On the Hill Updates: March 1, 2019

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Trump administration finalizes domestic gag rule on Title X funds

On February 22, the Trump administration released its final rule implementing a domestic gag rule that would shut down programs providing safe and effective reproductive health care services to low-income women across the country. Under the new rule, federally funded family planning clinics can no longer refer a patient for abortion and will be forced to maintain a “clear physical and financial separation” between services funded by the government and any organization that provides or refers patients for abortions. Recipients of grants under the Title X program, which serves 4 million low-income women (the majority of whom are women of color), were already prohibited from performing abortions with those funds. These cost-prohibitive and medically unnecessary requirements were clearly designed to block access to the Planned Parenthood health centers, used by 41% of Title X recipients. Barring legal delays — Washington state has already announced that it will sue over the administration’s “transparent attack on Planned Parenthood” — the rule will go into effect 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register. NCJW strongly opposes attempts to block low-income women, women of color, young women, and LGBTQ individuals from accessing safe and legal abortion and family planning services and submitted comments opposing the proposed gag rule in July 2018.


Senate rejects bill criminalizing safe and legal health care

On February 25, the Senate rejected S 311 — the so-called “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” — by a vote of 53-44, seven votes short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture. Although conservative lawmakers attempted to characterize the bill as a common-sense measure banning infanticide (which is already illegal), 53 senators recognized that the legislation was “carefully crafted to target, intimidate, and shut down reproductive health care providers.” What’s more, Republican leadership and anti-abortion advocates made clear their intent to use the vote on this bill to undermine Democratic presidential candidates by associating them with the harmful rhetoric surrounding later abortion. NCJW strongly opposed S 311 and all attempts to place partisan, anti-abortion politics between individuals and their doctors.

Medicare for All bill introduced

On February 27, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), alongside more than 100 of her House Democratic colleagues, launched the Medicare for All Act of 2019 (HR 1384). The much-anticipated legislation would significantly expand Medicare and eliminate the current structure of premiums, co-payments and deductibles. Significantly, the bill would dramatically improve access to reproductive health services (including abortion), provide comprehensive maternity and preventive care, and prohibit discrimination of the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Read about other important highlights of the bill here. Health care for all is a reproductive justice issue and NCJW has resolved to work for comprehensive, affordable, confidential, accessible, and equitable family planning, reproductive, sexual health, and maternal health services for every woman.


Federal Courts

Senate Judiciary Committee advances Rao

On February 28, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-10 along party lines to advance the nomination of Neomi Rao to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) noted that she was concerned what the confirmation of Rao would send to young women around the country given Rao’s history of offensive, rape-apologist statements, including blaming an intoxicated woman for being raped. Ernst voted to advance Rao nonetheless. Sitting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for whom Rao once served as a law clerk, has reportedly communicated with multiple senators to rally support for the nominee. Rao currently runs the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and is on President Trump’s short list of potential Supreme Court nominees. NCJW strongly opposes Rao’s nomination and sent this letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Read our full statement here.

First federal judge confirmed over objections of both home state senators

On February 27, the Senate voted 53-46 to confirm Eric Miller of Washington to a lifetime seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. According to the Congressional Research Service, this is the first time in American history that a federal judge has been confirmed over the objections of both home-state senators — in this case, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (both D-WA). Miller is an ultra-conservative ideologue with a dangerous record on women’s reproductive rights and tribal sovereignty. NCJW opposed his nomination. NCJW is deeply disappointed by the Senate’s disregard for yet another safeguard meant to protect the integrity of the federal court system. Read our full statement here.

Senate to vote next week on three extreme nominees

On February 28, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) invoked cloture on the nominations of Chad Readler, Eric Murphy, and Allison Jones Rushing, setting up confirmation votes for the week of March 4. Chad Readler, nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, leads the Administration’s charge against the Affordable Care Act. He is an ideological warrior and has spoken out in favor of separating families at the border and the xenophobic Muslim ban. Eric Murphy, also nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, fought to make it easier for Ohio to disenfranchise voters, argued against marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, and repeatedly attacked reproductive rights. Allison Jones Rushing, nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, has only practiced law for eight years and worked at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that supports criminalizing of homosexuality and state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people. NCJW strongly opposes these three nominees.

Judge blocks Texas voter purge

At the end of January, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley sent letters to every Texas county listing 95,000 registered voters he claimed were non-citizens, asking election officials in those jurisdictions to remove them from the voter rolls. This number was picked up by conservatives across the country as proof of voter fraud, but within hours, backlash to the list began to grow. Whitley ended up walking back both this number and its framing, as it became clear the list included tens of thousands of people who were in fact citizens. Voting rights groups filed suit to block any voter roll purges as a result of this flawed list, and on February 27, a judge in the Western District of Texas ruled that Texas election officials had to stop the planned purge. The judge wrote, “It appears this is a solution looking for a problem,” and the policy “exemplifies the power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us.” NCJW opposes all efforts to suppress the vote.

Voter Engagement

HR 1 markup

This week, the For the People Act (HR 1) was marked up by the House Administration and Rules Committees. The bill would enact a series of voting reforms, including:

  • modernizing voter registration by implementing online voter registration, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration;
  • restoring voting rights to individuals currently or previously incarcerated;
  • establishing two weeks of early voting for federal elections;
  • making Election Day a federal holiday;
  • increasing funds for election security; and
  • requiring states to implement independent redistricting commissions.

HR 1 would also implement campaign finance reform measures and ethics guidelines.

The updated version of HR 1 post mark-ups includes a provision to update the Help America Vote Act, and other ethics provisions related to the offices of president and vice president. NCJW supports passage of HR 1.

Voting Rights Advancement Act introduced

This week, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the The Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA, HR 4/S 561). In 2013, the US Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required jurisdictions with histories of voting rights violations to submit proposed changes to election laws to the Department of Justice to ensure they were not discriminatory (a process known as preclearance). The VRAA would restore Section 4 by requiring states with 15 or more voting rights violations in the past 25 years to clear changes to election laws (such as registration, redistricting, or voter ID) with the government. The bill would also require jurisdictions to post voting changes publically. NCJW supports the VRAA considers it an extremely high priority issue.

  • Take action! Tell your elected official to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act.


Gun Violence Prevention

Historic week: House passes gun safety bills

On February 27, the House of Representatives passed (240-190) the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (HR 8). HR 8 would expand background checks to all firearm purchases or transfers, with the exception of gifts between family members. Despite this positive step forward, an amendment made to the bill meant it passed with language requiring the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) whenever an undocumented immigrant attempts to purchase a gun.  


On February 28, the House of Representatives also passed (228-198) the Enhanced Background Checks Act (HR 1112). HR 1112 would close the “Charleston loophole” that allows a gun sale to go forward if background checks are not completed in three days. Similarly to HR 8, an amendment was added at the last moment with stigmatizing language about individuals with mental illness.


Both bills will now be sent to the Senate, where they face strong opposition. President Trump has also expressed similar opposition, making it likely he would veto the bills if they were to pass the Senate. The passage of these bills marks the most significant gun violence prevention votes since 2013, and the first significant gun safety legislation passed in either the House or Senate in over 20 years. NCJW lauds the passage of HR 8 and HR 1112, but rejects the troubling provisions added to the bills as last-minute amendments.

  • Take action! Call your elected officials to thank them for their support or let them know you’re disappointed with their vote.


Economic Justice

Paycheck Fairness Act passes committee

On February 26, the House Committee on Education and Labor passed the Paycheck Fairness Act (HR 7) 27-20 along a party-line vote. The Paycheck Fairness Act would deter wage discrimination by updating and strengthening the Equal Pay Act. It would bar retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to co-workers and prohibit employers from seeking a job applicant’s salary history so that pay discrimination will no longer follow women and people of color from job to job. The bill will head to the floor for a vote in the coming weeks. NCJW supports the Paycheck Fairness Act.


Religious Freedom

Do No Harm Act reintroduced

On February 28, the Do No Harm Act (HR 1450/S 593) was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) and in the Senate by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). The bill clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — legislation prohibiting the federal government from “substantially burden[ing]” religious exercise unless doing so is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest is intended to protect religious freedom without allowing the infliction of harm on other people. As such, the Do No Harm Act would amend RFRA to specifically exempt areas of law where it has been used to bypass federal protections for reproductive rights, health care, equal employment and non-discrimination, and other essential civil rights. NCJW endorses this bill as it ensures that religious freedom is used as a shield to protect freedom of religion rather than a sword to discriminate.


Immigration and Refugees

Resolution of disapproval passes House

On February 15, after failing to receive funds from Congress to build his unnecessary and immoral border wall, President Trump declared a national emergency in order to use unobligated funds from Department of Defense to build the wall. The House passed (245-182) a bipartisan resolution to overturn the emergency status on February 26. The resolution (H J Res 46) is now referred to the Senate, where it must receive a vote in 18 days. The resolution needs 51 votes to pass, though President Trump is expected to veto. Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have publicly stated they intend to join Senate Democrats and vote for the resolution. NCJW supports the resolution to overturn the declaration.


TPS extended for some countries

On February 28, the Department of Homeland Security announced that in response to ongoing litigation, it would automatically extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan through January 2, 2020. TPS allows immigrants from countries facing war or natural disaster to live and work legally in the United States. DHS is facing numerous lawsuits over its decisions to terminate TPS, including Ramos v. Nielsen, which is spearheaded by TPS holders from these countries in particular. NCJW joined an amicus brief in support of TPS holders in this case.


Visa denials due to public charge

On February 27, Politico reported that the State Department rejected 13,450 immigrant visa applications in fiscal year 2018 (FY 18) based on the possibility the applicants could become a public charge once they arrive in the US. This represents a 316 percent increase over FY 17. The consular guidance emphasizing public charge was put into place in January 2018, months before a broader public charge rule was proposed. (Hundreds of NCJW members took action against the proposal.) The increase in denials is a troubling preview of what might happen when the public charge rule is made final.


Sign On Letters

On February 25, NCJW joined over 40 other organizations on a letter to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security urging leadership to oppose reauthorization of the D.C. school voucher program.