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Slavery Reparations Hearing Sparks Debate

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  • A House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing on Wednesday for a bill that proposes the formation of a commission that would discuss potential reparations for slavery.
  • Many people got the chance to speak at the hearing, with some showing support for the bill and others arguing that there are more pressing issues facing the African American community today that should be addressed instead.
  • The bill could see a vote in the House, but many say it is unlikely to pass the Senate.
  • Mitch McConnell has already expressed a disinterest in reparations.

The Hearing

A House Judiciary Subcommittee held the first hearing in a decade for a bill relating to slavery reparations.

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties opened its doors to leaders from a variety of fields to speak about H.R. 40. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). The bill proposes the formation of a commission to “study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery.”

The bill itself does not directly propose any type of reparations, just a commission to look into the potential of them. These reparations could potentially include compensation to descendants.

During the hearing, which was notably held on June 19, or Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves in Texas, several speakers, including Jackson Lee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), actor and activist Danny Glover, and more got the chance to take the mic.

Jackson Lee said this bill is “long overdue.” She added that even though slavery ended close to 150 years ago, African Americans are still living with its long-term impacts.

“One million African Americans are incarcerated, that is a continuing impact,” she said. “The black unemployment rate is 6.6 percent, in spite of what has been said currently, more than double the national unemployment rate. 31 percent of black children live in poverty in comparison to 11 percent of white children.”

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates also spoke during the hearing. He addressed the common argument that asks why present-day Americans should be financially responsible for something that happened generations back.

“We honor treaties that date back some 200 years despite no one being alive who signed those treaties,” he sated. “Many of us would love to be taxed for the things we are solely and individually responsible for. But we are American citizens, and thus bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach.”

Others did argue against H.R. 40. Writer Coleman Hughes said that he believes it is an “injustice” that there were never reparations made in the past, however, there are more pressing issues to deal with in the present.

“Black people don’t need another apology,” he said. “We need safer neighborhoods and better schools. We need a less punitive criminal justice system. We need affordable healthcare.”

Reparations in the U.S.

H.R. 40 is named for the phrase “40 acres and a mule,” which was commonly used to describe the original reparations slaves were promised after the Civil War. An order was signed to give 400,000 acres of land that used to belong to the Confederates in the south to recently freed slaves. Families would get up to 40 acres of land, and while this was not specified in the order, some families would also receive an army mule.

However, none of the former slaves ever saw that land. When President Andrew Johnson succeeded President Abraham Lincoln, he reversed the order. The land ended up going back to its Confederate owners.

The government later proposed a form of pensions, but nothing ever came of it. Now-retired Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) proposed a version of H.R. 40 every year between 1989 and 2017. Nothing ever came of it during that period, but the bill Jackson Lee is pushing is a re-introduction of it.

Future of H.R. 40

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that if the bill gets through the Judiciary Committee, he expects the House to vote on it. Currently, H.R. 40 has the support of Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Congressional Black Caucus, and several other Democrats.

Many anticipate that if it gets through the House, it could hit a wall in the Senate. House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already expressed a disinterest in reparations.

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” McConnell said to reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president.”

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

Politics

Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.

Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.

Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.

“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.

Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.

Others May Follow

The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.

Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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