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House Panel Approves 9/11 Victims Fund Bill

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  • The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would extend funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) until 2090.
  • The VCF helps firefighters, first responders, and volunteers who have health issues stemming from the toxic dust and smoke they were exposed to in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
  • The move comes after Jon Stewart gave an emotional speech before a subcommittee about the urgent need to renew the fund.
  • The video of Stewart’s speech went viral and many people responded by calling for a bipartisan effort to extend the fund.

House Judiciary Committee Approves Act

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve additional funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) through 2090.

The VCF was first created by Congress after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 to help the families of people who died or were injured. The fund ended in 2004, as planned. Then in 2010, lawmakers pushed to reauthorize the fund to help first responders, volunteers, and survivors who had spent weeks at the site of the attack inhaling toxic dust and smoke.

After reauthorization from Congress and then-President Barak Obama, the fund started processing claims from victims in 2011. Congress renewed the bill again in 2015 to extend its funding until December 2020.

Since 2011, Congress has given the fund around $7.4 billion in appropriations, but it has not been enough. In February, the fund’s administrator, Rupa Bhattacharyya, announced that the VCF did not have enough money to pay both existing and expected claims.

The newfound approval of the bill, called the Never Forget the Heroes Act, comes one day after comedian Jon Stewart spoke in front of a subcommittee to convince lawmakers to extend funding.

Jon Stewart’s Speech

Over the years, Stewart has been one of the biggest activists for the fund.

He has been quick to call out Congress for being inactive whenever the fund seemed to be at risk, and he did not hesitate to do just that in an emotional speech before the subcommittee on Tuesday.

Stewart started out his speech by criticizing the lack of congress members in attendance.

“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” he said. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves here to no one.”

“And you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here, but you won’t be,” Stewart continued.

However, a spokesperson for the subcommittee later said only two representatives were missing. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the chair of the subcommittee, explained that the meeting was held in a bigger room intended for the full Judiciary Committee, so there were more empty chairs.

Stewart went on the condemn Congress for not giving enough money to the responders and for politicizing the issue.

“Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity. Time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of,” said Stewart. “Why this bill is not unanimous consent and a standalone issue is beyond my comprehension, and I have yet hear a reasonable explanation for why.”

“They responded in 5 seconds, they did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. 18 years later, do yours.”

Response

Stewart’s speech went viral following the hearing, with many people taking to Twitter to praise him.

Comedians Ricky Gervais and Adam DeVine applauded Stewart, while actor and activist Mark Ruffalo echoed his sentiment, writing, “Plenty of money for wars […] but when it’s time to actually do something to care for the 9/11 heroes and American’s health care…no shows.”

Stewart’s speech also evoked a strong bipartisan response. Donald Trump Jr. and conservative journalist Megyn Kelly commended his work, and conservative commentator Tomi Lahren said in a post on Twitter, “This is bigger than the partisan divide. We should ALL support this!”

On Wednesday, several firefighters and first responders who responded to the attack on the World Trade Center also praised Stewart on a Fox News segment.

What Next?

The Never Forget the Heroes Act will now move to the House floor, which is expected to vote on the bill next month.

Lawmakers said they expect the bill will pass the House easily, but some are worried about its prospects in the Senate. Following the committee’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a vote as soon as possible.

“We will reach the point soon, most likely this year, when more will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than on 9/11 itself,” Schumer said. “I say to Leader McConnell: This is not politics. This is not a game. These are our heroes, American heroes, who are suffering and need our help.”

I am imploring, pleading, even begging to Leader McConnell to put the bill on the floor immediately after it passes the House,” he continued.

McConnell, for his part, has not said anything about a vote yet. When asked about the fund on Tuesday, McConnell told reporters, “I hadn’t looked at that lately. I’ll have to. We’ve always dealt with that in a compassionate way and I assume we will again.”

Dire Need for Funding

It remains unclear how much the total cost of extending the victims fund for 70 years will cost. Many hope that if the bill is passed, it will be a final fix help the heroes of 9/11 who are desperately in need of medical funding.

Under current funding levels, the VCF administrator said that all future payouts will be cut as much as 70 percent. Already, the fund has more than 19,000 additional unpaid claims.

This is a huge issue. According to CNN, VCF has identified 2,355 deaths that have been associated with 9/11-related health issues, which is nearly the same number of people who died at the World Trade Center because of the attack.

VCF also reported that as of May 2019, more than 12,500 cases of cancer have been diagnosed due to exposure to carcinogens following the attack

This is a growing problem. In July 2011, the VCF identified around 56,000 first responders, volunteers, and others with health problems from 9/11. However, by March 2019, that number had grown to more than 95,000, with nearly 500 to 900 new cases being identified each month.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Fox News)

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Trump Signs Order Interpreting Judaism as Race or Nationality

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  • President Trump signed an executive order that will effectively label Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion.
  • The move is intended to crack down on what the Trump administration views as growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.
  • The reclassification places Judaism under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows the Education Department to withhold federal funding from colleges that discriminate based “on the ground of race, color, and national origin,” but not religion.
  • While some praised the move, a number of Jewish groups condemned it. Others said the policy was reminiscent of when Nazi Germany labeled Jews as a race.

Trump Executive Order

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that would legally interpret Judaism as a race or nationality and not just a religion under federal law.

The Trump administration said that the move will allow the Education Department to crack down on what it views as growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Reclassifying Judaism as a nationality puts it under the purview of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows the Education Department to withhold federal funding from colleges that discriminate based “on the ground of race, color, and national origin.”

Notably, that does not include discrimination based religion, so labeling Judaism as a race or nationality will let the Education Department prevent colleges that it believes are acting in an anti-Semitic way from receiving funding.

The move comes at a time when anti-Israel sentiments have become more prevalent on college campuses largely due to the growing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The goal of the movement is to pressure Israel to change its treatment of Palestinians by protesting the country and it’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. 

Supporters of the movement compare it to the boycotts of South Africa during apartheid, while opponents say it is anti-Semitic and undermines Israel as a Jewish state.

Criticisms of Executive Order

News that Trump would likely sign the executive order circulated Tuesday night, and the topic quickly began trending on Twitter.

Critics of the move argued that the policy could be used to stifle free speech because it could be used to stop legitimate criticism and concerns about Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

That point was echoed by Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who told the New York Times that the policy was part of an ongoing campaign “to silence Palestinian rights activism” by amounting any opposition of the Israeli treatment Palestinians to anti-Semitism.

Notably, a number of Jewish groups also spoke out and condemned Trump’s efforts.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the prominent Jewish advocacy group J Street criticized the policy, saying in a statement that it would “have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel.”

“We feel it is misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right,” he added.

Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America also echoed that point in a similar statement. 

“If President Trump truly wanted to address the scourge of anti-Semitism he helped to create, he would accept responsibility for his role emboldening white nationalism, perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and repeating stereotypes that have led to violence targeting Jews,” she said.

Some also argued that Trump was being hypocritical, pointing to remarks he made in a speech on Saturday to the Israeli American Council that were condemned by a number of Jewish groups who accused the president of using Anti-Semitic tropes.

This included the president telling the Jewish audience that they had “no choice” but to vote for him because they would lose money to Democratic wealth tax plans, as well as Trump saying that Jews “don’t love Israel enough.”

Others noted that labeling Judaism as a nationality or race has dangerous roots in history, with a number of Twitter users pointing out that Nazi Germany labeled Judaism as a race and not just a religion under the Nuremberg Laws in 1935.

Some, like Emily Mayer, the policy director of activist group IfNotNow, also argued that defining Judaism as a nationality is also connected to the anti-Semitic trope that American Jews are not American, or that they have dual loyalties to Israel.

“The order’s move to define Judaism as a ‘nationality’ promotes the classically bigoted idea that American Jews are not American,” she told the Washington Post.

Praise for Executive Order

However, there were also a number of individuals and Jewish groups that commended the proposed executive order.

“These are significant steps in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the BDS movement on college campuses,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said in a statement.

Several American Jewish groups applauded the move, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“Of course we hope it will be enforced in a fair manner,” ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt told the Times. “But the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalized.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition also praised the policy, with its chairman, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) calling the policy a “truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans.”

President Trump has extended to Jewish students very strong, meaningful legal protection from anti-Semitic discrimination,” he added.

While signing the order Wednesday, Trump said the new policy “makes clear” that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act would “apply to institutions that traffic in anti-Semitic hate.”

See what others are saying: (Vox) (NBC News) (The Jerusalem Post)

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House Democrats Introduce Two Articles of Impeachment Against President Trump

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  • The House officially announced two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
  • The articles will now go to the Judiciary Committee for debate and approval before being sent to the House floor for a full vote. If approved, they will be sent to the Senate for the trial portion, which is likely to be set for January. 
  • Notably, the articles did not mention allegations that Trump obstructed the Mueller report investigation, which members had debated including as a separate article.

Democrats Announce Articles

House Democrats announced Tuesday that they were introducing two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Flanked by Democratic House leaders, Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) outlined the charges against the president.

“It is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest,” Nadler said, addressing the first article, abuse of power.

“That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election.”

“These actions moreover are consistent with President Trump’s previous invitations of foreign interference in our 2016 presidential election,” he added.  

“And when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry,” Nadler continued, introducing the second article, obstruction of Congress.

“A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people, and above Congress’ power of impeachment, which is meant to protect against threats to our democratic institutions, is a president who sees himself as above the law,” he said. 

“We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law.” 

Several hours later, the House released the official text of the articles of impeachment in a formal resolution.

Article I: Abuse of Power

Describing the abuse of power charge, the first article alleges Trump used his office to solicit foreign interference from Ukraine by asking the government to “publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.”

“President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit,” the resolution continued.

The document then goes on to say that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations by conditioning the announcement on two official acts: a White House meeting and “the release of $391 million of United States taxpayer funds that Congress had appropriated on a bipartisan basis for the purpose of providing vital military and security assistance to Ukraine.”

The resolution continues on, noting that the president released the military aid once acts became public, “but has persisted in openly and corruptly urging and soliciting Ukraine to undertake investigations for his personal political benefit.”

Article II: Obstruction of Congress

The second article claims that Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry by blocking subpoenaed witnesses from testifying and rejecting requests to hand over key documents.

“In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’” the resolution says.

“This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment — and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives,” it continued.

Both articles conclude with the same excerpt: “President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.”

Next Steps

With the articles formally drafted, the next step will be for the Judiciary Committee to debate and approve them, which is set to happen Wednesday and Thursday, respectively to the articles.

Technically, individual members can propose amendments and changes to the articles, but they are not likely to change; however, members can also propose more articles of impeachment.

This may be relevant because in the lead up to the announcement of the articles, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not to draft a third article.

That article would charge Trump with obstruction of justice in regards to the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In his report, Special Counsel Robert Mueller outlined several instances that could be considered obstruction but left it up to Congress to decide if it was.

Many of the more progressive Democrats in the House pushed to include that decision in their articles, but the leadership ultimately decided to zero in on the Ukraine case.

Once the articles have been approved by the Judiciary, they will go to the full House for a vote, which is expected to happen next week.

The House only needs to approve one of the articles for Trump to be impeached. After that, any approved articles will be sent to the Senate for a trial, which will likely be held in January.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vox) (Fox News)

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Pelosi Announces House Will Draft Articles of Impeachment Against Trump

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  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will begin drafting the official articles of impeachment for President Trump.
  • This follows the release of the final report from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation and the Judiciary Committee formally launching impeachment proceedings.
  • The process is anticipated to move very quickly, with a Committee vote as soon as next week, and a full House vote before Christmas.

Pelosi Announces Articles of Impeachment

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the House of Representatives will officially begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

“The facts are uncontested,” the Speaker said. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security, by withholding military aid and crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.” 

“His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” she continued.

“The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security, and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”  

“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment,” she concluded.

Pelosi’s announcement marks a significant step in the impeachment process. The articles of impeachment the House now drafts will essentially be the “charges” they will bring against President Trump.

Intelligence Committee Report

The decision follows several major developments in the impeachment proceedings that have occurred throughout the week.

On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee— which has been leading the impeachment investigation for the last two months— released its final report on the findings of that investigation.

In the 300-page report, the Committee found that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, by withholding a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine.

“The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage,” the Committee wrote.

“In doing so, the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”

The report also goes on to say that in response to the House launching the impeachment investigation, “President Trump engaged in an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry.”

The Committee outlined how examples of how Trump obstructed their investigation, such as his refusal to cooperate with the investigation or hand over subpoenaed documents, and his efforts to direct State Department and White House officials to do the same.

The report said that Trump also obstructed their investigation by blocking key witnesses from testifying, including those who had been subpoenaed. It also accused Trump of engaging in “a brazen effort to publicly attack and intimidate witnesses who came forward to comply with duly authorized subpoenas and testify about his conduct.”

“Donald Trump is the first and only President in American history to openly and indiscriminately defy all aspects of the Constitutional impeachment process,” the report notes.

Judiciary Committee Starts Proceedings

The Intelligence Committee report does not include a direct recommendation for impeachment, but it will likely serve as the basis for which the articles of impeachment are drafted.

The articles will be written by the Judiciary Committee, which officially began the formal impeachment proceedings on Wednesday by holding a hearing where constitutional experts discussed the legal basis for impeaching Trump.

Four experts testified at the hearing: three brought in by Democrats and one brought in by Republicans.

The experts requested by Democrats argued that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine definitely met the threshold for an impeachable offense set by the framers of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the expert the Republicans brought in argued that the Democrats were rushing the process and did not have adequate evidence and that Trump should be investigated more.

Next Steps

But Democrats appear eager to press on, with leadership pushing to hold the full House vote on the impeachment articles before Christmas.

As a result, it has been reported that the Judiciary Committee will draft the articles in the next few days and hold the debate and vote on the articles as early as next week. The bigger question is what the articles will be, and how many the Committee will propose. 

Each offense they claim Trump committed must be its own article— for example “obstruction of justice” would be a separate article from “misconduct.”

Right now, the Democrats are deciding if they want to zero in on the Ukraine matter, or include a broader look at Trump’s other alleged wrongdoings, which notably could include his alleged efforts to obstruct the Mueller report investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Once the Judiciary has approved the articles, they will go to the full House for a vote.

The House just has to approve one of the articles for the president to be impeached, and if approved, the matter would head to the Senate for the trial portion of the process, which would likely be held in January.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (Fox News)

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