Congress

Commentary & Community

AOC, Cruz Team up on Birth Control

Conservative Senator Ted Cruz and Progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez don’t agree on much. But they appear to have found common ground via Twitter on a subject that affects the lives of tens of millions of Americans – birth control.

 

Specifically, the two lawmakers agree that oral contraceptives for women should be available without prescription. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classification for these contraceptives do not allow them to be sold over the counter, forcing women to get a prescription if they want them. There is growing bipartisan consensus that this should change.

 

Some states have passed laws allowing pharmacists to write prescriptions for oral contraception, making it easier for women to buy it. Sen. Cruz and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez want to go further, however. They would like to see the FDA reclassify these drugs to enable their purchase without any prescription at all. For the FDA to do this, it will take a lengthy reclassification process. President Trump has signaled his support for this, saying in 2016 that women should not be forced to get a prescription to buy contraception.

 

If the FDA does reclassify these drugs, they would be much easier for women to purchase. However, some worry that if they became over-the-counter drugs, then insurance would no longer be forced to provide them at no charge to users. They see this move by conservatives as a way to undermine the Affordable Care Act.


For the FDA to begin examining oral contraceptives for over-the-counter sale, a company must petition the agency to do so.

 

Should the government allow birth control pills to be sold without a prescription?

Big Tech Facing Antitrust Action in DC

Millions of people use the services Twitter, Google, Facebook, and other technology companies. The dominance of these companies has raised the ire of some politicians and regulators, however. Yesterday both the House of Representatives and the Department of Justice signaled they are looking at antitrust action against big technology firms.

 

The legislative front against these companies will be spearheaded by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee. Chairman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, held hearings yesterday examining the impact of tech companies on the news media. He contends that these companies harm the news industry.

 

During the hearing, there was bipartisan support for some legislative changes aimed at helping the news industry compete in the changing technology landscape, but there were differences on how far Congress should go in pursuing antitrust action. Some Democrats have suggested breaking up companies like Google on antitrust grounds.

 

The antitrust path is something the Trump Administration is considering, as a speech by a top Justice Department official yesterday indicated. He laid out principles by which the department could pursue legal action against Facebook, Twitter, and others, saying that federal antitrust law could deal with the issues posed by these companies. He noted that antitrust law has many aspects, including consumer harm and harm to competition.

 

It is unclear if any legislation will emerge from Congress with a bipartisan consensus on this issue, just as it is unknown what the Trump Administration will do in the courts. However, there does appear to be growing desire to act in the executive and legislative branch.

 

Do you think that large technology companies like Facebook and Google should be broken up under antitrust law? Are consumers harmed by these companies? Does Big Tech stifle competition?

House Passes Residency Fix for Dreamers

The fate of so-called “Dreamers” – illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children – has been debated in Washington for years. This week, the House of Representatives passed legislation to provide them with a path to permanent residency. But President Donald Trump has said he is opposed to it.

 

The House passed H.R. 6 by a vote of 237-187 on June 4. Here is how VoteSpotter described the legislation:

 

To stop deportation proceedings against non-citizens who were brought to the U.S. as minors, and allow those individuals to remain in the U.S. for 10 years. To qualify, a person must have been brought to the U.S. as a minor, must meet certain educational and residency requirements, and cannot have been convicted of a felony, among other things. The bill would also allow these individuals to become permanent legal residents if they graduate college, complete military service, or have three years of steady employment.

 

President Obama attempted to deal with the status of Dreamers without Congress. He instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This affected illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who met educational requirements and had no criminal record to be shielded from deportation. Once he assumed office, Donald Trump canceled DACA, saying it was an overreach of executive power.

 

President Trump has signaled support for legislation that would provide permanent residency for Dreamers. However, he has issued a veto threat for H.R. 6. He would like to see this issue tied to a larger plan that limits immigration and provides more border security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agrees with the president, and has said that the Senate will not consider H.R. 6.

 

Do you think that children who were brought to the U.S. illegally should receive legal residence if they have no criminal record and meet education requirements? Should the status of Dreamers be tied to overall immigration reform?

Congress May Block Trump's Tariffs

President Trump is a big fan of tariffs. In fact, he’s called himself “Tariff Man” on Twitter. But many members of Congress disagree with him. The president’s announcement that he would be imposing new tariffs on Mexico could prompt a response from these lawmakers that would end his ability to start a trade war with our southern neighbor.

 

Last week the president said that he would impose an escalating series of tariffs on Mexico until its government stopped the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. He would have the authority to do this under his declaration of an emergency at the U.S.-Mexican border. He issued this emergency declaration in February, claiming that a surge of illegal immigration threatened the U.S. This allows him broad powers to deal with the situation, including repurposing money for a border wall and imposing tariffs.

 

Congress also has power under this emergency declaration – specifically the power to revoke it. Both the House and Senate voted to undo the emergency, but the president vetoed the resolution. With only a handful of Republicans joining all the Democrats in rebuking the president, there were not supermajorities in either house to override his veto. Resolutions to revoke a presidential emergency can be considered every six months.

 

President Trump’s latest move on tariffs may prompt more Republicans to support another attempt to undo the February emergency declaration. In recent years, Republicans have generally opposed high tariffs. They see them as a tax on Americans who are forced to pay higher prices for foreign goods directly affected by tariffs and American goods that no longer face as much foreign competition. The president’s desire to impose steep tariffs on Mexico, a large trading partner with the U.S., has caused consternation among many GOP members of Congress.

 

If one house of Congress passes a resolution to revoke a presidential emergency, the other house must also consider it. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives will almost certainly pass such a resolution, meaning that the Republican-controlled Senate would then put the measure on its agenda. It remains to be seen if there will be more Republicans in both chambers who choose to buck the president on this issue because of their dislike of tariffs.

 

Do you support President Trump’s plan to impose new tariffs on products coming from Mexico? Should Congress stop these tariffs?

Rep. Massie Won’t Let Disaster Aid Pass without a Vote

After months of wrangling, there is bipartisan consensus about a disaster aid spending bill. There is only one hang-up preventing its passage – the insistence of a few House members that it receive a vote.

 

The Senate passed a $19 billion aid bill last week before leaving town for Memorial Day recess. There is overwhelming support for the bill in the House of Representatives. But House members left town before they voted on the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to get the bill passed through the House via unanimous consent during a pro forma session during recess. Such a process requires any House member present to approve. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) do not agree, and have objected to the Speaker’s attempts to pass the bill.

 

Rep. Massie justified his actions on the House floor, saying, “"If the Speaker of the House felt this was must-pass legislation, the Speaker of the House should have called a vote on this bill before sending every member of Congress on recess for ten days.”

 

This legislation contains aid for Puerto Rico, money for farmers, and funds for wildfires. An aid package has been the subject of partisan negotiations in Congress for months, and President Trump has weighed in on the subject, too. The president wanted funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall included in any disaster aid bill and, at times, suggested that Puerto Rico not receive any aid.

 

These differences were worked out in the Senate, with the aid bill passing by a vote of 85-8 on May 23. Most Republicans and Democrats in the House are expected to support the bill, and President Trump has indicated he will sign it.

 

The Senate vote did not leave enough time for the House of Representatives to consider the bill prior to its members leaving for recess. Since Rep. Massie and his allies are preventing the bill from being considered while most members are out of town, it means that its passage will have to wait until recess is over in June. Speaker Pelosi is blasting these members for cruelty. However, Rep. Massie has tweeted that “passing an unbudgeted $19 billion spending bill without a vote of Congress is legislative malpractice.”

 

Do you think that it is wrong for Rep. Massie to insist that a $19 billion aid package receive a formal vote by the House of Representatives?

Deep Dive: Impeachment

After the release of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, discussion about impeaching President Trump heated up on Capitol Hill. Some Democratic members of Congress are calling for the House Judiciary Committee to begin impeachment hearings, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi is resisting doing so – for now.

 

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

 

There is growing movement in the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. These members accuse the president of obstructing justice and other crimes, saying that it is the House’s duty to impeach under these circumstances. Speaker Pelosi has cautioned members that such a move is politically risky, pointing out that Republicans lost popularity when they impeached President Clinton in the 1990s.

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, there is a possibility that it 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.

Senate Focuses on Nominees, not Legislation

The Senate has been busy casting numerous votes in recent weeks. But the overwhelming majority of these votes are not on legislation. Instead, senators are concentrating on confirming a host of President Trump’s nominees to executive branch posts and the federal judiciary.

 

Since the Senate returned from its two-week recess on April 29, there have been 51 roll call votes. Of those, only 4 concern legislative matters. The rest are either votes to cut off debate over President Trump’s nominees or votes on these nominees.

 

Some of these nominations pass easily. For instance, Clarke Cooper’s nomination to be Assistant Secretary of State received a lopsided vote of 90-8 in favor. The nomination of Raul M. Arias-Marxuach to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico also passed easily, 95-3.

 

Most nomination votes are much closer, however. The president’s nomination of Michael J. Truncale to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas only prevailed by 3 votes, 49-46. Wendy Vitter’s nomination to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana passed the Senate 52-45.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret of his desire to see as many of President Trump’s nominees confirmed as possible. He continued the process started under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, in weakening and then eliminating senators’ ability to filibuster judicial nominees. He also engineered a rule change that reduced the time for consideration of these nominees after Democrats began insisting on lengthy debate over them.

 

There has been some criticism that the Senate should be working on legislative matters, not just on confirmations. But with the House of Representatives in Democratic control, and with Democratic senators still able to filibuster legislation, it is unlikely that there are many bills that could receive enough bipartisan support to emerge from Congress. It appears that Senator McConnell will continue to prioritize confirmation throughout this year.

 

Do you think that the Senate should do more work on legislation and less on confirming the president’s nominees? Or is it important for the Senate to concentrate on putting the president's nominees in office?

Senators Want Tobacco Age to be 21

States across the nation are increasing the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21. Now the U.S. Senate may act to prohibit anyone under 21 from buying tobacco nationwide.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, have teamed up on legislation that would raise the federal tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21. Both senators are from major tobacco-producing states, but they say that public health concerns are foremost in their mind.

 

The bill, if enacted, would make it a crime for a retailer to sell tobacco products or vaping products to anyone under 21. It would also cut off some federal funds to states that do not set their tobacco purchasing age at 21.

 

These senators, and others who want to see the age increased, argue that it is a vital way to stop teenagers from starting smoking. They point out that most smokers start in their teen years, so this would prevent older teens from supplying cigarettes to younger teens. Backers of the proposal also contend it is necessary to combat the rise in teen vaping. Critics say that the law establishes adulthood at 18, so the tobacco purchase age should not be higher.

 

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws setting the tobacco purchase age at 21. Some of these state laws exempt military personnel from the higher purchase age, but the federal legislation would not.

 

With the majority leader’s backing, this bill is likely to receive consideration by the full Senate.

 

Do you think that the federal government should prohibit anyone under 21 from buying tobacco or vaping products?

Harris Wants Business Fines over Equal Pay

Sen. Kamala Harris has a plan for what she perceives as the gender pay gap – big fines for corporations. And if she’s elected president, she says she will implement these fines with or without legislation from Congress.

 

Under Sen. Harris’s plan, companies must receive an “Equal Pay Certification” from the federal government or face fines. This certification would come only after these companies submit data to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission proving that they are paying male and female employees comparable pay for comparable work. The Harris plan would also force companies to provide information about how they hire workers and the racial and gender diversity of their workplaces.

 

If companies do not receive “Equal Pay Certification,” Sen. Harris would like to see them fined 1% of their profits for every 1% of the wage gap. Sen. Harris said she would seek legislation from Congress to authorize such a program, but would implement it regardless of whether Congress acts.

 

Current federal law already prohibits paying men and women different wages for doing the same work. Senator Harris’s legislation would go further by targeting different pay for what she calls “comparable” work, which would be determined by the federal government. She says that her proposal would stop discrimination. Critics contend that the pay gap she cites is not caused by discrimination but can be explained by differing education and experience levels as well as individual choices made by workers.

 

This proposal is one of the many laid out by the freshman senator from California in an attempt to distinguish her from the rest of the candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

 

Do you think that companies should be fined if they are not certified by the federal government as paying men and women the same for comparable work? What do you think about the gender pay gap?

House Wants to Mandate More Obamacare Outreach

It’s no secret that the Trump Administration is not enthusiastic about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Democrats in the House of Representatives have noticed this, and they recently passed a bill to force the federal government to do more to promote this law.

 

On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 987, the Marketing and Outreach Restoration to Empower (MORE) Health Education Act of 2019. Here’s how VoteSpotter describes it:

 

To require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct marketing for the health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act that are operated by the federal government. The bill mandates that such outreach must be in “culturally and linguistically appropriate formats.”

 

The vote was 234-183, with 5 Republicans joining the Democrats in supporting it.

 

Under the ACA, states can set up their own health insurance exchanges or, if they don’t, the federal government will operate one in the state. This legislation concerns those federally-operated exchanges. Supporters of this legislation say it is necessary to counteract efforts by the Trump Administration to reduce outreach and education for these exchanges. Opponents of the bill counter that this is just an effort to prop up a failing health care law.

 

The legislation now advances to the Senate, which is unlikely to bring it up for a vote.

 

Do you think that the Trump Administration should be doing more education and outreach for Obamacare insurance?

Trump Unveils New Immigration Plan

Immigration has been one of the defining issues of President Trump’s time in office. Today the president unveiled a proposal that would reshape the nation’s immigration laws, bringing them more in line with the president’s views.

 

Under the Trump plan, overall immigration numbers would not change. Instead, policies would shift from family-based immigration to skills-based immigration. The president’s proposal would limit the immediate family members whom a U.S. resident could sponsor for entry into the nation. It would also prioritize immigration for individuals with certain skills.

 

Other aspects of the plan include making it tougher for individuals to seek asylum, modernizing ports of entry in an attempt to stop more drug trafficking, and finishing the border wall. There is no proposal to deal with the millions of “Dreamers,” or individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, already in the nation.

 

The president has outlined an immigration plan, but has not prepared legislation to move this plan through Congress. Any such proposal would likely face Democratic opposition. There are also some grumblings of opposition from the president’s base, with some immigration restrictionists upset that the president is not calling for a reduction in immigration numbers.

 

Should U.S. immigration policy focus more on family reunification or economic skills? Do you support placing more restrictions on who can seek asylum here? Should overall immigration numbers be reduced, kept the same, or increased?

Booker Outlines Gun Control Plan

Cory Booker wants to move from the Senate to the White House. The New Jersey senator is one in a crowded field of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination. Today he released a gun control plan that aims to separate him from his rivals.

 

Under the Booker plan, the federal government would impose these new restrictions on gun ownership and purchasing:

  • Individuals must purchase a license before being able to buy a gun. This license would last for five years, and would only be able to be purchased by someone who has completed a gun safety course and passed a background course.
  • Private firearms sales would be subject to background checks.
  • Gun buyers could only purchase one handgun a month.
  • There would be a federal ban on “assault weapons,” high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks.
  • Firearms would be subject safety regulations under the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Work to repeal he federal law prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers for the misuse of their products.
  • Mandate that new handguns must have microstamp technology.
  • Public health studies on gun violence would receive funding.
  • States would receive incentives to pass legislation institution extreme risk prevention orders, which allow police to seize the firearms of people suspected of causing imminent harm.
  • The IRS would investigate the National Rifle Association’s tax exempt status.

 

Sen. Booker says that these things are necessary to fight gun violence. In announcing this agenda, he said he would work from his first day in office to enact it.

 

Critics, however, say that this is a huge expansion of federal power over the purchase and possession of firearms. They argue that many of these proposals would be ineffective, merely infringing up on lawful firearms owners’ rights without doing much to stop violence.

 

As president, Booker could enact some of these items through executive action. Most of the proposals require legislation, however. It remains to be seen if Booker would have a Congress friendly to these ideas if he were elected president.

 

Do you think that all gun sales or transfers should go through a background check? Should the federal government ban “assault weapons”? Should the government prohibit people from purchasing more than one handgun a month?

House Calls for Action on Climate Change

President Trump is not a big fan of the Paris climate change agreement, which requires countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. He has pledged to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. This week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent him from doing so.

 

HR 9 would require the president to develop a plan that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28%, based on 2005 levels. It would also prohibit the use of federal funding to withdraw from the Paris agreement. This bill passed 231-190, with 3 Republicans voting for it and no Democrats opposing it. An amendment by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) that would have stripped the prohibition from withdrawing from the Paris agreement failed by a vote of 189-234.

 

President Obama signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, but did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. He argued that it was not a treaty that required ratification. President Trump has pledged to withdraw from the treaty by 2020.

 

The treaty, signed by more than 190 countries, requires the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and commit money to assist climate change efforts in developing countries.

 

Supporters say such an agreement is necessary to stop climate change. They say that if the U.S. does not participate it will hurt efforts to slow down global warming. Critics say that it would kill jobs and hurt U.S. economic growth.

 

HR 9 now goes to the Senate, where it is unlikely to be brought for a vote.

 

Should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? What do you think should be done about climate change, if anything?

Gillibrand Touts “Democracy Dollars”

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand wants to be president. The junior senator from New York is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, hoping that ideas like “Democracy Dollars” will propel her to the front of the pack.

 

Sen. Gillibrand has proposed that the federal government give ever voter $600 to donate to federal candidates. Under her plan, this money could be given in $200 increments to candidates for president, the House of Representatives, or the Senate.

 

According to Sen. Gillibrand, this will help remove the influence of the wealthy and corporations on the political process. To pay for this plan, Sen. Gillibrand has proposed increasing taxes on CEOs who earn high salaries.

 

While Sen. Gillibrand argues that this plan would help reduce what she calls the corrupting influence on elections, opponents counter that it will not do much. They point to a similar program in Seattle that does not have large public participation nor does it seem to have much of an impact on election results.


Do you think that the federal government should provide voters with money to contribute to candidates?

Congress Considers Equal Rights Amendment

Congress sent the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the states for ratification in 1972. Yesterday, a House of Representatives subcommittee held a hearing on the ERA for the first time in 36 years, as advocates continue to push for it.

 

The ERA states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” When it was initially sent to the states, Congress placed a deadline for ratification. That deadline expired in 1982 without approval from the necessary 38 states to be added to the Constitution.

 

Rep. Jackie Speier has introduced House Joint Resolution 38, which would eliminate the deadline for state ratification of the ERA. If both houses of Congress pass this resolution, it would ensure that when 38 states ratify it. Some observers say that this resolution is not necessary, since the initial deadline placed for ratification is invalid.

 

Thirty-seven states have taken such action so far. Most of these occurred in the 1970s, but two states (Illinois and Nevada) ratified it since 2017. However, 4 states have rescinded their ratification. The legality of whether states can rescind ratification is an open question. If a 38th state does ratify the ERA, there will be legal wrangling about whether Congress had the power to limit the time for ratification and whether states can rescind ratification.

 

During yesterday’s hearing, actresses Alyssa Milano and Patricia Arquette joined scholars and other experts in testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Supporters said that the ERA is necessary to ensure that women are protected from discrimination. Opponents say the amendment would be a way to strike down restrictions on abortion.

 

Do you support adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution?

Deep Dive: Congressional Recess

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate will not be found in Washington, D.C., this week. They are on what the Senate calls a “state work period” – more commonly known as a congressional recess. These are weeks when Congress is not in session, giving members time away from Washington.

 

State or District Work Periods

 

 In the Senate, they are called “state work periods.” In the House of Representatives, they are “district work periods.” The public and media generally call them “recesses.” Whatever term is being used, they are the extended periods of time when the House and Senate are not in session. Here is a list of the work sessions remaining this year:

 

April 15 - April 26                               

May 27 - May 31              

July 1 - July 5     

August 5 - September 6               

September 30 - October 14        

November 11                   

November 25 - November 29    

December 16 - December 31

 

Many of these work periods come around holidays, both religious and national. The current recess is surrounding Easter and Passover. The August recess is mandated by law.

 

Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution says, “Neither house, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days…” Each chamber must pass a concurrent resolution allowing the other chamber to recess for an extended period of time.

 

Congress can adjourn for shorter times, too. Often neither house meets on Fridays, for instance. This allows members to travel back to their states or districts for the weekend more easily. You can track how many days that Congress has been in this year session with this calendar.

 

What Happens During Recess

 

When the House and Senate are not in session, it does not necessarily mean that members of Congress are on “vacation.” These members are not obligated to do anything related to work during the recess, but they are usually busy. For instance, during the current recess some House committees are holding hearings in California, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Ohio.

 

Other activities that members of Congress undertake during this time are town hall meetings, tours of facilities in local areas, overseas trips on congressional business. Their staff in Washington, D.C., usually continue working during these periods.

 

What This Means for You

 

Unless you live near Washington, D.C., congressional recesses are the best times for you to see your federal legislators. Many of them publish notices on their official websites about the events they are attending in their districts or states. Checking their calendars or looking for notices in the local media will provide an idea of what they are doing.

 

There may be a town hall meeting or other event that you could attend. Or, if you cannot find information about events that your members of Congress are attending during recess, this could indicate that they are avoiding public interaction during this time (there are media reports that some members of Congress are holding fewer town halls in recent years). The House and Senate have renamed these times “work periods” for members to return to their states or districts; however, it remains up to each member to determine how much work gets done during these periods.

Pelosi Not Embracing Impeachment

In the wake of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, some House Democrats are pushing for the impeachment of President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, does not think that impeachment is the best path forward at this time.

 

The Democrats who want to begin impeachment proceedings argue that the Mueller report shows ample evidence that President Trump tried to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation. They say the American people expect them to hold the president accountable, and they would be failing in this duty if they did not vote on articles of impeachment.

 

Other Democrats, such as Speaker Pelosi, are pushing back against this idea. They note that impeachment is bound to fail without Republican support. They also point out that Congress has many ways to investigate the president. They say that talk of impeachment should wait until these investigations, which could possibly turn up new evidence of wrongdoing by the president, are complete.

 

The House of Representatives is responsible for impeaching the president. This involves bringing charges against the president that could result in his removal from office. If the House passes such articles, the Senate then must vote on removal. The last time this this happened was in 1998, when the House impeached President Bill Clinton but the Senate did not vote to remove him from office.

 

Do you support impeaching President Trump and removing him from office?

Warren Proposes Wiping out Student Debt with Wealth Tax

Senator Elizabeth Warren is trying to separate herself from a crowded field of Democratic candidates for president. Today she announced a plan that pairs two ideas that cause excitement for progressive activists: canceling student loan debt and a tax on wealthier Americans.

 

Under Sen. Warren’s plan, she would take revenue from her proposed annual tax on those who have more than $50 million in wealth and cancel student loans for millions of Americans. She calls for forgiveness of up to $50,000 of debt for people in households with an income under $100,000, and a partial cancelation of debt for those in households with incomes up to $250,000.

 

In addition, Sen. Warren has also proposed other reforms that she said would make college more affordable. These include elimination of tuition and fees at two-year and four-year institutions, expanding what federal Pell Grants can pay for, increase aid to historically black colleges and universities, and ban colleges from considering an applicant’s criminal history or citizenship status.

 

Supporter of Sen. Warren’s plan argue that student loan debt is overwhelming for many people. They say that this debt harms the economy by limiting the decisions that graduates can make. Opponents counter that those with debt should have the skills necessary to repay the debt, so taxpayers should not shoulder the burden. They also note that canceling this debt would disproportionately benefit the middle class and wealthier Americans.

 

Do you support canceling student loan debt? Should the government forbid colleges and universities from charging tuition?

Trump Vetoes Yemen War Resolution

A bloody civil war is raging in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia backing one side and Iran the other. The U.S. is assisting Saudi Arabia in this conflict, and will continue to do so thanks to a veto issued by President Trump on Tuesday.

 

The House and Senate both passed Senate Joint Resolution 7, which directs the president to stop U.S. military involvement in the Yemeni civil war. President Trump vetoed the resolution, arguing that the U.S. is not involved in the Yemeni hostilities. However, the military does provide technical assistance and refueling for Saudi forces that are battling rebels in the country.

 

Proponents of military assistance to Saudi Arabia argue that this is necessary to prevent the Iranian-backed rebels from taking over Yemen. Opponents counter that the U.S. should not involve itself in a Yemeni civil war that has led to atrocities and a high civilian death count.

 

The Senate voted 54-46 in favor of the resolution, while the House voted 247-175 to support it. Neither votes reached the 2/3 majority to overcome a presidential veto.

 

Do you think that the U.S. military should be involved in the Yemeni civil war?

Congress Faces Big Issues When It Returns in 2 Weeks

Easter is approaching, and that means that legislative work in Washington, D.C., is on hold for two weeks. While Congress has left many big issues unaddressed when it left town on its recess, it has also scored some notable accomplishments in the year so far.


Here are some of the big items that Congress has worked on during this legislative session:

 

Rebuking President Trump’s border wall emergency: When the president declared an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border in order to spend money for a wall, he set up a showdown with Congress. Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to terminate the president’s emergency declaration. President Trump vetoed this termination resolution, and the House failed to override the veto. Congress can revisit this issue again in a few months.

 

Approving President Trump’s nominees: Frustrated with what he perceived as Democratic obstructionism, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell engineered a rule change to speed up consideration of presidential nominees. Much of the Senate’s work this year has focused on getting these nominees confirmed.

 

 Net neutrality: The House of Representatives passed a bill that would re-instate “net neutrality” rules. The Federal Communications Commission had instituted regulations in 2015 that imposed restrictions on how Internet service providers price services, provide content, and manage their networks. The FCC removed those rules in 2017.

 

Election reform: In March, the H.R. 1 passed the House of Representatives with only Democratic support. This legislation would mandate that certain nonprofit corporations engaging in political speech report their donors to the government, mandate that social media companies report the names of those who pay for political ads to the government, require states to same-day voter registration, and mandate how states remove ineligible voters from the rolls, among other things. The Senate is unlikely to take up this bill, however.

 

And here is what we can expect the House and Senate to address once members return in late April:

 

Disaster relief: President Trump, congressional Republicans, and Congressional Democrats cannot agree on what a disaster relief package should look like. The president contends that Puerto Rico is mismanaging federal funds, and that has left a disaster aid package for the island’s hurricane recovery, as well as other disasters around the nation, in the lurch. There are indications that Republicans and Democrats in Congress could come to an agreement after the Easter recess, but it is unclear if that agreement would have presidential support.

 

Yearly spending: If the government is going to avoid shutting down at the end of the year, Congress must pass spending bills to keep it open. The appropriations process will begin after Congress returns from recess and go until at least October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

 

Marijuana legislation: With an increasing number of states legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, more businesses are profiting from marijuana sales. Since the federal government continues to enforce its marijuana prohibition, however, this puts banks and credit unions in a tough position. HR 1595 is a bipartisan bill that would give these financial institutions a safe harbor when they deal with marijuana businesses that comply with state laws. The Financial Services committee passed this legislation in March. The Judiciary is currently considering it. The full House could take up the bill within the next few months if it emerges from this committee.

 

 

What do you think Congress should focus on once members come back from their 2-week recess? Should they provide disaster relief to Puerto Rico? Should they ease rules on banks dealing with marijuana businesses? What should happen with federal spending?

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