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House Reauthorizes Federal Export Support Agency

In the midst of impeachment hearings, the House of Representatives also conducted legislative business this week. The main legislation under consideration was a bill to reauthorize a controversial federal agency that provides loan guarantees for U.S. businesses. Supporters say it is essential to supporting American exports, while critics argue that it’s nothing more than corporate welfare.

 

The House passed H.R. 4863 by a vote of 235-184. Here is how VoteSpotter described the bill:

 

To renew the authorization of the Export-Import Bank to operate through 2029 and expand its lending authority from $135 billion to $175 billion. The Export-Import Bank is a federal agency that gives loans and loan guarantees to companies purchasing U.S. exports. These loans are backed by the federal government, meaning if borrowers default the government pays them.

 

The reauthorization and staffing of the Export-Import Bank’s board has been a long-running controversy in Congress. While the agency has bipartisan support, there is also strong opposition to it on the left and the right who see it as a taxpayer giveaway to large corporations. This reauthorization legislation is aimed at ending the efforts to kill the agency.

 

Independent Rep. Justin Amash spoke out forcefully against reauthorization, tweeting:

 

The Ex-Im Bank is inherently corrupt. It unfairly forces Americans to subsidize foreign entities that buy things from well-connected corporations—particularly Boeing. This corporate welfare program expires next week, yet the House is voting Friday to reauthorize it. Let it die.

 

And:

 

Ex-Im puts taxpayers on the hook for loans to foreign governments and corporations to buy things from well-connected companies (especially Boeing), which is unfair to the vast majority of Americans who don’t benefit from Ex-Im yet are assuming the financial risk for the loans.

 

There was bipartisan support for reauthorizing the agency, however, as well as a large coalition of interest groups pushing for this legislation. Linda Dempsey of The National Association of Manufacturers spoke for many of these supporters in defense of the agency:

 

As the United States’ official export credit agency, the Ex-Im Bank is a critical tool to support American jobs through exports. It has become increasingly vital in the face of more than 90 countries that operate more than 100 foreign export credit agencies (ECAs) around the world. From China and Germany to Canada and Japan, other countries are working to boost their farmers, manufacturers and workers and win foreign sales.

 

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to pass.

 

Do you support reauthorizing an agency that provides federal loan guarantees for companies that purchase U.S. exports?

 

 

Biden Unveils $1.3 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Today former Vice President Joe Biden announced an infrastructure plan that he says will “rebuild the middle class.” Critics say that it will impose a huge tax burden on Americans.

 

These are some of the key aspects of Biden’s proposal:

  • A $50 billion federal initiative to repair roads and bridges
  • Secure “new revenues” for the Highway Trust Fund, a federal fund collecting revenue from fuel taxes
  • Spend $5 billion to research new battery technology
  • Use federal resources to expand the electric car charging system
  • Spend $500 billion in clean energy research
  • Expand rail service
  • Provide public transportation to cities with 100,000 residents or more
  • Target $10 billion to high-poverty areas to improve public transit
  • Promote infrastructure that leads to a 100% clean energy economy
  • Create a federal program to promote building energy efficiency
  • Provide broadband service to every American household
  • Create a new federal program to spend $100 billion in school buildings

 

This plan gathers together many proposals put forward by liberal and progressive groups and elected officials. Biden argues that they will transform the economy for the future, providing good jobs for the middle class and helping clean the environment. Those who support these programs argue that it is vital that the federal government invest in this vision to ensure the U.S. has a sustainable future.


Critics, however, see these ideas as both unrealistic and expensive. They note that it’s easy to say that these programs will achieve their goals, but similar government initiatives in the past have failed. They also note the high price tag for such a program, saying that taxes will have to go up to pay for it or the government will have to go deeper in debt.

 

Biden faces a crowded field of rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. It remains to be seen if ideas like these will help him win votes from the left wing of the party being courted by other candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

 

Do you support the federal government paying for more high-speed rail service? Should there be a federal push for a 100% clean-energy economy?

 

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?

Honoring America’s Veterans

Today is Veterans Day – a federal holiday specifically set aside to honor the service of the men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces.

 

Originally, the holiday on November 11 was called Armistice Day. It commemorated the end of hostilities in World War I. The Allied nations and Germany signed an armistice that took place at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, that ended the fighting in that war. In 1938, the date became an official U.S. holiday, with Congress declaring it to be “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'.”

 

After World War II, a veteran from that conflict began lobbying for the day to be renamed in order to recognize veterans from all wars, not just World War I. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a bill into law that officially changed the November 11 holiday to Veterans Day.

 

This holiday is celebrated in many nations that were part of the Allied cause in World War I. In the United Kingdom, it has been renamed Remembrance Day to remember the war dead.

 

How are you commemorating Veterans Day?

Senate Continuing to Focus on Judicial Nominations

The House of Representatives was in recess this week, with members out of Washington, D.C., for district work sessions. Senators, however, stayed in D.C., taking a series of votes. As has been their practice throughout this year, they focused on confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees.

 

These are the nominees confirmed by senators this week:

  • William Joseph Nardini, of Connecticut, to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit – 86-2
  • Jennifer Philpott Wilson, of Pennsylvania, to be U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania – 88-3
  • Lee Philip Rudofsky, of Arkansas, to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas – 51-41
  • Danielle J. Hunsaker, of Oregon, to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit – 73-17
  • David Austin Tapp, of Kentucky, to be a Judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims – 85-8

 

The Senate has considered little legislation during the 116th Congress, but has confirmed scores of judges nominated by President Trump. After Senate Democrats were using Senate rules to force lengthy debates on the nominations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell engineered a rule change to limit debate. This has sped up confirmations, something that Sen. McConnell has been proud to tout.

 

Democrats criticize this focus on judicial nominees, saying that it ignores important legislative priorities. Liberals also dislike the fact that many of these judges will be in office for years, leading to a more conservative judiciary. Senate Republicans point out that their voters value judicial confirmations highly, so they are doing the work they are elected to do. They also note that much of the legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House does not have majority support in the Senate, so there is no use debating bills that will ultimately fail.

 

Do you support the Senate focusing on confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees?

Sanders Proposes to Liberalize Immigration Laws

Calling President Trump “a racist, a xenophobe, and a demagogue,” Senator Bernie Sanders today unveiled his proposal to reverse the Trump Administration immigration actions and make major changes to U.S. immigration law.

 

Among other things, the Sanders plan would:

  • Reverse President Trump’s executive actions that affect immigrants, including the travel ban and restrictions on asylum
  • Put a moratorium on deportations
  • Provide legal status to individuals in the DACA program (immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children)
  • Stop deportations of undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for longer than 5 years
  • Ask Congress to pass legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
  • Decriminalize illegal border crossing
  • Provide illegal immigrants with the right to legal counsel in deportation hearings
  • Restructure ICE and the Border Patrol
  • Reform worker visas to allow immigrants to work in more places
  • Focus immigration law enforcement on employers, not workers
  • Mandate a $15 minimum wage for farm workers
  • Lift the cap on refugee admissions

 

Many of these proposals are direct repudiations of Trump Administration immigration policies. In line with his position on the left wing of the Democratic Party, Sen. Sanders is focusing on penalizing employers over immigrants when it comes to enforcing current immigration laws. He is also supporting programs that would allow more immigrants into the U.S. and make it easier for those who are in the U.S. to remain here.

 

In the past, Sen. Sanders has criticized what he characterizes as “open border” policies as being a way for business owners to undermine U.S. workers’ rights. This plan is his attempt to spell out exactly what he would do as president when it comes to immigration reform. Many of these proposals would require action by Congress.

 

Do you support putting a moratorium on deportations? Should immigration enforcement focus on business owners who are using illegal immigrant labor?

 

Washington Voters Reject Affirmative Action

In Washington State, voters appear to narrowly reject a legislative initiative that would reinstate affirmative action for state government policies.

 

 Referendum 88 would have permitted the state government and state higher education institutions to use affirmative action in state employment, contracting, and education. The referendum was asking voters to approve or reject an initiative passed by the legislature that allows the state to use race, gender, ethnicity, or national origin as a factor when it comes to making decisions.

 

Early returns indicate that a slim majority of voters are rejecting the referendum.

 

In 1998, state voters passed an initiative that bans preferential treatment based on things like race, sex, or national origin. The new legislative initiative sought to continue banning strict quotas but to allow the use of softer forms of affirmative action.

 

Supporters say that the state should be able to take past discrimination into account when shaping state policies. They say that the 1998 initiative ties the hands of state government efforts to ensure that all people in Washington are treated fairly. Opponents counter that affirmative action policies are themselves discriminatory. They say that state government should treat everyone equally, regardless of race, sex, or national origin.

 

Washington conducts its elections exclusively by mail. Ballots must be marked by 8 p.m. on Election Day, so it can take days to tabulate final calculations.

 

Do you support state affirmative action policies that allow government to take factors such as race or sex into account when it comes to hiring, education, or contracting?

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?

Texans to Vote on Prohibiting an Income Tax

Voters in Texas are poised to amend their constitution to make it more difficult to impose a state income tax.

 

Proposition 4 is among 10 ballot measures facing voters tomorrow in the Lone Star State. It mandates that any proposal to enact a state income tax would require a two-thirds vote of the state legislature to put it on the ballot and then approval from two-thirds of the state’s voters.

 

The Texas constitution currently bans a state income tax, but allows one to be approved if a majority of the legislature puts it on the ballot and a majority of voters approve it. Under the current provision, revenue from such a tax could only be used for property tax relief or to increase education funding.

 

Supporters of Proposition 4 say it is necessary to ensure that it is difficult to enact an income tax. They say that Texas has a business-friendly reputation and tax structure, and this amendment would enhance these things. They argue that it will impose fiscal discipline on the state’s policymakers.

 

Opponents counter that this amendment is unnecessary. They point out that the state constitution already prohibits an income tax and requires voter approval prior to its enactment. They also argue that increasing the burdens for seeking an income tax in the future will tie the hands of policymakers in the future who may need more state revenue as Texas grows.

 

Do you support requiring approval of two-thirds of the state’s voters before Texas imposes an income tax?

Warren Unveils Tax Plan to Pay for Medicare-for-All

Both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders have embraced Medicare-for-All during their campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. But while Sen. Sanders has been blunt that his plan would require new taxes, Sen. Warren has been less clear about how she would pay for this new federal plan. Today she added clarity to her proposal by outlining a plan to fund her expansion of government health care.

 

Under Sen. Warren’s proposal, here is how she would cover the costs of Medicare-for-all:

  • Tax businesses the amount they are currently paying for their part of employer-sponsored health insurance.
  • Increase efforts to stop tax evasion and avoidance.
  • Impose a new tax on financial transactions.
  • Impose a new tax on larger banks.
  • Modify the tax deduction for corporate depreciation.
  • Impose a new tax on companies that have presences in other countries.
  • Impose a new tax on taxpayers with assets over $50 million.
  • Impose capital gains on a yearly basis instead of when the gains are realized through sales.
  • Reform immigration laws to allow more immigrants to come to the U.S., which Warren says will result in more tax revenue.
  • Cut defense spending.
  •  

There is some dispute over how much federal spending would have to rise with Medicare-for-All. Some estimates put it at $34 trillion over 10 years. That is roughly the amount of all the current federal entitlement programs combined.

 

Senators Sanders and Warren say that Medicare-for-All will not be new spending, but will be a shift in spending. They say that the money currently being spent in the private and government health care sectors, on things such as private insurance or Medicaid, would be replaced by Medicare-for-All spending. In fact, in her plan, Sen. Warren says that companies would ultimately spend less via her new health care tax than they spend paying private insurance premiums.

 

Critics counter that this would be a huge expansion of federal spending that will likely be much more expensive than projected. They also note that this would be a massive re-alignment of how Americans receive their health care, with private insurance being outlawed in most instances.

 

Do you support new taxes on businesses and high-income taxpayers to pay for Medicare-for-All?

 

 

 

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?

Youth Tackle Football Ban under Consideration in NY

With growing evidence linking tackle football to problems later in life, New York legislators are considering a bill that would ban the game for children 12 and younger.

 

Under legislation being considered by a New York Assembly committee, children in New York who are 12 or younger could not play tackle football. They would be limited to the non-tackle version of the game. A similar bill was introduced in 2017, but it failed to pass the legislature.

 

This week legislators heard testimony about the bill. Supporters said that it would prevent brain injuries which can take decades to manifest. They point to a recent study showing that the longer someone played tackle football as a child the more likely they are to develop degenerative brain diseases. Opponents say this is not something the government should be dictating. They argue that coaches and youth football leagues are putting safety measures in place to prevent injuries, and that parents should have the right to choose the type of sport that their child plays.

 

It is unclear if this bill has enough support to advance out of committee and to a full legislative vote this year. However, with studies accumulating that find links between football and brain injuries, there is more momentum behind the bill this year than in the past.

 

Other states are also considering bills that would ban or limit tackle football for young athletes. No state has passed a ban yet, however.

 

Do you think that tackle football should be banned for children 12 or younger?

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?

House Takes Aim at Turkey This Week

President Trump’s decision to remove American military forces from northern Syria, and the subsequent invasion of the area by Turkey, has provoked howls of outrage in Washington, D.C. Now the House of Representatives is targeting Turkey with votes on two bills – one symbolic and one that would have consequences for Turkish officials if signed into law.

 

The symbolic resolution is House Resolution 296, concerning the Armenian genocide, which occurred in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. It states:

 

That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that it is the policy of the United States to—

 

(1) commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance;

 

(2) reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and

 

(3) encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the United States role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.

 

While this will not change official U.S. foreign policy, it is aimed squarely at Turkey. That nation has strongly denied that the there was ever an official policy by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of Turkey, to massacre Armenians. It objects to any statement by the U.S. government that recognizes such a genocide.

 

The second bill is HR 4695. As described by VoteSpotter, that bill would “block the transfer of assets belonging to senior Turkish officials and deny them entry into the United States in response to Turkish military action in norther Syria. The legislation would also prohibit some arms sales to the Turkish military.”

 

If passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, HR 4685 would subject the Turkish president and other Turkish military and government officials to financial restrictions on any assets in the U.S.

 

With the bipartisan condemnation of Turkish actions in northern Syria, these two bills may pass with bipartisan support. It is unclear if the sanctions bill will be taken up by the Senate.

 

Do you support imposing sanctions on Turkey in response to its military actions in Syria?

Senate Fails to Overturn Cap on State and Local Tax Deductions

As part of the Trump tax cut bill, many taxpayers got a tax cut. Some, however, saw their tax deductions limited. This was especially true for high-income taxpayers, who saw a cap on their ability to deduct state and local taxes. A move in the Senate to allow states to do an end-run around this cap was defeated this week.

 

Prior to the Trump tax cuts, taxpayers could deduct the full amount of their state and local taxes. While theoretically available to all taxpayers, it generally benefited taxpayers with higher incomes (who are more prone to use itemized deductions rather than the standard deduction) and those who lived in states with higher taxes.

 

The Trump tax bill limited this state-and-local tax deduction to $10,000. In other words, if someone paid $17,000 in state and local taxes, they could only deduct $10,000 instead of the full $17,000. This upset some state officials, especially those who represent states that have a large share of high-income taxpayers paired with high state tax rates.

 

In response, some states passed laws that were an attempt to circumvent this cap. These generally involved classifying taxes in certain circumstances as charitable contributions. Since the tax bill still allowed full deductibility of charitable contributions, this would have allowed these state taxpayers to skirt the state-and-local deduction cap.

 

The Treasury Department issued a rule that essentially invalidated these state laws for federal tax purposes. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 50 to disapprove of this Treasury regulation. If passed, the effect of this disapproval resolution would to be allow states to pass laws that circumvent the tax cap, essentially repealing it on a state-by-state basis.

 

The full Senate did not agree with Sen. Schumer, however. On Wednesday, the resolution failed by a vote of 43-52. The vote was largely along party lines, with only Republican Rand Paul voting for the resolution and Democrat Cory Gardner opposing it.

 

Do you support limiting the amount of state and local taxes that taxpayers can deduct on their federal taxes?

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?

Gerrymandering Reform Gets a Hearing in North Carolina

Recent years have seen bitter legislative and court battles over North Carolina’s congressional and legislative districts. With another legal case looming, a legislative committee is considering three bills that would overhaul the way the state draws election districts.

 

Under two of the bills being heard this week, the state would establish independent commissions that would draw the lines of legislative and congressional districts. Another bill would empower legislative staff to draw these districts. Under each bill being considered, however, the criteria being used is aimed at making it more difficult to shape districts so they favor one party over another.

 

The bills accomplish this goal in a few ways. They require that there not be any large discrepancies in the population of districts, that the land areas of the districts be contiguous, and that political affiliation of voters in the districts not be considered. These would prevent oddly-shaped districts that link together voters of a certain political party from being designed.

 

Currently, legislators approve congressional and legislative districts. This had led to the charge that Republicans have gerrymandered the districts to cement their hold on political power. Democrats and minority voters complain that these districts disenfranchise them by diluting their voting power. These arguments have won over some judges, who have invalidated the legislatively-drawn districts as being unconstitutional.

 

The legislation under consideration in the legislature this week is bipartisan. It copies procedures used in other states that are aimed at minimizing gerrymandering attempts.

 

Do you support independent commissions designing congressional and legislative districts in order to cut down on gerrymandering?

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?

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