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National Guard Coronavirus Deployments to End Just One Day Before Benefits Kick In for Thousands

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Source: U.S. Army National Guard/Col. Steve Rowe

  • In a call obtained by Politico, a senior FEMA official said Army National Guard deployment would come to a “hard stop” on June 24.
  • This coincides with the expiration of a federal order deploying the Guard in response to the coronavirus, though President Donald Trump did extend that order once. 
  • Still, many veterans have expressed concern because Trump’s extension is set to expire one day short of when thousands of active duty Guard members would be able to qualify for retirement benefits, as well as educational benefits under the G.I. Bill.

Thousands to Fail to Qualify for G.I. Benefits

More than 40,000 Army National Guard members have been deployed across the United States to provide backup for states fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but now, a scheduled “hard stop” to their deployments could leave thousands unable to access crucial benefits.

Notably, that would include aspects such as early retirement benefits and education benefits granted under the post-9/11 G.I. Bill

To access those benefits, Guard members must log 90 days of active duty, but the current federal order expires on June 24, meaning thousands of Guard members would have only logged 89 days, one day short of the threshold. That’s because many of these troops were deployed in late March. 

According to a call obtained by Politico, there is reason to believe that the order may not be extended to give those troops the ability to access their benefits. In that call, a senior Federal Emergency Management Agency official says the Trump Administration will reportedly put a “hard stop” on deployments on June 24. 

This would mean that not only would states see an abrupt loss of crucial frontline workers, but the Trump administration would also likely face questions about withholding access to their benefits. According to Politico, in this call, that FEMA official admits as much, reportedly telling dozens of colleagues that this move would require a delicate messaging strategy. 

“We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it,” the official said.

Currently, Guard members have been deployed across 44 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia to help with testing people for the coronavirus, as well as to trace the spread of infections. Part of their duties also includes decontaminating nursing homes and setting up field hospitals. 

In fact, their deployment has been extremely valuable to understaffed and underfunded state public health agencies trying to contain outbreaks. It’s also the largest domestic deployment since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Why Can’t Troops Just Pick Up An Extra Day?

On the surface, picking up an extra day of work to obtain those qualifications doesn’t sound too daunting, but for these Guard members, without federal orders, that would be impossible. 

That’s because all 90 days of required active duty need to be from federal deployments.

For example, Guard members must serve twenty years before they can qualify for pension at age 60; however, for every 90 days they’ve served during a federal emergency, they can move up that retirement by three months. 

But the key phrase here is “during a federal emergency.” State deployments don’t count, and that’s even if states decide they need to keep troops around after June 24.

All of that then means that to see these benefits, Guard members would have to wait until their next federal deployment. Since federal emergencies obviously aren’t planned, it’s unknown how earlier or how late that could come. 

Will the Trump Administration Issue an Extension?

Another major question looming for many Guard members is if the Trump administration will issue an extension so they can see these benefits without having to wait indefinitely.

Multiple governors and lawmakers from other states have asked the White House to extend its federal order, arguing that pulling the National Guard out of states too soon could contribute to a possible second wave of infections. 

President Donald Trump’s original order was scheduled to expire on May 31.

In early April, federal lawmakers from states like New Hampshire, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Illinois all sought an extension through the fall. On April 29, Colorado’s entire congressional delegation joined the chorus by asking Trump for an extension through the rest of the year.

While Trump did issue an extension on May 8, it was actually only for 24 days. Very unusually here, that meant this deployment was scheduled to end in the middle of the week.

It seemed kind of weird to me,” retired Brigadier General and president of the National Guard Association, J. Roy Robinson said to Politico. “It’s a Wednesday. And it also coincides with 89 days of deployment for any soldiers who went on federal status at the beginning. I was getting all kind[s] of calls about it and I said, ‘It’s probably just a coincidence.’ But in the back of my mind, I know better. They’re screwing the National Guard members out of the status they should have.”

U.S. Representative from New York and National Guard captain Max Rose has also intensely criticized of the move, calling it the “definition of heartless.” 

“In peacetime, we should never balance our budget on the backs of our soldiers, so why anyone would think this is okay to do in the middle of a wartime effort is beyond human comprehension,” Rose said in a statement.

“This decision must be reversed not only because it is deeply unpatriotic, but also economically unsound and puts our gains against COVID-19 at risk for some short-term, foolish budgetary gimmick.”

While top National Guard and other federal officials on that call didn’t dispute the June 24 cutoff or bring up the possibility of an extension, a spokesperson for the National Guard has said that a decision to extend deployments could still be made in the coming weeks. 

At the same time, the National Guard’s Hall has seemingly countered by saying that the 90-day threshold is cumulative and that Guard members can pick up that final day upon the next federal deployment. 

An abrupt end to National Guard deployment could also create an expensive hole for states to have to attempt to fill.

Reportedly, it costs $9 million a month to support 1,000 active duty members.

Because of that, the National Guard Association has warned that without federal orders and funding, most states won’t be able to “support significant Guard deployments.” 

That would, in turn, potentially create an even bigger problem because for the members that states can’t support, they may actually be taken out of the field before June 24. This is because National Guard members will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks before returning to civilian life.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The Hill) (Slate)

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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