Latest in Political News

Get up-to-date political news from our reporters

Senators call for enhanced VA caregiver programs to support aging veterans

WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- On the eve of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Senate committees on aging and veterans' affairs...

‘Trapped in hell’: Battle over solitary confinement brews as Michigan reduces use

The cell was cold and stark. Gray concrete walls enclosed the small area, leaving little room to move. A mattress lay on...

PHOTOS: Ukrainian Cultural Forces perform in front of the White House to thank the US

WASHINGTON -- In the face of the recent Russian offensive on Kharkiv, five professional Ukrainian musicians, now...

House GOP criticizes Biden’s labor policies amid rising union support

WASHINGTON -- House representatives clashed Wednesday over the fairness of union organization, with the Republican majority...

U.S. commission discusses urgent military aid for Ukraine amid Russian recent offensive

WASHINGTON -- As Russian forces advance their new offensive in the Kharkiv region, the United States Commission on Security...

Challenges to press freedom: Journalists under fire for protecting source confidentiality

WASHINGTON—On Thursday, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and others urged the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution and Limited Government to protect the fundamental liberties of journalists and their sources.

Advocates of a federal shield law argue that it would protect journalists from being coerced into revealing their sources, thus preserving press freedom and encouraging investigative reporting. During opening statements, Rep. Roy stated that the federal government has been criticized for infringing press freedom. This was recently exemplified by former senior investigative journalist Catherine Herridge, who was held in contempt in February for refusing to reveal a confidential source on a sensitive national security investigation. This has raised concerns about the prospect of a federal shield law. CBS News fired Herridge and seized her possessions, including source materials. The House Judiciary Committee passed the Protect Reports from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS Act), emphasizing the need to protect journalists and their sources from such attacks.

“Unfortunately, despite the House repeatedly and with strong bipartisan support passing some form of federal reporter’s shield legislation, the Senate has yet to act,” said fellow committee member Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa.

In her hearing testimony, Catherine Herridge emphasized the need for the bipartisan PRESS Act to end legal peril for journalists and provide protections for all working journalists in the United States. The law would prohibit litigants and federal authorities from accessing a reporter’s notes unless there is an impending threat of violence, such as terrorism.

According to Catherine Herridge, the First Amendment protects the press because an informed electorate is at the foundation of our democracy. She shared her experience litigating in court for two years and facing potential fines of $800 per day to protect her reporting sources.

“I fear investigative journalism is dead,” said Herridge. “I hope that I am the last journalist to spend two years in the federal courts fighting to protect my confidential sources.”

Protesters sat in the audience, demanding protection for journalists in GAZA during a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on 4/11/2024. The Capitol Police later escorted them out. (Laeba Hafiz / MEDILL NEWS SERVICE)

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said freedom of speech is crucial for a free society. A free press is essential for informed decision-making and holding the government accountable. According to McClintock, CBS has the right to shape its coverage, but government pressures can lead to biased coverage. These penalties endanger press freedom and the right to source confidentiality, which would impact the democratic process. Rep. McClintock emphasized that the Press Act is essential to prevent these incidents and shield journalists from unwarranted government pressure.

All witnesses testified to the need to defend journalists’ rights and freedom of the press. They stressed the necessity of such laws. Witnesses also emphasized the importance of investigative journalism in holding the powerful accountable and the difficulties in preserving press freedom in the face of legal uncertainty and political pressure.

“The press is America’s watchdog, responsible for serving the public interest by working to cover and investigate government and corporate abuse, overreach, and malfeasance,” said Mary Cavallaro, Chief Broadcast Officer, SAG-AFTRA. “Any form of government control over journalists could chill the instinct of potential sources to come forward and tell their stories to journalists, depriving the American people of critical information and the ability to hold those in power publicly accountable.”

Women veterans’ healthcare under spotlight: Senate Committee reviews VA programs

WASHINGTON — Representatives on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Wednesday reviewed the effectiveness of Department of Veterans Affairs programs to ensure equity for women veterans.

According to Erica Scavella, Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Services at the Department, the number of women veterans using veteran services has tripled since 2001 and now exceeds 625,000. However, as the Office of Inspector General reported, the growing number of veterans poses challenges to VA healthcare in ensuring access to women’s primary care providers and gender-specific care in their facilities and the community.

“We have confirmed that a facility for women’s veterans’ healthcare program was under-resourced and largely overlooked,” said Deputy Assistant Inspector General Jennifer Baptiste.

Yet, programs are not running at full capacity. According to the Office of Women’s Health, only 40 to 45 percent of eligible women veterans use Veterans health care benefits.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., stressed the need for a new VA healthcare culture that welcomes women veterans and makes them feel like they belong.

“It’s long overdue that we update the belief that when a woman seeks care at the VA, it’s because her husband is a veteran,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., highlighted another area for improvement – military sexual trauma (MST) survivors’ support.

Scavella reported approximately 30 percent of women veterans have experienced MST, and the number might be underreported. Still, data from the Office of Inspector General indicates that MST claims need to be processed with a higher accuracy rate and in a timely manner.

“Having a claim approved is a powerful healing tool. It’s the equivalent of a guilty verdict in court,” said veteran witness Alissa Engel. “We must enact the necessary changes to create an impeccable trauma-informed claims processing procedure.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., raised another concern, quoting from the report on women veterans mental wellness by the Disabled American Veterans: in 2021, the suicide rate for women veterans increased by 24 percent, and more than half of the deaths for women veterans are caused by self-inflicted firearm injuries.

The lethal means safety campaigns by the VA are not enough to save the lives of women veterans, said Naomi Mathis, Assistant National Legislative Director at Disabled American Veterans. She stressed that the VA failed to persuade some of the veterans why they needed to keep their firearms safely stored.

Other recommendations presented to the VA by the nonprofit representatives were enhanced accessibility to the healthcare facilities, increased budgeting for direct care workers, and greater outreach to the veterans during the post-deployment transition period.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, summed up the committee hearing by reiterating that the VA “cares deeply about the veterans.” He suggested that improved communication between governmental and non-governmental organizations and shared experiences will lead to effective solutions.

Small businesses waiting for Congress to take tax relief action

WASHINGTON — Key provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) are set to expire after the end of 2025, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Small Business said in a Wednesday hearing. He added that the future of American small business is uncertain as they wait for Senate action to pass the bipartisan bill which was proposed in January.

Congress passed the TCJA in 2017. According to Williams, it included the most significant changes in the tax code in decades. He said those changes helped business revenue go up and generated the highest single year increase in government revenue since 1977. The TCJA also contributed to improving household finances, with median household income rising by $5,000 in the two years post-enactment.

Several of its provisions will automatically expire if Congress does not act to extend or amend them after a certain period of time.

Williams said this will potentially hinder business operations as America’s job creators continue to face harsh economic hardships which have significantly impacted the nation’s small businesses.

“We must ensure that the tax code works for business owners, not against them,” he said.

Raymond Huff, a small business owner, said that he is concerned with the potential expiration of tax provision 199A.

“Many small businesses, including mine, need the 199A tax provision to stick around so we can get healthy again,” he said.

He added that the prospect of losing the benefits of this tax law is troubling.

“If my business is faced with a significant tax increase at the end of next year, it will set my business back in a way I can’t afford, or plan for a 20% or higher increase which will require me to slow or cancel my store openings and hiring plans in the future,” he said.

Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fla., said the provisions of this bill have a track record of increasing wages, providing more job opportunities and helping American businesses become more competitive, more productive, and more innovative.

He added that this in turn generates a tremendous economic boom in communities.

“I believe the tax relief for American families and workers will provide many relief opportunities,” he said.

Rep. Morgan McGarvey, D-Ky., said small businesses in the tax code must be simple, fair and must promote job creation in America. He added that America needs a tax code that is accessible to every American and everyone needs to pay their fair share.

“It is not viable and fair that the top 10% earners are oftentimes taxed at far less than teachers, firefighters, and people below,” he said.

Huff added that without the protection of tax provision 199A, larger competitors would gain an unfair advantage, as they would benefit from a better effective tax rate.

“This imbalance in the marketplace goes against the principles of fair competition and undermines the role of small businesses as the backbone of the U.S. economy,” he said.

Walter Rowen, president of Susquehanna Glass Company in Columbia, Pennsylvania and co-chair of America Small Business Future, said the failure to support small business growth represents a missed opportunity to create jobs, raise wages, and empower entrepreneurs to contribute to the vitality of their communities.

He said extending the TCGA provisions beyond 2025 would lock in a tax system that does not invest in small business growth or resilience.

“We need to take this opportunity to create and pass tax reform that supports small business success, closes loopholes and ensures everybody pays the same or fair tax rates,” he said.

Huff said members of Congress need to recognize the urgency of this pending tax increase and take action to allow for proper business planning.

“The business community needs certainty, especially small businesses like mine. Waiting to resolve this issue would certainly not be as beneficial as extending and making those tax provisions permanent now,” he said.

Video: Black farmers weary as equity bill stalls in Congress

RUCKERSVILLE, Va. — Ralph Morton is a third-generation farmer in Virginia’s Greene County. His family are the only Black farmers in the area. 

Both Morton’s father and grandfather experienced discrimination while trying to secure loans from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, an experience that Black farmers across the country still deal with. 

Last year, 27 percent of complaints filed against the USDA were because of race-based discrimination against Black and African American farmers. 

In 2023, Congress introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act, a legislation meant to include equity and social justice elements in the new Farm Bill. Partisan debates have stalled the bill.

What the video report here:

Protestors gather outside Supreme Court during abortion pill oral arguments

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court signaled it may reject a challenge to the Federal Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone during oral arguments Tuesday. If the court does so, it would preserve access to the abortion pill. Supporters and opponents of the abortion pill expressed their opinions outside the building.

Shaina Goodman, the director for reproductive health and rights at the National Partnership for Women & Families, said that it would be devastating if the Supreme Court overturned or reversed the FDA’s approval of mifepristone; it would have far-reaching consequences for women’s access to reproductive health. The majority of people in the United States opt for pharmaceutical abortion as opposed to surgical abortion, which is true even for those who reside in states where surgical abortion is legally protected. This has repercussions for women throughout the country when it comes to abortion treatment options.

“This is something that people should be entitled to decide for themselves in their own lives, and it is not the business of policymakers or judges to be telling people that they can’t access abortion or to undermine their bodily integrity and autonomy,” said Goodman.

Medication abortion has increased significantly in the U.S. healthcare system, from 53% of all abortions in 2020 to 63% by 2023. According to new data from the Guttmacher Institute’s Monthly Abortion Provision Study, about 642,700 women underwent medication abortions under medical supervision in the first year following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Protesters display a Pro-Roe banner on March 26, 2024 outside the Supreme Court. (Laeba Hafiz/MEDILL NEWS SERVICE)

Shaohannah Faith, an anti-abortion supporter, said that no child deserves to die in the womb because of their parents’ behavior. “The pro-life movement is a campaign that advocates for innocent human life in the womb; we’re not after your sex lives” said Faith.

Anti-abortion protestor Shaohannah Faith holds up a sign outside of the Supreme Court on March 26, 2024. (Laeba Hafiz/MEDILL NEWS SERVICE)

Destiny Lopez, acting Co-CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, was in the crowd protesting the challenge to the FDA. She said the case is based on so-called junk science. “The outcome remains uncertain, but historically, conservative justices have disregarded scientific evidence. Our stance is clear: full access to Mifepristone aligns with the facts and science,” said Lopez.

She continued, “Fourteen states in the country have banned abortions. Mifepristone access is thus an essential component of abortion care in this nation.”

Destiny Lopez, Co-CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, joins other advocates of medication abortion options in front of the Supreme Court on March 26, 2024. (Laeba Hafiz/MEDILL NEWS SERVICE)

Another protestor, Sharon, traveled from West Virginia. She said in rural areas of America, access to birth control is difficult, where abusive relationships can trap women. She explained this can lead women to remain in situations that involve domestic violence, especially when it comes to childcare responsibilities. This year, West Virginia enacted a law making it illegal to beat a spouse.

“Now, do you think that those women who don’t have access to birth control to wait for their men to beat them have fair and equal access to justice in this country? No, they do not,” said Sharon.

Sharon, a pro-abortion protestor, holds a sign in front of the Supreme Court on March 26, 2024. (Laeba Hafiz/MEDILL NEWS SERVICE)


View more photos from the March 26, 2024 protest outside of the Supreme Court building:


VIDEO: A conversation with Rep. Jan Schakowsky

WASHINGTON – I sat down with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) after President Biden’s State of the Union address. She talked to me about issues important to voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election, including reproductive rights and accessible health care, and the stakes of the Democratic National Convention this August.

“Democrats absolutely need to win this election,” she said. “This is the most important election – the most significant election – in a lifetime.”



PRODUCED by Simone Garber.

CAMERA by Charlotte Ehrlich and Matthew Orr.

Abortions in South Carolina are banned after six weeks of pregnancy. Local nonprofits are working to help patients anyway

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Between a real estate attorney’s office and a county magistrate building sits one of South Carolina’s three abortion clinics. Pink and white signs beckon patients, discreetly placed so as not to invite unwanted attention. 

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, women and advocates in the state of South Carolina have struggled to safeguard access to reproductive health care, including abortions. Existing policies tend to penalize, rather than uplift, patients seeking care and those who help them. But the people who work on the front lines don’t want to leave. Their work is a crucial part of who they are, they say.

South Carolina’s maternal mortality rate is the eighth-highest in the nation, according to the South Carolina Law Review. Vicki Ringer, the director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said she is critical of lawmakers focusing on the wrong victims of an under-resourced health care system.

“Women have died and will continue to die,” she said. “This should require some action on behalf of our legislature – whether that’s in research, expanding Medicaid or providing more rural health care. All of those things would make sense, but the legislature does not do any of those things.”

In August 2023, the state Supreme Court upheld a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, a similar law that had been struck down just eight months before. After the court’s only female justice retired, it reversed this protection, forcing providers to turn away patients at a stage before many of them even know they are pregnant.

While abortion takes center stage as a national political talking point, so many other facets of reproductive care remain difficult to access throughout the country, including contraception, in vitro fertilization and sex education in elementary schools.

“Our reproductive health care restrictions are some of the most restrictive in the nation,” said Kelli Parker, the director of communications and marketing for the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN). “Most South Carolinians support access to reproductive health care. But it’s continually being limited through our legislators that have very extreme ideas about what reproductive health care actually is.”

The Planned Parenthood Health Center in Columbia is one of only three abortion clinics in the state of South Carolina. (Simone Garber/MNS)

It never occurred to Parker that her 11-year-old daughter wouldn’t have the same right to bodily autonomy as she once did. Having grown up in New York, Parker’s access to health care in Charleston, S.C. over the past five years has been vastly different from the medical privacy she’s used to.

“I think people who live outside of the South really take for granted the amount of freedom you have,” she said.

Parker’s agency, based in Columbia, works to expand access to health care, education and economic opportunities for women, girls and gender-expansive people throughout the state. Since 2017, WREN has advised patients seeking reproductive services in a state that was one of the first to impose near-total abortion bans after Roe’s reversal.

Recent policing of gender-affirming care comes from male lawmakers’ need for “control,” Parker said.

“It’s important to remember that abortion bans and restrictions don’t do anything to protect anyone’s health or safety – they’re only punishment,” she said. “Why would you want to elect someone who’s out to punish you?”

Ina Seethaler is the director of college outreach at the Palmetto State Abortion Fund, a volunteer-run organization working to offset the financial barriers to reproductive justice in South Carolina. The fund subsidizes abortion procedures and logistical costs, including transportation and lodging for out-of-state appointments. 

Seethaler called South Carolina a “reproductive health care desert,” as local physicians often weigh high-stakes decisions that could leave them incarcerated.

According to the S.C. Office for Healthcare Workforce, 14 out of the state’s 46 counties do not have a practicing OB-GYN. That translates to a ratio of 0.43  for every 1,000 women of reproductive age, according to a South Carolina Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare research brief.

“Folks don’t want to move here,” Seethaler said. “They don’t want to practice here. It’s becoming, frankly, kind of dangerous for them to work here. But things are just going to get worse again at the expense of the people in South Carolina.”

And it’s not just a lack of trained professionals that’s driving the reproductive health care shortage. For patients in desperate situations facing few options and little reliable information, many turn to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) for answers. These institutions, which reproductive justice advocates say impart misinformation to pregnant people rather than support, generated nearly $1.4 billion in revenue in the 2022 fiscal year and continue to increase in scope and size nationwide.

As a result of CPC expansion, Seethaler said, many reproductive justice organizations are finding it difficult to persuade patients of their legitimacy.

“That overlap is, unfortunately, really problematic,” she said.

The 35 CPCs in South Carolina well outnumber the abortion clinics in the state. In addition to Columbia, two other Planned Parenthood Health Centers are located in Charleston and Greenville, all at least 100 miles away from one another. 

Ringer’s lobbying efforts at the Columbia State House are constantly challenged at the clinic sites, where protesters will “literally drag patients into vans” stockpiled with ultrasounds.

“All of these folks exist only to harass patients,” she said. “They don’t provide any real services. It’s just dogma they’re imposing on people that they’re trying to stop from having an abortion.”

These days, the stakes of health care suppression are extending to other reproductive issues. Last month, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos would be considered “children” under state law, a mandate that could jeopardize the practice of IVF.

While Alabama has since passed a law to protect IVF treatments, legal experts note that language in other states related to so-called fetal personhood leave many open questions about liability. 

“Alabama’s ruling is extremely alarming,” Elisabeth Smith, director of state policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, wrote in a statement. “This is part of the chaos we knew would ensue if Roe v. Wade was overturned. With politicians at the helm instead of doctors, reproductive health care is in crisis.”

Navigating an increasingly polarized workplace and industry, Ringer underscored her personal motivation for continuing this line of work.

“I know that there are others still in this fight, but I can’t just throw up my hands,” she said. “Everybody deserves the right to decide if, when and how to become parents. Pregnant women, most of all, deserve their own freedom to make a decision.”

Published in conjunction with The Fulcrum Logo

Listen: Exploring the media’s role in today’s polarized politics

WASHINGTON – As digital platforms redefine news consumption habits, several outlets face challenges in maintaining trust from partisan audiences. The internet and social media have intensified sensationalism and polarization. 

With Super Tuesday results setting the stage for a contentious rematch, the podcast analyzes the role of the media in influencing voter decisions and meeting polarized audiences. As Americans navigate an increasingly polarized media landscape, the choices they make have profound implications for the democratic process.

Here’s a look at the Medill on the Hill reporters’ analysis that seeks to unravel the complex dynamics between media, politics and polarization throughout the winter of 2024. 

Listen here:

Video: Voters apathetic about the 2024 presidential election

Alexandria, Va. — The 2024 presidential election is the first presidential rematch since 1956. 

Based on recent polling, few voters are excited about this. They describe feeling unmotivated to strongly support either President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump

Marina Clark, who formerly served in the Air Force, voted on Super Tuesday in her home city of Alexandria, Va. She described that neither candidate is particularly compelling. 

“It’s been harder to align myself with the parties because it feels like I need to side with an extreme,” Clark said. 

Others like Tran Kim-Senior staunchly supported the Democratic party in the past but are now less enthusiastic.

“I was more energized during the Obama years, during that election. I think that was a very exciting cycle for everyone regardless of how you voted,” Kim-Senior said. “As a Democratic voter, I didn’t feel like there was much choice.” 

Polling from the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School indicated that fewer young Americans are planning on voting in November. The decline in enthusiasm and potential turnout causes low morale surrounding this presidential cycle. 

Watch the video story here:

Martin O’Malley promises to prioritize customer service amidst staff challenges at the Social Security Administration

WASHINGTON —  Martin O’Malley, Social Security Administration Commissioner, stated at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing on Wednesday that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has made it a priority to support American citizens in navigating the complex social security system, as part of his commitment to improving customer service within the agency.

“We owe it to every American to improve the customer service and support provided by Social Security, so people can get answers to their questions and get their benefit applications decided in a timely manner,” he said.

The Social Security Administration estimates it will serve over 68 million Americans this year. The majority of beneficiaries will be retired Americans and their families, said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) during a hearing on Wednesday conducted by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

According to Sen. Casey, experts estimate that without Social Security benefits, 4 in 10 older Americans would have incomes below the poverty line.

“We must protect and strengthen Social Security, so that Americans of every generation can continue to access this essential lifeline,” he said.

Stressing the role of social security as a pillar of social and economic justice in the U.S., O’Malley has promised to steer SSA in the direction of better responsiveness and accessibility to beneficiaries in the future.

O’Malley added that despite the monumental task ahead, SSA faces the challenge of serving an ever-expanding pool of beneficiaries with diminishing staffing resources.

Data from SSA indicates that by the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, the agency anticipates serving over 7 million more beneficiaries; it is doing so with approximately seven thousand fewer full-time permanent staff compared to FY 2015, a decrease of nine and a half percent.

“We want to work with Congress to sustain the funding increases in the President’s FY 2025 budget and beyond, to enable SSA to improve service levels and reduce wait times,” O’Malley said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Braun, (R-Ind.), said it’s not a funding issue with the President’s budget, but staffing efficiencies and training that need to be addressed.

“We can’t fix a customer service crisis by throwing more money at it and expecting different results,” he said.

Sen. Braun added that when inflation rises, it’s harder for the government to hire and retain employees.

“If we don’t get our fiscal house in order, we won’t keep our promise to millions of beneficiaries and future generations. Our debt is out of control. Like every agency, Social Security needs to find efficiencies,” he said.

Sen. Casey stated that it is unfortunate that support for the Social Security Administration is significantly decreasing and that demand for Social Security is rising along with the aging population.

“Due to the administration’s severe underfunding, the Social Security Administration has experienced significant challenges, including longer wait times for service and approval of disability benefits as well as overpayments and underpayments,” he said.

He added that by the end of the fiscal year 2022, the Social Security Administration workforce was also under tremendous pressure.

O’Malley said due to the complexities of the overpayment problem and the repercussions involved, the agency is enacting four changes:

First, starting next Monday, March 25, the agency will no longer take adverse action if a beneficiary fails to respond to the agency’s demand for repayment. Second, beneficiaries will not will not have to prove they didn’t cause an overpayment. Third, social security beneficiaries will be able to give a verbal summary of their income instead of written. Fourth, overpaid beneficiaries who believe they are not at fault for causing an overpayment and do not have the ability to repay can file a waiver of repayment.

Sen. Casey stated that achieving those objectives and resolving current issues will be challenging in the absence of sufficient financing and legislative changes.

“I will continue to push for robust funding for SSA which will support investments in technology, hiring, and retention,” he said.

Lawmakers and other advocates step up pushback over battle over DEI

WASHINGTON  — As diversity, equity and inclusion continues to come under fire on the state level, lawmakers and officials in Washington are trying to step into the issue on the federal level. 

The Congressional Black Caucus last week implored the Department of Justice to investigate whether it is lawful for states to “dismantle” diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in higher education. 

“We were dismayed and extremely disappointed to see what’s happening,” said Vincent Evans, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We find it unacceptable.”

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, group members said they were “concerned by the strident actions taken by states like Florida, Alabama, Texas, and others.”

In a statement to Medill News Service on Thursday, Rep. Steven Horsford (R-Nev.), the chair of the caucus, said he was deeply concerned about the efforts conservatives are taking to dismantle DEI programs.

 “The push to end diversity programs on college campuses are being waged by the same forces that fought to end women’s reproductive choice and affirmative action through the courts,” Horsford said. “Now, these forces want to end programs that create economic opportunity, provide an even playing field, and improve performance in the public and private sector.”

The extra attention being placed on college campuses as part of DEI is because many states began with K-12 and are now moving on to colleges and universities. 

“It has become easier… for some conservatives to view higher education, not as something that needs to be reformed, that needs more intellectual diversity,” Jeremy Young, Freedom to Learn program director for Pen America, an organization dedicated to protecting free expression, said in an interview. “But instead as just a power base for Democrats that needs to be destroyed.”

White voters with no college degree made up 54% of Republican voters in 2022 as opposed to 27% of Democratic voters, according to a July 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center. 

Earlier this month, the University of Florida announced that it eliminated positions and contracts centered around DEI and closed its Office of the Chief Diversity Officer to comply with a law passed by the Florida government last year. The measure says that state universities cannot spend any public funds that “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion as defined in this regulation.” 

The $5 million previously set aside to the roles will be redistributed to a faculty recruitment fund, according to a memo by the university. 

The caucus letter last week said in part that the elimination of DEI at the University of Florida would hurt “an already low percentage of Black students at 5% of the student body, and even lower percentage of Black faculty at 4.5%.”

“We’ve got to speak truth to power to ensure that we are protecting an environment that, for decades now, has worked to open up their doors for students of all opportunities, backgrounds and colors,” Evans said.

The caucus requested that the Department of Justice “reviews the action of these states to assess their legality, especially as it related to the need for a safe, learning environment for students.”

It’s unclear whether the Justice Department under the Biden administration will take action. The DOJ confirmed receipt of the letter, but declined further comment. 

Florida is not the only state targeting DEI. Alabama’s House last week passed a law in “prohibiting certain public entities from maintaining diversity, equity, and inclusion offices and from sponsoring diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

The bill is now waiting for a vote in the Alabama Senate. 

At least 81 bills across 28 states objecting to DEI have been introduced since 2023, according to tracking by the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Eight of those bills have become law. Each has varying degrees of intensity when it comes to limiting DEI within the state. 

For months, GOP members on Capitol HIll have stepped up their attacks on DEI. 

Last week, the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing intended to spotlight DEI across college campuses

“DEI bureaucrats are hired not only to control conversations but also to stifle free speech and open discourse by asserting leverage on every aspect of university management,” argued Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development. 

Owens claimed that it is “divisive.” Opponents of DEI believe that it actually represents a lack of political freedom and makes students be at odds with one another rather than finding common ground. And last month, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), in an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner, called on Congress to take steps “to ensure federal dollars go toward improving learning, not promoting divisive ideologies.”

Jay Greene, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, testified at the hearing that there is a lack of evidence to support the idea that DEI improves the climate of college campuses.

Some advocates are also dismayed that efforts to dismantle DEI have been caught up in the crossfire of attacking the rise of antisemitism, especially after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas. 

During a contentious congressional hearing last year, Claudine Gay, then the president of Harvard, faced backlash for how the university responded to antisemitic attacks on the campus. Gay later resigned after  plagiarism accusations and harsh criticisms over her testimony. 

Throughout the hearing, a heavy emphasis was placed on how DEI could be considered exclusionary for those who are not a part of marginalized groups. 

However, Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) warned at the House hearing last week against weaponizing antisemitism as a “vehicle to push an extreme political agenda that is determined to erase any mention of the words diversity or equity on campus.”

Opponents of DEI argue that professors and students feel as though they cannot speak up without being blacklisted by their classmates. 

However, the vagueness of the anti-DEI legislation makes it so professors are unsure of what they can discuss in a classroom without fear of being reported. 

“The effect of these laws is to make students and faculty feel not only unwelcome on campuses, but also afraid,” Young argued. 

As a result of the legislation passed in Florida, the University of North Florida started to phase out the LGBTQ+, Intercultural, Interfaith and Women’s Center at the beginning of January. 

The new laws do not just concern race and gender equity, but also religious liberties, according to Young.  

“When they wrote and approved the First Amendment, they were not losing sleep over what an administrator might do on college campuses. They were losing sleep over the government telling people what they can and cannot say,” Young said. 

Supreme Court debates legitimacy of ATF’s ruling on bump stocks, dissecting definition of a law established during Prohibition

WASHINGTON –  The Supreme Court wrestled with how to interpret a 1934 statute during oral arguments on Feb. 28 in a case to determine whether bump stocks, used in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, should be classified as machine guns. 

The justices wrangled with the National Firearms Act’s ambiguous definition of “machine gun” during Garland v. Cargill

“That’s the language we’re stuck with,” lamented Justice Brett Kavanaugh, acknowledging the act was originally passed as a direct response to gang violence during the Prohibition era. 

Bump stocks are defined by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as “devices that allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger.” The two sides diverged in their definition of trigger.

A bump stock harnesses the recoil energy from the initial trigger of a firearm, allowing it to continuously shoot without active intervention after the first shot.

In 2002, the ATF deliberated over a particular bump stock known as the “Akins Accelerator.” The ATF determined that under the 1934 statute, the bureau could not regulate the Atkins Accelerator because it required repeated pulls of the trigger to fire multiple shots. 

However, in 2006, the ATF revisited its ruling and determined that bump stocks that the Atkins Accelerator were machine guns. 

Since then, many different bump stocks have emerged, leading to several ATF rulings between 2008 and 2017 that many did not qualify as machine guns. 

After the Las Vegas music festival shooting that killed 60 people, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the ATF under the Trump administration redefined bump stocks as machine guns. 

The decision exposed bump stock owners to criminal liability if they did not destroy or turn in the devices by March 26, 2019.

Michael Cargill, the owner of Central Texas Gun Works, challenged the ruling when it went into effect in 2019. The federal district court sided with the ATF, contending that the ruling abides by the best interpretation of the statute. 

“The case is about whether or not the ATF have the authority to promulgate this rule, not whether or not it is constitutional under the Second Amendment to regulate bump stock,” Kelly Roskam, director of law and policy at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said in an interview with Medill News Service. 

“Those weapons do exactly what Congress meant to prohibit when it enacted the prohibition on machine guns,” attorney Brian Fletcher argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of Attorney General Merrick Garland, who represents the government. 

Fletcher maintained that it would be “irresponsible” for the ATF to overlook their previous judgment that bump stocks were not machine guns in light of the Las Vegas shooting. 

Cargill’s argument rested on the movement of the trigger back and forth between shots and the human intervention required to keep shooting. In contrast, Garland’s position hinged on the technicality that the shooter is no longer actively controlling the trigger after the first shot and thus is initiating a continuous cycle of fire. 

The U.S. Appeals Court for the Fifth Circuit sided with Garland, judging that Congress willfully excluded trigger finger movement when constructing their statute. Cargill soon after appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. 

“The trigger is the device that initiates the firing of the weapon. A bump stock does not change the trigger in any way,” Jonathan Mitchell, attorney for Cargill, said during oral arguments.  

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson doggedly questioned Mitchell, homing in on the intent of Congress. 

“Why would Congress want to prohibit certain things based on whether the trigger is moving as opposed to certain things that can achieve this, you know, lethal kind of spray of bullets?” asked Jackson. 

Both Jackson and Justice Elena Kagan maintained that though the mechanisms may differ, a semi-automatic equipped with a bump stock and a typical machine gun have the same capability.

“At some point, you have to apply a little bit of common sense to the way you read a statute and understand that what this statute comprehends is a weapon that fires a multitude of shots with a single human action,” said Kagan.

Mitchell, however, continued to insist upon a difference between the function of bump stocks and that of machine guns. 

“It has a very high rate of fire, but it’s not automatically fired,” replied Mitchell.

If the court rules in favor of Garland, the ban on the ownership and transfer of bump stocks will remain in effect.

If the justices side with Cargill, Americans will be able to possess and purchase bump stocks unless Congress or state legislative bodies enacts new laws. 

“The ATF doesn’t have the power to make something a crime that wasn’t a crime before. It’s not a crime to violate the rule,” said Fletcher. “It has been and always will be a crime to violate the statute.”



Medill Today | March 14, 2024