Congress

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Senate Continuing to Focus on Judicial Nominations

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

 

These are the nominees confirmed by senators this week:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

House Passes Impeachment Inquiry Resolution

Today the House of Representatives approved a resolution outlining how the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Trump will be conducted.

 

By a vote of 232-196, the House approved House Resolution 660, which directs House committees to continue “ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its Constitutional power to impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America.”

 

Specifically, this resolution lays out certain procedures for the impeachment inquiry. These include:

  • The Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence must hold hearings open to the public.
  • Minority members of the Intelligence Committee may subpoena individuals for testimony, but only if the chairman of the committee or a majority of the committee agrees.
  • Transcripts of depositions may be made public.
  • The Intelligence Committee will transmit its findings to the House Judiciary Committee, which may then hold open impeachment hearings.
  • Minority members of the Judiciary Committee may subpoena individuals for testimony, but only if the chairman of the committee or a majority of the committee agrees.

 

The vote on this resolution fell largely along partisan lines. All Republicans opposed it, while all but two Democrats supported it. President Trump and Republicans had argued that the current impeachment inquiry was illegitimate because it was not sanctioned by a full House vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi countered that there is nothing in the House rules or the Constitution that requires such a vote. However, she allowed a vote on this resolution in an attempt to rebut such criticism. Now, however, House Republicans say that the vote came to late and that the process is already fatally flawed.

 

Do you support the House vote to formally allow an impeachment inquiry against President Trump?

Pelosi Plans Impeachment Resolution Vote

An impeachment inquiry is underway in the House of Representatives. Republicans are condemning this process, saying that the full House needs to take a vote before beginning. Democrats say that there is nothing in law or the Constitution that says such a vote needs to be done. However, under attack from the president and his allies, House Speaker Pelosi recently announced that the House would indeed vote on a resolution to begin an impeachment inquiry this week.

 

Currently the House Permanent Select Committee on impeachment is taking closed-door depositions from individuals with knowledge about President Trump’s activities regarding Ukraine. This investigation is aimed at determining whether the president proposed a quid pro quo to Ukraine involving foreign aid for an investigation into the activities of Hunter Biden. While Republicans are present for these depositions, they are not open to the wider House membership. This has led to complaints about a process shrouded in secrecy.

 

In addition, President Trump and congressional Republicans are upset that the House is proceeding without a vote to authorize such an inquiry. They point out that both in 1973 and 1998, the full House voted to begin impeachment. That has not happened this time, and critics say that this makes the entire process illegitimate. House Democrats counter that there is no law and nothing in the Constitution that requires such a vote.

 

In the face of mounting criticism, however, House Speaker Pelosi announced on Monday that she plans to hold a vote on a resolution authorizing an impeachment inquiry this week. That resolution will outline the procedure and how the evidence will become public.

 

With a Democratic majority in the House, this resolution is expected to pass easily.

 

Do you support a formal vote to open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s activities regarding Ukraine?

House Takes Aim at Turkey This Week

President Trump’s decision to remove American military forces from northern Syria, and the subsequent invasion of the area by Turkey, has provoked howls of outrage in Washington, D.C. Now the House of Representatives is targeting Turkey with votes on two bills – one symbolic and one that would have consequences for Turkish officials if signed into law.

 

The symbolic resolution is House Resolution 296, concerning the Armenian genocide, which occurred in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. It states:

 

That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that it is the policy of the United States to—

 

(1) commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance;

 

(2) reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and

 

(3) encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the United States role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.

 

While this will not change official U.S. foreign policy, it is aimed squarely at Turkey. That nation has strongly denied that the there was ever an official policy by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of Turkey, to massacre Armenians. It objects to any statement by the U.S. government that recognizes such a genocide.

 

The second bill is HR 4695. As described by VoteSpotter, that bill would “block the transfer of assets belonging to senior Turkish officials and deny them entry into the United States in response to Turkish military action in norther Syria. The legislation would also prohibit some arms sales to the Turkish military.”

 

If passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, HR 4685 would subject the Turkish president and other Turkish military and government officials to financial restrictions on any assets in the U.S.

 

With the bipartisan condemnation of Turkish actions in northern Syria, these two bills may pass with bipartisan support. It is unclear if the sanctions bill will be taken up by the Senate.

 

Do you support imposing sanctions on Turkey in response to its military actions in Syria?

Senate Fails to Overturn Cap on State and Local Tax Deductions

As part of the Trump tax cut bill, many taxpayers got a tax cut. Some, however, saw their tax deductions limited. This was especially true for high-income taxpayers, who saw a cap on their ability to deduct state and local taxes. A move in the Senate to allow states to do an end-run around this cap was defeated this week.

 

Prior to the Trump tax cuts, taxpayers could deduct the full amount of their state and local taxes. While theoretically available to all taxpayers, it generally benefited taxpayers with higher incomes (who are more prone to use itemized deductions rather than the standard deduction) and those who lived in states with higher taxes.

 

The Trump tax bill limited this state-and-local tax deduction to $10,000. In other words, if someone paid $17,000 in state and local taxes, they could only deduct $10,000 instead of the full $17,000. This upset some state officials, especially those who represent states that have a large share of high-income taxpayers paired with high state tax rates.

 

In response, some states passed laws that were an attempt to circumvent this cap. These generally involved classifying taxes in certain circumstances as charitable contributions. Since the tax bill still allowed full deductibility of charitable contributions, this would have allowed these state taxpayers to skirt the state-and-local deduction cap.

 

The Treasury Department issued a rule that essentially invalidated these state laws for federal tax purposes. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 50 to disapprove of this Treasury regulation. If passed, the effect of this disapproval resolution would to be allow states to pass laws that circumvent the tax cap, essentially repealing it on a state-by-state basis.

 

The full Senate did not agree with Sen. Schumer, however. On Wednesday, the resolution failed by a vote of 43-52. The vote was largely along party lines, with only Republican Rand Paul voting for the resolution and Democrat Cory Gardner opposing it.

 

Do you support limiting the amount of state and local taxes that taxpayers can deduct on their federal taxes?

Sen. Graham Plans Resolution to Condemn Impeachment

The impeachment drama is currently centered in the House of Representatives. But now Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wants the Senate to get involved. He said today that he plans to introduce a resolution that would condemn the Houses proceedings. If passed, this resolution would signal that there would be a slim chance that the Senate would remove President Trump from office if the House impeaches him.

 

Many Republicans, including the president, are condemning the way the House of Representatives is conducting the impeachment inquiry. Some members of the House GOP caucus stormed the secure room where the House Intelligence Committee is taking depositions in this matter. They claim that the proceedings should be open to the public. House Democrats push back, noting that the Republican House majority took depositions in secret during the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

 

President Trump has compared the impeachment inquiry to a lynching, saying that he is being treated unfairly. Senator Lindsey Graham agrees. He said that he will introduce a resolution that would condemn the House’s efforts in this matter. The resolution would not be binding. If the Senate passes it, however, it would indicate that a majority of senators may not be open to removing the president from office if the House impeaches him.

 

As discussed in this VoteSpotter Deep Dive, the House Judiciary Committee will meet – in public session – to consider articles of impeachment. If approved by the committee, the full House will vote on these articles. They can be passed by a majority vote, which then leads to a trial in the Senate. To remove the president from office, the two-thirds of the Senate must approve.

 

Do you think the Senate should condemn the House’s impeachment inquiry?

House Kills Attempt to Censure Intelligence Committee Chair Schiff

President Trump has made it clear that he is no fan of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA). House Republicans yesterday attempted to censure Rep. Schiff based on complaints made by the president and others, but the Democratic majority thwarted a vote.

 

As the chairman of the oversight committee with jurisdiction regarding the president’s controversial Ukraine call, Rep. Schiff is playing a key role in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. During that hearing, Rep. Schiff presented a version of the call that he said was satirical, but the president and House Republicans say was a lie.

 

That call leads off the complaints in House Resolution 647, introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), which calls for the body to censure Rep. Schiff:

 

Whereas, in a September 26, 2019, hearing on the whistleblower complaint, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff purported to relay the content of the phone call to the American people;

 

Whereas, instead of quoting directly from the available transcript, Chairman Schiff manufactured a false retelling of the conversation between President Trump and President Zelensky;

 

Whereas this egregiously false and fabricated retelling had no relationship to the call itself;

 

The impeachment resolution goes lays out other complaints against Rep. Schiff:

 

Whereas, on March 20, 2017, then-Ranking Member Schiff read out false allegations from the Steele dossier accusing numerous Trump associates of colluding with Russia;

 

Whereas then-Ranking Member Schiff falsely claimed in a March 2017 interview to have “more than circumstantial evidence” of collusion with Russia;

 

Whereas then-Ranking Member Schiff negotiated with Russian comedians whom he believed to be Ukrainian officials to obtain materials to damage the President of the United States politically;

 

If passed, this resolution would require the censured member to stand in the well of the House for a public rebuke by the entire membership. However, the House voted 218-185 to table, or kill, this resolution. This was a party-line vote, with all the Democrats and independent Rep. Justin Amash voting in favor of killing the censure resolution and all the Republicans voting in favor of it.

 

Do you think that the House of Representatives should have censured Rep. Adam Schiff for his actions against President Trump?

 

 

House, Senate Hold Hearings on Syria & Turkey

President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from norther Syria has sparked outrage across the political spectrum. Now both the House and Senate are set to hold hearings into the president’s actions and the resulting Turkish military incursions in the area.

 

Earlier this month, President Trump removed a small force of American troops that were stationed in northern Syria. He said that America should not be involved in endless foreign wars. Critics, however, said that this would result in Turkish attacks on America’s Kurdish allies in the region. President Trump sent a letter to the Turkish president warning him not to attack the Kurds, but the Turkish military began operations in that area after the U.S. military left.

 

Both Republicans and Democrats criticized the move. They said that this was a betrayal of long-time allies, the Kurds. They noted that this is what Turkey wants, and that President Trump has business interests in that nation. In addition, they said it would strengthen Russian influence in the Middle East.

 

This week there will be three hearings in both chambers of Congress that will allow members of Congress to focus their anger at this action. In the House, the Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “The Betrayal of our Syrian Kurdish Partners: How Will American Foreign Policy and Leadership Recover?” The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, headed by Republicans, will focus its hearing on the Turkish offensive that came after U.S. troops left. A Senate appropriations subcommittee will also hold a hearing on U.S. foreign policy towards Syria.

 

It is unclear what actions Congress could take in response to President Trump’s actions. More answers may emerge after the hearings this week.

 

Do you support removing U.S. troops from northern Syria?

Trump Vetoes Attempt to Overturn Border Wall Emergency

Congress wants to end President Trump’s emergency declaration on the U.S-Mexican border wall. But President Trump is fighting back with a veto of a resolution that would terminate his declaration.

 

In February, President Trump declared a national emergency regarding the situation at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. His declaration freed up money that Congress had appropriated for other sources in order to build a border wall, something that Congress had explicitly refused to fund.

 

Under the terms of the national emergency law (something explained in this VoteSpotter Deep Dive), Congress can vote every six months to terminate that declaration. Congress voted to do so in the spring, and it recently did so again. But this termination resolution is subject to the president’s veto. President Trump vetoed the resolution in the spring, and he vetoed the latest resolution yesterday.

 

There were not enough votes to override the first veto, and there are unlikely to be enough to override this one. That means that, as far as Congress is concerned, there is no way to stop the border wall construction from occurring. However, the president’s plans have recently suffered a setback in the courts. Local officials in Texas sued to stop construction, and a federal judge sided with them. This ruling does not affect the entire length of the border wall, however, and it is likely to be appealed by the Trump Administration.

 

Do you support congressional and legal efforts to stop President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a border wall?

House May Hold Vote on Impeachment Inquiry

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it very clear that the House of Representatives is in the midst of an impeachment inquiry. The full House, however, has never voted to open such an inquiry, something that President Trump says makes it illegitimate. Speaker Pelosi disagrees, but some House Democrats are pushing for a vote to ensure that they are on solid legal ground.

 

During the impeachment proceedings against Presidents Nixon and Clinton, the full House of Representatives voted to begin an inquiry that led to the House Judiciary Committee considering articles of impeachment. However, as Speaker Pelosi points out, there is nothing in the Constitution or House rules that requires such a vote.

 

Some critics say that a vote is necessary nonetheless. This is a view that is prominently argued by the White House counsel’s office. No judges have ruled yet on this question, but it will likely be considered as the House issues subpoenas that the White House resists. Some judges in the early stages of such proceedings have said that a vote to open an impeachment inquiry would clarify matters.

 

With a majority of the House of Representatives on the record as favoring impeachment, such a vote should easily pass. Those who want one argue that it would deprive impeachment opponents or their objection that the proceedings are invalid. However, Speaker Pelosi and her allies say she is standing up for the integrity of the legislative branch by resisting calls from the other branches of government to hold such a vote. They note that the House determines its procedures, not the president or judges.

 

There is also a political consideration. With some Democratic House members representing districts that Donald Trump carried in 2016, a formal vote on impeachment could endanger their re-election chances.

 

The House is currently in recess for two weeks. It remains to be seen if members will persuade the Speaker to hold a vote, and what a refusal to do so will mean for the legal cases regarding impeachment-related subpoenas.

 

To read more about impeachment, check out VoteSpotter’s Deep Dive.

 

Do you think the House should hold a formal vote on opening an impeachment inquiry?

House Passes 2 Bills to Reform Treatment of Children at Border

The House of Representatives is taking aim at how the Trump Administration is treating migrant children who cross the U.S.-Mexican border.


This week members of the House passed two bills that would change key part of the Trump Administration’s strategy to deal with migrant children. Here is how VoteSpotter described them:

 

U.S. House Bill 3525 Mandate speedy medical checks of children detained at ports of entry

Passed 236 to 174 in the U.S. House

To mandate that anyone under the age of 18 who is detained at a port of entry to the U.S. must receive a medical check within 12 hours. For individuals who may have health problems, the deadline would be six hours.

 

U.S. House Bill 2203 Limit immigration child separations

Passed 230 to 194 in the U.S. House

To limit the circumstances when the Border Patrol or Department of Homeland Security may separate a child entering the country from a parent. With few exceptions this would be allowed only when a court determines it is in the child's best interest. The bill also establishes a variety of government commissions and committees to reform the way that the Department of Homeland Security operates regarding immigration as well as stopping some of the Trump Administration's new asylum rules.

 

These bills come in response to what some observers call abuses by the Border Patrol of children who are detained entering the U.S. The policy of separating children from adults when they arrive across the border has been an especially controversial policy. Under the legislation passed by the House, this could only occur under rare circumstances.

 

Those supporting these bills say that they are necessary to end inhumane treatment of children at the border. Those opposing them counter that this would needlessly hamstring the Border Patrol and would end up leading to higher levels of illegal immigration.

 

The bills now head to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to bring them up for a vote.

 

Do you think that the federal government should only be able to separate migrant children from parents under rare circumstances? Should the federal government provide medical checks to anyone under 18 within 12 hours of being detained when they enter the country?

 

Senate Again Votes to End Trump’s Border Wall Emergency

For the second time, the Senate has voted to terminate President Trump’s emergency declaration regarding the U.S.-Mexico border wall. But, once again, there were not enough votes to override a likely presidential veto, leaving the emergency declaration in place.

 

On September 25, the Senate votes 54-41 in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 54, which would terminate President Trump’s emergency declaration allowing him to re-allocate funds to build a border wall. The president issued such an emergency order on February 15 after Congress had refused to vote in favor of money for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

 

As explained in this VoteSpotter Deep Dive, the president has the power under a 1979 law to declare a national emergency. When this happens, he can shift some federal funds that were approved for other projects to meet the needs of whatever emergency the president has declared. However, Congress then has the ability to vote to terminate the emergency declaration.

 

Soon after this February declaration, both houses of Congress did indeed vote to terminate it. However, the president vetoed the termination resolution and there were not enough votes to override the veto. According to the law governing emergencies, termination votes can occur every six months. That is why the Senate once again took up this issue.

 

The Senate-approved resolution will now be considered by the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass. The president is likely to veto it once again, and there is little chance that either house will override the veto. This will preserve the emergency declaration for at least another six months.

 

Do you think that Congress should end President Trump’s emergency declaration that allows him to move money around to pay for a border wall?

Ocasio-Cortez: Immigrants’ Legal Status Shouldn't Bar Government Assistance

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez today outlined a variety of bills she said are aimed at reducing poverty. Given her progressive political leanings, many of these bills stake out a liberal position on this issue. One in particular will likely to be quite controversial – a bill that would allow any immigrant, whether they are in the country legally or not, to obtain benefits from government programs.

 

Current law prohibits illegal immigrants from accessing most federal assistance programs. Legal immigrants can only access these benefits once they have been in the country for five years. Under Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s bill, an individual’s immigration status, whether legal or not, would no longer be considered when providing these benefits.

 

In the 1990s, Congress passed legislation that was signed by President Clinton which limited when immigrants could access federal benefits. Supporters of this change said that while the U.S. should welcome immigrants, it should not draw them here with the promise of government assistance. Instead, these reformers, argued, immigrants should come here with an expectation to work.

 

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s legislation would change this by giving all immigrants the opportunity to qualify for government programs. She argues that society benefits when there are fewer restrictions on the social safety net. She says that allowing these individuals to access government benefits will produce a more just society.

 

This proposal to reform federal welfare law comes as part of a package of bills that would make major changes in how the federal government deals with poverty. Among her proposals would be to adjust the federal poverty rate by geography, impose rent control nationwide, allow individuals with criminal convictions to obtain government benefits, and enact an international treaty declaring that “all persons have the right to work, fair and just conditions of work, social security, an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing, housing, and healthcare.”

 

Do you think that immigrants, regardless of legal status, should have access to government benefits?

House Votes to Bar Binding Arbitration

This week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would affects a contract provision signed by tens of millions of workers – binding arbitration agreements.

 

For many workers, a condition of their job is their acceptance of what businesses call “alternative dispute resolution.” Instead of suing over certain issues if an employee alleges a problem at work, these agreements require the employee and employer to go through binding arbitration. This is a less formal, less expensive means of settling a dispute. However, opponents of binding arbitration say that it deprives employees of their rights to sue over harassment, discrimination, and other issues.

 

By a vote of 225-186, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1423. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To make unenforceable provisions in contracts that require the parties to pursue arbitration first on disputes over employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights issues. The bill also prohibits agreements that limit class action lawsuits.

 

As noted in this description, it goes beyond merely prohibiting binding arbitration for certain issues. It also prohibits employers from requiring employees to waive their rights to join in a class action lawsuits over employment practices. A 2018 Supreme Court case ruled that current law allows employers to request that employees sign such contracts.

 

Backers of this legislation say that it’s necessary to restore the rights of employees to sue over what they consider abuses by employers. They argue that binding arbitration usually works in favor of employers. Opponents counter that lawsuits are expensive and, at times, frivolous. They say that banning the use of binding arbitration will lead to more lawsuits, with the result being higher costs passed to consumers and fewer people hired.

 

While some Republicans in the Senate have signaled support for curbing binding arbitration, the House legislation passed with only two Republicans voting in favor of it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not schedule this bill for consideration in that body.

 

Do you think that employers should be able to ask employees to sign binding arbitration contracts?

House Holds Hearing on DC Statehood

Today the issue of statehood for Washington, D.C., will be discussed in Congress for the first time in 25 years.

 

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is holding a hearing on H.R. 51, a bill that would admit the District of Columbia to the union as the 51st state. Most of the current territory of the district would be in the new state, with the exception of some federal buildings such as the White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court.

 

Residents of Washington, D.C., can vote for president and they pay federal taxes. They do not have a voting representative in Congress, however, and the city is still governed by Congress (although Congress has delegated much of that power to the city government).

 

Eleanor Holmes-Norton is the district’s delegate to the House of Representatives. She can vote in committee and, at times, when the House meets as a “committee of the whole.” She introduced H.R. 51, which has 219 cosponsors.

 

City officials have long pushed for statehood, but they have failed to convince members of Congress to support it. They argue that they deserve representation in Congress the same as other taxpayers in states across the country. Opponents note that the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in a way that provided federal control over the district in order to prevent a state government from threatening the federal government.

 

It is unclear if House leadership will bring H.R. 51 to the floor for a vote. However, if the bill did pass the House of Representatives, there is little chance that it would be considered by the Senate.

 

Do you think that Washington, D.C., should be a state?

Warren Unveils “Anti-Corruption” Plan

Today Sen. Elizabeth Warren outlined a proposal that she says is necessary to fight corruption in the federal government.

 

Her plan calls for a variety of reforms to federal laws, including:

  • Mandating that the president and vice president place their assets in a blind trust to be sold.
  • Disclosing automatically the tax returns of candidates for federal office, including the president and vice president.
  • Requiring senior government officials to divest from assets that could pose a conflict-of-interest.
  • Banning members of Congress from trading in individual stocks while in office.
  • Prohibiting members of congress and senior congressional staff from serving on corporate boards.
  • Banning lobbyists from serving in government within two years of ending their lobbying career.
  • Prohibiting members of Congress and some federal officials from ever taking a job as a lobbyist after their time in the government is over.
  • Mandating the disclosure of financial information for federal judges and imposing a code of conduct on these judges.
  • Extending lobbying restrictions to anyone who is “paid to influence lawmakers.”
  • Banning lobbyists from representing foreign entities.
  • Prohibiting lobbyists from donating to political candidates or fundraise for them.
  • Banning forced arbitration clauses and mandatory class action waivers.

 

According to Sen. Warren, President Trump’s Administration has shown the weakness of federal anti-corruption laws. Many of her proposals are aimed explicitly at practices that she says are weakening our government under President Trump. Other proposals are older ideas that liberals have long pushed for, such as the ending of forced arbitration clauses.

 

Critics of her plan note that many of her ideas, such as prohibiting lobbyists from contributing to candidates, would likely run afoul of the Constitution. They also point to these plans as being a vast expansion of federal power over political speech and activity.


Sen. Warren has sponsored similar legislation during her time in the Senate. This plan is an updated version that is part of her platform as she runs for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

 

Do you think that the federal government should prohibit lobbyist from contributing to candidates? Should the IRS automatically release the tax returns of anyone running for federal office, from presidential candidates to members of Congress?

 

 

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?

 

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