like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary Middle School have become advocates for more equitable distribution of state funds to schools in impoverished communities.

Two weeks ago, the ACLU of Maryland and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund went to court to reopen a landmark case against state leaders. Last week, thousands of teachers and educators marched in Annapolis, Maryland, the state capital.

Many education advocates in Maryland support the lawsuit and the state’s Kirwan Commission, which is tasked with proposing new education standards, policies and funding formulas for Maryland.

The commission recommended an injection of $1.5 billion into the state’s education budget in 2021 and $2.6 billion in 2022. By 2030, the proposed funding would increase to $3.8 billion.

Meanwhile, Baltimore City Public Schools, the Maryland Stadium Authority, the city and state have committed to pour $1.1 billion toward improvements or reconstruction of over 20 schools building in the next decade.

For Rachel Brunson of Dr. Martin Luther King Elementary Middle School, though, the funding isn’t coming soon enough to save her school.

“The students of Baltimore City deserve 21st century buildings,” said Brunson. “They deserve structures, the same types of buildings that any other district is getting or has. Unfortunately, this is urban education.”

Maryland schools tackle funding disparities and infrastructure problems

 

BALTIMORE — Disparities in funding for education infrastructure are evident in Maryland. In Frederick, the school district was able to raise money through state and local funds to build a new $114 million high school. But 50 miles away, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary Middle School in northwest Baltimore will close in 2020, joining 75 other schools in the city that have shut down due to infrastructure issues since 2004. Baltimore has a $3 billion maintenance backlog, and the district cannot afford to maintain, renovate or reconstruct all of its schools in need.

Because of their inability to raise funds locally, schools like MLK have to look for state or federal government action. Dr. Lynette Washington, the interim chief operations officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, said she doesn’t see state funding increasing any time soon. Congress is currently considering a bill that would provide $100 billion to address school infrastructure issues across the country, particularly in low-income communities.

Latest in Environment

Senate environment committee approves NAFTA replacement deal despite climate concerns

WASHINGTON -Environmental concerns did not deter the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee from recommending that the Senate pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

The committee voted 16-4 in support of the USMCA, with mostly Republican senators touting improved trade and opportunities for the agriculture industry. The USMCA, often branded as an update or replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed the House in December 385-41.

Opposition came from a small cohort of Democrats led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.Though Whitehouse said the bill’s environmental protections were bolstered since its initial draft, he said the provisions remained an insufficient response to climate change.

“We’re now at a point where I don’t believe improvement is the measure,” Whitehouse said. “You’re either reaching a measure that will protect us or you are not.”

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, who voted in favor of the measure, conceded the USMCA did not constitute a solution to the climate crisis nor the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental protections. However, he said, the bill offered tools for more stringent enforcement of existing environmental regulations and included stricter provisions against ocean pollution and overfishing.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., called the inclusion of environmental provisions in the USMCA “revolutionary” and said it laid a template for their inclusion in future trade agreements.

But Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., issued a protracted critique of the USMCA and the committee’s handling of the bill after voting in favor of it because he said it helped labor.

Merkley said the committee should have heard from experts and called out committee chair Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., for failing to hold a comprehensive hearing or even a conversation among committee members.

“It violates the responsibility of you, Mr. Chairman, to make sure this committee has the chance to consider important environmental issues before voting on an environmental piece of legislation that has implications perhaps for a generation,” Merkley said.

Merkley cited widespread opposition to the bill by environmental groups and said the committee should have called those groups to testify. A letter sent to Congress in December and signed by Greenpeace and the National Resources DefenseCouncilurged members to vote against the USMCA.

Barrasso and fellow Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Dan Sullivan of Alaskacitedthe opportunities the bill would bring to their state’s agricultural sectors. Barrasso and Sullivan also praised provisions combating ocean pollution.

The Senate Finance Committee issued a favorable report on the bill last week. The USMCA will be considered by five other committees, including Commerce, Science and Transportation, before a full Senate vote.

Industry Buy-In to Reducing Climate Change, Increased Protests Likely in new decade, World Resource Institute head says

WASHINGTON—The new decade will bring increased youth and social media action protesting climate change, the rise of economic arguments for environmental preservation, and corporate and technological interest in sustainability, the World Resources Institute predicted Thursday.

“Unfortunately, the ‘good old days,’ where President (Barack) Obama could do a deal with (Chinese President) Xi Jinping, we don’t have that anymore” WRI President and CEO Andrew Steer said at a briefing for policymakers and environmental activists.

Instead, in the face of warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that the global climate is heading toward the “point of no return” of warming by 1.5 degrees celsius, the United States has decided to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement at the direction of President Donald Trump, Steer noted.

In addition, he said that Brexit will change the global politics of climate change; Britain has historically pulled the body toward more direct action on climate, but its exit will give more conservative Eastern European members more voting power.

But there is cause for hope, he said, predicting that social media and protests will increase in volume and effectiveness in the coming year.

“People power does matter,” remarked Steer, looking back on successful environmental protests in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Additionally, industry, a frequent bogeyman in discussions of environmental conservation, may be turning toward more sustainable practices independent of government mandates as companies start to fear the effects of climate change, he said.

“Remarkably, we now have more than 750 major companies that have signed up to science-based targets” to remove up to 4 gigatons of carbon from industrial supply chains, Steer said. The finance industry is also expected to continue its small gains in sustainability; natural disasters are becoming more and more expensive so the insurance industry has reason to scale back its support of the fossil fuel industry.

But, Steer warned, “There is a big difference between doing better and doing enough. Doing enough means we can say, with a clear conscience and a straight face, that actually what we’re doing is consistently moving towards a 1.5-degree warmth” Temperature rises beyond that are considered unsustainable, but some are predicting a hike of 3 degrees in the next 50 years.

Latest in National Security

U.S. Lessons Learned In Afghanistan: Disincentives to Tell Truth

WASHINGTON – The United States has spent $900 billion on the war in Afghanistan, $132 billion for reconstruction of the Afghan government, but much of the reconstruction money was wasted, stolen or failed to address the problems it was meant to fix, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction told a House committee Wednesday.

“The problem is there is a disincentive to tell the truth” by the military leaders, civilian leaders and Afghans, said SIGAR John F. Sopko.

Sopko outlined for the House Foreign Affairs Committee his report making recommendations to Congress and agencies on ways to improve efforts in current and future reconstruction operations.

“We need a better understanding of historical, social and legal conditions of the host nation,” Sopko said.

The inspector general also said an actionable plan for what happens directly after a declaration of peace is crucial.

U.S. troops have been stationed in Afghanistan for 19 years, the longest war in the history of the United States.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said that although U.S. troops have supported democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, countered the drug trade, promoted economic growth, and fought corruption, they have yet to successfully stabilize the Afghan government so that it could resist being overthrown or further influenced by Taliban forces.

McCaul argued the “lack of coordination, the misuse of funds and insufficient training for Afghans” are the reasons for failure.

President George W. Bush sent troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban allowed al-Qaida to operate, in response to the 9/11 attacks.

According to top military officials, the U.S. currently has about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., attributed the long war to the “lack of honest conversation.”

Last month The Washington Post published “The Afghanistan Papers,” consisting of previously unpublished notes of interviews with those who had direct involvement in the war, such as war generals, diplomats and aid workers to Afghan officials.

“The Post article laid out the facts that we [Congressmen] don’t even know,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.

Special Inspector General Sopko said one reason for Congress’ lack of information is overclassification of documents.

“A lot of the facts you need you’re not being given,” said Sopko. “Anything that has been bad news has been classified over the past few years.”

House Committee on Financial Services explores tackling domestic terrorism with finance

WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of last year’s increase in domestic extremist violence, government officials said Wednesday they need to work more closely with banks to find new ways to root out domestic terrorism.

A study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found that in 2018, “domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., a sharp increase from the 37 extremist-related murders documented in 2017.”

Speaking before the House Committee on Financial Services, Rena Miller, a specialist in financial economics at the Congressional Research Service, said greater transparency between banks and governmental agencies can make it easier to track the finances of suspicious groups and individuals.

Banks are required to report suspicious activities and cash transactions. But Jared Maples, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said they often only report physical threats that directly involve hard drives and technology, ignoring less tangible financial threats that appear on wire transfers and on paper.

Maples said tighter guidelines on what banks must report would help. He also said that getting more information from local banks, complete with “clearer articulations” about the nature and effects of suspicious activities, could enhance the training and trust of financial safety teams across the nation.

Many acts of domestic terrorism are committed by what Maples characterized as “lone wolves,” individuals not associated with groups or networks who are usually self-funded, making purchases difficult to track. The cryptocurrencies they sometimes use complicate matters further.

Mary B. McCord, director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, said Congress can better combat lone wolf attacks by reclassifying domestic terrorism as legally equivalent to foreign terrorism. This would provide more flexibility for law enforcement to surveil suspicious groups and allow for the use of specialized investigators.

“The investigators who have specialized in terrorism, particularly post-9/11, but throughout our history, are those that study terrorist groups, terrorist motivations, terrorist tactics and techniques,” McCord said.

Due to the lack of a law defining domestic terrorism, officers usually prosecute such incidents as hate crimes and illegal weapons charges. McCord said this results in “inaccurate and inadequate data about instances which could be used to develop measures to counter the threat.”

But several House committee members expressed concern about protecting the First Amendment rights of extremist groups. By classifying some extremists as domestic terrorists, law enforcement agencies could surveil them without cause.

George Selim, senior vice president of programs at the Anti-Defamation League, said that Congress should exercise oversight to make sure law enforcement agencies do not misuse any new authorities the bill would provide to go after extremist groups unjustly.

“The ADL believes very firmly in protecting the right of free speech of any person or any group in the U.S, irrespective of how abhorrent those beliefs can be,” Selim said. “But there is indeed a line which we have seen crossed in recent years where hate speech leads to hate violence and violent extremism.”

Latest in Living

The affordable housing crisis reaches new heights

The affordable housing crisis reaches new heights

Officials from the National Low Income Housing Coalition said they had surveyed Americans in five cities – Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Little Rock and Indianapolis – and heard frequent complaints about the escalating cost of housing leading Americans to scramble to find an affordable place to live.

read more

Unions testify on poor working conditions, outsourcing of low-paying jobs for airline ground workers

WASHINGTON — In its first hearing on the working conditions of airline ground workers, a House aviation subcommittee heard from workers and unions that wages are low, conditions are often unsafe and health care is inadequate.

Esteban Barrios, a worker at Miami International Airport, told the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee that he and others lift heavy bags in the Miami heat without easy access to drinking water.

“We just take painkillers and try to get through the day,” Barrios said. “They think we are machines.”

Airline grounds workers face dangerous working conditions, according to the committees’ summary documents. In August, Kendrick Hudson, 24, died of injuries on the tarmac at an airport in North Carolina after swerving his cart to avoid a stray suitcase. His union, the Communications Workers of America, said his death was preventable and part of a pattern of workplace injuries, some of them fatal, among airline ground workers.

“Why do we continue to wait until an accident happens until we act?” Barrios said. “Our lives have been impacted.”

Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., said workers’ rights are protected by laws as well as regulations from Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

But Marlene Patrick-Cooper, president of the UNITE HERE local 23 workers union, said there are gaps in OSHA standards and airline grounds workers, particularly subcontractors, face a “two-fold crisis”: low wages and inadequate access to quality healthcare.

“It tends to be a vicious circle,” Patrick-Cooper said. “It’s like a bleeding you can just not plug up. It has to be fixed.”

Patrick-Cooper said airlines have outsourced many of their catering operations to third parties, causing the industry to become dominated by two large subcontractor companies. She said airline companies’ contract terms with caterers likely leave little room to pay workers a living wage.

Airline companies shuffle their workers between subcontractors and airline subsidiaries to keep wages low, said Miami-Dade County, Florida, Commissioner Eileen Higgins. She said her county struggles to force subcontractors to comply with a living wage requirement, which is aimed at helping employees support themselves and live above the poverty line.

“At the municipal and local level, sometimes it’s very hard for us to require airline subsidiaries to ask certain airline subcontractors to comply with minimum wage standards, particularly when airports are on public property,” Higgins said.

To counter outsourcing trends of airline companies, the workers unions advocated for a law that would require contractors to provide workers with a living wage. Brian Callaci, a labor economist, said a living wage law would not allow companies to outsource just because the wage is low.

“In this country, people should be able to make a living and raise their family,” Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., said. “That’s the American way. Profits and outsourcing getting in the way of that is an issue for me.”

The Supreme Court Revisits “Bridgegate” scandal which could set a new precedent for public corruption

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in the 2013 New Jersey “Bridgegate” scandal on whether using government workers and property to punish a political enemy should be a federal crime.

Aides to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie obstructed traffic on the nation’s busiest bridge as political retaliation against then Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election bid. The aides, Bridget A. Kelly and Bill Baroni, were convicted of several counts of criminal fraud.

Kelly and Baroni changed traffic patterns on the George Washington Bridge to reduce from three to one the number of lanes reserved for vehicles accessing the bridge from Fort Lee. They also created a phony traffic study to justify the change in traffic, which resulted in excessive traffic jams in Fort Lee for three days.

The court will weigh whether Kelly’s and Baroni’s use of public property, such as employee labor and traffic lanes, to punish a political opponent is fraud. Their traffic study required public engineers to work for a collective 36 hours, amounting to $1,828 in labor costs. Another $3,696 were spent in additional wages for tollbooth employees.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that in masking their scheme to punish Fort Lee’s mayor, the pair had misused public property, which constitutes fraud.

During the Supreme Court hearing, Justice Samuel Alito appeared to agree with the appeals court, arguing that money lost during the fraudulent traffic study might indeed constitute as a loss of state property.

“So property—money is property. And money was lost,” said Justice Alito.

But attorneys for Kelly and Baroni argued they used their authority to make a “regulatory decision” that inevitably involved the use of public property. Because their main objective was political, their actions could not constitute fraud since the misuse of government property was merely a byproduct of their main goal, the lawyers said.

They also argued that the criminal conviction of officials who misuse government property for political motives is a drastic overstep of federal criminal jurisdiction. They argue that the appeals court decision if upheld, would allow any federal, state or local official to be imprisoned for concealing their true political motives when using public property.

“Taken seriously, it would allow any federal, state, or local official to be indicted on nothing more than the ubiquitous allegation that she lied in claiming to act in the public interest,” said Kelly’s attorney.

THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL State of the Union Address

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

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.”

TRUMP STRIKES CHORD WITH WOMEN, FALLS FLAT ON BIPARTISAN BORDER WALL PITCH

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

“Sleep.”

– 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.”

 

Youth groups rejoice in Obama’s State of the Union

Young people watch Obama's speech at a bar near Capitol Hill. Photo by Will Hicks/MNS

Young people watch Obama’s speech at a bar near Capitol Hill. Photo by Will Hicks/MNS

WASHINGTON–The same group that provided a broad base of support for Barack Obama in in the last two presidential elections had reason to celebrate during the State of the Union address Tuesday night. The president offered his commitment to initiatives aimed at young Americans, including free community college, higher wages and a free and open Internet.

The community college plan, which Obama unveiled on Jan, 8, would cover tuition for qualifying community college programs as long as students maintain a 2.5 GPA and states agree to participate in a funding plan.

“I think that is a very practical solution, certainly very relevant for young people today,” said Atima Omara, president of the Young Democrats of America organization. “It’s great that he is investing in a program like that, when, as he mentioned, two in three jobs require some form of higher education.”

Evan Feinberg, president of the non-profit millennial advocacy organization, Generation Opportunity, opposes Obama’s community college plan, saying the president is “pandering to younger voters, offering free goodies like we can be bought off.”

Another focus of Obama’s speech: policy changes in the workforce, including better child care, guaranteed sick leave, equal pay for women workers for equal work, and an increase in the minimum wage.

Omara cited the importance of those programs to young families.

“A lot of millennials right now are delaying starting a family, buying a home because they are worried about moving forward economically,” she said.

Obama touched on net neutrality, an important issue for a generation that has grown up with Internet.

Free and open Internet is “completely essential for millennials,” said Johanna Berkson, president of OurTime.org, a national non-profit organization that says it represents the interests of young Americans.

According to Harvard University’s Institute of Politics survey last year 18-29 year olds are distrustful of the government, concerned with inequality in America, and not motivated to go the polls on election days.

On Tuesday night, Obama called for “a better politics …where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values … rather than ‘gotcha’ moments, or trivial gaffes.”

Obama’s authenticity will resonate with young voters, said Berkson.

“They think the government is on autopilot,” said Berkson.

Berkson said the president’s speech – his second to last State of the Union message — “ gave young Americans a reason to believe in our government again.”

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Medill Today // January 21, 2020

 

 

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