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Supreme Court Rules Anti-Gay Discrimination Illegal

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that federal anti-discrimination laws cover gay and transgender individuals.

 

The high court ruled that when the law uses the word “sex,” it also protects people from being fired for being gay or transgender. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch concluded that the plain reading of the text leads to the conclusion that sex discrimination is not limited to ensuring that men and women are treated equally in the workplace. Instead, he noted that if an employer fired a man for being in a relationship with a man, but did not fire a woman for being in a relationship with a man, then that is a clear case of an employer discriminating against someone based on sex.

 

In his decision, Gorsuch wrote, “an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision…”

 

The three dissenting justices disagreed. Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that in the decades following the enactment of the federal anti-discrimination law, no one thought it covered gay or transgender individuals. He said that the majority was re-writing the law, not interpreting it. In his dissent, he wrote, “If every single living American had been surveyed in 1964, it would have been hard to find any who thought that discrimination because of sex meant discrimination because of sexual orientation — not to mention gender identity, a concept that was essentially unknown at the time.”

 

The case concerned three individuals who were fired for being either gay or transgender.

 

The justices joining Gorsuch in the majority were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsburg.

 

Do you support the Supreme Court ruling that federal law protects gay and transgender individuals from discrimination?

Trump Administration Reverses Obama-Era Gender Identity Rule

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rewrote an Obama-era regulation that expanded the definition of “sex” under federal anti-discrimination law. The effect of this rule change is to remove protections for transgender individuals in health insurance purchases, but the Trump Administration says this is just a return to the original meaning of the law.

 

The regulation affects nondiscrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This law prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against individuals on the basis of, among other things, “sex.” This language is similar to language in other federal anti-discrimination laws. In 2016, the Obama Administration issued a rule that expanded the protections under that law to include gender identity.

 

At the time, this move was controversial. Those opposed to it argued that it reversed the meaning of federal anti-discrimination rules. These critics pointed out that the protection of sex under federal law never protected individuals who went through a gender transition. However, the Obama Administration said that gender identity was an integral part of someone’s sex, so their expanded interpretation was legally valid.

 

The Trump Administration re-wrote the 2016 regulation to return its definition of “sex” to the earlier understanding of what the law meant. HHS officials argued that this was necessary to reverse the Obama Administration’s overreach. They argue that if Congress wants to protect transgender individuals from discrimination, Congress should write the law to reflect this, not use executive branch authority to change the law.

 

HHS action has come under fire from many people, however. They say the Trump Administration of reversing important protections for transgender individuals. They accuse the administration of anti-transgender bias, and have vowed to fight the rule change in court.

 

Do you think that federal laws banning sex discrimination also ban discrimination against transgender individuals?

Two States Allowing Online Voting

This week, some West Virginia voters cast their ballots via computers and smartphones. Next month, Delaware voters will have the same opportunity. As the coronavirus disrupts elections across the nation, some states are looking at online voting. But experts warn this type of voting comes with big risks.

 

In West Virginia, anyone who requested an absentee ballot could vote online. Delaware officials will permit voters who are self-isolating due to the coronavirus epidemic cast their ballots via the Internet. These states say that this type of voting is a good way to allow people to exercise their right to vote while also taking into account the restrictions and protocols necessary to keep people safe.

 

Security experts, however, have pointed out security flaws with the software being used by these states. With the votes moving through the cloud, they are vulnerable to hackers, say the experts. West Virginia and Delaware point to the security measures they are taking. However, since voting is an anonymous and private activity, voters will have no way to check to see if their votes were accurately cast or counted.

 

Some people see Internet voting as the way most ballots will be cast in the future. They say that if the security is tight, then people should be free to cast their votes online. However, security experts say that right now widespread online voting has significant risks.

 

During the coronavirus epidemic, many states have expanded their vote-by-mail efforts, but only these two states have embraced online voting.

 

Do you support online voting?

Judge Blocks Removal of Lee Statue

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam wants a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee removed from Richmond. A federal judge this week slowed down efforts to take the statue down.

 

In the wake of protests over the police killing of George Floyd, Gov. Northam has ordered the Richmond statue commemorating the Confederate general removed. This statue has long been controversial in the city, with activists and politicians calling for it to be taken down. This is part of a larger movement in Virginia to eliminate monuments and statues that some people see as celebrating the Confederacy and slavery.

 

A federal judge, however, has issued an injunction preventing the governor’s order from taking effect. The judge says that when the state annexed the land the statue was on, it promised to guard and protect the statue. This judge ordered a hearing to examine these issues, and the fate of the statue now depends on the courts.

 

Throughout the nation, there is increased pressure to re-examine the numerous public monuments to people and places connected with slavery and the Confederacy. Those pushing to remove them say that the nation should not celebrate people who fought to protect slavery or who were traitors to the nation. They argue that while we need to remember history, our nation should not put forward these individuals as people to be admired.

 

This campaign has prompted a strong backlash, however. Those opposing it counter that history is complicated, and trying to remove monuments to historical figures is imposing our views on the past. They accuse anti-monument activists and politicians of wanting to erase history.

 

An effort to remove a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, prompted widespread violence and one death in that city.

 

Do you think that Confederate monuments should be removed?

Police Unions are Under Scrutiny

The protests over the George Floyd killing and other actions by the law enforcement often include a call to reform police departments. Some observers say that one obstacle to such reforms is police unions, which represent millions of law enforcement officers across the nation.

 

Many cities and counties allow collective bargaining for police officers. The unions that represent these officers bargain for pay, working conditions, and other contract provisions to govern their members. Some of these provisions concern the investigation, discipline, and dismissal of officers who have been accused of misconduct. Some are accusing these provisions of preventing bad officers from being fired and protecting officers from the consequences of unjustified violent action.

 

According to these critics, unions negotiate levels of protection that make it very expensive and difficult for bad police officers to be fired or otherwise disciplined. They point to the fact that the officer who killed George Floyd had numerous complaints filed against him, but he was still working for the Minneapolis police department. One way to improve policing, these critics argue, is to reduce the power of police unions to protect violent police officers.

 

Union leadership pushes back against these concerns, however. They contend that police officers face a uniquely difficult task, one that often results in complaints being filed against police. They argue that police need to have a process that gives them formal protections in order to ensure that they are not unfairly disciplined or fired.

 

Some police union officials have come under fire during recent disturbances resulting from George Floyd’s death. These officials have strongly supported police officials arrested for violence against protestors. Elected officials and marchers say these actions illustrate why police unions need reform, while union officials argue they are merely standing up for their membership who are being unjustly accused of crimes.

 

Do you think that police unions should be ended?

Democrats Outline Federal Police Legislation

In the wake of demonstrations nationwide concerning police conduct, Congressional Democrats this week unveiled legislation that would impose sweeping new changes on the way law enforcement is conducted.

 

Among the things this bill would do are:

  • Banning the use of police chokeholds
  • Removing immunity from lawsuits for police officers
  • Requiring the use of body cameras
  • Prohibiting the use of military-style weapons and equipment in police work
  • Establishing a national database for officers who have a record of abuse complaints

 

The backers of these proposals say they are necessary reforms to end rampant abuses by law enforcement. They argue that the death of George Floyd is only the latest example of police misconduct, and it is long overdue for the federal government to step in and curb abusive police activity.

 

Congressional Republicans are skeptical of the need for federal restrictions on local police. They point out that this would be a large federal takeover of state and local authority. They also note that in the wake of riots and other disturbances, many Americans are welcoming police presence to protect lives and property.

 

In some cities, activists and politicians are demanding that police department budgets be cut or that some troubled departments be disbanded. While this legislation would not accomplish either of those goals, it would impose new federal restrictions on how police operate.

 

House Speaker has said she would like to vote on this legislation by the end of the month. It is unlikely that the Senate will consider that chamber’s version of the legislation.

 

Do you support a federal ban on police chokeholds? Should all police officers be required to wear body cameras? Should there be a federal ban on police using surplus military equipment?

Deep Dive: Proxy Voting

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Americans go about their daily lives and work. Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are also affected, and have continued to meet periodically even with stay-at-home orders executed by the Washington, D.C. municipal government.

 

In addition to enforcing social distancing in the legislative chambers and limiting the number of people in the capitol building, the House also changed how its members vote. For the first time, representatives will be able to cast votes by proxy during certain times. This Deep Dive examines how this will work and why it is controversial.

 

What is Proxy Voting?

 

Proxy voting is used when an individual lawmaker cannot be physically present to cast a vote on the floor, so he or she gives permission to another member to cast a vote on his or her behalf. The process involves giving some form of signed slip to the proxy.

 

Traditionally (and, according to some experts, legally), members of the House and Senate must be present in their respective legislative chambers to cast a vote. However, the Senate allows the use of proxy voting in committee. The House of Representatives allowed proxy voting in committee until 1995, when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich brought about rule changes that halted the practice.

 

Recent Proxy Voting Rules Change

 

On May 15, the House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 965 by a vote of 217-189. This resolution allows the following:

 

  • A House member to designate a proxy to vote on his or her behalf
  • When " a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus is in effect," the House Speaker can designate a period when proxy voting can occur
  • This proxy voting period can last up to 45 days, with 45-day extensions allowed.
  • House committees can meet remotely during such periods in some instances, but may not hold executive sessions closed to the public.
  • The House shall study the feasibility and legality of remote voting

 

How Proxy Voting Works

 

A House member who wishes to vote by proxy must first find another member who will be physically present in the chamber and agrees to vote on that member's behalf. The member looking to vote by proxy must then notify the House clerk by letter. The clerk must receive a hard copy of the letter signed by the member personally. To revoke or alter the designation of a proxy vote, the member can send another letter to the clerk.

 

The member must then send written instructions to his or her proxy prior to each vote. The holder of the proxy cannot vote on another member's behalf unless he or she has such written instructions.

 

When a vote occurs, the member holding the proxy must obtain recognition from the Speaker of the House and announce, "As the Member designated by [NAME] pursuant to House Resolution 965, I inform the House that [NAME] will vote yea/nay/present.” The proxy holder will then take a card, vote, and designate that vote "by proxy." In the Congressional Record, the proxy votes will be noted separately from other votes.

 

Once a member revokes his or her proxy voting designation, the designee can no longer cast votes on that member's behalf. That designation is also automatically revoked if the member who requested the designation votes in person on the House floor.

 

Controversy and Lawsuit

 

On May 27, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) cast a proxy vote for Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). It was the first time such a vote was cast in the House. In total, 72 Democratic House members used this process to cast votes through 42 proxies that were present in the House chamber.

 

Prior to the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy filed a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, alleging that proxy voting was unconstitutional. He was joined by dozens of House Republicans. The suit hinges on the use of words like "assemble" and "meet" in the Constitution when there are references to Congress. These House members contend that the writers of the Constitution envisioned members of Congress physically meeting and casting votes while being present in these meetings. The lawsuit notes that proxy voting in unprecedented during floor votes in either chamber.

 

Those supporting proxy voting argue that the House rules prohibited such voting in the past, not the Constitution. With the passage of HR 965, this changed House rules and now members can legally cast proxy votes. They point out that the Constitution does not say anywhere it in that members must be physically present to vote. They go further and note that Article I, Section V, says, " Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings."

 

House Speaker Pelosi argues that proxy voting is a good way to allow Congress to function in the midst of a pandemic. Those opposing proxy voting counter that this is a way to give House leadership more control and dilute the voting power of individual House members. Some opponents of proxy voting also argue that the legality of legislation passed by such votes could be questioned.

 

What This Means for You

 

Concerns about the safety of members of Congress during the coronavirus pandemic led to cancelled legislative sessions and delays in votes. Proxy voting will allow the House of Representatives to function with fewer members present during the current pandemic and future pandemics. While this reduces these members’ need to travel and helps facilitate congressional sessions, there are also concerns about the legality of proxy voting, and the prospect that it could erode the power of individual members of Congress.

 

Los Angeles Looking at Cutting Police Funding

Police are facing scrutiny for their actions around the nation. In Los Angeles, city leadership is trying to cut their budget.

 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he will look for $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department budget. He said that other city departments are facing cuts due to the coronavirus epidemic, and that the police department should face cuts due to racial justice.

 

Prior to the mayor’s move, members of the city council had introduced resolutions calling for the same amount of budget cuts. These council members say this is one way they can introduce change to the way policing is done in California.

 

Cutting funding for police departments is becoming a popular issue for people who are upset with law enforcement actions in the wake of the George Floyd killing. They argue that the money going to police departments could be better spent on helping the community instead of paying for what they perceive as oppression.

 

Opponents of this move say these cuts will endanger public safety. They point to the unrest currently occurring and argue that it is more important than ever that police have the tools necessary to protect people and property.

 

Mayor Garcetti has said he will look to redirect money from the LAPD to other community programs.

 

Do you think that the budget for police forces should be cut?

Trump, Pentagon Clash on Insurrection Act

President Trump is frustrated that rioting and looting continue across the U.S. To stop it, he has threatened to use the U.S. military to restore order. This has prompted his Defense Secretary to issue a public disagreement with his boss.

 

This week, President Trump addressed the nation from the Rose Garden and said, ““If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

 

Federal law prohibits the use of active duty military personnel within the United States except in rare instances. One of the exceptions comes from the Insurrection Act, which permits troops to be used in the case of insurrections or rebellions. Presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush have used this law to deal with riots.

 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper disagrees that the current situation warrants the use of the act, however. He said that invoking the Insurrection Act should be done as a “last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations.” He then said that the situation right now does not meet those criteria.

 

The governors and mayors targeted by Trump’s words also reject the need to call in the military. They say that armed troops will only make the situation worse. They prefer to be left alone to handle any rioting and looting their own way, without having the president override their decisions.

 

Do you think that President Trump should activate the military to deal with rioting?

New Federal Rule Will Speed Up Pipeline Approval

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule that will limit the ability of states to use federal law to delay or stop pipeline projects.

 

Under a change to the regulations that administer the Clean Water Act, states will have one year to voice objections to pipelines that cross their waterways. The new rule also says that these objections must be limited to water quality concerns. If states take longer than a year to complete their review, or they include other matters in their objection, the federal government will issue permits to the pipeline company.

 

The Trump Administration accused states of using this law to impose years of delay on energy infrastructure projects. Officials also said that these states were going beyond the bounds of the law to stop or delay pipelines based on criteria that had nothing to do with clean water. EPA officials argue that this change in the rules will allow states to voice legitimate concerns over projects but will not give them power to drag out the process and stop important national infrastructure from being built.

 

Environmentalists and some state officials are strongly opposed to this new move. They contend that this is a way for the Trump Administration to favor fossil fuel companies over environmental concerns. They also note that this is diminishes states’ power to protect their waterways.

 

Groups opposed to the new rule have vowed to fight it in court.

 

Do you think that states should have the power to delay pipeline projects for multiple years over environmental concerns?

Supreme Court Upholds California’s Coronavirus Restrictions on Churches

A California church has lost its appeal to be exempt from California Governor Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus shutdown order.

 

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court denied a Chula Vista church’s request to issue an injunction stopping the enforcement of an order that forbids it from opening. The church argued that the California governor was infringing upon the First Amendment by keeping the church shut down.

 

A majority of the high court disagreed, however. Writing for that majority, Chief Justice Roberts said that the state’s orders treated the church the same as similar secular businesses. His opinion said that it is not an infringement on the First Amendment if the government regulates churches in the same manner as other businesses with similar safety concerns, like concerts or sporting events.

 

Four justices dissented, however, arguing that the California governor is allowing some places to re-open with social distancing restrictions. The Chula Vista church has said it could abide by these same restrictions, so it should not be prohibited from opening. The dissenting justices agreed, and argued it is unconstitutional to treat churches differently than these other businesses.

 

This is the first case the Supreme Court has decided that deals with coronavirus restrictions.

 

Do you think that states should allow churches to open as governors relax coronavirus restrictions? Or should states continue to restrict church gathering because they pose too much risk of spreading the virus?

House Doesn’t Approve Detailed Reporting of Coronavirus Aid Recipients

The forgiveable loan program for businesses harmed by the coronavirus epidemic proved so popular that Congress had to pass two bills to fund it. But this week the House failed to pass legislation that would require the federal government to give a detailed report about who received such money.

 

By a vote of 269-147, the House did not meet the necessary two-thirds threshold to suspend the rules and pass H.R. 6782. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the legislation:

 

To require the Small Business Administration to report the name of each business that received coronavirus aid, an explanation of why that business received aid, the number of employees of each business, the lender who made facilitated the aid, and the amount of money given to small businesses owned by "socially and economically disadvantaged individuals" as well as women and veterans.

 

The Paycheck Protection Act provided forgiveable loans to businesses who shut down or saw business drop because of the coronavirus epidemic. They needed to meet certain criteria, however, such as re-hiring employees by June. The program proved so popular that the initial allocation of money soon ran out and Congress had to pass another bill to provide more funding.

 

Those who opposed H.R. 6782 said they were not against transparency, but they did not think the program should be used as a way to promote an agenda that favored certain business owners over others. The supporters argued that it is important to disclose how the federal government is spending money, especially if certain communities were being underserved.

 

This bill was not rejected by the House membership; the bill merely failed to get enough votes to pass through an expedited process. House leadership could still bring it back to the floor and pass it by majority vote.


Do you think that the federal government should release data on the businesses that received coronavirus aid? Should that information include data on how many businesses run by “social and economically disadvantaged individuals” received money?

FISA Renewal Stalls in the House

The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote this week on a bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. After President Trump said he would veto the bill if passed, House leadership quickly pulled the bill without indicating when it would be brought up again.

 

The bill the House was scheduled to vote on was HB 6172, which VoteSpotter as:

 

To renew provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that permit the federal government to collect business records and other information during national security investigations without a warrant. The FISA law allows a federal judge to approve such collections without notifying the target or hearing opposing arguments. The bill would also to expand the circumstances that require FISA judges to hear from a government-appointed critic of such requests, and increasing the number of FISA courts.

 

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 80-16 on May 14. The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 278-136 in March, but had to vote on it again since the Senate amended it.

 

President Trump has long been a critic of the FISA process, which he contends was used illegally to monitor his 2016 campaign. FISA also has critics on both the left and the right for perceived infringements on civil liberties. However, there is bipartisan support for the bill among members of Congress who think it is vital to protect national security.

 

During the reauthorization process, there was a question about whether President Trump would support the bill. This week, he cleared up any confusion by saying he would veto it. This led House Republican leadership, which had backed the bill, to reverse themselves and say they were pressing their members to oppose it. Speaker Pelosi pulled the bill because it was uncertain if it would pass.

 

It remains unclear when the House will consider this legislation again, and if Congress and the president can agree on a version that will be signed into law.

 

How do you think the FISA process should be reformed?

Trump Threatens to Shut Down Social Media Sites

This week, Twitter decided to fact-check President Donald Trump’s tweets. In response, President Trump is threatening to shut down Twitter and other social media companies – a move that many observers say runs counter to the First Amendment.

 

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted:

 

Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can't let a more sophisticated version of that.... happen again.

 

On Tuesday, he also complained about this issue, tweeting, “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH.”

 

This comes after Twitter put a link to a fact-checking article below a string of tweets that the president made regarding mail-in ballots. The president’s tweet claimed that this type of election would be “substantially fraudulent.” Twitter posted a link where users could see statements that claimed the president was making false statements.

 

This move by Twitter came in response to observers who said the platform had a duty to prevent the president from spreading falsehoods using its services. They argue that President Trump routinely says things that have little or no basis in fact, and that Twitter is aiding this misinformation by letting him do it. After Twitter acted, however, President Trump and others are accusing it of liberal bias and trying to influence the 2020 election in favor of Democrats.


It is unclear what power the president has to shut down or regulate social media companies. Twitter is breaking no law by fact-checking users, and these companies are broadly protected by the Constitution from federal interference in speech on their platforms. In fact, some legal experts say that President Trump’s threats are imposing a “chilling effect” on speech by merely threatening government action.

 

Do you think that the federal government should regulate content on social media platforms like Twitter?

U.S., China Clash over Hong Kong

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, China is taking steps to lessen the independence of Hong Kong. U.S. officials are condemning these moves, setting up another area of conflict with China.

 

Chinese officials are set to pass a law concerning national security they say is necessary to combat terrorism. However, its provisions will allow it to use its police power in Hong Kong in events it deems relate to “secession, sedition and subversion.” China is imposing this law unilaterally on Hong Kong.

 

Hong Kong is a former British colony that the U.K. restored to China in 1997. Hong Kong has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy from China since then, with stronger protections for free speech and other rights than are enjoyed throughout the rest of the nation. Hong Kong also has an autonomous legislative body that largely controls the city.

 

If China imposes this new national security law in Hong Kong, U.S. officials say they will view it as a major encroachment upon the city’s autonomy. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The decision to bypass Hong Kong’s well-established legislative processes and ignore the will of the people of Hong Kong would be a death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised for Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

 

President Trump has also signaled his displeasure with Chinese moves in this area. The president has been vocal about condemning Chinese action concerning the coronavirus, and the nation’s moves in Hong Kong add to the friction between the two nations.

 

Since last year, there have been pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. This new national security law is viewed by many in Hong Kong and internationally as a way for China to crack down on these demonstrators.

 

What do you think the U.S. government should do if China begins to undermine the autonomy of Hong Kong?

Voting by Mail Facing Praise, Criticism

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Trump Plans Withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Do you support withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty?

Some Fear Unemployment Benefits Keep People from Returning to Work

With millions of Americans losing work as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, some elected officials and experts are worried that expanded unemployment benefits are making the jobless problem worse.

 

As part of the coronavirus aid package, the federal government has increased unemployment benefits by $600 a month. This has led to a situation where some workers make more money with these benefits than they do at their jobs. As Congress considers whether to extend this higher payment, some are worried that doing so will hamper an economic recovery. After all, these critics of the program say, why would someone return to work if he or she can make more money being unemployed?

 

It is unclear how many people are deciding not to return to work as a result of the higher unemployment benefits. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week reminded people that they could lose their benefits if they refuse to go back to work if their company can re-hire them.

 

The increased unemployment benefits end this summer. Some Democrats in Congress want to extend this program through next year. Republicans argue that the government should not make it more attractive to remain without work than it is to go to work. They say that this will slow down an economic recovery and hurt business owners who need workers to return. Democrats counter that this program is desperately needed by people who are jobless through no fault of their own.


Democrats are pushing for quick passage of a new coronavirus aid bill that could include these extension of enhanced unemployment benefits. Republicans want a slower process.

 

Do you think that paying an extra $600 in unemployment benefits per week gives people an incentive not to return to work?

Progressives Push for Military Cuts to Pay for Coronavirus Aid

Members of the House Progressive Caucus want to cut military spending as a way to pay the big price tag for coronavirus aid.

 

The House Armed Services Committee is considering the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which provides authority for the nation’s military activities. This bill also sets the funding level for military spending, which is then funded through the appropriations process.

 

Last year, the Progressive Caucus wanted the act to authorize military spending at $644 billion a year. Instead, the House approved legislation that set the level at $738 billion. As the process begins this year, the caucus’s members have said they will not support legislation that does not contain a significant spending cut.

 

The members argue that with other needs taking priority, specifically the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, it is time for Congress to trim military spending. They say the nation cannot afford to keep spending billions of dollars on pricey weapons systems and other military projects that, in the views of these members of Congress, foster conflict around the globe.

 

This stance puts these Democratic House members at odds with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Many moderate Democrats do not support cutting military spending, and would likely oppose any efforts to concede to the Progressive Caucus’s demands. But without the votes of the more liberal House members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to rely on Republican votes to pass the defense bill this year.

 

Do you think that military spending should be cut to help pay for the trillions of dollars spent dealing with the coronavirus?

Biden Vows to Stop Keystone XL Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline has been a controversial proposal for 10 years. President Trump has been very vocal about his approval for this trans-national pipeline, but this week his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, said that he will stop the project.

 

The pipeline, which will link Canadian oil fields to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was first proposed in 2010. President Obama blocked the approval of the pipeline’s crossing of the U.S.-Canadian border, but President Trump reversed this decision. There have also been numerous court cases over the pipeline.

 

The company that owns the pipeline intends to complete it in 2023, once any legal disputes are resolved. But if Joe Biden is elected president, he said that he will revoke U.S. approval. This could lead to years more of court cases.

 

Supporters of the pipeline say it will provide affordable energy to the U.S., giving consumers a financial windfall. They also point to the jobs it will create both during its construction and operation. Opponents, however, say most of these jobs will be temporary. They also argue that the pipeline will only increase the U.S.’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels, and that the pipeline itself will disturb important natural habitats.

 

Do you support completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline?

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