News, Trump Administration

Mueller to Congress: Report doesn’t exonerate Trump

Robert Mueller (Photo by Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Former special counsel Robert Mueller told lawmakers Wednesday that his investigation did not “completely and totally exonerate” President Trump of obstructing justice, contrary to what the president has claimed.

In the first of two back-to-back appearances before U.S. House committees, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, kicked off questioning Wednesday morning by pressing Mueller on Trump’s claims.

“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice,” Nadler said. Mueller replied, “That is correct.”

Nadler continued, “And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Mueller responded, “No.”

The report, Nadler went on, “expressly states that it does not exonerate the president.” Mueller said, “It does.”

Just before the hearing kicked off, Trump made his latest declaration on Twitter that the report found “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!”

Little new information was revealed during Wednesday’s hearings, as the famously scripted Mueller largely stuck to the findings of his report, and repeatedly refused to answer lawmakers’ speculative questions. But Democrats and Republicans alike on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees sought to use the closely watched hearings to gain political leverage — Democrats by asking Mueller to confirm portions of his 448-page report into Russian election interference, and Republicans by attacking Democrats’ motives and the integrity of Mueller’s team.

“For people who have read the Mueller report or followed these issues, this hearing was not surprising,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “For people who did not, this should have blown their minds, because they saw for the first time Robert Mueller saying yes to multiple instances of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.”  Read more

News, Trump Administration

U.S. House quashes effort to consider impeachment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday refused to consider impeachment articles against President Trump, with most Democrats siding with Republicans to kill the effort.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) attempted to use a procedural mechanism on the House floor to prod his colleagues to vote on his impeachment resolution stating that Trump “is unfit to be President and warrants impeachment, trial, and removal from office.”

But the House voted 332-95 in favor of a “motion to table” the effort, effectively killing the resolution. Only 95 Democrats supported Greens’ effort, with 137 Democrats joining 194 Republicans and Michigan independent Justin Amash to table the resolution.

North Carolina’s three Democrats split on the matter. David Price voted for the motion to table, while G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams voted against it. All 10 Republicans from the state voted “aye,” except for Mark Walker, who did not vote.

It comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats have urged the caucus to tread slowly on impeachment efforts. Even many of the Democrats who back an impeachment “inquiry” — a first step toward a floor vote on impeachment — say they want to spend time building a solid record against Trump in the House Judiciary Committee.

Green’s resolution specifically condemned Trump for his recent racist comments after the president told four Democratic members of Congress to “go back” to other countries.

Wednesday’s vote is expected to intensify the debate between the Democratic lawmakers who are anxious to move on impeachment and those — including some moderates who flipped Republian seats in November — who are wary of political pitfalls.

Trump derided impeachment supporters after the vote.

“The United States House of Representatives has just overwhelmingly voted to kill the Resolution on Impeachment, 332-95-1. This is perhaps the most ridiculous and time consuming project I have ever had to work on,” he wrote on Twitter. “This should never be allowed to happen to another President of the United States again!”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief of the States Newsroom Network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News

PW exclusive: Neither Burr nor Tillis is calling for Acosta resignation

Sec. of Labor Alexander Acosta

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers across Capitol Hill are stepping up calls for the immediate resignation of embattled Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta over his role in prosecuting a sexual abuse scandal more than a decade ago.

North Carolina Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis aren’t among them.

Acosta, a former federal prosecutor, is facing mounting pressure to step down this week after wealthy hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on Saturday and charged with sex trafficking amid accusations that he repeatedly abused underage girls. The accusations were detailed at length in an investigative series published last year by the Miami Herald.

As a U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta signed off in 2007 on what critics label a sweetheart deal. The agreement allowed Epstein to avoid federal prosecution and to serve 13 months in jail rather than potentially facing life in prison.

Asked whether Acosta ought to resign in light of his role in the plea deal, Burr said Wednesday, “That’s up to the administration.”

Tillis said in a brief interview, “I haven’t read the specifics. All I’ve seen is what’s reported, so I don’t know what the circumstances were of the agreement.”

Asked about Epstein, Tillis said, “He needs to go to jail for the rest of his life and I think that he will.”

Richard Burr

Thom Tillis

Both Burr and Tillis voted to confirm Acosta as President Trump’s labor secretary in 2017.

Other lawmakers — including top Democrats in both chambers of Congress — have issued pointed calls for Acosta’s resignation.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Acosta chose to let a “serial sex trafficker of children” off easy. “This is not acceptable,” Schumer added on the Senate floor. “We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America someone who has done this, plain and simple.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote on Twitter that Acosta “must step down. As US Attorney, he engaged in an unconscionable agreement [with] Jeffrey Epstein kept secret from courageous, young victims preventing them from seeking justice.”

North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams (D-12th) also called for his resignation in a statement issued Wednesday: Read more

News, Trump Administration

U.S. Senate passes border aid bill, heads to battle against House

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved its own $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package for the southern U.S. border, setting up a clash with U.S. House lawmakers who passed a dramatically different version the night before.

The Senate version passed on a vote of 84-8 with broad bipartisan support after the chamber voted to reject the House version.

The aid package has become the latest battleground over President Trump’s immigration policies. Government officials say the cash influx is urgently needed as agencies run low on funding needed to care for migrants, but Democrats and Republicans are divided over how much leeway to give the administration in using the funds to pursue its policy agenda.

Six Senate Democrats voted against the aid package that ultimately passed the chamber: Mazie Hirono of Hawaii; Ed Markey of Massachusetts; Robert Menendez of New Jersey; Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

“We are not going to stop the Trump administration’s inhumane and hateful assault on immigrants by giving more money to ICE and CBP,” Markey wrote on Twitter. “We must take a stand and say no more. That’s why today I voted NO on the border funding packages.”

Two Republicans voted against the bill: Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Another eight senators didn’t vote, including seven Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) also did not vote.

The House version passed Tuesday night, largely along party lines. That $4.5 billion aid bill includes more health and safety protections for migrants and more congressional oversight requirements.

Trump has pledged to veto the House version, and administration officials have said it would hamper their enforcement activities at the border.

The Senate rejected the House version earlier on Wednesday by a vote of 37-55.

Congressional leaders said they wanted to finalize the aid bill before lawmakers head home for the Fourth of July recess, but it’s unclear whether the chambers will be able to reconcile their differences in time.

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief of the Newsroom network of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

News

Adams, Butterfield, Price on board as U.S. House prepares to vote on $15 minimum wage

The U.S. House is poised to pass landmark legislation that would hike the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and could substantially increase pay for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.

But the effort faces steep hurdles in the Senate, including likely opposition from North Carolina Republicans Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, who have opposed previous efforts to raise the minimum wage.

House Democrats are planning to hold a floor vote on the Raise the Wage Act in July, according to Mariel Saez, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “Democrats ran on raising wages for American workers, and this remains a top priority for us,” Saez said.

The bill, whose lead sponsor is House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), would boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which was approved by Congress in 2007 and went into effect in 2009.

Rep. Alma Adams

The legislation cleared Scott’s committee in March and is expected to easily pass the full House. North Carolina Democrats Alma Adams, G. K. Butterfield and David Price are among the bill’s 205 cosponsors.

Adams, who is a member of the Education and Labor Committee and chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, issued a statement after the committee approved the measure back in March in which she lauded the legislation:

“Today is a day that was a long time in coming – I am proud that the Committee on Education and Labor approved a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2024. During 20 1/2 years in the North Carolina General Assembly, I fought for our state’s minimum wage to increase to $6.15. Never would I have thought that 13 years later, Congress would have to act to raise the minimum wage from $7.25. By passing the Raise the Wage Act, we are sending the message that if you work a full-time job, you should be entitled to the dignity of a fair wage. I look forward to seeing this landmark legislation come to the floor and be approved by the full House of Representatives.”

Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator and 2020 presidential contender, has introduced the Senate version of the House minimum wage bill.

“Just a few short years ago, we were told that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour was ‘radical.’ But a grassroots movement of millions of workers throughout this country refused to take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said in a statement.

“It is not a radical idea to say a job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it. The current $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. It must be increased to a living wage of $15 an hour.”

He’s not alone in the field of Democratic presidential contenders. Nearly all of those vying for the party’s 2020 nomination have endorsed the $15 minimum wage.

Polling earlier this year suggested that most registered voters would support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

If Congress ultimately boosts the minimum wage to $15 per hour, more than 1.6 million North Carolinians could directly benefit. The Workers Rights Project of the North Carolina Justice Center (the parent organization of NC Policy Watch) reported in March that: Read more