Posts tagged with "US Congress"

Rights and wrongs: Congress prepares for heated battle over massive voting rights bill

March 30, 2021

Congress is preparing for a heated battle over the way Americans vote, with the two parties set to clash over proposed federal election standards versus Republican-led state restrictions, NBC News reports.

At issue is the fate of the For the People Act, which would that would modify the rules for American elections from start to finish. The bill would expand access to the ballot box by:

  • Creating automatic voter registration across the country and offering same-day registration for federal races;
  • Restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated;
  • Enforcing the time allotted for early voting to at least 15 days in every state nationwide;
  • Providing universal access to mail-in voting;
  • Modernizing America’s voting infrastructure; and
  • Making Election Day a national holiday.

The House measure passed 220-210, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The divisions between the two parties are sharp, NBC notes. President Joe Biden and Democrats say federal intervention is needed to stop Republicans from reviving racist Jim Crow-style restrictions that make it harder for minorities to vote. Republicans say Democrats are executing a power grab to remove necessary protections on the voting process and usurp authority from states.

Where they agree: This is about the future of democracy.

According to the network news outlet, the fight is sure to touch raw nerves in a country that saw its Capitol attacked just months ago by a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters—who were egged on by groundless claims that rampant fraud had stolen the election from their candidate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has promised a Senate vote on the House bill after the committee process, along with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which empowers the federal government to review discriminatory voting laws.

“This Senate will once again be the forum where civil rights is debated and historic action is taken to secure them for all Americans,” Schumer said in a letter to senators. “Each of these bills will receive full consideration in committee and eventually on the Senate floor.”

The bill, known as H.R.1 and S.1, got a hearing on March 26 in the Senate Rules Committee that featured rare sparring on the panel between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), signaling the commitment on each side to their irreconcilable positions.

McConnell criticized the bill as “a grab-bag of changes” that go beyond voting rights. He highlighted a provision to restructure the Federal Election Commission, calling it a ploy to make it more partisan. He called the campaign finance restrictions an assault on free speech and a gift to “cancel culture.”

“ The S.1 bill is highly unlikely to win the minimum ten Republicans needed to break a filibuster. And Democrats have yet to unify their 50-member caucus to secure a majority.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Buttigieg asks U.S. Congress for ‘generational investment’ in infrastructure

March 29, 2021

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg urged the U.S. Congress on March 25 to make a “generational investment” to improve the nation’s transit and water systems and address climate change and racial inequities, as Democrats began laying the groundwork to pass sweeping infrastructure proposals that could cost $3 trillion to $4 trillion, reports The New York Times.

Buttigieg’s inaugural testimony before a key House panel highlighted not only the enormous stakes of the Biden administration’s impending pair of infrastructure proposals—which could not only help President Joe Biden deliver on a number of campaign promises and reshape the country’s economic and energy future, but also the hurdles ahead.

According to the Times, Republicans at the hearing grilled Buttigieg over how to pay for the plan and signaled that they would not support any legislation that went much beyond the nation’s roads, bridges, and waterways.

Biden’s proposals envision far more than that: One would address physical infrastructure projects and development, including clean energy and other measures to take on climate change; and the other would make investments in child care, education and caregiving.

In the first news conference of his presidency, Biden confirmed on March 25 that rebuilding “infrastructure, both physical and technological,” was his next major task, saying it was necessary “so that we can compete and create significant numbers of really good-paying jobs.” He mentioned repairing roads and bridges, replacing aging pipes that leach lead into water; and helping the United States close an infrastructure-spending gap with China.

Buttigieg told lawmakers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that at least $1 trillion was needed in infrastructure improvements to the nation’s roads, highways, bridges and transit systems. He painted such an investment as an opportunity to address climate change, racial justice and competition with China.

“I believe that we have at this moment the best chance in any of our lifetimes to make a generational investment in infrastructure that will help us meet the country’s most pressing challenges today, and create a stronger future for decades to come,” Buttigieg said, adding that the legislation would serve as a sequel to the nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief plan approved this month.

He said minorities and low-income Americans bore the brunt of deficient infrastructure. “Across the country, we face a trillion-dollar backlog of needed repairs and improvements, with hundreds of billions of dollars in good projects already in the pipeline,” Buttigieg stated. “We face an imperative to create resilient infrastructure and confront inequities that have devastated communities.”

Buttigieg said the infrastructure overhaul should not be a partisan issue, because transportation affected all Americans. Democrats have professed optimism for a bipartisan package, —particularly after pushing the pandemic relief legislation through both chambers over unanimous Republican opposition—and lawmakers in both parties repeatedly emphasized that infrastructure had traditionally been a source of cooperation.

But early partisan divisions spilled over at the hearing, with Republicans criticizing the size and some of the goals of Biden’s proposals.

Addressing reporters on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats would pursue a bipartisan legislative package but would have to “make a judgment” about how to accomplish more ambitious goals related to addressing climate change and economic inequality that Republicans might not support.

“One of the challenges that we face is we cannot just settle for what we can agree on without recognizing that this has to be a bill for the future,” she said

Reearch contact: @nytimes

Pelosi: Trump told Russia about ISIS raid before informing leaders of Congress

October  29, 2019

To whom does the U.S. president owe fealty—the U.S. Congress or the Russian Politburo? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) revealed on October 28 that President Donald Trump told Russian leaders before he informed senior members of Congress about the U.S. military raid that ended in the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the commander of ISIS.

“The House must be briefed on this raid—which the Russians but not top Congressional Leadership were notified of in advance—and on the Administration’s overall strategy in the region,” she said in a statement responding to the Saturday night operation. “Our military and allies deserve strong, smart and strategic leadership from

According to a report by the Huffington Post, on Sunday morning, Trump announced in a press conference that Baghdadi died in northern Syria after being chased into a dead-end tunnel with three of his children. The four were killed by a suicide vest he detonated.

But according to Representative Adam Schiff (D-California), Trump never gave him or other members of the “Gang of Eight”―a bipartisan group of lawmakers comprising the most senior members of Congress, including Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York)―a tip-off beforehand.

Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, is prosecuting the impeachment inquiry.

Although Schiff praised the accomplishment, according to the HuffPost, he noted that communicating such developments with lawmakers is key in the event that complications arise.

“Had this escalated, had something gone wrong, had we gotten into a firefight with the Russians, it’s to the administration’s advantage to be able to say ‘we informed Congress,’” he said.

Trump acknowledged to reporters that he notified only “some” congressional leaders because he “wanted to make sure [the raid was] kept secret” because “Washington leaks like I’ve never seen before.”

The president said he contacted Senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina)—who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee—and his own chief apologist Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) before his announcement.

During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump’s handling of the matter, and avoided answering host Chris Wallace’s queries about why Pelosi was not given a heads-up, the Huffington Post said.

Presented with the question repeatedly, Pence refused to offer a direct response, focusing only on the military feat.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Will Congress confront Trump on Iran?

June 21, 2019

A U.S. drone was shot down during an “unprovoked attack” in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz on June 20, according to U.S. Central Command; although Iran’s Revolutionary Guard disputed that claim—saying that it had struck the aircraft after it entered the nation’s airspace.

It was another “shot heard round the world”—but the U.S. Congress is hoping that the results will not be the same: combat and bloodshed, this time in Iran.

The news comes amid rising tensions in the region, The Daily Beast reports, after American officials blamed Iran on June 13 for what they said was an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran at that time also denied any involvement.

And as the possibility of armed conflict with Iran grows stronger, legislators are struggling to settle on what—if anything—they are obligated to do, as the only branch with the constitutional authority to declare war.

Many lawmakers, including a odd-couple coalition of libertarian-minded Republicans and mainstream and progressive Democrats, are increasingly worried that the Trump administration might use, as a legal basis for war, the 18-year old authorization of military force ( or AUMF) that Congress approved immediately after the September 11 attacks, The Daily Beast noted. And as the possibility of conflict inches closer, they are making a play to force the administration to come to Congress and actually convince them military action is necessary.

Senators Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) co-authored a letter to President Trump on June 18, calling on him to explain his recent decisions to deploy additional troops to the Middle East. In the letter, the Senators asked for more information on the troops’ missions and expressed concern about escalating tensions leading to a war between the United States and Iran. They underscored the fact that the Trump Administration does not have the authority to start a war with Iran without authorization from Congress. Other signatories included Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) , Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

In addition, Kaine and several others, including Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), had filed an amendment the week before to the annual Department of Defense spending authorization that would block funds for a conflict with Iran unless Congress explicitly authorizes military action.

“The administration desperately wants to avoid coming to Congress on this, and it looks like they’re constructing an argument, the purpose of which is to avoid Congress,” said Kaine. “The purpose is not really to make a great argument about the 2001 AUMF.”

And in the House, The Daily Beast said, Representatives Ro Khanna (D-California) and Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) announced on June 17 that theywould introduce a resolution to block the administration from going to war with Iran on the basis of the 2001 AUMF. Such a measure would require Trump to obtain explicit congressional approval for any hostilities with Iran. Khanna told The Daily Beast that their resolution will likely make it to the House floor next week as an amendment to the House’s Pentagon authorization bill.

In the past, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has linked Iran with al Qaeda—which is specifically named in the 2001 AUMF—and claimed that the Iranian government has supported them, the news outlet reported. That claim is hotly contested by Iran experts.

President Trump, himself, has said repeatedly that he does not wish to escalate military actions into a war—but he also has refused to cooperate with Congress in recent weeks. What happens now is anybody’s guess.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Senator Bernie Sanders defends the ‘Dreamers’

January 10, 2018

Americans (yes, including Republicans!) are overwhelmingly—by an 81% to 15% margin—backing efforts to keep “Dreamers” in the United States, based on results of a Marist poll released last month.

And it’s not just the U.S. electorate: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) showed his stripes on television last weekend.

The Dreamers continue to gain backing: The poll finds that citizenship for the Dreamers is the most popular option chosen by respondents in each of the three major parties:

  • Democrats at 92% (74% citizenship, 18% legal status, 5% deportation);
  • Independents at 82% (57% citizenship, 25% legal status, 14% deportation); and
  • Republicans at 67% (40% citizenship, 27% legal status; 29% deportation).

However, President Donald Trump still is refusing to relent on his intention to deport the roughly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants—most of them, Mexican by birth and between the ages of 15 and 30 —who are continuing their education in the United States.

That is, unless he gets the wall he believes will halt illegal entry into America from Latin America.

On December 29, Trump tweeted: “The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc. We must protect our Country at all cost!”

During budget negotiations, Trump demanded $18 billion to construct more than 700 miles of barriers along the border with Mexico. In a planning meeting with aides at Camp David last weekend, the POTUS commented, ““The wall is going to happen or we’re not going to have DACA.”

 Senator Bernie Sanders fought back on behalf of the Dreamers. “I am not sure why President Trump wants to shut down the government over a multi-billion dollar wall that no one wants, is not needed and will not be paid for by Mexico. What the American people do want, in overwhelming numbers, is to provide legal protection to 800,000 Dreamers and a path toward citizenship for them.”

In a statement distributed by his office on January 7, Sanders has called on Congress “to immediately fix the crisis the president precipitated when he ended protections for Dreamers in September.”

Sanders told George Stephanopolous on ABC’s This Week, aired on the same date, “We are in a position where some 800,000 young people – young people who were raised in this country, young people who are in school, who are working in the U.S. military, now are living in extraordinary anxiety about whether or not they’re going to lose legal status and be subject to deportation. This is what the president precipitated. We have got to deal with that decision.”

Sanders called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act immediately and eventually to move to comprehensive immigration reform.

Research contact: Josh_Miller-Lewis@sanders.senate.gov