Tag: Congress

Pelosi Rides Rough Road To Speaker As More Democrats Threaten To Withhold Support

More Democrats threaten to withhold support for Pelosi’s House Speaker role

WASHINGTON – A group of nine Democrats threatened Friday to withhold support for Nancy Pelosi’s House Speaker bid, creating a potential roadblock for the California Democrat who has been lobbying for weeks to get her old role back.

Pelosi was already fighting for support from a group of 16 Democrats who penned a letter, declaring they wouldn’t support the minority speaker and instead called for new leadership.

The new group of nine Democrats from the Problem Solvers Caucus threatened to withhold support for Pelosi until she agrees to a list of demands that includes House rule changes that could potentially allow for more bipartisan legislation to pass.

The group, in a statement, said it would “only vote for a Speaker candidate who supports ‘Break the Gridlock’ rules changes.”

The group met with Pelosi last week after sending her a letter about calls to change House rules that would allow all members to push bills in the House, which currently is only done by the leadership, according to CNN.

“While we appreciate Leader Pelosi’s broad commitment to our effort, we have yet to receive specific commitments to our proposed rules changes that would help ‘Break the Gridlock’ and allow for true bipartisan governing in this new era of divided government,” a statement from the group reads. “Without specific changes, we will face more of the same — small pockets of extreme ideologues will continue to block the will of the commonsense majority.”

While Pelosi is widely expected to win the House Speaker nomination next week in her caucus, she faces a tougher battle when the full House votes on her nomination in January. She will need a majority, 218 votes, to win the position.

The caucus’ threat to withhold nine votes along with the 16 members who signed a letter last week could be a potential roadblock for Pelosi. Democrats will hold at least 234 seats in the House when new members are sworn in, meaning she can only afford to lose 16 votes.

Pelosi still has weeks to lobby those on the fence before the final January vote.

Already some of those who voiced opposition have caved and now are supporting Pelosi for the role. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., who was one of 16 to sign the opposition letter last week, reversed his position after Pelosi said she was open to Medicare for people over 50 and an infrastructure bill, something many Democrats have said would likely receive bipartisan support.

The Problem Solvers Caucus has pushed for ‘Break the Gridlock’ rule changes, which Politico notes include proposals that would allow individual House members to propose bipartisan bills, which over the years have been overlooked.

The caucus said in its statement that this month’s midterms showed that “the American people have had enough of obstructionism and pure partisanship” and instead want Congress to govern and pass meaningful legislation.

“Although we are at a stalemate in our discussions, and therefore cannot support Leader Pelosi for Speaker at this time, we will keep working with the Leader and others in hope of reaching consensus on specific rules changes for more bipartisan, common sense governing,” the group said.

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Prison Reform On Uncertain Ground In 2018

One has to wonder if Congressional dysfunction has reached a breaking point.

Imagine legislation that was drafted with the help of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and, unsurprisingly, supported by President Trump himself. Imagine that this same bill is supported by such stalwarts of “The Resistance” as the Urban League and the Equal Justice Initiative, and also backed by prominent conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. The Koch brothers and Grover Norquist are advocates, and so is liberal commentator Vann Jones. In fact, imagine a bill so bipartisan that it passed even this deeply divided House on a 360–59 vote.

That legislation would be the “FIRST STEP Act,” a prison-reform bill. And, this being Washington in 2018, it is almost certainly not going to become law. Indeed, it looks doubtful that the Senate will even vote on it.

The FIRST STEP Act is hardly radical. It doesn’t reduce inmate sentences or otherwise deal with the intensely punitive approach to justice that has given the United States the world’s largest per capita prison population. Nor does it remedy the ongoing racial issues that continue to infect our criminal-justice system.

Instead, it would make a number of extremely modest humanitarian reforms to the way we treat prisoners. For example, it would make female health products more available in federal prisons and all but end the practice of shackling female inmates during childbirth. It would try to keep inmate families together by expanding visits, phone privileges teleconferencing, and opportunities to transfer to prisons closer to home. It would increase mental-health and substance-abuse treatment for inmates.

It would also provide a modest $250 million over five years for new inmate-education and -rehabilitation programs, and establish incentives (including time credits) for prisoners to participate. Prisons would also be required to conduct “risk assessments” of soon-to-be-released inmates and to tailor programs to meet these inmates’ needs.

Over the long run, most experts believe the legislation would save money. For example, studies have shown that every dollar spent providing needed mental-health and substance-abuse treatment to inmates ultimately saves taxpayers $1.27 to $5.47 in reduced crime and incarceration costs. One should always be skeptical of claims that government spending will save money, but this initiative clearly passes the common-sense test. Similarly, keeping families together is likely to reduce future welfare costs as well as crime. And since nearly all prisoners will eventually be released, programs to reduce recidivism are also likely to prove cost-effective.

So why is such a modest and humane bill almost certain to die?

In part, the FIRST STEP Act is a victim of the infighting and turf protection that helps explain Congress’s 18 percent favorability rating. Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who as chairman of the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the bill, favors a much more expansive bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. Grassley and Durbin are insisting that the FIRST STEP Act be rolled into their bill. But their legislation, which is indeed worthwhile, is being blocked by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell because the White House won’t sign off on some provisions. In the meantime, prison reform goes nowhere.

An even more significant roadblock is being provided by Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), who opposes nearly all efforts at criminal-justice reform. Senator Cotton, one of the few Americans who believe we have an underincarceration problem, in his words, has mounted an effective guerrilla campaign to undermine the bill’s support on the right. For example, Cotton is reportedly pushing law-enforcement groups to oppose the bill. His efforts have been drawing fruit. Recently the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association withdrew its endorsement of the bill after being pressured by Cotton’s office. Republicans, always fearful of being called “soft on crime,” will find it difficult to buck law enforcement.

Complaints about congressional gridlock are often exaggerated. The Founders intended legislating to be slow, deliberate, and challenging. But when even commonsense legislation with broad bipartisan support can’t so much as get a vote, one has to wonder if congressional dysfunction has reached a breaking point.

There is one possible way that this innovative bill could make it through Congress and onto the President’s desk. If determined members of the Senate refuse to vote in the upcoming confirmation of the candidate to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy there may be enough pressure to move the opposition out of the way.  Senators Cotton and McConnell both have vested interest in seeing a smooth confirmation hearing, and stand to lose critical local support in their home states and from the administration if their actions cause unnecessary delays or, worse, derail the confirmation entirely.

It’s a weak foundation  for prison reform advocates to stand on, but uncertain ground is better than having no place to stand at all.