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Voting by Mail Facing Praise, Criticism

With voting in person deemed a risky activity during the coronavirus epidemic, states are turning to mail-in ballots as a way to conduct their elections. This has garnered praise from many people, who see it as a safer way to vote. But it has also raised the ire of many, including President Trump, who argue mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud.

 

Currently, five states conduct all their elections by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. In these states, all registered voted receive a ballot and must mail them back by Election Day. There is also limited in-person voting locations where voters can visit during early voting or can drop off their ballots on Election Day.

 

The coronavirus epidemic has caused other states to temporarily embrace all-mail elections this year. Many of these states are treating this as a temporary matter. While shutdown orders were in effect, state officials concluded it would not be safe to open polling places. Instead, they put in place procedures to allow registered voters to request absentee ballots.

 

In addition, states such as Massachusetts are passing laws that will make it easier to vote by mail in future elections. These new laws would not move to election conducted completely by mail, but would expand the instances where people could request absentee ballots.

 

Some voting rights activists support these moves, saying that it should be easier for people to vote in any manner they want, including through the mail. They say this will help boost political participation among those who have difficulty making it to the polls. But President Trump, among others, have criticized mail-in voting, saying that it opens up large opportunities for fraud. The president says voting-by-mail is a plan by Democrats to help their party win elections.

 

Do you think it should be easier to vote by mail?

Trump Plans Withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty

President Trump has made no secret that he’s skeptical of many treaties signed by previous presidents. This week he announced that the U.S. would withdraw from one of the arms control treaty that he thinks is ineffective.

 

The treaty in question is the Open Skies treaty, which has 35 signatories. It allows nations to conduct unarmed flights over the territories of other signatories to monitor military activities. The president cited Russian violations of the treaty, which he said make it ineffective.

 

Russia has restricted flyovers in certain areas of the nation, something which Defense Department officials have long criticized. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will give formal notice of the U.S. intent to withdraw from the treaty on Friday. That withdrawal takes place 6 months after notice is given. However, Secretary Pompeo said that if Russia comes into compliance, the U.S. could reconsider its withdrawal.

 

Some observers have long wanted the U.S. to withdraw from the treaty, saying it gives Russia too much information on U.S. critical infrastructure. They hailed the president’s move, saying it was overdue. Others criticized the withdrawal, arguing that it will only increase tensions with Russia.

 

Do you support withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty?

Senate Fails to Override Trump Veto on Iran Military Action

A majority of senators disapprove of U.S. military involvement in Iran, but they could not garner enough support to override a presidential veto of a resolution to end such action.

 

This week the Senate failed to override President Trump’s veto of Senate Joint Resolution 68. Although the vote was 49-44 in favor of a veto override, this type of vote requires two-thirds of the senators present to approve in order to pass.

 

The resolution states:

 

The United States Armed Forces have been introduced into hostilities, as defined by the War Powers Resolution, against Iran.

 

The question of whether United States forces should be engaged in hostilities against Iran should be answered following a full briefing to Congress and the American public of the issues at stake, a public debate in Congress, and a congressional vote as contemplated by the Constitution.

 

It then goes on to say:

 

Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.

 

The Senate initially passed the resolution in February, with the House following in March. This action 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.

 

President Trump vetoed SJ Res 68 on May 6.

 

Do you think that U.S. military actions against Iran should be ended?

Trump Still Pushing for Payroll Tax Cut

Congress has passed four bills dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, and is now working on a fifth. President Trump wants that bill to include a payroll tax cut.

 

This is not the first time that the president has suggested such a tax cut. When the initial economic effects of the coronavirus began to become apparent in March, he suggested the same thing. Congress has been reluctant to enact it, however.

 

Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.

 

Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly.

 

The president’s support for such a tax cut is not shared by many in Congress. Democratic members argue that such a tax cut would not provide relief to those who lost jobs or who are in the gig economy. Republicans are worried about its price tag (which could reach as high as $1 trillion a year) and its effect on the Social Security Trust Fund.

 

It remains to be seen what type of tax relief, if any, members of Congress will support in their latest coronavirus relief bill.

 

Do you support cutting payroll taxes as a way to stimulate the economy?

Lawyers Argue that Trump’s Name on Stimulus Checks is Illegal

Stimulus checks going out to millions of Americans contain the name of President Donald Trump in the memo line. A bipartisan group of lawyers is arguing that this is a violation of federal law.

 

Congress passed legislation authorizing stimulus payments to tens of millions of Americans due to the economic effects of the coronavirus epidemic. Many of those payments were made by direct deposit. Some people, however, are receiving paper checks.

 

There were reports that President Trump wanted his signature to appear on the line authorizing the checks. Generally, the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury appears on government checks. Due to legal reasons, this idea could not be realized. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he had the idea to place the president’s name in the memo line of the check, something that has never been done before.

 

A group of lawyers who have worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations argues that this move was intended to boost the president’s re-election campaign. As such, they say, it violates a federal law that prohibits the use of federal employees and property for campaign purposes. They sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr urging him to appoint a special counsel to investigate this situation.

 

Legal observers note that no one has been prosecuted under the section of the federal code that these lawyers cite.

 

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has introduced legislation to prohibit the federal government from using the president or vice=president’s name or image in promotional material.

 

Do you think it was appropriate to put President Trump’s name on stimulus checks?

Trump Says He’s Halting Immigration to U.S.

President Trump took to Twitter on Monday night to announce that he would be stopping immigration into the U.S.

 

The president says that this immigration halt is necessary to protect the U.S. from the coronavirus and to help American workers. Even before he was president, Trump was a critic of immigration. Since he has taken office, Trump has pursued policies to limit legal immigration and crack down on illegal immigration.

 

The president plans to sign an executive order that will prevent the State Department from issuing visas to incoming immigrants. With the virtual shutdown in airline travel due to the coronavirus, there has already been a large slowdown in immigration. The president previously stopped travel into the U.S. from nations where there have been large outbreaks of the coronavirus, such as China.

 

Given the president’s broad authority to take steps in response to emergencies, this move is likely legal as long as it only lasts the duration of the epidemic. Critics, however, note that the president has long looked for ways to stop people from immigrating into the U.S., and they claim he is using this as a pretext to advance his anti-immigration agenda.

 

There will likely be legal challenges to this executive order.

 

Do you support stopping immigration into the U.S. during the coronavirus epidemic?

Trump Says Social Distancing Goes Until April 30

On Sunday, President Trump announced that the federal guidance on social distancing will remain in place until April 30. This is a departure from his previous statements where he stated that he would like it lifted by Easter.

 

In a Rose Garden announcement, the president justified his change of heart by noting that deaths will be increasing in coming weeks, probably spiking around Easter. He said that his previous comments about Easter were just an aspiration, and new information has led him to change his mind. He put a new timeline on recovery efforts, saying that by June 1 things should be getting back to normal.

 

There are currently over 136,000 Americans who are confirmed to have COVID-19, while 2,400 Americans have died of problems related to this virus.

 

The federal government is recommending that people stay home and distance themselves from others. Governors have taken other steps, such as requiring sheltering-in-place and the quarantining of out-of-state visitors. Many of these governors’ actions have the force of law.

 

Congress has so far passed three aid bills related to the coronavirus, with the latest receiving unanimous support in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

 

What do you think of the guidance to stay home and practice social distancing until April 30?

President Trump Signs Coronavirus Aid Bill

On Wednesday, President Trump signed legislation aimed at offsetting the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The House voted 363-40 to pass HR 6201 on Saturday. The Senate followed suit on Wednesday by a vote of 90-8. Among other things, this legislation includes:

  • A paid sick leave mandate that covers businesses with fewer than 500 employees
  • Waivers for health insurers to provide cost-free testing
  • An increase in federal Medicaid payments
  • More funding for federal food programs
  • A ban on tougher work requirements for food stamps
  • $1 billion in additional unemployment insurance funding for the states

 

In the House of Representatives, some members objected that they did not know what they were voting on and complaints about being forced to vote too quickly on a massive aid bill. While the House of Representatives is on recess this week, it did convene a brief session on Monday to approve legislation that contained dozens of pages of technical corrections to the original bill.

 

In the Senate, Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment that would end military activities in Afghanistan and make permanent a federal requirement to provide a Social Security number to claim the child tax credit. He argued these could help offset the cost of the bill. Senators voted down his amendment on a 3-95 vote. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) also attempted to amend the bill by removing the federal sick leave mandate and replacing it with a state grant program. While this amendment received a vote of 50-48, it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass.

 

Those who voted in favor of it said it was necessary to aid in an economic meltdown that is happening in response to the coronavirus. However, some conservative members of the House said that the bill was considered too quickly and contained things that were unrelated to the coronavirus.

 

This was the second bill dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate is now considering an even larger aid package that will likely be voted on next week.

 

What do you think the federal government should do to respond to the coronavirus pandemic?

 

Coronovirus Relief May Include Cash Payments to All Americans

The Trump Administration and members of Congress are scrambling to put together policy proposals aimed at alleviating an economic crisis due to the coronavirus. One idea with growing support is direct cash payments.

 

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the Trump Administration was seriously considering sending checks to Americans within the next two weeks. He did not specify what the amount of these checks would be or the details of how they would be sent.

 

Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) had floated the idea of sending every American $1,000 to stimulate the economy and help blunt the economic decline that the coronavirus has caused. Sen. Romney and Secretary Mnuchin had discussed this idea on Monday night, and it seems to have gained favor in the White House.

 

President Trump had previously endorsed a payroll tax cut as a way to get more money into the economy. Secretary Mnuchin now says that this may take too long to have an effect. These payments would be part of an aid package that would have a total cost of around $850 billion.

 

Democrats in Congress have also expressed support for this type of aid payment to Americans.

 

Do you think the federal government should send Americans $1,000 to stimulate the economy?

President Trump Declares Coronavirus Emergency

Today President Trump declared a national emergency to deal with the spread of the coronavirus.

 

In a news conference, President Trump said he had signed an emergency declaration that is aimed at allowing better coordination to combat the coronavirus. Doing this allows the federal government to distribute up to $50 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments. The president has also allowed a relaxation of federal rules regarding health care workers in an attempt to provide them with more flexibility.

 

This emergency declaration follows criticism from Democrats in Congress and in state offices that the president had downplayed the risk of the coronavirus. They have urged the federal government to do more to combat the crisis. The president has pushed back, saying he is taking steps that are appropriate for the level of the pandemic.

 

Congress is also working on legislation to address the economic fallout from the virus’s spread. States have begun shutting down school systems and taking other steps to restrict public gatherings. Many businesses are closing, too. There is bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done to help the economy, but there is still disagreement on what the details should be.

 

Do you support declaring a national emergency over the coronavirus?

Trump Pushes Tax Cut to Deal with Economic Effect of Coronavirus

The fallout from the coronavirus is already having an effect on the stock market. Analysts think it may have larger ramifications for the global economy. To help give the U.S. economy a boost, President Trump is today talking to members of the Senate about a tax cut.

 

The details of the tax cut have yet to be worked out, but the president has suggested it should be a payroll tax cut. Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.

 

Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly. Some Democrats in Congress are pushing back on President Trump’s proposal, however, saying that such a tax cut would not provide relief to those who lost jobs or who are in the gig economy.

 

President Trump is urging Congress to take action to avoid a recession. It is unclear what the economic effects of the coronavirus will be at this early state. However, if there is widespread restriction on travel and public activity, many businesses will suffer.

 

Do you think that Congress should cut payroll taxes to prevent a recession related to the coronavirus?

Court Upholds Cutting Funds to Sanctuary Cities

President Trump has made no secret about his anger over some cities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration agents. Now a federal appeals court has given his administration the go-ahead to cut some funding for such jurisdictions.

 

The federal government cannot compel local governments, such as states and cities, to enforce federal law. These governments can choose to cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies, and routinely do. But so-called “sanctuary cities” have put in place policies that prohibit their law enforcement personnel from honoring requests from federal immigration agents or notifying the federal government of detainees’ immigration status.

 

These policies do not break federal law, so there is no way for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to attack them in court. However, the federal government does provide law enforcement grants to these jurisdictions. Under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ announced a policy of reducing federal funding to areas with sanctuary policies.

 

Some of these jurisdictions sued, saying that this funding cutoff was unrelated to the purpose of public safety grants. This week, however, a federal appeals court ruled that the Trump Administration could indeed reduce funding under these grounds. The court held that Congress gave the Attorney General broad leeway to write rules and conditions for these grants.

 

The cities affected by this ruling are likely to appeal. The case could end up before the Supreme Court.

 

Do you support cutting some federal funding for “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agencies?

President Trump Releases His Budget

President Trump released his annual budget today, which has led to many news stories about how he plans on cutting certain programs or changing the way the federal government works. President Trump may indeed have ideas about how the federal government should spend money, but he cannot do anything alone. The $4.8 trillion budget (an increase of $700 billion over the previous fiscal year) he released is merely the official start of the budget process.

 

The process for determining how much money the federal government will spend in the next fiscal year will take until at least October, more likely longer. There are many steps that Congress must take between now and then until we know how much money individual departments or agencies will receive.

 

The President’s Budget

 

While the law states that the president must submit his budget by the first Monday of February, in many years presidents submit them later (President Trump only missed this deadline by a week – last year he submitted his budget in March). The president’s budget has a few parts:

  • Recommendations on spending for the next fiscal year (which runs from October 1 through September 30)
  • Proposals for major policy changes that have budget implications, such as reforms to programs like Social Security or Medicaid
  • Projections for future spending levels, revenue collections, and budget deficits
  • Historical data on spending and revenue amounts

 

It is important to outline a few things that the president’s budget does not do:

  • It does not set any spending. It merely recommends what the president would like to see spending levels set at.
  • It is not law. This is not the president announcing how spending will proceed in the next fiscal year. If he recommends the elimination of a certain program or cuts in another program, these eliminations or cuts will not happen unless Congress agrees.
  • It does not bind Congress to do anything. The president’s budget is delivered to Congress, but Congress does not have to adopt any of it. In fact, Congress routinely ignores it.

 

So why is the president’s budget resolution important? Its importance lies in laying out the president’s overall vision for federal spending. It indicates the programs he thinks are important, those he thinks should be cut (or eliminated), and often outlines a path towards a balanced budget.

 

However, as a practical matter, the president’s budget resolution does not directly affect spending. It may indicate that, as Congress finishes up its spending process (described below), the president may veto spending bills that deviate from his priorities. Even that is not necessarily true, however, as negotiations over actual spending bills later in the year often ignore the president’s budget priorities in favor of more immediate concerns.

 

President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal, released on February 10, can be found here.

 

Congressional Budget Resolutions

 

Once the president releases his budget, the House and Senate Budget Committees consider them. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also analyzes the budget. The committees consider the CBO analysis and are supposed to release their budget resolutions by April 1. The full House and Senate then consider these resolutions and adopt them, usually with amendments, by April 15.

 

The adopted budget resolutions are not laws, so are not subject to presidential veto. However, they do set the funding allocations that the appropriations committees in each house use to set their spending bills. These committees, described in more detail below, set the actual spending levels for the fiscal year for discretionary government programs (that is, for programs that are not entitlements such as Social Security or Medicaid).

 

While passing a budget resolution is helpful in setting a federal spending blueprint, it is not mandatory. In fact, in Fiscal Years 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2020, Congress did not pass a budget resolution. When that happens, the prior year’s budget resolution sets the spending blueprint that appropriations committees follow.

 

These budget resolutions can also contain “reconciliation instructions.” These are instructions to committees to make changes to the law that have budget implications. The reconciliation process is not subject to a Senate filibuster, and must be considered on a faster timeframe than other legislation. That makes it a useful tool to enact policy that does not have strong bipartisan support.

 

The Appropriations Process

 

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are the committees that actually set spending levels for discretionary government programs. These committees each have 12 subcommittees that use the budget resolution allocations to determine how much government departments and agencies spend.

 

These 12 appropriations bills are supposed to be completed by Congress and signed by the president by the beginning of the fiscal year, October 1. That rarely happens. This leads to a variety of maneuvers to fund the federal government for temporary time periods or, failing that, a government shutdown.

 

What Does This Mean to You?

 

The budget process is how the government determines how much it will spend on the programs it administers. It also helps determine how much the deficit will be and how much the government will add to the national debt. If this process breaks down due to disagreement between the President and Congress, it could also lead to another government shutdown. Since President Trump has just released his budget, it remains to be seen what will happen with spending, the deficit, and a possible government shutdown this year.

Senate Fails to Remove Trump from Office

The Senate has brought an end to the impeachment trial of President Trump, refusing to remove him from office.

 

Senators rejected the first impeachment article, abuse of power, by a vote of 48-52. They rejected the second impeachment article, contempt of Congress, by a vote of 47-51. Of the Republicans, only Sen. Mitt Romney from Utah voted “yes” on either article – he voted in favor of removing the president for abusing his office.

 

Two-thirds of the senators present would need to approve either article of impeachment in order for the president to be removed from office and be barred from holding office again.

 

These votes bring to an end a bitter fight over impeachment. The House of Representatives passed their two impeachment articles against the president in December. After weeks of delay, Speaker Nancy Pelosi transmitted them to the Senate, where the trial began last month. Democrats called for a longer trial with witnesses, but Senate Republicans voted these efforts down.

 

Do you support the Senate’s refusal to remove President Trump from office?

Trump Pushes for School Choice in State of the Union Speech

Proponents of school choice received a boost from President Trump during his State of the Union Address.

 

In his speech, the president attacked Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf for vetoing an expansion of that state’s program that gives tax credits to taxpayers who donate to school scholarships. These scholarships can be used to pay for private school tuition or other education expenses. President Trump invited a Pennsylvania student and her mother to be his guest at the speech, and he argued that Gov. Wolf was trying to deny her a better education.

 

President Trump used this as an example of why Congress should pass national legislation that would provide tax credits for school choice scholarships. Supporters of this idea argue that it will help students escape failing public schools. They say that children from lower-income families should have the opportunity to go to private schools just as children from higher-income families do. Opponents counter that school choice is a way to undermine public schools that are open to all children. They argue that subsidizing private school tuition would, among other things, lead to less racial integration in schools.

 

School choice programs have expanded at the state level over the past two decades. Besides approval of a private school subsidy program for Washington, D.C., there has been little movement on this issue at the national level, however.

 

It is unlikely that the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives would pass school choice legislation.

 

Do you support national legislation that would provide tax credits for taxpayers who contribute to education scholarship funds?

Trump Appears at Annual March for Life

Today is the 47th annual March for Life. But this year, the marchers have a special guest who has never joined them before – the president of the United States.

 

The March for Life is a yearly demonstration in Washington, D.C., near the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. That decision legalized abortion nationally. Republican presidents in the past have spoken before the March for Life, but have never appeared in person. This week, President Trump tweeted that he would join the marchers.

 

The march is occurring as anti-abortion legislators are enacted a raft of bills restricting the practice nationwide. These include laws that impose a host of new regulations on abortion clinics to outright bans after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Federal judges have prevented most of these laws from going into effect. Supporters hope that the Supreme Court will take up one of these cases and use it to overrule Roe v. Wade and other decisions that have found that abortion is a constitutionally-protected right. If this occurs, then states would be free to legalize or ban abortion.

 

At the federal level, however, there is little momentum for nationwide laws dealing with abortion. Annual spending bills have a provision, known as the Hyde Amendment, that bars federal money from being used to pay for abortion except in limited circumstances. Some Democratic lawmakers want to see this removed, but have yet to succeed in doing so.

 

Do you support placing more restrictions on abortion, or banning it completely?

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.

 

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?

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?

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