Dems: turn it over
As promised, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee approved a subpoena for the complete Mueller report without redactions. The 24-17 vote demanding everything surrounding the investigation of possible collusion and obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump was totally along party lines.
The committee, according to Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York, would give Attorney General William Barr an opportunity to voluntarily comply before issuing them. Trump, who previously stated he does not fear the report’s release, took to Twitter to mock Nadler, accusing him of hypocrisy.
“In 1998, Rep. Jerry Nadler strongly opposed the release of the Starr Report on Bill Clinton,” he said. “No information whatsoever would or could be legally released. But with the NO COLLUSION Mueller Report, which the Dems hate, he wants it all. NOTHING WILL EVER SATISFY THEM!”
Barr has indicated he would provide a redacted version to the committee not later than the middle of April. Reaction among committee members was predictable.
“Congress needs the full Mueller report — without redactions — to do its job,” tweeted Democratic Rep Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. His Democratic colleague, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami said, “All of this stonewalling and procedural blocking … What are they afraid of?? The American people deserve to know the truth, and I will do everything I can to get there.”
Democrats claim there are more tools they could use to release the report but won’t go there. They claimed classified information from the investigation was used in a memo written by former Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes. Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando says everything should be on the table.
“I think it’s just a shame that we have to look at other alternatives because the attorney general has chosen really not to cooperate,” said Demings. “What I do believe is that when precedent has been established — whether it’s previous special counsel investigations or the Nunes Memo — precedent has already been established.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz focused most of his week on climate change (see Green Real Deal below) but was one of the 17 voting against authorizing the subpoenas. He claimed Democrats are in denial over the report’s findings, which were outlined in a memo from Barr on the day it was released.
He said the report means “the death rattle of the Democrats’ Russian collusion lie” and they were going through the “stages of grief” in real time.
Few believe Nadler and the committee will be receiving unredacted information any time soon. A judge would need to be convinced an exception to a prohibition on releasing grand jury information was in order. Even if he or she granted that exception, appeals would soon follow.
TMZ ambushes Rubio
With each passing day, more women are coming forward to say former Vice President Joe Biden made them feel “uncomfortable” by his touchy-feely style. For Sen. Marco Rubio, it appears Biden is the victim of a political hit job.
As he was heading to a car at Washington’s Reagan Airport, TMZ found Rubio and asked for his view on what was happening. While not minimizing the controversy, he smelled politics with the timing of the revelations.
To view the video, click the image below:
“I don’t know the facts behind it, but I know someone’s (been) sitting on it, waiting for the right time to hit him with it,” Rubio said. “That’s how it is running for President. It is what it is. They are gathering information and waiting for the right time to put it out there and to put it to the press.”
Biden is not accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, the women feel he was violating their space.
Preventing police suicides
Suicide is the No. 1 cause of death for police officers in the United States. According to a bipartisan group of Senators, Congress has failed to fund grant programs that provide support services for police officers and their families.
To address this, those Senators, including Rick Scott, have joined to introduce the Supporting and Treating Officers In Crisis Act of 2019. Just in the last three months, a Pasco Sheriff’s deputy killed herself, and a Hillsborough County deputy killed his entire family before killing himself.
The bill is sponsored by Missouri Republican Josh Hawley with Scott signing on as an original co-sponsor.
“Florida’s decreasing crime rate — now at a 47-year low — is a reminder of the dedication and hard work of Florida’s law enforcement officers,” Scott said in a news release. “These brave men and women risk their lives to keep our communities safe, and we must always do everything we can to give them the support and resources they need.”
According to the Senators, current grant programs do not allow for funds to be used for suicide prevention efforts, mental health screenings, or training to identify officers at risk.
The bill would restore grant funding for law enforcement family-support services. The bill also allows grant recipients to use funds to establish suicide-prevention programs and mental health services for law enforcement officers.
The National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, National Association of Police Organizations, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and National District Attorneys Association have endorsed the legislation.
Dems want tax returns
In addition to the Mueller report, Democrats are seeking more long-sought information involving Trump. This week, the House Ways and Means Committee and Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts formally requested copies of Trump’s tax returns for the years 2013-2018 by April 10.
In a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles P. Rettig, Neal opened by stating Congress has “a responsibility to ensure that the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) is enforcing the law in a fair and impartial manner.”
Neal requested not only the personal returns of the President, but also his corporate empire and “all administrative files.” He specifically asked whether any of Trump’s returns were ever, or still, under audit, a claim Trump has consistently made while refusing to turn over tax information.
The President maintained that he was still under audit and would be unwilling to provide the returns voluntarily. When informed of the request for six years, Trump responded: “is that all?”
Committee members are letting Neal and his letter do most of the talking. Neither Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan nor Democrat Stephanie Murphy had issued public statements more than a day after the request. Each had non-related legislation approved at the same committee meeting.
On second thought
The situation at the southern border is growing worse by the day, prompting Trump to consider closing the border. Later in the week, he appeared to be somewhat backing away from such a move.
He said Mexico was “cooperating” with controlling some of the tens of thousands of migrants either at the border or on the way. Mexico was helping, according to Trump, for “the first time in decades.
Liberal and conservative economists questioned the move, but there were enough Republicans who believe immigration must be brought under control by any means necessary, including any economic calamities that could come from closing the border.
Democrats wish to put Republicans on the spot over the issue. House leaders are considering a vote on Trump’s original proposal to close the border, a tough choice for those who routinely support the President.
Such a move would be payback for the Senate vote forcing Democrats to either vote “no” or “present” when the Green New Deal was brought to the floor.
More than six months after the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expired, the House reauthorized the law by a vote of 263-158. The vote would likely have included more than the 33 Republicans who voted in favor, but Democrats inserted a provision stating those guilty of misdemeanors (instead of felonies as current law states) could not purchase firearms.
That prohibition was also extended to dating partners guilty of abuse or stalking.
“Our vote to reauthorize #VAWA includes an expansion of the landmark law,” tweeted Tampa Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa. “It boosts prevention & education initiatives in the #MeToo era where more women are empowered to come forward to report sexual battery & other crimes committed against them.”
In addition to the policy, adding the gun provisions was a clever political tactic. Republicans have often seen negative ads against them for voting against the original VAWA and a new round highlighting this vote will surely come next year.
Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Michael Waltz were the only two Republicans to vote in favor. Democrats accentuated the positives.
“I was proud to cast my vote for #VAWA today,” tweeted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. “#VAWA19 improves services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking — and it includes authorization for grants to encourage states to allow a survivor to terminate the parental rights of a rapist.”
More water funding needed
In the letter to chairwoman Marcy Kaptur and ranking member Mike Simpson, 20 delegation members made their pitch for three times the amount of funding as that proposed in the President’s budget.
“As you begin work on the Fiscal Year 2020 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill, we strongly urge you to provide the highest funding levels for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work on Everglades restoration,” they wrote, “and $200 million in the USACE Construction Account for Additional Funding for Environmental Restoration or Compliance where SFER could compete for additional funding.”
The letter was led by Democrats Mucarsel-Powell and Alcee Hastings, joined by Republicans Francis Rooney and Brian Mast. Another 16 members signed the letter.
Last year, Congress appropriated only $50 million for Everglades and water funding. Despite all delegation members requesting $200 million be placed in the President’s budget, less than $70 million was included.
“There is bipartisan support to fully fund Army Corps of Engineers projects for the Everglades at $200 million, and if President Trump was being sincere when he visited Lake Okeechobee about protecting our water, our environment, and creating new jobs, he should fully fund Everglades restoration programs,” Mucarsel-Powell stated in a news release announcing the effort.”
The President’s budget request is a suggestion, making the requests to House appropriators the right move in getting to the $200 million figure.
Green Real Deal
The Green New Deal generated more than its share of coverage and controversy when it was launched by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley. The dramatic changes were the focus of media coverage, leading Democrats to vote “present” when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought it up for a “gotcha” vote.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz is proposing climate legislation of his own. In an op-ed published in Real Clear Politics, Gaetz says up front “I wish climate change wasn’t real,” then describes why action is needed, but not the prescription offered by the Green New Deal.
“What America needs is a Green Real Deal — a strategy linked to legislative proposals that can gain broad, bipartisan support,” Gaetz wrote. “Climate change is too big for one political party to solve alone. We must address it as a nation, rather than lecture from the ivory towers of our own piety.”
Gaetz put his rhetoric into a bill, offering the Green Real Deal, describing it as a way to take steps to address climate change without harming the U.S. economy. Among the bill’s provisions are incentives for enhancing the use of renewable energy and carbon capture technology.
“The Green Real Deal is a love letter to the American innovator and it is a real serious plan to address climate change,” Gaetz said at the news conference announcing the bill.
Paying college athletes
The status of college student-athletes has been a topic of conversation on multiple fronts, including Capitol Hill. Should they be compensated for their role in bringing in billions of dollars in revenue for college athletic departments?
This week, Rep. Al Lawson hosted a panel discussion and movie screening of the sports documentary, “StudentAthlete,” on Capitol Hill. The event attracted more than 200 attendees, including members of Congress, local college students, current and former student-athletes, and the documentary’s filmmakers.
“As we head down the final stretch to the NCAA Championship, I wanted to highlight some of my concerns about the multi-billion-dollar industry of college athletics and their stream of unpaid student labor,” the Democrat from Tallahassee said. “I think it is extremely vital, at this time, to have this conversation and discuss the policy implications and the disservice to student-athletes who can’t financially benefit from their labor.”
Lawson is a former college basketball player and coach.
Earlier in the week, Lawson filed the NCAA Act of 2019, which would help student-athletes with coverage for sports-related injuries and provide more work opportunities for cash-strapped student-athletes. The most newsworthy provision is the one calling for ending the prohibition of graduating high school players jumping straight to the NBA.
The film is co-produced by NBA legend LeBron James, one of the last players allowed to make the jump from high school to professional basketball.
Murphy’s jobs bill advances
This week the House Ways and Means committee moved along a bill designed to help states move more unemployed workers back to the workforce. The committee unanimously approved Murphy’s BRIDGE for Workers Act, which Murphy says will create more opportunities for working families.
“Few experiences are more difficult for working families than when someone loses a job, which is why I’m proud my bill will help move more Americans more quickly from unemployment to a good-paying job,” the Winter Park Democrat said in a joint release. “We need more bridges to the middle class not more barriers.”
Few experiences are more difficult for working families than when someone loses a job. Today @WaysMeansCmte unanimously passed my bill to help move more Americans from unemployment to a good-paying job. I'll keep pushing to provide much-needed relief to hardworking families. pic.twitter.com/OJdRH4JPUh
— Rep. Stephanie Murphy (@RepStephMurphy) April 2, 2019
The bill would give states more flexibility in administering existing unemployment benefits to help more Americans re-enter the workforce and find good-paying jobs. According to Murphy, it would give as many as 25,000 Floridians claiming unemployment insurance benefits each week access to re-employment services.
The legislation is co-sponsored by New Mexico Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, and Republicans Jackie Walorski of Indiana and Darin LaHood of Illinois. It is endorsed by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA), the nonpartisan national organization representing all 50 state workforce agencies, D.C., and U.S. territories.
It is expected to come up for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives in the following weeks.
A proud capitalist
While not hesitant to criticize Trump and Republicans, Murphy is taking her leading role in the Blue Dog Coalition seriously. The group of moderate Democrats have provided a different view than some of their liberal colleagues on issues such as Medicare for all and the Green New Deal.
With liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez promoting views described as socialistic, Murphy took the opportunity to clearly state she is not one of those.
“I am offended by this whole conversation about socialism,” Murphy the second term Democrat told a BakerHostetler conference. “The idea that in the greatest democracy, the greatest capitalist system in the world, we’re having casual conversation about socialism, offends me.”
Murphy and her family have personal experience with socialism. As natives of Vietnam, they fled after communists overran the country in 1975.
“It is the system that built us the greatest nation and the greatest economy in the world,” Murphy added. “Sure, we have to fix the inequities that exist in our system. We have to make sure everybody, no matter what ZIP code they’re born in, has a fair shot.”
Life savings bill advances
Americans are mostly ill-prepared for retirement and with Social Security on future shaky ground, Capitol Hill is looking at ways to enhance personal savings. This week, the House Ways and Means Committee passed a sweeping retirement bill, the SECURE Act, that includes legislation sponsored by Buchanan to make it easier for businesses to offer retirement plans for workers.
“Today’s committee passage brings us one step closer to helping millions of hardworking Americans who enter retirement without adequate savings,” Buchanan said. “I’m optimistic the full House will take up this important bill in the near future to help folks prepare for their golden years and invest in their future.”
Buchanan’s Retirement Security for American Workers Act allows businesses to join in “multiple employer plans” (MEPs) to share the administrative burden and costs of offering a retirement plan. According to USA Today, the average American has less than $4,000 in savings while nearly 60 percent of adults have less than $1,000 to their names.
Buchanan had filed his bill in both the 114th and 115th Congress. He represents over 220,000 Social Security recipients in the nation’s eighth-oldest congressional district.
“Hopefully this will be the year my legislation goes to the President’s desk,” Buchanan said moments after the full bill was approved by the committee. “Congress needs to help Americans save for retirement.”
Kitten experiments halted
Whether it was the filing of legislation or conscience that led to stopping the use of kittens in experiments, Rep. Brian Mast is simply glad the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stopped the practice. USDA recently announced the experiments were being redirected.
“This is a decisive victory against government animal abuse and wasteful spending,” Mast said. “We’ve worked closely with advocates and scientists to stop the USDA’s abuse and I am grateful to Secretary Sonny Perdue for his leadership in ensuring no more kittens are ever used in research and that the last cats remaining at USDA can be adopted.”
When Mast and other lawmakers learned of the practice, they filled legislation known as the Kittens In Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act to outlaw the practice. Among 51 co-sponsors were Democrats Hastings, Darren Soto, and Lawson, joined by Gaetz, a Republican.
Media coverage of the experiments likely led to their termination by Perdue. Mast hopes others get the message.
“Now, other agencies need to follow suit and put a permanent end to abusive and painful animal testing.”
Women’s caucus launched
With the election of more women to Congress, the Democratic Women’s Working Group has a new name. With 91 Democratic women now part of the 116th Congress, the group is now the Democratic Women’s Caucus.
“We have unprecedented numbers of women in Congress now, and the Democratic members — especially because we’re in the leadership now, in the majority — we have unprecedented, for most of us, responsibilities,” Rep. Lois Frankel told Roll Call.
“And so, we really felt for us to be most effective to move forward on some of the most important issues, that we needed to have an expanded leadership team,”
The Democrat from West Palm Beach has served as the group’s chair but will now be one of three caucus co-chairs. Joining Frankel on the caucus leadership are Rep. Jackie Speier of California and Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan.
While serving in leadership, each will pursue policy areas of interest. Frankel will focus on economic issues facing women.
“In the past few years we’ve basically had to react to some bad stuff — we still do — but we want to take a much more affirmative approach because we have an opportunity to get legislation passed in the House,” Frankel added.
The caucus held their first news conference earlier this week to highlight the Paycheck Fairness Act. Pelosi, along with bill sponsor Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut were featured attendees.
Just three months after being sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives, Mucarsel-Powell received a plum assignment. The first-term Democrat was chosen by colleagues as Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has a strong history of standing up and fighting for clean water, and protecting the natural wonders of the Florida Everglades,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who added she “will surely continue being a powerful advocate.”
Rep. Grace Napolitano of California, chair of the subcommittee, noted that before her chairmanship, the subcommittee “had never been led by a Hispanic woman, and I am proud to say we now have two at the helm.”
Mucarsel-Powell, who sought a place on the subcommittee due to its impact on her district, was understandably thrilled with the appointment.
“I am honored to serve as vice chair of the Water Resources & Environment Subcommittee and to offer solutions to problems we see in South Florida and across the country,” she said in a release provided by the committee. “I am eager to learn from Chair Grace Napolitano’s vast experience and enact policies that will benefit South Florida and our country.”
On this day
April 5, 2001 — President George W. Bush is taking a more conciliatory approach toward China as he tries to obtain the release of a detained pilot and its crew after a midair collision led to the death of a Chinese pilot. According to the U.S., Chinese aircraft flew dangerously close to the American spy plane, leading to the tragedy.
“I regret that a Chinese pilot is missing, and I regret one of their airplanes is lost,” Bush said before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. “We should not let this incident destabilize relations. My intention is to have good relations.”
April 5, 2016 — Republican. Sen. Ted Cruz won the Wisconsin primary, slowing the march of Trump toward the GOP nomination. Cruz described his win as “a turning point.”
On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders defeated front-runner Hillary Clinton, but he still faces an uphill climb. He trails Clinton by fewer than 300 delegates, but when superdelegates are added, the lead of the former Secretary of State grows to more than 700.