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Bloomberg Backs Federal Permits for Gun Owners

Michael Bloomberg has long championed gun control policies, both as a private citizen and as mayor of New York. Now that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, he has unveiled a sweeping package of proposals that would enact a variety of new restrictions on gun purchases and ownership.

 

These are a few of the initiatives being proposed by Bloomberg:

  • Mandate a federal license prior to any individual purchasing a gun
  • Require every gun purchase complete a background check
  • Enact a federal “red flag” law that allows police to seize guns from individuals who are suspected of being a threat
  • Prohibit individuals from publishing plans for 3-D guns online
  • Raise the federal age to purchase guns to 21
  • Ban “assault weapons”
  • Enact a law that sets federal rules on how individuals store their guns
  • Increase funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as well as funding for gun violence research
  • Mandate a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases
  • Require gun owners to report if their guns are lost or stolen within 3 days
  • Repeal the federal law that restricts lawsuits against gun manufacturers

 

Many of these proposals are also backed by other candidates running for the Democratic nomination. However, Bloomberg has a long history of gun control advocacy. He has donated significant sums of money to organizations and candidates who has pushed this issue, and he’s making it a centerpiece of his campaign.

 

According to Bloomberg, these new federal restrictions are necessary to stem the tide of gun violence. He sees them as a way to reduce gun deaths and make our communities safer. Opponents, however, say that they will only infringe upon the rights of lawful gun owners. They also argue that many of these ideas infringe upon the Second Amendment.

 

Do you support requiring a federal license for someone who wants to purchase a gun? Should there be a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases?

States Ask Supreme Court to Resume Federal Executions

A federal court order has put federal executions on hold. Now, fourteen states and the Trump Administration are urging the Supreme Court to lift this court order and allow four executions to proceed.

 

Last month, a federal judge temporarily stopped federal executions from occurring in order to let a legal challenge to lethal injection procedures be resolved. There has been ongoing controversy over the types of drugs used for lethal injections. Some states have had to switch their procedures in response to court cases.

 

Attorney General William Barr recently announced that the federal government would use a new drug for its executions. Inmates who had been sentenced to death said this violated the law. A federal judge has stopped executions in order to let the court battle over this legal question play out. This week, another federal court affirmed that order.

 

The Trump Administration wants to proceed with four executions. However, lawyers are arguing that federal law does not allow the Attorney General to mandate a uniform execution procedure. Instead, they say, the law requires that federal executions must follow the rules of the states in which they occur.

 

The states that filed the Supreme Court brief want the high court to intervene and allow executions to resume. They note that some of the states in which these executions were to occur follow the federal protocol. They also argue that they have an interest in seeing capital punishment sentences carried out.

 

The states who filed the brief are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

 

It is unclear if the Supreme Court will take up this case and issue a definitive answer.

 

Do you support resuming federal executions?

Trump Administration Tightens Food Stamp Work Requirement

This week, Department of Agriculture officials announced a rule change that will make it more difficult for states to waive work requirements for able-bodied individuals on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

 

Under current law, food stamp recipients who are between 18 and 49 and who do not have a disability or dependents must work or be in work training programs for 20 hours a week. However, states have broad leeway to waive this requirement. The Trump Administration wants to reduce the criteria states can use to do this.

 

Officials justify this move as a way to spur food stamp recipients to find jobs if they are able to work. These officials point out that it does not affect people who are caring for children, the elderly, or those who have a disability. They argue that in today’s good economy, there are plenty of jobs for people who want them.

 

Opponents counter that this regulation will end vital food assistance to needy Americans. They say that it is a way to push people off a program that they need to feed their family. They also argue that it removes the flexibility of states to design a food stamp program that takes into account people who have sporadic work or are underemployed.

 

A similar measure failed in Congress when SNAP was reauthorized last year.

 

Do you support cutting off food stamps for able-bodied recipients who are not working?

New Energy Secretary Stresses Importance of Coal

Dan Brouillette, the new Energy Secretary, says that he has orders from the White House to find ways to help the U.S. coal industry.

 

President Trump campaigned on a pro-coal platform during his 2016 run for the White House. Since taking office, he has often talked about the importance of coal and has directed federal officials to find ways to increase coal use.

 

Secretary Brouillette has received orders from the White House to find different ways to utilize coal. It is unclear what the federal government can do to accomplish this. The Trump Administration had floated an initiative in the past that would essentially subsidize coal production and use, but this failed to gain traction.

 

The U.S. coal industry has been struggling in recent years due to a variety of factors. It is facing criticism from environmentalists due to coal’s carbon emissions, which experts link to climate change. Coal had long been the dominant source for generating electricity, but in recent years its use has been declining. Some of that is due to environmental concerns, but it is also being undercut by the increasing use of natural gas. Coal is more expensive to use than natural gas, so coal plants are shutting down as natural as plants are being built.

 

Supporters of coal, such as President Trump, hail its mining for creating good-paying jobs. They also say that it provides a source of reliable electricity, something that wind or solar cannot do. Critics argue that it’s time to move away from a dirty fuel source.

 

The Senate confirmed Brouillette to be Secretary of Energy by a 70-15 vote this week. He takes over from Rick Perry, who resigned earlier this year.

 

Do you think the U.S. government should take actions to boost the coal industry?

Supreme Court Hears Challenge to NY Gun Law

For 18 years, New York City prohibited licensed gun owners from transporting their guns to most places. Today, the Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to that law which claims it is an unconstitutional infringement upon the rights of gun owners.

 

Under question is the city ordinance that restricts licensed gun owners from taking their firearms to any places except specified shooting ranges within the city and to designated hunting areas in New York state. The plaintiffs in the case were barred from participating in a shooting competition in New Jersey and were also told they could not take their guns to another home in New York state. They are arguing that these restrictions are an infringement upon their constitutional rights.

 

New York city has since amended the law to allow wider transport of firearms. The Supreme Court justices could decide that since city legislators have acted, the case is moot. Or they could use this case as a way to recognize a wider individual right to carry a firearm.

 

This is the first major gun control case considered by the high court since 2010. There have been a handful of cases in the years prior to that which established an individual right to own a gun and said that neither the federal nor state governments could pass laws that prohibited gun ownership. However, the Supreme Court has yet to settle many legal issues over the numerous gun control laws that exist at the federal, state, and local level.

 

Supporters of this challenge would like to see the court create a clear rule that defines how people may travel with their guns. Opponents fear that the court could undo gun control laws that they contend are necessary for safety.

 

A ruling in this case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York, is expected in June 2020.

 

Do you think the Second Amendment protects the carrying of a gun outside the home?

Massachusetts Bans Flavored Tobacco, Vaping Products

Flavored tobacco and flavored nicotine vaping products will soon be illegal to sell for most businesses in Massachusetts. Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill into law this week that prohibits the sale of these items for all except a few locations.

 

Public health advocates praised the move, saying they would make these products less attractive to teenagers. There has been concern about vaping in recent months due to deaths caused by some vaping products, although these vaping deaths have been linked to black market vaping items, not legal products.

 

Opponents of this law argued that vaping products are an important way that smokers quit cigarettes. They say that by banning flavored products, it will lessen their attraction to smokers and lead more people to keep using tobacco. They also note that this will damage tobacco and vaping retailer in the state, since Massachusetts residents can go to other states to buy these products.

 

Under the legislation, licensed smoking bars and hookah lounges could still sell these products, but they must be used on-site. They bill also imposed a 75% tax on vaping products. The law goes into effect on June 1, 2020.

 

While some other states have implemented temporary bans on these items, Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to enact a ban on flavored nicotine products.

 

Do you support banning flavored tobacco and flavored vaping products?

Ohio Legislature Considers Death Penalty for Abortion Doctors

If Ohio Republicans have their way, abortion will soon be banned in Ohio.

 

A third of the House GOP caucus in the Buckeye State have cosponsored a bill that would impose a total ban on abortion in the state. Under the legislation, there would be two new crimes in the state: abortion murder and aggravated abortion murder. The penalty for these crimes could be the death penalty.

 

This legislation would go far beyond Ohio’s current abortion law, which restricts abortions after six weeks of viability. This legislation, also known as the fetal heartbeat bill, has been stopped from going into effect by a federal judge.

 

Some pro-life leaders in the state, as well as Gov. Mike DeWine, are slow to embrace a total abortion ban. They note that this legislation will certainly face legal challenge. Unless the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the law would not be constitutional.

 

 Supporters of the bill say that the time has come for a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion nationwide. They argue that this bill could be the vehicle under which the Supreme Court reverses precedent and allows states to once again have the authority to allow or ban abortion.

 

Do you support an abortion ban? Should doctors who perform abortions face the death penalty?

Gun Control on Colorado Legislative Agenda Next Year

This year, Colorado legislators passed a “red flag” gun law that allows police to seize firearms from individuals they see as threats. This was the first gun control bill passed in the state since 2013. Democratic legislators are vowing more gun bills next year.

 

The red flag legislation was controversial, leading to an unsuccessful recall campaign against its sponsor. But this has no deterred the Democrats who control the Colorado legislature from exploring more gun control bills for next year’s legislative session.

 

Among the bills being considered:

  • Mandating that businesses safely store firearms after business hours
  • Requiring individual gun owners to safely store their firearms
  • Make it a crime for gun owners to fail to report if their firearms have been stolen

 

Other states have adopted similar bills, but such proposals have been a tough sell in Colorado. The state, while trending Democratic recently, has a large rural population.

 

Supporters of these measures say that they are necessary to prevent gun violence and accidents. They say that law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear from them. Opponents, however, see these bills as government infringing on their constitutional rights. They also note that criminals are unlikely to comply with the law, so the only people affected are law-abiding gun owners.

 

Do you support the government mandating how businesses and individuals store guns? Should gun owners be required to report when their guns are stolen?

Schumer Wants to Mandate that Airlines Sit Families Together

Senate Minority Leader has an idea that he thinks will improve travel, especially during the holiday season. He’s written a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her department to issue a rule forcing airlines to sit families together.

 

Under Schumer’s proposal, airlines must seat a child who is 13-years-old or younger next to an older family member. He notes that Congress passed legislation last year that called on the Department of Transportation to consider such a regulation. He argues that there have been instances where families have been separated on flights when children had health issues.

 

The Department of Transportation pushed back against this proposal, noting that very few complaints come into the agency about families not being seated together. A spokesman for the department also noted that the federal legislation that mentioned a family seating regulation only said the agency should issue such a rule if it was appropriate. There is no indication that the Department of Transportation is looking at this type of regulation.

 

Do you think the federal government should mandate that airlines must seat families together on flights?

House Takes Aim at Hong Kong Crackdown

Hong Kong has seen nearly six months of protests over Chinese government policies. This week the House of Representatives voted on two measures which aim to bolster the protesters who are urging more freedom in Hong Kong.

 

 By a vote of 417-0, the House passed S. 2710, legislation that would ban the U.S. from selling tear gas, rubber bullets, or handcuffs to the Hong Kong police. And by a vote of 417-1, it passed S. 1838, legislation that could end Hong Kong’s special trade relationship with the U.S. and subject some Hong Kong officials to sanctions.

 

These two bills come in response to the Chinese crackdown of protests in Hong Kong that are demanding wider democracy and an examination of police practices. The protests began in June over legislation that would have allowed the extradition of Hong Kong residents to China. Hong Kong is part of China, but has a separate economic and legal system that is a remnant from its colonial rule by Great Britain. It has a freer economic system and stronger political and legal protections than the rest of China.

 

Hong Kong residents have been wary of Chinese attempts to undermine their economic and legal rights since Great Britain turned over the city to China in 1999. Protester saw the extradition bill as a way for China to persecute political dissidents, and they took to the streets to protest. The Chinese government has withdrawn the bill, but the protests continued over the violent crackdown that has met the protesters.

 

The Senate has already passed both S. 2710 and S. 1838. They now head to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support U.S. efforts to punish China for cracking down on Hong Kong protesters?

House Committee Advances Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

For the past twenty years, states have been relaxing or eliminating laws against marijuana use and possession. This week, federal legislators got into the act.

 

By a vote of 24-10, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 3884, a bill that would remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances list. This would effectively decriminalize the bill at the federal level. State laws restricting marijuana use or possession would be unaffected.

 

House Judiciary Chairman Jerome Nadler (D-NY) sponsored the bill, but it received bipartisan support. Besides ending federal marijuana prohibition, the bill would also provide a process to expunge the records of individuals convicted of federal marijuana crimes. The bill would also establish a 5% tax on the sale of cannabis products, excluding hemp.

 

Beginning in the 1990s, states started legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In the past decade, some states have also removed their laws banning recreational use. However, marijuana possession is still illegal under federal law. This puts marijuana users and businesses in states that have legalized cannabis in the position of violating federal law.

 

Supporters of federal decriminalization say that marijuana is less harmful than some legal drugs, such as alcohol or tobacco, so there is no reason for the federal government to prohibit it. They argue that it should be up to states to decide how to regulate its use. Opponents of decriminalization say that marijuana is a gateway drug, and that decriminalization will cause societal problems.

 

This legislation may now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

 

Do you support legislation that decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level?

House Passes Short-Term Funding, PATRIOT Act Renewal

This week the House of Representatives passed legislation that temporarily keeps the federal government open. In that legislation, however, House leadership also included a renewal of the controversial PATRIOT Act.

 

As explained in yesterday’s VoteSpotter blog post, Congress failed to pass appropriations bills to fund the federal government this fiscal year. The short-term bill that keeps the government open expires on November 21. There is no final agreement between the Trump Administration and Congress about what the entire year’s government spending priorities should be, so it is necessary for Congress to pass another short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, to prevent a partial government shutdown.

 

As part of that continuing resolution, H.R. 3055, the House leadership also included a provision for a short-term reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. This bill, passed in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, greatly expanded federal surveillance powers. Some critics contend that it allows the federal government to have sweeping authority over monitoring communication of U.S. citizens. Supporters of the law counter that it is necessary to prevent terrorism.

 

There have been efforts since 2001 to modify parts of the PATRIOT Act. Since this law must be periodically reauthorized, this recurring debate gives critics an opportunity to debate these changes. Members of Congress who are particularly concerned about the PATRIOT Act, such as Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), were vocal in their criticism of House Speaker Pelosi for including a renewal of the law in the government funding bill. He argued that tying this controversial reauthorization to a must-pass funding bill effectively short-circuits any debate over it.

 

The continuing resolution and renewal of the PATRIOT Act passed the House by a vote of 231-192. Under this bill, funding for the federal government would last through December 20. The PATRIOT Act reauthorization would last through March 2020.

 

Do you support reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act?

Deep Dive: Approving Short-Term Government Spending

This week, the House of Representatives and the Senate will vote on a bill to extend federal government funding until December 20. With government funding set to expire on November 21, failure to do this would result in a partial government shutdown. 

  

A previous Deep Dive examined the budget process that talks about the overall spending blueprint for the federal government. This Deep Dive will discuss the specific part affecting spending – the appropriations process. 

 

 

The Appropriations Process

 

Article I, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution states: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”

 

Federal government spending is divided into two categories:

  • Mandatory: Programs authorized by Congress that operate outside the regular spending process are entitlement programs, and their spending is deemed “mandatory.” For Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, anyone who meets certain qualification is entitled to benefits. Funding for these programs does not have to be authorized yearly by Congress, although the eligibility and payment rules can be changed.
  • Discretionary: To pay for other government activities, ranging from military operations undertaken by the Defense Department to operating national parks to paying congressional staff, Congress must pass 12 appropriations, or spending, bills. These bills operate on a fiscal year basis. If they do not become law, funds cannot be drawn from the U.S. Treasury to pay for the government operations they cover.

 

Appropriations Bills

 

The 12 appropriations bills that should be passed by Congress every fiscal year (October 1 through September 30) are:

  • Agriculture
  • Commerce/Justice/Science
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Financial Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior and Environment
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans
  • State/Foreign Operations
  • Transportation/Urban Development

 

You can see the progress of the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bills through Congress here.

 

The number and title of these bills can be changed by Congress. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress re-organized the appropriations process, which at that time had operated with 13 appropriations bills.

 

Consolidated Appropriations/Continuing Appropriations/Omnibus Appropriations

 

While the spending process is supposed to proceed with the 12 bills being passed separately and signed into law by October 1 of each year, this almost never happens. In fact, since 1977 (when the current spending system was put in place), Congress has passed all of the appropriations bills on time in only four years. The last time it did this was 1997. The usual pattern is that Congress passes some, but not all, of the bills to be signed into law by October 1.

 

When this happens, Congress can take a variety of steps to avoid a government shutdown. It can pass a resolution for continuing appropriations, which fund the government for a specified period of time at the level of the previous fiscal year. During this time, it can then pass a consolidated appropriations act, which combines two or more appropriations bills. An omnibus appropriations bill generally wraps all the outstanding appropriations bills into a single act for the rest of the fiscal year.

 

If special spending needs arise during the fiscal year, Congress can also pass a supplemental appropriations bill, which provides funding more money than what was contained in the original spending bill.

 

Fiscal Year 2020

 

To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass these 12 spending bills (either in individual or consolidated form) and the president must sign them. So far this year, the House of Representatives has passed 10 bills (with only Homeland Security and Legislative Branch still remaining to be approved). The Senate has passed none. 

 

 

Instead of completing work on the individual spending bills by October 1 (the beginning of the new fiscal year), the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a continuing resolution, a short-term bill that funds the government at the previous fiscal year's level.  This legislation funded the government through November 21. If Congress does not act on another bill, or the president does not sign one, then there would be a partial government shutdown.

 

The 2018-2019 Government Shutdown

 

The last government shutdown occurred from December 2018 to January 2019. The beginnings of this shutdown began a year ago, with the failure of Congress to pass the necessary spending bills. Prior to the beginning of Fiscal Year 2019 (which began on October 1, 2018), Congress had only passed these appropriations bills:

  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans

 

Continuing resolutions funded the government agencies covered by the other appropriations bills through December 21. President Trump signaled his opposition to signing any spending bills that did not contain funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. As a consequence, the agencies not covered by the already-passed appropriations bills were shut down on that date.

 

The parts of the government that were covered by these spending bills could continue to operate as normal, however. Since the Legislative Branch appropriations bill was signed into law, congressional staffers could continue to be paid their salary. So could employees of the Energy Department, Defense Department, the Labor Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Education Department.

 

When President Trump signed House Joint Resolution 28 on January 25, this reopened the portions of the federal government that were shut down until February 15. The signing of House Joint Resolution 31 by President Trump funds the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2019.

 

What This Means for You

 

The two-year budget deal that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Donald Trump agreed to over the summer was designed to eliminate the possibility of a government shutdown this year or next year. However, there is still disagreement between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over border funding. It appears that the leadership in the House and Senate as well as President Trump have agreed in principle to another short-term funding bill. That legislation, H.R. 3055, is set to be voted on by Congress this week. It will keep the government open until December 20. This gives negotiators more time to come to an agreement that has the possibility of funding the federal government through the end of this current fiscal year, avoiding a partial government shutdown.

Bloomberg Repudiates “Stop and Frisk”

Throughout his tenure as New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg was a vigorous defender of the controversial police practice known as “stop and frisk.” On Sunday, however, he apologized for his past actions. Some see this as a belated acknowledgement of the harms caused by this practice, while others view his apology as a purely political move.

 

Bloomberg recently announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many observers said that he would have trouble appealing to the liberal base of the party due to his staunch defense of “stop and frisk.” This policy was one used extensively by the New York City Police Department to stop individuals and frisk them for weapons. Critics said it was an unconstitutional search of people who had done nothing wrong. They also said that the city was targeting minorities in its use. Then-Mayor Bloomberg defended the policy, saying it was vital to keeping illegal weapons off city streets, but courts severely curtailed its use.

 

While speaking at an African-American church this week, Bloomberg said, “I can’t change history. However today, I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong.” He specifically noted that this policy was applied largely to black and Latino men.

 

The Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure. Federal courts held that “stop and frisk” could be constitutional if narrowly applied, but that New York’s use was problematic. At the time of the legal challenge over this practice, Mayor Bloomberg vigorously defended it, dismissing the idea that New York police were violating the Constitution.

 

Do you think that Michael Bloomberg should have apologized for New York City’s use of “stop and frisk” to detain people and search for weapons?

House Reauthorizes Federal Export Support Agency

In the midst of impeachment hearings, the House of Representatives also conducted legislative business this week. The main legislation under consideration was a bill to reauthorize a controversial federal agency that provides loan guarantees for U.S. businesses. Supporters say it is essential to supporting American exports, while critics argue that it’s nothing more than corporate welfare.

 

The House passed H.R. 4863 by a vote of 235-184. Here is how VoteSpotter described the bill:

 

To renew the authorization of the Export-Import Bank to operate through 2029 and expand its lending authority from $135 billion to $175 billion. The Export-Import Bank is a federal agency that gives loans and loan guarantees to companies purchasing U.S. exports. These loans are backed by the federal government, meaning if borrowers default the government pays them.

 

The reauthorization and staffing of the Export-Import Bank’s board has been a long-running controversy in Congress. While the agency has bipartisan support, there is also strong opposition to it on the left and the right who see it as a taxpayer giveaway to large corporations. This reauthorization legislation is aimed at ending the efforts to kill the agency.

 

Independent Rep. Justin Amash spoke out forcefully against reauthorization, tweeting:

 

The Ex-Im Bank is inherently corrupt. It unfairly forces Americans to subsidize foreign entities that buy things from well-connected corporations—particularly Boeing. This corporate welfare program expires next week, yet the House is voting Friday to reauthorize it. Let it die.

 

And:

 

Ex-Im puts taxpayers on the hook for loans to foreign governments and corporations to buy things from well-connected companies (especially Boeing), which is unfair to the vast majority of Americans who don’t benefit from Ex-Im yet are assuming the financial risk for the loans.

 

There was bipartisan support for reauthorizing the agency, however, as well as a large coalition of interest groups pushing for this legislation. Linda Dempsey of The National Association of Manufacturers spoke for many of these supporters in defense of the agency:

 

As the United States’ official export credit agency, the Ex-Im Bank is a critical tool to support American jobs through exports. It has become increasingly vital in the face of more than 90 countries that operate more than 100 foreign export credit agencies (ECAs) around the world. From China and Germany to Canada and Japan, other countries are working to boost their farmers, manufacturers and workers and win foreign sales.

 

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to pass.

 

Do you support reauthorizing an agency that provides federal loan guarantees for companies that purchase U.S. exports?

 

 

Biden Unveils $1.3 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Today former Vice President Joe Biden announced an infrastructure plan that he says will “rebuild the middle class.” Critics say that it will impose a huge tax burden on Americans.

 

These are some of the key aspects of Biden’s proposal:

  • A $50 billion federal initiative to repair roads and bridges
  • Secure “new revenues” for the Highway Trust Fund, a federal fund collecting revenue from fuel taxes
  • Spend $5 billion to research new battery technology
  • Use federal resources to expand the electric car charging system
  • Spend $500 billion in clean energy research
  • Expand rail service
  • Provide public transportation to cities with 100,000 residents or more
  • Target $10 billion to high-poverty areas to improve public transit
  • Promote infrastructure that leads to a 100% clean energy economy
  • Create a federal program to promote building energy efficiency
  • Provide broadband service to every American household
  • Create a new federal program to spend $100 billion in school buildings

 

This plan gathers together many proposals put forward by liberal and progressive groups and elected officials. Biden argues that they will transform the economy for the future, providing good jobs for the middle class and helping clean the environment. Those who support these programs argue that it is vital that the federal government invest in this vision to ensure the U.S. has a sustainable future.


Critics, however, see these ideas as both unrealistic and expensive. They note that it’s easy to say that these programs will achieve their goals, but similar government initiatives in the past have failed. They also note the high price tag for such a program, saying that taxes will have to go up to pay for it or the government will have to go deeper in debt.

 

Biden faces a crowded field of rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. It remains to be seen if ideas like these will help him win votes from the left wing of the party being courted by other candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

 

Do you support the federal government paying for more high-speed rail service? Should there be a federal push for a 100% clean-energy economy?

 

Deep Dive: Impeachment Hearings

The House of Representatives is beginning public impeachment hearings this week. After numerous depositions held behind closed doors, House Democrats are bringing their case against the president into the open. In late October, the House passed H.R. 660 by a vote of 232-196, which sets the procedures for impeachment proceedings. In accordance with this resolution, the House Intelligence Committee will hold public hearings this week. When the Intelligence Committee has completed its hearings, the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on articles of impeachment. This VoteSpotter Deep Dive takes a look into this process and how it has been used over the past two centuries. 

 

Impeachment is the bringing of charges against the president, vice president, or other “civil officials,” such as cabinet officers. Impeachment does not remove them from office, however. Instead, impeachment refers charges to the Senate, which then must vote to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and the Constitution

 

The Constitution establishes the impeachment and removal process, explaining it in a few key sections:

 

  • Article I, Section 2: The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

 

  • Article I, Section 3: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

 

  • Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

 

The U.S. impeachment and removal process is similar to the process that existed in Britain during the writing of the Constitution. However, the British Parliament impeaches and removes officials in one action. The framers of the U.S. Constitution made impeachment and removal two separate processes, thus weakening the ability of the legislative branch to remove executive branch officials.

 

How Impeachment and Removal Works

 

The House Judiciary Committee begins the impeachment process. Its members consider articles of impeachment, with approval coming with a majority vote. If approved, these articles of impeachment move to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The House then debates and votes on these articles. If a majority approves them, then that person has been impeached.

 

The Senate then begins its role. With the Chief Justice of the U.S. presiding, the Senate conducts a trial. The House of Representatives appoints members to manage the case before the Senate, laying out the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. The Senate then votes, with a two-thirds vote being necessary to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and removal may be for a public official’s criminal act, but they are not criminal proceedings. The only penalty, as the Constitution stipulates, is removal from office. The underlying crimes can be prosecuted by civil authorities, however, which may result in criminal conviction and penalties after impeachment and removal from office.

 

The History of Impeachment

 

The House of Representatives has considered over 60 impeachment cases, but most have failed. There have only been 8 instances where individuals have been impeached and removed from office. Fifteen judges have been impeached, as have 2 presidents:

 

  • Andrew Johnson: The House passed 11 articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson in 1868. The Senate came within one vote of removing him from office.

 

  • Bill Clinton: The House passed 2 articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton in 1998. The Senate vote to remove him from office failed.

 

In 1974, the House began the impeachment process against President Richard Nixon. The House Judiciary Committee approved 3 articles of impeachment against him, but Nixon resigned prior to a full House vote.

 

Federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., was the last official impeached and removed from office. His impeachment and conviction occurred in 2010.

 

The Clinton Impeachment

 

The last presidential impeachment and trial took place over 20 years ago, when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton. If there are proceedings initiated against President Trump, it would likely follow the pattern set during these proceedings.

 

In 1998, Independent Counsel Ken Starr provided a report to Congress that contained evidence gathered in the course of his investigation into various allegations against President Clinton. The House Judiciary Committee passed four articles of impeachment. Two were for perjury, one was for obstruction of justice, and one was for abuse of power. The full House of Representatives passed two of those articles of impeachment, one for perjury and one for obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998.

 

The House of Representatives appointed thirteen managers to present their case to the Senate, which began its trial on January 7, 1999. Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided. The trial lasted a month, with the Senate beginning closed-door deliberations on February 9. The Senate took a vote on February 13 on the articles of impeachment. The Senate defeated the perjury charge by a vote of 45-55 and the obstruction of justice charge by 50-50. Sixty-seven votes would have been necessary to convict the president and remove him from office.

 

While both the votes in the House and Senate were largely along party lines, there were members of Congress who broke with their party leadership on impeachment or conviction. Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania (who later became a Democrat), voted “not proved.” Many observers saw these proceedings as an example of partisanship on both sides. This is in contrast with the impeachment proceedings that had begun against President Nixon, where a bipartisan consensus was forming to impeach and remove him from office prior to his resignation.

 

What This Means for You

 

If the House Intelligence Committee finds grounds for impeachment, it will send a recommendation to the House Judiciary Committee. That committee will then deliberate and decide on the fate of impeachment articles. It is possible that this could occur before the end of the year.

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, there is a possibility that both the Judiciary Committee and the full House could pass impeachment articles. However, it is unlikely that the Senate would follow suit, given Republican control of the chamber. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office under this situation, then the vice president would assume office.

DACA Showdown at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is hearing the fate of children known as “Dreamers” today.

 

The Dreamers are children who were brought to the U.S. illegally. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issued by President Obama in 2012, these individuals would be able to avoid deportation under certain circumstances, such as serving in the military or attending college.

 

In 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would phase out DACA within 6 months. The president said that President Obama did not have the legal authority to issue DACA, and that his administration had no choice but to end it. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would deal with the fate of Dreamers.

 

States and individuals affected by the ending of DACA sued the federal government. Federal judges have stopped the government from rescinding DACA until the Supreme Court can make a decision. Today the justices heard arguments from both sides on this question.

 

The Trump Administration argues that President Obama issued DACA via executive action even though he previously said that such a move must come through legislation. They note that many legal scholars think that this was, in effect, a change in law by the president, not Congress. That is illegal.

 

Those arguing that the Trump Administration acted illegally are not disputing that one president has the power to revoke a previous executive action of another president. Instead, they are saying that the Trump Administration did not give a legally-justifiable reason to rescind DACA. If these arguments prevail, President Trump would be free to phase out DACA in the future, but would have to go through a more careful legal process.

 

There have been bipartisan attempts to pass legislation that would settle the fate of Dreamers. The president has indicated his support of such legislation, but there has yet to be an agreement on final details.

 

Do you think President Trump was right to rescind President Obama’s legal protection of Dreamers?

Honoring America’s Veterans

Today is Veterans Day – a federal holiday specifically set aside to honor the service of the men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces.

 

Originally, the holiday on November 11 was called Armistice Day. It commemorated the end of hostilities in World War I. The Allied nations and Germany signed an armistice that took place at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, that ended the fighting in that war. In 1938, the date became an official U.S. holiday, with Congress declaring it to be “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'.”

 

After World War II, a veteran from that conflict began lobbying for the day to be renamed in order to recognize veterans from all wars, not just World War I. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill into law that officially changed the November 11 holiday to Veterans Day.

 

This holiday is celebrated in many nations that were part of the Allied cause in World War I. In the United Kingdom, it has been renamed Remembrance Day to remember the war dead.

 

How are you commemorating Veterans Day?

Senate Continuing to Focus on Judicial Nominations

The House of Representatives was in recess this week, with members out of Washington, D.C., for district work sessions. Senators, however, stayed in D.C., taking a series of votes. As has been their practice throughout this year, they focused on confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees.

 

These are the nominees confirmed by senators this week:

  • William Joseph Nardini, of Connecticut, to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit – 86-2
  • Jennifer Philpott Wilson, of Pennsylvania, to be U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania – 88-3
  • Lee Philip Rudofsky, of Arkansas, to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas – 51-41
  • Danielle J. Hunsaker, of Oregon, to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit – 73-17
  • David Austin Tapp, of Kentucky, to be a Judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims – 85-8

 

The Senate has considered little legislation during the 116th Congress, but has confirmed scores of judges nominated by President Trump. After Senate Democrats were using Senate rules to force lengthy debates on the nominations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell engineered a rule change to limit debate. This has sped up confirmations, something that Sen. McConnell has been proud to tout.

 

Democrats criticize this focus on judicial nominees, saying that it ignores important legislative priorities. Liberals also dislike the fact that many of these judges will be in office for years, leading to a more conservative judiciary. Senate Republicans point out that their voters value judicial confirmations highly, so they are doing the work they are elected to do. They also note that much of the legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House does not have majority support in the Senate, so there is no use debating bills that will ultimately fail.

 

Do you support the Senate focusing on confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees?

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