log in to manage your profile and account
- Create your account
- Receive up-to-date newsletters
- Set up text alerts
Published: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 2:51 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 2:51 AM
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers on Thursday passed what would be the nation's most restrictive abortion law, making the procedure illegal in most cases after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state's only abortion provider pledged to sue, and the attorney general said he expected a tough legal battle ahead.
Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature appeared to not only expect, but to encourage, such challenges in hopes the issue will eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The House voted 75-34 in favor of the bill , and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said again Thursday that he would sign it. Because of necessary paperwork, it won't reach his desk until next week. The Senate passed the measure Tuesday.
"We are protecting more women, we are protecting more children," said House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, a Braxton Republican. "By 15 weeks, you have a child in the womb who has a heartbeat, who for all practical purposes has taken on the form of a person."
Under the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion, states were permitted to restrict abortions after viability — the point when the fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving under normal conditions outside the uterus. The ruling offered no legal definition of viability, saying it could range between 24 and 28 weeks into a pregnancy.
The Mississippi measure "seems like a pretty simple bill designed to test the viability line that the Supreme Court has drawn," said David Forte, a law professor at Ohio's Cleveland State University.
Abortion-rights-groups immediately spoke out against the bill, saying it is not legally or medically sound.
"We certainly think this bill is unconstitutional," said Katherine Klein, equality advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. "The 15-week marker has no bearing in science. It's just completely unfounded and a court has never upheld anything under the 20-week viability marker. ... We expect that this bill will be challenged in court and it will lose and, in the process, Mississippi will lose thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars."
Anti-abortion groups applauded the measure.
"We're thrilled that Mississippi lawmakers are taking a step to protect the basic right to life, as well as protecting maternal health," said Jameson Taylor, acting president of the conservative-leaning Mississippi Center for Public Policy. The center helped craft the bill.
There are two exceptions to House Bill 1510: if the fetus has a health problem that would prevent it from surviving outside the womb at full term, or if the pregnant woman's life or a "major bodily function" is threatened by the pregnancy. Pregnancies as a result of rape and incest are not exempt.
It's unclear if a 15-week ban will move forward elsewhere. A bill has been filed for Louisiana's upcoming legislative session. Gipson said lawmakers in Texas, Georgia, and "some Midwestern states" are exploring the idea. An appeals court in 2015 struck down efforts in North Dakota to ban most abortions after six weeks, when a fetus develops a detectable heartbeat, and in Arkansas after 12 weeks.
Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood said Thursday that he expected legal challenges and he noted that less-restrictive measures banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy have been struck down in other states. The U.S. Senate earlier this year rejected such a ban nationwide when supporters couldn't reach a 60-vote supermajority to act.
Mississippi's 20-week ban has never been legally challenged, in part because the state's only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, doesn't perform abortions that late in pregnancy. According to state Department of Health statistics, 85 percent of abortions in Mississippi took place before 12 weeks in 2016.
Diane Derzis, who owns the clinic, has said it provides abortions as late as 18 weeks after pregnancy. Most of Mississippi's 2,500 abortions in 2015 took place at the clinic. Before the bill was passed, Derzis said she would sue. She did not respond to text or telephone messages seeking comment Thursday.
Abortion opponents have been encouraged by a 2007 Supreme Court case, Gonzalez v. Carhart, that allowed bans on what some call partial-birth abortions, an abortion performed relatively late in pregnancy, in which the living fetus is extracted in stages through the birth canal. The opponents believe the decision opened a window for states to restrict abortion before a fetus is viable.
"We would welcome the court to clarify the extent to which states can regulate abortions, particularly with regard to maternal health," Taylor said.
He said the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative legal advocacy group, was among those who vetted the bill's language. The Arizona-based alliance didn't respond to questions, with senior counsel Kevin Theriot saying only that the alliance "supports states' important and legitimate efforts to protect the health and safety of women and children."
Forte and University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone both said they believe the chances the Supreme Court will consider a major abortion case are slim as long as the current justices remain, though a case could ascend quickly on an emergency appeal of a lower court ruling.
The likely hope of Mississippi lawmakers is that one of the justices more favorable to abortion rights, such as Anthony Kennedy or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will have stepped down by the time the state's case reaches the Supreme Court.
Kennedy, for example, has twice in the past 26 years been part of a 5-4 majority upholding abortion rights.
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2018 @ 1:00 AM
After operating for more than a year with a temporary chief, NASA faces an unprecedented leadership bind as its acting Administrator announced this week that he would retire at the end of April, with no hint that the Senate will vote by then on President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the space agency.
“It has been a long process but we are optimistic that the vote will come soon,” said Sheryl Kaufman, the Communications Director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).
“We hope that happens soon,” said Rep. Bruce Babin (R-TX), as House Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence pressed the Senate for action on Bridenstine.
The problem for Bridenstine is that just one Republican has refused to support him for the job as NASA Administrator – that being Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) – and with only a bare majority, and the absence of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Bridenstine does not have the votes to win.
Since President Trump took office in January of 2017, NASA has been led by Robert Lightfoot, a well-respected NASA veteran who has drawn bipartisan praise.
But with Lightfoot announcing this week that he is retiring – effective April 30 – it’s possible that NASA could be forced to dig deeper down the depth chart for another temporary leader at the space agency.
“Robert Lightfoot has served NASA exceptionally well for nearly 30 years,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the head of the House Science Committee.
Apart from a couple of major issues, Bridenstine in 2017 did not cast votes on regular legislation in the House – while waiting for his Senate confirmation.
This year has been different – Bridenstine is voting on most legislation in the House, except for measures that deal with NASA.
“He will represent his constituents as fully as possible while awaiting the confirmation vote by the full Senate,” said his spokeswoman.
But without enough support, there’s no hint of a vote on Bridenstine in the Senate.
“The facts of this nomination have not changed,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) back in January – and two months later, that statement is still true.
Published: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 3:57 PM
Updated: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 3:48 PM
Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump and his associates, according to multiple reports.
The subpoena is the first directly connected to one of Trump’s businesses, The New York Times reported Thursday. The newspaper was the first to report on the subpoena, citing two unidentified sources briefed on the situation.
The breadth of the subpoena was not immediately clear, although some documents sought were related to Russia, the Times reported. According to the newspaper, the subpoena was served “in recent weeks.”
The Trump Organization has already provided investigators with a range of documents, most focused on the period between when Trump announced his candidacy for president, in June 2015, to his inauguration, in January 2017, CNN reported in January. Citing an unidentified source familiar with the situation, the news network reported that the recently issued subpoena was meant “to ‘clean up’ and to ensure that all related documents are handed over to the special counsel.”
In a statement released to several news outlets Thursday, Alan Futerfas, an attorney representing the Trump Organization, said reports of the subpoena were “old news.”
“Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the special counsel, and is responding to their requests,” Futerfas said. “This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today.”
The decision to subpoena the Trump Organization, which is owned by the president and managed by his children, appeared to mirror the strategy employed by Mueller with the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported. The newspaper noted that the campaign “voluntarily gave documents to the special counsel for months before receiving a subpoena in October.”
Mueller, who headed the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was appointed by the Justice Department in May 2017 to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. His investigation has thus far led to several indictments and a handful of guilty pleas from people connected to Trump.
Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities last month on accusations that they interfered with American elections and political processes, starting in 2014. On Twitter, Trump claimed that information in the indictments proved his innocence on allegations of colluding with Russia to win the election.
Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2018 @ 10:07 AM
In the aftermath of a whirlwind two-day trip to Puerto Rico, Rep. Brad Wenstrup will push for but the active duty and reservists to help assist in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.
Wenstrup, a Cincinnati Republican who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and who is an Army Reservist, flew into Puerto Rico last Sunday for a field hearing on the VA’s role in the recovery effort. Puerto Rico is still reeling from two back-to-back hurricanes that struck the island six months ago and 11 percent of the island is out of power.
Wenstrup said the VA plays an outsize role in the island – 72 percent of military veterans there who are eligible for VA care use it – nearly double the usage on the mainland United States.
Along with Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, R-Puerto Rico, Wenstrup toured several VA clinics on the island and also met with representatives from Veterans Service Organizations. Their field hearing was aimed at determining how best to maximize VA resources in Puerto Rico.
He said conditions on the island are still grim, with debris stockpiled along the roads and roofs still covered with tarps, but the people are working to recover. However, he said, a shortage of doctors is imperiling the recovery effort because the island’s lackluster economy has spurred many doctors to move away in order to seek better pay and opportunities.
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2018 @ 4:08 PM
The White House on Thursday refused to directly say if Veterans Secretary David Shulkin will stay in his post, as the VA chief tried to reassure lawmakers that he remains the right person to carry out Trump Administration plans to improve the quality of care at the VA.
“I’ve pubilcly acknowledged that the distraction that has happened is something I deeply regret,” Shulkin told a House panel on Thursday, as the first question at a budget hearing was about persistent news reports of palace intrigue at the VA.
“I do feel that I have to acknowledge the proverbial elephant in the room,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who pressed Shulkin on reports that Shulkin’s own staffers were at times pitted against him in a fight with the White House over private care for veterans.
“I’ve come here for one reason, and that’s to improve the lives of veterans,” Shulkin said, saying ‘others’ were more interested in playing politics than getting the job done.
Both before the hearing on Capitol Hill – and after – Shulkin refused to answer questions from reporters about his future in the job.
When the question was posed to the White House a few hours later, there was not a direct answer on the VA Secretary’s job security.
“I don’t have any personnel announcements,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as she stressed that the Trump Administration was looking for the right mix of people and policies at the VA.
For much of the President’s first year in office, Mr. Trump was a very public fan of Shulkin, and his efforts to foster change at the VA.
“I’d like to begin by thanking Secretary David Shulkin for the incredible progress that he’s making at the VA, tremendous strides,” the President said in August of 2017 at a veterans event in the White House.
But in recent months behind the scenes, Shulkin – who was a top holdover from the Obama Administration – has been in a pitched battle with officials at the VA, even reportedly fighting with his chief spokesman, mainly over the direction that the VA should go in how much health care for veterans should be shifted away from VA facilities and to private doctors, what’s known as Veterans Choice.
Add to that, an internal watchdog report criticized Shulkin for how he got the VA to pick up some of the travel costs of his wife, who joined Shulkin on a 10-day government trip to Europe last summer.
The inspector general report also found that Shulkin wrongly accepted a gift of tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament, that a VA employee was basically used by Shulkin as a “personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities,” and that not enough documents were ever turned over to investigators to figure out the true cost of the trip to the VA.
In a mid-February hearing, Shulkin defended the trip but admitted, “I do recognize the optics of this are not good.”