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Deep Dive: Approving Short-Term Government Spending

This week, the House of Representatives and the Senate will vote on a bill to extend federal government funding until December 20. With government funding set to expire on November 21, failure to do this would result in a partial government shutdown. 

  

A previous Deep Dive examined the budget process that talks about the overall spending blueprint for the federal government. This Deep Dive will discuss the specific part affecting spending – the appropriations process. 

 

 

The Appropriations Process

 

Article I, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution states: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”

 

Federal government spending is divided into two categories:

  • Mandatory: Programs authorized by Congress that operate outside the regular spending process are entitlement programs, and their spending is deemed “mandatory.” For Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, anyone who meets certain qualification is entitled to benefits. Funding for these programs does not have to be authorized yearly by Congress, although the eligibility and payment rules can be changed.
  • Discretionary: To pay for other government activities, ranging from military operations undertaken by the Defense Department to operating national parks to paying congressional staff, Congress must pass 12 appropriations, or spending, bills. These bills operate on a fiscal year basis. If they do not become law, funds cannot be drawn from the U.S. Treasury to pay for the government operations they cover.

 

Appropriations Bills

 

The 12 appropriations bills that should be passed by Congress every fiscal year (October 1 through September 30) are:

  • Agriculture
  • Commerce/Justice/Science
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Financial Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior and Environment
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans
  • State/Foreign Operations
  • Transportation/Urban Development

 

You can see the progress of the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bills through Congress here.

 

The number and title of these bills can be changed by Congress. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress re-organized the appropriations process, which at that time had operated with 13 appropriations bills.

 

Consolidated Appropriations/Continuing Appropriations/Omnibus Appropriations

 

While the spending process is supposed to proceed with the 12 bills being passed separately and signed into law by October 1 of each year, this almost never happens. In fact, since 1977 (when the current spending system was put in place), Congress has passed all of the appropriations bills on time in only four years. The last time it did this was 1997. The usual pattern is that Congress passes some, but not all, of the bills to be signed into law by October 1.

 

When this happens, Congress can take a variety of steps to avoid a government shutdown. It can pass a resolution for continuing appropriations, which fund the government for a specified period of time at the level of the previous fiscal year. During this time, it can then pass a consolidated appropriations act, which combines two or more appropriations bills. An omnibus appropriations bill generally wraps all the outstanding appropriations bills into a single act for the rest of the fiscal year.

 

If special spending needs arise during the fiscal year, Congress can also pass a supplemental appropriations bill, which provides funding more money than what was contained in the original spending bill.

 

Fiscal Year 2020

 

To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass these 12 spending bills (either in individual or consolidated form) and the president must sign them. So far this year, the House of Representatives has passed 10 bills (with only Homeland Security and Legislative Branch still remaining to be approved). The Senate has passed none. 

 

 

Instead of completing work on the individual spending bills by October 1 (the beginning of the new fiscal year), the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a continuing resolution, a short-term bill that funds the government at the previous fiscal year's level.  This legislation funded the government through November 21. If Congress does not act on another bill, or the president does not sign one, then there would be a partial government shutdown.

 

The 2018-2019 Government Shutdown

 

The last government shutdown occurred from December 2018 to January 2019. The beginnings of this shutdown began a year ago, with the failure of Congress to pass the necessary spending bills. Prior to the beginning of Fiscal Year 2019 (which began on October 1, 2018), Congress had only passed these appropriations bills:

  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Labor/Health and Human Services/Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military/Veterans

 

Continuing resolutions funded the government agencies covered by the other appropriations bills through December 21. President Trump signaled his opposition to signing any spending bills that did not contain funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. As a consequence, the agencies not covered by the already-passed appropriations bills were shut down on that date.

 

The parts of the government that were covered by these spending bills could continue to operate as normal, however. Since the Legislative Branch appropriations bill was signed into law, congressional staffers could continue to be paid their salary. So could employees of the Energy Department, Defense Department, the Labor Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Education Department.

 

When President Trump signed House Joint Resolution 28 on January 25, this reopened the portions of the federal government that were shut down until February 15. The signing of House Joint Resolution 31 by President Trump funds the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2019.

 

What This Means for You

 

The two-year budget deal that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Donald Trump agreed to over the summer was designed to eliminate the possibility of a government shutdown this year or next year. However, there is still disagreement between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over border funding. It appears that the leadership in the House and Senate as well as President Trump have agreed in principle to another short-term funding bill. That legislation, H.R. 3055, is set to be voted on by Congress this week. It will keep the government open until December 20. This gives negotiators more time to come to an agreement that has the possibility of funding the federal government through the end of this current fiscal year, avoiding a partial government shutdown.

Deep Dive: Impeachment Hearings

The House of Representatives is beginning public impeachment hearings this week. After numerous depositions held behind closed doors, House Democrats are bringing their case against the president into the open. In late October, the House passed H.R. 660 by a vote of 232-196, which sets the procedures for impeachment proceedings. In accordance with this resolution, the House Intelligence Committee will hold public hearings this week. When the Intelligence Committee has completed its hearings, the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on articles of impeachment. This VoteSpotter Deep Dive takes a look into this process and how it has been used over the past two centuries. 

 

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

 

If the House Intelligence Committee finds grounds for impeachment, it will send a recommendation to the House Judiciary Committee. That committee will then deliberate and decide on the fate of impeachment articles. It is possible that this could occur before the end of the year.

 

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

DACA Showdown at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is hearing the fate of children known as “Dreamers” today.

 

The Dreamers are children who were brought to the U.S. illegally. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issued by President Obama in 2012, these individuals would be able to avoid deportation under certain circumstances, such as serving in the military or attending college.

 

In 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would phase out DACA within 6 months. The president said that President Obama did not have the legal authority to issue DACA, and that his administration had no choice but to end it. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would deal with the fate of Dreamers.

 

States and individuals affected by the ending of DACA sued the federal government. Federal judges have stopped the government from rescinding DACA until the Supreme Court can make a decision. Today the justices heard arguments from both sides on this question.

 

The Trump Administration argues that President Obama issued DACA via executive action even though he previously said that such a move must come through legislation. They note that many legal scholars think that this was, in effect, a change in law by the president, not Congress. That is illegal.

 

Those arguing that the Trump Administration acted illegally are not disputing that one president has the power to revoke a previous executive action of another president. Instead, they are saying that the Trump Administration did not give a legally-justifiable reason to rescind DACA. If these arguments prevail, President Trump would be free to phase out DACA in the future, but would have to go through a more careful legal process.

 

There have been bipartisan attempts to pass legislation that would settle the fate of Dreamers. The president has indicated his support of such legislation, but there has yet to be an agreement on final details.

 

Do you think President Trump was right to rescind President Obama’s legal protection of Dreamers?

Trump Readies to Withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement

President Donald Trump has long wanted the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change. This week, he began the process to do so.

 

The Paris agreement was signed in 2016, and is a pact among nations to attempt a reduction in carbon emissions. The goal is to keep global temperature change in check. Nations pledge to reduce emissions at a certain level, although the agreement is not binding. Every nation on earth is party to the agreement.

 

According to President Trump, this international agreement hobbles U.S. industrial capacity and costs our nation jobs. He ran for office pledging to withdraw from it, and is putting that promise in action this week. Opponents of his move argue that this is a step backwards in the fight against climate change.

 

The structure of the agreement does not allow a withdrawal from it until three years after signing. That time period elapsed on Monday. The agreement also says that any nation wishing to withdraw must give notice and then wait a year. That means that the U.S. departure will take effect in 2020, a day after the presidential election.

 

While President Obama never submitted this agreement to the Senate for ratification, he did sign it and pledge U.S. support.

 

Do you agree that the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris climate agreement that calls for a reduction in U.S. carbon emissions?

House Passes Impeachment Inquiry Resolution

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Pelosi Plans Impeachment Resolution Vote

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Sen. Graham Plans Resolution to Condemn Impeachment

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

House Kills Attempt to Censure Intelligence Committee Chair Schiff

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

House, Senate Hold Hearings on Syria & Turkey

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

VoteSpotter Deep Dive: Treason

Talk of “treason” is in the air. President Donald Trump has floated the idea that Rep. Adam Schiff committed treason for allegedly misrepresenting the details of the president’s call with the Ukrainian prime minister. Many people, including a former CIA director, have questioned or outright suggested that president Trump has committed treason for a variety of things, including his ties to Vladimir Putin.

 

While these calls of treason are mainly motivated by political differences, there is a defined federal crime of treason. In this Deep Dive, we’ll take a look at how treason is defined, who has been tried for treason, and what, if anything, could come from today’s accusations of treason.

 

Treason Defined

 

Treason is the only federal crime that is defined by the Constitution. In Article III, Section 3, the Constitution says:

 

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

 

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

 

While the Constitution gives Congress the power to punish treason, it limits how Congress can define it. This limitation can be seen in the U.S. Code (18 U.S. Code § 2381), which takes the constitutional definition of treason, adds some details, then imposes a punishment:

 

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

 

The legal definition of treason is very narrow. It is limited to circumstances where the U.S. is at war with another nation or has clearly defined enemies. It specifically excludes factors such as disagreeing with the president or having foreign policy views that are friendly towards another nation.

 

Treason Trials

 

Because of the high bar to convict someone of treason, there have been few trials involving this charge throughout U.S. history. Only 17 individuals have been convicted of treason.

 

Perhaps the most famous person convicted of treason was John Brown, the man who led an 1859 slave revolt in Virginia. The most recent convictions for treason came during the World War II era. U.S. citizens who had assisted the Nazis or Japanese during this time, including one soldier who defected to Germany, were convicted of treason and imprisoned. Many of these individuals were later pardoned.

 

There has been one treason trial for a political figure in the United States, but it was unrelated to his official actions in office. Vice President Aaron Burr was tried for treason in 1807, two years after he let office. President Thomas Jefferson had pressed for Burr to be charged with treason for his alleged role in a scheme to form a new nation in the western United States. However, prosecutors at his trial failed to produce the witnesses to the alleged crime as required by the Constitution so the presiding judge acquitted Burr.

 

In recent years, there have been treason charges during the military actions in the Middle East. A federal court in California charged Adam Yahiye Gadahn with treason in 2006. He was the English-language spokesman for Al-Qaeda. However, Gadahn was never arrested or brought to trial. Instead, the U.S. government killed him during a 2015 drone strike.

 

Treason Today

 

Talk of treason has been revived in discussions over the actions of the president and his critics.

 

On September 30, President Trump tweeted, “Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?”

 

This has reignited an examination of what constitutes treason, but it is far from the only time that this charge has been brought up during the Trump Administration. The president has claimed that other individuals opposing him were committing treason, and observers have also levied the same charge against him.

 

In late September, Trump’s rival for the GOP presidential nomination in 2020, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, suggested that Trump had committed treason. Weld said, “Talk about pressuring a foreign country to interfere with and control a U.S. election. That's not just undermining democratic institutions. That is treason. It's treason pure and simple, and the penalty for treason under the U.S. code is death. That’s the only penalty.”

 

In 2018, former CIA Director John Brennan said, “Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous.”

 

While people can make claims about treasonable activities, as seen above it is very hard to make a case that such activities meet the definition of “treason” under the U.S. Code. Ultimately it is up to attorneys working for the federal Justice Department to determine whether or not to bring charges of treason against someone. There is little chance they will do so for any of the actions in the Trump Administration or Congress that have been described as being treasonous.

 

 

 

Trump Vetoes Attempt to Overturn Border Wall Emergency

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

House May Hold Vote on Impeachment Inquiry

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

House Passes 2 Bills to Reform Treatment of Children at Border

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


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

 

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

Passed 236 to 174 in the U.S. House

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

 

U.S. House Bill 2203 Limit immigration child separations

Passed 230 to 194 in the U.S. House

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Senate Again Votes to End Trump’s Border Wall Emergency

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Deep Dive: Judiciary Committee Impeachment Investigation

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

 

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

 

Impeachment and the Constitution

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How Impeachment and Removal Works

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The History of Impeachment

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Clinton Impeachment

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What This Means for You

 

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

 

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

 

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

Trump Administration Takes Aim at Homelessness

President Trump has long criticized how Democratic politicians in California treat homelessness. Now his administration is looking into how the federal government can intervene to treat what the president sees as a crisis in that state.

 

Members of the Trump White House staff and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are meeting with California officials this week to discuss the issue. President Trump has highlighted what he sees as a growing homeless population in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles and attacked the Democratic politicians that he says are failing to deal with it.

 

The Trump Administration is reportedly considering using the federal government to remove the homeless from the streets and house them in federal facilities. Dealing with homeless individuals has long been under the authority of local and state governments. It is unclear what authority the federal government has to intervene in a widespread way on this issue. Nevertheless, President Trump has said that he is considering what he could order done to reduce the number of people living on the street.

 

The homeless population of California is rising. Some state officials blame this on rising rent rates, and are embracing rent control as a potential solution. Others observers say that state regulatory barriers is driving up the cost to build housing, so the solution is to relax these restrictions. They also note that many homeless people have substance abuse issues or mental health problems, so their situation may not be related to the cost of housing.

 

Do you think the federal government should intervene in California to address the homeless issue?

Sanford Targets Federal Debt in Run against Trump

Mark Sanford wants to wrest the Republican presidential nomination from Donald Trump. He thinks that focusing on rising federal spending and debt is the way to do this.

 

Sanford announced his candidacy on Fox News Sunday over the weekend. On Twitter, he wrote that he was running for president because of his concern over rising national spending and debt accumulation:

 

We have a storm coming that we are neither talking about nor preparing for given that we, as a country, are more financially vulnerable than we have ever been since our Nation’s start and the Civil War. We are on a collision course with financial reality. We need to act now.

 

As discussed in a VoteSpotter Deep Dive, federal spending, the deficit, and debt are all rising. Yearly deficits are likely to reach over $1 trillion per year for the next decade. Phil Swagel, head of the Congressional Budget Office, recently wrote:

 

The nation’s fiscal outlook is challenging. Federal debt, which is already high by historical standards, is on an unsustainable course, projected to rise even higher after 2029 because of the aging of the population, growth in per capita spending on health care, and rising interest costs.

 

According to Sanford, President Trump bears a large responsibility for what he sees as a looming fiscal crisis. He noted that the president embraces debt and has presided over a large expansion of federal spending.

 

A former South Carolina governor and member of Congress, Sanford lost his seat to a Trump-backed primary challenger last year. He had been a critic of the president during his time in Congress, focusing mainly on what he saw as unsustainable federal spending.

 

Do you think that rising federal spending and debt are problems?

Trump May Allow More Logging in Alaskan National Forest

Nearly 20 years ago, President Bill Clinton put in place a sweeping order that placed millions of acres of national forests off-limits to logging. Now President Donald Trump is considering reversing that move for a national forest in Alaska.

 

During his last days in office, President Clinton signed an executive order that banned road construction in 58.5 million acres of national forests. This “roadless rule” effectively prevents logging and other activity, such as using motorized vehicles. In Alaska, governors and members of Congress have fought to have the rule rolled back for the Tongass National Forest. President Trump is considering allowing this.

 

National forests are designated for multiple uses, such as logging, mining, conservation, and recreation. Congress can also designate wild areas as “wilderness,” which prevents any motorized uses of that area. Portions of the Tongass National Forest have been designated as wilderness, and other portions already have roads built on them. President Trump’s move would affect over 9 million acres that are still covered by the roadless rule.

 

Alaskan officials who want to remove this area from the roadless rule note that the national forest was always intended for uses that included logging. They say that Congress has protected vital areas of the forest from human uses. They argue that logging can create jobs and remove dead and dying trees that could fuel wildfires. Environmentalists, however, push back against attempts to allow logging in the Tongass. They say that this is a vital area for salmon and old-growth forests.

 

After President Clinton left office, President George W. Bush tried to reverse the roadless rule. These efforts were tied up in the courts. Any move by President Trump to withdraw the roadless rule from the Tongass National Forest will also likely end up in multiple lawsuits.

 

Do you support allowing more logging in the Tongass National Forest?

Trump Administration May Push Payroll Tax Cut

With fears of a recession rising, the Trump Administration is downplaying any talk that an economic slowdown is imminent. However, some in the White House are considering a payroll tax cut as a way to help avert any decrease in economic growth.

 

The Trump Administration considers its previous tax cut an economic success, so another tax cut would, in the view of some officials, also spur the economy. This tax cut would center on a temporary reduction in the payroll tax. This tax funds Social Security. Unlike the income tax, which many lower-wage workers do not pay, all workers are hit by a payroll tax. Temporarily reducing this tax would be a broad-based tax cut.

 

A similar temporary tax cut was undertaken during the Obama Administration. A payroll tax cut is generally preferred by Democrats, because it targets lower-income workers. Supporters contend that it offers more immediate economic stimulus because these workers will spend the money quickly. Opponents of this type of tax cut point out that the revenue from a payroll tax funds Social Security. Reducing money to that program leads to a shorter time-frame in which it is fiscally solvent.

 

It is unclear if the Trump Administration will officially push for this type of tax cut or any other measure to stimulate the economy. The president has dismissed notions that there will be a recession, saying such talk is politically motivated.

 

Do you think that there should be a payroll tax cut to stimulate the economy?

Trump Rule Targets Immigrants Receiving Public Assistance

If you are an immigrant who is a recipient of a government assistance program, you may find it more difficult to become a permanent resident or a citizen under a new rule announced by the Trump Administration.

 

Current law allows the federal government to deny permanent residency or citizenship to immigrants who are public charges or likely to become public charges. Under the Trump Administration, proposal, the term “public charge” is broadened to include anyone who uses benefit programs like Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance. Under current regulations, a public charge is defined as someone who is primarily dependent on the government programs. Immigrants who are in the U.S. for five years can apply for most government assistance programs under federal law.

 

Critics see this is a way to rewrite immigration law to prioritize high-skilled immigrants over migrants from areas like Central America. They say that this will prevent immigrants who need government assistance from applying for it. Supporters counter that immigration law should encourage immigrants who will contribute to the U.S., not be dependent on taxpayers for support. They say that the law already prohibits permanent residency for immigrants who would drain government resources, and that this rule merely clarifies that standard.

 

The new regulation will go into effect in two months barring any court challenges. Immigrant rights groups are vowing to file lawsuits to stop it, however.

 

Should immigrants to receive government assistance be denied permanent residency in the U.S.?

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