News

U.S. House passes bill to revive Obama-era net neutrality rules

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted on Wednesday to approve legislation that would reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules that prevent internet service providers from meddling with web traffic.

The legislation, dubbed the “Save the Internet Act” from Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) passed the House 232-190, largely along party lines. One Republican, Bill Posey of Florida, broke ranks with his party to support the bill.

All 11 members of the North Carolina delegation voted along party lines, with Democratic members (Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price) voting “yes” and Republicans (Tedd Budd, Virginia Foxx, George Holding, Richard Hudson, Patrick McHenry, Mark Meadows, David Rouzer and Mark Walker) voting “no.” Two seats – the 3rd and 9th districts – are currently vacant.

Doyle hailed the House passage of the legislation. “There has to be some sort of cop on the beat,” he said in an interview. “Right now there are no rules,” he added, calling it the “wild, wild West.”

Under the Trump administration, the Federal Communications Commission voted in 2017 to toss out the net neutrality rules put in place in 2015 under the Obama administration. Those regulations barred broadband providers from blocking some websites or charging for some content.

But the measure faces long odds in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week that it was “dead on arrival,” and that it won’t see a vote in the GOP-led chamber. The White House has suggested President Trump would veto the measure if it reached his desk.

Doyle said Senate supporters of the effort have “some strategies” to build support for the effort.

He noted that the chamber last year approved a resolution to undo the Trump administration’s rule reversal. That effort had the backing of three Republican senators and all of the Democratic senators.

Doyle said lawmakers will undoubtedly face pressure from their constituents to back the effort. “This is big out in the country,” he said, and is only controversial in Washington, D.C. “This isn’t a partisan issue,” he added.

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

News

Both sides seek political leverage from Mueller’s findings

WASHINGTON — The conclusions of the long-awaited report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller have Republicans declaring victory for President Trump, as Democrats demand more answers and pledge further investigations.

The four-page summary of Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was submitted to lawmakers Sunday by Attorney General William Barr.

According to Barr, Mueller’s investigation did not find evidence that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference. Mueller also declined to draw a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, saying that while his report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Trump heralded the findings. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” the president wrote on Twitter Sunday.

Trump’s allies were quick to rally behind the president, portraying the entire exercise as a waste of time and money.

His spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, labeled the Mueller probe a “two-year waste of taxpayer time and dollars,” speaking on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday.

“Democrats in Congress who have stated that they found ‘ample evidence’ of collusion, that there was ‘direct evidence’ of collusion, and that there is a ‘cloud of treason’ surrounding the White House were wrong. These statements were lies,” Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz said in a statement. “The people who spread these lies owe President Trump and the American people an apology.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have seized on the obstruction of justice comments in the report to call for further investigations. They continue to push for the release of the entire Mueller report.

“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.

“The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay.  Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”

Pelosi and Schumer added that “for the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he plans to call Barr in to testify before his committee “in light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President.” He plans to summon Barr “in the near future,” he wrote on Twitter.

The U.S. House voted 420-0 earlier this month in support of a resolution to release the full Mueller report.

In a tweet, Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield from North Carolina’s First District called for a full release of the report, saying “Now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has completed his investigation, transparency is paramount. It is absolutely imperative AG Barr expeditiously release the report to Congress an the American people.”

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina’s 11th District tweeted “After 22 months of a special counsel and 2 years of congressional investigations, it’s over. The clock has finally struck midnight on the ‘Russian collusion’ fantasy. No collusion.”

Sanders said on the “Today” show Monday that the president is leaving it up to Barr to decide whether to release the report. “I don’t think the president has any problem with” releasing the report, she said. “He’s more than happy for any of this stuff to come out because he knows exactly what did and what didn’t happen.”

Robin Bravender is Washington Bureau Chief for The Newsroom network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member. Rob Schofield contributed to this report.

News

U.S. House Democrats pass sweeping voting rights, ethics legislation

House Democrats gather outside of the U.S. Capitol–Photo: Cindy Carr, Sierra Club

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats today passed a broad election reform and ethics bill that they’ve made their top legislative priority this Congress.

The legislation, referred to as H.R. 1, passed the House on a vote of 234-193 on Friday along party lines. Its passage marks a symbolic win for Democrats, who seized control of the chamber this year after eight years in the minority. But the measure is unlikely to get a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate or make it to President Donald Trump’s desk.

The House Democrats’ massive bill aims to — among other things — curb the influence of money in politics, increase public financing of campaigns, expand voting rights, end partisan gerrymandering and force the disclosure of presidential candidates’ tax returns.

“For months, for years, really for decades, millions of Americans across the country have been looking at Washington and feeling like they’ve been left out and left behind,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Friday outside the U.S. Capitol.

H.R. 1, Sarbanes said, seeks to “restore ethics and accountability, to fight back against the interests of big money in our politics, and to make it easier, not harder, to register and vote in America.”

Republicans in the House and Senate have opposed the bill, warning that it’s unconstitutional, would limit political speech and would use taxpayer cash to fund political campaigns.

House Democrats “want the government to interfere in our free and fair elections,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a video posted this week. “It’s not designed to protect your vote. It’s designed to put a thumb on the scale of every election in America and keep the swamp swampy.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the effort a “power grab” by the Democrats. He has also called the bill a “parade of horrible” and said he wouldn’t hold a vote on it “because I get to decide what we vote on.”

Democrats are using McConnell’s comments against him.

“One senator said this is a power grab. Yes it is, it’s a power grab for the American people,” California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren said Friday.

Democrats in both chambers intend to use the House passage of the bill — and the expected inaction by the Senate — as a messaging tool. They think GOP opposition to the bill won’t go over well with voters.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said ahead of the vote, “Let us look to the Senate and say, when we pass this bill, it’s not just what happens on this floor, it’s the message it sends to the American people.”

Pelosi added, “We’re not going to end until we win. … We can save a lot of time by the Senate just agreeing to the ‘For the People’ agenda.”

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

News

A path that was “uniquely his own”: House members remember, pay tribute to Walter Jones

The late Rep. Walter Jones, Jr.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Walter Jones had a habit of referring to many of his U.S. House colleagues as “chairman.”

Some weren’t sure why, but they found it endearing.

“Even though Walter was one of my best friends, he would always refer to me as chairman,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). “I used to think that was because I was the chairman of the House Liberty Caucus. Then one day, I realized that he would call all sorts of people chairman. So I asked him about it, and he told me, ‘Everyone is chairman of something.’”

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said of Jones, “He too called me Mr. Chairman. I never understood exactly why he would do that, but that was his vocabulary and I found it very honorable that he would do that.”

Amash and Butterfield were among more than a dozen lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — who spoke on the House floor Tuesday night to honor Jones, who died on Feb. 10 — the day of his 76th birthday. Jones had represented North Carolina’s 3rd District since 1995.

Above all, Jones’ former colleagues emphasized his kindness and the independent streak that sometimes got him into political trouble.

The North Carolina Republican lawmaker is perhaps most widely known for his public pivot on the Iraq War. He was at first an enthusiastic supporter of the invasion, but he later renounced that vote, becoming a prominent critic of U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) met Jones long before the two of them were elected to Congress, when they both worked on Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign. Price has a photo on his desk of a “very youthful-looking group” of staffers to prove it, he said.

David Price

After that, Price and Jones took different political paths, with Jones charting a course that was “uniquely his own.” The Republican lawmaker “found himself frequently at odds with if not one party then the other,” Price said, but that offered opportunities for alliances and cooperation in unexpected places.

Jones “was never afraid to challenge the status quo, often to the chagrin of his party leaders” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), an Iraq War veteran. “Walter was courageous. He didn’t care about party politics, and as a result, he suffered the consequences in tough primary elections, but he didn’t care. He never hesitated to stand up for what he believed in.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) sat next to Jones for “hundreds of hours” on the House floor, he said.

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Environment, News

Environmental advocates running ads in NC urging Tillis to oppose Trump’s EPA nominee

Andrew Wheeler

The Sierra Club announced Wednesday that it began running Facebook ads encouraging Tillis to vote against the confirmation of Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and a former staffer to the Senate’s leading climate change skeptic, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe.

Wheeler — who has been EPA’s acting administrator since former administrator Scott Pruitt resigned last year amid a flurry of ethics investigations — is expected to easily win confirmation in the GOP-led Senate.

Melinda Pierce, federal policy director at the Sierra Club, accused Wheeler of bending “to the demands of big polluters” at the helm of the EPA.

“With Wheeler leading the EPA we’ll see more rollbacks of vital safeguards, more pollution, more asthma attacks, and more hospital stays,” she added. “Any Senator who votes for Andrew Wheeler is voting to endanger their constituents with toxic mercury, PFAS contamination, and dangerous carbon pollution.”

Tillis voted to confirm Wheeler as EPA deputy administrator in 2018, and he isn’t expected to break ranks with his party to oppose Wheeler. Tillis did distance himself from the president this week, writing in an op-ed that he plans to support a resolution that would terminate Trump’s emergency declaration, which seeks to circumvent Congress to fund the construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border.

The Sierra Club is also running ads targeting Republican Sens. Cory Gardner in Colorado, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Susan Collins in Maine and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee.

Click here to learn more about the Sierra Club’s North Carolina chapter.