New York voting

Georgia has already passed laws restricting voting access. Texas, Florida, and a raft of other states are considering similar bills.

When voting rights advocates complain, officials say that they aren’t really tightening access to the ballot. They are making their laws more like New York’s and New York is a liberal state, so the measures they are taking must be okay.

One major problem: New York, where I have lived most of my adult life, is way behind the vast majority of states when it comes to making registering and voting fair, accessible, and convenient.

While we do have voter registration and address change available through the Department of Motor Vehicles, the wait time between registering and actually being able to vote is long. This also applies to changes in party registration, which affects access to primaries, which are closed. (A closed primary means that only those who have previously registered with that party are allowed to vote. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, political independents could request a ballot for any party they wished on voting day, fill it out, hand it in, and then have their name removed from the party list, going back to their independent status.) I would love to have same-day registration as some states do. A voter can then cast a provisional ballot which will be counted as soon as eligibility is verified.

Many states have long had no-excuse absentee voting or extensive vote by mail options. New York has not. Absentee ballots were restricted to those who would be out of town on election day and those who were physically unable to get to the polls. In 2020, people were allowed to check the box for illness/disability for fear of contracting COVID, so the basic structure of absentee voting is still intact. One useful option we do have is that one can file as having a permanent illness/disability and an absentee ballot will automatically be mailed to you for every future election. This has been very helpful to my parents and my friends who are elders.

2020 was the first presidential election in New York State with early in-person voting at centralized locations. Previously, the only way to vote in person before election day was to go to the county Board of Elections office, request a ballot, fill it out, and turn it back in. The early voting period was October 24-November 1, with election day being November third. In our county, the lines were long. We waited about three hours in line to vote; our county lengthened the hours available after a few days to cut the waiting times. As it turned out, we could have waited to vote on election day as our planned trip to visit family in the UK was cancelled the day before we were to leave, so we were in town on Nov. 3rd. Many states have much more extensive early voting periods, beginning several weeks before election day.

One thing that New York had been good about was having long hours on election day. Polls were open from 6 AM through 9 PM. Anyone who was in line by 9 PM could remain to vote, no matter what time that actually occurred.

New York has also been very slow with counting votes. Absentee votes couldn’t be counted for at least a week after election day. In some cases, the waiting period was closer to two weeks. While the presidential outcome was clear, some races were not officially certified for weeks after the election. The most severe was our Congressional district, which resulted in our representative not being sworn in until February 11th.

New York is continuing to pass legislation to make voting more accessible. Meanwhile, these other states that are claiming to be “keeping up with liberal New York” are in reality making vote more burdensome for their citizens. They are also adding ridiculous things like making it a crime to give food or water to people waiting in line to vote.

So remember, the next time you hear some politician crow about making their voting system more like New York’s, it is probably not a good thing.

The various shenanigans that are going on with states restricting voting access points out the necessity for action at the federal level. I am hoping that the For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will be passed by Congress for President Biden to sign into law. Taken together, these would ensure equal access to the ballot for all citizens, no matter where they live. It would be even better if the bill to make Washington DC a state is adopted so that the 700,000 people that live there finally have votes in Congress.

Every citizen deserves representation and an equal opportunity to vote!

filibuster update

Here at Top of JC’s Mind, I sometimes – and more frequently in recent years – wade into the political waters of the US. Last October, I mentioned the Senate filibuster and my hopes that is would be reformed, tangentially in this post and fleshed out a bit in the comments.

Remarkably, these early weeks of the Biden administration have given rise to a lot of public discussion of the filibuster and how this arcane Senate rule might be reformed or eliminated so that legislation can pass the Senate by majority vote rather than needing 60 of 100 senators to end debate and proceed to a vote. This is called “invoking cloture.”

For decades, filibusters and cloture votes were rare. Maddeningly, filibusters were used to attempt to derail legislation on civil rights, voting rights, labor rights, and anti-lynching. (Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has tried to argue that the filibuster was not used as a racist tool, but this twitter thread from Kevin Kruse proves him wrong with a long, but not exhaustive, list of past racially-motivated filibusters.)

During the Obama presidency, McConnell and the Republicans frequently used the filibuster to slow or prevent approving appointments and to keep legislation from reaching the floor for a vote. This was possible because all a senator needed to do was to say they wanted to filibuster and it would take sixty votes to end it, which, with all the Republicans sticking together, meant that there were never enough votes to invoke cloture and proceed to a vote. This led to a rule change that appointments were not subject to the filibuster, though other kinds of legislation still were.

One of the reforms to the process currently being discussed is to require that a senator wanting to filibuster must stay on the Senate floor and speak on the bill being debated. This revives the practice that was in place until 1975, although senators then weren’t required to speak on the bill and could read from the phone book or cookbooks or talk about totally unrelated topics.

There is also a proposal to change the cloture vote. Rather than needing sixty votes to end the debate, which puts the burden on the majority, the new rule would be that 40 or 41 senators would need to vote to continue the debate. This preserves the ability of the minority to put forth their arguments on something they feel strongly about but requires them to put forth effort to do so.

The hope is that these two reforms would break the stranglehold on bills that became so stark during the Obama administration. It might also engender more bipartisan bills actually making it to the Senate floor for a vote. (Mitch McConnell famously once filibustered his own bill when it became clear that President Obama would sign the bill into law. McConnell valued gridlock over governing.)

Or, given that it is just a Senate rule and not a law, the filibuster could be eliminated. Many think this would be the simplest path, but a few Democratic senators are vehemently opposed to ending it totally, although the impetus for reform is definitely gaining momentum.

While I had hoped that, under President Biden who was a long-time senator, some of the more moderate Republicans would want to vote for common-sense and popular bills such as the American Rescue Plan, we have yet to see that happen. The American Rescue Plan, despite its popularity with the public and its many provisions that benefit people in their states, garnered no votes from Republicans in Congress; it passed with a simple majority in the Senate due to special budgetary rules that prevented a filibuster.

There are now some popular and much-needed bills that have passed the House that will become test cases on whether or not bipartisan support is possible or whether it will take filibuster reform or elimination to get them on the floor for a vote. The For the People Act (H.R. 1/S. 1) addresses voting rights, campaign finance reform, government ethics, gerrymandering, and election security. Further voting rights issues are addressed in the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would help to restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which the Supreme Court struck down in 2013, on the grounds that these racial provisions were now obsolete. Sadly, we have seen evidence that they are not, as efforts are now underway in 43 states to restrict voting access to certain groups of people, including by making it harder for people of color to vote or by making it more difficult for students or elders to register and vote by mail.

There are two House-passed gun safety bills, one on universal background checks and one extending the time the FBI has to vet purchasers to ten days instead of the current three. Both of these measures have broad public support, including among Republicans and gunowners. An increase in the federal minimum wage is very popular with the public, as are bills to re-build our infrastructure, increase our production of goods and green energy to create sustainable jobs, and to increase taxes on the very wealthy.

If bills like these pass the House and appear on the Senate floor, what will the Republicans do? Will they vote yes in accord with their constituents? Will they filibuster to stop a vote from occurring? If they do decide to filibuster, they risk the Democrats reforming the filibuster, voting that certain kinds of bills such as voting rights are not subject to it, or eliminating it all together.

Fingers crossed that whatever scenario unfolds, these laws will be enacted for the common good. We have been waiting for Congress to actually participate in governing in the way the Constitution sets before them.

fears realized

Like me, many people feared the president’s reaction to the impeachment trial vote to leave him in office.

We were not wrong to be apprehensive.

The president has removed numerous people from their posts because they dared to do their duty and tell the truth. I can barely believe that he dismissed the Director of National Intelligence because a member of his staff briefed the House Intelligence committee on Russian interference with the 2020 election. These briefings are required, not optional.

Worse, the president is denying that Russia is interfering in this election and that they interfered in the 2016 election. The 2016 election interference is well-documented and resulted in indictments of over a dozen Russian GRU officers. The conclusion on Russian meddling in 2016 is supported by all the US intelligence agencies, the Democratic-led House Intelligence committee, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence committee, the first volume of the Mueller report, and the Mueller grand jury that handed down the indictments. We ought to have been preparing since 2016 to better secure our campaigning and election security, but the denial by the administration has kept Congress from passing needed legislation.

It’s terrifying.

The new acting Director of National Intelligence has no intelligence experience and is keeping his current job as ambassador to Germany. Meanwhile, the president has assigned his former bodyman to clear out appointees in various departments and agencies who he feels are not sufficiently loyal to him.

Civil servants and elected officials do not swear an oath to obey the president. They swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Of all people, the Attorney General should know this, but he has been undermining the work of his own department.

There are many people of good will and good morals who are trying very hard to ensure that the election is fair and that our government returns to respecting the rule of law and human rights. I hope we succeed, but, until it happens, I will be very afraid.

 

 

What a week!

I started the year by posting for 33 days in a row, thanks largely to Linda’s Just Jot It January.

Then, I fell off the wagon.

Today, though, I am taking advantage of being kept inside by a snowstorm to try to process what has been a surreal week into a post.

On the personal side, my spouse B has been involved in a major workshop week with co-workers from the US and Germany, so he has been working loooong days, sometimes capped off by group dinners that run late into the evening. Between his schedule and working around the weather, things were already feeling unsettled here.

This just added to what has been a very unsettling week here in the United States. T and I had watched giant swaths of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The House managers who served as prosecutors were very methodical in laying out their case. The president’s defense team was much harder to follow and tended to be in conflict with both some of the evidence and some of what other members of the team had presented. Their arguments were often circular.

For example, one of the arguments that the president’s team was making against the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress was that the House should have gone to court to enforce their subpoenas. Meanwhile, a court case that the House had brought trying to enforce subpoenas in the ongoing investigation of Russian election interference saw the Justice Department lawyers arguing that the courts weren’t the proper remedy, that impeachment was! As Rep. Adam Schiff, who was leading the House managers, said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Because the Senate had voted not to call witnesses or request documents, the first part of the week was about senators being able to speak for ten minutes about their reasoning behind their upcoming trial vote on Wednesday. However, on Tuesday night, President Trump gave his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

The State of the Union is usually a very formal and solemn opportunity for the president to lay out their agenda for the coming year, including what legislation they would like to see taken up by Congress and passed. It was obvious from the start that this address was not going to follow that norm, when the Congressional Republicans started chanting “four more years” before the president even began speaking.

Much of the president’s message mirrored his campaign speeches. As a reasonably well-informed citizen, I knew immediately that some of the things the president was claiming were not true. He tried to take credit for things that actually happened during the Obama administration. He said he would always protect health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions at the same time the Justice Department is in court trying to have those protections under the Affordable Care Act thrown out.

It was surreal.

The State of the Union often features special guests of the president who sit in the gallery near his family. Their stories are inspiring and heart-warming. President Trump added a twist, though, in that most of the people received a surprise reward.  This seemed to harken back to Donald Trump’s experience as a “reality show” celebrity. A couple of these surprises made me cringe. There was a girl, attending with her mom, who received a scholarship to attend a private school. Education is a wonderful thing and I am happy for this girl, but the president framed it as her leaving “a failing government school.” In the United States, we don’t call them “government schools”; we call them public schools. One of the responsibilities of our government is to provide free public education through primary and secondary school. If a public school is doing poorly, it is up to our government at all levels, working on behalf of the taxpayers, to ensure that the school is brought up to a high standard – for the good of those students and the general public. To see the president totally abrogate responsibility for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of US students, was disheartening.

The shocking part of the evening was the “surprise” awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh. This is the highest civilian honor in the United States and is usually given to individuals who have brought people together in a positive way. By contrast, Rush Limbaugh has been sowing division for decades. He regularly belittles people who don’t follow his particular brand of conservatism. [Fun fact: He once railed against a women’s prayer group of which I was a member. We were a small, local group getting lambasted on nationally syndicated radio. It was ironic, because his actions gave us more power and visibility and led to a 60 Minutes interview.] Limbaugh has recently revealed a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis; it is appropriate to ask for prayers and well wishes on his behalf, but the Medal of Freedom is not an appropriate honor for so divisive a figure.

Speaking of prayer, yesterday was the National Prayer Breakfast, which is sort of an unusual occasion in and of itself, but I can’t give its history here as this post is already shaping up to be long. First, though, there needs to be a wrap-up of the impeachment trial.

As expected, Trump was not removed from office. All the Democratic and independent senators voted for removal on both counts. There had been hope that some of the more moderate Republicans would join them, especially on the abuse of power article. Several Republican senators, in opposition to the president’s assertion that his behavior was “perfect”, issued statements saying that what the president did was inappropriate but didn’t warrant removal from office so they were voting for acquittal.

In the end, one Republican, Utah senator and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, did vote to remove the president on the abuse of power charge. In his ten-minute floor speech, he spoke about how difficult this decision was. He is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and because he had sworn an oath to God to deliver “fair and impartial justice” and because the House managers had put forward convincing evidence of the president’s abuse of power, he decided that he must follow his conscience and vote to convict. He did not let political expediency deter him from his obligation to follow the dictates of his faith and the Constitution. He has faced immediate backlash from the president and other members of the Trump family, as well as from some of the conservative media. I appreciate Romney’s integrity. It took a lot of courage to vote against a president of one’s own party in an impeachment trial. Indeed, this is the first time that that has happened in the United States.

Which brings me back to the prayer breakfast…

The keynote had been on the subject of love and, in particular, the Christian call to love one’s enemies. When President Trump, who is ostensibly Christian, spoke, he proceeded to attack the faith of those he considers his enemies. After speaking about the impeachment, he said, ” I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.  Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.” This was a thinly veiled attack on Sen. Romney for his impeachment vote and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, in answering questions from reporters has revealed that she prays every day for the president. Speaker Pelosi was sitting at the head table, only a few feet away from the president as he spoke. As a fellow Catholic, I admire Nancy Pelosi’s prayer life and don’t doubt for a minute that she sincerely prays for the president and for our country every day. That the president dismisses people of faith, equating his own viewpoint as being right and theirs as being “wrong”, compounds the damage that he has done to our country.

After President Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he apologized again to the country and made a plea for reconciliation and moving forward as a nation. (He was impeached for lying under oath about an affair.) By contrast, when President Trump spoke later in the day after the prayer breakfast, he did not admit any wrongdoing and blamed everything on Democrats and anyone else he considers an opponent.

At this point, without a unifying leader, I don’t know how Americans can fully come together as a nation to meet our challenges. I do want to point out, however, that, under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, the House of Representatives has passed over 300 bills, the vast majority of which are bipartisan, that Majority Leader McConnell has refused to take up in the Senate. I am a member of NETWORK lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Every Congressional session, NETWORK scores the votes on ten bills that deal with social justice issues, such as fair pay, access to medical care, and equal justice. For the first time ever, this year they were unable to score the Senate because they hadn’t held votes on the bills that were companions to the House-passed bills. I and millions of other Americans expect and deserve more.

I swear that I did not spend the whole week on nothing but politics. I wrote a new poem in response to a challenge on The Ekphrastic Review. If it gets accepted, you can be sure there will be a link here at Top of JC’s Mind – and a mini-celebration that I managed to get a poem published in 2020.

Now, I think there is a snow shovel that is calling my name…

 

 

finished and unfinished

The opening statements are finished.

The presentations from the House managers (the prosecutors) and the President’s counsel (the defense) are finished.

The two days of questions from the senators and answers from the teams are almost finished.

Tomorrow, there will be votes to consider hearing from witnesses and obtaining documents from the executive branch. The vast majority of US voters want there to be witnesses and documents as part of the trial. Many of us have been called to jury duty and know that fair trials always have witnesses and documentary evidence. Unlike presidential impeachments of the twentieth century, this one was not preceded by a special or independent counsel investigation, so there were not tens of thousands of pages of documents, depositions, and testimony already assembled. In the current impeachment, this was compounded by the blanket assertion of the president that he did not have to turn over any documents or allow any testimony from anyone in his administration. This is totally unprecedented. During the impeachment investigation of Richard Nixon, he directed all of his staff and Cabinet to testify before the Congressional committee and turned over documents. Some of the staff went to prison because of their wrongdoing. When the Oval Office tapes were revealed and Nixon tried to not turn them over as evidence, the Supreme Court quickly ruled that they must be turned over to the Congress. Hiding evidence of a corrupt act is also a corrupt act.

Still it appears that the Republicans want the trial finished this week before the Super Bowl, the Iowa caucuses, and the President’s State of the Union address.

If the Republicans vote to not have witnesses called and vote to acquit, the trial will still feel unfinished. More evidence will come out in the days and weeks ahead and people will rightly ask why the evidence was not presented at the trial. They will also rightly ask if the senators upheld their oath to do “impartial justice.”

When things are left unfinished, there is a sense of unease.

I think uneasiness lies ahead for the US.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Following prompts is not required, but I chose today to use the prompt “finished.” Find out more about Just Jot It January here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/30/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-30th-2020/

awesome

I have been watching major chunks of the impeachment proceedings against Donald John Trump, as he is officially referred to in the impeachment and trial.

The House managers, members of the House of Representatives who act a prosecutors, have been impressive in presenting their case, as well as pointing out which documents and testimony they have subpoenaed, but not received, which relates to the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. (The first article is abuse of power, which, in this trial, is related to solicitation of Ukraine for help in the president’s election bid.)

The House managers take turns presenting evidence in a very methodical way, using video clips, emails, phone records, etc. to make their case. They are all well-prepared and well-spoken, but one is especially awesome – Representative Adam Schiff of California.

Rep. Schiff was a federal prosecutor and has comprehensive knowledge of the law. He chairs the Senate Intelligence committee, which did most of the fact-finding in the case, and was named lead House manager. As such, he has acted as the “closer” for the presentations, speaking with conviction and, at times, passion about the United States, our laws, and our futures. I found the closing of the second day of testimony to be especially powerful.

There was some talk, although not from him, that Adam Schiff might run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. I’m glad that he didn’t, because he is exactly where our country needs him the most right now, speaking up for the Constitution and laws and against corruption.

The case that he and the other House managers have made is so compelling that I am frightened when I hear that some Republican members of Congress are dismissing them totally and that the president will engage in even more corrupt behavior, knowing he will not have to suffer the consequences for his actions.

I am terrified for both the short-term and the long-term consequences for our democracy if a president is allowed to be so openly corrupt and is not removed from office. With Rep. Schiff, I believe, “Right matters and the truth matters.”
*****
Usually when I post on Saturdays, I follow Linda’s Stream of Consciousness prompt. This week’s involved writing about the last unsolicited business call we received, but, between caller id, do not call registry, and new spam blocking, I don’t receive those kinds of calls anymore. Instead, you are subjected to more non-stream-of-consciousness posting on the ongoing impeachment trial of Donald John Trump. I’m sure that is more painful than unsolicited business calls.

But, please visit Linda here, and join the fun for Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January.

trepidation

As I am starting to write this, it is about 8 AM EST, which is the same time zone as Washington, DC and I am watching the morning news. The lead story is the impeachment trial, which will begin at 1 PM. The reason it needs to start in the afternoon is that Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial while still presiding over the Supreme Court for its sessions that are held in the morning.

Beyond that, there are many unknowns.

Last evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally released his proposal for the ground rules of the trial. Although he has been saying they would be like the last presidential impeachment trial, which was President Clinton’s in 1999, they differ in significant ways.

Perhaps what I find most shocking is that the evidence from the House impeachment investigation is not going to be automatically entered into the record. In the Clinton trial, there were hundreds of pages just from the Starr report, plus underlying evidence, that were entered into the record. I hope that there will be an amendment for evidence inclusion while the rules are debated. Even though Republicans have the majority, they should all vote for evidence! How can there be a trial without evidence?

Sen. McConnell has said that he is coordinating with the White House whose strategy appears to be to argue that the House didn’t have legal and Constitutional grounds for impeachment. Even so, I think evidence is important to make that argument. I myself am curious about how they can argue no laws were broken when withholding Congressionally approved aid is illegal according to the Government Accountability Office (first article) and Roger Stone was recently convicted of obstruction of Congress (second article).

Another strange thing about McConnell’s rules is that the timeline is so condensed. Each side has 24 hours – but only two days – for opening arguments. [Update: McConnell extended this to three days, just as the trial began.] Given that the proceedings can’t start until 1 PM and there will need to be some breaks for participants to attend to personal needs, the trial could go into the early morning hours. This is a punishingly long day, especially for Chief Justice Roberts, who needs to be at the Supreme Court for morning session. It also makes it nearly impossible for the public to watch the entire trial, although some media specialists have pointed out the trial will be ongoing during television prime time. This could lead to the legal teams timing their strongest arguments to coincide with when more voters would be available to watch.

When the rules for the Clinton impeachment were passed, the vote was 100-0. The senators had worked together to come up with the rules. This time, McConnell has drafted the rules himself with no input from Democrats. Given that the Republicans hold 53 seats, McConnell’s rules could pass without amendment. This would fly in the face not only of fairness but also of public sentiment. Support for impeachment and removal from office is about 50%. Support for a fair trial with witnesses is even higher, about 70%. By contrast, only a third of Americans wanted Clinton removed from office. While additional witnesses were not initially allowed, there was a vote for additional witnesses during the trial; they gave written testimony.

In the current trial, unless there is a surprise in the rules vote today, the vote on additional witnesses can’t take place until both sides have presented opening arguments and the senators have had 16 hours of questions. Witnesses are especially important in this trial because the White House has blocked testimony and documents from the House investigation. There has been a lot of circular reasoning from the Republicans on the impeachment and trial.  They are saying that the Democrats haven’t proven their case but the House’s requests for documents and witnesses have been blocked, so how could they prove the case, especially if they won’t accept the evidence that the House was able to obtain, including from some witnesses who honored House subpoenas, even when the White House told them not to?

This is mind-boggling. It’s one thing for the White House to argue that the behavior doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. It’s quite another to not allow the House to make their case based on facts from evidence, testimony, and the Constitution and laws.

Given that all senators took an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,” they should vote no on anything that restricts evidence.

I won’t hold my breath…

[Note: this is a synopsis of what I am seeing on the news, with a bit of my reaction. It is certainly at the top of my mind today, but I am also including it because there are people who get news from blogs rather than more traditional media who might be interested, as well as people outside the US who might not have as much access to this information.]
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/21/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-21st-2020/

 

and so it begins…

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the articles of impeachment and named seven impeachment managers, House members who will act as prosecutors in the Senate trial. The managers ceremoniously walked the articles through the Capitol to the Senate Chamber, starting a 24-hour clock in which the trial must begin.

Much is being made of the way Speaker Pelosi signed the bill, using a different pen for each letter. That is often done when signing historic legislation, so that people who are important to that piece of legislation have a memento of it. I remember the ceremony when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in this fashion; one of the pens went to the head of the Catholic hospitals who had publicly advocated for passage of the bill.

Some have questioned the solemnity of the procession through the Capitol building, but this is part of the Congressional tradition, seen most recently after the impeachment of President Clinton. Among the House managers, who will act as prosecutors in the trial, are Representatives Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren. Rep. Schiff is a former prosecutor who is chair of the House Intelligence committee, which is conducting an ongoing investigation of the Ukraine situation at the heart of the impeachment articles. This is the third impeachment on which Judiciary committee member Rep. Lofgren has worked. As a law student, she assisted the Judiciary committee in drafting the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. She was a member of the Judiciary committee during the Clinton impeachment.

Speaker Pelosi has been criticized for not sending the articles to the Senate immediately after the House passed them in December, but, at that point, Congress was getting ready to adjourn for a long holiday break. During the break, more evidence in the case became public and even more has come to light in recent days. This is important particularly if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocks new evidence at the trial. It has also given the public a chance to see more of the evidence, which puts pressure on senators to actually consider the evidence instead of voting only by party.

Today, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in each senator to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” Some senators, most notably Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, have stated publicly that they are not impartial. Other senators have made a point of not reading the depositions and testimony gathered by the House. There is a question of whether or not there will be new evidence accepted or if there will be subpoenas for additional witnesses to testify. The House investigation was impeded by the White House and the rest of the executive branch, which refused requests for documents and testimony, even when it had been subpoenaed. A few officials chose to honor the subpoenas on their own and gave valuable testimony to the House investigation. Some documents were released through Freedom of Information requests from non-governmental organizations. The way the president and his staff have treated legitimate requests from Congress seems to me to prove the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.

I hope that, now that the time has come, each senator will treat their oath seriously. If they do not, I hope that they will either not run for re-election or will be defeated if they do. The public deserves a full and fair trial. If the president is not removed from office, “we the people” need to know the extent of the evidence against the president and his team, including the vice-president, in order to inform our voting decisions in November.

The senators should also soberly consider the impact of their decisions in this case on the country’s future. The president has publicly called on foreign powers to interfere in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. Evidence already available supports this. A vote against the first article of impeachment means that the senator believes that an attack on our national sovereignty is not a “high crime or misdemeanor” – or is only a high crime or misdemeanor if the president is not a member of their party. A vote against the second article of impeachment means that it is okay with that senator for a president to defy all requests for documents and testimony, making constitutionally mandated oversight of the executive branch by the Congress impossible. It means that there is no longer a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government and that the president can get away with any action, however illegal, immoral, or unethical it may be – again, presumably, if the president is a member of your party.

That kind of political expediency may save a Congressperson’s seat for now, but will most likely be judged harshly by history.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/16/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-16th-2020/

 

following impeachment

While I wasn’t able to watch all the impeachment testimony and debate and read all the reports, I was able to digest major chunks of it. There is a lot of factual evidence supporting the now-passed articles of impeachment. Even the Congressional Republicans weren’t often trying to dispute the testimony of the fact witnesses, instead arguing about process or trying to advance debunked conspiracy theories to muddy the waters.

It’s discouraging how little many people, including some in government, understand about the Constitutional process of impeachment by the House and trial in the Senate. Impeachment is roughly equivalent to a grand jury indictment in the judicial system. It is a vote on whether or not there is sufficient evidence in support of the article of impeachment to warrant a trial. Unlike a criminal trial, impeachment does not require a specific “crime” as misconduct, corruption, and ethics violations often don’t fit neatly into legal frameworks. One of the differences in the Trump impeachment compared to proceedings against Clinton and Nixon is that most of the investigation happened within the House committees themselves. In the Nixon and Clinton investigations, there was extensive investigation by the Justice Department that was passed on to the House; in Trump’s case, the Justice Department refused to investigate and the White House refused to honor subpoenas for testimony and documents, hence the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress.

The two articles of impeachment passed by majority vote in the House, so President Trump has been impeached. Period. The articles of impeachment not having been conveyed to the Senate yet is irrelevant. If the Senate acquits at trial, it does not erase the impeachment.

When the Senate does hold the trial, all the senators are sworn in as triers of fact by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is the presiding officer. House members will act as prosecutors and the president’s lawyers will be defense attorneys. In order for there to be removal from office, 2/3rds of the senators must vote to convict.

One of the appalling things that has happened is that some of the senators, including the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have publicly stated that they are not impartial. What will happen when they are asked to swear an oath to deliver “impartial justice”? Will there be consequences if they swear to it without intending to follow through? I can’t imagine they will recuse themselves rather than lie in taking the oath.

I do hope that the trial will be full and fair with relevant documents and testimony. All the senators and the public should hear the facts of the case. Although I know that it is unlikely that 2/3rds of the senators will vote to convict, it is important for the voters in the next election to know what has happened and for history to have an accurate record.

Not a beautiful Christmas present

On Tuesday, several members of clergy from different faith traditions held a noon-time prayer service, asking for Congress to seek justice in our tax code.

Then, we marched to the office of Claudia Tenney, who represents our district in the House of Representatives. Unlike some of the other Republican New York Congressmembers, she had voted for the House version of tax cuts, despite her opposition to cutting the deduction for state and local taxes. While the conference version of the bill restored partial deductibility for these taxes, it is problematic in many other ways as well, such as the repeal of the individual mandate for health insurance. All the bills have failed in terms of social justice, because most of the benefits go to the richest people and to corporations, which are getting permanent tax cuts while individuals are only getting temporary ones – and some people will actually have higher taxes even in the early years under this bills.

Hours after, Tenney voted for the bill, which passed the House, except that the bill had been rushed so much it didn’t conform to Senate rules, so the Senate passed it late Tuesday night and then the House had to vote again on Wednesday.

DT has described the bill as a “big beautiful Christmas present” for the American people, but, for many of us, it is not. The federal government, already in debt and deficit, will have less revenue coming in and Speaker Ryan is already talking about cuts to core safety net programs, which will most highly impact those at lower socioeconomic levels, children, and seniors.

The gifts of Christmas are supposed to be peace, joy, and good will to all.

A tax cut bill that is designed as a gift to big corporate and individual donors to politicians and their campaigns is not in accord with the true spirit of Christmas.