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

News

House passes bill to offer ‘dreamers’ path to citizenship

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bill that aims to give up to 2.5 million undocumented immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

The legislation — a top priority for House Democrats — would offer protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and others who are currently without permanent legal status.

H.R. 6, called the “American Dream and Promise Act,” passed on largely partisan lines by a vote of 237-187. Seven Republicans broke ranks to side with Democrats to support the bill.

The vote comes after the Trump administration announced plans to end an Obama administration program to protect young immigrants — known as “dreamers” — from deportation.

The House legislation would also offer a pathway to citizenship for immigrants with temporary protections, known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

“Protecting Dreamers and TPS and DED Americans is about honoring the respect for family that is at the heart of our faith and who we are as Americans,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a press conference ahead of the vote. “There should be nothing partisan or political about this legislation.”

The Center for American Progress reports that North Carolina is home to 65,400 immigrants who are eligible for protection under the Dream and Promise Act. These individuals live with 149,700 family members; among those family members, 34,800 are U.S.-born citizen children.  Dreamers in North Carolina who are eligible for protection under the bill arrived in the United States at the average age of 8. Eligible immigrants and their households in North Carolina contribute $326,400,000 in federal taxes and $201,000,000 in state and local taxes each year.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, accused the Trump administration of putting immigrants’ “lives in limbo” and called the bill’s passage “a historic moment for the nation and for each of the 2.5 million individuals who have built their lives here and deserve a long-term legislative solution.”

In previous years, legislative efforts to grant protections to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors have been bipartisan. But this effort appears unlikely to gain support in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate, given the partisanship that currently defines the immigration debate.

Many House Republicans warned that Democrats were wasting their time on legislation that’s dead on arrival in the Senate, while others warned that it encourages immigrants to break the law.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) portrayed the measure as “an amnesty bill to reward and incentivize the lawlessness besieging our country.”

The White House has issued a veto threat against the bill.

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

News, Trump Administration

Mueller speaks, says Trump not in the clear; Butterfield calls for him to testify

Robert Mueller testifying before Congress in 2013 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday stressed that his office did not consider it an option to charge President Trump with a crime as he and his team completed their investigation.

Mueller spoke for about 10 minutes Wednesday morning from a podium at the Justice Department, marking his first public appearance since launching a two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime,” he said, reiterating a key finding from his 448-page report.

Mueller said he was abiding by longstanding Justice Department policy, where “a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.” He added, “Charging a president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”

Many House Democrats considering how to proceed in investigating a defiant administration took Mueller’s comments as a clear signal that it’s up to lawmakers to aggressively probe the president’s actions.

“Special Counsel #Mueller’s statement today confirms both the evidence of obstruction by the President and the critical role of Congress under the Constitution going forward,” House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote.

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said that Mueller’s public appearance “adds new urgency,” to the matter, “putting it front & center before Congress & the American people. He’s asking us to do what he wasn’t allowed to — hold the president accountable.”

Mueller’s comments, while mainly restating the contents of his written report, further energized some who are clamoring to begin an impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the lone congressional Republican so far to push for impeachment, said of Mueller’s comments, “The ball is in our court, Congress.”

Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer said, “Special Counsel Mueller makes it clear that his investigation did not ‘exonerate’ Trump, and directly contradicts [Attorney General William] Barr’s public statements.” Beyer added, “Barr should resign, and Congress should open an impeachment inquiry into the President’s potentially criminal acts.”

Other lawmakers still want Mueller to testify before Congress, although the special counsel made it clear that he is closing up shop and doesn’t plan to offer much more information, even if he’s at the witness stand.

“I am speaking out today because our investigation is complete; the attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the special counsel’s office and as well I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life,” he said. He took no questions after he spoke.

Any congressional testimony he would offer “would not go beyond our report,” Mueller said. “We will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.” He noted that his office isn’t involved in conversations about congressional access to the evidence underlying his report, which lawmakers are also seeking to obtain.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield

“While Mueller’s report confirmed Russian interference in our 2016 election and did not exonerate Trump from obstruction; there are still many questions left unanswered,” Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said. “Mueller should testify before Congress. The American people deserve the whole truth.”

Trump and his GOP allies continued their defense of the president.

“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you,” Trump wrote on Twitter shortly after Mueller’s appearance.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) slammed Mueller’s transparency in a tweet. “If @realDonaldTrump doesn’t take a question for a few weeks, the media claims democracy is on life support,” Gaetz wrote. “Robert #Mueller took 22 months to do the investigation. Followed by a 9 minute drive-by obstruction allegation. And then does not take a SINGLE QUESTION.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief for the Newsroom network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

Defending Democracy, News

Mark Meadows denounces fellow Republican’s call for Trump impeachment

Mark Meadows

Justin Amash

WASHINGTON — North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows denounced his GOP colleague and longtime political ally who has called for President Trump’s impeachment.

In the face of blowback from his party, Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash doubled down on his arguments that Trump  “engaged in impeachable conduct.” Amash sparred openly with the top House Republican and drew rebukes from members of his own conservative House Freedom Caucus.

“We don’t agree with Justin,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Meadows told reporters as lawmakers returned to Washington to vote on Monday evening. Amash and Meadows were among the nine members who founded the caucus back in 2015, with the aim of shrinking the government.

Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another founding member, said Monday that they had just come from a Freedom Caucus board meeting where lawmakers were unanimously opposed to Amash’s position. Meadows and Jordan have been among Trump’s most vocal defenders in the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“I think he’s wrong. I just think Justin’s wrong on this,” Jordan said. “We had a board meeting and every single member of the House Freedom Caucus board felt he was wrong.” Amash was not at that meeting, Jordan said, but he had spoken separately with Amash after his public call for Trump’s impeachment.

Jordan said he doesn’t expect an effort to remove Amash from the Freedom Caucus and Meadows said the group hadn’t had discussions of that nature.

“Right now we’re trying to understand why Justin took the position he did,” Meadows said. “We don’t agree with his position. It’s a poorly informed decision, a conclusion that’s certainly faulty.” Meadows added that hopeful about “convincing” Amash and “sharing documents with him that he has not seen.”

Meadows and Jordan said they don’t expect any other Republican lawmakers to join Amash. “I think he’s going to be alone,” Jordan said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy slammed Amash in an interview Sunday with Fox News, saying, “He votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me. It’s a question whether he’s even in our Republican conference as a whole.”

Amash fired back on Monday, telling reporters, “I think everyone knows he’s lying. That is typical Kevin.”

Several other House Republicans on Monday highlighted Amash’s long-standing willingness to split from his party. Read more

News

U.S. House passes LGBTQ rights bill despite GOP opposition

WASHINGTON — U.S. House lawmakers on Friday voted to approve sweeping legislation aimed at barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in spite of broad opposition from House Republicans.

In a major victory for LGBTQ rights advocates, the House approved the bill, dubbed the Equality Act, by a vote of 236-173, including eight Republican votes. The North Carolina delegation split along partisan lines with all three Democrats voting for the measure and seven of eight republicans voting “no.” Rep. Mark Walker did not vote.

The measure would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act by explicitly banning discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit and the jury system.

House Democrats celebrated the bill’s passage as a landmark achievement by Congress.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, noted that Friday marked the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which found that racially segregated schools were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional.

“Today is also a historic day for the LGBTQ community,” Scott said. “Over the last decade, we’ve made progress in securing rights for the LGBTQ community … however, many legal barriers still remain. … The inconsistent patchwork of state laws leaves millions of people vulnerable to discrimination.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said,“We need to … ensure that all people in this country, no matter where they live are protected against hate and bigotry, exclusion and discrimination. The opportunities this country offers must be open to everyone in our country.”

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) called it ironic that her “LGBTQ constituents can get married to each other, but still in 29 states can be discriminated against in their jobs and public education and even in their jury service. This is wrong. This is un-American.”

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) said that “in Florida and many other states, LGBTQ Americans are still at risk of being fired, evicted, denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” She called the passage of the Equality Act a fitting way to commemorate the anniversary of the uprising at Stonewall, which took place in June 1969 and is considered the birth of the the modern LGBT rights movement.

Currently, less than half of the U.S. states have enacted their own laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank.

“In most states, same sex couples can be denied service in restaurants, fired from jobs, evicted from homes with no legal recourse. They can be mistreated and discriminated against and their government won’t stand up for them,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.). “This legislation takes us the next step in a long American tradition of expanding civil rights and protections. It affirms that in this country there is no us and them, it’s just us.”

Despite the fanfare in the House, the effort is unlikely to be enacted into law this Congress. Read more