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Some Senators Say “No” to (Almost) All of Trump’s Nominees


Part of a new president’s job is to fill a variety of jobs that require Senate confirmation. Donald Trump is no exception, but some of his nominees have been controversial and faced nearly-united opposition from Democratic senators. Many other nominees have been less controversial, and have won over votes from most of the Senate Democratic caucus. However, there is a small band of senators who are committed to opposing almost every nominee put forward by the president.


Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, for instance, has voted against all of the president’s high-profile nominees except Nikki Haley to be U.N. ambassador. Every other senator voted to approve Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, but Sen. Gillibrand voted “no.”


For other nominees, Sen. Gillibrand is reliably joined by Cory Booker (New Jersey), Kamala Harris (California), and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts). They all voted against Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture, Elaine Duke to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Dan Coats to be Director of National Intelligence. Sen. Harris voted for Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Labor, but the others all voted “no.”


At times, other senators such as Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Cortez Mastro (Nevada) are part of another small group of senators who reliably oppose Trump nominees. For other votes, such as the Perdue nomination or the Coats nomination, Ron Wyden of Oregon will join them.


These votes are on nominees whom the majority of other Democratic senators support. Gillibrand has justified her votes in this way: “For many of them, I found them to be either unqualified or so far outside my world view and what I think is important and my view of morality that I had to vote against them.” Other observers suspect that these votes may be a way to please the Democratic base in case the senators are looking to run for president in 2020.


What do you think? Are you glad these senators are standing up against President Trump’s nominees, even the lower-profile ones? Or do you view this as obstructionism for political purposes?


The First 100 Days of President Trump


On April 29, Donald Trump had been president for 100 days. President Franklin Roosevelt began the idea that the president should take bold action in his first 100 days in office. President Trump has said that looking at this time period is “not very meaningful,” and he has a point. There is no constitutional or legal mandate that anything be accomplished during this time. However, it does serve as a way to sum up the start of a presidential term. So what has happened during this president’s first 100 days in office?


Biggest win: the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court


For many conservatives, filling the Supreme Court seat left empty by Antonin Scalia’s death was a big reason to vote for Donald Trump. Once he took office, Trump wasted little time in nominating Neil Gorsuch to take this seat. While Senate Democrats raised issues about the nominee, and even tried to filibuster him, Senate Republicans had enough votes to place Gorsuch on the high court.


Biggest loss: the failure of the American Health Care Act


A large part of Trump’s presidential campaign was centered on repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Trump worked with congressional Republicans to craft a bill to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare. There were many on both the right and left who did not like this bill, called the American Health Care Act. Despite Senate leadership’s failure to persuade enough Republicans to support it, and after vigorous pressure from the White House, the bill was pulled from consideration and never brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote.


Left undone: the border wall, tax reform, immigration reform, renegotiating trade deals


The 100-day window is an arbitrary way of looking at a presidency, and does not give any president enough time to accomplish many significant goals. Donald Trump promised many things on the campaign trail that have yet to be accomplished or even started. He is pushing Congress to fund the border wall, but is encountering resistance from Democrats. There are preliminary talks about tax reform, but no concrete plan has emerged. The president has issued some executive orders on immigration and trade (some of which the courts have halted), but there have been no moves for a massive change in direction on either issue.


What do you think of President Trump’s first 100 days in office?


Build the Wall or Shut the Government Down?


A wall that has not even been built could have been the obstacle that may have prevented many federal employees from going to work today.


The Trump Administration’s insistence that funding for a wall on the Mexican border be included in spending legislation was seen as a potential sticking point that prevents that legislation from passing Congress. If that had happened, it will mean portions of the federal government will not have funding to operate. A partial government shutdown would have been the result.


We have been in this position before. Clashes between the executive branch and legislative branch over federal spending bills have caused government shutdowns twice in the past. Those instances occurred when the two branches were controlled by different parties. Now, however, Republicans hold both the White House and Congress.


While Republicans control Congress, Democrats are playing a key role in this situation. Any spending legislation needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate. With only 52 Republicans, Senate Majority Leader McConnell needs to attract some Democratic votes for any bill that would avert a government shutdown.


Gaining those votes is proving difficult, as Democrats resist President Trump’s desire to have funding for a border wall (or at least funding to start on a wall) included. Some Democrats point to the president’s promise that Mexico would pay for a wall, wondering why the American taxpayers should pick up the tab for this. Others oppose the wall on principle.


The federal government is at this point because Congress and President Obama did not agree on long-term spending bills prior to the start of this fiscal year on October 1. Instead, they passed short-term funding measures. These measures end on April 28. Congress must either pass legislation that funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, or it must pass a continuing resolution that would provide short-term funding. If these things do not happen, then “non-essential” government personnel will not be reporting to work next Monday.


What do you think that Congress and the president should do? Should disputes over a border wall hold up funding for the rest of the federal government?


What’s Next for Health Care?


In early March, Republicans in the House of Representatives released their health care legislation. Intending to live up to their promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), Republican congressmen and President Trump tried to get majority support to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which they said would improve America’s health care system.


Ultimately, they failed to persuade enough Republicans to get a winning margin in Congress. However, they said that reform efforts weren’t over with the failure of this bill.


It is unclear what will happen now. There are differing perspectives on this issue from conservatives and liberals. With the GOP controlling Congress, the conservative direction seems more likely to prevail if some health care bill emerges in the legislative branch. But with an election occurring next year, it is possible that Democratic wins in 2018 could produce a liberal direction on health care reform in future years.

Here are some of the options being discussed in DC now:


Conservative ideas


Replace Obamacare: This is what the AHCA tried to do. It would have repealed some of Obamacare’s provisions and then enacted new provisions that tried to meet different health care goals. With the demise of the AHCA, President Trump and members of Congress have said they are continuing to work on ideas that would approach this issue from a different direction.


Repeal Obamacare: On the surface, this option is simple – all Congress has to do is repeal the legislation passed in 2010. Then, in theory, the health care marketplace would go back to its pre-Obamacare days. However, a lot has changed in the health care world in the past seven years. Individuals and companies have taken steps to comply with the ACA. Even in the world before ACA, there was heavy government involvement in health care. Many conservatives would like to see reforms that deal with the problems they saw in 2010 with the level of government regulation at the time. Repealing the ACA will not be enough for them.


Block-grant Medicaid: Instead of a wholesale repeal and/or replacement of the ACA, some conservatives would like Congress to focus on block granting Medicaid. The Medicaid program provides health coverage for people with disabilities, the poor and the near-poor. As a joint state-federal program, some conservatives see Medicaid as an opportunity to give states an ability to experiment with different methods of providing health care. Right now, the federal government provides funds to states based on the state’s income level and enrollment. Under a block grant, states would receive a set amount of money, but in return would have more freedom to innovate.


Liberal ideas


Single-payer: Under “Medicare for All” legislation, the federal government would pay for every American’s health care. Private companies could offer supplemental insurance, but health care would largely be a government-run system.


Expanded Medicaid: Under the ACA, the federal government provides incentives for states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover people who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Some liberals have called on the federal government to raise that cap, which would likely lead to more states expanding Medicaid to larger groups of people.


The status quo


Until Congress passes legislation, the ACA is still the law of the land. Its provisions will continue to be in effect. The federal government will enforce the law. However, that raises some issues, since the executive branch tasked with overseeing the ACA is headed by President Trump.


The new president has two options. One would be to do all he can to make the law work efficiently. Another would be to direct federal agencies not to fix issues as they come up with the law. The second seems more likely, as the president has tweeted “ObamaCare will explode…” However, it’s unclear exactly what path the Trump Administration will take when it comes to implementing the ACA. Regardless, the ACA will exist and be operational until there is a change in federal health care law.


What do you think Congress should do about health care reform?


Trump Wants us to “Buy American, Hire American”


President Trump has signed an executive order that is aimed at increasing the hiring of U.S. workers and ensuring that government agencies buy U.S. goods. Called “Buy American, Hire American,” some people are asking what this means for the average person.


The executive order directs federal agencies to step up efforts to police abuse of a visa program that allows high-skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. The order also tasks agencies to find ways to modify this visa, called an H-1B, so it would be re-oriented to go to the most highly-skilled and most highly-paid foreign workers. That’s the “Hire American” part of the plan.


The “Buy American” aspect of Trump’s order would make some changes to federal purchasing rules so it would be more difficult for agencies to buy foreign products. There is a requirement already on the books that the federal government buy American products when possible, but waivers can be granted to get around it.


Supporters of the president’s actions say they will prioritize American workers and American businesses. Foreign workers using H-1B visas, the argument goes, take jobs from American workers. Changing the system to prioritize higher-paid foreign workers will ensure that there are more jobs for Americans to do. And strengthening the “Buy American” law already in place will stimulate U.S. companies that supply goods to the government.


Opponents of this order point out that many companies need foreign workers to compete in the global marketplace. They say this is especially true of companies that use H-1B visas, since they tend to be in the high-tech industry. Without foreign workers, the argument goes, these companies would not be able to fill the jobs they need filled. As for “Buy American,” critics contend that government should be looking for the lowest price possible for products, regardless of where they come from. Anything less is wasting taxpayer money.


What do you think? Do you support President Trump’s actions to help U.S. workers and businesses? Or will this executive order hurt high-tech companies and taxpayers?


Tax Reform May be Next on DC’s Agenda


Taxes are forefront in the minds of millions of Americans today. As you rush to file your taxes, you may be thinking that there should be an easier way. The idea of tax reform is a popular one, but the consensus breaks down over details. Reduce rates, hike taxes on the rich, simplify the code – there are numerous ideas about how the tax code could be modified.


These issues may soon be taken up by members of Congress. President Trump has said that he would like to see a tax reform bill on his desk by August. That is unlikely to happen, given the complexity of the issue and the fact that real work has yet to start. However, changes to the tax code are probably the next big thing that lawmakers in Washington will be discussing.


Here are some of the ideas being considered:


Lower tax rates: In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump was clear that he wanted tax rates cut. He sees these cuts as a way to stimulate economic growth. President Trump also campaigned on consolidating tax brackets from seven into three. The questions for Congress to work out include how low should rates be cut, should revenue losses from rate cuts be offset with higher taxes elsewhere, and what group of taxpayers should benefit from cuts?


Increasing the standard deduction: If you don’t itemize your income tax deductions, you get to deduct a portion of your income right at the start. President Trump’s campaign plan called for more than doubling this standard deduction.


Border adjustment tax: Some House Republicans have floated the idea of changing the way taxes are collected from businesses. Right now, the U.S. government collects taxes on what companies produce in the U.S. Under this proposal, the U.S. government would collect taxes from what companies sell in the U.S. That means no taxes on goods that are exported but new taxes on goods that are imported for purchase by American consumers.


Cutting payroll tax: The taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare are called payroll taxes. Unlike the income tax, these taxes aren’t progressive – that is, they don’t increase as income goes up. Some in Congress have proposed cutting these taxes as a way to lighten the tax load on lower-income workers. However, if this happens they would need to find other tax streams to pay for Social Security and Medicare.


Eliminating deductions: Removing provisions of the tax code that give breaks for certain behavior is one of the main ways to simplify the code. Eliminating these tax breaks also means more revenue, which could help offset any tax rate cuts. That is what happened during the tax code rewrite in 1986, a bipartisan effort that many hail as a good blueprint for future action. One thing being discussed is the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes.


Cutting the corporate tax rate: Compared to other countries, the U.S. has a high corporate income tax rate. There has been bipartisan support for lowering this rate. For instance, President Obama proposed lowering it from 35% to 28%.


Given that it is early in the process, there are certain to be many other ideas for altering the tax code. It may even prove to be too contentious to achieve majority support around a single reform package, which will leave us with the current tax code in place. However, after the failure of legislation that would have repealed Obamacare, President Trump and congressional Republicans have significant motivation to score a victory on this issue.


What do you think that tax reform should include?


States Taking Action on the Minimum Wage


Unions and other liberal groups are going all-in with their “Fight for 15.” Will they be successful?


There is a nationwide push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The federal government sets the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour, but states can mandate higher minimum wages.


With Congress in Republican control and Donald Trump in the White House, the national minimum wage is unlikely to change. However, there is movement in the states and some cities on this issue. In some places, legislation is being considered to raise the minimum wage. In other states, however, there is legislation advancing that would prohibit local governments from taking this step.


Here are some of these state and local developments:


Arizona – In Flagstaff, the minimum wage was scheduled to increase to $12 this summer. The city council recently voted to cut that increase to $10.50.


Iowa – In response to some Iowa towns mandating minimum wages above the state level, legislators passed a bill that would prevent local governments from doing this. Governor Terry Branstad signed this bill into law in late March.


Maine – State voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 to increase the minimum wage. Legislators are considering bills that would limit the impact of this increase. One would stop automatic minimum wage increases as the inflation rate goes up. Another would allow employers to pay students and minors less than the minimum wage.


Maryland – In Baltimore, the city council voted to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15. The mayor vetoed the legislation because of concerns over how it would impact city businesses.


Missouri – Legislators are considering a bill that would ban local governments from having a higher minimum wage than the state rate.


Nevada – There were dueling minimum wage increase bills in the Nevada legislature this year. One would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, while another would have increased it to $11 an hour. Neither bill passed.


New Hampshire – In late March, state senators voted along party lines to kill a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by September 2018.


North Carolina – Senate Democrats introduced legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15. The bill is unlikely to be successful in the Republican-dominated legislature.


Do you support increasing the minimum wage? Or do you think it’s a good idea to keep the minimum wage at its current level?


Iowa’s Rightward Turn


In the 2016 election, Iowa voters gave control of the state Senate to Republicans. Voters also increased the GOP’s governing margin in the state House of Representatives. This legislative control, coupled with a Republican governor, has meant that the 2017 legislative session is notably more conservative than in past years.


This shift in Iowa government can be seen when looking at some of the notable conservative legislation passed by one or both chambers so far this year:


House Bill 516 -- To require voters to present an ID: Passed 59 to 40 in the House and 26 to 21 in the Senate

To require voters to present an ID before receiving a ballot, and to require the state to give a voter registration card free of charge to those who do not have one of the forms of ID stated in the law. It also prohibits straight-party voting.


Senate Bill 471 – To ban abortions after 20 weeks: Passed 32 to 17 in the Senate and 55 to 42 in the House

To declare that anyone who terminates a pregnancy 20 weeks or later after fertilization is guilty of a felony. The act establishes some exceptions for preserving the life or health of the pregnant woman, or when the fetus has "an irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function."


House Bill 295 -- To prohibit counties and cities from creating their own minimum-wage laws: Passed 56 to 41 in the House and 29 to 21 in the Senate

To prohibit local governments from setting their own laws on the minimum wage and other matters concerning employment, and to pre-empt existing minimum-wage laws in counties. The bill also prohibits local governments from banning plastic bags.


Senate Bill 43 -- To prohibit state or local governments from requiring "project labor agreements" on public works: Passed 26 to 21 in the Senate

To prohibit government managers from requiring "project labor agreements" on taxpayer-funded construction projects. In effect, such agreements require union labor.


House Bill 517 -- To make several changes to state laws on gun ownership and use, including putting in a "stand your ground" standard: Passed 58 to 39 in the House and 33 to 17 in the Senate

To make a number of changes to state law on gun ownership, including putting in place a "stand your ground" provision and letting citizens sue local governments for enacting gun-free zones.


House Bill 242 – To remove a line on the state income tax form that funds Iowa political parties: Passed 65 to 34 in the House

To remove a line from the state's income tax forms that lets taxpayers direct a portion of their state tax to Iowa political parties.


House Bill 291 -- To limit collective bargaining for unionized government workers and require ongoing recertification of unions: Passed 53 to 47 in the House and 29 to 21 in the Senate

To limit the scope of collective bargaining for union of government workers, require ongoing elections of employees to keep a union in place, and prohibit the government from collecting dues or political contributions for a union. Some parts of this act do not apply to public safety employees.


Senate Bill 2 – To end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood: Passed 30 to 20 in the Senate

To direct the state health department to not spend Medicaid money on organizations that perform abortions, and to set up a new state program to give family planning services. This is known in the press as the "defund Planned Parenthood" bill.


House Bill 542 – To increase work requirement for drawing unemployment again: Passed 58 to 39 in the House and 29 to 21 in the Senate

To increase the work requirement seeking a second (or later) claim for unemployment insurance. Currently, a person who receives unemployment pay must earn $250 before filing for unemployment again. The bill increases that requirement to 8 times the amount the person received in a weekly unemployment check.


What do you think of these bills? Are you happy with the conservative direction that legislators are taking? Or do you think they are moving too far to the right?


McAuliffe’s Vetoes Stick in Virginia


Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has vetoed more bills than any other governor in the commonwealth’s history. Remarkably, none of these vetoes have been overridden by legislators. That record still stands after a recent veto-override session of the General Assembly.

Legislators met on April 5 to vote on overriding Gov. McAuliffe’s vetoes of bills that emerged from the General Assembly this year. In the Senate, 27 votes are needed to override a veto. Republicans have a 21-19 edge in that chamber, so 6 Democrats would have to join the GOP in any override vote. In the House, legislators need 67 votes to override a veto. With a 66 to 34 edge in that chamber, it is easier for Republicans to peel off a Democratic vote to be successful. However, the House was unable to muster a 67-vote majority to override any bill this session.


Here are some of the bills vetoed by Gov. McAuliffe this year which are now officially dead after override efforts failed:


HB 1400, Allow students to take online schooling: Passed 57 to 40 in the House on February 7 and 22 to 18 in the Senate on February 21

To establish the Virginia Virtual School, which will serve up to 5,000 Virginia student. This online education must meet state standards and will be available beginning 2019.


House Bill 1468, Mandate cooperation with federal immigration authorities: Passed 68 to 31 in the House on January 25 and 21 to 19 in the Senate on February 13

To mandate that corrections officials and sheriffs comply with request from the federal government to turn over an incarcerated alien to them.


House Bill 2002, Mandate reporting of refugee or immigrant resettlement: Passed 59 to 36 in the House on February 3 and 21 to 19 in the Senate on February 14

To mandate that nonprofits resettlement agencies for immigrants or refugees make an annual report to the state of the number of individuals resettled, the demographic information of those resettled, and the locality where they were resettled.


Senate Bill 1362, Allow nonduty military personnel to carry concealed weapons: Passed 22 to 18 in the Senate on January 24 and 67 to 32 in the House on February 22

To allow members of the Virginia National Guard, Virginia Defense Force, Armed Forces of the United States, or Armed Forces Reserves who is on nonduty status to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.


Senate Bill 872, Require photo ID for absentee ballots: Passed 20 to 19 in the Senate on January 30 and 60 to 38 in the House on February 14

To require that anyone requesting an absentee ballot by mail to include a copy of his or her photo ID with the request. When the voter submits the completed ballot, he or she must also submit a copy of his or her photo ID. Exempt from this requirement are military and overseas voters as well as voters with disabilities.


Senate Bill 1455, Criminalize payments for registering to vote: Passed 21 to 19 in the Senate on January 30 and 60 to 29 in the House on February 14

To make it a felony to offer a payment to someone in exchange for that person registering to vote.


Senate Bill 1299, Allow concealed carry with protective order: Passed 27 to 13 in the Senate on January 24 and 66 to 32 in the House on February 14

To allow anyone who is protected by a protective order to carry a concealed weapon without a permit for 45 days after the protective order is issued. Only Virginians eligible under state law to carry a concealed weapon would be permitted to do this.



Do you think that legislators should have overridden his vetoes of some of these bills? Or are you happy that legislators sustained the governor’s vetoes?


Partisanship in Judicial Elections

Is it important for voters to know whether a judge is a Democrat or a Republican?

That is the question at the heart of the debate over whether judicial elections should be partisan.


The U.S. is a two-party system. With only rare exceptions, we elect people to the presidency, Congress, governorship, and legislatures from either the Republican or Democratic parties. These party labels are useful because they tell us something about the ideology of a candidate. Voters use party identification as shorthand to help them make up their minds about whom to vote for.


In judicial races, however, most states do not have partisan elections. According to Ballotpedia, there are seven states that have partisan races for state supreme court seats. Nine states have partisan elections for appellate court judges and twenty have partisan elections for trial court judges.


This issue has recently come up in North Carolina. Superior and district court elections were partisan in that state until 1996 and 2001, respectively. This year, Republican legislators passed a bill to once again make them partisan. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but legislators overrode the veto. During a special session in late 2016, legislators passed a bill that made the state’s supreme court elections partisan. Then-governor Pat McCrory signed that bill into law. North Carolina supreme court candidates ran with party labels prior to the 2004 election.


Proponents of partisan judicial elections say that these party labels are needed so voters know the ideology of the judges they are electing. After all, the reasoning goes, these judges decide matters of great importance to the state, so voters should have as much information as possible to indicate how they may rule.


Opponents of partisan elections contend that judges have a different role to play than politicians. Judges interpret the law, not make it, so they should not be bringing partisan considerations into their role.


What do you think? Should judges run with party labels? Or do party politics have no role to play in judicial elections?


Neil Gorsuch’s Road to the Supreme Court


After enduring a barrage of questions from senators on the Judiciary Committee, Judge Neil Gorsuch has a clear path to take his seat on the Supreme Court. However, Senate Republicans may have to change Senate rules to get him there.


The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination today, April 3. The committee, controlled by Republicans, is almost certain to approve him. That means his nomination will move to the full Senate for consideration.


Some Senate Democrats have said they will filibuster the nomination. To overcome a filibuster, Republicans must prevail on what is called a cloture vote. Such a vote requires 60 senators. There are only 52 Republican senators. But there is a way to overcome that 60-vote threshold.


Republicans faced with a filibuster can change the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat who was then majority leader, did this for lower court nominees facing Republican filibusters in 2013. It is a big step to change Senate rules in this way, however, and many senators are uncomfortable with doing so.


Both Republicans and Democrats have an interest in preserving the filibuster. Republicans may be in the majority today, but that could end with the 2018 election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has always been a strong supporter of retaining the filibuster to protect the minority party. The Democrats’ interest in retaining the filibuster is more obvious, since they are in the minority today. Preserving it for future Supreme Court nominees could be useful for them if President Trump names someone to the court in the future who is less distinguished than Gorsuch. In a case like that, moderate Republicans could join Democrats in using the filibuster to stop that nominee. With three GOP defections, there would be no chance to end Senate rules in this scenario.


Facing the serious implication of changing Senate rules, some Senate Democrats may not support the filibuster of Gorsuch. They can support moving to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination but still vote against him being placed on the Supreme Court. That would preserve the ability to filibuster future Supreme Court nominees


Democrats are facing pressure from their base to do everything possible to stop this nomination, however. If they don’t filibuster, they could be accused of being too soft on what many see as a “stolen” Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by Barack Obama. If more than 40 Democrats decide to filibuster, however, Republicans are likely to change the Senate rules like Harry Reid did in 2013. Even though many have expressed reservations with doing this, Republicans have a greater interest in putting Gorsuch on the court than preserving a Senate tradition.


Either way, it appears that Neil Gorsuch will be taking his place on the Supreme Court. The only unknown is if Republicans will end the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees to get him there.


States Taking Different Directions on Sanctuary Cities


How should states and cities deal with illegal immigrants?

President Donald Trump has taken a variety of actions on immigration at the federal level. Lawmakers in the states are pondering what they can do on this issue, too. Some cities have declared that they are “sanctuary cities” in an attempt to blunt federal immigration efforts. Legislators in some states are working to counteract these efforts. In other areas, legislators want to see their entire state embrace a sanctuary policy.


The federal government controls immigration. Federal law determines who can enter this country and who cannot. There is a federal agency, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that enforces immigration law. There is a longstanding U.S. legal doctrine that forbids the federal government from commandeering state resources to enforce federal laws. This was confirmed by a 1997 Supreme Court decision that overturned a federal law mandating that sheriffs perform background checks for gun purchases.


States and cities do not make immigration law, and the federal government cannot compel these law enforcement agencies to do so. City, county, and state law enforcement can cooperate with the federal government on immigration issues in many ways, however, such as informing ICE of detainees’ immigration status or turning over immigrants to ICE upon request.


In sanctuary cities, lawmakers have said that local law enforcement will not cooperate with the federal government’s immigration enforcement. ICE is still free to operate in the city, but if an illegal immigrant is in the city jail, for instance, the city will not inform ICE.


Cities that have sanctuary policies are not breaking federal law. However, these policies have earned the ire of some state legislators. State governments are ultimately in charge of the extent of cities’ lawmaking jurisdiction. In general, if the state mandates cooperation with the federal government, then cities must comply. Or if state governments refuse to provide funds to cities that do not cooperate with ICE, then cities face a fiscal penalty for their policies.


States where legislators are considering bills to prohibit or punish cities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement include Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.


Other states are moving in the opposite direction. Legislators in California and Maryland are considering bills that would prohibit state and local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. These bills would take sanctuary city policies and mandate them on a state level.


Do you support sanctuary cities (or sanctuary states)? Or should cities work with the federal government on immigration issues?


The Arcane World of Senate Rules


Filibuster. Cloture. Table. Civility.


The world of the U.S. Senate is one that may seem somewhat strange to outsiders. A variety of rules and norms operate in the upper body of the legislative branch. Most of the time the general public doesn’t pay attention to them. But sometimes an action happens on the Senate floor that causes people to notice. If you want to keep an eye on what your state’s senators are doing in Washington, then it may be good to become acquainted with how this body works.


Unlike the House of Representatives that operates more or less under majority rule, the Senate uses rules that are designed to give single members significant power to stop or delay many actions. However, these rules can be suspended under certain circumstances. To do this requires unanimous consent by the members, which is how many things get done in the Senate. However, if one member objects to suspending the rules, then the Senate must follow the process laid down for completing that specific matter.


Much of the business of the Senate is uncontroversial and is done under unanimous consent. However, when there is controversy, then senators invoke Senate rules in an attempt to stop passage of measures with which they disagree. One of the most common tactics under the rule to do this is the filibuster. The Senate rules allow for unlimited debate on a measure. If a senator or group of senators disagrees with a bill or a nomination, they can attempt to talk for as long as possible to stop it. That is a filibuster. Another senator can invoke cloture to stop a filibuster, which requires the approval of 60 senators.


The filibuster used to be relatively rare in the Senate. Today, its use has increased to an extent that senators threaten a filibuster over any item where there is disagreement. In 2013, Senator Harry Reid, who was the Democratic Majority Leader, engineered a change in Senate rules to end the ability to filibuster judicial nominees for positions below the Supreme Court. Some senators have indicated a willingness to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. If that filibuster cannot be broken with the 60-vote threshold, it is likely that Mitch McConnell, who is currently the Republican Majority Leader, would follow in Reid’s footsteps and eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.


At times, senators will vote not on whether to pass a bill, but to lay a bill or resolution on the table to delay its consideration (to “table it”). Technically, anything tabled can be brought up for consideration again (or taken off the table, in parliamentary terms). However, most of the time a vote to table a measure is a vote to kill it. Last year, for instance, the Senate held a vote to table Senate Joint Resolution 39. This resolution expressed disapproval over selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The vote to table it was a vote to kill it, so the vote was effectively a vote to support the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.


The Senate also has rules about how members should act during debates and floor action. There are also norms of civility in the Senate, which is why you may hear senators referring to someone with whom they are debating as “my good friend” or the “honorable gentleman.” A notable example of this aspect of Senate behavior coming under public scrutiny was when Senator McConnell invoked Rule 19 to prevent Senator Elizabeth Warren from continuing a speech about Senator Jeff Sessions. That rule specifies that one senator may not disparage another. Senator Warren appealed the ruling of the chair. In cases like this, the majority of the Senate can decide whether the chair was right. On a party-line vote, the Senate did uphold the decision that Senator Warren broke Rule 19.


The Senate is a deliberative body that prides itself on giving significant power to individual members and to having a strict code of civility. Some see the Senate’s rules and traditions as making it the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Others view them as byzantine procedures that frustrate the will of the majority. What do you think about how the Senate operates?


Do Soda Taxes Hurt or Help Consumers?


Philadelphia rang in the new year with a tax on soda and other drinks. With city residents living under this tax for three months, we can begin to see its impact. Some observers are happy with the changes it has brought to consumer behavior, but others are calling for an end to the soda tax.


One effect is clear: beverage sales are down. This makes sense, of course. Generally, if the price of a product goes up, sales decrease. Public health experts are no fans of sugar-sweetened drinks, so this could have a positive impact on health. However, some experts question whether the Philadelphia tax is written in a way that will have a significant impact, since it taxes drink volume (not sugar content) and also covers sugar-free and zero-calorie drinks.


The economics of the tax may be as unclear as its health effects. What is apparent is drink companies and other businesses are reporting a negative fallout from the tax:


  • Pepsi has stopped selling 2-liter bottles and 12-packs in the city. Pepsi also laid off 80 to 100 workers at a local distribution plant.
  • Temple University increased the price of its meal plan by almost 5%.
  • Canada Dry distributor announced it would cut its workforce by 20%.
  • A grocery chain said it would lay off 300 workers.


What do you think about soda taxes? Should government target these drinks to improve public health? Or should consumers (and workers) not be penalized for choosing certain drinks over others?


President Trump's Appointment Confirmations Tracker



Check out these presidential appointment considered by Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


U.S. Senate Motion 89, Approve Dan Coats as Trump’s Intelligence Director: Passed 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 15, 2017


To confirm Dan Coats as the Director of National Intelligence.


U.S. Senate Legislative Document 86, Approve Seema Verma as Trump’s Medicare administrator: Passed 55 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on March 13, 2017


To confirm Seema Verma as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


U.S. Senate Motion 79, Approve Rick Perry as Trump’s Energy Secretary: Passed 62 to 37 in the U.S. Senate on March 2, 2107


To confirm Rick Perry as the Secretary of Energy.


U.S. Senate Motion 77, Approve Ben Carson as Trump’s HUD Secretary: Passed 58 to 41 in the U.S. Senate on March 2, 2017


To confirm Ben Carson as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.


U.S. Senate Motion 75, Approve Ryan Zinke as Trump’s Interior Secretary: Passed 68 to 31 in the U.S. Senate on March 1, 2017


To confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke as the Secretary of Interior.


U.S. Senate Motion 73, Approve Wilbur Ross as Trump’s Commerce Secretary: Passed 72 to 27 in the U.S. Senate on February 27, 2017


To confirm Wilbur Ross, Jr., as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.


U.S. Senate Motion 71, Approve Scott Pruitt as Trump's EPA Administrator: Passed 52 to 46 in the U.S. Senate on February 17, 2017


To confirm Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.


U.S. Senate Motion 68, Approve Mick Mulvaney as Trump's budget director: Passed 51 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on February 16, 2017


To confirm Mick Mulvaney as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.


U.S. Senate Motion 65, Approve Linda McMahon as Small Business Administrator: Passed 81 to 19 in the U.S. Senate on February 14, 2017


To confirm Linda McMahon as Administrator of the Small Business Administration.


U.S. Senate Motion 63, Approve Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary: Passed 53 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 13, 2017


To confirm Steven Mnuchin as the Secretary of the Treasury.


U.S. Senate Motion 61, Approve Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary: Passed 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 10, 2017

To confirm Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.


U.S. Senate Motion 59, Approve Jeff Sessions as Attorney General: Passed 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 8, 2017


To confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General.


U.S. Senate Motion 54, Approve Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary: Passed 50 to 50 in the U.S. Senate on February 7, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of the Department of Education.


U.S. Senate Motion 36, Approve Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State: Passed 56 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on February 1, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.


U.S. Senate Motion 35, Approve Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary: Passed the U.S. Senate 93 to 6 on January 31, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation.


U.S. Senate Motion 33, Confirm Nikki Haley as UN ambassador: Passed 96 to 4 in the U.S. Senate on January 24, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Governor Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


U.S. Senate Resolution 32, Confirm Rep. Mike Pompeo as CIA Director: Passed 66 to 32 in the U.S. House on January 23, 2017


To confirm the nomination of Rep. Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.


U.S. Senate Motion 30, Approve John Kelly as Homeland Security Secretary: Passed 88 to 11 in the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2017


To confirm John Kelly as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.


U.S. Senate Motion 29, Approve Gen. Mattis as Defense Secretary: Passed 98 to 1 in the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2017


To confirm General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense.


U.S. Senate Bill 84, Allow Gen. Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense: Passed 81 to 17 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017 and 268 to 151 in the U.S. House on January 13, 2017


To waive a provision in federal law that prohibits any military member from serving as Secretary of Defense within seven years of active duty. This bill would allow Gen. James Mattis, whom Donald Trump has selected to run the Defense Department, to serve as Secretary of Defense even though he has only been away from active duty for three years.


Comment below to share what you think of President Trump's appointments!


U.S. Regulatory Reform Tracker


Learn more about the Congressional Review Act, then check out these key regulatory reform bills considered by Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


U.S. Joint Resolution 43, Overturn rule prohibiting states from defunding Planned Parenthood: Passed 230 to 188 in the U.S. House on February 16, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation that prohibits states from denying federal funding to family planning organizations for reasons unrelated to the quality of care they offer. This rule was aimed at stopping states from defunding Planned Parenthood.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 69, Overturn Alaska wildlife control rule: Passed 225 to 193 in the U.S. House on February 16, 2017 and 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on March 21, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration rule that would restrict the practice of killing predators such as wolves and bears in national wildlife refuges in Alaska.


U.S. House Bill 1009, Reform the regulatory process: Passed 241 to 184 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2017


To place in statute a requirement that a bureau called the Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) must review proposed regulations that impose an annual cost on the economy of at least $100 million. Agencies must have considered alternatives, looked at costs, minimized the potential cost on society, and more. Agencies that have not done so must change their regulations to comply with OIRA's suggestions.The bill would expand OIRA's scope to independent agencies, such as the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.


U.S. House Join Resolution 83, Overturn workplace injury reporting rule: Passed 231 to 191 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2107 and 50 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 22, 2017


To overturn an Obama administration regulation that required businesses to record injuries and illnesses in the workplace and retain those records for five years.


U.S. House Bill 998, Create regulatory review commission: Passed 240 to 185 in the U.S. House on March 1, 2017


To establish a commission that would review federal rules that should be repealed to lower the cost of regulation. The commission will prioritize examining rules that are older than 15 years and that impose a high cost or paperwork burden. Congress could repeal a rule recommended by the commission with a joint resolution. Agencies issuing new rules would be mandated to offset that new rule by eliminating a rule recommended by the commission.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 42, Overturn rule restricting unemployment drug testing: Passed 236 to 189 in the U.S. House on February 15, 2017 and 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 14, 2017


To overturn a Department of Labor regulation that allowed states to drug test applicants for unemployment benefits only if the applicants were suited for jobs that required drug testing. In effect, the rule being overturned would not allow states to use widespread drug testing for unemployment benefits.


U.S. Joint Resolution 40, Overturn ban gun possession for some Social Security recipients: Passed 235 to 180 in the U.S. House on February 2, 2017 and 57 to 40 in the U.S. Senate on February 15, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration rule that would prohibit Social Security Income and Disability recipients who are determined to have certain mental disorders from possessing a firearm. Under this rule, anyone in this category who possessed a firearm would be committing a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 36, Overturn methane flaring rule: Passed 221 to 191 in the U.S. House  on February 3, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation that would require energy companies to reduce the release of methane when producing natural gas on federal and tribal lands. The rule would also impose royalty payments on some methane that has been released. This rule would supersede state regulations governing methane releases.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 44, Overturn BLM rule reducing local government role in resource management: Passed 234 to 186 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017 and 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 7, 2017


To overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s “resource management” rule that would reduce the role of local governments in developing BLM plans and give greater weight to input from the public in the preliminary planning process. 


U.S. House Joint Resolution 57, Overturn federal failing school mandate: Passed 234 to 190 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017.


To overturn a Department of Education regulation directing states to identify failing schools using plans to measure the performance of groups of students according to federal standards.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 58, Overturn teacher preparation regulation: Passed 240 to 181 in the U.S. House on February 7, 2017 and 59 to 40 in the U.S. Senate on March 8, 2017


To overturn a Department of Education regulation mandating that states report on the quality of teacher preparation programs, with the possibility of funds being removed from states that do not meet federal standards.


U.S. House Joint Resolution on 41, Overturn additional disclosure mandates on natural resource companies: Passed 235 to 187 in the U.S. House on February 1, 2017 and 52 to 47 in the U.S. Senate on February 3, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration’s rule that resource extraction companies (such as mining, energy, or timber companies) must disclose any payments, such as fees, made to foreign governments.


U.S. House Joint Resolution 37, Overturn mandatory reporting rule for labor issues: Passed 236 to 187 in the U.S. House on February 2, 2017 and 49 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on March 6, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration’s regulations that any company bidding on a federal contract over $500,000 must disclose any violations of labor law or alleged violations of labor law from the past three years.



U.S. House Joint Resolution 38, Overturn coal mining stream rule: Passed 228 to 194 in the U.S. House on February 1, 2017 and 54 to 45 in the U.S. Senate on February 2, 2017


To overturn the Obama Administration regulation mandating complex new rules on how coal companies dispose of mining waste near waterways. The rule also mandated that companies must extensively survey ecosystems prior to mining and then fully restore those ecosystems once mining is complete.


U.S. House Bill 78, Modify financial regulation procedure: Passed 243 to 184 in the U.S. House on January 12, 2017


To require that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) determine the nature and source of a problem before it issues a regulation; issue a regulation only if the benefits justify its cost; assess alternatives to a regulation; and only promulgate regulations that are understandable. The bill also requires that the SEC review old regulations to determine if they are still needed or are too burdensome, and assess the economic impact and effectiveness of large regulations it proposes.


U.S. House Bill 35, Reshape federal regulation process: Passed 238 to 183 in the U.S. House on January 11, 2017


To alter how federal agencies issue regulations. This bill would require that agencies consider the cost of proposed regulations and issue less costly rules if possible, give judges wider leeway to strike down regulations, and prevent regulations costing a billion dollars or more from going into effect until any court challenges against them have been settled. The bill would also require that regulators consider new rules’ impact on small business, publish transparency reports, and write 100-word regulatory summaries in plain English.


U.S. House Bill 26, Mandate congressional approval of major regulations: Passed 237 to 187 in the U.S. House on January 5, 2017


To require that Congress must approve “major” regulations before they go into effect. The bill defines these regulations as costing the economy $100 million annually, imposing a major cost increase on consumers, or significantly affecting U.S. economic productivity or competition.


U.S. House Bill 21, Allow review of last-minute regulations: Passed 238 to 184 in the U.S. House on January 4, 2017


To empower Congress to disapprove whole batches of new regulations imposed during the last days of a president’s term by agencies with a single roll call vote. Under current law, congress has the authority to invalidate "last minute rules" promulgated by an outgoing administration, but doing so requires them to be disapproved one at a time. This legislation would allow disapproval of all regulations submitted during the last 60 days of the congressional session that occurs during the final year of a president’s term.


Comment below to share what you think on regulatory reform!

Wisconsin Senate Bill 10: Allow wider use of cannabidiol oil


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Wisconsin, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Senate Bill 10, Allow wider use of cannabidiol oil: Passed 31 to 1 in the state Senate on February 8, 2017


To allow the possession of cannabidiol oil with the certification from a physician that the oil is for the treatment of a medical condition. Current law allows the possession of cannabidiol only for the treatment of seizures.


Comment below to share what you think of Wisconsin Senate Bill 10!


Tennessee Senate Joint Resolution 9: Call for planning balanced budget constitutional convention


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Tennessee, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Senate Joint Resolution 9, Call for planning balanced budget constitutional convention: Passed 27 to 3 in the state Senate on February 6, 2017


To call for a convention of the states to make plans for a convention that would amend the federal Constitution to require a balanced federal budget.


Comment below to share what you think of Tennessee Senate Joint Resolution 9!


North Carolina House Bill 3: Constitutional amendment on using eminent domain to take private property


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in North Carolina, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


House Bill 3, Constitutional amendment on using eminent domain to take private property: Passed 104 to 9 in the state House on February 16, 2017


To add provisions to the state constitution related to eminent domain property takings, limiting this to "public use" purposes only. Current law allows it for "public use or benefit." The state Supreme Court has also let it be used for "public purpose." The amendment would also require the amount of "just compensation" for taking the property to be determined by a jury trial, if the property owner requests it. It would add natural gas facilities and pipelines to the list of public uses.


Comment below to share what you think of North Carolina House Bill 3!


Tax Increases Coming to West Virginia?



If Governor Jim Justice gets his way, West Virginians may be paying higher taxes and fees. In his budget proposal, the governor has asked legislators to approvea variety of tax increases as a way to eliminate the gap between revenue and desired spending.


In early February, the governor proposed tax and fee increases that included:

  • Increasing the sales tax from 6% to 6.5%
  • Imposing the sales tax on a variety of services that are currently untaxed
  • Levying a .2% gross receipts tax, which a business would pay regardless of its profitability
  • Increasing the beer tax
  • Raising the DMV license fee by $20


Gov. Justice also proposed raising the gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon to pay for new infrastructure projects. That would bring the state gasoline tax to 43.2 cents a gallon.


Later in the month, he revised his proposal in a few significant ways:

  • Increasing the gasoline tax by 4.5 cents a gallon as opposed to 10 cents
  • Charging out-of-state motorists increased tolls when they use West Virginia toll roads
  • Imposing a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks


Do you think these tax increases are the best way to deal with the state’s budget situation? Are you willing to pay higher gasoline prices to pay for state infrastructure projects?


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