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The U.S. Capitol Building on April 1, 2017. (Courtesy/Jeff Slinker under Creative Commons)

After sending impeachment articles to the Senate, the House last week approved Rep. Susie Lee’s resolution to block a Department of Education rule that would make it more difficult for borrowers cheated by for-profit schools to receive restitution. 

The vote came as the Senate opened its impeachment trial and approved a trade deal with Mexico and Canada, known as USMCA, that was backed by both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen. The deal now goes to the White House for Trump’s signature.  The two also voted to confirm Peter Gaynor to be the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Gaynor was confirmed on an 81 to 8 vote.

Senate action on impeachment follows the release of a General Accountability Office (GAO) legal opinion that Trump violated the law when he withheld congressionally-approved military aid from Ukraine, though Republicans have dismissed the ruling.

The House also approved a bill that would ease the standard of proof for age discrimination claims and other employment discrimination and retaliation claims. All of Nevada’s House Democrats voted for the measure, which was approved 261 to 135. The measure is not expected to be considered by the GOP-run Senate.

Republican Mark Amodei opposed the bill, noting that workers older than age 40 are already protected under existing law.

“Not only do I believe discrimination in any environment is unacceptable, but as a working older American myself, I understand the need to protect workers against age discrimination in the workplace,” Amodei said in a release. “However, expanding litigation avenues through mixed-motive factors is not the answer.”

Impeachment

Wednesday and Thursday were filled with pomp and ceremony marking the historic handoff of the impeachment articles from the House to the Senate. Trump is only the third president ever to be impeached by the House and then tried in the Senate.

On Thursday, the Senate took initial steps to begin the trial, including the swearing-in of Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the proceedings. He then swore in all 100 senators, who pledged to apply “impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.”  

They also were called alphabetically to the well of the Senate in groups of four to sign an “oath book,” which is meant to underscore the significance of the occasion.  

Asked how she felt playing a role in the historic milestone, Cortez Masto said, “It's a once in a lifetime [moment], quite honestly.”

“It’s a very somber moment; it’s serious, it’s grave, and it should be treated that way,” she said. “I take very seriously my oath to go in there with an open mind, be impartial, listen to all the evidence and make a determination after that.”  

Rosen’s office said the senator “takes her constitutional role very seriously,” when asked about her thoughts as the trial begins.

“She’ll keep an open mind while listening to the House managers present their case and to the president’s defense,” her office said. “The Constitution requires the senator to sit as a juror in the impeachment trial, and as such, she will review the House’s findings in an impartial manner.”

Both said they would continue to work on issues important to the state and the nation during the impeachment process, though it’s not clear how much legislating will occur with the Senate floor tied up with the trial.

One issue that could come up is a resolution under the 1973 War Powers Act introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia that would require the removal of forces involved in hostilities with Iran within 30 days of being enacted. The resolution was prompted by Trump’s decision to strike Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which killed him earlier this month.

“It shows we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Cortez Masto said of the measure. “This is work we should be doing.”

Kaine said Thursday his resolution could come up as soon as next week. It is likely to pass the Senate with four Republicans pledging to join with 47 Democrats and one independent for a majority of 51 votes. If passed by the Senate, the Democratic-run House is expected to pass the measure. But it would probably be vetoed by the president. The White House opposed a similar resolution passed by the House that was not considered by the Senate. Supporters of the measure would need a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber to override the veto.

Next week, the Senate will vote to establish initial trial procedures as well as consider whether to bring in witnesses. Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are expected to vote against hearing from witnesses in the opening stage of the trial. 

The Senate impeachment action came after the House Wednesday approved a resolution naming impeachment seven managers, who will argue the case in the Senate, on a 228 to 193 party-line vote. Nevada’s House Democrats backed the resolution, while Amodei voted against it. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi then held a signing ceremony and the managers, along with the clerk of the House and the sergeant at arms, walked the articles across the Capitol to deliver them to the Senate. 

On Thursday, the managers again walked together to the Senate chamber for the exhibition of the articles, which officially started the trial. Lead manager and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff read the two articles—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—aloud on the Senate floor.

The articles summarized the House Democrats’ case that the president violated his oath of office by soliciting interference in the 2020 election from Ukraine during a July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky. They also contend that Trump held up military aid to Ukraine and a White House visit for Zelensky to pressure the Ukrainian leader to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden. 

Also on Thursday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a legal opinion that determined Trump violated the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which reasserted Congress’ power of the purse, when he withheld the military aid from Ukraine.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” GAO said.

Senate Republicans, including Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, downplayed the significance.

“The timing is interesting,” he told reporters. “But you know, the good news is we're going to have a trial. So I assume people will bring it up.”

Borrower defense rule

As the impeachment of the president progressed, the House approved Lee’s resolution, on a 231 to 180 vote, to keep a proposed rule, championed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, from going into effect.

“By passing this resolution that house made it clear that we care more about defending defrauded students than enriching predatory schools,” Lee said at a press conference following the vote.

The rule would make it more difficult for student-loan borrowers affected by fraud or the bankruptcy of their school from seeking loan forgiveness under a DOE program.

Under DeVos’ rule, borrowers would need to file a complaint within three years, and show that they suffered financial damage from the fraud or closure. The rule would replace one put in place under President Barack Obama. 

All House Democrats voted to pass the measure. Six Republicans voted with Democrats, but Amodei opposed the resolution raising concerns about the cost of the more generous Obama-era rule. 

Borrowers “must provide evidence that they were actually harmed, a process that should already occur, especially if the claim is that a loan should be completely forgiven due to fraud,” he said in a release. “At a time when student enrollment at U.S. colleges is down by 11 percent from 2011, I believe students should be protected from institutions engaging in fraudulent activities to boost enrollment. However, I believe that such claims should be backed with evidence on the part of the student, a common-sense approach which is supported by the president’s rule.”

Also on hand at the press conference was Kendrick Harrison, a Las Vegas resident and Iraq war veteran who was pursuing an online degree in business and psychology with Argosy University, which went bankrupt in March and admitted to misappropriating $16 million in student loan funds and veterans benefits that should have been doled out to students like Harrison.

“Those dreams were ripped from me and my family because of this institution,” Kendrick said, adding that he suffered eviction, his car was repossessed and his credit score dropped by 100 points. 

“We have to make sure that when incidents like this occur and people, real people like myself and my family, are injured and hurt because of the laws that can be fixed, that can be corrected, we have to respond appropriately,” Kendrick said.

The measure now goes to the Senate where Republicans control 53 votes. The measure will get a vote as it falls under the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress to repeal regulations within 60 days from submission to Congress or from their publication in the Federal Register, whichever date is later.

But four Republicans will be needed to vote with all Democrats and one independent to pass the resolution and send it to the president. If the measure passes the Senate, it would almost certainly be vetoed by Trump.

The resolution “would restore the partisan regulatory regime of the previous administration, which sacrificed the interests of taxpayers, students, and schools in pursuit of narrow, ideological objectives,” the White House said in a veto threat

Miscellany 

Both Cortez Masto and Rosen praised Senate passage of the USMCA on an 89 to 10 vote.

“It was important, it was important for Nevada as well,” Cortez Masto said citing language to open the Canadian market for the state’s dairy farmers and labor provisions protecting workers’ rights.

Rosen said in a statement: “This bipartisan trade deal will promote growth and strengthen Nevada’s economy, protecting the thousands of jobs created by the $1.8 billion in goods that the Silver State exports yearly to Canada and Mexico, our closest trade allies.”

At a House Budget Committee hearing on the value of federal investment for states and localities, Rep. Steven Horsford praised former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval for expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“I give credit where credit was due,” said Horsford, who served as Nevada Senate majority leader between 2009 and 2013. “I had the opportunity to work with then-Republican Governor Brian Sandoval. He was the first Republican governor in the country to enact Medicaid expansion. From that, we now have 630,000 Nevadans currently on Medicaid.”

He said Medicaid enrollment has increased from 2013 to May of 2019 by 90 percent, the second-highest increase in the nation. 

Horsford raised concerns about proposed Medicaid cuts in the president's last budget proposal and how they would adversely affect Nevada residents. He also argued that members should be pushing for more federal funding for states, not less, as Republicans typically do.

“I believe that all of us should be arguing for more resources into our state,” he said. “I don’t quite get my colleagues who want to get less money to their constituents for schools and health care and small businesses. I want to get my state’s share of the money that we send through taxpayer resources”

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S. 3205 – A bill to require the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to establish a program to assist small business concerns with purchasing cybersecurity products and services, and for other purposes.

S. 3202 – A bill to discourage speculative oil and gas leasing and to promote enhanced multiple use management of public land and National Forest System land, and for other purposes.

S. 3183 – A bill to improve the Safe Routes to School Program, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3190 – A bill to authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S. 3194 – A bill to establish a program ensuring access to accredited continuing medical education for primary care physicians and other health care providers at Federally-qualified health centers and rural health clinics, to provide training and clinical support for primary care providers to practice at their full scope and improve access to care for patients in underserved areas.

S. 3188 – Advanced Manufacturing Jobs in America Act

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3205 – A bill to require the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to establish a program to assist small business concerns with purchasing cybersecurity products and services, and for other purposes.

S. 3190 – A bill to authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5606 – To extend the withdrawal and reservation of certain public land in the State of Nevada for the continued use of the Nevada test and training range, to designate certain land in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5606 – To extend the withdrawal and reservation of certain public land in the State of Nevada for the continued use of the Nevada test and training range, to designate certain land in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, and for other purposes.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5606 – To extend the withdrawal and reservation of certain public land in the State of Nevada for the continued use of the Nevada test and training range, to designate certain land in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5606 – To extend the withdrawal and reservation of certain public land in the State of Nevada for the continued use of the Nevada test and training range, to designate certain land in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, and for other purposes.

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