Congress

Commentary & Community

VoteSpotter Deep Dive: Senate Impeachment Trial

After weeks of delay, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate. By a vote of 228-193, the House of Representatives appointed impeachment managers. This follows two votes by the House on December 18 to impeach President Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate is expected to take up the trial of President Trump on January 21. This VoteSpotter Deep Dive takes a look into this process and what the Senate will do next. 

 

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 Removal by the Senate 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 Chief Justice presides, but does not have any say in trial’s outcome. He can make rulings on points of procedure, but a majority of the Senate can overrule him.

 

There are established rules that govern impeachment trials by the Senate. These rules include:

  • Senators must keep silent while the case for removal is being made.
  • The Senate may compel witnesses to testify, but witnesses are not mandatory for a trial.
  • Counsel for the accused can speak in defense of his client, or the person accused may appear to rebut the charges.
  • If senators have any objections or procedural motions, they must be made in writing to the presiding officer.
  • Only House managers or the counsel for the accused may question witnesses directly. If senators wish to question witnesses, they must submit their questions to the presiding officer.

 

When the trial begins in the Senate, that body will approve new procedures and rules to govern this particular situation. These rules can pass by simple majority.

 

The House of Representatives appoints members to manage the case before the Senate, laying out the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. The president’s counsel will present the case to the Senate why the president should not be removed. Every member of the Senate will be present in the Senate chambers to hear these managers lay out the case for removing the president from office. After the House managers conclude their case, the senators will enter a closed session to deliberate. The Senate then votes in open session, with a two-thirds vote of the members present 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

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Senate impeachment trial will take place on January 21. It could last a week or longer. With many Republican members of the Senate expressing skepticism about the case against the president, it is unlikely that the Senate would have enough votes to remove him from office. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office, then the vice president would assume office.

 

Senate Passes Mexico-Canada Trade Pact

In a rare display of bipartisan agreement, the Senate passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) this week. The House of Representatives passed the USMCA last year, and President Trump has long pushed for this agreement.

 

By a vote of 89-10, this updating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed the Senate with broad support from Democrats and Republicans. These are some of the major changes that USMCA made to NAFTA:

  • An increase in the amount of vehicle parts that must be manufactured in North America to qualify the vehicle as being exempt from tariffs
  • A mandate that 30% of the work done on vehicles must be done by workers making more than $16 an hour
  • A requirement that Mexico must loosen labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize
  • Stricter safety standards for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.
  • An increase in the amount of U.S. dairy products that can be sold in Canada
  • Stricter protections for intellectual property
  • An agreement by Mexico to increase efforts to stop overfishing

 

One Republican, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, joined Democratic Sens. Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Markey, Reed, Sanders, Schatz, Schumer, and Whitehouse in voting against USMCA. T

 

In the 1990s, Presidents Bush and Clinton shepherded the North American Free Trade Agreement into law, over the objections of critics like Ross Perot. This agreement came into being after years of negotiation between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in order to promote freer trade between the three nations. 

 

President Trump has long been a supporter of high tariffs and skeptical of free trade and trade agreements. He claims that foreign trade hurts American workers, and the U.S. should enact barriers to the sales of foreign products in the U.S. Free trade supporters note that evidence clearly shows that trade has wide benefits for the economy, with both consumers and workers experiencing benefits overall. 

 

The House of Representatives vote in favor of USMCA was also overwhelmingly bipartisan. The trade agreement now goes to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which updates NAFTA?

House Sends Impeachment Articles to the Senate

The House voted on December 18 to impeach Donald Trump. Today it finally voted to send the impeachment articles to the Senate.

 

As explained in our VoteSpotter Deep Dive, impeachment is only one step in the process of removing the president. The Senate must hold a trial and two-thirds of its members must convict the president before that happens. But in order for the Senate to hold a trial, the House must provide the articles of impeachment to the Senate. It must also approve managers who will present the House’s case to the senators when they are assembled for the trial.

 

By a vote of 228-193, the House approved the following members as impeachment managers:

  • Adam Schiff (D-CA)
  • Jerry Nadler (D-NY)
  • Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
  • Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
  • Val Demings (D-FL)
  • Jason Crow (D-CO)
  • Sylvia Garcia (D-TX)

 

This vote also approves sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the Senate trial will convene in January 21. Chief Justice John Roberts will preside, as the Constitution commands. Look for an upcoming Deep Dive to explain in more detail what the Senate will do during this trial.

 

For weeks, Speaker Pelosi had resisted calls to send the impeachment articles to the Senate. She said that she was concerned about the Senate’s procedures. She wanted senators to hear from witnesses and take other steps that she said would make the trial fairer. Majority Leader McConnell demurred in any commitments on Senate procedure.

 

Do you think that Speaker Pelosi should have waited so long to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate?

Congress Votes to End Military Activities against Iran

The House of Representatives yesterday expressed its displeasure with President Trump’s military actions against Iran.

 

By a vote of 224-194, the House passed House Concurrent Resolution 83, which invokes the War Powers Act to end Iranian hostilities. The resolution states that the President must stop military action against or in Iran until:

 

(1) Congress has declared war or enacted specific statutory authorization for such use of the Armed Forces; or

 

(2) such use of the Armed Forces is necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its Armed Forces, consistent with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution.

 

This resolution was prompted by President Trump’s drone strike, which killed a top Iranian general. Many members of Congress have said this action will likely lead to war with Iran. They point out that the Constitution requires that Congress declare war. President Trump pushed back, saying that what he did was allowed because he is commander-in-chief. He said that the drone strike saved American lives and stopped an imminent threat.

 

The War Powers Act, invoked by this resolution, requires that presidents consult with Congress before military actions and seek congressional approval for longer-term military deployments. Enacted in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War, presidents have routinely claimed that the law is an unconstitutional violation of their powers as commander-in-chief.

 

The vote was mainly along party lines. Three Republicans and one independent voted in favor of the resolution. Eight Democrats voted against it. The Senate is unlikely to take up a similar resolution.

 

Do you think that military action against Iran should stop until Congress votes to declare war against that country?

Congress to Debate Iranian Military Action

President Trump thinks that he has the authority to attack Iran without congressional approval. Some key members of the House and Senate disagree.

 

In the Senate, Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky blasted the Trump Administration after receiving a briefing on the drone strike that killed an Iranian general. The Trump Administration contends that the use of force resolution for the Iraq passed by Congress in 2003 covered his strike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Both Sen. Lee and Sen. Paul said this was absurd and that hostilities with Iran require new congressional approval.

 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi agrees. She has introduced a use of force resolution that the House will vote on today. The premise of this resolution is that only Congress has the authority to legitimize military action against Iran.

 

The debate about which branch controls the war-making power is an old one. The Constitution says the president is commander-in-chief. Presidents argue that this gives them sole authority to direct the military. The Constitution also says that Congress must declare war. Members of Congress argue that the president can only use his power as commander-in-chief after congress has made such a declaration.

 

The House will likely pass its use of force resolution, but the Senate is unlikely to consider it. Many Senate Republicans are fine with what President Trump is doing in relation to Iran. Sen. Lindsay Graham went so far as to say that senators such as Sens. Lee and Paul who question the president’s actions are empowering the enemy.

 

Do you think that President Trump should seek congressional approval before taking military action against Iran?

Speaker Pelosi Still Refusing to Transmit Impeachment Articles

The House has voted to impeach President Trump. The next step in the process should be a trial in the Senate. But that is not happening (for now). Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is refusing to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Until that happens, no trial can take place.

 

The House votes on the two articles of impeachment occurred on December 18. Under normal procedure, the House would transmit the approved articles shortly after the vote. This allows the Senate to proceed to a trial. However, Speaker Pelosi has so far refused to transmit these articles to her counterparts across the Capitol building.

 

When either the House or Senate passes legislation or a resolution, a signed, or enrolled, copy of that item is hand-carried to the clerk of the other chamber. Only when that document is received by that chamber can its members then vote on it. If such a transmission does not happen, the body cannot act.

 

Speaker Pelosi is expressing concerns over how the Senate trial will be conducted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused requests to allow witnesses or take other actions during the trial that Democrats have requested.

 

If Speaker Pelosi refused to provide the articles of impeachment to the Senate, there will be no trial. Some scholars say that the refusal to complete this process will invalidate the House’s actions, and President Trump will not have actually been impeached. The Constitution is silent on this issue. It does not require that the House will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, but it does envision a two-part process where the House does its duty and the Senate then completes the process.

 

For more information on impeachment, check out VoteSpotter’s Deep Dive here.

 

Do you think that Speaker Pelosi should transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate?

Senate Focused on Judicial Confirmations in 2019

While the House of Representatives has been busy passing legislation that reflects the Democratic majority’s priorities, the Senate has done little legislative work. Instead, it has focused on filling judicial vacancies.

 

Most of the 2019 Senate votes involved confirming judges, either in voting to bring debate to an end on a nomination or on the nomination itself. President Trump ran for office pledging to focus on judicial appointments, and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell has pledged to support these efforts. The Senate has been very productive in moving President Trump’s judges through the process.

 

These judicial confirmations are not the only things the Senate has accomplished in 2019, however. Here are a few other notable confirmations and legislative votes from the upper house this year:

 

U.S. Senate Motion 367: Approve Dan Brouillette as Energy Secretary

Passed 70 to 15 in the U.S. Senate

To confirm President Trump's nomination of Dan Brouillette to be Secretary of Energy.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 1099: Approve Eugene Scalia as Labor Secretary

Passed 53 to 44 in the U.S. Senate

To confirm President Trump's nomination of Eugene Scalia to be Secretary of the Department of Labor.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 220: Approve Mark Esper as Defense Secretary

Passed 90 to 8 in the U.S. Senate

To confirm President Trump's nomination of Mark Esper as Secretary of Defense.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 264: Confirm Kelly Craft as UN Delegate

Passed 56 to 38 in the U.S. Senate

To approve President Trump's nomination of Kelly Craft to serve as the U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 327: Allow Northern Macedonia to join NATO

Passed 91 to 2 in the U.S. Senate

To ratify a treaty that allows Northern Macedonia to enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO countries commit to mutual defense if one member is attacked by an external aggressor.

 

U.S. Senate Joint Resolution 54: Block Trump's border wall emergency declaration

Passed 54 to 41 in the U.S. Senate

To block President Trump's February declaration of an emergency at the U.S.-Mexican border, which empowered the administration to bypass Congress and re-allocate funds to build a border wall.

 

U.S. House Bill 1327: Authorize 9/11 compensation fund for 72 years

Passed 97 to 2 in the U.S. Senate

To reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund through 2092 and exempt spending from the fund from budget rules that require offsetting reductions in other new spending.

 

Majority Leader McConnell’s focus on confirming President Trump’s nominees will likely continue into 2020. The bills that have emerged from the House are not generally bills that will attract much, if any, Republican support. Unless President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and McConnell can agree on a legislative agenda, there will be little change from 2019.

House Had a Busy Legislative Year

Throughout 2019, the House of Representatives has tackled many issues. It ended the year with the impeachment of President Trump, but leading up to that Speaker Pelosi had advanced numerous bills that her Democratic caucus had long supported.

 

Here are a few of the notable bills that the House of Representatives passed this year:

 

U.S. House Bill 582: Raise the minimum wage

Passed 230 to 200 in the U.S. House

To increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in over 5 years. The measure would also extend the wage mandate to nonprofit organizations that under current law may employ individuals with disabilities at a lower wage, and to newly-hired and tipped workers (whose total wage with tips must still meet the minimum under current law).

 

U.S. House Bill 3: Authorize price controls on Medicare drug coverage

Passed 230 to 192 in the U.S. House

To cap the amount the government will pay for drugs covered by the Medicare health care program for the aged. The prices paid for specific drugs could not exceed 120% of their average price in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, or 85% of the average manufacturers' price in the U.S. These price controls would also apply to private insurance coverage unless the private insurer opted out.

 

U.S. House Bill 4: Mandate federal approval before some states can change voting practices

Passed 228 to 187 in the U.S. House

To mandate that states or local governments must get approval of the federal government before they make changes to voting practices in certain circumstances. This mandate for federal "pre-clearance" would apply to any state that has had 15 or more voting rights act violations in the past 25 years. The mandate would apply to local governments that have had at least 3 voting rights act violations in the past 25 years.

 

U.S. House Bill 4617: Expand restrictions on online campaign ads, regulate foreign involvement in elections

Passed 227 to 181 in the U.S. House

To expand federal regulations and restrictions on online political communications, mandate that social media companies keep detailed records on individuals and organizations sponsoring political ads, require political campaigns to report offers of foreign assistance, prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to ballot initiative and referendum campaigns, increase restrictions on U.S. political campaigns soliciting support from foreign entities, and make it a federal crime to mislead voters about the time and place for voting and qualifications to vote.

 

U.S. House Bill 1595: Allow banks to conduct business with some marijuana-related businesses

Passed 321 to 103 in the U.S. House

To prohibit federal regulators from penalizing banks that deal with marijuana-related businesses in states that have legalized the use or possession of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes. To avoid penalties, these banks may only deal with businesses in compliance with state laws.

 

U.S. House Bill 1423: Ban binding arbitration contract requirements, bar limits on class action lawsuits

Passed 225 to 186 in the U.S. House

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

 

U.S. House Bill 205: Ban offshore drilling in areas of the Gulf of Mexico

Passed 248 to 180 in the U.S. House

To permanently ban oil and natural gas leasing in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico and within 125 miles of the Florida coastline.

 

U.S. House Bill 1941: Ban offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts

Passed 238 to 189 in the U.S. House

To prohibit the federal government from leasing any areas of the Outer Continental Shelf in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans for oil and natural gas exploration or production.

 

U.S. House Bill 1146: Prohibit oil and gas leasing in Arctic wildlife refuge

Passed 225 to 193 in the U.S. House

To prohibit oil and natural gas leasing in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

 

U.S. House Bill 397: Lend federal dollars to failing union pension plans

Passed 264 to 169 in the U.S. House

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

 

U.S. House Bill 2500: Prohibit Defense Department spending at Trump properties

Passed 222 to 205 in the U.S. House

To prohibit spending Defense Department funds at properties owned by the president or that bear his name, unless the president reimburses the amount.

 

 

The Senate has not considered any of these bills, and is unlikely to do so in 2020. Tomorrow we will take a look at some important Senate votes of this past year.

 

House Passes Trade Deal with Mexico, Canada

In a final vote before leaving town for the holiday recess, the House of Representatives passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Passage of this agreement has long been a priority for President Trump.

 

By a vote of 385-95, a large bipartisan majority passed this updating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some of the key aspects of this agreement are:

  • An increase in the amount of vehicle parts that must be manufactured in North America to qualify the vehicle as being exempt from tariffs
  • A mandate that 30% of the work done on vehicles must be done by workers making more than $16 an hour
  • A requirement that Mexico must loosen labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize
  • Stricter safety standards for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.
  • An increase in the amount of U.S. dairy products that can be sold in Canada
  • Stricter protections for intellectual property
  • An agreement by Mexico to increase efforts to stop overfishing

 

The U.S., Canada, and Mexico negotiated NAFTA in the 1990s in order to promote freer trade between the three nations. This agreement mostly leaves this deal in place, but it does update some key parts, as described above.

 

President Trump has long been skeptical of deals that lower tariffs and move the U.S. towards free trade. He has even called himself “tariff man.” He says that foreign trade hurts American workers, and the U.S. should enact barriers to the sales of foreign products in the U.S. Critics of his approach argue that trade has wide benefits for the economy, from consumers to workers. They say it lowers the cost of goods and helps create jobs in more industries.

 

The Senate has yet to vote on the USMCA.

 

Do you support passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which updates NAFTA?

Tobacco Purchase Age Rising to 21

President Trump has signed into law a key priority of public health officials – increasing the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

 

This increase in the federal tobacco age was contained in the large spending bill that recently passed Congress. That legislation contained funding for the federal government to remain open during the current fiscal year. There were numerous provisions in the legislation that did not directly affect spending, and the increase in the tobacco purchase age was one of them.

 

President Trump has supported increasing this age in the past. He has said it is necessary to protect children. Upon signing the spending legislation, he touted this tobacco measure as part of the overall success of the bill.

 

There was bipartisan support in Congress for accomplishing this. Public health advocates have long called on the federal government to make it more difficult for people to buy tobacco. They say it is necessary to stop young people from being hooked on this unhealthy habit. Opponents argue that people should be free to make their own choices, and that a federal ban oversteps state authority.

 

Prior to this federal action, 19 states had already raised the tobacco purchasing age.

 

Do you support raising the age when someone can buy tobacco to 21?

House Passes Bill to Raise Cap on State and Local Tax Deduction

A slim majority of House members approved legislation to increase the amount of state and local taxes that taxpayers could deduct from their federal taxes.

 

By a vote of 218-206, the House approved H.R. 5377. This bill would increase the cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes from $10,000 to $20,000, and eliminate it entirely for 2020 and 2021. It would also increase the top income tax rate to 39.6% and increase the deductions for some expenses incurred by first responders and teachers.

 

The Trump tax cut bill set a cap on their ability to deduct state and local taxes. Prior to this cap, 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. Earlier this year, 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 have been 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. In October, 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.

 

The House bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. Given the Senate’s action on Sen. Schumer’s resolution, it is unlikely that it will succeed in that body.

 

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

House Impeaches President Trump

This evening, the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

 

By a vote of 230-197, the House approved the first article of impeachment, which alleges that the President abused his power to investigate a political rival. This charge hinges on the conversation President Trump had with the Ukrainian president in which President Trump asked for an announcement of an investigation of Joe Biden's son. By a vote of 229-198, the House approved the second article, which alleges that President Trump has obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment investigation and ordering his subordinates to cooperate.

 

No Republicans voted in favor of either article of impeachment. Rep. Tulsi Gabard, a Democrat from Hawaii, voted present on each article. Two Democrats voted against the first article and three voted against the second. 

 

Impeachment does not remove the President from office. Instead, it starts the process wherein the Senate will consider removal. If two-thirds of the Senate approves either article of impeachment, President Trump will no longer be president and will be barred from future federal office. In that event, Vice President Mike Pence will become president.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will set the rules for how the impeachment trial will occur in the Senate. It is unclear how long such a trial will take and when it will occur. What is almost certain is that the necessary two-thirds of senators will not vote to convict the president, thus allowing President Trump to remain in office.

 

You can learn more about impeachment in VoteSpotter's Deep Dive on the subject.

 

Do you support the House vote to impeach President Trump?

 

 

Congress Passes Bill to Create Space Force

The Space Force will soon be a reality for the U.S. military.

 

The Senate approved the Dense authorization bill by a vote of 86-8 today, authorizing spending on the U.S. military for the next year. Included in that legislation is the creation of the Space Force, a priority of President Trump.

 

In 2018, the president announced plans to create a sixth branch of the military to undertake operations in space.

 

It is still unclear how far the mission of the Space Force will reach. NASA undertakes peaceful missions in space, and that would remain unchanged. The new force is aimed at ensuring that space cannot be used for offensive action against the United States. Its main aim, at least initially, will be to protect satellites, which are increasingly important for both civilian and military uses.

 

Other nations have similar forces. Russia created an Aerospace Force in 2015. The U.S. Space Force will be part of the Air Force.

 

The House of Representatives has already passed the Defense authorization bill, and it now heads to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support creation of the Space Force?

Deep Dive: Judiciary Committee Passes Impeachment Articles

The House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment against President Trump today. The votes were 23-17 for each article, strictly along partisan lines. Republican were unsuccessful in their attempts to amend the impeachment articles in committee. This approval now enables the full House of Representatives to consider impeachment. Debate and a vote will occur next week.

 

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 Rules Committee will consider the impeachment resolution on Tuesday. Once this committee votes in favor, then the full House of Representatives will debate the two articles of impeachment and take a vote. This vote is expected to occur on Wednesday. 

 

The House is likely to approve both articles of impeachment, with nearly all Democrats expected to vote in favor of them and no Republican expected to support them. However, it is unlikely that the Senate would follow suit, given Republican control of the chamber. The Senate will hold a trial, however. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will decide how that trial will be conducted and the timing of the trial. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office under this situation, then the vice president would assume office.

Judiciary Committee Debates Impeachment Articles

The testimony has been taken, and now it’s time for the House Judiciary Committee members to decide the fate of impeachment.

 

For only the fourth time in our nation’s history, the members of this committee will deliberate on whether they should recommend that the president of the U.S. be removed from office.

 

Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has introduced House Resolution 755, which lays out two articles of impeachment against President Trump.

 

Article I contends that President Trump is guilty of abuse of power by holding up the release of foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of a political rival, Joe Biden. The resolution states:

 

In all of this, President Trump abused the powers of the Presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.

 

Wherefore President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

 

Article II contends that President Trump has obstructed justice by directing White House officials to defy subpoenas and not cooperate with the Congressional impeachment investigation. The resolution states:

 

Through these actions, President Trump sought to arrogate to himself the right to determine the propriety, scope, and nature of an impeachment inquiry into his own conduct, as well as the unilateral prerogative to deny any and all information to the House of Representatives in the exercise of its “sole Power of Impeachment”. In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment—and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.

 

In all of this, President Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

 

The impeachment resolution concludes with this call to remove the president from office:

 

Wherefore, President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

 

Given the partisan makeup of the committee, it is nearly certain that the Judiciary Committee will pass this resolution. That will set up a vote on the House floor, which will likely occur next week. If the House passes one or both articles of impeachment, the Senate will then hold a trial to remove President Trump from office.

 

You can read more about the impeachment process in our Deep Dive here.

 

Do you think that President Trump abused his power in his actions regarding Ukrainian foreign aid and asking for an investigation of Hunter Biden? Do you think the president has obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry?

House Tackles Drug Prices This Week

There has long been a move to do something about the price of drugs. This week, the House of Representatives is considering legislation that its sponsors claim will help make pharmaceuticals more affordable.

 

The House will debate H.R. 3 this week. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To permit the federal government to negotiate drug prices that the Medicare program will pay for certain drugs, such as insulin. The maximum price for such drugs could not exceed 120% of the average price of such drugs in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, or 85% of the average manufacturers' price in the U.S. This set price would also be applicable to private insurance companies unless those companies opted out.

 

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices has long been a goal of liberal lawmakers and interest groups. They say that the federal government should be able to work with drug companies to bring down the price that Medicare pays for the drugs it covers. Not being able to do so, they claim, forces taxpayers to pay whatever price drug companies demand.

 

Opponents of this legislation point out that it is not about negotiating. They argue that the federal government is such a large player in the field of drug purchases that it will set rates, not negotiate them. They note that the legislation forbids paying prices above certain rates. This bill is about imposing price controls, not allowing negotiation. This, they argue, will lead to fewer drugs being developed in the U.S.

 

Given the Democratic control of the House of Representatives, this legislation is likely to pass. However, the chances for Senate consideration are slim.

 

Do you think the federal government should be able to negotiate the prices of drugs it covers through Medicare, and set a cap on prices it deems too high?

House Endorses Two-State Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict

Since Israel became independent in 1948, there has been conflict about its existence. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for an independent Palestinian state in order to quell the latest round of violence in the region.

 

By a vote of 226-188, the House passed a House Resolution 326, a nonbinding measure that supports U.S. efforts to negotiate a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. The text of the resolution reads, in part:

 

Whereas the United States remains unwavering in its commitment to help Israel address the myriad challenges it faces, including terrorism, regional instability, horrifying violence in neighboring states, and hostile regimes that call for its destruction;

 

Whereas the United States has long sought a just, stable, and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and offers Israel long-term security and full normalization with its neighbors;

 

It then concludes:

 

only the outcome of a two-state solution that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians, and their neighbors can both ensure the state of Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own…

 

And a United States proposal to achieve a just, stable, and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should expressly endorse a two-state solution as its objective and discourage steps by either side that would put a peaceful end to the conflict further out of reach, including unilateral annexation of territory or efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood status outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

 

The idea of forming a separate Palestinian state out of Israel has long been a topic of discussion. Palestinians have demanded their own state, free from Israeli rule. However, Israel has demanded that Palestinians and other Arab states recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel says it cannot cede any territory as long as its existence is threatened. Palestinians and many Arab leaders view Israel as an illegitimate nation that obtained its territory through theft of land.

 

Negotiations to end the violence that continues to plague this region are ongoing. 

 

Do you support creating a separate state for Palestinians? Should Arab nations and Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in exchange for such a state?

Schumer Wants to Mandate that Airlines Sit Families Together

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

House Takes Aim at Hong Kong Crackdown

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

House Committee Advances Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Copyright © 2018 Votespotter Inc. All rights reserved.