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House Rebukes Trump on Border Wall

President Trump may think that there’s an emergency at the U.S.-Mexican border, but the House of Representatives disagrees.

 

By a vote of 245-182, the House voted in favor of House Joint Resolution 46. This resolution terminates the national emergency declared by President Trump earlier this month in order to shift federal funds around to build a border wall. Thirteen Republicans joined all the Democrats in voting for this measure.

 

Under the National Emergencies Act, the law that allows President Trump to declare an emergency, Congress also has the authority to pass a resolution to terminate that emergency declaration. Both houses of Congress must pass the resolution, and it is subject to the president’s veto. If one house of Congress passes the resolution, the other house must consider it within 15 days.  

 

There is likely enough support among Republicans in the Senate to pass a disapproval resolution. However, the majority in the House for approval is does not meet the threshold to override a presidential veto. That means that if President Trump vetoes the resolution, which he is likely to do, then his emergency declaration stands.

 

This is not the end of the fight over the emergency declaration, however. Sixteen states are suing the federal government over this issue.

 

Do you think that Congress should vote to terminate President Trump’s emergency declaration allowing him to build a border wall?

All-Male Draft is Unconstitutional, Court Rules

For men across the U.S., their 18th birthday comes with a mandate to register with the Selective Service. That makes them eligible to be drafted for military service. Women are exempt from this requirement, but that may soon end. A federal judge in Texas recently ruled that mandating that only men register for the draft is unconstitutional.

 

In 1973, the federal government stopped drafting men for military service. However, it still requires that men 18-25 must register with the Selective Service, meaning they could be called up for a future draft if needed.

 

The National Coalition for Men argues that this is discriminatory. They say that women should also be required to register, and brought a constitutional case on those grounds. A Texas judge agreed, saying that the practice was indeed unconstitutional.

 

There had been a similar case in the early 1980s arguing that Selective Service registration was discriminatory. At the time, the courts ruled that since only men served in combat, the government was justified in its requirement. In today’s military, however, women can serve in combat. That, said the Texas judge, undermined the government’s rationale for mandating that only men register with the Selective Service.

 

Do you think that women should register with the Selective Service just like men are required to do? Should women serve in military combat roles?

“ISIS Bride” Puts Citizenship Dispute at the Forefront

Who is a citizen and what duties does the government owe a citizen – these are the questions at the center of a new lawsuit.

 

The case is being brought on behalf of Hoda Muthana, a woman who left the U.S. to marry an ISIS fighter in Syria. She is seeking to return to the U.S. but the Trump Administration is barring her, arguing that she is not a citizen. President Trump has waded into the fray, tweeting that he instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bar her from re-entry.

 

The case hinges on a few key disputes. One is whether Muthana is a citizen or not. She claims that because she was born in the U.S., she is a citizen via birthright citizenship. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is for children born who are not “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” That is generally interpreted to pertain to children of diplomats. Muthana was born to a Yemeni diplomat, but her lawyers argue that her father had resigned his diplomatic position prior to her birth. The Trump Administration counters that this resignation did not become effective until after her birth.

 

A follow-up dispute occurs if indeed Muthana is determined to be a citizen. Her lawyers contend that the government cannot block any citizen from returning to the U.S. They say that if this happens, it would be a violation of the Constitution for a president to unilaterally disregard citizenship protections.

 

If Muthana returns to the U.S., she expects to face criminal charges for her interactions with ISIS.

 

Do you support birthright citizenship, the constitutional practice of recognizing anyone born on U.S. soil as a citizen? Can the government prevent citizens from returning to the U.S.?

Maryland Lawmakers Approve Gender Neutral Drivers’ Licenses

If you live in Maryland and do not identify as either male or female, you may soon be able to receive a gender neutral drivers’ license.

 

Under legislation approved by the state Senate, Marylanders who do not wish to have “F” or “M” on their drivers’ licenses may instead choose “X.” This signifies that the driver identifies as non-binary or gender neutral.

 

Sponsors of the legislation say that it will help gender neutral individuals participate more fully in society. They say it will help them move off the sidelines of public life. Opponents of the legislation argued that a driver’s license is an identifying document, so it should accurately represent the person who holds it.

 

Five other states issue gender neutral licenses. Maryland’s neighbor, the District of Columbia, also issues such licenses, and was the first jurisdiction to do so in 2017.

 

Do you think that states should issue gender neutral drivers’ licenses to people who do not identify as male or female?

Teachers’ Strike Kills Charter Schools, Education Choice in W. Virginia

Charter schools and education savings accounts will not be coming to West Virginia this year. Teachers across the state walked out of school to protest legislation that would enact these education reforms as well as increase teacher salaries. Legislators adjourned without passing the bill, ending the two-day teacher walkout.

 

West Virginia is currently one of the few states where no charter schools operate. These are public schools that have more freedom in terms of curriculum and hiring. They offer a greater choice in the type of education offered, but critics say they harm traditional public schools. The legislation at issue would have made it easier for these schools to open in West Virginia. Another provision would have established education savings accounts, which parents could use to pay for private school tuition if their children have special needs or have been bullied. In addition, the legislation contained a pay raise for teachers and more money for educational support services.

 

Teachers walked off their jobs to hold a vigil at the state capitol in opposition. Every school system in the state except one closed because of a lack of teachers. Legislators adjourned without considering the bill, which killed it for this year.

 

Do you support charter schools? Should parents be able to use education savings accounts to pay for private school tuition or other education expenses?

Bernie Sanders Announces Presidential Run

 

The Democratic presidential field became a little more crowded today. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, announced that he was once again running for president.

 

Sanders, who is 77, is making his second try at the highest office in the land. He campaigned for the Democratic nomination in 2016, an effort that surprised many for how strong it was. Calling himself a democratic socialist, Sanders is aiming at pushing the party to the left on a host of issues that he supports.

 

During his time in the Senate, Sanders has supported “Medicare for All,” a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free community college, a 77% tax rate on billionaire estates, and the Green New Deal.

 

In 2016, Sanders offered a progressive alternative to Clinton. His views, far to the left of the eventual nominee, earned him a rabid following. This cycle, however, many of his fellow candidates for the nomination are embracing policy positions similar to his. It remains to be seen what this will mean in terms of primary voter support for Sanders.

 

What is your opinion of Sen. Bernie Sanders running for president? Do you think that the minimum wage should be $15? Do you support Medicare for All? Should community colleges be tuition-free?

Senate Confirms Trump Attorney General Pick

President Trump has a new attorney general.

 

By a vote of 54 to 45, senators confirmed Bill Barr as attorney general on Thursday. Barr, a former attorney general under George H. W. Bush from 1991 to 1991, is the second attorney general to serve under President Trump.

 

His first, Jeff Sessions, resigned last year. President Trump had criticized Sessions numerous times for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation into possible illegal activities undertaken by the Trump campaign. Some Senate Democrats had voiced concern that Barr will not allow this investigation to continue.

 

Every Senate Republican supported Barr’s nomination except one, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. He expressed concerns about Barr’s support of warrantless wiretapping and opposition to criminal justice reform. Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Kristyn Sinema of Arizona broke with Senate Democrats by voting “yes” on the Barr nomination.

 

Do you support Senate confirmation of Bill Barr to be attorney general?

Trump Declares Emergency to Build Border Wall

There’s an emergency at the national border – at least that’s what President Trump thinks. He said today that he plans to use his powers under a 1976 law to declare an emergency and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

The National Emergency Act of 1976 gives the president broad authority to declare an emergency, which frees up his power to make decisions and spend money in ways that have not been approved by Congress. Previous presidents have used this power a number of times, although this is likely to be the most high-profile and controversial use.

 

President Trump campaigned on the promise of building a wall on the southern border, but has not bene able to convince Congress to fund it. He said that he would sign legislation that would keep the government open and allocate money for some border security, but would pair that action with an emergency declaration that lets him build the wall. The president says that the humanitarian crisis at the border justifies such an action.

 

This has prompted a backlash from Democrats and some conservatives. They argue that there is no real emergency at the border. Instead, they say the president is misusing his powers in order to bypass Congress, not using his power to combat an unexpected crisis.

 

Under the emergency legislation, a majority in each house of Congress can pass a resolution to revoke an emergency declaration. The president would likely veto such a resolution, meaning that 2/3 of Congress would have to override it. Democrats have vowed to introduce and pass such a resolution in the House of Representatives. Besides this resolution, there will also be lawsuits against the president’s actions.

 

Do you support President Trump’s emergency declaration to bypass Congress and build a border wall?

California Kills High-Speed Rail Plans

A high-speed rail system was supposed to connect the state’s two major cities and places in between. But with the cost skyrocketing and prospects for completion years in the future, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he was scaling back the state’s efforts to build an expansive high-speed rail network.

 

In 2008, voters approved an initiative that set aside $10 billion dollars for a network of high-speed trains that run from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Promised federal money largely failed to materialized, and the cost of the system rose to $77 billion (with projections that it could possibly cost more). Completion of the total system would not occur until 2029.

 

Governor Newsom announced that the state should focus on the section connecting Bakersfield and Merced, which has already been started. He made vague promises of continuing to look at completing the rest of the project, but he has criticized the plan in the past for being too expensive.

 

Supporters of this high-speed rail network say that it is necessary to provide affordable public transit for people in California. They say the state could serve as a model for a more environmentally-friendly mode of transportation. Critics point out that high-speed rail lines are very expensive to build and are unlikely to attract the projected number of users. They also say that these would have to be heavily subsidized to continue operation.

 

California’s experience with high-speed rail resonated nationally because proponents of the “Green New Deal” have touted this mode of transportation as a way to reduce air travel.

 

Do you think that high-speed rail lines should be built in the U.S.? Are the high costs of high-speed rail worth it? Is rail a more environmentally-friendly way to get around the U.S.?

Border Security Deal May Avert Government Shutdown

Democrats and Republicans in Congress have agreed on principles of a border security package that would pave the way for bipartisan support for a bill that would fund the federal government. This would stop a looming government shutdown and provide the government with money to operate through the end of the fiscal year. The only question that remains is if President Trump will support it.

 

Under the proposal, the funding bill will contain $1.375 billion for 55 miles of border fencing and over 40,000 slots in immigrant detention facilities. There is also another $1.7 billion for other border security measures. Democrats had been pressing for a cap on slots in interior immigration detention facilities, but this did not make the final cut.

 

President Trump has pushed for $5 billion in funding for a wall or other border barrier. While this deal does not contain full funding for the president’s request, it does contain funding to begin construction.

 

Currently, the federal government is staying open because Congress passed a temporary funding measure that the president signed. That funding runs out on February 15. Congress has time to work out the details and pass a long-term funding measure prior to this date. If the president vetoes it, however, that would possibly lead to another government shutdown unless Congress overrode his veto.

 

Do you support the plan to fund 55 miles in border fencing? Do you think that President Trump should veto the bill because it does not contain full funding for his border wall?

Michigan Governor Seeks to Undo Medicaid Work Requirements

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has only been on the job as Michigan’s governor for a month, but she’s already making a sharp break from her predecessor when it comes to Medicaid policy. Whitmer, a Democrat, is asking legislators to undo work requirements put in place under Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. She faces an uphill battle to undo these Medicaid rules from the Republican-controlled legislature.

 

Under current Michigan law, individuals eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, must meet certain work requirements. These include engaging in work or work-related activities for 80 hours a month. Only those in the Medicaid expansion population – able-bodied adults without children who are between 18 and 62 – face this requirement. There are also exceptions for people who are unable to work.

 

Gov. Whitmer argues that 183,000 people could lose coverage if these rules go into effect in 2020. She is supporting changes that, she says, would still promote work but cut red tape. Legislative leaders, who supported these requirements when they were enacted, are unlikely to take moves that would undo this reform.

 

Under the Obama Administration, the federal government did not grant states waivers to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. The Trump Administration has reversed course, however, and is supporting state efforts in this area.

 

Do you think that able-bodied Medicaid recipients should have to work or enroll in job training in order to receive benefits?

Senate Reauthorizes Israel Aid, Rebukes Trump Syria Policy

This week the U.S. Senate passed S. 1, legislation that dealt with military aid to both Israel and Jordan.

 

Here is how VoteSpotter describes that bill:

 

Reauthorize military aid to Israel and Jordan

To reauthorize military assistance and arm sales to Israel and Jordan. The bill also authorizes state and local governments to pass measures to remove investments from entities that boycott or sanction Israel.

 

Senators supported it by a vote of 77-23.

 

As part of that bill, senators incorporated this amendment offered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

 

Oppose troop withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan

To amend a Middle East defense bill express the sense of the Senate that there continues to be terrorism threats in Syria and Afghanistan and that the sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from those nations will put U.S. national security at risk.

 

Senators supported it by a vote of 70-26. It was a clear rebuke of President Trump’s recent announcement that he would withdraw troops from Syria. While this may be a significant symbolic vote, it was merely a “senate of the Senate” vote that had no force of law.

 

Do you approve of the Senate voting to reauthorize military aid to Israel and Jordan? Do you support President Trump’s removal of troops from Syria?

Washington May Tighten Up Measles Vaccination Requirement

Washington state is facing its worst measles outbreak in two decades. Some legislators think that the state’s lax requirement for measles vaccination is to blame. They are considering legislation that could close loopholes that have led to that state having one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation.

 

With 55 people in Washington and across the border in Oregon sick with measles, Governor Jay Inslee has declared a public health emergency. Most of those infected are unvaccinated children, with the epicenter of the outbreak in a county that has a large unvaccinated population.

 

Washington’s immunization law allows people to enroll their children in school without receiving a measles vaccination if they have a philosophical objection to it. The state also has a large anti-vaccination community that questions the safety of vaccines. Public health officials say that this is the exact scenario that will lead to a larger measles outbreak.

 

Those in the anti-vaccination community contend that vaccines are not safe and that measles is not much of a health threat. Experts counter that the safety of vaccinations has been well proven, and that studies questioning this safety are flawed or fraudulent. They also point out that measles is highly contagious and can be deadly to the unvaccinated, which can include infants and those with compromised immune systems.

 

A legislator has introduced a bill that would only allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for religious and medical reasons. Such legislation has failed in past years to advance in the legislature. In lightof the recent outbreak, advocates for the bill hope that they will see success in this year's legislative session.

 

Do you think that parents should be able to refuse vaccinations for their children based on philosophical objections? Or should they be allowed to skip vaccinations only if they have religious objections or there is a medical reason?

Trump Talks Immigration, Unity in State of the Union Address

President Trump delivered his second State of the Union address last night, sounding familiar themes on immigration, among other issues. He also used the occasion to tout bipartisanship, talking about ways he has worked with Democrats in the past and wishes to work with them in the future.

 

According to the president, “The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well-being of all Americans.” He reiterated his call to build a wall on the southern border, saying, “I’m asking you to defend are very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and our country.”

 

While there has been discussion of the president using emergency powers to build the border wall, during this address he did not say that he would do so. Instead, he asked Congress to support his proposal for “a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall.”

 

Currently, funding to keep the federal government open lasts until February 15. Congress must pass a new spending bill before then to avoid another government shutdown. If the president’s border wall plan is not part of this spending bill, he may veto it, triggering a shutdown.

 

Republicans at the speech reacted favorably to the call for a wall, but Democrats were unenthusiastic. However, the president did talk about bipartisan initiatives he supported, such as criminal justice reform. He also said, “Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure” and discussed efforts to lower drug prices. These are issues that Democrats may find common ground with Republicans.

 

What did you think of President Trump’s State of the Union address? Do you support President Trump’s call to build a border wall? Do you think that Democrats and Republicans should work together on infrastructure and drug prices?

Trump Judicial Pick Neomi Rao under Scrutiny Today

President Trump has made judicial appointments a top priority. That has not escaped the notice of Senate Democrats and liberal activists, who have mobilized to oppose many of them. This battle over the fate of the federal judiciary is once again on display today as Neomi Rao faces senators in the Judiciary Committee.

 

The president has nominated Rao to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The seat has been left empty with the elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Rao is currently Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

 

The president and many legal commentators have praised Rao for her background. They point out that as head of an agency that specializes in regulatory affairs, she is well suited to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court, which handles many regulatory and administrative matters.

 

Opponents counter that she has never served as a litigator. They also say that, while she was in college, she wrote troubling things about women and rape.

 

With Republicans in control of the Senate, Rao’s path to confirmation seems assured. What remains to be seen is if she will pick up any Democratic support in the final Senate vote.

 

Do you think that Neomi Rao should be confirmed as a federal judge? Do you think that someone’s writings during college should be held against them decades later?

Democratic Tax Proposals Target the Rich

The Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nod are betting that the road to the White House is paved with high tax rates for the wealthy. At least, that is how they are designing their presidential campaigns.

 

With high-profile Democrats beginning to announce their candidacies or explore the option of running for president, there is competition to design a plan to tax the rich that will make a candidate stand out in the Democratic primaries.

 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants a “wealth tax” on households with a net worth over $50 million. Sen. Kamala Harris wants to target the rich for higher taxes to pay for a tax credit for households making less than $100,000 a year. Sen. Bernie Sanders would hike the estate tax and lower the number of people who are exempt from it. All three of these senators are running or expected to run for president.

 

This desire to impose high taxes on the rich is not limited to presidential aspirants. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also said that she wants to see a 70% marginal tax rate on incomes over $10 million.

 

While each give differing justifications for their proposals, in general they support these taxes on the rich as a way to reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. They say that tax policy should break up this concentrated wealth and use the revenue to fund programs, especially services for the lower and middle classes.

 

Opponents counter that these proposals are simply class warfare. They say that hiking taxes in this way would discourage work and wealth creation, which would hurt the economy and kill jobs.

 

These tax plans are designed to appeal to the more liberal part of the Democratic coalition. It remains to be seen if they will have broader appeal as the Democratic primaries approach next year.

 

Do you think that the federal government should dramatically increase tax rates on wealthy Americans?

House of Representatives Votes to Hike Federal Employee Pay


With federal employees returning to work this week after the partial government shutdown, the House of Representatives passed legislation to increase their pay.

Here is the description from VoteSpotter:

 

HB 790

Increase federal employee pay

To increase the base rate of pay for most federal civilian employees by 2.6%. This pay raise would not apply to the vice president or most appointees made by the president.

Passed 259-161 on January 30

 

Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, sponsored this legislation. All the Democrats voting supported it, while the majority of Republicans opossed it. It remains to be seen if the Republican-controlled Senate will consider it.

 

Do you support federal employees receiving a 2.6% pay raise?

Assisted Suicide Bill Considered in Maryland

It goes by a lot of names – assisted suicide, aid in dying, physician-assisted death, death with dignity, to name a few. Whatever term that one prefers, Maryland legislators are considering a bill that would allow doctors to aid terminally ill people who are seeking to die.

 

Under proposed legislation, Marylanders with a terminal illness who have fewer than six months to live could receive a prescription for drugs that would allow them to die in their sleep. The “End of Life Option Act” would shield participating physicians from civil or criminal liability for prescribing lethal medication in these instances.

 

Supporters of this bill say it is necessary to allow those who have painful illnesses to die with dignity. They argue that someone who wants to end his or her life quickly rather than suffering through a painful dying process, a doctor should be able to help that person. Opponents counter that doctors should preserve life, not take it.

 

Previous versions of this bill have been introduced in Maryland during past legislative sessions but have not received a favorable vote. Sponsors are hopeful that with a new crop of more liberal legislators elected in 2018, this may be the year for it to become law. Governor Larry Hogan has signaled that he is not supportive of assisted suicide.

 

If this legislation is enacted in Maryland, that state will join California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, and Vermont as states where assisted suicide is legal.

 

Do you think that it should be legal for doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication for patients with a terminal illness?

Virginia Considers Late-Term Abortion Bill

Legislation to loosen restrictions on late-term abortions is causing controversy in Virginia as supporters and opponents argue over how close to birth abortions could be performed.

 

The bill in question would reduce the number of doctors required to approve a late-term abortion from 3 to 1 and would remove the requirement that late-term abortions could only be performed because of a medical health risk to the mother. It also allows these abortions to take place in facilities that are subject to fewer health regulations than in current law.

 

Opponents of the legislation say that this would remove important safeguards that prevent abortions from occurring up until the moment of birth. They point to a video of the bill’s sponsor in which she testifies that the bill would allow abortions until a few moments before delivery. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a supporter of the legislation, also stoked controversy when he appears to discuss whether a doctor should resuscitate a baby who is born alive after an abortion attempt.

 

Supporters of the bill counter that in cases where these abortions would take place, they would involve situations with non-viable fetuses. They say that they are only talking about extreme situations, and that opponents are taking their words out of context.

 

With Republicans in control of both houses of the legislature, this late-term abortion bill is unlikely to make it to Gov. Northam’s desk.

 

Do you think that it should be easier for women to get late-term abortions?

Estate Tax Repeal Introduced in Senate

Some call it the estate tax. Others label it the death tax. Whatever name it goes by, the federal tax levied on the transfer of someone’s estate after death a popular topic of discussion in Congress. There has long been a move to repeal it, and legislation will continue that effort during the new session of Congress.

 

Senator John Thune (R-SD) has introduced S. 215, a bill to repeal the estate tax. Twenty-eight senators, all Republicans, have cosponsored it. The current estate tax rate is 40%. The 2017 tax cut legislation raised the amount of an estate that is exempt from this tax to $11.4 million for individuals.

 

When Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 election, repeal of the estate tax (which they labeled as the “death tax”) was a top priority. The tax cut legislation signed into law by George W. Bush phased out the estate tax, and eliminated it entirely for one year. When those tax cuts expired, however, the federal estate tax came back, too. Farmers have pushed hard for a repeal, saying that the estate tax forces them to break up their farms or go through costly planning to structure their farms to avoid the tax.

 

Supporters of repealing the estate tax point to studies showing that it harms economic growth. They note that it taxes income twice – once when it’s earned and again when it is passed to heirs. They also contend that the tax is easily avoided if people structure their estates in the right way, but that this avoidance is costly and harmful to the economy. Opponents of a repeal say that it helps stop the accumulation of wealth from being passed from generation to generation, something that entrenches income inequality.

 

Do you think that the estate tax should be repealed?

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