Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: January 17, 2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Eliminating HHS Discrimination Division Act reintroduced

On January 16, Religious Freedom Day, Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) reintroduced the Eliminating HHS Discrimination Division Act (HR 5626). The bill would eliminate the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD) established by the Trump administration within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in January 2018. The CRFD is the brainchild of and is run by Roger Severino, who has built his career on open hostility to abortion and LGBTQ rights in the name of “conscience” and “religious liberty.” What’s more, the Division is responsible for, among other things, regulations recently declared void by a federal court which unlawfully expand existing refusals of care to allow any individual or entity involved in a patient’s care to deny services based on their religious or moral beliefs. NCJW believes that the CRFD’s discriminatory activities have no place in our government and proudly endorsed this bill.

Federal Courts

SCOTUS asked to weigh in on public charge

In October, the courts blocked the Trump administration’s public charge rule from going into effect nationwide. The rule radically expands the list of programs that may be considered when the government determines if someone is likely to become a public charge (i.e. dependent on the government) to include food assistance, housing vouchers, Medicaid, and beyond. The block was applied in three different courts and has been appealed each time. One appellate court found in favor of the government. Given that, this week the administration asked the US Supreme Court to lift the injunction — allowing the rule to go into effect — while the case is appealed. NCJW strongly condemns this rule and opposes lifting the injunction. NCJW has signed on as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in a brief for one of the cases.

States and local jurisdictions cannot block refugee resettlement, for now

In September 2019, President Trump issued Executive Order 13888, allowing state and local jurisdictions to veto refugee resettlement. In November, three refugee resettlement agencies (HIAS, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service) challenged the order in the US District Court in Maryland. The case was heard on January 8, and the court issued a preliminary injunction on January 15 preventing the order from going into effect. NCJW applauds this (albeit temporary) victory and had joined faith organizations on an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the case. NCJW also cosponsored a faith vigil outside the court on hearing day. The victory is even more important because earlier in the week, Texas — traditionally one of the most welcoming states for refugees — vetoed refugee resettlement. The administration is expected to appeal.

Senate Judiciary Committee advances anti-civil rights nominee, announces break for impeachment trial

On January 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a mark up and vote on several nominees, including Andrew Brasher, 38, nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Just over 8 months ago, Brasher was confirmed by a vote of 52-47 to the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines (12-10) to advance his nomination to the Eleventh Circuit to the full Senate for consideration. Prior to his confirmation to the district court, Brasher served as the Alabama Solicitor General and, in that role, attempted to restrict voting rights, LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom, environmental protection, and other critical civil and human rights. At Thursday’s markup, all Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in attendance spoke out against Brasher. NCJW strongly opposes Brasher’s elevation to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

  • Take action! Click here to tell your senators to oppose Brasher’s nomination.

At the mark up, Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee will not conduct any business on judicial nominations during the pendency of the president’s impeachment trial. This is an important feat considering the extent to which Sen. Graham and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have breached Senate norms and customs to haphazardly advance judicial nominees. On January 7, NCJW joined more than two dozen other civil rights organizations on a letter calling on the Senate to cease consideration of judicial nominees while the president is under the cloud of impeachment.

Religious Freedom

President emboldens prayer in public schools & violations of student rights

On January 16, the president announced new federal guidance from the Department of Education requiring school districts to certify that their rules and regulations do not conflict with students’ rights to pray at school. The guidance will also force states to notify the Department if complaints are filed against a school system regarding the right to pray, an extraordinary step that is not mandated when a district has been accused of other types of discrimination. To be clear, students can pray in school, but also have a right to a secular public school system and it is unconstitutional for students to be forced or encouraged to pray. Advocates fear that this guidance, which does not have the force of law, will embolden violations of these rights and encourage students with majority religious views to profess those beliefs publicly and force them on others. NCJW believes that this guidance undermines the constitutional separation of church and state, a principle that must be protected and preserved to maintain our democratic society.

Trump administration proposes harmful changes to faith-based regulations

In yet another blow to religious liberty on Religious Freedom Day, the Trump administration released nine proposed rules on January 16 amending existing regulations that govern the partnerships between the government and faith-based social service providers, such as World Vision, Catholic Charities, and the Salvation Army. The regulations were proposed by the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor; USAID; and the Veterans Administration. Notably, the rules would eliminate requirements that faith-based service providers notify beneficiaries of their religious character and their right to get services elsewhere, mandating reasonable efforts to refer beneficiaries to other providers if they are uncomfortable. While the administration claims that the rules are intended to remove Obama-era “regulatory burdens,” they will actually strip away religious freedom protections from vulnerable and marginalized people who use government-funded social services. The opportunity for advocates to provide comments on the rules will end on February 18 after only 30 days. NCJW opposes these harmful new rules, part of the Trump administration’s continued manipulation of “religious liberty” to discriminate in favor of extreme evangelical Christianity. 

Human Needs

Presidential budget on horizon

On January 28, the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its updated budget projections from 2020 to 2030. The projections come in advance of the president’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget, expected to be released on February 10.

Immigration and Refugees

Trump shifts $7 billion more to fund a border wall

This week, Congressional appropriators confirmed President Trump’s intent to move $7.2 billion from Pentagon funding to build a wall at the southern border. This follows more than $5 billion taken from the Pentagon last year. Unfortunately, Congress’ hands are tied: the president has the authority to transfer funds because he has declared a national emergency, and Congress did not include safeguards against transfers in this year’s appropriations deal. Congress has voted twice to overturn the national emergency, but both times the president has vetoed the bill. NCJW strongly opposes President Trump using emergency powers and Pentagon funding for his vanity project.

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