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Democrats in Congress Ready To Take Control

This is about us lifting up the voices, the stories, the struggles, the innovation and the ideas of the people that we represent.

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Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, speaks at a small rally outside an orientation meeting for incoming members of Congress at Harvard University. Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, right, and Rep.-elect Lori Trahan, second from right, look on in Cambridge, Mass. VOA

Incoming members of the Democratic Party’s new U.S. House majority say they’re ready to turn the energy of their campaigns into real power on Capitol Hill.

Rep.-elects Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and a handful of other liberal-leaning incoming Democrats used an orientation event for freshman lawmakers Tuesday sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics to stake out some of their top issues – from gun violence to health care to climate change.

They say they’re ready to leverage their victories at the ballot box into victories in Congress — an institution that prizes seniority.

Pressley said power is about more than just how many terms a lawmaker has served.

“It’s a confluence of things. It’s about the committees that we’ll be appointed to. It’s about the values- and issues-based caucuses that we’ll serve on. And it’s about us simply leveraging the platform that we have available to us as well as our social media networks,” Pressley said.

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

Pressley won election to the House by beating a fellow Democrat – longtime U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano – in a September primary.

Ocasio-Cortez said like-minded incoming Democratic members of the House have the numbers needed to press their case for change.

“We have a magic number in the House … and it’s 218,” she said. “Two hundred and eighteen is the magic number to get things done and how many member Democratic freshmen do we have? Sixty Three. Sixty-three of that 218 is brand new and 35 of that 63 have rejected corporate PAC money, 35 of that 63 is not funded by opioid companies, not funded by the NRA, not funded by for-profit health care, not funded by fossil fuels. Thirty-five are independent of the interests of corporate influence.”

Like Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez also won election by defeating another veteran Democratic incumbent – Joe Crowley – in New York’s June primary.

Ocasio-Cortez said Democrats have to fight back against an opposition she said “is predicated on us being turned against each other, of us accepting the idea of zero-sum thinking that one community’s gain must be another community’s loss.”

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Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat-New York, talks during a news conference with members of the Progressive Caucus in Washington. VOA

“We know that all of our issues are tied and are the same,” she added. “There is no health care justice without gun violence reform.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley have both pledged to support Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker after Democrats take control of the House in January.

Other new and incoming Democratic House members who spoke at Tuesday’s event include Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania and Andy Levin of Michigan.

Pressley said the timing of Tuesday’s press conference wasn’t meant as a rejection of the Harvard orientation event.

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On its website the school says the sessions are designed to help incoming House members “forge bipartisan relationships and learn practical skills of lawmaking just one month prior to taking the oath of office.” Since 1972, the program has hosted nearly 700 current and new member of Congress.

“There is nothing adversarial,” Pressley said. “This is about us lifting up the voices, the stories, the struggles, the innovation and the ideas of the people that we represent. So I think it’s a good thing.” (VOA)

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Brazil’s President Bolsonaro Faces First Defeat in Congress

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal.

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Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro arrives at the inauguration ceremony of the new president of the Parliamentary Front of Agriculture (FPA), at the Clube Naval, in Brasilia, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Brazil’s lower chamber handed right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro his first defeat in Congress on Tuesday, the day before his government presents its most important legislative proposal to rein in a gaping budget deficit and spur growth.

The house voted overwhelmingly to suspend an executive order by the Bolsonaro government that altered Brazil’s freedom of information law to broaden the number of officials allowed to designate data and documents as secret or ultra-secret.

Lawmakers voted 367 to 57 to fast-track a bill overturning the secrecy measure and government whips were unable to muster votes to avoid defeat.

The bill must still be voted on by the Senate, but the reversal showed that Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, has not yet been able to organize a coalition in Congress to back his legislative agenda.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro will send to Congress his plan to overhaul Brazil’s generous and costly pension system that eats up more than half of federal spending and is the main factor behind an unsustainable budget deficit.

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FILE – Gustavo Bebianno in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sept. 29, 2018. VOA

Approval of pension reform is vital for the recovery of investor confidence in Latin America’s largest economy.

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal involving campaign financing for some of his party’s congressional candidates in the October elections.

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The ousted minister, Gustavo Bebianno, was instrumental in getting Bolsonaro elected but had a run-in with one of the president’s sons, triggering the weeks-old government’s first cabinet crisis.

In a note to clients, analysts at Eurasia Group said the scandal indicated the administration’s political team was in disarray, but they still expected the pension reform to get passed, albeit in a less ambitious version. (VOA)