An update from the office of U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano 7th Congressional District of Massachusetts
April 7, 2017
A reminder that we have three community meetings coming up with details provided below:
Monday April 10th 6:30 – 8:00 PM Mildred Avenue Community Center auditorium 5 Mildred Avenue, Mattapan
Wednesday April 12th 7:00 – 8:30 PM Stetson Hall 6 S. Main Street, Randolph
Thursday April 13th 6-7:30 PM East Boston High School auditorium 86 White Street, East Boston
We are adding more meetings and will let you know when they are finalized. You can RSVP on Facebook and you can watch my Somerville community meeting via Facebook Live.
The images from Syria are heartbreaking. So many innocent people were brutally murdered with poisonous gas at the direction of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I do not dispute that Syria has again used chemical weapons against its own people in contravention of international law and morality, as well as its own assurances to the Security Council that it would not do so. I also share President Trump’s outrage about these atrocities.
Nonetheless, Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution is very clear that ONLY, “The Congress shall have Power … To declare war.” No President can unilaterally engage in an act of war. Certainly, an intentional missile strike against a sovereign state, no matter how horrendous its government may be, is an act of war.
A few weeks ago, when the Trump Administration announced the deployment of more U.S. troops into Syria, I began working with other Members of Congress on legislation requiring the President to seek Congressional authorization first. That bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1923 was filed on Wednesday. The missile strike occurred on Thursday. An interesting coincidence with unforeseen timing – but a clearly foreseeable situation.
What is done cannot be undone, but from this point forward the President must seek from Congress the authorization that our Constitution requires before he takes any further military action in Syria.
Some Members will not want to address the issue because it is complicated and politically sensitive. But there are extremely important questions to consider and the entire nation, through their elected Representatives, deserves to be included in the debate. Congress should not shirk this responsibility.
Congress must debate the future role of the United States in this conflict. There are many questions that require thoughtful debate. Here are just a few:
Is the United States the sole police force of the world when it comes to preventing or punishing atrocities? Would other democratic nations ally with us, as in the past, when we made war against murderous regimes?
The United States must define the atrocities we are willing to punish. Is it only chemical attacks? How about the starvation of large populations by their own government or firebombing an unarmed civilian village?
Are there geographic, racial, ethnic, or other limitations to our outrage? How would the U.S. pay for the costs of such actions – raise taxes, cut domestic programs, or borrow more money?
What is our goal in Syria? Is there a plan to end the Syrian Civil War that Russia and other regional powers would support? Or, is this simple knee jerk retaliation?
Should the US welcome the victims of such atrocities into our country as refugees?
What happens when there are the inevitable consequences to our action, such as the Russian government cancelling an agreement to safeguard our pilots? How does the United States avoid World War 3?
I am certain there are many other questions that need to be asked and answered – and I do not know what the outcome of this debate would be.
This has nothing to do with who occupies the Oval Office or whether they are a Democrat or a Republican. This is about the Constitution. In 2011, I was one of four Members of Congress who sued President Obama in an attempt to force him to seek Congressional approval for bombing Libya.
Less than four years ago, Trump was strongly opposed to intervention in Syria. In 2013, commenting on President Obama’s actions against ISIS in Syria, Donald Trump tweeted "The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!"
We live in a democracy, not a monarchy — no one person has the authority to bring us into any war for any reason absent imminent threat against the American people. This is precisely why Congress needs to step up, have this debate, and take a vote.
H.R. 1923 must be brought to the floor and Congress must act responsibly.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes announced yesterday he was recusing himself from the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and the role Trump associates may have played. This development came as the House Ethics Committee announced it was investigating whether Nunes had disclosed classified information without authorization. The Office of Congressional Ethics, the entity House Republicans tried to eviscerate at the beginning of the year, has also been investigating this matter.
This all comes as a result of Nunes receiving what certainly appeared to be classified information from White House officials on “incidental collection” and possible “unmasking” of U.S. citizens during legal surveillance. Instead of taking that information to the committee he chairs, Nunes briefed the press, then the White House, then the press again. There are very serious questions about how Nunes has handled himself as well as bipartisan calls for him to step aside from the overall investigation. Until yesterday, Nunes had ignored all of that.
Although news of the Ethics Committee’s investigation and Rep. Nunes decision to finally step aside are important developments, I still believe that an independent, bi-partisan investigation is the best way to get answers for the American people.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) advanced the revised Green Line Extension (GLX) this week with a favorable risk analysis report, necessary to preserve the $1 billion the federal government has pledged to commit to the GLX. While not the final step, it is a significant stamp of approval. It indicates that the FTA is satisfied with the work the state has done to address issues with the budget, including proposed project design changes. With the FTA’s recent action, we can expect an updated Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) in the fall. In the meantime, GLX work will continue and we are truly closer to the day when commuters can celebrate its opening.
Republicans Really Don’t Like the CFPB Director
On Wednesday the House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The hearing did not exactly provide an opportunity to ask Director Cordray meaningful questions about the work of the CFPB. Instead, it was a chance for committee Republicans to emphasize over and over and over again that Cordray was not effective and the President should fire him. Often, they left the director no time to respond to anything they brought up. You may recall from Behind the Curtain (#43) that the Justice Department recently switched sides in a court case to argue that the CFPB is unconstitutional. If this view prevails, the CFPB will be considerably weakened and the President will have an avenue to fire Cordray. When I spoke at the hearing, I noted the “bizarro world” that the hearing entered and gave Director Cordray some of my time so he could actually respond to all the negative commentary.
Empower Employees with Information
On Tuesday the House considered H.R. 1343, the Encouraging Employee Ownership Act. This legislation permits private companies to pay their employees with up to $10 million in stock each year while releasing the employers from certain disclosure requirements. Because employees do not have access to important information related to the company’s financial health, they can be put at risk if they choose to invest in their company. While encouraging employee stock ownership is a worthwhile goal, H.R. 1343 doesn’t do enough to protect employees. I voted NO. H.R. 1343 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:
Helping Keep Stop-Loss Insurance Affordable
On Wednesday the House considered H.R. 1304, the Self-Insurance Protection Act. This legislation has to do with stop-loss insurance which is purchased by employers who opt to pay for their employees’ health benefits directly instead of providing or purchasing insurance coverage for them. These plans are designed to protect the employers when they have catastrophic claims. States currently have regulations designed to protect consumers when their employers have purchased stop-loss insurance. H.R. 1304 simply reiterates that the federal government will not also regulate this market as health insurance. I voted YES. H.R. 1304 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:
The Limiting Investor Protections Act
Yesterday the House considered H.R. 1219, the Supporting America’s Innovators Act of 2017. This legislation amends the Investment Company Act of 1940, which, in part, defines which companies must register as investment companies with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Act in turn triggers a series of investor protections. The Act contains a number of exemptions to the registration and investor protection requirements, one of which is for companies whose outstanding securities are owned by no more than 100 “accredited investors,” people who are considered sophisticated enough to be able to operate in the unregistered market without investor protections. This bill would expand the exemption to 250 persons who could purchase no more than $10 million in securities per issuer. You will notice that the vote was a bipartisan one. The problem I have with H.R. 1219 is that it continues down the path of expanding the scope of unregistered investing that occurs without sufficient investor protections. The category of “accredited investor” is one that Republicans are consistently trying to loosen and I am concerned that H.R. 1219 does just that. I voted NO. H.R. 1219 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:
On March 24, 2017 in an interview with Forbes, Eric Trump announced that he will continue sharing quarterly profitability reports with his father, despite President Trump’s assertions that he has no conflicts because all his businesses have been handed off to his children and he won't talk to them about anything related to those businesses. Quarterly profitability reports certainly qualify as important information related to the President’s business empire. This sharing of information raises serious questions about who the President is really working for, the American public or his companies’ bottom lines.
On March 29, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission Chairman announced plans to let states decide which companies are certified to participate in the Lifeline broadband program. This nullifies pending requests by dozens of small and rural Internet providers hoping to offer subsidized broadband connections to low-income Americans nationwide. This will hurt their ability to choose a good provider, particularly in rural or low-income areas. The Lifeline program, created during the Reagan Administration, supports seniors, veterans and rural Americans who otherwise cannot afford phone or Internet service.
In April 2017 the Department of Homeland Security stressed a commitment to arrest victims of crimes for immigration violations, even if they are appearing in court to testify. Victims or witnesses of crimes, from theft to rape and murder, risk being arrested if they come forward to testify against someone accused of a serious crime. So it’s more important to arrest and deport the undocumented immigrant than secure the conviction of an American citizen accused of a serious crime?
This development occurred before we launched Behind the Curtain, but we thought it was important to include on this list. In January, President Trump named his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a senior White House advisor. Like his wife Ivanka, Kushner is a federal government employee. His portfolio at the White House keeps growing. In late March, he was named to head the new White House Office on American Innovation. This is in addition to his various responsibilities on domestic policy and foreign affairs.
Oops – we realized we never added the Second Executive Order relative to Immigration. This order removed Iraq from list of banned countries, ended preferential treatment for Christian refugees (but kept 120 day ban on refugee entry - and 50,000 limit on refugee admissions for this year, of which almost 38,000 had reached US by 3/15/17), and permitted waivers of the ban on a "case-by-case" basis for several categories of persons, including immediate family of US citizens. This Executive Order has been stayed by Court action subject to appeals.
UPDATE: 11. On April 5, 2017 President Trump removed Chief Strategist Steve Bannon from the principals committee of the National Security Council (NSC). Bannon’s role caused great concern because it elevated a political strategist over military and intelligence professionals. This removal is overdue and he never should have been named to the committee.
UPDATE: 31. On April 3, 2017 President Trump signed H.J. Res. 83, which weakens the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s authority. OSHA will no longer be able to require employers to retain records of serious injuries and deaths for 5 years
UPDATE: 44. On March 29, 2017 Ivanka Trump announced that she changed her mind and would, in fact, become an official federal government employee subject to the same rules as other employees.
UPDATE: 52. On April 3, 2017 President Trump signed S.J. Res. 34, Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relating to Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services. Now, internet service providers (ISPs) will be able to collect and sell our personal data without telling us or asking permission. This includes browsing history, personal information about us and our families, financial information, app usage and so much more.
What’s Up Next
A District Work Period is scheduled. The next House votes will take place on Tuesday April 25th. The House is expected to consider legislation to fund the federal government beyond April 28, 2017.
Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Ethics
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services
P.S. I welcome your feedback on our e-Updates. Please let me and my staff know what you think of this service by e-mailing our office.
110 First Street, Cambridge
Roxbury Community College Campus Library, Room 211, Boston
Stetson Hall Room 124, 6 South Main Street, Randolph