News Digest – August 30, 2017

This week in the news – Cardin criticizes Trump’s strategy on Afghanistan, our representatives respond to the removal of Confederate statues in Baltimore, and more details come out on the predatory leasing practices of Kushner-held real estate companies on Baltimore-area tenants.

Afghanistan

  • President Trump told the country that he had a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, one that will increase the number of American soldiers in the region.  In an op-ed published in USA Today, Senator Cardin criticized the president’s announcement for being “short on details” and doing “little to emphasize the importance of diplomacy.”
  • Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. is heading up Trump’s Afghanistan “strategy;” he’s from Baltimore County, and met with Rep. Ruppersberger (MD-2) in Afghanistan last year.

Confederate monuments

  • Senator Cardin defended the removal of monuments related to the confederacy, telling Fox News Sunday, “You don’t need a monument to learn history.”  (The senator also discussed North Korea and terrorism.)
  • Meanwhile, some Maryland lawmakers are pressing the National Park Service to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee at the Antietam National Battlefield.  Senator Cardin and Senator Van Hollen have asked the Congressional Research Service and the park service to provide them information about the statue.  
  • At the U.S. Naval Academy, where the names of the nation’s military heroes adorn many buildings, two structures honor the memory of American naval officers who fought against the United States of America.  Rep. Ruppersberger (MD-2), who serves on the Naval Academy’s Board of Visitors, said he believes the academy should be sensitive to how a black midshipman would feel about the building names. He noted that Buchanan had a position in the U.S. Navy and left to join the Confederacy and fight against the United States.  “I think we have to give it strong consideration,” Ruppersberger said, when asked if the names of the two buildings should be changed.
  • Statue of Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney removed from State House in Annapolis.

Kushner-related housing complexes

Baltimore’s congressional delegation is demanding records from Kushner Companies LLC after the Baltimore Sun reported that apartment complexes owned by Kushner subsidiaries and receiving public housing payments have gotten judges to order the arrest of delinquent renters and made it unnecessarily difficult for tenants to pay their rent.  

Federal funding for crime-fighting in Baltimore

Baltimore’s congressional delegation joined 48 other members of Congress in blasting the Department of Justice for conditioning federal funding for crime fighting on cities’ cooperation with the Trump administration’s “mass-deportation agenda.”

EPA

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which for 30 years has litigated on behalf of citizens in six states, filed suit in District Court for the Western District of Virginia to force EPA to disclose requested documents related to President Trump’s executive order requiring reviews to identify regulations that could be abolished or narrowed after the EPA failed to respond to the Center’s FOIA request.  The lawsuit comes weeks after Rep. Cummings (MD-7) wrote to the White House complaining that Trump’s regulatory task forces at EPA and other agencies are being “conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.”

Trump pardons racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio

  • Rep. Cummings (MD-7): “Over & over again, #POTUS has promoted what @SpeakerRyan once called ‘textbook racism‘ while exhibiting contempt for the rule of law.  #POTUS claims that he wants to unite the country and fight against racism, yet his own words and actions show the opposite.  He has followed up on his abhorrent statements about #Charlottesville by pardoning a racist cop for his crimes against minorities.”

Secret Service set to run out of money by Sept. 30

  • Rep. Cummings (MD-7): The limit has exceeded by a certain amount in recent years but usually 300 agents would be affected unlike in 2016, when 1,300 agents were affected while protecting Obama, Hillary Clinton and Trump during the election campaign; Cummings plans to introduce a legislation that would allow the Secret Service to increase the mandated limits on a regular basis; more here and here.

Trump directed U.S. Cyber Command to be elevated to a unified combatant command and is exploring separating it from the National Security Agency.  In a statement, Trump said the move “will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our Nation’s defense. Rep. Ruppersberger (MD-2), whose 2nd District includes Fort Meade, lauded Trump’s decision to elevate the agency in a statement.  “Demand for cyber warfare capabilities is only going to increase and this decision will give the Command the power and resources it needs to better protect our country,” he wrote.

Drug Prices

  • House Democrats have started what they called an “in-depth” investigation into the pricing of drugs for neurological condition multiple sclerosis, the latest attempt by U.S. politicians to pressure manufacturers to lower costs.  Rep. Cummings (MD-7) wrote to seven drugmakers—Biogen, Sanofi, Novartis, Roche Holding, Bayer, Merck KGaA’s EMD Serono unit and Teva Pharmaceuticals requesting information on pricing strategies.  Some pharmaceutical companies appear to be “setting new, higher prices in lockstep with competitors—a strategy known as ‘shadow pricing;’” the average annual cost of therapy had increased to more than $60,000 in 2015 from about $16,000 in 2004.

Voter Suppression

  • Rep. Cummings (MD-7): “We must register and vote ourselves, and when our neighbors are required to produce identification at their polling places, we must work together to help them get those IDs. When cynical and partisan election boards make voting more difficult on Election Day, we must bring a box lunch and wait our turn. When the evidence shows racially-based attacks on our voting power, we must fight that suppression in the Congress, our State Legislatures and our courts. We are in a fight for the soul of our democracy.

Steve Bannon out of the White House

  • Rep. Cummings (MD-7) welcomed Bannon’s ouster but stated that Trump “must now show real leadership by disavowing white supremacy and he must completely rid his administration of anyone who sows hatred and bigotry in our country.”
  • Rep. Cummings (MD-7) warns Bannon against publishing classified information.  “Steve Bannon has an ongoing obligation to safeguard our nation’s secrets, and he does not gain some kind of extra Constitutional protection just because he is now returning to a position in the media.”  Lawmakers closely watch people in such positions after they leave high level security positions; Bannon should not guide Breitbart to publish information based on classified material he learned while working for the president.

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