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Do Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Differ on Confederate Monuments?


The two candidates running for Virginia governor, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Ed Gillespie (R), appear to have dramatically different views on the commonwealth’s Confederate monuments. However, a deeper look into their positions on the state law regarding those monuments reveals that they may actually be close to agreement.


The two candidates discussed the issue in a recent debate. Here is what Gillespie said:


“When you are on the side of preserving the institution, the evil institution of slavery, you are on the wrong side of history. But our history is our history, and I believe that we need to educate about it, and that we need to teach about it. So my view is that the statues should remain and we should place them in historical context so people can learn.”


This is the view of Northam:


“If these statues give individuals, white supremacists like that, an excuse to do what they did, then we need to have a discussion about the statues. Personally, I would think the statues would be better placed in museums with certainly historical context, but I am leaving it up to the localities.”


While the two candidates seem far apart on what they think should happen to the monuments, focusing on this aspect of the issue may mask a deeper agreement. While they can express their wishes for the monuments to stay or go, the real question is what they propose when it comes to the law governing these monuments.


A state law dating back a century prohibits county governments from removing monuments. A 1997 laws applies that same prohibition to city and town governments. However, there is a dispute over whether that law can be applied retroactively. This is the issue in Charlottesville’s attempts to remove its statues honoring the Confederacy, which were erected before 1997.


In the 2016 legislative session, legislators approved a bill that would definitively ban any local government from interfering with these monuments. Here is how VoteSpotter described it:


House Bill 587 Restrict local authority over monuments: Passed 82 to 16 in the House and 21 to 17 in the Senate

To prohibit local governments from removing or interfering with monuments or memorials erected for a war or conflict, such as the Civil War.


Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed this bill, and legislators failed to override that veto.


Northam has been clear that he would like to see local governments have the power to remove monuments. Gillespie, too, has expressed support for local authority over them, according to a report from the Hill:


Dave Abrams, a spokesman for Gillespie’s campaign, said that, if elected, Gillespie would ensure that statues and monuments under the state’s control would remain up while being placed in the proper historical context.


Local jurisdictions would be free to choose for themselves whether to leave the statues standing, Abrams said.


While Northam and Gillespie stress different aspects of their view – Northam generally condemns the monuments, while Gillespie thinks they should remain – the two candidates do not appear to be far apart on policy issues.  Both express support for local authority over what happens to them, regardless of their personal feelings on the monuments’ disposition. The major difference is that Gillespie does not stress this aspect of his position as much as Northam, and it is unclear if he would actually support a law that gives this power to local governments.


Do you think that local governments should remove these Confederate monuments? Or should they stay in place?


Republicans Renew Push to Repeal Obamacare


Senate Republicans tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in July, but failed to gain 50 votes. Now they are making one last effort to undo President Obama’s signature health care law. It is unclear if they will have more success this time than they did previously.


Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) have sponsored the bill being considered now. This legislation differs in some key ways from the earlier repeal bill, but it would still have the effect of rolling back much of Obamacare.


Among its provisions, the Graham-Cassidy legislation would:

  • Turn Medicaid into a per-person block grant program, giving states more authority to determine how the program is administered and who receives services
  • Take the funds currently being spent by the federal government on health insurance subsidies, premium tax-credits, and Medicaid expansion and give that money to states in the form of grants to provide health care coverage
  • Loosen restrictions on what types of insurance must be sold


Critics of the bill are concerned that it will lead to less coverage than exists today. They point out that the formula for Medicaid block grants excludes many able-bodied adults who are currently covered under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. They also contend that unless the federal government mandates what insurance policies must contain, companies will skimp on benefits to save money.


Proponents say that Medicaid block grants will give states incentives to tailor their program to meet their needs, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all mandate from D.C. They also say that putting some limits on spending is the only way to control the ballooning cost of the program at both the state and federal level. In addition, loosening restrictions on insurance, according to them, helps to ensure that people can buy a policy that meets their needs, not a policy that pleases a federal bureaucrat.


For the Cassidy-Graham bill to proceed under special budget reconciliation rules that allow it to bypass a filibuster threat, the Senate most vote on it by September 30. Many observers are watching Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who voted against the last repeal bill. He has indicated he may support it if Arizona Governor Doug Ducey backs the bill, something Gov. Ducey did earlier this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he would only bring the bill up for a vote if he has enough senators lined up to pass it.


Do you think this legislation is a good way to reform health care? Or do you want to see Obamacare left in place?


Trump Deals with Democrats on Immigration


Fresh off working with congressional Democrats on the debt ceiling, President Trump has signaled he is on the verge of partnering with them again on an unexpected issue: immigration. For some conservatives, this potential deal is causing a lot of concern.


Both the president and Democrats confirmed they were close to an agreement that would protect “Dreamers” (illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) coupled with stricter border enforcement. The deal would not include funding for a border wall, although the president said that would come later. This legislative package is necessary because President Trump rescinded an Obama Administration policy, the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that protected Dreamers.


The president discussed the issue with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) prior to reaching out to the Republican leadership in Congress. While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seem supportive of this type of legislative package, there is concern about the president undercutting his own party in Congress.


There is also consternation in conservative circles about the president’s moves. Campaigning as a hardliner on Immigration, President Trump now appears to be softening his views on the issue in the minds of some supporters. From conservatives in Congress to talk radio hosts, the president has received significant pushback from his base for a perceived reversal on an issue they deem highly important.


On Thursday morning, President Trump used Twitter to reassure his followers that he was not giving up on the border wall. However, Democrats will not accept funding for a border wall as a quid pro quo for the president accepting a deal on Dreamer legislation. All indications point to bipartisan legislation on DACA and then further negotiations on the border wall.


Do you think that the president is right to work with Democrats on immigration issues? Or has the president betrayed his supporters who want him to take a hard line on immigration?


Congress Reining In Asset Forfeiture


How much leeway should the government have to take the property of someone suspected, but not convicted, of a crime?


That is the debate surrounding civil asset seizure and forfeiture, a process where the government takes property from someone based on the belief that the property was used in a crime. Under civil forfeiture, no conviction is necessary for the government to take ownership of this property.


This practice has come under increasing fire from both liberals and conservatives. Legislators across the country have passed bills to restrict it. The Obama Administration also enacted a policy that prevents state and local law enforcement from using the federal government to bypass these restrictions.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not among those who support reform. In July, he rescinded the Obama Administration restrictions, saying “we will continue to encourage civil asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”


The attorney general’s actions did not sit well with members of Congress. This week, the House of Representatives passed on a voice vote three amendments that would roll back his attempt to weaken asset forfeiture reform. Amendments offered by Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Justin Amash (R-MI) would limit or prohibit funding to implement the attorney general’s asset forfeiture policy.


Generally, VoteSpotter publishes links to congressional votes so individuals can see how their member of Congress voted on bills or amendments. However, in this case the votes were voice votes, which means they were not recorded. It also suggests that there was overwhelming support in the House of Representatives for these amendments. If a voice vote is close, generally opponents of a measure will call for a recorded vote.


The bill containing these amendments must still be considered by the Senate. Regardless of the final outcome, it seems clear that there is strong congressional support in both parties to restrict civil asset forfeiture.


Do you think that civil asset forfeiture is an abusive practice that needs to end? Or is it a necessary tool to fight crime?


Time for the Government to Take Over Health Care?


Medicare for all. Single Payer. Government-run health care. Socialized medicine.


The concept may go by a few different names, but the idea is the same – the federal government providing health care to everyone, with private providers either being banned or strictly limited.


That is an idea that is growing in popularity among Democratic lawmakers. Senator Bernie Sanders is preparing legislation that would enact “Medicare for all.” He is expected to release it this week. Although he is not a Democrat, he does caucus with the party. Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, and Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said they support this bill. Democratic Senators Corey Booker of New Jersey and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island are also expected to cosponsor it.


While Senator Sanders has yet to introduce his bill, there is legislation in the House of Representatives that would accomplish the same goal. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has 117 cosponsors for HR 676. That bill would, among other things:

  • Establish the Medicare for All Program, which would provide all “medically necessary care” to U.S. residents at no cost to them
  • Ban private health insurance that duplicates the government-provided care
  • Dictate how doctors and health care providers would be paid by the government
  • Increase the income tax on the top 5% of earners, impose a new payroll tax and a tax unearned income, and institute a tax on stock and bond income


Proponents see this type of system as a fair way to provide health care to every American. Opponents contend that government-run health care will be expensive and lead to denials of service.


Regardless of its merits or defects, this type of health care plan is unlikely to be instituted in the U.S. any time soon. During the debate over Obamacare, there was little support for anything resembling single-payer. While there are more Democratic politicians embracing the idea now, a government-run health system is not being discussed in congressional debates over the replacement for Obamacare.


Do you support a single-payer system? Or do you think that such a system will be harmful for Americans who need health care services?


Trump Works with Democrats to Raise Debt Limit


President Donald Trump has found new allies in Congress – Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The president bypassed Republican leadership to work with Democrats on an agreement that raises the debt ceiling for three months.


What is unclear is if this event heralds a new era of bipartisanship between the president and congressional Democrats, or whether it is merely a one-time deal. Regardless, this move stunned Republicans in Congress, undercutting conservative efforts to tie raising the debt ceiling to limiting spending.


With the Trump-backed deal in place, Congress quickly passed legislation that provided over $15 billion in disaster-related spending along with the debt ceiling increase. This will allow the federal government to continue borrowing money for the next three months. Mere hours before the president and congressional Democrats agreed to do so, House Speaker Paul Ryan had panned efforts to tie the two issues together in one bill.


In both the House and Senate, opposition votes to this legislation came from conservatives. The Senate rejected efforts by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) to remove the debt limit provisions from the bill. Senators also turned back efforts by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to pay for disaster-related spending by cutting foreign aid.


Do you support President Trump working with congressional Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase without tying the measure to spending limits? Do you think it’s a good idea for Congress to pass a bill that contains both disaster aid and an increase in the debt limit? Or was this a bad deal that hurts efforts to control federal spending?


What will Happen to the “Dreamers”?

Congress has six months to act to clarify the legal status of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors.


These illegal immigrants, sometimes labeled “Dreamers,” are at the center of President Trump’s decision to reverse the Obama Administration’s policy known as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This policy allowed some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to be shielded from deportation.


On September 5, the president withdrew the guidance letter from 2012 that established this program, but deferred implementation for six months. During that time, President Trump said he would like to see Congress act on this issue.


What’s next for the people who were eligible for the program?

Some state attorneys general have said they will sue the Trump Administration to stop the president. However, President Obama established DACA through executive authority. President Trump merely reversed President Obama’s action. Regardless of the merits of his action, many legal scholars think that the president is on solid legal ground.


That leaves the legislative branch. There is bipartisan support in Congress to do something. Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, has said he will introduce a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for some Dreamers as long as they have no criminal record and are working, in college, or in the military. There are also other members of Congress considering legislation that would codify protection for these individuals in the law.


While President Trump has called on Congress to act, he has not been clear about the details. His spokesperson also hinted that such action may need to be part of comprehensive immigration reform to get the president’s backing.


Senators have a busy agenda through the rest of the year. This includes finalizing spending for the next fiscal year, providing disaster relief, and raising the debt ceiling. President Trump has also said that he wants Congress to focus on tax reform. Whether lawmakers can agree on DACA legislation amongst all these other issues remains to be seen.


What do you think should happen to Dreamers? Should they be protected from deportation? Or should they be treated the same as other illegal immigrants in the U.S.?


President Trump Proposes Tax Reform


In late August, President Trump went to Missouri to lay out some broad themes on tax reform. During his speech, he said that he would be disappointed if Congress did not act on this issue. However, passing actual changes to the tax code is much more difficult than outlining a set of principles.


With a full agenda consisting of finishing the federal budget and raising the debt ceiling (among other priorities), it will be very difficult to write a tax bill that gains bipartisan support prior to December. But members of Congress have also said that they want to get tax reform done, too.


Here are the priorities laid out by President Trump in his Missouri speech:


Close loopholes


There is broad agreement by tax experts that this would be a good thing. The problem comes in deciding which loopholes to end. Every loophole, or deduction, in the tax code benefits someone; some group lobbied to get that deduction and that group will fight very hard to retain it. Whether these deductions are large ones, such as the home mortgage interest deduction, or small ones, such as the tax preparation fee deduction, members of Congress will face significant opposition to any proposed changes.


Lowering tax rates for businesses


There is also support for this principle among experts. However, cutting this rate will mean less revenue to the government. If the president does not want to see this tax plan contribute to higher deficits, then that revenue must be made up through raising other taxes or cutting spending.


Middle class tax relief


This principle is one that is politically popular. However, what type of tax relief? Will this mean more deductions for middle class taxpayers (which contradicts the first goal)? Or will it mean cutting rates for middle class taxpayers?


Allowing companies to bring back money held overseas


This is a fairly specific principle, in that it would allow U.S. businesses to repatriate foreign earnings. The current tax code taxes companies on the profits they earn overseas if they bring this money back into the U.S. This gives companies an incentive to invest this money outside the U.S. However, there will be resistance to allowing U.S. businesses to repatriate foreign earnings, from people who do not like the idea of giving a tax break for foreign profits.


What do you think of the president’s tax reform agenda? Do you think it hits the right points? Or do you think that Congress should pursue other tax reform ideas?


Congress Has Full Agenda upon Return


Members of Congress are on their August recess, leaving D.C. behind to go back to their home states. But their departure from Washington left a lot of work undone. When they return in September, they will be facing numerous unresolved issues.


Among these issues are:


Federal Spending

As is the usual case for Congress, the annual appropriations, or spending, bills are far behind schedule. These bills fund what is known as discretionary federal spending, such as for the military, national parks, and the operation of Congress. To avoid a government shutdown, the House and the Senate will probably pass a temporary funding measure prior to October 1. A longer-term spending deal may revolve around the question of how much money President Trump will receive for a border wall.


Debt Ceiling

If Congress does not act, the federal government will soon come up against a limit on how much it can borrow. Conservatives have been reluctant in past years to raise the debt ceiling without receiving some concessions on spending. It is unclear what will happen this year, but the White House has set September 29 as the deadline for action.


Defense Authorization

Defense authorization legislation stalled due to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain’s health issues. Once he returns to work, there will be a push to finish a bill that maps out the nation’s military strategy.



President Trump and members of Congress have made tax reform a top priority. However, there has been little substantive work in either the House or Senate on this issue. It is difficult to see how a significant overhaul of the tax code could be completed given the limited amount of time left on this year’s congressional calendar.


Health Care

Republican efforts to repeal and replace portions of Obamacare failed in the Senate. President Trump has pressured senators to make health care a priority, but there is little consensus on how to proceed. There may be efforts to revive legislation during the fall, but senators may also decide that they have other matters that take priority. One of the items that will need to be addressed separately from Obamacare is reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which (as its name suggests) subsidizes health insurance for children.



President Trump has given the Senate a slate of new nominees to fill federal judicial vacancies. For many conservatives, confirmation of these judges is a top priority.


What do you think Congress should be focusing on? Is there anything not on the congressional agenda that our elected officials should be working on?


Ohio Drug Price Fight on November’s Ballot


In November, Ohio voters will decide how much the state government should pay for drugs. They will be faced with Issue 2, entitled the “Drug Price Standards Initiative,” which is generating significant controversy. Passage of this initiative could either be great news for state taxpayers, or a boondoggle that will drive up drug prices for other Ohioans. Or perhaps it will be unenforceable. Those are a few of the competing claims being made about this initiative.


Issue 2 would prohibit the state from paying higher prices for drugs than the federal Veterans Administration (VA) pays. This would include not only the state Medicaid program, but also programs such as the Ohio Best Rx Program and the Ohio HIV Drug Assistance Program. The VA pays prices for prescription drugs that are around 20% less than other agencies.


Supporters of this initiative say that it has obvious benefits – the state will save significant amounts of money on its prescription drug payments. They also talk about the initiative as a way to curb the greed of pharmaceutical companies. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as well as a variety of Democratic state politicians and a few AIDS associations are the main supporters of the initiative.


There are a wide variety of groups opposing Issue 2, ranging from the national drug company trade association to groups of doctors and nurses to the Columbus NAACP to veterans’ organizations. They contend that drug companies will be forced to raise prices on other consumers, such as seniors and veterans, to make up for the lower prices dictated by the state.


Some critics also point out that if voters approve the initiative, then the state will be forced to spend money to defend it. A section in the measure gives private organizations the right to intervene if such suits occur and to be given taxpayer funding if they do. That also raises opponents’ ire.


The Ohio initiative is similar to one considered by California voters in 2016. That proposal, Proposition 61, went down to defeat by a margin of 53% to 47%.


Do you think that Issue 2 is a good way to control drug prices? Or will this approach lead to problems for other Ohio prescription drug consumers?


Nominee May Set Up Fight over Export Subsidies


A Senate fight may be brewing over one of President Trump’s nominees. But this fight may be different from the usual partisan wrangling we see in Congress.


The nominee is former U.S. Representative Scott Garrett. The agency is the Export-Import Bank. Garrett is an unconventional pick to head the Export-Import Bank because of his past opposition to the bank’s operation.


The Export-Import Bank is an independent federal agency that loans money to foreign companies that are making purchases of products made in the U.S. The former president of the bank, Fred Hochberg, left office in January.


Arrayed against Garrett’s nomination are Republican-friendly entities like the National Association of Manufacturers and Boeing, the aircraft maker. They contend that the Export-Import bank is essential for the competitiveness of American companies abroad and should not be led by someone who fought against it while in Congress.


Export-Import Bank opponents say that the institution is a way to steer corporate subsidies to big businesses that could operate fine without them. They note that Garrett cannot shut down operations of the bank if he is confirmed, but could bring a critical eye to ensure that the bank is run better.


Over the past two years, conservatives in Congress have tried various ways to shut down or hobble the bank’s operation. They refused to renew the bank’s charter for five months, effectively shuttering it. They have also refused to confirm members to its board, which makes it impossible for the bank to make loans in excess of $10 million.

Garrett’s nomination could result in a Senate vote that has not yet been seen in the Trump presidency. If pro-business interests succeed in persuading Republicans to oppose Garrett, this could be the first instance of large-scale GOP defections on a Trump nomination. There is also criticism about the Export-Import Bank from liberals, so Garrett may find some support from the more liberal Senate Democrats. Generally these liberals have been steadfast in their opposition to Trump nominees.


Do you think that Scott Garrett should be confirmed as the president of the Export-Import Bank? Or do you think that someone who is a strong supporter of the agency should be leading it?


Sanctuary City Issue Heating up at Federal, State Levels


Cities that have enacted so-called “sanctuary” policies for illegal immigrants are coming under fire by the Trump Administration and politicians at the state level. Will these efforts bring an end to “sanctuary cities” and force these cities to work with the federal government on immigration laws?


Sanctuary cities are localities that do not comply with requests from the federal government concerning illegal immigrants or who do not check the immigration status of individuals arrested within their jurisdiction. As explained in a previous blog post, cities and states are doing nothing illegal when they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. That does not mean that these local governments can undertake such actions with no repercussions, however.


Even though sanctuary city policies are not violating federal law, they are unpopular with many conservative politicians. Some states have moved to prohibit local governments from enacting such policies. The latest to consider this type of legislation is Michigan. Two bills being considered by legislators in that state would bar sanctuary policies. One bill would require local law enforcement officers to report illegal immigrants to federal immigration authorities, while the other bill would prohibit local governments from enacting policies that restrict communicating or cooperating with federal immigration authorities.


In Virginia, the Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie, has promised that if he is elected he will push for legislation barring local governments in the commonwealth from becoming sanctuary cities.


At the federal level, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that some federal grant money would be withheld from sanctuary cities. According to his statement, “the Department will only provide Byrne JAG grants to cities and states that comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.”


Some cities that have sanctuary policies have vowed to fight this action in court, contending that the attorney general does not have the authority to impose these restrictions.


Do you support state and federal efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities? Or do you think that this issue should be left to a city’s elected officials to decide?


Should States Stop Local Minimum Wage Increases?


In May, St. Louis began mandating that business owners pay a minimum wage of $10 an hour. In August, that mandate will be rolled back because of state law. After five months with a higher minimum wage, St. Louis business owners will face the same wage laws as the rest of the state.


Some see this as a heartless move to cut workers’ pay. Others see it as a way to establish a uniform wage policy across the state to encourage economic growth.


At is heart is the issue of state government pre-emption of local laws. Depending on state constitutions, state governments have broad power to limit or delegate power to city and county governments. In Missouri, state legislators and the governor used their authority to restrict the types of wage laws that local governments could pass. 


Pre-emption of local laws is common around the country. It has gotten special attention where legislators in conservative states, such as Missouri, enact laws that roll back legislation enacted by liberal city officials, such as happened in Missouri.


The issue of how local governments can regulate wages or other labor issues has also come up in Alabama, Ohio, and Arizona. States have also acted to pre-empt local laws on LGBGTQ rights, plastic bag bans, tobacco use, and “sanctuary city” policies.


Another area where pre-emption often occurs is with gun laws. There are 43 states that have passed laws taking away authority from local governments to enact gun and ammunition laws that are stricter than state law. Some states, such as Arizona and Florida, levy fines against local elected officials if they enact such laws. Kentucky makes it a crime for a local official to pass gun control laws.


Supporters of pre-emption laws contend that states have a duty to ensure that there are uniform laws across their jurisdiction. They contend that a series of inconsistent laws in counties or cities makes it difficult for businesses to operate or citizens to know if they are acting legally. Opponents of pre-emption say that local governments should have the power to enact laws that respond to their particular circumstances, not have legislators from other parts of the state telling them how to manage their problems.


Do you think that state governments should stop local politicians from enacting certain laws? Or should local elected officials have broad leeway to enact the types of laws that they see fit?


Opposition to Trump’s Nominees Continues


 Is consistently voting “no” on President Trump’s nominees obstructionism or is it principled opposition?


That is a question being asked about votes on executive branch nominations. As we noted in a previous blog, some senators were voting against almost all of President Trump’s cabinet nominations.


This trend has continued with even lower-level nominees, which are generally far less controversial than cabinet picks. Consider some of the recent tallies for these nominees:


  • Brock Long, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration – 95 to 4
  • Scott Brown, Ambassador to New Zealand – 94 to 4
  • Courtney Elwood, General Counsel to the CIA – 67 to 33
  • John Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of State – 93 to 6
  • Terry Branstad, Ambassador to China – 86 to 12
  • Rachel Brand, Associate Attorney General – 52 to 46
  • Jay Clayton, Security and Exchange Commission – 60 to 36


Unlike Ben Carson or Jeff Sessions, none of these nominees has a divisive public record. And yet all received votes in opposition.


There are a handful of senators who vote “no” on almost every nominee put forward by President Trump. Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Kristin Gillibrand (NY), and Kamala Harris (CA) are generally consistent votes in opposition to any Trump nominee. This includes the nomination of Scott Brown, a former senator, to be ambassador to New Zealand. Other senators, however, save their “no” votes for only select nominees.


There are some questions if senators are opposing these nominees for political reasons or policy reasons. Rachel Brand, for instance, has a fairly standard record for an appointment to the Justice Department – Supreme Court clerkship, private firm work, and Justice Department experience. But she received the opposition of 46 senators. Patrick Leahy, senator from Vermont, said that Brand “carries a heavily skewed, pro-corporate agenda that would do further harm to the Justice Department and its independence.” Few senators made statements opposing the nomination of Courtney Elwood to be the CIA’s general counsel, but 33 of them voted against her.


Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, defends his vote against a large number of Trump nominees as being about policy, not politics:


“Lost in all of the obvious concern about Russia is the fact that Trump is pushing an extremely, extremely right-wing, reactionary agenda: tax breaks for billionaires, throwing 24 million people off health insurance, and massive cuts to programs that working people need. And many of his appointees are pushing exactly that agenda, and I’m not going to support that.”


Republicans aren’t buying it. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell points out the similarities to votes in the past by senators who eventually ran for president:


“When President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton were in the Senate, they often voted against nominees — even though those nominees had wide bipartisan support — as a means of protecting themselves from their base and setting themselves up for a primary.”


What do you think? Are Democrats who are consistently opposing President Trump’s nominees playing politics? Or are they offering principled opposition to a dangerous policy agenda?


Death Penalty Continues to Be Contentious


In early April, Virginia authorities executed William Morva for the crime of killing a sheriff’s deputy and a hospital security guard. The state’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, declined to commute the sentence.


In August, Florida is set to resume using the death penalty after an 18-month hiatus. The state Supreme Court had put executions on hold during that time in light of a federal Supreme Court decision. Republican Gov. Rick Scott also stripped Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala of the power to prosecute murder cases because she said that she would never seek the death penalty.


John Kasich, Ohio’s Republican governor, has scheduled 27 executions through 2021.


A federal judge in June accepted changes to Arizona’s execution procedure, such as ban on using some drugs. This settles a case brought by prisoners contending that the way Arizona carried out he death penalty caused too much suffering.


These activities across the states show that both Democratic and Republican governors continue to enforce the death penalty, but there is also a push to curtail – or even ban – its use.


Death penalty opponents point to the frequency of wrongful convictions. They contend that the chances are simply too high that an innocent person has been, or will be, put to death. Those pushing for abolition also contend that the practice is barbaric, with those being executed suffering too much.


There are still many Americans who support the death penalty, however. They see some crimes as deserving the ultimate punishment.


While numbers are hard to determine precisely, there is evidence that the death penalty is becoming more unpopular in America. However, when voters faced state ballot propositions in 2016, they affirmed its use in Oklahoma and California.


Do you support the continued use of the death penalty? Or do you think it’s time that the U.S. stops enforcing this type of punishment?


Missouri House Bill 2


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Missouri, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Missouri House Bill 2, Appropriations for Education: Passed 119 to 34 in the state House on April 6, 2017.


To spend $6,029,363,067 for various educational expenses.


Comment below to share what you think of Missouri House Bill 2!



Michigan House Bill 4559


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Michigan, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Michigan House Bill 4559, Permit Beer and Wine Cartel Members to Hold Tastings for Staff: Passed 37 to 0 in the state Senate on June 22, 2017.


To permit the handful of members in the state-protected beer and wine wholesale and distribution cartel to hold educational product sampling sessions for employees.


Comment below to share what you think of Michigan House Bill 4559!



Iowa Senate Bill 577


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Iowa, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Iowa Senate Bill 577, To Protect Health Professionals From Disciplinary Action Related to Lyme Disease: Passed 93 to 0 in the state House on March 14, 2017.


To protect health care professionals from state disciplinary action based on complaints stemming solely from the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease


Comment below to share what you think of Iowa Senate Bill 577!



Florida Senate Bill 1124


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Florida, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Florida Senate Bill 1124, Revise Testing for Newborn Screening: Passed 117 to 0 in the state Senate on April 28, 2017.


To require the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to adopt rules stating that every newborn in Florida be tested for any condition included in the federal Recommended Uniform Screening Panel. These recommended conditions will be added to the Florida Newborn Screening Program’s existing panel of disorders. DOH must adopt rules to include any recommended condition within 18 months, as long as an FDA or state approved test is available.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida Senate Bill 1124!



Colorado Senate Bill 021


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Colorado, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Colorado Senate Bill 021, Use Marijuana Revenue to Subsidize Housing and Services for Mentally Ill Criminals: Passed 35 to 0 in the state Senate on May 10, 2017.


To establish a rental housing voucher and supportive services program for released prisoners who have a behavioral or mental health disorder. The money would come from marijuana tax revenue.


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