It’s a busy week for lawmakers in both chambers of Congress, as they address the dual crises facing the country: systemic racial inequality and the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.
It’s getting real, and nerves are fraying.
McGovern, Lesko Get Testy In Exchange Over Masks And ‘Righteousness’
Things got heated when Rep. Debbie Lesko, a Republican from Arizona, accused House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern and other Democrats of double standards during an unprompted exchange about a House rule requiring lawmakers to wear masks at committee hearings.
“Stop with the righteousness on the masks. I’m absolutely sick of it,” Lesko said from a Capitol Hill committee room during a virtual markup hearing, her own face mask dangling from her ear.
“I think, Mr. Chairman, you said some of us believe in science — implying that some of us don't believe in science,” Lesko continued. “For goodness’ sakes, we are like sitting maybe 10, 12 feet away from each other! Everyone in here ... is wearing masks.”
Lesko said she tested negative twice for COVID-19 in the last week, including before a meeting with President Trump. “So don’t be telling me how I’m unsafe, and how I'm going to be doing things that are going to affect people.”
McGovern, attending the hearing from his Capitol Hill office — mask on — said the rule is about safety.
“Just for the record, my urging for people to wear masks is to counter what the president is saying, because I’m worried,” McGovern said, citing the president’s refusal to wear masks or require them at his indoor campaign events. “It’s not about being righteous.”
Lesko contended Democrats’ “pattern” of calling for mask wearing was “just getting totally ridiculous and sickening.” She said she hoped Democrats were also demanding the same of “protesters, rioters, looters, the people who are tearing down statues in our nation.”
The Worcester Democrat shot back.
“As somebody who actually participated in some the protests and marches in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, along with others who are outraged at that killing, I wore a mask,” McGovern said. “I think everyone around me wore masks.”
“By the way, they weren’t looters,” McGovern added. “They were patriotic Americans who are just sick and tired of racism in the country at every level.”
Neal, Democratic Leaders Press To Expand ACA
Rep. Richard Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic House committee chairs to present a bill that would expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re very much in the midst of this pandemic,” Neal said during a press conference yesterday. “There is no better time to increase access to high quality health care while lowering health care costs than right now.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act would lower health insurance premiums by expanding eligibility for premium tax credits. It would also lower the income threshold for eligibility and increase the size of tax credits for all income brackets. Americans with private health insurance could obtain prescription drugs at the same lower price as those covered by Medicare.
Neal said the measure would help bring most Americans’ closer to the relatively high coverage levels seen in Massachusetts.
“One hundred percent of the children in Massachusetts today have health insurance, and almost 98% of the adults have health insurance because of our efforts,” the Springfield Democrat said.
Under this legislation, Neal says no one would pay more than 8.5% of income for a silver plan secured on the ACA marketplace, and Americans earning $19,000 or less annually would pay no premium. A family of four with a household income of $40,000 would save $1,600 a year, according to Neal.
Pelosi said the bill will go to a House vote on Monday, but the legislation faces certain defeat in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Pressley Files Amendment To Nix Police Qualified Immunity, Cops In Schools
Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced two amendments to the police reform bill, set for a House vote today, that would eliminate the qualified immunity defense for alleged police misconduct and stop federal funding for police officers in schools.
“As we work to fundamentally reimagine our criminal legal system, it is critical that we center the people,” Pressley said of her amendments to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. “In this moment of reckoning for our nation, our legislative response must match the scale and scope of the hurt so many are feeling, and these amendments do exactly that.”
One of the amendments, co-sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, would extend the bill’s provision eliminating qualified immunity for federal law enforcement to include all local and state officials.
The other, co-sponsored by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, would bar federal funding for hiring, maintaining or training law enforcement personnel in elementary schools or secondary schools.
“These amendments would help us protect the dignity and humanity of all in community by removing law enforcement from K-12 schools and finally allowing for police, corrections officers, and other public officials to be held accountable for violating our legal and constitutional rights,” Pressley said in a statement.
3 More Things:
Keating condemns noose, white supremacy flyers found in Yarmouth: Rep. Bill Keating decried the existence of flyers encouraging white men to join local white supremacist groups found taped up around the town several days after a noose was found hanging from a tree there. “This is shameful,” Keating wrote in a Facebook post. “This does not represent Cape Cod. And make no mistake, this will not stand in the way of long-overdue change.” Keating added that the incidents in Yarmouth “serve as a reminder that no community is untouched, it can not be ignored, and inaction is unacceptable. There is too much at stake.”
Lynch files legislation to protect ability of service members to vote from abroad: Rep. Stephen Lynch said his Digital Overseas Voting Act would allow U.S. military service members and other overseas citizens to submit their applications for federal absentee ballots by email, fax or postal mail in federal primary, general, special and runoff elections. Currently the applications must be submitted by postal mail only. As the pandemic limits travel and slows mail service, the measure would “serve as a critical method of overseas absentee voting in upcoming federal elections,” Lynch said in a statement.
Pressley calls for transit investments: Pressley, a co-chair of the House Future of Transportation Caucus, joined other members of the group in calling for $50 billion in investments over the next five years to support and boost the nation’s public transit systems. “High-quality, safe and affordable public transit is a public good and will play a key role in protecting the public health and advancing our long-term economic recovery efforts,” she and other lawmakers wrote in a letter to Pelosi and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
WHAT I'M READING
- The Decline Of The American World (The Atlantic)
- Trump Didn’t ‘Send In The Troops.’ They Were Already There (The New York Times Magazine)
- The Huge Challenges Facing Biden (The Bulwark)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“The investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home reveals that veterans died and became infected due to shocking failures in basic infection control by the Home and a Department of Veterans' Services that neglected its responsibility to oversee the Home. Everyone responsible for this tragedy must be held accountable. I remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of veteran residents and staff at long-term care facilities across the commonwealth, and I urge the Home and the commonwealth to swiftly implement the investigation's recommendations to improve care and avoid such a crisis in the future.”
If you liked this week’s WBUR Town Hall on the pandemic’s impact on the 2020 election, my colleague Anthony Brooks and I will be back for more Monday, when we’ll reprise the discussion on On Point. Tune in at 10 a.m. EST on WBUR, or check your local NPR listings.
I also hope you’ll tune in tomorrow, when I join the journalists roundtable on Here & Now to recap the week in the news. Tune in at noon on WBUR, or check your local station’s listings.