In The News
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.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to buckle to the near constant drumbeat from Democrats -- and some Republicans -- about the need to pass election security legislation in the wake of the report from special counsel Robert Mueller that found Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The Kentucky Republican, who believes strongly that elections should be primarily controlled by state and local authorities and not managed by Washington, argues that the federal government has already responded to the problems raised from the 2016 campaign and more does not need to be done at this time…. Behind the scenes, congressional Democrats are finalizing their plans to mount a pressure campaign on McConnell in the weeks ahead to try to shame him for his opposition to these matters. House Democrats are planning to pass a package of bills this summer aimed at shoring up the nation's election systems, including requiring FBI disclosure of offers for foreign assistance, something the Trump campaign didn't do in 2016 after Trump's eldest son was offered Russian dirt on the Clinton campaign. And Senate Democrats plan to return again and again to the floor to seek unanimous consent to pass election security bills, like the one they offered Thursday, which was blocked by Republicans that would have required any campaign that is offered assistance from a foreign government to report that to the FBI…. There are several other bills being pushed through the House, which could be wrapped up in the larger package. Among the bills is one pushed by Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touted legislation by the congressman at her weekly news conference on Thursday, describing it as "closing foreign money loopholes…. " McConnell has railed against H.R. 1 since it was introduced, arguing it was designed to keep Democrats in office. While Democrats haven't able to persuade McConnell to take up legislation, they did get him to agree to hold a briefing for all-senators on the state of election security. McConnell announced this week that briefing will take place soon but didn't say when.
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.
Alarmed by President Donald Trump’s willingness to accept foreign dirt on a political opponent, House Democrats are accelerating their efforts to strengthen election security ahead of the 2020 campaign. Lawmakers had already been compiling a fresh package of bills in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Trump-Russia probe. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are now pushing ahead with votes because it’s part of “what the American people elected us to do…. ” Even though the nation’s intelligence agencies said from early 2017 that it was clear Russia tried to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump, Republicans who led both chambers did not move comprehensive legislation to address the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to hold a vote on a Senate election security bill that has bipartisan support. The House bills seek to secure state election systems, put stricter limits on foreign election interference and provide more oversight of the executive branch, according to aides familiar with the legislation. The House could vote as soon as next week on the first bill in the package, a series of measures to improve state election systems with paper ballots, audits and funding of grants to states. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., among those leading the effort, said Trump’s attitude toward foreign interference was “breathtaking” and, he believes, the president is taking the country in the “opposite direction of where the public wants to go, which is to feel more confident, not less confident” in the vote. “People should be concerned that we’re going to see another round of attempts to attack our democracy of the kind we saw in ’16,” Sarbanes said in an interview. He said special counsel Mueller’s report, which extensively detailed the Russian interference, flashed a “neon sign” that Russia was “coming again.”
House Democrats are readying a major legislative push focused on securing elections, a response to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings of Russian interference in the 2016 election that took on new resonance after President Trump said he would be willing to take dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government. Legislation under discussion would, among other things, bar political campaigns from sharing private material with foreign governments, require them to report offers of foreign help and clarify that it is illegal to seek to influence U.S. elections by conspiring with foreign nationals…. The effort, the Democrats said, is meant to be separate from the polarizing congressional investigations into the other part of Mueller’s findings, describing potential obstruction of justice by Trump. Instead, it will focus on closing gaps identified in the first part of the report. “It’s like this giant billboard screaming at members of Congress: Do something to protect this democracy,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who is playing a leading role in assembling the legislation, said of the report. “It’s basically a manual on what we ought to do, what we gotta look out for in terms of the next effort to intervene or interfere or meddle in our elections…. ” Democrats are betting that focusing a spotlight on these issues will force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to act. “Maybe we can push him to be more engaged, and I think that’s part of the plan,” Sarbanes said. “Mueller reported on this. We’re grabbing it. We’re running with it. We’re going to make proposals to try and do something real.”
The statistics are staggering. More than 44 million Americans with a total student debt of $1.5 trillion. It’s a crushing burden for many, particularly our nation’s public servants – teachers, public defenders, social workers, service members, health care workers and others who keep our communities strong…. That’s why I authored and helped pass into law the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), which helps qualified participants earn student loan debt relief after working full-time for 10 years at certain nonprofit organizations or at local, state or federal government agencies. Over the last several years, however, an implementation breakdown at the U.S. Department of Education has created numerous problems for the PSLF program, denying many eligible participants the loan forgiveness they have earned. In fact, a recent GAO report found that only 1 percent of eligible PSLF applicants obtained loan forgiveness. To make matters worse, Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Education Department under President Donald Trump have found several ways to undermine the PSLF program by failing to provide clear, consistent and accurate information to borrowers and failing to conduct meaningful oversight of loan servicers…. To address this crisis, I recently introduced the What You Can Do for Your Country Act with my colleague, U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier. This bill would take a number of important steps to shore up the PSLF program and ensure that public servants receive the student loan debt relief they have earned…. We must honor America’s teachers, service members, public defenders, social workers and community health care workers. The What You Can Do For Your Country Act delivers on Washington's original promise to ease the burden of student debt for those who choose public service.