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

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.