In The News
Hours before a thunderstorm washed out Baltimore County, America’s birthday brought hundreds to Washington Avenue to the annual Fourth of July parade in Towson. With a flyover over the national anthem, the event started strong despite the threat of rain, drawing people from near and far to celebrate the country’s independence…. The parade had everything from live music to big rigs…. Local politicians also came out to celebrate the holiday. “Everybody is celebrating our patriotism today, our independence. We mark it every year very proudly and I think Baltimore does that as well as anybody,” Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said.
Fourth of July parade spectators sought comfort Thursday from the familiar trappings of the holiday — lawn chairs strategically positioned on sidewalks, kids waving tiny American flags, horses clip-clopping down the route. But with the nation starkly divided over political and social issues, many celebrants at the parade in Towson said — some striking wistful tones — that the holiday has changed. “It’s a lot more complicated,” said businessman Eric Gee, who joined the crowds lining Towson streets on a 90-degree day to watch one of the state’s biggest Independence Day celebrations. Parades marking America’s Declaration of Independence 243 years ago were also scheduled for Annapolis, Arbutus, Bel Air, Catonsville, Dundalk and other communities across the state. Towson parade spectators offered divergent theories about the evolving feel of the day. For Gee, the tone of the day changed when President Donald Trump decided to play a particularly prominent role by planning a speech at the Lincoln Memorial during a “Salute to America” showcasing the might of the U.S. military…. Among the elected officials in the parade were U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, both Baltimore County Democrats. Sarbanes told the Baltimore Sun that Independence Day was a celebration of “our nation’s freedom from foreign influence and interference in our democracy.” As such, he said the nation “must act quickly — and in bipartisan fashion” to bolster its efforts to prevent attacks on election security in 2020.
On July 4, Americans of all political stripes join together to celebrate our nation’s independence from overseas monarchs, from foreign influence, from interference in our democracy.... This is the moment to apply the lessons of 2016, when our election infrastructure — the core of American democracy — was attacked by a foreign adversary in a choreographed and coordinated effort. State and local election systems across the country were probed and, in some cases, breached. Outsiders exploited digital platforms to wage a full-scale disinformation campaign. And secret foreign money was deployed to influence the electoral outcome.... As elected officials, we swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and guard against foreign interference in our domestic affairs. Each and every one of us at the federal, state and local levels has a duty to safeguard our election systems. The alarming findings of the Mueller Report, along with several assessments from our nation’s intelligence community, warn that we are woefully unprepared for similar attacks that will be coming in 2020.... We must spring into action.... In Maryland, we continue to take steps to secure our election system. Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 743, legislation empowering the state administrator of elections to terminate any vendor upon a determination that a foreign national has the ability to control, influence or direct the vendor in a manner that could compromise or influence the independence and integrity of our elections. But we need the federal government to step up and do its part.... Democrats in the House of Representatives are taking this responsibility seriously. As our first order of business, we introduced and passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which provides billions of dollars in assistance to states to help improve their election system security. H.R. 1 also requires the Department of Homeland Security and director of national intelligence to share threat data and best practices for security with state election officials and requires the president to develop a national strategy to defend our democratic institutions.... Inexplicably, no House Republicans chose to join Democrats in voting for H.R. 1, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to even allow a vote on it in his chamber. Recently, Republicans were afforded yet another opportunity to show their patriotism when Democrats introduced a standalone election security bill, the Safeguarding America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act. Focused exclusively on protecting the integrity of the ballot box, the SAFE Act would modernize our election systems by providing new resources to states to improve election infrastructure, increasing the adoption of paper ballots and ensuring the accuracy of the vote tallies. But Leader McConnell has yet again barred the door, indicating that he will refuse to hold a vote on or debate this commonsense legislation in the Senate.... The American people deserve to have confidence that our elections are fair and free from foreign intrusion. As we mark Independence Day and celebrate our country’s freedom from influence abroad, we must join together in this patriotic undertaking to protect our country from foreign attacks. It is time for congressional Republicans to take seriously the threats to our democracy and help give states like Maryland the tools and resources they urgently need to protect our elections. Anything less is an abdication of their constitutional duty.
June 28 marks exactly one year since the deadly shooting at The Capital Gazette newsroom…. On June 28, 2018, a gunman entered the newsroom and killed five employees: editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, assistant editor Rob Hiaasen, editor/reporter John McNamara, sales assistant Rebecca Smith and community correspondent Wendi Winters…. The remaining staff pushed through and continued to put out a paper the next day, reporting on the very tragedy that took their co-workers lives. They put out a paper every day since, in an impressive show of resolve and responsibility to not let the shooting stop them from doing their jobs…. The community gathered along the waterfront at Acton Cove Park — not far from the Maryland State House — to dedicate a memorial garden to the five victims…. The garden dedication included Representative John Sarbanes and Senator Chris Van Hollen. Both lawmakers praised the paper for its service to the community—and for the determination to keep going and “putting out the damn paper” even the day after the murders…. The emotional day also continued into the night with the City of Annapolis holding a special remembrance concert at Maryland Hall…. The night ended with candlelight illumination, showing that even though times go on, these faces and their work will never be forgotten.
When particularly juicy news broke, Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell would burst out of his office to share it with his assistant editor, Rob Hiaasen. One day, he wasn’t there. Likely, Hutzell told a crowd gathered Friday morning at Acton’s Cove Waterfront Park, Hiaasen had slipped out of the newsroom to come here. Under the shade of the trees, with boats bobbing nearby in the water, he found the solitude to think about his next column, or how to help one of the reporters he edited and mentored. Now, the park is home to a rose garden planted in the memory of Hiaasen; Gerald Fischman, an editorial writer; John McNamara, a sports and news writer and editor; Rebecca Smith, an advertising assistant; and Wendi Winters, a community features writer. The garden was dedicated on the first anniversary of the day they were killed by a mass shooter in their Annapolis office…. The dedication of the memorial garden launched a day of remembrance of the deadliest attack on a newspaper in U.S. history. A Laurel man, Jarrod Ramos, awaits trial on murder and other charges in the shooting for which he’s pleaded not criminally responsible…. The five died “senselessly” while doing jobs that made them a vital part of a close-knit community, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said…. U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Rep John Sarbanes, Maryland Democrats, also spoke at the dedication…. Sarbanes recalled rushing to Annapolis after learning of the shooting. “By the time I got here, there were already two things happening which were awe-inspiring,” he said. “The first was that you could feel the defiance on the part of the Capital Gazette, already beginning to think about how to resist that attack and make sure that that newspaper went out the next morning. “The other thing that you could feel was that the healing was beginning,” Sarbanes said. “People were rushing from around Annapolis to put their arms around the families of those victims.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not shame easily. Ask anyone — including Jon Stewart, the former Comedy Network star who has found a second life as an impassioned advocate for the victims of the 9/11 attacks…. Mr. McConnell recently expressed support for fully funding the Victims Compensation Fund as Mr. Stewart has sought, but legislation to do so remains stalled in the Senate. Still, if the embarrassment Mr. Stewart heaped on the majority leader actually did the job, perhaps the former “Daily Show” host can be recruited to express similar outrage that Congress has so far done so little to protect the upcoming 2020 election from foreign interference. Maryland’s own Rep. John Sarbanes is looking to rectify that situation shortly. He’s at the vanguard of the effort by House Democrats to strengthen election security — and address many of the criticisms contained in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that have been echoed by U.S. intelligence agencies. There’s simply no question that Russian agents attempted to interfere in the 2016 election and are expected to be at it again next year. What would a better protected election look like? Well, for starters, Congress can simply clarify the obligation of a candidate and his or her campaign staff to report contacts with foreign nationals seeking to interfere with a presidential election…. But that’s just the beginning. Representative Sarbanes is also set to re-introduce the election security provisions contained in H.R. 1, the omnibus bill the House passed early in its term that covers ethics and campaign finance as well…. The Senate majority leader has been sitting on H.R. 1 since it passed the House in March…. But by breaking out the election security components, Mr. Sarbanes will be giving the senator a clear choice — either protect democracy or don’t.
In the struggle between Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democratic-controlled House, the immovable object may finally have met an irresistible force. McConnell has been the immovable object: He's frustrated House Democrats by systematically blocking Senate votes so far on the lengthening list of bills they have passed, from gun control to additional protections for patients with preexisting health problems. But McConnell's blockade faces a new challenge as the House turns to a series of bills meant to fight foreign interference in the 2020 election…. "It could be the thing that has the public home in on where the problem is, where the obstruction is," says Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, a leading author of the House election security agenda…. “Here's a case study that they are going to be very interested in, that shows ... the problem is not with Washington, the problem is not broadly with Congress, the problem is with Mitch McConnell, who will not bring any of these things to the Senate floor…. " Sarbanes, who chaired the House Democrats' Democracy Reform Task Force, says the party plans to pass by August "a suite" of bills to safeguard the 2020 election against foreign interference. Those bills will include some measures already included in the House's omnibus political overhaul legislation, HR 1, that would provide states with more money to harden voting systems against possible foreign intrusion and mandate that the Department of Homeland Security develop a strategy for resisting such attacks…. "I think it's going to be a very difficult place for him to be, opposing these things that are supposed to protect the fundamental principles of our democracy," Sarbanes says. "This is about ... protecting ourselves from foreign interference, having confidence that our elections are being carried out in a free and fair and uninfluenced way. It's baseline stuff; it's Founding Fathers kind of principles here. If you stand in the way of measures that are designed to safeguard these principles, I think you are standing in the way of American democracy or at least not respecting it."
Five federal lawmakers representing Baltimore sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking for an investigation into the withdrawal of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility for vendors at Lexington Market. The lawmakers, including Congressmen John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings, and Dutch Ruppersberger, as well as Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, said a number of retailers in the public market have been denied eligibility for SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. A number of other retailers are coming up for review and may also be ruled ineligible, the group said. “The area in which Lexington Market operates is a historically low-income, food- and transportation-scarce area in which residents – many of whom already expend a higher proportion of their income to meet their basic needs – sometimes require nutrition assistance. Therefore, it is critical to have local retailers that provide healthy, accessible food for residents of the area – as well as the city as a whole – through the SNAP program,” the lawmakers said in the letter. The lawmakers asked the USDA to work with vendors and the community to make sure area residents have access to healthy and affordable food.
Mary Mervis Delicatessen used to serve a daily rush of 1,000 customers, who lined up for the Lexington Market stall’s meats and cheeses, corned beef sandwiches and shrimp salad. But traffic, already down to about 400 people a day since the Freddie Gray riots, has plummeted by at least half again since the century-old deli lost food stamp eligibility…. The deli is among a group of Baltimore public market vendors who have lost or are in danger of losing eligibility to take payments through SNAP, the federal supplemental nutrition assistance program for low-income people. Because of changes phased in over the last several years and heavier scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, market merchants such as delis, bakeries and crab shacks no longer meet federal requirements for vendors…. Responding to pleas from vendors who are losing their ability to accept food stamps, several members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation fired off a letter Monday to the head of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service asking the agency to look into the withdrawal of SNAP eligibility for several market retailers and to help them. The delegation members, including senators Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and representatives John P. Sarbanes, Elijah E. Cummings, and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, said Lexington Market operates under a model that does not exist in other cities in a historically low-income, food- and transportation-scarce area. “It is critical to have local retailers that provide healthy, accessible food for residents of the area — as well as the city as a whole — through the SNAP program,” said the letter to Brandon Lipps, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service.
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s comments to ABC News that he would be open to foreign offers of political dirt on his 2020 rivals before maybe contacting the FBI, Democrats on Capitol Hill used the controversial remarks to renew their push for legislation targeting foreign assistance in American campaigns – a push that’s already run up against some Republican opposition. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said representatives would take up legislation that would require candidates to contact the FBI if contacted by a foreign government offering political dirt during a campaign. That measure appeared to have Republican support, as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who largely otherwise defended Trump's remarks to ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, said Republicans would "gladly vote for this." But a similar measure in the Senate on Thursday hit a partisan wall after Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., attempted to have the bill passed immediately and unanimously. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., blocked the measure…. House Democratic leaders are currently reviewing other legislative proposals that could receive votes on the floor before the chamber's August recess, potentially including pieces of H.R. 1, Democrats' massive election security anti-corruption package passed earlier this year…. Another proposal would clarify election regulations surrounding foreign nationals involvement in elections. Under current rules, foreigners are prohibited from making financial contributions to American campaigns or donating any other "thing of value," according to the Federal Election Commission. "Whether or not you can establish monetary value, they have implied value, and those should be banned," Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., said of opposition research.