Congress

Commentary & Community

House to Consider Bill to Raise Immigration Detention Standards

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

 

 

 

House Passes $15 Minimum Wage


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Do you support a $15 an hour minimum wage?

House Votes to Hold Barr, Ross in Contempt

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

House to Consider Moving Forward on Impeachment

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

 

Impeachment is the bringing of charges against the president, vice president, or other “civil officials,” such as cabinet officers. Impeachment does not remove them from office, however. Instead, impeachment refers charges to the Senate, which then must vote to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and the Constitution

 

The Constitution establishes the impeachment and removal process, explaining it in a few key sections:

 

  • Article I, Section 2: The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

 

  • Article I, Section 3: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

 

  • Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

 

The U.S. impeachment and removal process is similar to the process that existed in Britain during the writing of the Constitution. However, the British Parliament impeaches and removes officials in one action. The framers of the U.S. Constitution made impeachment and removal two separate processes, thus weakening the ability of the legislative branch to remove executive branch officials.

 

How Impeachment and Removal Works

 

The House Judiciary Committee begins the impeachment process. Its members consider articles of impeachment, with approval coming with a majority vote. If approved, these articles of impeachment move to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The House then debates and votes on these articles. If a majority approves them, then that person has been impeached.

 

The Senate then begins its role. With the Chief Justice of the U.S. presiding, the Senate conducts a trial. The House of Representatives appoints members to manage the case before the Senate, laying out the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. The Senate then votes, with a two-thirds vote being necessary to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and removal may be for a public official’s criminal act, but they are not criminal proceedings. The only penalty, as the Constitution stipulates, is removal from office. The underlying crimes can be prosecuted by civil authorities, however, which may result in criminal conviction and penalties after impeachment and removal from office.

 

The History of Impeachment

 

The House of Representatives has considered over 60 impeachment cases, but most have failed. There have only been 8 instances where individuals have been impeached and removed from office. Fifteen judges have been impeached, as have 2 presidents:

 

  • Andrew Johnson: The House passed 11 articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson in 1868. The Senate came within one vote of removing him from office.

 

  • Bill Clinton: The House passed 2 articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton in 1998. The Senate vote to remove him from office failed.

 

In 1974, the House began the impeachment process against President Richard Nixon. The House Judiciary Committee approved 3 articles of impeachment against him, but Nixon resigned prior to a full House vote.

 

Federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., was the last official impeached and removed from office. His impeachment and conviction occurred in 2010.

 

The Clinton Impeachment

 

The last presidential impeachment and trial took place over 20 years ago, when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton. If there are proceedings initiated against President Trump, it would likely follow the pattern set during these proceedings.

 

In 1998, Independent Counsel Ken Starr provided a report to Congress that contained evidence gathered in the course of his investigation into various allegations against President Clinton. The House Judiciary Committee passed four articles of impeachment. Two were for perjury, one was for obstruction of justice, and one was for abuse of power. The full House of Representatives passed two of those articles of impeachment, one for perjury and one for obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998.

 

The House of Representatives appointed thirteen managers to present their case to the Senate, which began its trial on January 7, 1999. Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided. The trial lasted a month, with the Senate beginning closed-door deliberations on February 9. The Senate took a vote on February 13 on the articles of impeachment. The Senate defeated the perjury charge by a vote of 45-55 and the obstruction of justice charge by 50-50. Sixty-seven votes would have been necessary to convict the president and remove him from office.

 

While both the votes in the House and Senate were largely along party lines, there were members of Congress who broke with their party leadership on impeachment or conviction. Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania (who later became a Democrat), voted “not proved.” Many observers saw these proceedings as an example of partisanship on both sides. This is in contrast with the impeachment proceedings that had begun against President Nixon, where a bipartisan consensus was forming to impeach and remove him from office prior to his resignation.

 

What This Means for You

 

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

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, there is a possibility that it could pass impeachment articles. However, it is unlikely that the Senate would follow suit, given Republican control of the chamber. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office under this situation, then the vice president would assume office.

House Democrats Ready Resolution to Condemn Trump’s Tweets

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Immigration Reform Advancing in Congress

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

$15 Minimum Wage Would Cost Jobs, Study Finds

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Push to Increase Congressional Pay Gains Bipartisan Support

Last month, House Democrats pulled legislation that would have increased congressional salaries. But now Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is saying that a cost-of-living raise would be a good idea. And it appears that a top House Republican supports the idea, too.

 

The House was set to consider the annual funding legislation for Congress last month. The bill contains a provision that would reinstate annual cost-of-living raises for members of Congress. The last time such a raise occurred was 15 years ago. However, some members objected to this raise, and that legislation was pulled from the floor.

 

Members of Congress currently make $174,000 a year.

 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said that she supports such an increase. She argued that unless members of Congress are well compensated, then they would turn to more lucrative careers – such as lobbying. She also said that this isn’t really a raise; it’s just keeping congressional salaries in line with inflation.

 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appeared to agree with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. He urged consideration of the issue, saying that Congress should not be a place where only millionaires can serve.

 

The House of Representatives and Senate are returning from their Independence Day recess this week. It is unclear when the Legislative Branch appropriations bill will be considered and if it will contain the automatic cost-of-living pay increase when it is.

 

Do you support giving members of Congress a yearly cost-of-living pay increase? Does stopping annual congressional pay increases give members of Congress an incentive to go into lobbying, where they will earn more money?

Warren Unveils Federal Voting Mandates

With 50 states comes 50 different procedures for voting. Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to see this end – at least for federal elections. This week she unveiled a proposal that would mandate a number of procedures that states must follow for federal races. She’s hoping this will appeal to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that has been vocal about voting rights.

 

Sen. Warren’s plan has a number of new mandates on states, including:

  • Automatic voter registration (with individuals being able to opt out)
  • Same-day voter registration
  • Prohibiting the removal of people from the voting rolls unless states have objective evidence of a reason to remove them
  • Fifteen days of early voting
  • Voting by mail
  • A uniform federal ballot

 

The proposal would also prohibit gerrymandering for political reasons, requiring states to use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines. Election Day would be a federal holiday.

 

These requirements would only be mandatory for federal elections. However, since many races for state and local office also occur at the same time as federal elections, it is likely that states would use the same procedures for these non-federal races. In effect, Sen. Warren’s proposal would impose uniform federal rules for elections nationwide.

 

Supporters of these ideas argue that they are necessary to prevent states from enacting voting rules that reduce turnout for minority voters or voters from certain political parties. They say that the U.S. should not have a patchwork of rules for voting. Opponents counter that this is another federal power grab from states that have always had the power to set election rules to meet local concerns.

 

Sen. Warren’s proposal is unlikely to see any legislative action in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, she will use it as part of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

 

Do you think that the federal government should mandate uniform federal rules for elections? Should states implement automatic voter registration and same-day registration?

Sanders Proposed Canceling Student Loan Debt

In his second campaign for the presidency, Sen. Bernie Sanders thinks he has an issue that will attract the votes of millennial voters – student loan debt forgiveness.

 

Under legislation that Sen. Sanders plans to introduce, nearly all individuals who have taken out student loans would see their debt wiped out. His plan includes:

  • Complete forgiveness of outstanding debt for any student loans made, guaranteed, or insured by the federal government;
  • Federal purchase and forgiveness of outstanding private loan debt upon application by the person who incurred the debt;
  • Providing new student loans through the federal government and capping these loans’ interest rates at 1.88%;
  • The elimination of tuition at public colleges; and
  • New subsidies for low-income students attending private colleges.

 

Under this plan, there would be no limits on eligibility based on family income. To pay for this $2.2 trillion plan, Sen. Sanders proposed a new tax on Wall Street transactions.

 

Sen. Sanders says that his plan will be Wall Street bailing out the average American. He argues that debt-free education should be something that every American is entitled to have. Opponents note that his plan would benefit the rich as well as the average American, and would be extremely expensive.

 

Do you think that the federal government should forgive all student loan debt, regardless of the income of the borrowers? Should public universities and colleges be tuition-free?

House Votes to End Federal Spending at Trump Properties

Some observers have long been troubled by federal agencies that contract with properties owned by President Trump for things like lodging or food. Now the House of Representatives is taking steps to prevent federal dollars from being spent at Trump property.

 

By a vote of 231-187, the House of Representatives approved an amendment that included a provision banning the State Department from spending money on services provided at properties owned by the president. House members also approved a similar amendment for the Commerce and Justice Departments by a voice vote. These provisions are attached to the annual legislation that funds federal agencies.

 

Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Jaime Raskin (D-MD) proposed these amendments as a way to stop federal employees from lodging at Trump hotels, among other actions. They contend that this is a way for the president to profit from his office. They argue that the presidency should not be leveraged for personal gain, and that requiring federal money to be spent at Trump properties is unethical.

 

Republicans in the House pushed back, saying that such a prohibition could jeopardize security. They note that the federal government must undertake a number of actions at Trump properties when foreign dignitaries or the president is at them, and many of these activities would be impossible under the Cohen and Raskin amendment.

 

The spending bill that contains this prohibition must still be approved by the Senate. It is unlikely that it will remain in the Senate’s version of the legislation.

 

Do you think that there should be a ban on federal spending at property owned by President Trump? Is it improper for the federal government to pay for lodging and other services at Trump properties?

Amash Tries, and Fails, to Stop Warrantless Data Collection

Rep. Justin Amash has blazed his own path during his tenure in Congress, taking positions at odds with both Democrats and Republicans. One of his main topics of concern has been warrantless intelligence gathering. This week, Rep. Amash introduced an amendment to curtail this practice. While it drew bipartisan support, it drew stronger bipartisan opposition, ultimately being voted down.

 

The amendment in question would have limited federal power to collect data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under its provisions, the National Security Agency could only collect data on someone without a warrant if that person was not in the United States.

 

As Rep. Amash pointed out, numerous Republicans had decried abuse of the FISA intelligence collection system in recent months due to the investigation of President Trump’s campaign. Democrats have also talked about limiting the power of the executive branch to act without judicial oversight. He said that his amendment was a way for both sides to do something about their complaints. Opponents of this amendment said that it would hamper vital anti-terrorism work.

 

The amendment did receive support from both Democrats and Republicans, ranging from Freedom Caucus Chair Jim Jordan to progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When the vote was called, 110 Democrats and 65 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment. However, they were outnumbered by the 126 Democratic votes and 127 Republican votes against it. The final tally was 175-223.

 

Do you think that the National Security Agency should obtain a warrant to collect data on individuals within the United States?

House Holds Slavery Reparations Hearing

Reparations for the descendants of slaves is taking center stage in the House of Representatives today. A committee is holding a hearing on a proposal to form a commission to examine this controversial issue. But even though the commission has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many Democrats running for president, it faces tough opposition in Congress.

 

The hearing is set to examine H.R. 40, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). This legislation would, in the words of the bill,

 

…address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.

 

The committee’s scheduled list of witnesses include actor Danny Glover and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote an article in 2014 that helped reignite the conversation about reparations.

 

Those who support reparations point to the long history of legally-sanctioned slavery and discrimination in the United States. They argue that this legacy still affects the descendants of slaves, so the government should compensate those individuals. Opponents of reparations counter that the U.S. fought a war to end slavery, and that no slave is currently living.


Reparations have been raised by some Democrats who are running for president. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also supports forming a commission to examine this issue. Senator Mitch McConnell, however, has said that even if H.R. 40 passes the House, it will be dead in the Senate. The legislation has near-universal Republican opposition, and even some Democrats express skepticism about it.

 

Today’s hearing if the first time that a congressional committee has examined reparations.

 

Do you support reparations for the descendants of slaves? If so, what should slavery reparations look like?

Abortion Funding Ban Stays in Spending Bill

There has been a prohibition on spending federal money on abortion for over forty years. Reversing this ban has become a popular issue with Democrats running for president. However, the spending bill moving through the House of Representatives once again contains this ban, and House Democrats are not taking steps to strip it out.

 

In 1976, then-Rep. Henry Hyde sponsored an amendment to an annual government spending bill that prohibits federal funding for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother. This provision has been in every yearly spending bill since then. This includes the Labor-HHS-Education legislation currently being considered by the House of Representatives.

 

At the time of its enactment, the Hyde Amendment had bipartisan support. Today, however, Democrats are increasingly critical of it. Former Vice President Joe Biden had been a backer of the ban, but recently reversed his stance. By doing this, he joined his fellow Democratic candidates for president who want to see federal money paying for abortions.

 

While Democrats may not like the Hyde Amendment, there is no real effort to remove it from this year’s spending legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argues that the spending bill needs bipartisan support to avoid a government shutdown, so Democrats should accept this provision to advance their overall goals.

 

Those backing the Hyde Amendment contend that taxpayers should not be funding a procedure that many Americans consider tantamount to murder. They say that federal health care programs, such as Medicaid, should focus spending on other health care priorities. Those opposing this amendment say that banning the use of federal funds for abortion deprives poor women of the full range of reproductive choice.

 

Do you think that federal funds should be used to pay for abortions for Medicaid recipients and others in government health care programs?

AOC, Cruz Team up on Birth Control

Conservative Senator Ted Cruz and Progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez don’t agree on much. But they appear to have found common ground via Twitter on a subject that affects the lives of tens of millions of Americans – birth control.

 

Specifically, the two lawmakers agree that oral contraceptives for women should be available without prescription. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classification for these contraceptives do not allow them to be sold over the counter, forcing women to get a prescription if they want them. There is growing bipartisan consensus that this should change.

 

Some states have passed laws allowing pharmacists to write prescriptions for oral contraception, making it easier for women to buy it. Sen. Cruz and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez want to go further, however. They would like to see the FDA reclassify these drugs to enable their purchase without any prescription at all. For the FDA to do this, it will take a lengthy reclassification process. President Trump has signaled his support for this, saying in 2016 that women should not be forced to get a prescription to buy contraception.

 

If the FDA does reclassify these drugs, they would be much easier for women to purchase. However, some worry that if they became over-the-counter drugs, then insurance would no longer be forced to provide them at no charge to users. They see this move by conservatives as a way to undermine the Affordable Care Act.


For the FDA to begin examining oral contraceptives for over-the-counter sale, a company must petition the agency to do so.

 

Should the government allow birth control pills to be sold without a prescription?

Big Tech Facing Antitrust Action in DC

Millions of people use the services Twitter, Google, Facebook, and other technology companies. The dominance of these companies has raised the ire of some politicians and regulators, however. Yesterday both the House of Representatives and the Department of Justice signaled they are looking at antitrust action against big technology firms.

 

The legislative front against these companies will be spearheaded by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee. Chairman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, held hearings yesterday examining the impact of tech companies on the news media. He contends that these companies harm the news industry.

 

During the hearing, there was bipartisan support for some legislative changes aimed at helping the news industry compete in the changing technology landscape, but there were differences on how far Congress should go in pursuing antitrust action. Some Democrats have suggested breaking up companies like Google on antitrust grounds.

 

The antitrust path is something the Trump Administration is considering, as a speech by a top Justice Department official yesterday indicated. He laid out principles by which the department could pursue legal action against Facebook, Twitter, and others, saying that federal antitrust law could deal with the issues posed by these companies. He noted that antitrust law has many aspects, including consumer harm and harm to competition.

 

It is unclear if any legislation will emerge from Congress with a bipartisan consensus on this issue, just as it is unknown what the Trump Administration will do in the courts. However, there does appear to be growing desire to act in the executive and legislative branch.

 

Do you think that large technology companies like Facebook and Google should be broken up under antitrust law? Are consumers harmed by these companies? Does Big Tech stifle competition?

House Passes Residency Fix for Dreamers

The fate of so-called “Dreamers” – illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children – has been debated in Washington for years. This week, the House of Representatives passed legislation to provide them with a path to permanent residency. But President Donald Trump has said he is opposed to it.

 

The House passed H.R. 6 by a vote of 237-187 on June 4. Here is how VoteSpotter described the legislation:

 

To stop deportation proceedings against non-citizens who were brought to the U.S. as minors, and allow those individuals to remain in the U.S. for 10 years. To qualify, a person must have been brought to the U.S. as a minor, must meet certain educational and residency requirements, and cannot have been convicted of a felony, among other things. The bill would also allow these individuals to become permanent legal residents if they graduate college, complete military service, or have three years of steady employment.

 

President Obama attempted to deal with the status of Dreamers without Congress. He instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This affected illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who met educational requirements and had no criminal record to be shielded from deportation. Once he assumed office, Donald Trump canceled DACA, saying it was an overreach of executive power.

 

President Trump has signaled support for legislation that would provide permanent residency for Dreamers. However, he has issued a veto threat for H.R. 6. He would like to see this issue tied to a larger plan that limits immigration and provides more border security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agrees with the president, and has said that the Senate will not consider H.R. 6.

 

Do you think that children who were brought to the U.S. illegally should receive legal residence if they have no criminal record and meet education requirements? Should the status of Dreamers be tied to overall immigration reform?

Congress May Block Trump's Tariffs

President Trump is a big fan of tariffs. In fact, he’s called himself “Tariff Man” on Twitter. But many members of Congress disagree with him. The president’s announcement that he would be imposing new tariffs on Mexico could prompt a response from these lawmakers that would end his ability to start a trade war with our southern neighbor.

 

Last week the president said that he would impose an escalating series of tariffs on Mexico until its government stopped the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. He would have the authority to do this under his declaration of an emergency at the U.S.-Mexican border. He issued this emergency declaration in February, claiming that a surge of illegal immigration threatened the U.S. This allows him broad powers to deal with the situation, including repurposing money for a border wall and imposing tariffs.

 

Congress also has power under this emergency declaration – specifically the power to revoke it. Both the House and Senate voted to undo the emergency, but the president vetoed the resolution. With only a handful of Republicans joining all the Democrats in rebuking the president, there were not supermajorities in either house to override his veto. Resolutions to revoke a presidential emergency can be considered every six months.

 

President Trump’s latest move on tariffs may prompt more Republicans to support another attempt to undo the February emergency declaration. In recent years, Republicans have generally opposed high tariffs. They see them as a tax on Americans who are forced to pay higher prices for foreign goods directly affected by tariffs and American goods that no longer face as much foreign competition. The president’s desire to impose steep tariffs on Mexico, a large trading partner with the U.S., has caused consternation among many GOP members of Congress.

 

If one house of Congress passes a resolution to revoke a presidential emergency, the other house must also consider it. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives will almost certainly pass such a resolution, meaning that the Republican-controlled Senate would then put the measure on its agenda. It remains to be seen if there will be more Republicans in both chambers who choose to buck the president on this issue because of their dislike of tariffs.

 

Do you support President Trump’s plan to impose new tariffs on products coming from Mexico? Should Congress stop these tariffs?

Rep. Massie Won’t Let Disaster Aid Pass without a Vote

After months of wrangling, there is bipartisan consensus about a disaster aid spending bill. There is only one hang-up preventing its passage – the insistence of a few House members that it receive a vote.

 

The Senate passed a $19 billion aid bill last week before leaving town for Memorial Day recess. There is overwhelming support for the bill in the House of Representatives. But House members left town before they voted on the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to get the bill passed through the House via unanimous consent during a pro forma session during recess. Such a process requires any House member present to approve. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) do not agree, and have objected to the Speaker’s attempts to pass the bill.

 

Rep. Massie justified his actions on the House floor, saying, “"If the Speaker of the House felt this was must-pass legislation, the Speaker of the House should have called a vote on this bill before sending every member of Congress on recess for ten days.”

 

This legislation contains aid for Puerto Rico, money for farmers, and funds for wildfires. An aid package has been the subject of partisan negotiations in Congress for months, and President Trump has weighed in on the subject, too. The president wanted funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall included in any disaster aid bill and, at times, suggested that Puerto Rico not receive any aid.

 

These differences were worked out in the Senate, with the aid bill passing by a vote of 85-8 on May 23. Most Republicans and Democrats in the House are expected to support the bill, and President Trump has indicated he will sign it.

 

The Senate vote did not leave enough time for the House of Representatives to consider the bill prior to its members leaving for recess. Since Rep. Massie and his allies are preventing the bill from being considered while most members are out of town, it means that its passage will have to wait until recess is over in June. Speaker Pelosi is blasting these members for cruelty. However, Rep. Massie has tweeted that “passing an unbudgeted $19 billion spending bill without a vote of Congress is legislative malpractice.”

 

Do you think that it is wrong for Rep. Massie to insist that a $19 billion aid package receive a formal vote by the House of Representatives?

Deep Dive: Impeachment

After the release of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, discussion about impeaching President Trump heated up on Capitol Hill. Some Democratic members of Congress are calling for the House Judiciary Committee to begin impeachment hearings, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi is resisting doing so – for now.

 

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

 

There is growing movement in the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. These members accuse the president of obstructing justice and other crimes, saying that it is the House’s duty to impeach under these circumstances. Speaker Pelosi has cautioned members that such a move is politically risky, pointing out that Republicans lost popularity when they impeached President Clinton in the 1990s.

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, there is a possibility that it could pass impeachment articles. However, it is unlikely that the Senate would follow suit, given Republican control of the chamber. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office under this situation, then the vice president would assume office.

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