President Trump Bows to Bipartisan COVID Relief Bill

President Donald Trump has signed the latest COVID relief bill, which includes more Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses, as well as $600 direct payments to those eligible. This revelation comes amidst a recent veto threat issued by the President if the bill did not have $2000 in checks to the American people. The bill was an evolutionary piece of legislation originally set to be completed this past September, however, talks stalled until after the election.

Initially, Republicans proposed an $800 billion deal, only for the President to ask for $1.8 trillion, one of the largest spending deals in US history in the lead-up to November. For most likely political reasons, a deal was never reached until after the results came in. Nevertheless, Democratic and Republican lawmakers met for weeks on end through November and into December to reach a deal to help the American people. After the proposed bill still did not have direct payments and only unemployment insurance, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) teamed up in a concerted bipartisan effort to get checks to the American people, eventually getting $600 direct payments added to the relief bill.

Enter President Trump.

After getting bipartisan approval on the bill, the President addressed the nation with a threat to veto the bill if it did not have $2000 in direct payments – over triple the initial amount proposed. In his speech, he boldly stated “I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package.” Had there been real follow through on previous threats, such as Congress fully funding a border wall, maybe there would have been more leverage. Instead, these recent threats came just a few days before the unemployment benefits for millions were set to expire. This situation put enormous pressure and time constraints on the White House to persuade Republicans to go along, all of whom wanted to be back with their loved ones for the Christmas holiday.

House Republicans didn’t go along with the change and stayed on course with their support for the bill that had already passed. With mounting pressure and little support from Republican members of Congress, Trump caved shortly after Christmas and signed the bill, granting emergency relief to those in most need. If the President wants his threats to remain credible and powerful then he must follow through, otherwise, they are meaningless.

America’s Question: The Impeachment of Donald J. Trump

An impeachment proceeding is the formal process in which the sitting president of the United States may be accused of wrongdoing in some capacity. It is a quasi-political process and not a true criminal proceeding. Section 4 of Article 2 of the United States Constitution states that “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”   

The process begins in the House of Representatives, where any member may propose a launch of an impeachment proceeding. It is then up to the Speaker of the House, as leader of the majority party, to determine whether or not to proceed with an inquiry into the alleged wrongdoing. Committees within the house will then hear witnesses and decide whether or not to draft articles of impeachment which then are debated and put to a vote on the full house floor. This is where the recent vote comes into play.

Democrats have held a majority in the House of Representatives since the 2018 midterm elections, and since then impeachment has been on the minds of many both within the government and the American public. Democratic leadership has been wary about the subject in the past. Much earlier in the presidency of Donald Trump, the question of impeachment was first posed following the Mueller report, but nothing signifying true obstruction of justice was certain and Democratic leadership didn’t feel as though launching an impeachment inquiry was the right thing to do. Public opinion also showed a low favorability of impeachment at that time. Shortly after the release of the report in August of 2019 a poll from Politico showed 37 percent of voters believe that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against Trump while 46 percent believe that Congress should not begin proceedings, leaving 16 percent of voters undecided. 

However the Ukraine call and its fallout have flipped the script and led to a national majority in favor of impeachment. Democrats’ efforts gained traction after a whistleblower complaint about a controversial phone call’s transcript between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was released which many critics argued included a quid pro quo for political gain. After much debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal opening of an impeachment inquiry on September 24, citing what she called Trump’s “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections”. The full House voted on October 31 to authorize the inquiry, leading to the opening of formal impeachment proceedings.

Trump has called the inquiry the continuation of a “witch hunt” that has plagued his presidency from the beginning. He has constantly berated Democratic leaders about how he has done nothing wrong and how his presidency has been under fire from the beginning. Republican members of Congress have attacked the process as a sham that disregards the president’s due process rights and impedes his ability to conduct presidential duties and responsibilities. Republicans are likely to stand by the President through much of the impeachment process going forward. But what is this process and what does it mean for Trump and the country as a whole?

In the case of Donald Trump and the current impeachment proceedings, the House Intelligence Committee was tasked with the investigation into the phone call and any other vital information that would show President Trump acting outside his constitutional powers. Following this investigation, the matter was then turned over to the House Judiciary Committee where articles of impeachment were drafted and then passed by the committee. A simple majority of the members of the committee had to vote in favor of approving an article or multiple articles of impeachment in order to proceed to a vote by the full House. The House Judiciary Committee currently consists of 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans; 21 votes in favor would yield a majority. House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power and the other for obstruction of Congress, on December 10. The articles are meant to address his abuse of power with Ukraine, and his obstruction of Congress by telling officials who were legally subpoenaed by Congress to not appear before House committees.

On the night of December 18, 2019, Donald J. Trump was officially impeached. By a vote of 230-197-4 on the first article, and 229-198-4 on the second, the articles of impeachment passed the House of Representatives and will be sent to the Senate for their consideration. President Trump has become one of only three sitting presidents to have been impeached, the others being Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868. This vote was split almost perfectly along party lines. Only 3 Democrats voted in opposition to impeachment, and not a single Republican voted in favor. This historic vote came after a full day of debate that focused primarily on opposing party members pleading for the opposition to join their side and “do what is right for our democracy.”

The Senate is now tasked with handling the impeachment trial, which is presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States. The Senate acts as a “jury” in the impeachment process and must vote on whether or not the president should be removed from office. To remove a president from office, two-thirds of the members (67 Senators) must vote in favor of removal. If the Senate fails to convict, a president is considered impeached but not removed from office, as was the case with both Clinton and Johnson. 

The trial to be held in the Senate will likely fall along party lines just as the House vote did. The Senate currently sits with 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 Independents who usually vote with the Democrats. This means that a vote for removal is unlikely, but still possible. It may seem like a long shot, but some Republican senators are very opposed to President Trump and may be willing to vote for removal if the evidence provides for a “high crime or misdemeanor”. As the nation holds its breath, the American public can now only sit and wait to see how the Senate handles this impeachment trial with hopes that it will not add to this ever-growing disease facing our great nation: party polarization.

Government Shutdown Enters Second Month, Granite State Impacted

From left to right: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) discusses the shutdown with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. (Photo by Mark Wilson, Getty Images)

The federal government has now been partially shut down for over a month. Federal employees are working part-time jobs at supermarkets and for ride-sharing apps. GoFundMe, the crowdfunding website, now features hundreds of fundraising pages to help support furloughed government workers.

A government shutdown is when Congress and the president fail to pass and sign legislation funding the federal government and its agencies. The current shutdown is the longest to date, totaling 32 days as of January 22. When the government shuts down, federal workers in the applicable departments are furloughed and do not receive pay. National parks and historic sites are closed or may degrade due to a lack of Park Service employees to properly maintain the site. Businesses that rely on federal workers and agencies also lose money.

The reason for this government shutdown is President Donald Trump’s demand that $5.7 billion be allocated toward a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Democrats in Congress have stood their ground and have refused to give in to the President’s demands. On January 19, President Trump presented a compromise of sorts: in exchange for funding the border wall, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) would be extended by three years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced plans to bring this proposal up in the Senate. Democrats, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have insisted that the federal government be reopened before any negotiations regarding the border wall, DACA, and immigration reform more generally take place. Senator Schumer referred to the proposal as a “hostage-taking” tactic.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent the president a letter directing him to either postpone the State of the Union address or deliver it in writing as long as the government remains shut down. The speaker cited extreme security costs in preparing for and hosting the address. The Department of Homeland Security said that protecting the event would not be an issue for them. Until President Woodrow Wilson delivered his State of the Union address in person in 1913, the State of the Union had always been delivered as a written letter to Congress since 1800. A day after Speaker Pelosi’s letter made headlines, President Trump denied Speaker Pelosi use of a military plane for a scheduled trip to visit the U.S. combat zone in Afghanistan and suggested that she fly commercial instead.

Outside of the drama on the Hill, the government shutdown is impacting citizens across the country. Over 2,000 Granite Staters have been directly impacted by the government shutdown and left without paychecks. Congressman Chris Pappas (D-NH-1) has refused to receive pay until the entire federal government is reopened. In an interview with WMUR, Congressman Pappas said, “As someone who has run a small business, I could not imagine receiving a paycheck while any of my employees are working without pay. For this reason, I write today to request that my pay be withheld until the current shutdown has ended and the entire federal government is reopened.”

Across the state, local businesses, banks, and food pantries are opening their doors to help furloughed federal workers make ends meet. Southern New Hampshire University has established a $1 million emergency fund for students impacted by the government shutdown. The Friendly Church in Portsmouth is offering free meals for furloughed workers, with proof of employment. Click here for a full list of resources available across New Hampshire.

Miller: WBA International Community Engagement and the Power of a Name

During the last week of winter break, along with twelve other trips spread throughout the country, 14 participants traveled to Puerto Rico for a week of service and solidarity. Having the privilege of being one of 12 students embarking to Puerto Rico, I learned and reflected a lot about the way we, as a country, as a school, and as individuals think about Puerto Rico. We can all agree that any place ravaged by natural disaster is undeserving of such tragedy and deserving of support in the aftermath. What became clear to me during our week in Puerto Rico is that the United States government should have been the agent providing such support.

For participants on the trip, the status of Puerto Rico was a common discussion, before, during, and after. From the time that the location was changed, we knew that we would no longer be travelling internationally, as originally planned. We didn’t get passports, our parents worried a little less, and some of us were careful with how we referred to our plans for the last week of winter break.

But what became increasingly clear as the office of Campus Ministry sent schoolwide emails and posted blogs for the world to see is that not everyone was quite as careful. Originally holding plans of travel to Ecuador, WBA International Community Engagement retained its name when the destination changed to Puerto Rico.

Though I was frustrated by the misrepresentation beforehand, the people I met in Puerto Rico crystalized this frustration. We heard stories of houses destroyed and the ways in which communities banded together in the aftermath of the hurricane. One man shared his story of driving around his coastal neighborhood with his chainsaw to ensure that everyone could leave. We heard of the fear families felt in the days immediately following Hurricane Maria, unable to communicate with their loved ones and unsure of their safety. Not once did I hear of any support from the federal government, nor did I hear of the intervention of FEMA.

As conversations continued throughout the week, some people we met shared the nuance of their name. Though referred to by English speakers as a commonwealth, in Spanish, Puerto Rico is considered a free and associated state. However, Puerto Rico is not a state, it is not free, and the US response to Hurricane Maria suggests that the association is weak at best, even in times when this association is crucial. The personal anecdotes of the aftermath of Maria seem to be representative of the experiences of the island as a whole.

The weakness of the association between the United States and Puerto Rico becomes evident when comparing the federal government’s response in the wake of Maria to the federal response to Harvey. Though FEMA was not completely absent from the island, a closer look at the varied responses reveals great disparities.

President Donald Trump traveled to Texas four days after Harvey hit, whereas it was thirteen days after Maria before he made his way to Puerto Rico. Nine days after Harvey, victims in Texas had received 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water, and 20,000 tarps which could be used for covering homes and preventing further damage. In contrast, nine days after Maria, victims in Puerto Rico had received just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water, and 5,000 tarps. At the same time, 30,000 federal workers were deployed to Texas in comparison to the 10,000 sent to Puerto Rico.

Though some disparity can be accounted for due to the differing population of those affected by each storm, it cannot be ignored that the estimated death toll in Puerto Rico was approximately 34 times higher than that of Texas, despite the fact that the population affected in Texas is only approximately four times greater than that of Puerto Rico.

In learning these statistics and hearing personal stories, I had to wonder why these disparities exist. One can speak to the logistical challenges of providing aid to an island, but if you have visited Puerto Rico you know the flight from Florida to San Juan is relatively short. Others may argue of the financial burden, but a look at the Department of Defense budget or even the GoFundMe for Trump’s border wall suggests that there is always money available–if people care enough.

In recognizing these disparities, we must consider a few things. Does Puerto Rico’s status as a commonwealth disqualify them from equitable humanitarian aid in the wake of a particularly devastating natural disaster? How would this response have been different if Hurricane Maria occurred during the previous administration? What role did we play in allowing complicitness in the federal government?

After the powerful week on the island of enchantment, I was increasingly bothered at the schoolwide emails and blog posts referring to our week as a week of international community engagement. Confused, upset, and planning to share my opinion, I sought answers from Dr. Susan Gabert, Director of Campus Ministry.

Dr. Gabert explained that “the reason the name of the trip was an international trip was because originally the trip was meant to be to Ecuador,” and there was a change of plans due to circumstances beyond the control of the Service and Solidarity program. Dr. Gabert continued to take responsibility for “contribut[ing] to the misunderstanding of Puerto Rico” by “not changing the name to better reflect the relationship of Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States.”

While the naming of the trip is undoubtedly part of the ease with which many people disregard Puerto Rico, we also must be cognizant of the fact that we all could be doing more. We have all failed Puerto Rico, in one way or another. As a commonwealth of the United States with no voice in national elections, the Puerto Rican voice has been silenced. Those of us with voices and votes must constantly bear in mind those who have been denied this privilege. For me, this means electing officials that will govern with compassion on behalf of those who are silenced, and not electing officials who can be found in the aftermath of a tragic natural disaster throwing rolls of toilet paper into the crowd like t-shirts at a baseball game.

President Announces Strikes Against Syria

Despite warnings that Russia would retaliate, President Donald Trump addressed the nation last night and announced that the United States would launch precision airstrikes against military targets in Syria. The United Kingdom and France are joining the United States in the assault. Syria has been accused of repeatedly violating international law by using chemical weapons against civilians.

Shortly after the president’s announcement, the Russian ambassador to the United States said there would be “consequences” for the president’s decision. Russia has since called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. That meeting will occur at 11:00 am EST on Saturday, April 14. A statement this morning by Russian President Vladimir Putin “condemned” the strike, citing concern for civilians on the ground.

While Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that there would not be another attack on Syria unless they continued to use chemical weapons, President Trump said he was “prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”

President Trump has taken decisive action in a region that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, did not. Infamously, former President Obama referred to Syria’s use of chemical red lines as a “red line” that would necessitate a response from the United States. In the end, President Obama went to Congress for support of retaliation against Syria. Congress did not approve of the request, and no action was taken by the Obama Administration.

A tweet from Donald Trump when President Obama considered a similar airstrike against Syria.

Interestingly, President Trump called on the president to go to Congress at the time. In this strike, the Trump Administration did not seek permission from either Congress or the United Nations. Whatever the president’s history on the issue, he has made clear that the United States will not tolerate repeated breaks with international law.

The decision drew negative responses from both sides of the aisle. Some Democrats were wary of the president’s decision. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted, “So Mattis doesn’t want to strike Syria because it risks dragging U.S. into a broader war with Russia and Iran, but he has to do it anyway because Trump tweeted about it. Welcome to the Trump national security nightmare we’ve been waiting for.”

Hillary Clinton’s running mate from the 2016 election, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), called the strike “illegal.”

Some conservative supporters of the president also opposed the decision to launch military strikes. Michael Savage, a conservative radio host, tweeted his opposition, doubting whether Assad was even behind the attacks.

Debates about legality are common after these kinds of attacks, but they echo the ones launched last year by President Trump under similar circumstances. This round of strikes attacked one research facility near Damascus where the weapons were sometimes produced as well as two additional facilities, one that was being used to produce sarin gas and another that acted more as a military command post.

The international response seems to be largely supportive, especially given the inclusion of the United Kingdom and France. As of now, Russia’s retaliation seems confined to the boundaries of the United Nations, but a military response may await.

Cover image from the NY Post.

Trump Weighs Options in Syria

Within the next 24 hours, President Donald Trump will be unveiling his administration’s response to news that the Syrian government has used chemical warfare on its people. The president announced that he was canceling a scheduled trip to Latin America so that he could focus on the developments in the Middle East. On Monday, he said his response would come within 48 hours. The clock is now ticking.

Most foreign policy experts seem to anticipate the president announcing a targeted airstrike, but that option may carry risks. Russia has said it will use military force against the United States if it attacks Syria, raising the possibility of a far more devastating international conflict. Russia has aligned itself with the Assad regime in Syria, which is the existing government in the nation that has been rocked by civil war since 2011.

Members of the Trump Administration have had harsh words for Russia and its support of Assad’s government. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley accused Russia of being complicit in the recent chemical attack, saying that Russia’s hands were “covered in the blood of Syrian children.” Haley’s comments are emblematic of the rising tensions between the United States and Russia over the matter of Syria. Despite the Trump Administration’s relationship with Russia, Ambassador Haley told the United Nations that the United States would respond. The nature of the response, however, remains unclear. She even went as far as to say that Russia itself may face repercussions from the United States.

The president took to Twitter to denounce Assad’s chemical attack, calling the Syrian leader “Animal Assad.” It remains to be seen how the president’s language will translate into a formal response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

Cover photo taken from NBC News.