Posts tagged with "Congress"

COVID aid package in limbo after Trump’s surprise demand to boost direct payments

December 24, 2020

Outgoing President Donald Trump’s last-minute demand to increase the size of direct payments to Americans—from $600 to $2,000— threw the status of the U.S. Congress’s coronavirus relief package into limbo Wednesday, just days before many crucial support programs expire, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In a video posted on Tuesday night, December 22, on Twitter, the president criticized the legislation and called on lawmakers to increase direct payments to Americans to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples—up from $600 per adult and per child, the current level in the bill.

His unexpected broadside against the bill unleashed another standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill—where, the Journal said, Senate Republicans had angered Trump by acknowledging Democrat Joe Biden as the president-elect.

Trump already had threatened to veto the annual defense policy bill, which passed both chambers of Congress with broad, bipartisan support.

His pushback on the coronavirus relief package surprised lawmakers, many of whom already had departed Washington after Congress overwhelmingly approved the relief bill in a 92-6 vote in the Senate and 359-53 in the House. The 5,593-page year-end package combines the coronavirus relief and a $1.4 trillion spending bill needed to fund the government through next September, the Journal reported.

The final bill approved by Congress carrying the $600 check to no public role. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been the main White House negotiator in talks with congressional leaders—who said the final agreement had the support of President Trump. The president waited nearly a full day after it had passed both chambers of Congress to lodge his complaints.

Democrats, who had pressed for higher direct payments during the negotiations, welcomed the opportunity to seek more aid for households struggling from the economic impacts of the pandemic. They also called on. Trump to sign the sweeping year-end package, which includes extensions of unemployment benefits, among other coronavirus relief measures.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said on Twitter late Tuesday that she would try this week to pass under unanimous consent legislation approving $2,000 checks. Multiple Democrats had already prepared legislation authorizing the larger checks.

“I’m in. Whaddya say, Mitch?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York.) said on Twitter late Tuesday, retweeting a comment from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.-New York), who said she had a $2,000 check bill ready to go. “The American people deserve it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who had pushed to keep the coronavirus aid package’s cost below $900 billion, has notyet commented on Trump’s new stance.

Research contact  @WSJ

CNN exclusive: Vindman to retire; blames White House campaign of bullying and retaliation

July 9, 2020

You talk, you walk: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman—a key witness in Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry—is retiring from the U.S. Army after more than 21 years of military service because he believes that his future in the armed forces “will forever be limited” due to political retaliation by the president and his allies, his lawyer told CNN exclusively Wednesday, July 8.

Vindman has endured a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” spearheaded by the president following his testimony in the impeachment inquiry last year, according to his attorney, Ambassador David Pressman.

Vindman delivered explosive testimony during public impeachment hearings that Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden was “inappropriate” and that he knew “without hesitation” that he had to report it.

Vindman said that he reported his concerns out of a “sense of duty,” and he defended his fellow witnesses from what he described as “reprehensible” attacks.

News of Vindman’s retirement marks the culmination of a months-long saga dating back to his public testimony in November, CNN said.

Trump fired Vindman as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council in February and also ousted his twin brother who also played a key role in impeachment proceedings while serving at the White House as an NSC lawyer.

In recent weeks, the controversy has centered around allegations that the White House was attempting to block Vindman’s upcoming military promotion to the rank of colonel.

“The President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career. Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers,” Pressman said in a statement to CNN.

“These are choices that no one in the United States should confront, especially one who has dedicated his life to serving it,” he added, noting that Vindman “did what the law compelled him to do; and for that he was bullied by the President and his proxies.”

Top Pentagon leaders, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, have insisted that Vindman is not being targeted for political reasons, but a source familiar with his decision said military officials have communicated to Vindman that the White House has sought to become involved in the promotion process.

In response, Vindman was told that that there have been discussions within the Department of Defense about sending his name forward on a “list of one” or holding his name back until after the election to avoid impacting the promotions of other service members, the source said.

It is “absurd and frightening” for the White House to be involved in promotions at this level, the source added.

Research contact: @CNN

Senate panel votes to require Pentagon to assign new names to bases dubbed for Confederates

June 12, 2020

The Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee has approved an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would require the Pentagon to rename bases and other assets that are named after Confederate military leaders, a source confirmed to The Hill.

The move comes as Americans have hit the streets for 16 nights straight to protest the murder in Minnesota of George Floyd on May 25—and to assert that Black Lives Matter.

The amendment, offered by committee member Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), was approved by voice vote on Wednesday, June 10, during the committee’s closed-door markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the source familiar with the situation told The Hill.

The amendment would give the Pentagon three years to remove the Confederate names.

The news, which was first reported by Roll Call, comes after President Donald Trump said he would “not even consider” renaming the Army bases, insisting on his Twitter feed:

It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc. These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.

Just two days before Trump’s tweets, an Army spokesperson said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper were “open” to renaming the 10 bases that are named after Confederate military officers.

Specifically, the bases, which are in Southern states, are Fort Lee, Fort Hood, Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, Fort Bragg, Fort Polk, Fort Pickett, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Rucker and Camp Beauregard.

During a briefing Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said Trump would veto the NDAA if the massive policy bill mandated changing the names of the bases.

The inclusion of the amendment to force the Pentagon to change the base names, coupled with McEnany’s veto threat, potentially puts the White House on a collision course with Congress over what’s generally considered a must-pass bill. Republicans disinclined to confront the president still have opportunities to strip the amendment if they want, such as when the bill hits the Senate floor as soon as next week.

Research contact: @thehill

N.Y. Governor Cuomo excoriates Congress for politicizing federal funding to hard-hit states

May 29, 2020

After a visit to the White House to discuss New York State-based infrastructure projects that could provide a “bailout with a legacy”—among them, plans for extending the 2nd Avenue Subway in the Big Apple and constructing two new tunnels across the Hudson River to carry Amtrak trains that service the northeast—New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sat down for a briefing at the National Press Club on May 27, delivering a fiery defense of federal funding to states that have been hit hard by the coronavirus.

He excoriated Congressional Republicans for politicizing aid to the states by giving preference to red states over blue. And in doing so, Cuomo specifically directed his message at critics such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Senator Rick Scott (R-Florida), The Washington Post reported.

 “Stop abusing New York. Stop abusing New Jersey,” Cuomo said to lawmakers in Congress, adding, “Stop abusing the states who bore the brunt of the COVID virus through no fault of their own.”

This hyper-partisan Washington environment is toxic for this country,” said the governor, according to a transcript posted by Yahoo. “We have people saying, ‘Well, we don’t want to pass a bill that helps Democratic states. It would be a blue-state bailout.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell , Republican of Kentucky, said Cuomo, is interested in “Stopping blue state bailouts.”

Senator Rick Scott of Florida (R) has said, according to Cuomo, “We’re supposed to bail them out? That’s not right.”

“This is really an ugly, ugly sentiment,” maintained the New York Governor. “It is an un-American response. We’re still the United States. Those words meant something.”

Cuomo said he isn’t asking the federal government to do his state’s job.

“I understand that states are responsible for the reopening … but, at the same time, the federal government has a role to play and it has to play a part. There cannot be a national recovery if the state and local governments are not funded. That is a fact.”

Washington is now debating a new recovery bill, he said.

“Previous bills have helped large business, small businesses, all kinds of businesses. Hotels. Airlines. That’s great,” maintained Cuomo. But state and local governments fund schools and hospitals, police, fire.

“The COVID states — the states that bore the brunt — they’re one-third of the GDP,” noted the governor. “How can you tell one-third of the country to go to heck and think that you’re going to see an economic rebound?”

“Also, state economies, that’s what the national economy is made of,” he said. “There is no nation without the states. They tend to forget that in this town.”

Scott fired back in a statement, declaring that Congress will not “use a health crisis and taxpayer money to bail out poorly-run states like Governor Cuomo’s New York.”

McConnell’s office pointed to remarks the Senate majority leader made Tuesday, when he said that “there may be some additional assistance” for states in the next round of coronavirus relief legislation “if it’s directly related to COVID-19.”

Cuomo also pushed back on the notion that the coronavirus came to the United States from China, an argument that Trump and GOP lawmakers have increasingly made as the pandemic has swept across the country.

“It didn’t come from China. It came from Europe, and we bore the brunt of it. And now you want to hold that against us because we bore the brunt of a national mistake?” he asked.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Biden: Trump doesn’t have ‘intestinal fortitude’ for gun control; ‘no compromise’ with McConnell

September 4, 2019

Former vice president and current candidate for president Joe Biden said Monday that he sees little hope for a compromise in Washington, D.C., that would tighten restrictions on gun sales—adding that President Donald Trump “has no intestinal fortitude” to follow through on his talk of pushing Congress to act in the wake of yet another mass shooting, NBC News reported.

The still-dominant Democratic frontrunner has made his ability to work with Republicans a touchstone of his presidential campaign, the network said—but he told reporters in Iowa that guns will not be an issue that can be dealt with across the aisle.

“I said I’ll work with {Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell where we can agree. But on this one, he’s not going to agree … so we just have to beat him, flat out beat him,” Biden said a Labor Day picnic in Cedar Rapids. “I think there’s no compromise. This is one we have to just push and push and push and push and push. And the fact of the matter is, I think it’s going to result in seeing some of them [Republicans] defeated.”

Guns are an issue on the agenda for Congress when it returns to Washington this month after the August recess, but Biden said he’s not holding his breath for action.

Part of the problem, he told NBC News, is that Trump has on several occasions voiced some support for new gun safety measures, including universal background checks, only to backtrack later.

“I’ve seen nothing,” he said of a possible solution in Congress this fall. “The president has no intestinal fortitude to deal with this. He knows better. His instinct was to say yeah, we’re going to do something on background checks. What’s he doing? Come on. This is disgraceful. This is disgraceful what’s happening.”

Biden’s head-to-head rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), told NBC News, “[W}e know what the pieces are …— universal background checks, assault weapons off our streets, get rid of bump stocks and the ability to fire weapons in a short period of time. There are a lot of things we could be doing. So why doesn’t it happen? And the answer is corruption. It’s corruption. Right now we have a Washington that is held hostage by the gun industry and the NRA. That has to stop.”

Research contact: NBCNews

Despite chilling warnings from Mueller, GOP blocks election security bills

July 26, 2019

America is under attack. That was the biggest takeaway from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony on Capitol Hill on July 24—not that President Donald Trump may have obstructed justice, although that’s what most people continue to argue about, CNN reported this week.

“In your investigation,” Representative Will Hurd (R-Texas) of the House Intelligence Committee asked Mueller, “did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election? Or did you find evidence to suggest that they will try to do this again?”

Mueller responded, with a chilling effect:  “No, it wasn’t a single attempt.” And he was quick to note that the Russians still are working to influence U.S. elections—predicting that their influence will be felt when Americans go to the polls in 2020.

“They’re doing it as we sit here,” Mueller testified. “And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

He then warned that America’s intelligence agencies must find a way to coordinate better in order to assure secure elections going forward.

In his report, the former special counsel disclosed that Russian hackers had compromised local election systems of two Florida counties in 2016—a development later confirmed by Florida’s Republican  Governor Ron DeSantis, although he said no votes were changed. And while Mueller did not bring conspiracy charges, it’s been well documented that Russians in 2016 were doing their best to help Trump, not Clinton, win.

“Did your investigation find that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from one of the candidates winning?” Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) of the Judiciary Committee entreated him.

“It did,” Mueller replied.

Lofgren then asked for specificity: “Which one?”

“Well,” Mueller said, “it would be Trump.”

Yet despite Mueller’s testimony, his report, and alarming statements from elsewhere in Washington, public urgency on addressing Russian interference for the 2020 election appears lacking.

Indeed, according to a report by The Hill, Senate Republicans blocked two election security bills and a cybersecurity measure on Wednesday, July 24,  in the wake of former special counsel Robert Mueller warning about meddling attempts during his public testimony before congressional lawmakers.  

Democrats tried to get consent to pass two bills that would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance, as well as a bill to let the Senate Sergeant at Arms offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff.

But Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) blocked each of the bills. She didn’t give reason for her objections, or say if she was objecting on behalf of herself or the Senate GOP caucus. A spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Under Senate rules, any one senator can ask for consent to pass a bill, but any one senator is able to object.

What’s more,  election interference bills face an uphill climb in the Senate, where Republicans aren’t expected to move legislation through the Rules Committee, the panel with primary jurisdiction, and have warned about attempts to “federalize” elections. 

Democrats cited Mueller as they tried to get consent on Wednesday evening to pass their bills.

Mr. Mueller’s testimony should serve as a warning to every member of this body about what could happen in 2020, literally in our next elections,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-Virgina), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

He added that “unfortunately, in the nearly three years since we uncovered Russia’s attack on our democracy, this body has not held a single vote on stand-alone legislation to protect our elections.” 

Research contact: @thehill

Warren: Congress must enact federal laws protecting abortion rights

May 20, 2019

Responding to a flurry of state-level anti-abortion laws, 2020 presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) said on March 17 that Congress must pass federal laws to protect access to birth control and reproductive care, The Huffington Post reported. .

She posted on Medium, outlining the type of federal actions needed, should challenges from jurisdictions with anti-abortion laws lead the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that ensures a woman’s right to an abortion.

“Court challenges will continue. And the next President can begin to undo some of the damage by appointing neutral and fair judges who actually respect the law and cases like Roe instead of right-wing ideologues bent on rolling back constitutional rights,” Warren wrote. “But separate from these judicial fights, Congress has a role to play as well.”

The senator said Congress must create federal, statutory rights that parallel Roe v. Wade’s constitutional rights, according to the Huffington Post. These rights would include barring states from interfering in a provider’s ability to offer medical care or blocking patients’ access to such care, including abortions. This would invalidate state laws like those in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio.

Warren also proposed that Congress enact laws to preempt states’ efforts to limit the chipping away of  reproductive healthcare in ways that don’t necessarily violate Roe v. Wade. Such efforts include restrictions on medication abortion; and geographical and procedural requirements that make it nearly impossible for a woman to get an abortion.

Congress also must repeal the Hyde Amendment,  a 40-year-old policy that blocks abortion coverage for women under federally funded health care programs like Medicaid, Veterans Affairs, and the Indian Health Service, according to Warren. She added that conversations about reproductive health access and coverage should include immigrant women.

To ensure equal access to reproductive health care, Warren wrote, Congress must terminate President Donald Trump’s gag rule on abortion clinics and support Title X funding for family planning. She added that lawmakers must also prevent violence at clinics and discrimination based on women’s choices about their own bodies—adding that Congress must “ensure access to contraception, STI prevention and care, comprehensive sex education, care for pregnant moms, safe home and work environments, adequate wages, and so much more.

“This is a dark moment. People are scared and angry. And they are right to be,” Warren wrote. “But this isn’t a moment to back down ― it’s time to fight back.”

Research contact: @HuffPost

Never mind: Trump reverses himself on Obamacare replacement vote

April 4, 2019

President Donald Trump now claims he never wanted Congress to “repeal and replace” Obamacare ahead of the 2020 elections, even though he unexpectedly revived the issue and pushed for swift action over the course of the past week, The Hill reports.

“I was never planning a vote prior to the 2020 Election on the wonderful HealthCare package that some very talented people are now developing for me & the Republican Party. It will be on full display during the Election as a much better & less expensive alternative to ObamaCare,” he tweeted.

The president denied that pressure from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) led him to change his plans, even though he announced his decision after speaking with the top GOP senator on Monday.

“I never asked Mitch McConnell for a vote before the Election as has been incorrectly reported (as usual) in the @nytimes, but only after the Election when we take back the House etc. Republicans will always support pre-existing conditions!” Trump wrote.

However, The Hill reported that, on Monday, April 1, McConnell told the president that he would not bow to White House demands to revisit healthcare so soon, and that the Senate will not be moving comprehensive health care legislation before the 2020 election, despite the president asking Senate Republicans to do that in a meeting last week.

McConnell said he made clear to the president that Senate Republicans will work on bills to keep down the cost of health care, but that they will not work on a comprehensive package to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Following that conversation—and his own about-face in tweets on the issue—President Trump predicted that healthcare “will be a great campaign issue” for Republicans.

I wanted to delay it myself. I want to put it after the election because we don’t have the House,” the president told reporters in the Oval Office.

Research contact: @thehill

House chairs to AG Barr: Trump is ‘not above the law’ and Mueller report should be public

February 24, 2019

On February 22, the chairs of six House committees wrote to newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General William Barr to inform him of their expectation that he will make Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report public “without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.” The letter follows news reports that suggest the Special Counsel investigation is nearing an end.

The letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Committee on Financial Services Chairperson Maxine Waters, Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, and Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel.

“As you know,” they said, “Department of Justice regulations require that, ‘[a]t the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.’”

The American people, they said, have a right to see the findings—noting, “After nearly two years of investigation—accompanied by two years of direct attacks on the integrity of the investigation by the President—the public is entitled to know what the Special Counsel has found.  We write to you to express, in the strongest possible terms, our expectation that the Department of Justice will release to the public the report Special Counsel Mueller submits to you—without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

In addition, they said, there is “significant public interest” in the full disclosure of information learned by the Special Counsel about the nature and scope of the Russian government’s efforts to undermine our democracy.

Therefore, “…[if] the Department believes that certain aspects of the report are not suitable for immediate public release, we ask that you provide that information to Congress, along with your reasoning for withholding the information from the public, in order for us to judge the appropriateness of any redactions for ourselves.”

Specifically addressing comments by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concerning the agency’s reluctance to release materials on individuals who are not under indictment, the committee chairpersons wrote, “Finally, although we recognize the policy of the Department to remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of individuals who will not face criminal charges, we feel that it is necessary to address the particular danger of withholding evidence of misconduct by President Trump from the relevant committees.”

They concluded with a strong demand—stating that, “If the Special Counsel has reason to believe that the President has engaged in criminal or other serious misconduct, then the President must be subject to accountability either in a court or to the Congress.

“But because the Department has taken the position that a sitting President is immune from indictment and prosecution,” the chairpersons said, “Congress could be the only institution currently situated to act on evidence of the President’s misconduct.  To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the President will not be charged, is to convert Department policy into the means for a cover-up.  The President is not above the law.”

Research contact: @HouseIntel

Who do you trust? Trump claims a wall made El Paso safe; Mayor Margo disagrees

February 12, 2019

As President Donald Trump confirmed plans for a Monday night rally in El Paso, Texas, the city’s mayor, Dee Margo, asserted that the lower incidence of crime that the area has enjoyed in recent years has not been the direct result of fencing at the southern border.

The president is expected to exhort his base for a wall at what amounts to a major campaign event—being held just days ahead of the deadline for Congress to hammer out a deal on the budget and border security, NBC News reported on February 11.

“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” Trump said in his State of the Union Address on February 6 “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

But the statistics don’t back him up. Mayor Margo notes. According to law enforcement data, the city had low crime rates well before a border barrier was constructed between 2008 and mid-2009.

Indeed, NBC News reports, violent crime has been dropping in El Paso since its modern-day peak in 1993 and was at historic lows before a fence was authorized by Congress in 2006. Violent crime actually ticked up during the border fence’s construction and after its completion, according to police data collected by the FBI.

Democratic officials immediately took issue with the picture Trump painted, saying the president was using their city to justify a pointless and unnecessary wall.

“The facts are clear. While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been ‘…considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities,'” the city’s sheriff, Richard Wiles, a Democrat, said in a statement after Trump concluded his address. “And, El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built.”

“I believe he was given some misinformation,” Mayor Margo told CNN in an interview, adding the idea that El Paso was a lawless and dangerous place before fencing was built is “not factually correct.”

Margo said he’d correct the president if he reiterated falsehoods about El Paso on Monday. “The geography of Texas won’t allow a fence from El Paso to Brownsville even if you wanted to do it,” Margo said.

When pressed on the inaccuracy of the president’s claims, the White House said the high rate of crime in the city directly across the border—Juarez—proved that the barrier was responsible for the low crime rate in El Paso.

Research contact: @janestreet