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Published: Thursday, December 07, 2017 @ 8:05 PM
In a head shaking series of events, a tide of sexual misconduct allegations continued to sweep across Capitol Hill on Thursday, as one Senate Democrat and one House Republican announced their resignations, while another House GOP lawmaker became the subject of an ethics review over a sexual harassment case that has already resulted in a taxpayer funded settlment.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) began the highly unusual day on Capitol Hill, taking the Senate floor just before lunch to announce his resignation ‘in coming weeks,’ but denying any wrongdoing.
Hours later, the House floor suddenly was in the spotlight, as Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) surprised colleagues by announcing he would resign effective at the end of January.
About the same time, the House Ethics Committee announced it had formed an investigative panel to review allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who has already acknowledged having the taxpayers pay $84,000 to a former employee to settle a sexual harassment case.
All those developments came amid talk in the halls of the Capitol of possibly more stories emerging about lawmakers, mirroring the public rush of sexual misconduct allegations nationally.
“Every one of these claims, whether it’s in business, industry, or in Congress, has to be taken very seriously,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, hours before Ryan said he had asked Rep. Franks to resign.
The Speaker’s office put out this background on the Franks case:
“Last Wednesday, the speaker was briefed on credible claims of misconduct by Rep. Trent Franks. He found the allegations to be serious and requiring action,” read a statement put out by the Speaker’s office.
The Speaker’s statement was much different than the explanation put out by Franks, who said he had discussed the issue of having a child by a surrogate with two former female staffers.
“Rather than allow a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most, this morning I notified House leadership that I will be leaving Congress as of January 31st, 2018,” Franks said in a statement.
Meanwhile, pressure increased on Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who admitted this week that he had used taxpayer dollars to pay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement with a former employee on Capitol Hill.
On CNN Thursday evening, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) said she thought Farenthold needed to move on.
“I think that he should voluntarily resign,” Love said, becoming the second GOP lawmaker to call for Farenthold to quit, along with Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA).
Farenthold is now facing a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which was announced at about the time that Rep.
Franks announced his resignation.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), was resisting calls for his resignation, over claims of sexual misconduct during his 2016 run for Congress.
“We have a responsibility to uphold the dignity of the House of Representatives,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has publicly urged Kihuen to leave the Congress.
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 6:11 PM
FAIRFIELD — A Mexican mother of four once living in Fairfield who was deported nine months ago won an appeal on Wednesday , a decision indicating the immigration court that sent her back to Mexico “abused its discretion” and must reconsider her case.
A three-judge panel from the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that Maribel Trujillo Diaz failed to demonstrate a case for asylum under the Immigration and Nationality Act “because she failed to show that she would be singled out individually for persecution based on her family membership.”
That immigration appeals court must now reconsider the matter, obeying the Sixth Circuit’s guidance.
The decision is by no means a complete victory meaning she can return to the country, according to one of her lawyers, Kathleen Kersh. It does mean there will be more hearings, and the possibility of a return — if not permanently, perhaps while the legal battles continue. Her family continues to live here.
“They found that the BIA had abused its discretion when it did not sufficiently consider the evidence that we gave in support of our motion to reopen Maribel’s asylum case,” Kersh said.
Trujillo and her supporters had argued she originally fled Mexico because drug cartels targeted her family.
Kersh told this media outlet in April that Trujillo’s asylum request was made after her brother was kidnapped and threatened by a cartel in Mexico, but she had lost that case.
Kersh in April — before the BIA’s ruling — said Trujillo’s father had more recently been kidnapped, which Kersh felt made her asylum case “much stronger.”
“We have recently found some information out from her father that her father had been kidnapped, so there are new facts that came to light in the asylum case that really change things — it makes it much stronger,” she said in April.
When told about Wednesday’s decision, Trujillo was “really happy and excited,” Kersh said.
“She is living in fear every day, and I think she feels vindicated in a way, that somebody is finally recognizing that, and she has really good reasons for her fear of living in Mexico, because of some of the dangers that her family specifically faces,” Kersh said.
“This is indeed good news, but far from a victory,” said the Rev. Father Pucke, who was her pastor at St. Julie Billiart Church, which advocated for her to stay, as did the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
It still is possible her evidence will be considered but that she will be denied the ability to return to this country.
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 5:16 PM
Making his first foray on to the campaign trail in 2018, President Donald Trump goes to southwestern Pennsylvania on Thursday to stump for a GOP candidate running for Congress, as Republicans have encountered some troubling signs in this mid-term election year, struggling with an election playing field that seems tilted against their party.
In stops near Pittsburgh, Mr. Trump will help Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone, who is trying to win a March 13 special election for Congress, in a U.S. House district that voted for for the President by 19 points in November 2016.
The campaign trip comes two days after the latest evidence of a voting surge for Democrats, as they flipped a state legislative seat in Wisconsin, in a district that voted for President Trump by 17 points in 2016.
“That sound you hear is a tsunami alert,” said election handicapper Stu Rothenberg, who like many in Washington, sees the possibility of a wave election in 2018 for the Democrats.
The Wisconsin outcome was not ignored by the state’s Governor, Scott Walker, who is up for re-election this year.
In a fundraising email sent to supporters on Wednesday night, Governor Walker’s subject line was, “SHOCKING LOSS.”
“Wisconsin conservatives just received a much-needed WAKE UP CALL,” the missive began.
“Typically we’ve held this seat,” said House Speaker and Wisconsin native Paul Ryan to reporters. “Yeah, I think we should pay attention to it.”
“We all have to work,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), who finds himself under great pressure as the head of the campaign arm of House Republicans.
But the shift hasn’t just been in Wisconsin, as Democrats have seen their vote share increase across the board, in red states like Oklahoma and South Dakota, red districts in Georgia and South Carolina, and then in a big upset win in December in Alabama, where Doug Jones won a U.S. Senate seat.
“These results continue the trend we saw in 2017,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. “Voters are flat-out rejecting the Trump-GOP agenda.”
Whether that’s the case is not yet clear – but the numbers do show what Democrats have been able to do in race after race – get more of their own people out to vote, and attract more Independents as well.
In 2017, while Republicans were able to win a series of special elections for the U.S. House, the margins were much closer than normal – and that has campaign experts wondering if Democrats can maintain that momentum into November of 2018.
“I don’t think people have fully priced in how much *worse* things could get for House Republicans in the next 300 days,” tweeted Dave Wasserman, an expert on House elections for the Cook Political Report.
So far in 2018, all of the news about retiring lawmakers in Congress has come from the GOP side, as 31 House Republicans won’t be back next January, compared to 14 Democrats.
That turnover – before even one vote has been cast in a Congressional primary – is higher than normal, and even higher than the number of Democrats who left in 1994 – when the GOP had a huge mid-term victory, and took control of both houses of Congress.
All of that is getting noticed by those who have been in politics, like ex-Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), who now does talk radio.
The game plan for the GOP in 2018 is straightforward at this point – President Trump and Republican lawmakers are doing all they can to highlight the tax cuts enacted into law late last year, and how that’s going to help working Americans right away.
On Thursday, Mr. Trump will stop at H&K Equipment near Pittsburgh, a company that White House officials say is going to benefit from the new tax plan.
“2017 was the best year in company history, which they credit to the President’s pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-growth economic agenda,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“Thanks to the passage of the Trump tax cuts, H&K will now be able to expense 100 percent of the investments they make in new equipment in the same year they buy it,” Sanders added.
On Capitol Hill, it’s also a daily drumbeat for GOP lawmakers, as they tout the tax cuts at every opportunity – like this speech on the Seante floor from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).
While the polls have shown weak numbers for Congressional Republicans in recent months, some of the new data indicates an uptick in public support for the tax cuts, and GOP lawmakers believe that can only help as more people see more money in their paychecks.
“Had the other side gotten in, the market would have gone down fifty percent,” the President told an audience at the White House on Tuesday, as he is ready to make the case repeatedly this year that his election over Hillary Clinton was key to more economic growth and jobs.
“You know what we’ve done in our tax bill, and you know how successful it’s been,” Mr. Trump added.
He’ll make that case again Thursday in Pennsylvania, as Republicans try to make sure 2018 isn’t remembered for an election tide that swept them out of the Congress.
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 6:29 PM
WASHINGTON — Richard Cordray may be campaigning for the governor of Ohio, but he still has strong feelings about his former role as the nation’s top consumer watchdog.
In a series of tweets, Cordray lambasted his replacement at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for deciding to reconsider a rule aimed at protecting consumers from abusive payday lending practices.
Cordray had helped craft the rules when he headed the agency and it was one of his last measures before stepping down in November. The bureau confirmed it would reconsider the rules in a statement Tuesday.
“Truly shameful action by the interim pseudo-leaders of the CFPB, announcing their plans to reconsider the payday lending rule just adopted in November,” Cordray tweeted. “Never mind many thousands of people stuck in debt traps all over the country. Consumers be damned!”
The rules would require lenders to determine whether a borrower could afford to repay a loan with full interest within 30 days. The rules would also limit the number of loans lenders could make to a borrower. That and other provisions outraged the payday lending industry, which argued such regulations could drive them out of business. The rules were scheduled to go into effect in August 2019, though Tuesday marked a compliance deadline.
Cordray, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, was replaced by White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who is serving as acting director of the consumer watchdog agency. Mulvaney has been a critic of the rules.
Critics argue that the loans help those who do not have access to other credit and banking products, such as some low income Americans.
But Cordray and other proponents say the rules are needed to protect consumers against predatory loans, some carrying interest of up to 391 percent. Payday loans, they argue, trap people in an unpayable cycle of debt.
The White House referred questions about the rule to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB did not immediately respond to questions.
Dennis Shaul, CEO of the Community Financial Services Association of America, a trade association that represents payday lenders, said the organization was “pleased” that the agency will take a new look at the payday lending rule.
“The bureau’s rule was crafted on a pre-determined, partisan agenda that failed to demonstrate consumer harm from small-dollar loans, ignored unbiased research and data, and relied on flawed information to support its rulemaking,” he said.
Cordray acknowledged that the announcement appears to be limited to pushing back the compliance deadline under the new rule, which was to have become effective on Tuesday. But he also argued that the administration had a more sweeping goal in mind.
In a series of tweets, Cordray called for the religious community to oppose the Trump administration’s decision, quoting the Bible to argue that repealing the rule would hurt the poor. And he referred to those who would repeal the rules as “zealots and toadies.”
“Congress could pursue a… vote to overturn” the rule, he tweeted, “but it seems they don’t have the guts. Instead, hire new bureaucrats to shred years of analysis and kill it off stealthily.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, a backer of the new rule and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, also lined up in opposition to any repeal.
“Rather than focus on keeping the government open, the Trump administration’s top budget expert is busy unraveling important consumer protections for payday borrowers,” the Ohio Democrat said.
Published: Thursday, January 18, 2018 @ 5:30 AM
The federal government faces a partial federal shutdown threat Friday without a $1.1 trillion appropriations spending budget or a temporary stopgap spending measure in place.
Here’s what could happen in the Miami Valley if a shutdown occurs:
FURLOUGHS: A Wright-Patterson Air Force Base spokesman said this week the base had not received guidance on what actions to take. But the last time a federal government shutdown occurred in 2013, thousands of Wright-Patterson civilian employees were furloughed temporarily. Among those exempted were police, fire, medical and airfield operations. Military service members remained on the job.
MUSEUM: The region’s biggest tourist attraction, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, would close until a funding deal is reached, according to a spokesman.
MAIL SERVICE: The U.S. Postal Service, which is considered self-funded, would continue operations, including home delivery and post office would stay open, a spokesman said.
DAYTON VA: The Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities would remain open. The VA operates on a two-year budget cycle, exempting the department from the latest funding skirmish in Washington.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: NPS sites in the Dayton region closed during the last shutdown in 2013. A NPS directive issued in September 2017, said parks would close if a lapse in federal government appropriations occurs.