News

Virginia’s blue wave revives hope for the ERA in Washington

Photo: Ned Oliver of the Virginia Mercury

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House advanced a resolution on Wednesday that aims to ease the ratification of a constitutional amendment that would ensure equality for U.S. citizens under the law, regardless of their sex.

The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in the 1970s, but has failed to win approval by the 38 states needed for ratification. In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA and Illinois last year became the 37th state to do so.

The 13 states that haven’t ratified the ERA are: Arizona, Utah, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Virginia. Click here for more state information.

Now, backers of the amendment are pinning their hopes on Virginia after this month’s elections handed Democrats control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. The state is widely expected to ratify the ERA after Democrats assume power in January.

But there are some thorny legal issues that could complicate the process and are almost certain to land the matter in the courts if Virginia or another state does become the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

One prominent issue: a congressional deadline imposed when Congress passed the ERA. Lawmakers initially set a March 1979 ratification deadline for states, which was later extended to June 1982. But the amendment still hadn’t gotten the backing of 38 states when that deadline expired.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee attempted to nullify that deadline entirely.

The panel voted 21-11 along party lines to approve a resolution from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) that would remove the deadline initially laid out in 1972. The resolution, which now heads to the full House for a vote, has the backing of 217 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Tom Reed of New York.

All three North Carolina Democratic members — Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price  are among the co-sponsors.

This past August, an editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer echoed the arguments of advocates at North Carolina NOW and the ERA-NC Alliance that North Carolina should finally ratify the amendment. The editorial concluded:

“Women need the power of a constitutional amendment to ensure their protection from discrimination in the form of lower wages and harassment. Enshrining the equal rights of women in the Constitution should not be difficult. That it has proven so reveals the persistence of bias against women and demonstrates the need for the amendment.

North Carolina should make this long-denied right an enduring one.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced a Senate version of the resolution to remove the ERA deadline. His effort has the backing of Sens. Lisa Murkowsi (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine). But it’s unclear whether the effort will gain traction in the GOP-controlled Senate.

House Democrats hailed Wednesday’s vote as a historic event, lamenting the fact that the ERA hasn’t yet been added to the Constitution.  Read more

Defending Democracy, News

U.S. House green-lights Trump impeachment inquiry

President Donald Trump (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday voted to formalize its impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

Lawmakers adopted a resolution that lays out procedures for the inquiry that is already taking place in the House. That investigation is centered on whether the president abused his power by attempting to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponent.

The measure passed largely along partisan lines by a vote of 232-196, with no Republicans backing the resolution. One independent, Justin Amash of Michigan, voted in favor of the resolution and two Democrats voted against it. All 13 North Carolina representatives voted along party lines.

Democrats hailed the resolution as a roadmap that will provide for a fair and transparent process, while Republicans supportive of the president assailed the effort as a political attack.

“What is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said ahead of the vote. “Sadly, this is not any cause for any glee or comfort. This is something that is very solemn.”

House Democratic leadership had previously announced a formal inquiry, but held a floor vote in part to combat complaints from Republicans that the full chamber hadn’t been allowed to vote. Still, Thursday’s vote is unlikely to reduce the partisan fighting over the process.

Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday morning, “The Impeachment Hoax is hurting our Stock Market. The Do Nothing Democrats don’t care!” He added later, “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

Trump’s critics in the House insist that the president’s behavior and their constitutional obligations have driven them to pursue their investigation.

“The House impeachment inquiry has discovered a substantial body of evidence that the president of the United States has violated the Constitution by placing his political interests above the interests of the country, thereby putting both our democracy and the nation’s security in jeopardy,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “In light of this evidence, the House of Representatives must fully investigate.”

Raskin said the impeachment inquiry guidelines are “fair and strong and make sure that we can and will defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) said on the House floor, “I take no joy in contemplating the impeachment of a president, because in contemplating it, we must acknowledge a threat to our constitution and the values that bind us, not only as members of Congress but as Americans.”

House lawmakers, Scanlon added, have tried to investigate allegations of Trump’s misconduct using “traditional means,” only to be “stonewalled” by the White House.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) said he didn’t come to Congress to pursue an impeachment process, but “the facts demand it.” He added, “What we decide today will say more about us than it says about the conduct of the president.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said, “It’s time for the American people to see how the administration put our national security on the auction block in exchange for political favors.”  Read more

News, Trump Administration

U.S. House votes to sanction Turkey, recognize Armenian genocide

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Tuesday passed legislation with broad bipartisan support to impose sanctions against Turkey for its military invasion of northern Syria.

The legislation passed the House by a vote of 403-16. All 13 members of the North Carolina delegation voted “yes.” The measure comes after the chamber voted earlier this month to approve a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

The bill — sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas) — would impose sanctions on specific Turkish officials connected to the invasion. It would also sanction financial institutions that knowingly bankrolled the invasion and it would bar U.S. defense services from being transferred to the Turkish government if they may be used by Turkey for military operations in northern Syria.

Ahead of the vote, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Trump of unleashing “an escalation of chaos and security in Syria” when he announced plans to pull U.S. troops from the region. She warned that Trump had threatened lives, risked regional security and undermined U.S. “credibility as a trustworthy ally.”

Trump’s critics on both sides of the aisle blame the president for allowing a Turkish incursion into the region that targeted U.S. Kurdish allies. There is also bipartisan legislation in the Senate to impose sanctions on Turkey, but its fate is uncertain.

The House also voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night (405-11) to adopt a resolution that commemorates the “Armenian genocide,” when an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923 in the Ottoman Empire, which is now Turkey. North Carolina Representatives Virginia Foxx and Mark Meadows were among he 11 “noes.”

Engel of the Foreign Relations Committee has said the House wants to send a clear signal with its recent actions regarding Turkey. “I think some of us are a little bit annoyed with Turkey, and we want them to know how much annoyed we are,” he told NPR.

The “genocide” label is highly contentious and previous attempts to pass a similar resolution fell through in recent years, due in part to pushback from Turkey. The Turkish Embassy cautioned this week against any attempt by the House “to pass judgment on the events of 1915,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

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

News, Trump Administration

Congress, Butterfield pay tribute to the late Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, an influential Democrat in Congress, died last week.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sat next to Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) on the floor of the U.S. House a few weeks ago, when Cummings cast what would be his last vote in Congress.

The Maryland Democrat “didn’t know it was his last [vote], but it was,” Butterfield said. Cummings’ staff helped him get out of his chair. “He looked at me that day and said, ‘I’m so sick. I love you man,” recalled Butterfield, who was among the many lawmakers who paid tribute to Cummings on the House floor on Monday.

“Well I say to you tonight, Congressman Cummings, ‘I love you, we love you, America loves you,’” he said.

Cummings died last week at age 68 after serving in the House for 23 years. He was chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and previously served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“He was a leader who loved this nation and all of its people and fought until his very last breath for those who had been left out and left behind,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

Lewis and Cummings used to joke about the fact that people confused them for each other. “It was an honor to know and to love him,” Lewis said. “We have lost a warrior and I don’t think we’ll be so lucky or so blessed to see the likeness of this man again.”

N.C. Rep. G.K. Butterfield

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Majority Whip, spoke of Cummings’ legacy.

“It’s a simple legacy that I would hope all of us will remember,” he said. “It matters not where you come from, what really matters is how far you go.”

Cummings, Clyburn added, “came to this body knowing full well that he was coming into a body where people stood on the shoulders of giants. He didn’t set out to be a giant, but he became one. And we today are much better off because of Elijah Cummings.”

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that when Cummings spoke, “he spoke with moral authority, frequently reminding us that we are better than that.”

Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., lamented the timing of her former colleague’s death.

“Tragically, we have lost Elijah Cummings when this House perhaps most needed his principled leadership,” said Holmes Norton, who serves on the oversight panel that’s involved in the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

“Elijah Cummings’ legendary even-handedness will be most missed and sought after by all who are looking for a role model and for best practices for the rare impeachment inquiry,” she said.

Cummings’ fellow Maryland lawmakers also mourned their former colleague on Monday.

“Even as he commanded a gavel as chairman, he never stopped fighting for Baltimore and the little guy,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.).

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said, “I was thinking today as I drove from Baltimore through West Baltimore, the community he loved, about his fight for the soul of our democracy and I had anxiety. Can we finish that fight without him?

“But it occurred to me that Elijah would not have left us when he did if he didn’t believe that we had it within ourselves to finish that fight.”

Robin Bravender is the D.C. bureau chief for the States Newsroom. 

Environment

Burr, Tillis reject effort to overturn Trump power plant rule

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected Democrats’ attempt to overturn a controversial Trump administration power plant regulation.

Democrats forced a Senate floor vote on a resolution to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s power plant rule, which was seen as a weaker replacement for an Obama-era regulation to clamp down on power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The effort was seen as largely symbolic, given that Democrats hold 45 seats in the chamber (two independent senators also caucus with the Democrats). The resolution required only a majority to pass, but it fell short by a vote of 41-53.

Both North Carolina Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr voted against the measure.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who’s facing a tough re-election bid next year, was the only Republican who broke ranks to support the effort. Three Democrats — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Doug Jones of Alabama Joe Manchin of West Virginia — sided with most of the GOP in voting against the resolution.

A Sinema spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment. Our state, which is situated at the end of the nation’s air pollution tailpipe, has made substantial progress in reducing harmful emissions by increasing energy efficiency, adopting clean energy technologies, and improving air quality and public health,” Collins said in a statement. “While I am pleased by the progress our country has already made in reducing air pollutants, the Administration’s rule to repeal and rewrite the Clean Power Plan is a step in the wrong direction.”

Senate Democrats sought to force their Republican colleagues to go on the record backing a Trump rule that critics say falls short of what’s needed to combat climate change.

“The Trump administration’s Dirty Power Scam comes at a time when Americans are demanding we take bold action to confront the climate crisis and it must be reversed,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week when he announced the vote.

Senate Republicans control the voting schedule in the chamber, but Democrats were able to force a vote using the Congressional Review Act. The law allows Congress to overturn federal agencies’ regulations within 60 days after a rule is finalized. A CRA vote can be placed on the Senate calendar by securing the signatures of 30 members.

The Trump EPA regulation, dubbed the “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, was put forward as a replacement for President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan.” The Obama measure was a centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to fight climate change and would have set national emission limits for coal-fired power plants. The Trump EPA argued that Obama’s approach was illegal, and gives states far more flexibility over cutting emissions, The New York Times reported in June when the rule was finalized.

“The EPA has a congressionally mandated duty to protect the human health and the environment,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who authored the resolution. “The EPA has abdicated its responsibility in promulgating this deeply flawed rule.”