- 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.”
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.
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)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Leave White House
- President Donald Trump announced that Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving her role as White House Press Secretary at the end of the month.
- He broke the news in a tweet where he thanked her for her work and encouraged her to run for governor of Arkansas.
- Speaking at a White House event, Sanders said she was proud to serve her country and looks forward to spending more time with her children.
Trump Announces Sanders’ Departure
President Donald Trump announced Thursday that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving her role at the White House at the end of the month.
Trump took to Twitter to announce Sanders’ departure. He thanked her for a “job well done.” He also encouraged her to follow in her father’s footsteps and run for governor in her home state of Arkansas, where she will be returning after leaving her post. Her father, Mike Huckabee, served as governor in the state from 1996 to 2007.
Sanders began working for the Trump campaign’s communications team in 2016. Once elected, Sanders was deputy press secretary. She landed her current position in July 2017, jumping in after Sean Spicer’s resignation.
During her tenure, Sanders, who was known to have combative relationships with some reporters, opted to not hold traditional daily White House press briefings. The news of her exit came on the 94th straight day without one. Instead, Sanders often let the President speak for himself.
The news also came as the communications director position remains vacant. The spot has been empty since Bill Shine left in March.
Remarks Made at White House Event
Trump again took time to thank Sanders for her time in his administration on Thursday during an event devoted to criminal justice reform.
“She’s done an incredible job and we’ve been through a lot together,” the president said.
Sanders also got the chance to take the mic during the event.
“I’ll try not to get emotional because I know that crying can make us look weak sometimes,” Sanders opened.
“I couldn’t be prouder to have the opportunity to serve my country and particularly to work for this President…I’ve loved every minute, even the hard minutes,” Sanders said before saying she looked forward to spending more time with her three children after leaving the job.
Sanders also posted a similar sentiment to Twitter.
President Trump has not yet announced who will replace Sanders.
See what others are saying: (ABC) (TIME) (Wall Street Journal)
Senate Republicans Warn Against Trump’s Mexico Tariffs
- A group of Senate Republicans came out against President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on all Mexican goods following a closed-door meeting with administration officials Tuesday.
- The Republicans expressed concern over the long-term economic impacts of the tariffs, which are set to go into effect June 10.
- Speaking at a press conference in London, Trump said that the Republicans would be “foolish” to try to stop his tariffs.
Senate Republicans Go Against Trump
A group of Republican senators said Tuesday that they opposed President Donald Trump’s sweeping tariffs on all Mexican goods.
Last week, Trump announced in a tweet that the U.S. will impose a five percent tariff on all Mexican imports starting June 10, in order to put pressure on Mexico to reduce the flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country.
The White House later said in a statement the administration will increase the tariffs by another 5 percent every month, until they reach 25 percent in October, at which point they will “permanently remain at the 25 percent level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.”
While Trump’s party has generally backed his immigration policies, numerous Republican senators made the tariffs a point of departure following a closed-door meeting with administration officials on Capitol Hill.
“There is not much support for tariffs in my conference, that’s for sure,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters after the meeting. “Our hope is that the tariffs will be avoided, and we will not have to answer any hypotheticals.”
Other senators who attended the meeting also expressed their discontent to reporters, like Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), who called the tariffs “a mistake,” and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who told reporters, “There’s no reason for Texas farmers and ranchers and manufacturers and small businesses to pay the price of massive new taxes.”
Other Republican senators warned that they would try to block the tariffs, with some even arguing that they could get enough support among Republicans to get a veto-proof majority.
“The administration ought to be concerned about another vote of disapproval on another national emergency act, this time trying to implement tariffs,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told reporters. “Tariffs are not real popular in the Republican Conference,”
Other Republicans backed this claim, like Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND).
Trump in London
The senators spoke out against the tariffs just a few hours after Trump told reporters in London that he had enough Republican support.
When asked by a reporter if he thought Republicans would block the tariffs, Trump said: “No, I don’t think they will do that, I think if they do, it’s foolish.”
To that point, there certainly are key Senate Republicans who have come out to back Trump.
In a tweet, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote that the president has “broad authority to control transactions with other nations if there is an unusual & extraordinary threat.”
Others agreed with Rubio’s sentiment. “I think Mexico could help us solve the crisis down at the border,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). “What’s the tax on handling 80,000 additional illegal immigrants coming across the border, housing them, adjudicating them? You’ve got to look at the total cost of the prices.”
While Trump definitely has some support, experts have still described this as one of the biggest rebukes from Republicans during his time in office, which raises the question: why are Republicans so against the tariffs?
It all comes down to the economic impact.
Trump says the tariffs are a punishment for Mexico, but most economists say that the costs of the tariff will largely fall on U.S. businesses and consumers. This is due to the fact that tariffs are paid by companies that import products, and when U.S. businesses are required to pay the tax, that extra cost is then passed to consumers.
This economic concept is broadly supported by economists and experts from different schools of thought and does not fall into a category of liberal versus conservative economic theory.
“US tariffs are taxes on American households and businesses, so imposing them will always be an act of self-destruction,” Dan Ikenson, who leads trade studies at the conservative Cato Institute think tank, told Vox News.
“Trump may believe he can dictate demands because the smaller Mexican economy is more dependent on the US economy than vice versa, but make no mistake: Both economies would be hurt significantly by the tariff war being threatened.”
Additionally, economists also agree that because tariffs function like a regressive tax, the negative impacts are more likely to hit lower-income communities.
Besides consumers, the two biggest business sectors that will be hit are the auto industry and the agriculture sector. “Motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts accounted for one-third of the value of all US imports from Mexico, and much of that cross-border trade was in unfinished product,” said Ikenson.
“In other words, the factory floor spans the US-Mexican border, so imposing tariffs is akin to erecting a concrete wall through the middle of that factory.”
On Tuesday, Toyota Motor Corp told Reuters that the tariffs on Mexico could cost its major suppliers $1 billion. The tariffs will also not only create higher costs but also cause job losses as well.
According to a new report from the Perryman Group, an economic research firm, job losses would amount to nearly 406,000, and “the proposed tariffs would lead to an increase in direct costs of about $28.1 billion each year.”
Others also worry that the new tariffs will undermine the ongoing negotiations of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which is the treaty that Trump intends to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with.
What Can Mexico Do?
While Trump remains adamant that he will implement the tariffs, Mexican officials remain more optimistic.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, is set to meet with Vice President Mike Pence in Washington to discuss the tariffs Wednesday, and Mexican authorities have said they are willing to cooperate but have pushed for talks rather than economic retaliation.
However, the question that remains is: how much can Mexico really do to stop the migrant flows? According to the Washington Post, Mexico has dramatically stepped up immigration enforcement recently.
The country has nearly tripled its monthly deportations since the beginning of 2019. Last month alone, they apprehended more than 22,000 unauthorized migrants, marking the highest monthly number in Mexicos history.
However, Mexico largely lacks resources to deal with the influx of migrants from Central America that travel to the country with hopes of getting asylum in the U.S. Mexico uses up a lot of its police and military resources combatting organized-crime groups and their immigration authorities are entirely overwhelmed.
As of now, the Trump administration has not specifically said what Mexico can do to reverse the tariffs.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (Fox News)
Trump to Impose Tariffs on All Mexican Goods Over Immigration
- President Donald Trump announced Thursday that his administration will impose a five percent tariff on all Mexican imports beginning June 10 in order to curb illegal immigration.
- The White House later said that the U.S. will increase the tariffs by five percentage points every month after June until they reach 25 percent in October, where it will remain until Mexico reduces the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S.
- Several Republican lawmakers condemned the tariffs, arguing that they could undermine the ongoing efforts to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would impose a five percent tariff on all Mexican goods starting June 10, in an effort to put pressure on Mexico to control illegal immigration.
In a tweet, Trump wrote that the tariffs will continue “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.”
“The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied,” he continued.
A statement later issued from the White House said the tariffs would rise by five percent every month after June, until they hit 25 percent on Oct. 1.
“Tariffs will permanently remain at the 25 percent level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory,” the statement said.
The White House statement did not specifically outline how Mexico can meet Trump’s demands. “If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the Tariffs will be removed,” it said.
In a press briefing, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said that there was not a specific target that Mexico was expected to meet. He also stated that the White House would address Mexico’s actions “on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.”
“We are going to judge success here by the number of people crossing the border,” Mulvaney said. “That number needs to start coming down immediately in a significant and substantial number.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded to the announcement in a letter to Trump on Thursday.
In the letter, which was later made public, López Obrador said that he did not want a “confrontation,” and emphasized the need for dialogue. “Social problems are not resolved with taxes or coercive measures,” López Obrador wrote.
However, at a press conference on Thursday night, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, Jésus Seade, described Trump’s announcement as “disastrous.”
Seade also indicated that if the Trump administration followed through, Mexico could react in a similar fashion.“If it will happen we must respond energetically,” he said.
“The correct thing would be to answer an eye for an eye, five percent on imports.”
U.S. Lawmaker’s Response
Many U.S. lawmakers also responded negatively to Trump’s announcement, including several Republicans who warned the president that the tariffs could derail the ongoing negotiations of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which is Trump’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) condemned the tariffs in a statement and asked Trump to “reconsider” the move.
“If the president goes through with this, I’m afraid progress to get this trade agreement across the finish line will be stifled,” she said. “While I support the need for comprehensive border security and a permanent fix to illegal immigration, this isn’t the right path forward.”
Ernst echoed an earlier statement from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which is one of the bodies responsible for overseeing the USMCA.
“Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA, a central campaign pledge of President Trump’s and what could be a big victory for the country,” Grassley said in a statement. “I support nearly every one of President Trump’s immigration policies, but this is not one of them.”
Trump’s announcement comes at as efforts to negotiate the USMCA were advanced this week. In a letter sent earlier on Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urged congressional leaders to start the treaty ratification process.
The same day, López Obrador officially asked Mexico’s Senate to ratify the deal as well, and Vice President Mike Pence was in the Canadian capital in order to promote the agreement.
Trump also recently agreed to lift tariffs on steel and aluminum that the U.S. had put on imports from Canada and Mexico as part of an effort to speed up negotiations. Canada and Mexico responded by lifting tariffs on U.S. products.
Now, experts and lawmakers worry the new wave of tariffs may send a contradictory message.
Trump Administration Defends Tariffs
Members of the Trump Administration defended the tariffs and argued that they were necessary to curb illegal immigration.
“Mexico has the ability to step up and do more,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Fox News Friday. “The president has been asking them for months to do that, and now he is putting some measures in place that hopefully will get them to engage more so that they will start to help us in this process.”
Other administration officials have framed Trump’s tariffs as an issue of national security, rather than trade.
“These are not tariffs as part of a trade dispute. These are tariffs as part of an immigration problem,” Mulvaney said in a briefing when asked whether or not the tariffs would undermine USMCA negotiations. “The American taxpayer is paying for what’s going on at the border.”
This sentiment was also explicitly addressed in the White House’s statement on the tariffs.
“Mexico’s passive cooperation in allowing this mass incursion constitutes an emergency and extraordinary threat to the national security and economy of the United States,” the statement said. It went on to say that Trump would address the “emergency” by invoking “authorities granted” to him under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Others have pushed back against this. Usually, it is the authority of Congress, and not the president, to raise taxes and tariffs. However, the president can gain the power to raise tariffs by declaring that certain circumstances amount to threats to national security.
To this point, Grassley criticized Trump’s efforts as a “misuse of presidential tariff authority,” that is “counter to congressional intent.”
“Trade policy and border security are separate issues,” Grassley added.
Others still have expressed concerns about the economic impacts of the new tariffs. While Trump claims the tariffs are a punishment for Mexico, many economists argue that the costs will largely be the burden of U.S. businesses and consumers.
This is because tariffs are paid by companies that import products and when U.S. businesses are required to pay the import penalties, that extra cost is often passed along to consumers.
According to the U.S. trade representative’s office, the U.S. imported an estimated total of $346.5 billion of Mexican goods last year, making Mexico the second-largest supplier of goods to the U.S. in 2018.