In The News
Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation expressed hope Monday that — for the first time in decades — there may be an opportunity for funding to redress damage done by West Baltimore’s so-called Highway to Nowhere.... The original plan was to connect Interstate 70 coming from the west with Interstate 95, but the project was halted in the early 1970s amid opposition from threatened neighborhoods along the proposed route and environmentalists.... The senators — along with Mfume and fellow representatives John Sarbanes and Anthony Brown — are pushing legislation called the Reconnecting Communities Act. It would establish a multibillion- dollar grant program to help communities identify and remove highway projects that did more harm than good. The legislation has been introduced on its own and also as part of Democratic President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion package being negotiated with congressional Republicans to rebuild highways, bridges and other infrastructure. The separate “reconnecting” bill has not received GOP backing.
Members of the Maryland congressional delegation on Monday joined Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott to announce plans to get rid of what's called the highway to nowhere. It's a 1 1/2-mile stretch of road that cuts through west Baltimore, dividing neighborhoods and displacing residents and business -- and it doesn't even go anywhere.A concrete ditch is an "open wound" that houses the six-lane road that was never finished. It was supposed to be an east-west expressway. The project destroyed 971 houses, 62 businesses and displaced 1,500 residents. Maryland's members of Congress are pushing legislation designed to undo the damage. They said the legislation is designed to end the legacy of highway construction that divides neighborhoods and erects barriers to opportunity.... City Council President Nick Mosby released a statement, saying: "The work our congressional delegation is doing to reverse our country's history of inequity in infrastructure is critical to Baltimore's success.... I have great confidence in Sens. Van Hollen and (Ben) Cardin and Congressmen Mfume, (John) Sarbanes and Brown to work with the Biden administration to direct key investment to our beloved city from the American Jobs Plan and other legislation, including the Reconnecting Communities Act.
Top leaders in Maryland and the city of Baltimore are united in support for legislation introduced to reconnect communities divided by infrastructure projects, like Baltimore’s Highway to Nowhere.... Van Hollen, Sen. Ben Cardin (D), U.S. Reps. Kwiesi Mfume (D), Anthony Brown (D), John Sarbanes (D), state Sens. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) and Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City), Del. Keith E. Haynes (D-Baltimore City), Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott (D) and Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby (D) all showed at a news conference Monday in support of The Reconnecting Communities Act.... Discriminatory infrastructure projects like Baltimore’s Highway to Nowhere aren’t unique to Maryland: several other primarily Black communities across the country have borne the brunt of incomplete highway projects.
Manchin’s idea of focusing on voting rights has favor with some congressional Democrats, including veteran members of the Congressional Black Caucus. It would also be a massive political mistake, ditching the most popular provisions of the legislation and turning the bill from a winner in key swing states and congressional districts into another iteration of what many voters see as partisan bickering over voting rights.... [The For the People Act], on the whole, is popular. A recording of conservative activists discussing how to stop the measure, obtained by The New Yorker, found them admitting that turning public opinion against the bill would be “incredibly difficult.” But the most popular parts of the legislation have always been the provisions aimed at limiting the political influence of corporations and the ultra-wealthy.... Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, the lead sponsor of the House version of the legislation, noted the voting rights provisions were the “most animating on both sides” of the partisan divide. But the anti-corruption measures ― which include strengthening ethics requirements for executive appointees and judges, and forcing the disclosure of anonymous political spending ― test well across party lines. “Those parts of the bill are broadly supported, even by most Republicans out there in the country,” Sarbanes said. “When you lift those up, it puts McConnell and his allies on their back foot. They know that anti-corruption sentiment is very strong, even among their own constituents.” Right now, Sarbanes needs to find a path to passage for the legislation. And he’s sure Manchin’s suggestion won’t actually make that any easier. The plan is already the product of extensive intraparty negotiation. And Sarbanes said the possibility of attracting GOP support for voting rights legislation is nonexistent. “I don’t trust them, to be very honest,” Sarbanes said of Republicans. “I just don’t see any intersection of real reform with getting 10 Republican votes.” The obstacles to passing the legislation with only Democratic support are clear: Manchin’s opposition to moving the legislation at all, and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s opposition to eliminating the filibuster. But private Democratic polling, paid for by End Citizens United and obtained by HuffPost, shows the anti-corruption provisions of HR 1 are immensely popular in both Democrats’ home states.
The American Rescue Plan is sending $543.8 million in federal aid to 47 Maryland colleges and universities, about half of which will be distributed to students as emergency cash grants. President Joe Biden’s economic relief plan was passed in March and aims to cushion the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan is injecting about $36 billion into public and private, nonprofit colleges and universities across the country, according to a statement from Maryland’s congressional delegation. In Maryland, 47 colleges and universities will receive an average of $11.5 million through the plan. About half of the funds will go toward helping students who are facing hunger, homelessness and other hardships, according to the statement. University of Maryland, College Park is set to receive the largest amount in the state at about $58 million, followed by Towson University at $49 million and Montgomery College at $40 million. The Community College of Baltimore County notably topped the list in fourth place, receiving about $37 million in federal aid. The community college has recently attracted federal attention for its wraparound services for students. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited the Catonsville campus last week where he highlighted the college’s on-site child care center and tuition support program. Maryland’s congressional delegation — Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen as well as Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and David Trone — touted the federal aid package’s benefit for Maryland college students in a statement Tuesday. “The success of our local colleges and universities is critical to the success of our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers said in the statement. “The American Rescue Plan makes a historic investment that will ensure the doors to higher education remain open here in Maryland and provide struggling students with the resources they need to stay on track and complete their degrees.”
Congressional Democrats are launching a concerted push on behalf of an ambitious voting rights and campaign reform bill sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland that backers say is urgently needed because voter access is being threatened around the country. Sarbanes’ legislation was years in the making and is a defining bill for the eighth-term lawmaker and son of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes. It has not attracted critical Republican support, but has become a signature measure for Democrats eager to protect voting rights heading into the 2022 midterm congressional elections. They also want to showcase their efforts to limit the role of big money in campaigns, tighten ethics rules for members of Congress, and end the drawing of sharply partisan U.S. House districts.... “The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Sarbanes said. “It meets a lot of the challenges we’re facing right now....” Sarbanes said he and other Democrats won’t break the package into pieces, not even to try to salvage some elements. “It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not going to get you Republicans,” he said. “It’s not going to solve your problem in terms of getting to 60 votes.” Sarbanes said the Democrats believe the public broadly favors the bill’s proposals, and that the party plans to try to leverage that support to sway opponents. Sarbanes, a lawyer, represents portions of Baltimore City and of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties. The congressman said he was influenced by his father, whom he called “a reformer.”
Down the street from a West Street wall freshly adorned in the image of late civil rights figure John Lewis, 70 people gathered in Annapolis Saturday to honor his legacy by promoting Democratic legislation in his name that would protect voting rights heading into the 2022 midterm congressional elections. The Annapolis rally and motorcade was one of 150 cities participating in a “John Lewis Voting Rights Act action event” to push Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It would reinstate a requirement that state legislatures get approval from the Department of Justice to change election laws that limit voting rights. Participants also promoted “For the People Act,” an electoral reform bill intended to strengthen voting rights and access, enhance campaign finance reform and address government ethics to root out corruption in politics. The lead sponsor is U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, who represents Annapolis as part of Maryland’s 3rd District.
Sarbanes told the crowd Saturday that Lewis wrote 300 pages of the 791-page act. The bill is viewed by Democrats as a civil rights bill because it would increase civilian participation in voting and running for office. The act is a collection of reform bills introduced in previous congressional sessions, now stitched into a single package.... “We’re never going to give in to voter suppression in this country and we’re never going to give up on American democracy,” Sarbanes said.
President Joe Biden campaigned on reforming the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which he — along with many lawmakers in past years — said is failing borrowers due to its low approval rate. His campaign website said: “Biden will see to it that the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is fixed, simplified, and actually helps teachers.” On Wednesday, 56 Democratic lawmakers urged Biden to follow through on his promise. Senate and House Democrats, led by Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, wrote a letter to Biden's Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stressing the need to improve the PSLF program to give public servants the loan forgiveness they deserve.... Sarbanes said on Twitter: “We must ensure that America's teachers, social workers, public defenders, service members and community health care workers — along with many other public servants — receive the student loan forgiveness they have earned.”
The Biden administration appears to be highly motivated to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) system that has been long considered to be “broken” by experts. “We need to do better with Public Service Loan Forgiveness — about 98% have been rejected, of the claims that are put in — to me this really needs a very critical look to make sure that the intention that you have in Congress is followed through on, and that we're doing everything to put our students at the center of the conversation,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told a hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies on Wednesday.... Lawmakers led by Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) separately called on Cardona to strengthen PSLF. “We urge you to take action to waive or modify counterproductive restrictions, barriers and donut holes in PSLF,” the lawmakers stated in a joint letter sent on Wednesday. “We also urge the [ED] to take proactive steps to simplify the process, provide more transparency and bolster oversight of the program and loan servicers to ensure that the PSLF program is implemented in accordance with congressional intent.”
Vice President Kamala Harris came to Baltimore on Thursday to visit the state's mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium. Visiting with those getting vaccinated along with Gov. Larry Hogan and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Harris said those administering vaccines are heroes.... Harris was also joined on the tour by officials including Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, Reps. John Sarbanes, D-District 3, Kweisi Mfume, D-District 7, and Mayor Brandon Scott.... “We need the American Families Plan. We need the American Jobs Plan to make sure we're back to stay, that two years from now, we're still standing up straight,” Sarbanes said.