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Trump Lashes Out at Rep. Elijah Cummings, Reverend Al Sharpton

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  • President Donald Trump criticized Rep. Elijah Cummings on Twitter Saturday, saying that his district, which includes parts of Baltimore, is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States.”
  • Many responded condemning Trump’s tweets, with some calling them racist, and others pointing out factual inaccuracies.
  • Trump doubled-down by calling Cummings a racist on Sunday. He later went after Reverend Al Sharpton on Twitter after Sharpton said he was going to Baltimore Monday morning.

Trump Criticizes Reverend Al Sharpton

President Donald Trump condemned civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton on Twitter Monday morning amid backlash over tweets the President made regarding Rep. Elijah Cumming (D-MD) over the weekend.

Trump targeted Sharpton after the famous activist and MSNBC host tweeted that he was “headed to Baltimore.” 

The president retweeted the reverend’s post and added his own statement “Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score,” Trump wrote, adding, “Hates Whites & Cops!”

Sharpton responded to Trump in a tweet. “I do make trouble for bigots,” the reverend wrote. “If he really thought I was a con man he would want me in his cabinet.”

Trump Goes After Cummings

Trump’s remarks condemning Sharpton come after the president faced criticism for a number of tweets he made this weekend attacking Rep. Cummings, who represents part of Baltimore.

Cummings has been an open critic of the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis at the border. Earlier this month, Cummings referred to the treatment of migrant children at the border “government-sponsored child abuse.”

Cummings is also the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which is leading multiple investigations into Trump and his administration. On Thursday, the committee voted to subpoena all work-related emails and texts that Trump administration officials had sent from private accounts.

The vote was part of an ongoing probe that expanded after a lawyer for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner said they both used personal accounts for official business, which notably is illegal under federal records laws.

Trump seemed to have both these factors in mind when he took to Twitter Saturday morning.

“Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous,” Trump wrote.

“Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” the president continued. “If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place”

In a separate tweet, Trump seemed to indicate that Cumming’s district was stealing or embezzling money. He also added that the district is “considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States. No human being would want to live there.”

Trump continued to tweet similar things at Cummings on and off for the rest of the day, at one point writing, “He does NOTHING for his very poor, very dangerous and very badly run district! Take a look…. #BlacksForTrump2020.”

Democrats Respond

Cummings responded to the president’s attacks on Twitter, later that day. 

“It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch,” he wrote. “But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”

A number of people take to Twitter to defend Cummings and condemn Trump’s tweets. Some, like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, called Trump’s tweet’s racist. “We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership,” she wrote on Twitter.

Politicians from Maryland and Baltimore specifically also took to Twitter. Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young said in a statement on Twitter that Trump’s “rhetoric is hurt and dangerous to the people’ he’s sworn to represent.”

“Mr. Trump, you are a disappointment to the people of Baltimore, our country, and the world,” he added.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) also chimed in, telling The Washington Post, “This is an example of the racist bully we have as a president, lashing out at Elijah Cummings for speaking the truth and for standing up to the president and his policies.”

“And the president just can’t take that and lashed out in a way that clearly had racial overtones,” he continued. “Elijah Cummings’s district is very diverse. It has lower-income neighborhoods that need a lot of help. And it has very wealthy areas.”

On that note, others pointed out factual inaccuracies in Trump’s claims about Cummings district. Political pollster Nate Silver cited demographics from the “Biggest US Cities” website in a Twitter post to note that Cummings district has many middle and working-class areas.

“MD-7 is the 2nd-wealthiest majority-black district in the country ($58K median household income, per my data; MD-4 is first),” Silver wrote. “Also the 2nd-most well-educated majority-black district (37% bachelors’ degree+; GA-4 is first).”

The Washington Post, also pointed out that the FBI’s 2017 crime report ranked Baltimore the third most dangerous city in the U.S., not the first.

Republicans Respond

Others, however, defended Trump’s remarks or played down what he said.

Speaking with Fox News Sunday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney came to the president’s defense.

“When the president hears lies like that, he’s going to fight back,” Mulvaney said. “It has absolutely zero to do with race. This is what the president does. He fights, and he’s not wrong to do so.”

Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) did not say much about the tweets during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, but he did turn the criticism back to Cummings.

“I didn’t do the tweets,” he said. “I can’t talk about why he did what he did, but I’m very disappointed in people like Congressman Cummings, who is attacking Border Patrol agents that are trying to do their job when the Democrats won’t give them the resources to do it.”

Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), one of the four Republicans who voted to condemn Trump’s tweets telling four American Congresswomen to “go back” to the countries they supposedly came from, also downplayed the most recent tweets in an interview on ABC’s This Week.

“I think these tweets are different from the ones a few days ago or a few weeks ago,” Hurd said.

Trump Responds

Trump responded to the attacks by doubling down on Sunday in a series of tweets.

He specifically responded to Pelosi’s remarks, and blamed the Democrats for playing the “race card.”

“Someone please explain to Nancy Pelosi, who was recently called racist by those in her own party, that there is nothing wrong with bringing out the very obvious fact that Congressman Elijah Cummings has done a very poor job for his district and the City of Baltimore,” Trump wrote.

In a later tweet, Trump referred to the African American representative as “racist Elijah Cummings.”

A number of people have compared Trump’s statements about Cummings and Baltimore to other remarks he has made in the past. In a now-viral video, CNN host Victor Blackwell, a native of Baltimore, noted that Trump often uses the term infestation when talking to minorities.

Blackwell specifically noted Trump’s tweets from a few weeks ago where he said that the four progressive Congresswomen known as the Squad should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Aaron Rupar of Vox also echoed that, posting screenshots of other times Trump has used that same language. Rupar included examples like in 2018, when Trump referred to sanctuary cities in California as “crime infested.”

He also included a 2017 attack on African American Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), where the president wrote that Lewis should focus on the “burning and crime-infested inner-cities of the U.S.”

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

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New York City Moves to Ban Cashless Businesses

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  • New York City’s Council passed a bill on Thursday that prohibits businesses from going cashless.
  • Supporters argue this approach discriminates against low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts.
  • Meanwhile, opponents of the cashless ban argue it is more convenient for workers to only deal with digital transactions.
  • If New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio approves the bill, businesses will face a fine for refusing to accept cash as payment.  
  • San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved cashless bans in businesses last year.

Cashless Ban Approved by City Council

New York City’s Council approved a bill on Thursday that bans businesses from going cashless.

The measure was almost unanimously passed and is an effort to decrease discrimination of low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts or access to credit. 

Councilmember Ritchie Torres was the bill’s lead sponsor. 

“We in the City Council have real concerns that an increasingly cashless marketplace could have a real-world discriminatory effect on low-income communities, especially communities of color, that lack access to credit and debit,” Torres said at a press conference right before the bill was passed. 

Just over 11% of households in New York — about 354,000 — do not have a bank account, according to a 2019 report by New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. An additional 21.8% of households are underbanked, meaning they have a bank account but use alternative financial methods for some needs.  

Torres also noted that even those who do have access to bank accounts might still prefer cash because of its familiarity and its nature of allowing more privacy. 

“Whatever your reasons, consumers should have the power to choose their preferred method of payment,” Torres said. 

If the bill is approved by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, restaurants, stores, and other retail outlets will be required to accept cash as payment. If any businesses do refuse hard currency, they will be subject to a fine of $1,000 and $1,500 for each following offense. 

Businesses will have the option of adopting cash conversion machines as long as the machines do not charge any extra fees. In the case that one of these machines is not working, the business must directly accept cash. 

A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told The New York Times on Wednesday that he supported “the intent” of the bill, but still planned to go over it.

Cashless Ban Movement

New York City is the latest to pass legislation prohibiting businesses from refusing cash. In 2019, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved these bans for similar reasons. 

While many are in favor of cashless bans, the idea has received pushback from others. Business owners have argued the method is more convenient for their workers. Leo Kremer, co-founder of the Dos Toros Taqueria chain that runs through New York City, has previously expressed this take. 

“We are only interested in being cashless because it allows us to make our restaurant more seamless,” Kremer said at a hearing on the bill in February.

Kalman Yeger, a councilman from Brooklyn, thought those who voted for the bill were “overreaching.”  

“We are inserting ourselves in the business of business in a way that we don’t have the right to,” Yeger told The New York Times.  

See what others are saying: (ABC) (The New York Times) (Guardian)

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U.S. Announces New Visa Rule Targeting “Birth Tourism”

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  • The Department of State unveiled a new rule aiming to stop pregnant women from coming to the U.S. to give birth so their children get American citizenship.
  • The rule states that this practice — commonly referred to as “birth tourism” — “poses risks to national security.” 
  • The new regulation allows consular officers to deny visas to visitors if they believe they’re traveling to the U.S. for this purpose. 
  • It also requires those traveling to the U.S. for medical purposes to prove to consular officers that they can pay for the treatment they seek.  
  • The changes will go into effect as of Friday, Jan. 24.

Crackdown on Birth Tourism  

The U.S. Department of State announced on Thursday plans to stop pregnant women from entering the country to give birth so their children are granted American citizenship, a practice commonly referred to as “birth tourism.” 

Under the new rule, consular officers can deny visas to visitors if they believe their travel to the country is primarily for this purpose.  

“The Department considers birth tourism an inappropriate basis for the issuance of temporary visitor visas,” the rule states.  

The visas that this new regulation covers are those categorized as “B nonimmigrant visas,” issued for pleasure, medical purposes, or to visit friends or family. 

“This rule reflects a better policy, as birth tourism poses risks to national security,” the Department of State said in the document. “The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes.”

By the law of the 14th Amendment, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

President Donald Trump has spoken out about his disapproval of this policy before. In the past, he has called it a “magnet for illegal immigration,” and last August he expressed his wish to remove it.

The State Department’s new rule will officially take effect on Friday, Jan. 24. It will only affect those from countries who need a visa to visit the United States. 

Further Changes

In addition to cracking down on birth tourism, the State Department’s new rule also tightens qualifications for those seeking medical treatment in the U.S.

It requires that those seeking a nonimmigrant visa for this reason “must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the consular officer,” their ability to pay for their sought-after medical services, as well as proof that a medical practitioner has already agreed to help. 

Reactions to the New Rule

After the Department of State’s new rule was made public, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham gave it her nod of approval. 

“It will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism,” Grisham said in a statement. “The integrity of American citizenship must be protected.”

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tweeted a link to The New York Times article on the story and added a simple word of support: “Good.”

Others, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, were not happy about the change.

 “This administration is now targeting pregnant. women.” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “When you single out the most vulnerable, the cruelty is the point.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (Time)

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Supreme Court Hears Landmark Case Regarding Scholarships for Religious Schools

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  • The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a potential landmark case that could allow religious schools to receive publicly-funded scholarships, even if a state’s constitution says they can’t.
  • The case involves a Montana program that was ended after the state realized it was unintentionally being used to aid religious schools using taxpayer money.
  • Opponents argue that the provision, which prohibits public funds from going to religious organizations, is rooted in religious discrimination.

Montana Sparks Lawsuit After Ending Scholarship Program

The Supreme Court of the United States began hearing Wednesday what could potentially be a landmark case concerning the separation of church and state for schools.

Specifically, the Court is considering a case out of Montana that could allow religious schools to receive publicly-funded scholarships, even if a state’s constitution prohibits such a move.

The situation that now sits upon SCOTUS’s doorstep began in 2015 when the Montana state legislature created a tax-credit program for people wanting to donate to a scholarship fund. 

That program allowed people to donate dollar-for-dollar tax credits up to $150.

An organization named Big Sky then capitalized on the program and created a fund to help parents wanting to send their children to private schools; however, there was a catch: 12 of the 13 schools that Big Sky sent money to were religious. In fact, about 70% of private schools in the state are religious schools.

Those donations directly conflict with Montana’s state constitution, which says the state cannot set aside public money for “…any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

Such a law is known as a “no-aid” provision. 

Montana later decided to cut the program before eventually being sued on the basis of religious discrimination. One attorney argued that the only reason Montana shut down the program was because it included religious schools. That attorney also argued that the U.S. Constitution mandates equal protection under the law. In other words, Montana must apply the tax-credit program equally between private schools, both religious and nonreligious. 

“Once you have these programs, you have to treat families going to religious schools equal to families going to nonreligious schools,” that attorney, Erica Smith, told NPR.

The case’s lead plaintiff—Kendra Espinoza— had also been vocal about her need for such a program. 

In an interview with The Washington Post, Espinoza said not only did she have to pick up extra jobs but she also “pretty much sold everything in my house that wasn’t tied down” just to afford to send her two daughters to a religious private school. In addition to that, her two daughters took on jobs mowing lawns and cleaning offices to raise money.

Espinoza’s accounts are a far cry from the common stereotype that only rich people send their children to private schools, with Espinoza even directly saying that her family needs assistance to be able to afford private school.

“Baby” Blaine Amendments

While Montana didn’t introduce its tax-credit program until 2015, Espinoza’s case is also rooted in law that dates back to the 1800s. 

In 1875, a politician by the name James G. Blaine introduced a similar “no-aid” amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That ended up failing, but different versions of it were adopted in most states, with Montana passing theirs in 1889.

Most historians have referred to the original proposed amendment as the “Blaine Amendment,” with the later ones being dubbed “baby” Blaine Amendments. Historians also agree that such amendments were only adopted in a bigoted retaliation to the mass immigration of Catholics into the U.S.

Thus, since the law was borne of bigotry against Catholics, Espinoza and her lawyers argued that it violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against religion.

On the other hand, the state of Montana disputed the discrimination claim, pointing out that its “no-aid” provision was revised and rewritten in 1972

The state even had all but one of the surviving delegates at that 1972 convention submit a brief discussing how the revised Constitution was debated. According to NPR, one delegate even says that a number of the delegates were also ministers, with many of them speaking “very ardently in favor of public funds not going to religious education.”

That delegate, Mae Nan Ellingson, also argued that the state passed the “no-aid” provision to “protect religious liberty,” saying the state feared that if religious organizations were included, someone in the future might try to attach conditions to the aid. 

The case eventually made its way to the Montana Supreme Court, where the Court ruled the state had not violated religious protections granted by the U.S. Constitution. 

U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up the Case

That decision, however, was then appealed to the SCOTUS, which began hearing arguments Wednesday. 

In its brief, Montana continued to defend its no-aid provision, saying, “The No-Aid Clause does not prohibit any religious practice. Nor does it authorize any discriminatory benefits program. It simply says that Montana will not financially aid religious schools.”

On Espinoza’s side, the Trump Administration and Education Secretary Betsy Devos have backed her. The move is not an unexpected one for Devos, who attended private school herself and later sent her kids to private schools. Devos is also a heavy advocate of “faith-based education.”

With this case now reaching SCOTUS, any decision could have far-reaching effects. Including Montana, 38 states have no-aid provisions. 

If Montana wins, its tax-credit program would remain shut down. It would then continue to be able to keep public money away from religious schools, but religious schools would still be able to receive federal funds.

However, if the state loses, religious schools across the country—regardless of previous state law—might be able to access scholarship funds paid for by taxes. 

Currently, the latter decision appears to be the more likely outcome. In recent years, the Court has become more conservative on church vs. state issues. In 2017, it decided that Missouri couldn’t ban a church school for applying for a state grant that fixes up playgrounds. Since then, the court has only grown more conservative, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the bench.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (Reuters)

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