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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider
Updated: 16 hours 59 min ago

Trump Administration calls stories of smaller tax refunds ‘misleading’

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 18:18

With a growing debate on social media and in political circles about the impact of the GOP tax cuts as Americans file their taxes for 2018, the Treasury Department on Monday disputed reports that the tax cutting plan had failed to deliver tax savings, amid stories of a drop in the size of tax refunds early in the tax filing season.

“News reports on reduction in IRS filings & refunds are misleading,” the Treasury Department tweeted, though that was followed up with a recommendation for all taxpayers to make sure their tax withholding is being done correctly on their paychecks.

“Go to the IRS withholding calculator to make sure you are properly withheld and receiving the full benefits of the new tax law,” Treasury tweeted.

The statement from the Trump Administration came amid a surge of postings on social media by taxpayers around the country, expressing surprise that the size of their tax refund had shrunk, or even evaporated, as some took the opportunity to blame the tax cuts backed by President Donald Trump.

While the Treasury Department says news reports have been ‘misleading’ – the early data from the IRS does show a drop in the size of tax refunds paid out so far, down 8.4 percent from the same point a year ago, according to the most recent statistics.

But the story is more complicated than the size of a tax refund – investigators from the Government Accountability Office warned last year that millions of Americans had not changed their tax withholding to synch up with the new tax laws – and some of that will mean a tax filing surprise before April 15.

The reason for that surprise is that the Internal Revenue Service altered the tax tables – the amount which employers hold out of your paycheck and send to Uncle Sam – in an effort to speed even more money to workers.

When less money is being withheld from your paycheck, that can mean in some instances that you aren’t paying enough to the IRS, which can result in either a smaller tax refund – or in some cases, the need to pay a tax bill to the IRS.

Thus, it’s possible you could pay ‘less’ in taxes overall, but still see a smaller tax refund.

But some of the Twitter responses to the Treasury Department tweet indicated a difference of opinion.

“Who yeah gunna believe? Your ‘lying’ bank account or the US Treasury?” tweeted @MTorganizer. “I think we all know what the bottom line on our tax return says!”

“I think I know what my tax return says,” wrote @Tatortots2003. “That was a huge loss for my family.”

Trump rallies in El Paso with border security talks stalled in Congress

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 09:00

As President Donald Trump takes his call for funding for a border wall to the border city of El Paso, Texas on Monday evening, House-Senate negotiators are struggling to finalize a 2019 funding deal on border security and the operations of the Department of Homeland Security, raising the possibility of another partial government shutdown at the end of this week if no agreement can be reached.

“The Border Committee Democrats are behaving, all of a sudden, irrationally,” the President said in one of a flurry of tweets aimed at Democrats on the border security talks and funding for the wall on Sunday.

“They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal. They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2019

The latest stumbling block in negotiations was not over money for a border wall – which the President seemed unlikely to get – but rather an insistence by Democrats to limit the number of people who could be held by federal immigration authorities.

“A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), a top Democratic negotiator.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, Roybal-Allard characterized the dispute as one which does not center on new illegal immigrant arrivals, but rather on expanded efforts by immigration authorities under the Trump Administration to find people who are living illegally in the U.S., and deport them.

“A cap on detention beds associated with interior enforcement will rein in the Trump administration’s deportation agenda,” the California Democrat added.

Republicans were quick to reject that idea.

“Reducing detention bed space for violent offenders for more wall funding is a bad, dangerous deal,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

The Trump Admin has been tearing communities apart with its cruel immigration policies. A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump Admin to prioritize deportation for criminals and people posing real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants contributing to our country.

— Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (@RepRoybalAllard) February 10, 2019

Congressional leaders had originally hoped a deal could be finalized on Friday; then the goal was sometime this weekend, or maybe by Monday.

But as the President was tweeting from the White House on Sunday night, the outlook seemed to be turning against an agreement, again opening the possibility of a second partial shutdown, which could impact some 800,000 federal workers.

“For thirty-five days, President Trump shut down the government to bully Congress into giving him a border wall that Democrats and Republicans alike oppose,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

As red ink grows, GOP goes almost silent on federal deficit

Sun, 02/10/2019 - 10:00

With the yearly deficit creeping closer to $1 trillion in 2019, President Donald Trump did not mention the growing federal budget deficit in his State of the Union Address this past week, yet another indication of the Republican evolution on an issue which had galvanized the GOP politically for much of the last thirty years, but now has almost completely disappeared from the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill – and at the White House.

“Finally, it’s unfortunate but not surprising that the president didn’t mention the massive national debt,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), one of the few GOP voices left in Congress raising the issue of rising spending and deficits, which was once a central part of the Republican political playbook.

The deficit has grown in each of President Trump’s two years in office – hitting $665 billion in 2017, and growing to $779 billion in 2018 – the biggest yearly shortfall for Uncle Sam since 2012.

“Since 2007, federal debt held by the public has more than doubled in relation to the size of the economy, and it will keep growing significantly if the large annual budget deficits projected under current law come to pass,” the Congressional Budget Office recently reported.

Contrary to the predictions of many GOP lawmakers and the White House – the tax cut enacted at the end of 2017 by Republicans did not do anything to reverse the tide of red ink, as revenues in Fiscal Year 2018 were only slightly higher than the previous year.

Inside the White House, the deficit was not among the Republican talking points for President Trump – a major change from how the GOP dealt with large deficits under President Barack Obama.

ABC News reported last week that Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told backers that ‘nobody cares’ about the deficit – as the issue did not make the cut for the President’s speech – though, Mr. Trump has never mentioned the budget deficit in any of three appearances before a Joint Session of Congress.

Trump told supporters 40-50% of speech will be about foreign policy. When asked if the deficit will be mentioned in #SOTU speech, chief of staff Mulvaney said “nobody cares,” per attendee https://t.co/YeBTSdF3HX

— Tara Palmeri (@tarapalmeri) February 5, 2019

While many voters believe the Congress is to blame for out of control spending, the part of the budget which the Congress directly controls is not the real driver of the deficit – instead it’s the increasing costs for the major entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

As you can see in below pie chart from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the portion of the spending growth directly dealt with by lawmakers in recent years covers the portion for ‘Defense’ and ‘Non-Defense Discretionary.’

“Of the $2.6 trillion projected increase in spending between 2019 and 2029 under current law, 31 percent is due to the rising costs of Social Security, 23 percent due to the rising costs of Medicare, another 12 percent due to other health care programs, and 21 percent due to rising interest costs,” the CFRB wrote this past week.

To address the costs of Social Security and Medicare, the arithmetic is pretty simple – either you restrict the benefits going to those receiving them (reduce benefits), find ways to bring in more money (mainly more through tax revenues), or a employ a combination of those two options.

None of them are politically appetizing.

Our latest blog: Social Security, federal health care programs, and interest on the national debt will account for 87 percent of nominal spending growth under current law over the next decade https://t.co/zScjwrfaRD. pic.twitter.com/kXuXvm4bym

— CRFB.org (@BudgetHawks) February 7, 2019

On Capitol Hill, what was once a high profile issue for Republicans – balancing the budget – has faded into the shadows.

A small group of GOP lawmakers recently introduced a Balanced Budget Amendment, but it went nowhere with the GOP in control of the Congress, and seems unlikely to go anywhere now.

“Unless we want to bury our kids and grandkids underneath a mountain of debt, we must force fiscal responsibility through a Constitutional Amendment,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), one of ten sponsors of a balanced budget change to the Constitution.

Acting AG Whitaker denies any interference with the Mueller investigation

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 15:56

With just days left in his service as the Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker flatly told the House Judiciary Committee on Friday that he had not meddled or inserted himself into the Special Counsel investigation of Russia interference in the 2016 elections, and had not funneled any type of information about that probe to President Donald Trump.

“I have not interfered in any way with the Special Counsel’s investigation,” said Whitaker, who was installed at the Justice Department when President Trump pushed out former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, angry over how Sessions had dealt with the Russia investigation.

“I have not talked to the President of the United States about the Special Counsel investigation,” Whitaker told lawmakers, though he quickly refused to answer questions about his communications with Mr. Trump.

“I do not intend to talk about my private conversations with the President of the United States,” Whitaker added.

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker: “I have not talked to the President of the United States about the special counsel's investigation” https://t.co/DZzVDhAavz pic.twitter.com/xnmcALyBDW

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 8, 2019

From the start, Republicans denounced the hearing as a dog and pony show, aimed not at oversight of the Justice Department, but with the goal of attacking President Trump.

“We’re going to have plenty of theatrics,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who sternly defended both the President and Whitaker from the outset.

“Bring your popcorn – I’m thinking about just setting up a popcorn machine in the back, because that’s what this is becoming,” Collins said.

In the first round of questioning from Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Whitaker sparred with Nadler over his questions, at one point saying that Nadler’s time had run out, prompting howls of laughter from Democrats on the panel.

.@RepJerryNadler: "Have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?"

Acting AG Whitaker: "Mr. Chairman, I see that your 5 minutes is up." pic.twitter.com/USWriF0YHu

— CSPAN (@cspan) February 8, 2019

“You wouldn’t oversee a witch hunt, would you?” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) asked Whitaker, using the favored phrase of President Trump about the Mueller investigation.

“Congressman, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation,” Whitaker answered.

Republicans meanwhile used their time to explore their contention that the Russia investigation has been out of control – and biased against the President – from the start, as Collins asked Whitaker if there had been a leak from inside the Justice Department to CNN about the January indictment and arrest of political operative Roger Stone.

“Mr. Collins, I share your concern with the possibility that a media outlet was tipped off,” Whitaker answered.

CNN has previously reported they had cameras there because of good reporting, and a reporter’s hunch – not any leak from inside.

Other GOP lawmakers focused on regular issues before the Justice Department, like illegal drugs, and border security, as Republicans said there was no need for Democrats to haul Whitaker before Congress, especially since he will be replaced next week by William Barr, whose nomination awaits action in the full Senate.

“Green New Deal” plan in Congress is long on goals, short on details

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 20:37

A group of more liberal Democrats in Congress unveiled a plan Thursday to dramatically shape the debate over climate change in the United States, calling for action to make the nation carbon-neutral in ten years, as supporters set out a broad series of climate goals, without going deeply into any specifics or the financial costs of such a plan.

“This is one of the most urgent moral issues and crises that we have in American right now,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who told a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol that climate change represents ‘one of the biggest existential threats’ to the United States.

“This is the new climate democracy – of the people, by the people, for the planet,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).

“It’s time for Congress to get serious about tackling climate change and creating more good-paying, sustainable green jobs,” added Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls climate change "one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life."

"In order for us to combat that threat, we must be as ambitious and innovative in our solution as possible." https://t.co/Dv0RB7ihrf pic.twitter.com/v0suGjmhCb

— ABC News (@ABC) February 7, 2019

“We must aggressively tackle climate change which poses an existential threat to our nation,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

What exactly is in the plan? First – what was unveiled by Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats on Thursday is not a bill, but a non-binding resolution – basically a set of goals – for making major changes in how the U.S. government, and the nation’s citizens, should deal with climate change.

You can download the 14 page resolution on climate change here.

Among the highlights of the Green New Deal:

+ Achieve ‘net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.’

+ The Green New Deal should be ‘accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization.’

+ The plan includes a host of goals which don’t really directly address climate change, but are more of a list of more progressive policy aims, like raising wages, medical leave, retirement security, union rights, labor standards, health care, affordable housing, and more.

No cost estimates were included in this resolution – as it would take much more specific and defined legislation to fill in the blanks.

That didn’t stop Republicans in Congress from mocking the plan, with one tweeting a poll on whether the cost ‘will be over/under $10 trillion.’

“Dems announce Socialist “Green New Deal.” Sound familiar?” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), pointing back at failed green energy projects under the Obama Administration.

Dems released their so-called Green New Deal today. Among their plans as part of this socialist takeover:

✅ Upgrade or replace EVERY SINGLE building in the U.S.
✅ Eliminate air travel
✅ “Plant lots of trees”
✅ Put charging stations “everywhere” https://t.co/CKdpgo8ojb

— House Republicans (@HouseGOP) February 7, 2019

“Who knew? “Green New Deal” is a resolution, not a bill, which means it’s a statement,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

“When the leader of your own party is throwing shade at your “green dream” you know you have problems,” said Rep. Billy Long (R-MO), referring to comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Long was referring to an interview that the Speaker did with Politico, in which she did not exactly embrace the direction of the “Green New Deal.”

“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” the Speaker told Politico, referring to the new plan as the “‘green dream,’ or whatever they call it.”

After narrow 2018 win, Rep. Rob Woodall R-GA to retire from Congress

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 18:25

On the heels of a narrow re-election victory last November, and with the likelihood of a very strong challenge from Democrats in 2020, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) announced Thursday that he would retire from Congress after his current term expires, after serving five terms in the U.S. House.

“You know, when you have a close election like I did, you start thinking,” Woodall told me in the House Speaker’s Lobby, soon after his announcement. “A decade service is a lot of time, and I’m just proud of what I’ve gotten done in that time.”

“I have realized over this past year of change—both in politics and in my family—that the time has come for me to pass the baton and move to the next chapter,” the 48 year old Woodall said in a statement issued by his campaign.

Woodall had quietly given indications of his decision since a recount confirmed his slim victory in 2018, raising little money in the aftermath of his close win over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux.

Breaking: #GA07 Rep. Rob Woodall (R), who won by just 419 votes last fall, to retire. Doesn't change @CookPolitical's Toss Up rating, but does vault #GA07 to the very top of Dems' list of pickup opportunities. https://t.co/XS4PeDhFrA

— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) February 7, 2019

Georgia's 7th District, where Rep. Rob Woodall (R) isn't seeking re-election in 2020, has most of Gwinnett and Forsyth Counties.

2016 Prez: Trump 51%, Clinton 45%
2018 Gov: Abrams 50%, Kemp 49%
2018 House: Woodall 50.1%, Bourdeaux 49.9% (closest '18 House race)#ga07 #gapol pic.twitter.com/v5t9Uj7zxM

— Greg Giroux (@greggiroux) February 7, 2019

Woodall is the third member of the House to announce retirement for the 2020 election cycle, as he said he wanted to do this early to allow others to run for his seat in Congress.

“I make this announcement as early as possible to ensure that quality conservative candidates have time to prepare for a vigorous campaign in 2020,” Woodall said.

Woodall said part of the reason he decided to leave was the recent death of his father, and the realization that working on Capitol Hill had cost him time with his dad.

“I don’t want to make that mistake with other family members,” Woodall added.

The Lawrenceville Republican barely survived a 2018 election surge for Democrats in suburban areas around the nation, a shift which swept Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) out, as Democrats picked up a net gain of 40 seats in the House, winning in areas once thought to be reliably Republican – in the GOP suburbs of Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, Denver, and in southern California.

Woodall has been known as the chief sponsor in the U.S. House of the “FairTax” – a plan which would move the United States away from an income tax system, and instead bring in federal revenue through a consumption tax, paid at the point of sale.

Woodall admits it is unlikely he will be able to get a vote on that plan before his term expires in the first days of 2021.

“Yes, one day there will be a vote on the FairTax, it will be when a President demands it,” Woodall said.

“It hurts my heart when someone says that Republicans did tax reform last year. No, Republicans did tax cuts,” the Georgia Republican said.

.@RepRobWoodall is a dear personal friend who has been an incredible advocate for Georgia priorities, including the Fair Tax. It’s been an honor to serve with him in our delegation and on @RulesReps. I will miss him, and Georgia will miss his voice.

— Rep. Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) February 7, 2019

The 48 year-old Woodall worked in Congress before being elected to the House, as he was a staffer for ex-Rep. John Linder (R-GA), who retired before the 2010 election.

“Believe it, I’m sorry to see you go,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) told Woodall just off the House floor, soon after news of his decision was made public.

“I’m hoping you’re going to moderate,” McGovern said, as the two adversaries on the House Rules Committee laughed and shook hands.

Congress faces familiar riddle – how to pay for new roads and bridges

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 15:58

When President Donald Trump used his State of the Union Address this week to again call for action on a major infrastructure plan in Congress, he once more received bipartisan support for his call to action, but Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill face a problem which has stymied action by lawmakers for years – where to get the money for billions and billions in spending for roads, bridges, ports, and airports.

“The number one critical thing we need,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), “is additional funding,” as DeFazio noted that federal gasoline taxes – used exclusively to fund new road and bridge construction – have not been increased by Congress since 1993.

As DeFazio convened a hearing Thursday of the House Transportation Committee, it was clear that many Democrats – and a number of Republicans – would like to move forward on legislation funding a host of infrastructure plans, but nothing can really happen until there’s an agreement on funding.

DeFazio started his hearing by playing the sound of a fire alarm on his phone – drawing chuckles from those in the audience – but he was dead serious in making clear that it’s time to raise federal gas taxes in order to bring in more money to repair American roads and bridges.

“There is not a danger in increasing the user fee for the first time in 26 years. If anyone has a better alternative, let me know,” DeFazio said.

But the idea of raising federal gasoline taxes has scared off members of both parties repeatedly since the last gas tax increase under President Bill Clinton – which remains at 18.5 cents per gallon – despite the support of groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

President Obama made multiple proposals for infrastructure investments – in 2011, it was a $328 billion plan over ten years – but no funding stream was ever identified by his administration, as top officials told Congress at the time that the Obama Administration did not support raising gasoline taxes.

At Thursday’s hearing, ex-Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) – now the Governor of Minnesota – recounted to lawmakers that when he ran for Governor in 2018, his proposal to raise state gasoline taxes to pay for new infrastructure was attacked in ads.

Walz is considering a ten cent a gallon tax increase in Minnesota, to fund $30 million in work – though he says the infrastructure shortfall is closer to $18 billion just in his state.

.@GovTimWalz tells @RepPeterDeFazio that when he ran, attack ads said he would raise gas tax and, "My numbers went up because the people were saying, 'Do something'

— Herb Jackson (@HerbNJDC) February 7, 2019

“My numbers went up,” Walz said of his campaign, though he still has a ways to go before getting his state legislature to raise Minnesota gas taxes to funnel more money to roads and bridges.

“Infrastructure is about more than dollars pledged, it is about less time in traffic and more time with our families,” said Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, as he told lawmakers they shouldn’t worry about their political futures because of a gas tax increase.

“This is something voters want,” Garcetti said, as his state’s voters defeated a ballot initiative last November to repeal a recent gas tax increase.

President Trump has talked about doing something on infrastructure for several years, but the White House has never sent a plan to Capitol Hill to specify how much funding would come from the federal government, or how it would work.

Some groups say the U.S. needs to invest $2 trillion over the next ten years.

“You’re talking big numbers here,” said DeFazio, who readily acknowledges that much of that estimate needs funding from state and federal governments.

“I have hope – I still have hope we can come together on this,” DeFazio told reporters this week.

But the riddle remains unanswered at the White House and in Congress – as to how a big new infrastructure plan will be funded.

Ignoring Trump, Democrats expand Russia probe, send transcripts to Mueller

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 18:06

The morning after President Donald Trump used the State of the Union Address to call for an end to what he labeled ‘partisan investigations’ of his administration, the House Intelligence Committee voted to send transcripts of a number of interviews done by lawmakers in the last Congress to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as the new Democratic chairman of the panel publicly set out a five point investigative plan which was focused squarely on the President himself.

“I am committed to leading a thorough and impartial investigation that will follow the facts,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), as Democrats have argued for months that Republicans ignored critical leads in the Russia probe which might have drawn the investigation closer to Mr. Trump and his campaign.

Asked about the move, President Trump lashed out at Schiff and Democrats.

“He’s just a political hack who is trying to build a name for himself,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “It’s called Presidential harassment.”

I can understand why the idea of meaningful oversight terrifies the President. Several of his close associates are going to jail, others await trial, and criminal investigations continue.

We’re going to do our job and won’t be distracted or intimidated by threats or attacks.

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 6, 2019

Democrats weren’t cowed by the President’s words, as the House Intelligence committee on Wednesday set out a five point investigative plan led by Schiff, continuing to probe many of the same questions being looked at by the Special Counsel.

“Unfortunately, these and numerous other avenues of inquiry were not completed during the last Congress,” Schiff said in a not so subtle jab at Republicans.

The investigative plan includes a central question of, “Whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.”

The actions by Schiff came as Democrats made clear that the President’s comments on Tuesday night before a Joint Session of Congress would have no impact on their decision to investigate not only the Russia matter, but also to probe other ethical questions dealing with the President and the Trump Administration.

“I just thought that was very inappropriate, and very shameful,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), a member of the Intelligence Committee, after the President decried, ‘ridiculous partisan investigations.’

“That was a threat,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday morning.

“That went with the rest of the absurd things he said in his speech,” said Rep. William Pascrell (D-NJ). “We do have different responsibilities according to the Constitution.”

“Congress will not be intimidated,” said Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA), as Democrats defended their oversight responsibilities.

Before announcing the road map for the committee’s probe, Schiff led the panel in voting to send transcripts of testimony taken in the last Congress to the Special Counsel’s office.

BREAKING: The House Intelligence Committee just voted to release all witness transcripts from our Russia investigation to the Department of Justice and Special Counsel Mueller.

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 6, 2019

Those transcripts – reportedly numbering around 50 in all – include testimony from Donald Trump Jr., and the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Just before authorizing the action on the committee transcripts, the Intelligence Committee also announced that the scheduled testimony for President Trump’s former personal lawyer had been delayed until the end of February.

“In the interests of the investigation, Michael Cohen’s testimony has been postponed until February 28th,” as Cohen had originally been scheduled to appear this Friday.

It was not immediately clear what necessitated the change – or what ‘in the interest of the investigation’ meant.

House Democrats flex new powers with hearings on guns, climate change

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 16:58

The morning after the State of the Union Address, instead of responding to the speech by President Donald Trump to a Joint Session of Congress, Democrats in the House launched an array of hearings on their own legislative agenda, pressing for action on gun violence, climate change, ethics reforms, health care, and the impact of the recent partial government shutdown.

“Today we turn the page from climate change denial to climate action,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), as he kicked off the first hearings in eight years in the House on global warming issues.

“There is no ‘planet B,'” said Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI), “we desperately need to work together to stop climate change.”

The witnesses at one hearing included Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, who told lawmakers of the damage and heavy rains in the Tar Heel State from Hurricane Florence in 2018, which he said was intensified by climate change.

.@NC_Governor: “We can’t afford not to take urgent action to fight climate change. It is not too late, but it soon may be.” pic.twitter.com/7k0GuUx7tw

— Natural Resources (@NRDems) February 6, 2019

In another hearing room, a separate House panel was holding the first hearing in over eight years on gun violence, as lawmakers looked at a Democratic plan for universal background checks on all gun sales, public and private.

“We have all had enough,” said Aalayah Eastwood, who survived a mass school shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, part of a group of witnesses asking for new gun actions by Congress, highlighted by expanded background checks.

“I believe the legislation will save at least one life,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. “Is a little inconvenience too much to save that life?”

Acevedo conceded that expanded background checks certainly won’t end gun violence, but he argued to lawmakers that it was still the right move for Congress.

“Our communities can be safe from gun violence – and requiring background checks on every gun purchase is a simple, commonsense way to prevent dangerous people from getting their hands on deadly weapons,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA).

First witness to testify @HouseJudiciary gun violence hearing is #ParklandShooting survivor @AalayahEastmond, who describes hiding under a dead classmate as the shooter "riddled our classroom with bullets. I was praying to God that it would end as soon as possible." #GunSafety pic.twitter.com/uOPKdbLBG7

— Lisa Dunn (@LisaZDunn) February 6, 2019

“For too long, Congress has offered thoughts and prayers,” said Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC).

As Democrats advanced their plans, Republicans pushed back across the board.

“We’re far too comfortable offering bills to constrain law-abiding citizens, without protecting them from people doing great harm,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who accused Democrats of trying to ‘criminalize the Second Amendment’ with the expanded background checks bill.

The hearing on background checks was punctuated a number of times by sharp partisan exchanges, as was a hearing on federal ethics reforms before the House Oversight Committee.

NOW – fascinating dynamic: in House Oversight, Dem firebrand freshmen Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib in foreground

GOP firebrands Meadows, Jordan in background.

The two ends of ideological spectrum are nearly the only members in the room. pic.twitter.com/CyFScAQygp

— Lisa Desjardins (@LisaDNews) February 6, 2019

.@RepCummings: "This is not Russia. This is the United States of America. And I will fight until the death to make… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
CSPAN (@cspan) February 06, 2019

No matter what Democrats are able to pass in the House on a variety of issues – like guns, climate change, and more – those plans would be unlikely to get through the U.S. Senate.

Text of President Trump’s State of the Union Address

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 02:13

Vowing to break “decades of political stalemate,” President Donald Trump told Congress and the nation on Tuesday night that despite bitter political standoffs during his administration – including a five week partial government shutdown which blocked paychecks last month 800,000 federal workers – he’s ready to pursue legislative accomplishments which are not defined by party.

“The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican Agenda or a Democrat Agenda. It is the agenda of the American People,” the President told a Joint Session of Congress on Capitol Hill.

Hours after reportedly ridiculing Democratic leaders in a lunch with network television anchors – and earlier in the day on Twitter – the President repeated his appeal of his first State of the Union, for more bipartisan cooperation.

“We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” the President said.

Here is the full text of President Trump’s State of the Union Address, as provided by the White House:

Remarks as prepared for delivery


     Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, the First Lady of the United States, and my fellow Americans:

     We meet tonight at a moment of unlimited potential.  As we begin a new Congress, I stand here ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for all Americans.

     Millions of our fellow citizens are watching us now, gathered in this great chamber, hoping that we will govern not as two parties but as one Nation.

     The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda.  It is the agenda of the American people. 

     Many of us campaigned on the same core promises:  to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers; to rebuild and revitalize our Nation’s infrastructure; to reduce the price of healthcare and prescription drugs; to create an immigration system that is safe, lawful, modern and secure; and to pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.

     There is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage to seize it.  Victory is not winning for our party.  Victory is winning for our country.

     This year, America will recognize two important anniversaries that show us the majesty of America’s mission, and the power of American pride.

     In June, we mark 75 years since the start of what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the Great Crusade — the Allied liberation of Europe in World War II.  On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 15,000 young American men jumped from the sky, and 60,000 more stormed in from the sea, to save our civilization from tyranny.  Here with us tonight are three of those heroes:  Private First Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sergeant Irving Locker, and Sergeant Herman Zeitchik.  Gentlemen, we salute you.

     In 2019, we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the moon.  Half a century later, we are joined by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who planted that flag:  Buzz Aldrin.  This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets.

     In the 20th century, America saved freedom, transformed science, and redefined the middle class standard of living for the entire world to see.  Now, we must step boldly and bravely into the next chapter of this great American adventure, and we must create a new standard of living for the 21st century.  An amazing quality of life for all of our citizens is within our reach.

     We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before.

     But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.

     Together, we can break decades of political stalemate.  We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future.  The decision is ours to make.

     We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.

     Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness.

     Over the last 2 years, my Administration has moved with urgency and historic speed to confront problems neglected by leaders of both parties over many decades.

     In just over 2 years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before.  We have created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs — something which almost everyone said was impossible to do, but the fact is, we are just getting started.

     Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades, and growing for blue collar workers, who I promised to fight for, faster than anyone else.  Nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps.  The United States economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office, and we are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world.  Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in half a century. African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded. Unemployment for Americans with disabilities has also reached an all-time low.  More people are working now than at any time in our history –- 157 million.

     We passed a massive tax cut for working families and doubled the child tax credit.

We virtually ended the estate, or death, tax on small businesses, ranches, and family farms.

     We eliminated the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty — and to give critically ill patients access to life-saving cures, we passed right to try. 

     My Administration has cut more regulations in a short time than any other administration during its entire tenure.  Companies are coming back to our country in large numbers thanks to historic reductions in taxes and regulations.

     We have unleashed a revolution in American energy — the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.  And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy.  

     After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, and America is winning each and every day.   Members of Congress:  the State of our Union is strong.  Our country is vibrant and our economy is thriving like never before.

     On Friday, it was announced that we added another 304,000 jobs last month alone — almost double what was expected.  An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.

     If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.  It just doesn’t work that way! 

     We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad. 

     This new era of cooperation can start with finally confirming the more than 300 highly qualified nominees who are still stuck in the Senate – some after years of waiting.  The Senate has failed to act on these nominations, which is unfair to the nominees and to our country.      

     Now is the time for bipartisan action.  Believe it or not, we have already proven that it is possible.

     In the last Congress, both parties came together to pass unprecedented legislation to confront the opioid crisis, a sweeping new Farm Bill, historic VA reforms, and after four decades of rejection, we passed VA Accountability so we can finally terminate those who mistreat our wonderful veterans.

     And just weeks ago, both parties united for groundbreaking criminal justice reform.  Last year, I heard through friends the story of Alice Johnson.  I was deeply moved.  In 1997, Alice was sentenced to life in prison as a first-time non-violent drug offender.  Over the next two decades, she became a prison minister, inspiring others to choose a better path.  She had a big impact on that prison population — and far beyond.

     Alice’s story underscores the disparities and unfairness that can exist in criminal sentencing — and the need to remedy this injustice.  She served almost 22 years and had expected to be in prison for the rest of her life.

     In June, I commuted Alice’s sentence — and she is here with us tonight.  Alice, thank you for reminding us that we always have the power to shape our own destiny.

     When I saw Alice’s beautiful family greet her at the prison gates, hugging and kissing and crying and laughing, I knew I did the right thing.

     Inspired by stories like Alice’s, my Administration worked closely with members of both parties to sign the First Step Act into law.  This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community.  The First Step Act gives non-violent offenders the chance to re-enter society as productive, law-abiding citizens. Now, States across the country are following our lead.  America is a Nation that believes in redemption.

     We are also joined tonight by Matthew Charles from Tennessee.  In 1996, at age 30, Matthew was sentenced to 35 years for selling drugs and related offenses.  Over the next two decades, he completed more than 30 Bible studies, became a law clerk, and mentored fellow inmates.  Now, Matthew is the very first person to be released from prison under the First Step Act.  Matthew, on behalf of all Americans:  welcome home.

     As we have seen, when we are united, we can make astonishing strides for our country.  Now, Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis.

     The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our Government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border.

     Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.

     As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States.  We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection.  I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for the tremendous onslaught. 

     This is a moral issue.  The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well‑being of all Americans.  We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.  This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today, who followed the rules and respected our laws.  Legal immigrants enrich our Nation and strengthen our society in countless ways.  I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally.

     Tonight, I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country.

     No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration.  Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards. 

     Meanwhile, working class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net. 

     Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate — it is cruel.  One in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north.  Smugglers use migrant children as human pawns to exploit our laws and gain access to our country.

     Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.

     Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities — including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.

     The savage gang, MS-13, now operates in 20 different American States, and they almost all come through our southern border.  Just yesterday, an MS-13 gang member was taken into custody for a fatal shooting on a subway platform in New York City.  We are removing these gang members by the thousands, but until we secure our border they’re going to keep streaming back in.

     Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens.

     I’ve gotten to know many wonderful Angel Moms, Dads, and families – no one should ever have to suffer the horrible heartache they have endured.

     Here tonight is Debra Bissell.  Just three weeks ago, Debra’s parents, Gerald and Sharon, were burglarized and shot to death in their Reno, Nevada, home by an illegal alien.  They were in their eighties and are survived by four children, 11 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren.  Also here tonight are Gerald and Sharon’s granddaughter, Heather, and great‑granddaughter, Madison.

     To Debra, Heather, Madison, please stand:  few can understand your pain.  But I will never forget, and I will fight for the memory of Gerald and Sharon, that it should never happen again. 

     Not one more American life should be lost because our Nation failed to control its very dangerous border.

     In the last 2 years, our brave ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 killings.

     We are joined tonight by one of those law enforcement heroes:  ICE Special Agent Elvin Hernandez.  When Elvin was a boy, he and his family legally immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic.  At the age of eight, Elvin told his dad he wanted to become a Special Agent.  Today, he leads investigations into the scourge of international sex trafficking.  Elvin says:  “If I can make sure these young girls get their justice, I’ve done my job.”  Thanks to his work and that of his colleagues, more than 300 women and girls have been rescued from horror and more than 1,500 sadistic traffickers have been put behind bars in the last year.

     Special Agent Hernandez, please stand:  We will always support the brave men and women of Law Enforcement — and I pledge to you tonight that we will never abolish our heroes from ICE.

     My Administration has sent to the Congress a commonsense proposal to end the crisis on our southern border.

     It includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.  In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built.  I’ll get it built.

     This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall.  It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down.

     San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in the country.  In response, and at the request of San Diego residents and political leaders, a strong security wall was put in place.  This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.

     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.  Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.

     Simply put, walls work and walls save lives.  So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.

     As we work to defend our people’s safety, we must also ensure our economic resurgence continues at a rapid pace. 

     No one has benefitted more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year.  All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before — and exactly one century after the Congress passed the Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before.

     As part of our commitment to improving opportunity for women everywhere, this Thursday we are launching the first ever Government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries.

     To build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount — reversing decades of calamitous trade policies.

     We are now making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end.  

     Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods — and now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars a month from a country that never gave us a dime.  But I don’t blame China for taking advantage of us — I blame our leaders and representatives for allowing this travesty to happen.  I have great respect for President Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China.  But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs.

     Another historic trade blunder was the catastrophe known as NAFTA.

     I have met the men and women of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, and many other States whose dreams were shattered by NAFTA.  For years, politicians promised them they would negotiate for a better deal.  But no one ever tried — until now.

     Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — or USMCA — will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers:  bringing back our manufacturing jobs, expanding American agriculture, protecting intellectual property, and ensuring that more cars are proudly stamped with four beautiful words:  made in the USA.

     Tonight, I am also asking you to pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, so that if another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the same product that they sell to us.

     Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure.

     I know that the Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill — and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future.  This is not an option.  This is a necessity. 

     The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs — and to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.

     Already, as a result of my Administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years. 

     But we must do more.  It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place.  This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it.

     I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients.  We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.

     No force in history has done more to advance the human condition than American freedom.  In recent years we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS.  Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach.  My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.  Together, we will defeat AIDS in America.

     Tonight, I am also asking you to join me in another fight that all Americans can get behind:  the fight against childhood cancer.

     Joining Melania in the gallery this evening is a very brave 10-year-old girl, Grace Eline.  Every birthday since she was 4, Grace asked her friends to donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  She did not know that one day she might be a patient herself.  Last year, Grace was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Immediately, she began radiation treatment.  At the same time, she rallied her community and raised more than $40,000 for the fight against cancer.  When Grace completed treatment last fall, her doctors and nurses cheered with tears in their eyes as she hung up a poster that read:  “Last Day of Chemo.”  Grace — you are an inspiration to us all.

     Many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades.  My budget will ask the Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical life-saving research.

     To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.  I am also proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave — so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.

     There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our Nation saw in recent days.  Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.  These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world.  And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth.

     To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.

     Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.  And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth:  all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.

     The final part of my agenda is to protect America’s National Security.

     Over the last 2 years, we have begun to fully rebuild the United States Military — with $700 billion last year and $716 billion this year.  We are also getting other nations to pay their fair share.  For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by NATO — but now we have secured a $100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies.

     As part of our military build-up, the United States is developing a state-of-the-art Missile Defense System.

     Under my Administration, we will never apologize for advancing America’s interests.

     For example, decades ago the United States entered into a treaty with Russia in which we agreed to limit and reduce our missile capabilities.  While we followed the agreement to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms.  That is why I announced that the United States is officially withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty.  

     Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t –- in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.

     As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula.  Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months.  If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed.  Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one.  And Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.

     Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela, and its new interim President, Juan Guaido.  

     We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.

     Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country.  America was founded on liberty and independence –- not government coercion, domination, and control.  We are born free, and we will stay free.  Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.

     One of the most complex set of challenges we face is in the Middle East. 

     Our approach is based on principled realism — not discredited theories that have failed for decades to yield progress.  For this reason, my Administration recognized the true capital of Israel — and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem.

      Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives.  More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded.  We have spent more than $7 trillion in the Middle East.

     As a candidate for President, I pledged a new approach.  Great nations do not fight endless wars.

     When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria.  Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers. 

     Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.

     I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan.  Our troops have fought with unmatched valor — and thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a political solution to this long and bloody conflict.

     In Afghanistan, my Administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban.  As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism.  We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.

     Above all, friend and foe alike must never doubt this Nation’s power and will to defend our people.  Eighteen years ago, terrorists attacked the USS Cole — and last month American forces killed one of the leaders of the attack.

     We are honored to be joined tonight by Tom Wibberley, whose son, Navy Seaman Craig Wibberley, was one of the 17 sailors we tragically lost.  Tom:  we vow to always remember the heroes of the USS Cole.

     My Administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror: the radical regime in Iran.

     To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal.  And last fall, we put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a country.

     We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people.  We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed.  With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.

     Just months ago, 11 Jewish-Americans were viciously murdered in an anti-semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  SWAT Officer Timothy Matson raced into the gunfire and was shot seven times chasing down the killer.  Timothy has just had his 12th surgery — but he made the trip to be here with us tonight.  Officer Matson:  we are forever grateful for your courage in the face of evil. 

     Tonight, we are also joined by Pittsburgh survivor Judah Samet.  He arrived at the synagogue as the massacre began.  But not only did Judah narrowly escape death last fall — more than seven decades ago, he narrowly survived the Nazi concentration camps.  Today is Judah’s 81st birthday.  Judah says he can still remember the exact moment, nearly 75 years ago, after 10 months in a concentration camp, when he and his family were put on a train, and told they were going to another camp.  Suddenly the train screeched to a halt.  A soldier appeared.  Judah’s family braced for the worst.  Then, his father cried out with joy:  “It’s the Americans.”

     A second Holocaust survivor who is here tonight, Joshua Kaufman, was a prisoner at Dachau Concentration Camp. He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks.  “To me,” Joshua recalls, “the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky.”

     I began this evening by honoring three soldiers who fought on D-Day in the Second World War. One of them was Herman Zeitchik.  But there is more to Herman’s story.  A year after he stormed the beaches of Normandy, Herman was one of those American soldiers who helped liberate Dachau.  He was one of the Americans who helped rescue Joshua from that hell on earth.  Almost 75 years later, Herman and Joshua are both together in the gallery tonight — seated side-by-side, here in the home of American freedom.  Herman and Joshua:  your presence this evening honors and uplifts our entire Nation.

     When American soldiers set out beneath the dark skies over the English Channel in the early hours of D-Day, 1944, they were just young men of 18 and 19, hurtling on fragile landing craft toward the most momentous battle in the history of war.

     They did not know if they would survive the hour.  They did not know if they would grow old.  But they knew that America had to prevail.  Their cause was this Nation, and generations yet unborn.

     Why did they do it?  They did it for America — they did it for us.

     Everything that has come since — our triumph over communism, our giant leaps of science and discovery, our unrivaled progress toward equality and justice — all of it is possible thanks to the blood and tears and courage and vision of the Americans who came before.

     Think of this Capitol — think of this very chamber, where lawmakers before you voted to end slavery, to build the railroads and the highways, to defeat fascism, to secure civil rights, to face down an evil empire. 

     Here tonight, we have legislators from across this magnificent republic.  You have come from the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii; from the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona; from the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California.  Together, we represent the most extraordinary Nation in all of history.

     What will we do with this moment?  How will we be remembered?
     I ask the men and women of this Congress:  Look at the opportunities before us!  Our most thrilling achievements are still ahead.  Our most exciting journeys still await.  Our biggest victories are still to come.  We have not yet begun to dream.

     We must choose whether we are defined by our differences — or whether we dare to transcend them.

     We must choose whether we will squander our inheritance — or whether we will proudly declare that we are Americans.  We do the incredible.  We defy the impossible.  We conquer the unknown.

     This is the time to re-ignite the American imagination.  This is the time to search for the tallest summit, and set our sights on the brightest star.  This is the time to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots.

     This is our future — our fate — and our choice to make. I am asking you to choose greatness.

     No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together.

     We must keep America first in our hearts.  We must keep freedom alive in our souls.  And we must always keep faith in America’s destiny — that one Nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world!

     Thank you.  God Bless You, God Bless America, and good night!

Top commander: Syria withdrawal orders came as a surprise

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 17:36

A day after the U.S. Senate went on the record with a bipartisan rebuke of President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. military forces from both Syria and Afghanistan, the top military commander for the Mideast acknowledged to members of a Senate committee that the President’s announcement in December of a pullout from Syria had come as a surprise.

“You weren’t consulted before that decision was announced,” asked Sen. Angus King (I-ME).

“I was not consulted,” said General Joseph Votel, the head of the military’s Central Command, which is responsible for military action in Syria.

“I was not aware of the specific announcement,” Votel added, though the general indicated that President Trump had made clear his ‘desire and intent’ in the past to get the military out of Syria.

Asked if he was aware of Trump's sudden Syria withdrawal announcement in December before it was made, CENTCOM commander Gen. Joeseph Votel says he was not consulted. pic.twitter.com/KLfKhVdTB8

— Jake Godin (@JakeGodin) February 5, 2019

The December decision by President Trump led directly to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis – originally, the President wanted Mattis to stay on for several months, but Mr. Trump pushed Mattis out a few weeks later, aggravated by the Secretary’s resignation letter, which criticized the President’s decision.

Asked further about when the withdrawal would take place, General Votel said the Pentagon will follow his orders.

“I am not under pressure to be out by a specific date,” Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing. “I have not had any specific demands put upon me.”

"I am not under pressure to be out by a specific date," says General Votel of @CENTCOM of the US withdrawal from Syria. He says the pullout is neither time based or conditions based. "The president made a decision," so the Pentagon will execute his orders.

— Kylie Atwood (@kylieatwood) February 5, 2019

A number of GOP Senators have expressed public concerns with the withdrawal decisions by the President, worried that it will leave a power vacuum for Iran, al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Russia.

“We simply cannot afford to leave a vacuum in places where terrorists flood when they take advantage of the chaos and the upheaval in the Syrian civil war,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, and the President’s plan for a U.S. withdrawal. “That’s why this is a bad idea.”

A handful of Republicans stuck with the President on his call for a withdrawal, arguing that the U.S. must not remain engaged in what critics label an ‘endless war.’

“This resolution is an insult to the President,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

You can see the breakdown of the Senate vote here.

My own State of the Union – still looking for voice answers

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 14:55

As we await tonight’s State of the Union Address, it’s a good time to address my own personal State of the Union – as I still get a lot of questions from listeners and readers about whether my voice is making any comeback – almost three after it mysteriously went haywire, knocking me off the radio.

Looking back in my story files, three years ago today, I was on the campaign trail in New Hampshire covering an event for then-candidate Donald Trump, as he tried to bounce back from a second place finish in Iowa just a few days before.

At that time, there was nothing wrong with my voice, nothing amiss with my health. But about eight weeks later, that would all change, and to this day – my many doctors still aren’t able to tell me what went wrong, or how it can be fixed.

In 2018, I flew down to Atlanta to visit Dr. Hyder Jinnah at the Emory Brain Health Center, where we looked at a variety of treatment options.

TV cameras went along with me over a number of months, and you can watch the report from Emory’s Jaye Watson, on her program, ‘Your Fantastic Mind,’ which aired Monday night on Georgia Public Television.

I want to thank Dr. Jinnah for his help. We both knew going into this that finding a solution for what is known as ‘lingual dystonia’ was not going to be as simple as taking a few pills.

The injections of Botox into my tongue were painless, but they didn’t help. The second round of shots – with more strength than the first – caused me swallowing problems for about a month, but they didn’t help my voice.

Thanks to Jaye Watson for a great story, and to the folks at Emory’s Brain Health Center for all their help.

If you are hearing me on the radio, that’s because of help from my company, Cox Media Group, which found a voice company in Scotland – CereProc – which took years of my recorded archives, and produced a computer generated voice, which I can combine with a text-to-speech program, to get back on the air.

You can find some of my daily extended reviews – in my Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice – here.

Five things to watch in President Trump’s State of the Union Address

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 00:13

Delayed by a week due to the partisan wrangling over a 35 day partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump goes before Congress and the nation on Tuesday night to deliver his second State of the Union Address, a speech which White House officials say will again focus on bipartisanship in the U.S. House and Senate, a message the President delivered in 2018 as well.

“Together we can break decades of political stalemate, we can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock extraordinary promise of America’s future,” officials said the President would tell the nation, as Mr. Trump will focus on ‘choosing greatness.’

The speech comes as the days are ticking by to a February 15 funding deadline, as House-Senate negotiations seem to be on hold while lawmakers wait to see whether the President declares a ‘national emergency’ to get money to build a border wall.

Here are five things to watch in the speech:

The WH briefed cong Rs on Trump's SOTU. No surprises Immigration, Infrastructure, Trade, Health Care & Nat Sec

The WH said to expect "Cooperation, common sense & compromise"

They also warned not to pre-write statements since the speech is still in flux, per 2 people briefed

— Nicholas Fandos (@npfandos) February 4, 2019

1. Immigration could dominate all other issues. While the President is certain to talk a lot about border security, and getting money to fund a border wall, that won’t be the only thing Mr. Trump talks about before the Congress. But what President Trump says about a possible ‘national emergency’ declaration to funnel money to wall construction will certainly make headlines, and threatens to overshadow much of what he will say in the speech about other issues. If the President does authorize a national emergency, the Congress gets to vote on that – and it’s certain to be brought to the floor by Democrats in the House, as some Republicans have made clear to the White House that such a move would be a mistake, because it would certainly be used by Democrats in the future when they win the Presidency.

Ahead of his State of the Union, Trump said there’s a “good chance” he may use the presidential power of declaring a national emergency to build the border wall #SOTU pic.twitter.com/JpJXHP4UpS

— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) February 4, 2019

2. Reading the tea leaves on Trump agenda. The State of the Union often gives a glimpse into what issues a President wants action on in the Congress, but other than talking about border security for the last few months, Mr. Trump has said little publicly about other agenda items. In office for more than two years now, the President said in last year’s State of the Union that it was “time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure,” but press reports in recent days indicate that might not even get mentioned, as the White House has yet to formulate an infrastructure plan for the Congress to act upon. Watch to see what the President emphasizes when it comes to domestic policy items.

Trump kept telling people last year how much he disliked his administration's infrastructure plan. Aides would say that he actually liked it. Rinse, repeat. Then, at Camp David in January, Trump contradicted Gary Cohn on the plan in front of many others. https://t.co/Nj45LAiJiS https://t.co/V77t3Dawbj

— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) February 4, 2019

3. The reaction of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Don’t underestimate the power of a facial twitch, eye roll, or smirk. With the change from last November’s mid-term elections, President Trump will have a Democrat sitting over his shoulder during this speech to Congress, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will wield the gavel, sitting next to Vice President Mike Pence. The last time that Speaker Pelosi and President Trump were in the same room was in early December, when the President said he would gladly take the blame for any partial shutdown of the federal government. Mr. Trump has harshly criticized Pelosi for weeks over money for his signature plan to build a border wall – now, the main TV camera shot quickly show us every facial reaction the Speaker makes as the President is speaking to lawmakers and the nation – especially if he directly mentions her.

If Nancy Pelosi thinks that Walls are “immoral,” why isn’t she requesting that we take down all of the existing Walls between the U.S. and Mexico, even the new ones just built in San Diego at their very strong urging. Let millions of unchecked “strangers” just flow into the U.S.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2019

4. A handful of Democrats won’t attend the State of the Union. There was more talk a year ago of Democrats boycotting the President’s speech – in the end, about a dozen didn’t show up, and this year it seems to be an even smaller number who will decide to do something different. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have made clear they don’t want to be in the House Chamber for the address. It’s always possible that a few others will quietly stay home and watch from the comfort of their own couch as well. “If I did protest, it would be something very passive,” said Johnson. Meanwhile, as they did in 2017, a number of Democratic women will dress in all white, representing the Suffragette movement, trying to send their own message to the President – in person.

.@repjohnlewis says he plans to skip President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. He boycotted past Trump speeches following their pre-inauguration feud and cancelled an appearance at a MS civil rights museum so they wouldn’t have to share the stage #GaPol

— Tamar Hallerman (@ajconwashington) January 30, 2019

5. Trump speaks on anniversary of House Fight Night. If you are rooting for some kind of wild spectacle on the floor of the House during this year’s State of the Union Address, a wild fight scene actually happened on this same night in 1858, as the House floor turned into a pre-Civil War version of WWE. The House had moved into its current chamber just a few months earlier, when a night of procedural votes, testy debate, and simmering North-South turmoil led to a brawl on the House floor. I wrote about it six years ago, and it’s again another reminder that while many think things are out of hand today, we haven’t reached such a boiling point inside the House Chamber.

Frustrated with Democrats, Trump again hints at national emergency on border wall

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 08:00

As President Donald Trump left Washington, D.C. on Friday night for a weekend at his Florida retreat, the President again made clear his displeasure with the pace of negotiations in Congress on funding for border security, as Mr. Trump indicated to reporters he is ready to declare a national emergency in order to access money to build a wall along portions of the Mexican border.

“We will be looking at a national emergency, because I don’t think anything is going to happen,” President Trump said of talk to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

“We’re getting nowhere with the Democrats,” Mr. Trump said. “The Democrats are doing a tremendous disservice.”

With his State of the Union Address set for next Tuesday night – and a February 15 funding deadline looming – President Trump indicated he might well be discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency on the wall.

“I’m saying listen closely to the State of the Union. I think you’ll find it very exciting,” Mr. Trump said.

President Trump hints at border wall action around the State of the Union address https://t.co/OQymkx60vq pic.twitter.com/VGxXUHMsFC

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 1, 2019

In Congress, Republicans were making more noise as well, complaining about a lack of action in House-Senate negotiations – those talks convened on Wednesday, but there was no sense on Capitol Hill that a deal was near.

So far, Democrats have not made public the legislative text and full details of their offer on border security funding, something which was noted by GOP lawmakers.

“We are two weeks away from the next government shutdown. The House adjourned until Tuesday. There are no meetings scheduled,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), one of the members of the House-Senate conference committee.

“The country was led to believe this would be a real negotiation,” Graves added.

Republicans said the lack of action was one reason why the President might well choose to unilaterally act.

.@realdonaldtrump: holding dozens of meetings to find a border security compromise

"Conference committee:" 1 meeting in 7 days, with 0 additional meetings currently scheduled

And people wonder why POTUS is being forced toward executive action. Why isn't conference working 24/7?

— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) February 1, 2019

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a deal must be reached before February 15 – as she told reporters an agreement needs to be in hand next Friday, February 8.

100 months in a row – U.S. economy adds 304,000 jobs in January

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 14:19

The U.S. economy continued to show strength at the start of 2019, as the Labor Department reported Friday that businesses added 304,000 jobs in the month of January, marking the 100th straight month of job growth, as the overall unemployment rate edged up slightly to 4.0 percent.

“The 100th straight month of gains indicates that labor market remains robust and that the economy remains quite strong despite recent turmoil in the financial markets,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, a Chief Economist with Lending Tree.

“The American economy continues to thrive,” said Rep. Bradley Bryne (R-AL), as the jobs report represented another positive monthly tally for the Trump Administration.

“Job gains occurred in several industries, including leisure and hospitality, construction, health care, and transportation and warehousing,” the feds reported.

ALERT: Labor Dept. says economy added 304,000 jobs in January. The job growth came during the 35-day government shutdown. Unemployment rate inches up to 4 percent, from 3.9 percent.

— Mitchell Miller (@mmillerwtop) February 1, 2019

The January job growth numbers would be the second best report under President Donald Trump; originally, that had been in December’s report, but the Labor Department made an unusually large downward revision in the number of jobs reported that month, as December went from a gain of 312,000 to 222,000.

“After revisions, job gains have averaged 241,000 per month over the last 3 months,” the report stated.

“Our economy continues to boom,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).

“Now is the time to push for more pro-growth policies, not reckless tax hikes and government spending,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN).

The 100 straight months of job growth extends all the way back to September of 2010, when the U.S. economy was still trying to get out of the recession that hit in 2008.

Senate advances GOP rebuke to Trump on Syrian, Afghanistan withdrawal

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 20:56

Amid bipartisan dissent over President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. military forces from both Syria and Afghanistan, the U.S. Senate on Thursday easily advanced a GOP plan rebuking the President for his policy choice and expressing the Senate’s opposition to such efforts, as leading Republicans said an American military withdrawal from those two nations could mean a more potent future threat from Iran or groups like the Islamic State.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, and the plan for a U.S. withdrawal. “That’s why this is a bad idea.”

“I believe the threats remain. ISIS and al Qaeda have yet to be defeated,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who sponsored the amendment which advanced in the Senate on Thursday afternoon. “American national security interests require continued commitment to our missions there.”

Led by the Majority Leader, the non-binding measure was a rare rebuke of President Trump’s foreign policy decisions, as the Senate voted 68 to 23 to force an end to debate on the McConnell plan, a resolution which warns that a ‘precipitous withdrawal’ would work to the “detriment of United States interests and those of our allies.”

“We can decide not to go after them, but they will come after us,” Rubio said in a speech on the Senate floor questioning the President’s withdrawal plans. “I think it’s a grave mistake.”

The vote fractured both parties, putting some like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) on the same side as the President, while a majority of both parties registered their disapproval of the President’s withdrawal plans.

“Precipitously withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan will deeply harm American interests and security,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Just before the vote, President Trump was asked by reporters at the White House about U.S. policy in both Syria and Afghanistan – he repeated his assertion that the U.S. is making gains, and that it’s time to bring those missions to a close, especially in Afghanistan.

“We’re going into close to 19 years in being in Afghanistan, and for the first time, they’re talking about settling, talking about making an agreement,” the President said of ongoing talks with the Taliban, as he said it opens the chance to “bring our people back home.”

The President’s withdrawal plans in Syria and Afghanistan have already put him at odds not only with members of both parties in the Congress, but also with top military leaders – as the Syria withdrawal was the main reason ex-Defense Secretary James Mattis was forced out of his post late last year, because he disagreed with the President’s decision.

This vote was maybe the strongest push back yet from GOP Senators to the President’s foreign policy choices, but there were some Republicans who stuck with the President, arguing that the mission had gone on long enough.

I stand with @realDonaldTrump. It is time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan and Syria. It is ludicrous to call withdrawal after 17 years "precipitous." pic.twitter.com/IKMjOruKP1

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 31, 2019

“It’s time to declare victory in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

“Just because Trump is bungling Syria policy doesn’t mean Democrats should endorse endless war, nor this amendment which asserts American forces are in Syria to fight Iran,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).

The McConnell amendment on the President’s withdrawal plans is part of a broader Mideast policy bill, which could come to a final vote in the Senate next week.

Pelosi: “There’s not going to be any wall money” in border funding bill

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 19:01

A few hours after President Donald Trump again said a wall must be part of any effort to secure the southern border with Mexico, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave the back of the hand to the President’s signature campaign pledge, bluntly predicting to reporters that House-Senate negotiators will not produce a deal with wall funding.

“There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.

Pelosi did not entirely close the door on new border fencing, saying if it’s appropriate, then such plans could be part of an overall legislative solution as Congressional negotiators work out a plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security for 2019.

“Is there a place where enhanced fencing – Normandy fencing – would work?” Pelosi said of the work of lawmakers trying to broke a deal on border security funding. “Again, let them have that discussion.”

.@SpeakerPelosi: "There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation.”

Full video here: https://t.co/plKXP06cJr pic.twitter.com/yriWGz4kDo

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 31, 2019

During a photo opportunity in the Oval Office an hour later, the President fired back at the Speaker, as he talked of new illegal immigrant caravans forming in Central America, and moving toward the U.S. southern border.

“If there’s no wall, it doesn’t work,” Mr. Trump said. “Without a wall, it doesn’t work.”

“Nancy Pelosi will be begging for a wall,” the President told reporters.

In his Thursday afternoon exchange with reporters, Mr. Trump repeatedly said he was already building sections of the wall along the Mexican border – which is not accurate – as he once more made clear that he would accept nothing less than a DHS funding bill with wall money.

“If they don’t have a wall, I don’t even want to waste my time reading what they have,” the President said of the work of House-Senate negotiators.

President Trump: "If you go to Tijuana and you take down that wall you will have so many people coming into our country that Nancy Pelosi will be begging for a wall. She'll be begging for a wall."

Full video: https://t.co/cwlOAuvt1w pic.twitter.com/R2Kc7uohlS

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 31, 2019

If there’s no agreement satisfactory to the President, he has already indicated he would consider declaring a national emergency, and trying to move money around in the federal budget, which could then fund construction of a wall.

“Because he has been unable to get Mexico to pay for his wall, President Trump wants to run it through executive fiat instead,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).

But some Republicans warned that if the President used that authority – and moves to expand the powers of the Executive, Democrats would be more than happy to use those expanded authorities one day when they are back in power.

“They love the idea, currently championed by many Republicans, that “emergency” has no meaning — that the President alone defines it,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “They can’t wait for him and other Republicans to ratify that view.”

Speaker Pelosi proves yet again that the Democrats are not negotiating in good faith. They have put politics above our national security. I'm encouraging @POTUS @realDonaldTrump to use his authority under Title 10 of U.S. Code to access billions of dollars for the wall. https://t.co/CgY77YhyZc

— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) January 31, 2019

Asked if he would declare a national emergency in order to build his wall, the President didn’t miss a beat.

“I would do that,” Mr. Trump said.

Trump again hints at national emergency to build border wall

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 13:56

A day after formal House-Senate negotiations convened in Congress on border security funding, President Donald Trump on Thursday once more signaled that he was ready to divert money to a border wall without the help of lawmakers, tweeting that Republicans are “wasting their time” in trying to come up with a deal in Congressional talks.

“Democrats, despite all of the evidence, proof and Caravans coming, are not going to give money to build the DESPERATELY needed WALL,” the President tweeted.

“I’ve got you covered,” Mr. Trump added, reinforcing the thought that he might take the option of declaring a national emergency under existing law, and move to shift money around in the budget to fund construction of a border wall.

A deal on border security funding must be reached by February 15, or there is a risk of a second partial government shutdown.

Trump seems to be giving the OK that he doesn’t need the House-Senate conference to come up with any money for the wall, as he considers declaring a national emergency. If the wall is out of the talks, a deal can be easily reached and another shutdown can be averted https://t.co/GVSG9IdyRv

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 31, 2019

Lets just call them WALLS from now on and stop playing political games! A WALL is a WALL!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 31, 2019

President Trump’s tweets came after House Democrats unveiled the outlines of a border security funding plan which included no direct provision for border barriers – whether they are described as fencing or walls.

“We will push for a smart, effective border security posture, one that does not rely on costly physical barriers,” Democrats wrote.

You can see the full plan from Democrats here.

It wasn’t immediately apparent if Democrats would be open to a compromise which included some border security funding – or if the President would simply use the ‘national emergency’ declaration in an effort to fund those priorities.

In Congress, lawmakers on the House-Senate panel tasked with negotiating a deal said it was time to forge a compromise.

“It means by definition, nobody gets everything they want,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).

“Compromise means both sides have to get something they need, right?” asked Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND).

“We certainly have a lot of work to do,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).

In one of his social media posts on Thursday morning, the President again tweeted that the wall is already being built along the Mexican border – that is not true; no new sections of border barrier have been funded and constructed during his two years in office.

Plan to make Election Day a national holiday draws GOP ire

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:30

Part of a broader package of voting rights, ethics reforms, and campaign finance changes, an idea from Democrats in Congress to make Election Day a federal holiday – in order to increase voter turnout – has spurred sharp attacks from Republicans in Congress, who have accused Democrats of trying to use that and other election changes to tilt elections in their favor.

“Their bill would make Election Day a new paid holiday for government workers,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday, as he denounced the broader election reform efforts by Democrats as a ‘power grab.’

“Just what America needs, another paid holiday,” McConnell said derisively, part of a broader GOP attack on the broader voting rights package from Democrats, which had its first hearing this week before a House committee.

“They want to make Election Day a holiday – a paid holiday – for federal employees,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) with a note of outrage in his voice on the floor of the House Wednesday. “This is not the respect taxpayers deserve.”

On Senate floor Mitch McConnell rips a federal holiday for Election Day as part of a “power grab” by Democrats to win elections.

— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) January 30, 2019

In a sharp attack on the Democratic bill – which would seem to have little chance of coming up for a vote in the GOP-led Senate, Majority Leader McConnell ridiculed it as a “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”

In a second straight day of criticism from the Senate floor of the House bill, McConnell said the “sprawling proposal is basically the far left’s entire Christmas wish list where our nation’s political process is concerned.”

Republicans have also attacked a provision in the Democratic bill, which would allow federal workers to take off up to six days – without losing annual leave or pay from their jobs – in order to train and then serve at polling places on Election Day.

In his speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, McConnell labeled it a ‘brand-new paid leave benefit of up to six days for any federal bureaucrat who decides they’d like to hang out at the polls during any election.’

Democrats said the opposition of Republicans to some of the ideas to help boost voter turnout was telling.

“If your political party will be hurt by more people voting, you need to change your party, not prevent people from voting,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL).

“Voting isn’t a “power grab”. It’s democracy, and it’s literally the entire point of our representative government,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

“The GOPs greatest nightmare: people actually voting,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY).

“You shouldn’t have to choose between going to work and playing a critical role in our democracy,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“People should not be forced to choose between their job or family and exercising their right to vote,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who introduced the same language as a standalone bill, the ‘Election Day Holiday Act.’

The idea of a national holiday for Election Day is not new; President John F. Kennedy tapped a special panel to look at voting reforms, which suggested that “states should consider declaring the day a half-day legal holiday.”

House okays 2.6 percent pay raise for federal civilian workers

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 19:05

Just days after the end of a five week partial government shutdown, the House comfortably voted Wednesday to overrule an executive order issued in December by President Donald Trump, as Democrats sent the GOP Senate a bill which would authorize a 2.6 percent pay hike for civilian federal employees, matching a 2019 pay raise approved by the President for members of the military.

“Congress can override, and Congress should override this executive order,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who represents thousands of federal workers in his suburban Washington, D.C. district.

The vote was 259-161, as 29 Republicans broke ranks to vote for the pay raise measure.

In debate on the floor of the House, Democrats argued there was no reason that federal civilian employees should be treated differently than those at the Pentagon.

“They need a pay raise, not a pay freeze,” said Raskin, as lawmakers noted this would be the largest civilian pay raise for federal workers since 2009.

In recent years, federal workers have endured pay freezes, furloughs, sequestration & the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. That's why I'm voting yes today for H.R. 790, the Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act to provide a 2.6% pay raise upon enactment.

— David Scott (@repdavidscott) January 30, 2019

In debate, Republicans questioned the pay increase with two arguments – first, that in times of large deficits, no pay hike is needed – and second, that more efforts at merit pay for high-achieving workers is necessary.

A procedural effort by GOP lawmakers to focus the bill only on merit pay matters was defeated by the House.

“We’re talking about not an insignificant amount of money in this bill,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA). “I want good work to be recognized with good pay.”

“Why the rush to put this bill on the floor?” asked Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), as Republicans said there should have been hearings on the plan to override the President’s decision, labeling the Democratic plan a ‘messaging bill.’

“Regardless of how you perform, we’re going to give everybody the same increase,” Meadows said, arguing poor performers shouldn’t be rewarded in the federal work force.

“I’m against this bill,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who argued federal workers are making too much money as it stands. “How is that fair?”

Republicans also reminded Democrats that President Obama froze federal worker pay for three years, in 2011-2013, as union officials said federal workers have fallen behind the private sector in recent years.

“Federal employees earn nearly 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade, incurring over $200 billion in cuts to their pay and benefits since 2011,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr.

While there is support for this pay raise measure in the Senate, it’s not clear if the bill will be considered – and even if approved – whether it would be vetoed by President Trump.

The pay raise for federal workers would not apply to members of Congress. Their salary of $174,000 has not changed since 2009.