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House Committee Advances 3 Gun Control Bills

New gun control bills are headed to the House of Representatives this month. On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee approved three bills that advance key Democratic priorities on firearms.

 

The three bills passed by the Judiciary Committee tackle different aspects of federal and state gun laws:

 

H.R. 1186 – To ban the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of an ammunition device that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Such devices that are already in the possession of an individual could be retained but could not be transferred to anyone else.

 

H.R. 1236 – To create a federal grant program for states to use to support activities concerning extreme protection orders. These orders, sometimes called "red flag" orders, allow law enforcement to seize someone's firearms if a court determines that a person poses a danger to himself or others. Such orders can be issued without conducting a hearing with the person in question under some circumstances.

 

H.R. 2708 – To prohibit anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from possessing a firearm.

 

Each of the bills passed along a party-line vote. Republicans on the committee offered amendments that they said would approve the bills. Democrats rejected them, then passed the bills over Republican objections.

 

Gun control has become a hot topic in Congress and on the 2020 campaign trail. Democrats are pushing for stronger federal laws that they say will prevent gun crime, especially mass shootings. They argue that the federal government needs to strengthen its gun laws, which have gone decades without revision. Republicans, however, argue that these laws are ineffective to address the real causes of crime and mass shootings. They also say that the laws may infringe upon a individual's constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

 

With the Judiciary Committee's approval, all three of these bills are headed to the House floor for a vote. Speaker Pelosi will likely schedule them for consideration at some point in September. Given the Democratic majority in that chamber, they are almost certain to pass. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to schedule any of the bills for a vote in that chamber unless President Trump signals his support.

 

Do you think that the federal government should ban people from buying or owning gun magazines that hold more than 10 bullets?

Deep Dive: Judiciary Committee Impeachment Investigation

This week the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a resolution to begin an impeachment inquiry on President Donald Trump. This is something that many Democrats have been pressing the committee to do. However, other Democrats, notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are cautious about impeachment, viewing it as politically risky. 

 

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

 

The House Judiciary Committee vote means that this committee will begin investigating whether the president has committed the actions described in the Constitution that warrant impeachment. According to the resolution, "The Chairman may designate a full committee or subcommittee hearing as being for the purpose of the presentation of information in connection with the Committee's investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Donald J. Trump."

 

Many Democrats accuse the president of obstructing justice and other crimes. They say that it is the House’s duty to impeach under these circumstances. The House Judiciary Committee's actions could add more clarity to these charges. However, Speaker Pelosi has cautioned members that such a move is politically risky, pointing out that Republicans lost popularity when they impeached President Clinton in the 1990s.

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, there is a possibility that the Judiciary Committee and then 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.

Deep Dive: Finishing the Yearly Federal Spending Bills

With Congress returning from its August recess, there are now three weeks left until the next fiscal year begins on October 1. Congress has yet to pass any of the spending, or appropriations, bills that fund the federal government from year-to-year. This month will see this legislation take top priority in order to avoid a 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 in October, Congress must pass these 12 spending bills 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. 

 

The Senate leadership said that they would not consider spending bills until a budget deal had been approved by the president and Congress. That happened over the summer, so the Senate Appropriations Committee is now set to begin work on this legislation. The Senate version of the bills will likely be different from what the House of Representatives passed, so these bills will have to go through a conference committee to eliminate any differences. Then both Houses will have to pass identical versions of spending legislation.

 

It will be difficult to get this done with only three weeks remaining in the fiscal year. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that the likely outcome will be a short-term spending bill until November 22. That would give Congress enough time to complete the appropriations process and pass spending bills that the House, Senate, and president can agree upon. However, the Senate may include more funding for a border wall in its version of the spending bills, something that Democrats have resisted. If that happens, it could lead to another impasse over federal spending legislation and a possible government shutdown similar to what we saw earlier this year.

 

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. If the Senate and House cannot agree on spending bills that are acceptable to both bodies, as well as the president, there could be a repeat of the 2018-2019 partial government shutdown. The budget agreement makes this less likely, but it could still happen.

House Committee Considers Gun Magazine Ban, Red Flag Laws

Today the House Judiciary Committee is meeting to consider three gun control bills:

 

H.R. 1186 – To ban the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of an ammunition device that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Such devices that are already in the possession of an individual could be retained but could not be transferred to anyone else.

 

H.R. 1236 – To create a federal grant program for states to use to support activities concerning extreme protection orders. These orders, sometimes called "red flag" orders, allow law enforcement to seize someone's firearms if a court determines that a person poses a danger to himself or others. Such orders can be issued without conducting a hearing with the person in question under some circumstances.

 

H.R. 2708 – To prohibit anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from possessing a firearm.

 

These bills are being advanced in the wake of two mass shootings in Texas. Congressional Democrats have been calling for stricter gun control since they took control of Congress earlier this year. The House of Representatives has passed legislation that extends the application of federal instant background check laws to private gun sales, but the Senate has failed to act on this legislation.

 

One of the most controversial proposals is H.R. 1236, which provides federal incentives for states to enact so-called “red flag” laws. These laws create a new class of protective order that allows law enforcement to seize someone’s guns without a court hearing in cases where there is an allegation that the person is a threat to himself or others. Supporters say this is a vital tool to prevent dangerous people from committing harm with firearms. Critics say it is a way for government to seize guns without due process.

 

If passed by the Judiciary Committee, these bills will likely come for a vote in the House of Representatives soon. However, there is little chance for action on them in the Senate.

 

Do you support laws that allow police to confiscate someone’s firearms if they believe the person poses a threat? Should these confiscations occur without a court hearing allowing the person to contest the confiscation?

 

Trump Considering Backing Background Checks for Private Gun Sales

In the wake of three recent mass shootings, there are increased calls for new gun control measures. President Trump has signaled his support for universal background checks, something that has put him at odds with some in the Republican Party.

 

Currently, federal law requires that any gun sales from federally-licensed firearms dealers must first go through a background check. Sales between private individuals do not have to complete a background check under federal law, although some states require this. President Trump is considering supporting legislation that would expand this mandate nationally.

 

Supporters of such a requirement say that it is necessary to close a "loophole" that allows people who are prohibited from owning firearms from buying them. They say that this will help stop dangerous people from owning guns. Opponents point out that the vast majority of gun sales already go through background checks, and this would only burden individuals who are looking to sell a gun from their private collection or pass along guns to family members.

 

While President Trump has signaled he supports legislation to require universal background checks, many in the Republican Party do not. The National Rifle Association has also come out against such a mandate. Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have introduced a bill that would put this requirement into law, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to schedule it for a Senate vote. It remains to be seen if President Trump will try to persuade Republicans to back this bill and expand the federal background check requirement.

 

Do you think that all gun sales, including private sales between individuals, should go through the federal background check system?

 

Deep Dive: The Debt Limit

President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have reached a deal on a two-year budget proposal that increases spending and suspends the federal debt limit for two years. Within the past decade, there have been bitter political fights over raising the debt limit. Now, however, there is bipartisan agreement to suspend it altogether.

 

What Is the Debt Limit?

 

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” Using this authority, Congress sets a limit on how much the federal government can borrow. This is called the “debt limit.”

 

Federal spending includes both discretionary spending through the appropriations process and spending that has been authorized by law to happen automatically through federal entitlement programs. If this federal spending exceeds federal revenue, then there is a deficit and the government must borrow money to finance this spending. The debt limit sets a cap on how much borrowing can occur. That number is whatever the members of the House of Representatives and the President agree it will be.

 

The debt limit covers several different types of government debt issuance:

  • Debt to finance budget deficits
  • Debt to pay for intergovernmental borrowing
  • Debt incurred by federal lending, such as student loans

 

When federal borrowing is approaching the debt limit, Congress has four options:

  • Vote to raise the debt limit
  • Keep the current debt limit in place and not allow future borrowing
  • Keep the current debt limit in place but take steps to postpone the limit from being breached
  • Vote to suspend or eliminate the debt limit

 

Under “extraordinary circumstances,” the Treasury Secretary can suspend the debt limit. This occurred in March when Secretary Steven Mnuchin suspended the debt limit to allow time for the president and Congress to negotiate a new one.

 

Controversy Surrounding Raising the Debt Limit

 

Congressional action to increase the debt limit was relatively uncontroversial until 2011. In that year, congressional Republicans refused to increase the debt limit without budget concessions from President Obama. Two days before the debt limit would expire, the president and Congress agreed to a package of items designed to control future spending in return for a debt limit increase.

 

In 2013, there was another fight between Congress and the president over the debt limit. Republicans wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in return for an increase in the debt limit. This issue became tied up with the yearly government funding legislation, and a resolution occurred that raised the debt limit and ended a government shutdown.

 

Both of these disputes over the debt limit increase caused significant alarm in some quarters. Observers pointed out that that annual spending bills and entitlement programs had authorized spending that, in the absence of enough revenue, must be paid for by borrowing. Failing to raise the debt limit would impair the federal government’s ability to borrow money to engage in the activities that members of Congress and the president had already agreed to do. This could lead to the U.S. being in default, or in lenders penalizing the federal government with less favorable terms for borrowing.

 

The Future of the Debt Limit

 

Under the current deal reached by the president and congressional leaders, there would be a two-year suspension of the debt limit. This follows a one-year suspension of the debt limit that expired earlier this year. A suspension does not raise the debt limit by a set amount; instead, it allows the limit to lapse for a defined period of time, after which the debt limit is re-imposed at a level that takes into account the borrowing that occurred in the interim.

 

While there was controversy over raising the debt limit earlier in the decade, this may signal that there is little political will to have such a fight in the future. For two years, at least, there will be no disputes between Congress and the president over the debt limit, which pushes the issue past the 2020 election.

 

What Does This Mean for You?

 

According to some observers, past fights over the debt limit have led to volatile financial markets and reduced economic growth. If these analysts are correct, this means that removing further uncertainty about the debt limit will remove a barrier to economic growth. However, not all experts agree that the economy suffers due to disagreements about the debt limit.

 

However, members of Congress used agreeing to the 2011 debt limit increase as a way to enact a measure of budget discipline. Since the debt limit increase is seen as one of the few “must pass” pieces of legislation, using it as leverage is a way to force votes on other issues. For individuals concerned about budget deficits and federal spending, a two-year deal on the debt limit means one less method to enforce a measure of fiscal discipline.

Recent Shootings Prompt Calls for Gun Control

After three recent mass shootings, Democrats are renewing their calls for more federal gun control laws. However, congressional Republicans and President Trump are pushing back, saying instead that the focus should be on mental illness.

 

Dozens were killed and wounded by shooters in California, Texas, and Ohio in recent days. This has led some to say that such shootings could be prevented with stronger laws restricting the sales of guns and what types of guns can be possessed. Among the measures being proposed is a ban on so-called “assault rifles” and expanded background checks. Some state lawmakers are also supporting “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to seize guns from individuals suspected of posing an immediate threat.

 

The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would mandate that private sales and transfers of guns go through background checks. Currently anyone who has a federal firearms license must conduct a background check, but private sales between individuals do not require such checks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not scheduled this bill for a vote in the Senate, and is unlikely to do so.

 

Supporters of these gun control measures say that they are necessary to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who commit mass shootings. Opponents argue that these measures will only hurt law-abiding gun owners. They point out that the vast majority of gun owners do not commit crimes, so the focus should be on the small number of individuals who misuse them. President Trump tweeted his support for looking at mental health issues after these shootings.

 

Do you think that there should be stronger gun control laws? Or is the problem related to mental health, not guns?

House Passes Bill to Prop Up Insolvent Pension Funds

Many union-managed pension funds are in big financial trouble. Under a bill approved by the House of Representatives, these funds may be headed for a federal bailout.

 

By a vote of 264-169, the House passed H.R. 397 on July 24. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To authorize government "loans" that would be "forgivable" to massively underfunded and insolvent multi-employer pension funds, which are usually managed by labor unions.

 

This bill affects pension funds that are sponsored by multiple employers but managed by unions. Numerous plans do not have enough funding to pay full benefits in the years to come. Supporters say that the bill is necessary to ensure that people who were promised pension benefits actually receive them. They argue that without this bill, people would be left without the retirement funds they were promised.

 

Opponents counter that this bill is special interest legislation that benefits the unions who have mismanaged these pension funds. They say that taxpayers will be bearing the burden of propping up the funds and paying for the mistakes of union officials.

 

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to schedule it for floor action.

 

Do you think that the federal government should provide forgivable loans to union-sponsored pension plans to keep them from going insolvent?

Senator Targets “Addictive” Social Media

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) thinks that social media companies addict users, and he wants the federal government to do something about it.

 

Under a bill introduced by Sen. Hawley, social media companies would be banned from offering more content than a user requested in ways that try to keep the user engaged with the platform. This would end things such as YouTube’s autoplay feature and Facebook’s infinite scroll.

 

According to Sen. Hawley, these are features designed to addict people and psychologically trick them to use social media more than they want. He says it is proper for government to step in to protect people from these predatory practices. Opponents of this legislation say that companies should be free to innovate, and that the federal government would stifle such innovation with laws like Hawley’s.

 

This legislation comes in the midst of attacks on technology companies from both liberals and conservatives. Criticisms range from charges of censorship of conservative ideas to exploitation of users. Sen. Hawley has introduced other legislation targeting technology companies in response to these charges.

 

The enforcement of this legislation would be left to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. They could sue technology companies that continue to use what Hawley terms as “addictive” features.

 

Do social media companies design their products to “addict” users? Do you think that the federal government should ban features that regulators deem to be “addictive”?

Senator Targets “Addictive” Social Media

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) thinks that social media companies addict users, and he wants the federal government to do something about it.

 

Under a bill introduced by Sen. Hawley, social media companies would be banned from offering more content than a user requested in ways that try to keep the user engaged with the platform. This would end things such as YouTube’s autoplay feature and Facebook’s infinite scroll.

 

According to Sen. Hawley, these are features designed to addict people and psychologically trick them to use social media more than they want. He says it is proper for government to step in to protect people from these predatory practices. Opponents of this legislation say that companies should be free to innovate, and that the federal government would stifle such innovation with laws like Hawley’s.

 

This legislation comes in the midst of attacks on technology companies from both liberals and conservatives. Criticisms range from charges of censorship of conservative ideas to exploitation of users. Sen. Hawley has introduced other legislation targeting technology companies in response to these charges.

 

The enforcement of this legislation would be left to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. They could sue technology companies that continue to use what Hawley terms as “addictive” features.

 

Do social media companies design their products to “addict” users? Do you think that the federal government should ban features that regulators deem to be “addictive”?

Senate Continuing to Focus on Confirming Trump Nominees

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made no secret that he wants to see the Senate confirm as many of President Trump’s nominees as possible. This has become a top priority for the upper chamber, with far more votes occurring on nominations than on legislation.

 

Many of the nominees being confirmed are federal judges. When Democrats controlled the Senate, they had eliminated the filibuster for some judges; under Sen. McConnell’s leadership, the Senate ended the filibuster entirely for judges and other nominees. The majority leader also reduced the time necessary to consider nominees.

 

The result has been numerous nominee votes during 2019. In recent weeks, these have included some confirmation votes that were broadly bipartisan. The Senate confirmed General Mark Milley as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by a vote of 89-1 and Mark Esper as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 90-8.

 

Some confirmation votes split the Democratic caucus, with a sizable number of Democrats supporting President Trump’s nominee. These include Donald Tapia’s nomination to be ambassador to Jamaica (confirmed 66-26), Thomas Barber’s nomination to be a federal judge for the Middle District of Florida (confirmed 77-19), and Rodney Smith’s nomination to be a federal judge for the Southern District of Florida (confirmed 78-18).

 

Most confirmation votes fall largely on partisan lines, however. The Senate confirmed Brian Buescher as federal judge for the District of Nebraska by a vote of 51-40, Wendy Williams Berger as federal judge for the Southern District of Florida by a vote of 54-37, Stephen Dickson to be Federal Aviation Administration Administrator by a vote of 52-40, and Daniel Bess to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 53-45.

 

These votes fall in line with the pattern of other confirmations during the Trump Administration. A few nominations receive widespread bipartisan support, but most only attract a handful of Democratic votes. Supporters of the president say that this is an example of Democratic obstructionism, in which they will do anything to stymie the president. Critics of the president counter that he is nominating radical or unqualified people for these posts, and senators are only doing their duty in opposing them.

 

Do you think that President Trump’s nominees should receive wider bipartisan support? Or are Democratic senators right in opposing many of them?

House Passes Resolution Condemning Boycotts of Israel

Bipartisanship is rare in the House of Representatives these days, but it is not dead – Democrats and Republicans joined together this week to pass a resolution that condemns the efforts to boycott Israel and force companies to divest from that nation.

 

House Resolution 246 spells out some of the problems that these House members see with this boycott and divestment movement:

 

Whereas the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel is a campaign that does not favor a two-state solution and that seeks to exclude the State of Israel and the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of the rest of the world;

 

Whereas the BDS Movement targets not only the Israeli government but also Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, religions, and ethnicities, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel;

 

Whereas the BDS Movement does not recognize, and many of its supporters explicitly deny, the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination;

 

The resolution concludes by saying that the House of Representatives:

 

opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel;

 

…affirms that the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure;

 

… reaffirms its strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states—a democratic Jewish State of Israel, and a viable, democratic Palestinian state—living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.

 

While the vote was overwhelming in favor of this resolution, it was not unanimous. The House passed it 389-17, with 5 members voting “present.” Sixteen Democrats and 1 Republican voted against it.

 

Those who supported the resolution said it was necessary to show support for Israel, a strong American ally. Opponents countered that the House of Representatives should not be interfering with peaceful movements to make political change. They said that those pushing for a boycott of Israel are exercising their First Amendment rights.

 

This is a non-binding resolution, so it will have no legal effect on the organizations and individuals who are pushing to boycott Israel.

 

Do you agree that efforts to boycott Israel should be condemned?

Trump, Pelosi Agree on Spending Increase, Debt Limit

While President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have their differences, they have found common ground in at least two areas: an increase in federal spending and a suspension of the debt limit.

 

The president and the Speaker of the House, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced that they have come to a budget agreement that includes $320 billion in new spending and a two-year suspension of the debt limit.

 

Some see this as a victory for responsible government, as it averts a government shutdown this year and the possibility that the federal government would default on its debt payments. During both the Trump and Obama Administrations, there have been numerous government shutdowns due to differences over federal spending or threats of a shutdown. There have also been repeated attempts to stop the debt limit from increasing, which would end the capacity of the federal government to borrow money to cover the budget deficit. President Trump praised the new spending as a way to revive American military strength.

 

However, this deal has drawn strong criticism from both liberals and conservatives. Liberals do not like that this agreement precludes them from using the spending process to stop the Trump Administration’s actions at the border. They argue that Congress is giving up a prime way to counter the president’s moves. Conservatives, on the other hand, decry the increased spending and government borrowing that will come from this agreement. They note that the president ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and that this deal is the opposite of that.


When President Trump entered office, the budget deficit was $516 billion. It will likely top $1 trillion this year. Government debt was $19 billion when the president was sworn in; today, it is $22 trillion.

 

Congress must pass this budget deal. While party leaders in both the House and Senate support it, there will be strong opposition from some members.

 

Do you support the budget deal that President Trump and Nancy Pelosi negotiated? Do you agree that the federal government should spend an additional $320 billion? Is it a good idea to suspend the debt limit?

House to Consider Bill to Raise Immigration Detention Standards

The situation at the U.S.-Mexican border continues to be the center of attention for many elected officials. Both President Trump and Democrats in Congress are focusing on this issue, though with widely different ideas on how to solve the problems on the southern border. This week the House of Representatives will vote on one idea put forward by Democrats – increasing the standards of care for those detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

 

Some observers have criticized the CBP for detaining individuals under inhumane conditions. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) has introduced H.R. 3239, the “Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act.” This bill would require that CBP provide the following services to those in its custody:

  • A health screening
  • Emergency medical care
  • Access to drinking water and hygiene facilities
  • Adequate meals

 

The legislation also sets standards for the buildings housing detainees and forbids unaccompanied minors from being housed with adults. In addition, the bill would require that members of Congress have access to these facilities.

 

Following visits to CBP facilities, some members of Congress have decried the conditions there and have complained about their treatment by CBP staff. Some have even labeled such facilities as “concentration camps.” This charges have met pushbacks by Trump Administration officials, who say that detainees are being treated as well as possible under the circumstances of a rising tide of illegal immigration.


The House is expected to pass H.R. 3239 this week. However, it is unlikely to receive a vote in the Senate.

 

Do you think that Congress should pass legislation to mandate certain standards of care for immigration detention facilities?

 

 

 

 

House Passes $15 Minimum Wage


Supporters of the “Fight for 15” achieved a victory yesterday, as the House of Representatives passed legislation to increase the minimum wage.

 

By a vote of 231-199, the House passed H.R. 582. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in over 5 years. This legislation would also end the ability of nonprofits to offer work paying below the minimum wage to people with disabilities and end the different minimum wage rates for tipped and newly-hired employees.

 

This legislation would gradually increase the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over 7 years. Ever year during that time, the minimum wage would automatically go up. Then, after the seventh year, the Department of Labor would increase the minimum wage based on the increase in the median hourly wage for all employees.

 

In addition, this bill would end the ability of employers to pay lower waged to tipped workers and younger workers who are new hires. The federal program that allows some nonprofits to pay wages that are based on productivity but are below the minimum wage to people with disabilities would also end.

 

Supporters of this proposal say that workers should be paid a “living wage,” and that $15 an hour will help accomplish this. They also argue that this boost in wages will put more money into the economy, helping businesses. Opponents counter that this higher minimum wage will boost the pay of some workers, but will destroy the jobs of others. They contend that businesses will be hurt with the new burden of paying higher wages, since they will face the choice of raising prices or letting people go.

 

A recent Congressional Budget Office study concluded that a $15 minimum wage would increase the wages of 17 million workers while eliminating the jobs of 1.3 million workers and reducing business income.

 

This legislation now heads to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is unlikely to schedule it for a vote.

 

Do you support a $15 an hour minimum wage?

House Votes to Hold Barr, Ross in Contempt

The House of Representatives is in an ongoing dispute with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr over documents related to the 2020 census. Yesterday, the House voted to hold both of these cabinet officials in criminal contempt.

 

By a vote of 230-198, the House approved House Resolution 497, “Recommending that the House of Representatives find William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States, and Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary of Commerce, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with subpoenas duly issued by the Committee on Oversight and Reform.”

 

The issue in question is the attempt by the Trump Administration to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has subpoenaed documents from both the Commerce Department and Justice Department about how and why such a question was added. President Trump has exerted executive privilege over some of this information, so the two cabinet secretaries have not fully complied with the subpoena.

 

Both secretaries argue that they are complying to the fullest extent possible with the subpoenas. However, House Democratic leadership is not satisfied and pushed for a criminal contempt vote. Only four Democrats voted “no,” while no Republicans supported the measure. Rep. Justin Amash, who recently left the Republican Party to become an independent, voted “yes.”

 

This action sends the contempt finding to the Justice Department for prosecution. It is unlikely if the Attorney General will pursue such criminal contempt charges against himself and Secretary Ross.

 

Do you think that the House was right to hold Attorney General Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt for not complying fully with subpoenas regarding the 2020 census?

House to Consider Moving Forward on Impeachment

Yesterday, Rep. Al Green (D-TX) introduced articles of impeachment against President Trump. In those articles, Rep. Green accuses President Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors for his comments about four members of Congress. Rep. Green’s motion is a privileged motion, which means that it requires a vote within two days. Today, the House of Representatives will vote on a procedural motion that could either begin or kill impeachment proceedings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to make a motion to table, or indefinitely delay, consideration of these articles.

 

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

 

Aside from Rep. Green's motion, there is growing movement in the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. These members accuse the president of obstructing justice and other crimes, saying that it is the House’s duty to impeach under these circumstances. Speaker Pelosi has cautioned members that such a move is politically risky, pointing out that Republicans lost popularity when they impeached President Clinton in the 1990s. Her move to table Rep. Green's articles fit in with her longstanding reluctance to launch an inquiry that could lead to impeachment.

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, there is a possibility that it 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.

House Democrats Ready Resolution to Condemn Trump’s Tweets

President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter is once again causing controversy. This time it may lead to a formal vote of condemnation in the House of Representatives.

 

On Sunday, President Trump tweeted that four Democratic members of Congress -- Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) – should “go back” to their home countries. Rep. Omar is the only one of these four who was born outside the U.S.

 

This brought swift condemnation from many for being racist and for trying to silence his critics. In a series of continuing tweets, the president denied that he was racist. He also continued attacking these members of Congress, saying that they hate America and should apologize to him, the U.S., and Israel for their actions.

 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans a vote on House Resolution 489 this week. The resolution reads, in part:

 

Whereas President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color: Now, therefore, be it

 

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

 

(1) believes that immigrants and their descendants have made America stronger, and that those who take the oath of citizenship are every bit as American as those whose families have lived in the United States for many generations;

 

(2) is committed to keeping America open to those lawfully seeking refuge and asylum from violence and oppression, and those who are willing to work hard to live the American Dream, no matter their race, ethnicity, faith, or country of origin; and

 

(3) strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders,” and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

 

This resolution will have no force of law, but it would indicate that the House of Representatives disapproves of the president’s attacks its members.

 

Do you think that the House of Representatives should vote to condemn President Trump’s attacks on some members of Congress? Do you think that telling minority members of Congress to “go back” to their home countries is racist?

 

 

Immigration Reform Advancing in Congress

Immigration has been a major issue throughout President Trump’s time in office. This week Congress tackled that subject, with the House passing a bill that would allow more high-skilled immigrants into the country.

 

HR 1044 would eliminate the 7% cap on employment-based immigrant visas, and end the country-based caps on high-skilled immigrants or investor immigrants. In addition, it would also increase the country-based cap for family-based immigrants.

 

The House passed this legislation by a vote of 365-65.

 

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced legislation in the Senate that would accomplish similar goals. His bill, S. 2091, would nearly double the number of employment-based immigration visas (from 140,000 to 270,000), end the country-based caps on employment-based immigration, lower the burdens on hiring immigrants in occupations deemed to have a shortage of workers, and ease rules on work for some family members of those who hold work visas.

 

These bills are not comprehensive immigration reform, but they do address issues for higher-skilled immigrants. As reflected in the bipartisan support for HR 1044, there is consensus across the political spectrum that it should be easier for high-skilled immigrants or immigrants who have a job waiting for them to enter the U.S.

 

Even with this consensus, it is unclear if President Trump would sign such legislation. The president has said he would like any immigration reform to deal with border security.

 

Do you think that the U.S. should allow more high-skilled immigrants into the country?

$15 Minimum Wage Would Cost Jobs, Study Finds

The “Fight for 15” is a popular idea within the Democratic Party and progressive political circles. A study released yesterday concluded that hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour would indeed give some people a wage boost, but it would cost others their jobs.

 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at three options for raising the minimum wage above its current level of $7.25 an hour. The three wage levels it looked at were $10 an hour, $12 an hour, and $15 an hour. Here’s what the CBO concluded about what the effects of a $15 an hour minimum wage would be:

 

In an average week in 2025, the $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well. But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless, according to CBO’s median estimate. There is a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers. The number of people with annual income below the poverty threshold in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million.

 

The CBO also concluded that a $15 minimum wage would have impacts on family income:

 

  • Real earnings for workers while they remained employed would increase by $64 billion,
  • Real earnings for workers while they were jobless would decrease by $20 billion,
  • Real income for business owners would decrease by $14 billion, and
  • Real income for consumers would decrease by $39 billion.

 

This study points to the trade-offs that would come from a minimum wage hike. Some workers would see an immediate wage hike, but other workers would lose jobs. Businesses and consumers would also be affected by such a hike. With this issue likely to be a part of the 2020 presidential race, the CBO’s study gives more information on the effects of a minimum wage increase to inform the debate.

 

Do you think that the federal minimum wage should be raised to $15? Is the trade-off of higher wages for some workers worth it if other workers lose their jobs?

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