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Democratic Freshmen Get Seats On Committee That Reviews Donald Trump

For those who opt for a splashy confrontation, there's plenty of precedent during Republican control.

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, laugh as they wait for other freshman Congressmen to deliver a letter calling to an end to shutdown to deliver to the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Jan. 16, 2019. VOA

It’s known as “the theater committee” for its high profile, high-drama role investigating President Donald Trump’s White House. And now, five of the fieriest Democratic freshmen in the House are players on that stage.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katie Hill, Rashida Tlaib and others now have seats on the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee — a sign that Democratic leaders want their social media savvy and star power front and center of investigations into the Trump administration. In return, the new members get a platform on which to polish their good-government bona fides. And the bet among senior Democrats is that more experienced committee members will help harness the newcomers’ energy, fame and know-how as the blandly-named panel turns its spotlight on the White House ahead of the 2020 elections.

“I consider myself to be a little bit of a justice and truth-teller,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., referring to her background as a prosecutor. “I think I’m in good company.”

On the mission, yes. But the newcomers’ styles will depend in part on how solidly they won their districts in the November elections.

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Ayanna Pressley, Democrat-Massachusetts, listens during a news conference with members of the Progressive Caucus in Washington, Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

“Mine is going to be a very fact-based approach,” said Hill, a liaison to Democratic leaders who will serve as Cummings’ vice chairman and flipped a Republican stronghold in California. “I am not going to go in there with a set agenda as much as seeking the truth.”

Added Rep. Harley Rouda, a former Republican who also represents a swing California district: “We have an obligation as members of Congress to provide appropriate oversight regardless of whether it’s Republicans or Democrats or otherwise,” he said. Rouda called himself “somewhat centrist, and I’m going to carry that into that committee as well.”

It’s an apt home for the outspoken new members. Real-time drama — on matters ranging from former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Hurricane Katrina and steroids in sports — was the panel’s trademark long before Trump and the Democratic freshmen came to Washington.

“You walk in here, into the back room, you muster your righteous indignation and you step out on the stage and ask somebody: ‘How could you? What were you thinking? When did you first know?'” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a committee member and outspoken conservative who was appointed to the panel when Barack Obama was president. “You can make a grandma feel bad about making cookies for her grandkids.”

Though theatrical, the committee has real power to “at any time conduct investigations of any matter,” according to its charter, using as tools subpoenas and the fact that lying to Congress is a crime. And the new chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is promising serious probes that could have consequences for Trump and administration officials who saw relatively little oversight under the Republican-led House. Cummings has promised to look at conflicts of interest within the administration and is one of several chairmen who will lead investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia.

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Harley Rouda speaks to a reporter at a campaign office in Costa Mesa, California, Nov. 3, 2018. VOA

The committee also is where Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was scheduled to testify next month on Trump, his links to Russia and payments to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels. Last week he delayed his appearance on the advice of his legal team, citing ongoing cooperation in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and threats against his family.

For now, Cummings is repeating two guiding words to keep the newcomers’ enthusiasm productive: “efficiency” and “effectiveness.”

“They are very articulate, they are very sharp,” said Cummings. “And I’m sure that working very closely with the leadership of our committee, that they will be disciplined about what they put out to the media.”

His comments reflect an acute awareness among senior Democrats that this group eschews a script and likes to improvise. Tlaib’s vow on Trump to “impeach the mother—er,” on Day 1 of the new Congress ran afoul of Pelosi’s dictum to not speak of impeachment in any serious way at least until special counsel Robert Mueller reports on his Russia probe. Tlaib apologized for the distraction and, Cummings said, “realized that those comments do not lend themselves to my two major goals: being effective and efficient.”

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Democratic congressional candidate Ilhan Omar reacts after appearing at her midterm election night party in Minneapolis, Minnesota. VOA

For House Democratic leaders it was a forgivable offense. They opted to leverage the social media prowess and outspokenness of all five freshmen, including Tlaib, by giving them the platform of the oversight panel. Notably, Pelosi kept them off the Judiciary Committee, the body that is made up mostly of lawyers and that would handle any impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Cummings, the freshmen say, is encouraging them to speak up.

“He’s made very clear that a lot of what he wants to do with his leadership is to cultivate the talent and the potential within the committee and the party overall,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who said she wants to focus on immigrant protections and the environment. Cummings, she said, “wants to pass the ball a lot to many of the different members.”

Also Read: White House Challenges Democrats To Prove Their Commitment To Border Security

For those who opt for a splashy confrontation, there’s plenty of precedent during Republican control. A joint meeting of the oversight and judiciary panels last year erupted into a yelling match virtually from the first question to former FBI Agent Peter Strzok.

There’s almost an art to the absurdity, Massie suggested. When his hypothetical grandma comes up with an answer about her cookies, “You say, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve only got five minutes, I’ve got to move on to the next question. What about the applesauce?'” (VOA)

 

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Trump EPA Finalizes Rollback of Key Obama Climate Rule that Targeted Coal Plants

The new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule gives America's 50 states three years to develop their own emissions reduction plans

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EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks with the media at the Environmental Protection Agency, June 19, 2019, in Washington. VOA

The Trump administration is rolling back rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the United States as scientists continue to warn countries to rapidly cut emissions to prevent the most drastic effects of climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday it had finalized rules to replace the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama’s initiative to cut global warming emissions from coal plants.

The new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule gives America’s 50 states three years to develop their own emissions reduction plans by encouraging coal plants to improve their efficiency.

By contrast, the Clean Power Plan was designed to slash power plant carbon emissions by more than one-third from 2005 levels by 2030 by pushing utilities to replace coal with cleaner fuels like natural gas, solar and wind.

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The Trump administration is rolling back rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. VOA

The Obama-era plan was never enacted, however, because of lawsuits filed by Republican states and hundreds of companies. The Supreme Court halted its enactment in February 2016.

“States will be given the flexibility to design a plan that best suits their citizens environmental and energy needs, according to a summary of the new rules,” according to a summary of the ruling.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at a Washington news conference, “Our ACE rule will incentivize new technology which will ensure coal plants will be part of a cleaner future.”

But environmentalists, many Democratic lawmakers and some state attorneys general have labeled the new rules the “Dirty Power Plan,” maintaining they will lead to increases in carbon emissions and other pollutants over the next few decades.

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“At a time when Americans are urging us to take meaningful climate action and reduce our carbon footprint, today’s Dirty Power Plan is a failure of vision and leadership,” said Joe Goffman, executive director of Harvard University’s Environmental & Energy Law Program.

Even the EPA’s own regulatory analysis last year estimated Trump’s ACE rule would kill an additional 300 to 1,500 people each year by 2030 because of more air pollution from the U.S. power grid.

Trump has, nevertheless, dismissed scientific warnings on climate change, including a report this year from scientists at more than a dozen federal agencies noting that global warming from fossil fuels “presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life.”

Trump promised early in his presidency to kill the Clean Power Plan as part of an effort to revive the ailing coal industry, contending it exceeded the federal government’s authority.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday it had finalized rules to replace the Clean Power Plan. Pixabay

Wednesday’s announcement to overturn Obama-era climate rules is part of a broader Trump administration effort to roll back “a multitude of health, safety environmental and consumer protections at the behest of corporate interests,” the non-profit consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen concluded in a report released in May.

The report said shortly after Trump took office in early 2017, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) sent the Trump administration a list of 132 regulations that “concerned” members and detailed their “preferred course of action to address its concerns on each of the regulations.”

The report concluded that “Regulatory agencies have granted or are working on granting 85 percent of the wishes related to rulemakings on a list of deregulatory demands submitted” by NAM.

Also Read- Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai Make their Way to the Top 100 CEOs List

The new rule is expected to take effect within 30 days. (VOA)