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May 17, 2019

Equality has almost been served.

On Friday, the House voted 236-173 to pass the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination in housing, education, finances, and other federally funded areas based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It comes as a long-discussed expansion to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and was clearly a welcome move in the Democratic-held chamber.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) relayed some powerful words before the vote, calling mere "tolerance" of LGBT people "a condescending word." Eight Republicans voted alongside all Democrats to solidify the majority.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) opposed the bill without an amendment to ensure nothing in the law "may be construed to diminish" protections already covered in Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, citing supposed harm to women's sports if transgender women were allowed to participate. The act probably won't pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, with Politico noting that even Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) said in March he wouldn't vote for the bill in its current form. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 2, 2019

President Trump has continued his three-year streak of dropping announcements that favor Christian conservatives on the multi-faith National Day of Prayer.

At Thursday's Rose Garden service, Trump announced a new Health and Human Services rule that expands protections for health care institutions who refuse to pay for or provide services they say violate their religious beliefs. The rule doubles down on so-called "conscience protections" Congress has established through the years and specifically mentions abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide as procedures providers could avoid, The Washington Post reports.

Conservative groups have long pushed for expanded conscience protections, which they allow them to preserve their religious values and liberties. Yet the ACLU, as well as LGBT and women's advocacy groups, immediately decried the rules, saying they could let doctors refuse to treat LGBT people or provide other essential services. The National Women's Law Center even pledged to sue the administration for its decision.

Similar conscience protections came into question when the Obama administration decided employers couldn't use religious beliefs to avoid covering employees' contraceptives. That decision was struck down in 2014's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 1, 2019

Attorney General William Barr might want to borrow a dictionary.

On Wednesday, Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, where Republicans focused on Russian election interference and Democrats stuck to President Trump's potential obstruction of justice. Yet even as one Democrat went so far as to challenge Barr to resign, it was Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) very simple questioning and word choice that left Barr the most tripped up.

Harris, a 2020 presidential contender, started her five minutes with Barr with one question: "Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?" Barr stumbled for a second, asked Harris to repeat the question, and then said he was "trying to grapple with the word 'suggest.'" So Harris provided a few synonyms — and Barr still didn't quite give an answer.

Harris went on to ask Barr if he "personally review[ed] all the underlying evidence" that Mueller's team uncovered before deciding not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. "No," Barr responded, saying that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn't either, and eliciting a very strong tweeted response from Harris. Kathryn Krawczyk

April 12, 2019

President Trump has tossed around threats of closing the southern border, but two reports say he took the proposal a step further.

Last week, Trump told his then-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to close the border to asylum seekers, two senior officials informed both The New York Times and CNN. Trump also reportedly said that if McAleenan got in trouble for it, he would pardon him, though the officials didn't make it clear if Trump appeared to be joking.

The number of asylum seekers is swelling at the border and pushing the immigration court system beyond capacity. Trump's administration has tried several formal and informal policies to curb the flow, but federal judges have shot down nearly all of them. Trump then floated closing the border entirely, but backed down and said he would give Mexico a "one-year warning" before taking further action.

This reported conversation from last week, though, suggests Trump kept the shutdown idea alive — and it reportedly "alarmed officials at the Department of Homeland Security who were told of it," the Times writes. It also happened before then-Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen was even ousted from her position and McAleenan was slotted into her place in an acting role.

A DHS spokesperson told CNN that "At no time has the president indicated, asked, directed, or pressured the acting secretary to do anything illegal. Nor would the acting secretary take actions that are not in accordance with our responsibility to enforce the law." Read more at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

April 12, 2019

A solid majority of Georgetown University students are actually asking to pay more each semester.

On Thursday, 66.1 percent of the school's student body voted in favor of a $27.20 semesterly fee that would be redirected to the descendants of slaves sold to financially sustain the university nearly two centuries ago. The school doesn't have to implement the fee, but in addition to the strong majority enthusiasm for the measure, the vote boasts the highest recorded student voter turnout in Georgetown's history.

Georgetown was founded in 1789, and by 1838, the school was mired in debt. The Maryland Society of Jesuits overseeing the school's operations sold 272 slaves, now known as the GU272, to raise the modern equivalent of $500,000 and keep Georgetown afloat. That event sparked the creation of the student-run GU272 Advocacy Team, which started working with Georgetown's student government in October to craft a reparations proposal.

If implemented, the semesterly fee would raise an estimated $400,000 per year to be "allocated for charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of the GU272 and other persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits," the proposal states. That money might go toward "funding K-12 education, establishing college scholarships and purchasing school supplies," campus newspaper The Hoya writes.

The university has released a statement acknowledging the vote, but didn't mention where it stands on the non-binding proposal. The school's board of directors will have to vote in favor of the fee for it to be implemented. Read more at The Hoya. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 22, 2019

Reproductive health organizations that refer patients to abortion providers are about to lose major federal funding.

Reflecting conservative calls to "defund Planned Parenthood," the Trump administration on Friday issued a new rule that excludes abortion providers and abortion referrers from Title X funding. Once it takes effect, the family planning program will largely direct its $286 million budget to faith-based reproductive health groups, The Washington Post reports.

The rule, which will take effect 60 days after it's published on the federal register in the next few days, doesn't completely strip Planned Parenthood's funding, Politico notes. But it still means it and other providers can't conduct abortions or issue referrals at the same facilities it uses for other reproductive services, such as STD and breast cancer screenings. If Planned Parenthood violates those standards, it won't be able to access about $60 million in annual funding it gets from Title X.

President Trump's Department of Health and Human Services issued a first draft of the report last year, NPR says. The newest edition comes as Trump has ramped up his anti-abortion rhetoric, and governors, state attorneys general, and advocates have already promised they'll challenge it legally. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 28, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe is almost done.

In a Monday press conference, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was asked about his view of the probe into whether President Trump's campaign was involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election, seeing as he's been critical of it in the past. "I have been fully briefed on the investigation and I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report," Whitaker responded, adding that "I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed" and "right now ... I think the investigation is close to being completed."

Whitaker's comment is the furthest any senior official in the Trump administration has gone in talking about the probe, The Washington Post notes. It comes just days after Trump's longtime adviser was arrested on seven counts in relation to the investigation, including obstruction of an official proceeding, witness tampering, and making false statements.

The Monday conference was unrelated to the Mueller investigation; it was focused on the criminal charges levied against Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei and its CFO. Whitaker said he hopes to receive Mueller's reporter as soon as possible. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 28, 2019

The longest government shutdown in history may have ended, but its damage to the economy is far from over.

Throughout the 35-day shutdown prompted by President Trump's demand for border wall funding, 800,000 federal employees went unpaid and six government departments went unfunded. That cost the American economy $11 billion, $3 billion of which will never be recovered, an analysis released Monday by the Congressional Budget Office reveals.

The nonpartisan CBO calculated that the shutdown caused a federal discretionary spending to drop $18 billion in a little over a month. That led the GDP in the last quarter of 2018 to drop by $3 billion, or .1 percent. The GDP in the first quarter of 2019 is then expected to drop another $8 billion, or .2 percent, per the report. That GDP drop will mostly rebound by the end of fiscal year 2019, but an estimated .02 percent of America's annual GDP will not , the CBO says.

Beyond the impact of federal government spending losses, the CBO also noted "much more significant effects on individual businesses and workers." About 800,000 federal workers didn't receive paychecks for five weeks, and federal contractors won't receive any at all. That caused them to spend less at "private-sector entities," some of which "will never recoup that lost income," the report says.

A separate CBO economic outlook report released Monday also found that, if taxation and spending remains unchanged, the federal deficit will grow to an annual total of $1 trillion in next decade. Read more about it at The Week. Kathryn Krawczyk

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