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Mass. Reps Aren't Happy With White House Response To Coronavirus

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It may be cold in Washington, but anxiety over coronavirus reached a fever pitch here this week. Heated exchanges between Democrats, their GOP counterparts and the administration over other hot-button issues show there's no cure for partisanship on the Hill.

Clark: White House Coronavirus Response Poses ‘National Security Threat’

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass (Andrew Harnik/AP)
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass (Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Trump, who last night put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the federal response of the disease, asked Congress for $2.5 billion in emergency response funding — a request Democratic lawmakers called too little, too late.

“The response of this administration is a true national security threat,” Rep. Katherine Clark, vice chair of the Democratic caucus, told reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Clark slammed Trump for releasing a budget proposal earlier this month that would cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only “to come back now at this point and say, ‘we would like $1.25 billion in additional funding, but we're going to take another ($1.25 billion) from other areas of the budget.”

The White House would divert funding from several programs, including one to aid low-income Americans with home heating and cooling costs.

“This is not the way we approach a pandemic,” Clark said. “You need to make plans, you need coordination in place, and you have to fund agencies over a period of years so that we are ready to address this crisis.”

Kennedy Invokes Azar’s Grandfather In Blasting Public Charge Rule

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III questions Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a House Commerce subcommittee hearing on the budget and coronavirus. (Susan Walsh/AP)
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III questions Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a House Commerce subcommittee hearing on the budget and coronavirus. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was grilled by lawmakers about more than the administration’s coronavirus response. Rep. Joe Kennedy III pressed Azar on the agency’s new public charge rule, which makes it harder for immigrants to get legal status if they use public benefits.

Kennedy said the rule will leave millions of immigrants — including those with green cards, refugees and asylum seekers — without health insurance.

“Is that a success?” Kennedy Asked Azar during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing yesterday.

“We do not believe that individuals who come to this country should be dependent on public taxpayers for healthcare or other services,” Azar replied.

Kennedy pointed out that Azar frequently speaks of his own grandfather, who arrived in the United States “at Ellis Island from Lebanon as an impoverished teenager who spoke no English.”

Kennedy said he “would have been turned away” under the new rule. “So I ask you, yes or no, are you proud of the public charge policy?”

“My grandfather came and worked his way up through his bootstraps,” Azar shot back, adding that his grandfather “would not have asked” for assistance.

“Are you proud of this policy,” Kennedy asked. “I’ll take that as a ‘no.’ ”

“I’m proud of my grandfather,” Azar said.

Gun Rights Questioning At Voter Suppression Hearing Leaves Pressley ‘Seething’

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. (Alex Brandon/AP)

A House Oversight Hearing on voter suppression took a turn toward the Second Amendment Wednesday, drawing the ire of Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

“Some of you have mentioned that there are too many barriers for people who have served a sentence in obtaining their right to vote again after they’ve served their time,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said to a panel of veteran civil rights activists during the hearing. He asked them if “a nonviolent felony offender who has served their time should have their right to bear arms restored?”

Some panelists agreed, while others stressed that their expertise was in voter access, not gun rights.

But the line of questioning angered Timothy Jenkins, who co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement, who accused Massie of taking the hearing down a gun rights “rabbit trail.”

“The Constitution is not a rabbit trail,” Massie shot back as Pressley, who was seated in front of him, grimaced. “And you look somewhat disingenuous when you are now trying to pick and choose what kind of constitutional rights someone should have.”

When Pressley’s time to question the panel arrived, Massie had already left the hearing room, but reacted to him anyway.

“I had a prewritten statement, but to be frank, I'm still seething from some of what occurred in this chamber a moment ago,” Pressley said.

“I guess it's impossible anymore to be disappointed when you are no longer surprised,” Pressley said. “So I should not be surprised that they think we are being dramatists about voter suppression. Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

3 More Things:

Presidential candidate and former Mass. Gov. Bill Weld. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Presidential candidate and former Mass. Gov. Bill Weld. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

— Warren wants to use border wall funds for coronavirus: Sen. Elizabeth Warren filed a bill today that would divert all funding that has been appropriated to build a border wall to the HHS and the United States Agency for International Development to fund efforts to combat coronavirus.

"The coronavirus outbreak poses serious health, diplomatic, and economic threats to the United States, and we must be prepared to confront it head-on," Warren said in a statement. "Rather than use taxpayer dollars to pay for a monument to hate and division, my bill will help ensure that the federal government has the resources it needs to adequately respond to this emergency."

— Markey calls for study of kids’ media tech use: Sen. Ed Markey joined a bipartisan call for the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on technology use and media consumption by kids and teens. In a letter to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, Markey joined Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in calling for study of young people’s use of digital media.

“[W]hile kids and teens are increasingly living their lives online and with devices in their hands, parents and policymakers alike lack important information about how increased technology use is impacting children in America,” the letter says. The senators co-sponsor the Children and Media Research Advancement (CAMRA) Act, which would authorize broader research into the subject.

— Weld back on the Bay State stump: Former Gov. Bill Weld will campaign in his home state today, holding events in Lowell in his efforts to challenge Trump in the GOP primary. Weld drew the backing of The Boston Globe’s editorial board this week, but there is one key GOP endorsement that remains elusive: Gov. Charlie Baker has so far remained mum.


WHAT I'M READING

11 Months From Today: A Second Term For Trump Seems More Possible Than Ever. But What Would It Look Like? (New York Magazine)

Across The Country, Liberals And Conservatives Are Coming Together At Moderated Dinners To Understand Each Other Better. (Washington Post Magazine)

'Catastrophic': Trump Is Fighting With Advisors Over Pardoning Roger Stone. (Vanity Fair)


WHERE'S WARREN?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at a campaign event at Charleston Music Hall in Charleston, S.C. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at a campaign event at Charleston Music Hall in Charleston, S.C. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

With the leadup to Saturday’s South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday just three days later, the most crucial stretch of the presidential campaign stump for Warren begins now.

Saturday she’ll crisscross several states, beginning the day in Columbia, S.C. at a canvassing event before holding town halls in Little Rock, Ark. and Houston.


NUMBER OF THE WEEK

$1.2 billion
That's how much the Democratic candidates for president have already spent on the race as of this week, making it the most expensive primary race in history. They hit that mark after just three state races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. More than half that amount has been spent by just two candidates: billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.


PARTING NOTE

Tomorrow, WBUR’s latest poll of Bay State voters drops just days before Super Tuesday, and my colleagues and I will break down what they mean. And Tuesday night I’ll be on air with pollster Steve Koczela as the returns come in, so tune in!

Related:

Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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