Impeachment update: Trump acquitted, despite one GOP defector

President Donald Trump (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has survived impeachment, but he didn’t emerge unscathed.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday acquitted Trump on charges that he abused his power by pressuring a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. presidential election and then obstructed a congressional investigation into his actions.

The vote was almost entirely partisan, but Democrats scored a major political coup by winning the support of Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who was the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee. And Democrats will continue to use Trump’s behavior and his status as an impeached president against him heading into the 2020 election. North Carolina senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis voted to acquit.

Both of the impeachment articles fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors and remove him from office.

Article I, charging Trump with abuse of power, failed by a vote of 48-52. Romney was the only Republican to vote “guilty.”

Article II alleging obstruction of Congress was defeated 47-53, with Romney siding with Republicans.

“It is, therefore, ordered and adjudged that the said Donald John Trump be, and he is hereby, acquitted of the charges in said articles,” declared U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who presided over Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.

Trump was the third U.S. president impeached by the House; on Wednesday he also became the third president acquitted by the Senate.

The vote comes after several months of partisan sniping over impeachment has dominated politics in Washington, but the end of the trial isn’t likely to alter the tenor on Capitol Hill. On the eve of the acquittal vote, Trump delivered a divisive State of the Union address. Following his remarks, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) publicly shredded her copy of the speech.

Pelosi has stressed that impeachment will remain a stain on Trump’s tenure. “It is a fact when someone is impeached, they are always impeached. It cannot be erased.”

Democrats and Republicans alike warned of the long-term damage the process has caused, although they each pointed fingers at the other side.

“This partisan impeachment will end today, but I fear the threat to our institutions may not, because this episode is one of a symptom of something much deeper,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), accusing House Democrats of using impeachment power as a political weapon.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), complained that the Senate trial “wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition.” He and other Democrats were enraged when GOP senators voted against introducing witness testimony and additional documents into the Senate trial.

“You cannot be on the side of this president and be on the side of truth,” Schumer said on the Senate floor ahead of the acquittal vote.

House Democrats appear certain to continue investigations into the president.

House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters that he’s likely to subpoena John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. Bolton reportedly wrote in a book manuscript that Trump told him he was withholding aid to Ukraine to force an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, NPR reported.

Lawmakers have also been discussing efforts to censure Trump for his actions toward Ukraine, although it’s unlikely that effort would advance in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“Censure would allow this body to unite across party lines,” Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said this week on the Senate floor. “His behavior cannot go unchecked by the Senate.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for States Newsroom, a network of state-based news outlets that includes NC Policy Watch.

Virginia approved the ERA. Now what’s the holdup?

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment stand outside of the entrance to the Virginia Capitol on the opening day of the 2020 legislative session. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

WASHINGTON — Virginia’s sprint to green-light the Equal Rights Amendment this month was heralded by proponents across the country.

Buoyed by new Democratic majorities in both chambers of its General Assembly, Virginia became the 38th state to approve the amendment that would guarantee equal legal rights regardless of sex. It marked a watershed moment for advocates of the ERA, who have been scrambling to check off the needed 38 state ratifications after Congress endorsed the amendment in the 1970s.

But even the ERA’s most ardent supporters recognize that the victory was largely symbolic — at least for now. The amendment faces a spate of legal and political hurdles that must be cleared before equal rights can be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Hurdle No. 1: the expiration date

The ERA was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in the 1970s. But Congress set a deadline for state ratification: March 1979. Lawmakers extended the deadline to 1982, but that expired, too.

Enter Congress. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are now hoping to retroactively extend the deadline with new legislation.

In advance of Virginia’s expected ratification, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted last November to advance a resolution from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) that would remove the deadline initially laid out in 1972.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he expects to hold a House floor vote on the matter.

“I congratulate Virginia state lawmakers on passage of the Equal Rights Amendment last week,” Hoyer said in a statement. “I strongly support legislation introduced in the House, and I am working with the House Judiciary Committee to bring a bill to the Floor for a vote soon.”

Speier’s resolution to remove the ERA ratification deadline has the backing of 224 House co-sponsors, including three Republicans. All three North Carolina Democrats (Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price) are listed as co-sponsors while none of the state’s 10 Republicans have signed on.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced a Senate version of the resolution to remove the ERA deadline. His bill has 41 co-sponsors, including Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, but not Richard Burr of Thom Tillis.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration weighed in on the issue this month with a legal opinion that the ERA couldn’t be ratified due to the expired deadline.

The opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said, “Congress may not revive a proposed amendment after the deadline has expired.”

Supporters of adopting the ERA said that won’t deter them. “I do not believe that the OLC has the final word to dictate how Congress or the states proceed in amending the Constitution,” House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) told The Washington Post.

Hurdle No. 2: the Senate Read more

Pelosi picks impeachment squad; House votes to send articles to Senate

WASHINGTON — An Army veteran, a former cop and a congressional aide during the Nixon impeachment proceedings are among the U.S. House Democrats who will soon make the case for ousting President Donald Trump from office.

The U.S. House on Wednesday approved a resolution that named seven impeachment managers to serve as prosecutors in the upcoming Senate trial against Trump. The resolution also triggers the transmission of the impeachment articles to the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the roster of impeachment managers on Wednesday ahead of the floor vote.

“Today, I have the privilege of naming the managers of the impeachment trial of the president,” Pelosi said. “It is their responsibility to present the very strong case for the president’s impeachment and removal. The impeachment managers represent the patriotism, pluralism and vibrancy of America.”

The roster includes House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who have led the House impeachment investigations. Another manager, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), was on the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and she was a committee aide during the Nixon impeachment proceedings in the 1970s.

The other managers: Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a former litigator; Val Demings of Florida, a former Orlando police chief; House freshman and former U.S. Army ranger, Jason Crow of Colorado; and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, another freshman and former presiding judge of the Houston Municipal System.

Pelosi selected fewer House managers than there were during the Clinton impeachment proceedings; there were 13 Republican managers during Clinton’s Senate trial.

The Senate trial against Trump is expected to get underway as early as next Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed House Democrats Wednesday as the chamber prepared to send the impeachment articles to the upper chamber.

“Speaker Pelosi and the House have taken our nation down a dangerous road,” McConnell said. “If the Senate blesses this unprecedented and dangerous House process by agreeing that an incomplete case and subjective basis are enough to impeach a president, we will almost guarantee the impeachment of every future president.”

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

U.S. House votes to check Trump on military action against Iran — What you need to know

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

North Carolina delegation splits along party lines

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Thursday on a resolution to curtail President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without first securing congressional approval.

The chamber voted 224-194, largely along party lines, to approve the resolution from Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), which would direct Trump to halt the use of U.S. armed forces for hostilities against Iran unless it’s authorized by Congress or it’s “necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack” against the United States.

The vote on the resolution came days after Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassim Suleimani, who was in Iraq at the time. Military officials said Suleimani had active plans to kill Americans, but Trump’s critics in Congress have said the evidence of such a threat hasn’t been sufficient to risk a U.S. war against Iran.

“Last week in our view, the president, the administration conducted a provocative, disproportionate air strike against Iran, which endangered Americans and did so without consulting Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday ahead of the vote. “The administration must de-escalate and must prevent further violence. America and the world cannot afford war.”

With one exception (GOP Rep. Mark Walker, who did not vote, but who later issued a statement attacking the resolution), North Carolina’s delegation split along party lines in the vote, with the state’s Republican House members opposing the resolution and Democrats supporting the resolution to limit the president’s military power.

Three Republicans and Michigan independent Rep. Justin Amash joined Democrats to vote for the resolution. Eight Democrats voted against the measure.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a staunch Trump ally, was among the Republicans who supported the Democratic-led effort.

“If the members of our armed services have the courage to go and fight and die in these wars, as Congress, we ought to have the courage to vote for them or against them,” Gaetz said. “I support the president. Killing Suleimani was the right decision but engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision.”

Another Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, said ahead of the vote that his decision to vote for the resolution wasn’t “about supporting or opposing President Trump.”

Massie voted for Trump in 2016 and he plans to vote for him again, he said. “This vote is about exercising our constitutional authority, but more importantly, our moral obligation to decide when and where our troops are going to be asked to give their lives.”

‘Constitutional responsibility’ 

Slotkin, a freshman Democrat and a former CIA analyst, said the resolution was more than a theoretical exercise for her. Slotkin’s husband is a U.S. Army veteran, her step-daughter is an Army officer and her son-in-law’s unit is stationed at Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq, which was targeted by Iranian missiles this week, she said.

“If our loved ones are going to be sent to fight in any protracted war, the president owes the American public a conversation,” Slotkin said. She stressed that her resolution doesn’t tie the president’s hands when it comes to defending the United States. But when it comes to longer-term war, “We have a constitutional responsibility to authorize the use of military force.” Read more

‘Real rush’ of Trump rules expected ahead of 2020 election

WASHINGTON — The administration is preparing to finalize a host of high-profile rules in 2020, including policies that will impact everything from auto emissions to food stamp access.

With the November presidential election approaching, the administration is widely expected to make a push to wrap up pending regulations early in 2020 in an effort to bolster those rules against a possible Democratic administration that may seek to unravel Trump’s policies.

“There’s going to be a real rush this spring,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a limited-government advocacy group. Ebell led the Trump administration’s transition team at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency following Trump’s 2016 election. “They want to get everything final and the litigation started before mid-May,” he added.

If Trump loses in the November contest, his opponents would likely try to halt regulations using legislative and legal tools. Congress can overturn recently finalized rules, and the executive branch can move to walk back rules that are mired in court challenges.

In the coming months, “there’s probably going to be a push [by the Trump administration] to try to finalize anything that’s already been proposed,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory expert at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

Trump administration officials have been effective at overturning the work of their predecessors.

With the help of the GOP-led Congress, the administration effectively torpedoed a slew of Obama-era regulations. After Trump’s inauguration, GOP lawmakers used the Congressional Review Act to overturn 16 Obama rules, according to the Center for Progressive Reform. That law had been used only once before that, when the George W. Bush administration overturned a Clinton-era rule dealing with workplace safety.

Regulatory experts predict the administration is working hard behind the scenes to ensure that their own policies aren’t as vulnerable. Trump’s roadmap was laid out in a recent regulatory timeline, which estimates the dates for finalizing federal agencies’ rules.

Here’s a look at some of the noteworthy Trump regulations expected in 2020:

Food stamp restrictions 

The Trump administration came under fire for critics in December when it finalized one of three rules expected to dramatically reduce access to food stamps nationwide.

The administration is also expected to finalize the elimination of another policy that allows people to automatically qualify for food stamps if they receive certain other benefits. A third food stamp proposal would change how utility costs factor into benefit calculations.

Combined, the administration’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rules could lead to 3.7 million fewer people receiving food stamp benefits nationwide, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.

The two additional policies are expected to be finalized in May, according to the administration’s timeline.

Climate rule rollback

The administration is expected to soon finalize its overhaul of Obama-era greenhouse gas limits and fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks. Trump officials have called the Obama policy too costly, but the revisions have drawn a backlash from environmentalists and other critics.

The final regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department are expected in April, according to the administration’s timeline. The administration proposed freezing fuel economy standards through 2026 — reversing a major Obama climate rule that would have forced automakers to dramatically boost their fleets’ fuel economy by 2025.

Trump’s final rules are expected to modestly boost fuel efficiency in comparison with the proposal, Reuters reported, but the requirements are still expected to be far weaker than the Obama rules.

Health care

Early in 2020, the Trump administration is planning to finalize its rollback of an Obama-era rule barring health care providers from discriminating against transgender people.

The Obama administration rule barred discrimination based on “gender identity,” but the Trump administration’s draft replacement rule asserts that federal laws banning sex discrimination in health care don’t apply to people’s “gender identity,” NBC reported.

Critics of the draft policy from the Department of Health and Human Services warn that it will hinder access to medical care for transgender people. The Obama rule bans health insurers from restricting services that help people transition from one gender to another, according to The New York Times.

Campus sexual assault 

A contentious rule dealing with campus sexual assault is also expected to be issued soon.

The final rule from the Education Department is expected to give new rights to students accused of sexual assault, The Washington Post reported in November. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said when she issued the proposal, “Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.”

Opponents of the policy have warned that it’ll prevent reporting of sexual assault and harassment and won’t do enough to protect women on campuses. The final rule was slated for release in November 2019, according to the regulatory calendar, but has been delayed.