Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice
Trump administration called out for sabotaging the ACA
In a report released on August 23, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the Trump administration needs to take more steps to better manage the Affordable Care Act (ACA) after enrollment dropped by 5% in 2018. The GAO recommends the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set enrollment targets for 2019, a practice of the Obama administration but abandoned by the Trump administration, and better manage local groups responsible for signing up individuals for the ACA.
Last week, anti-reproductive rights advocate and former Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List staffer Steven Valentine was promoted to Chief of Staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) at HHS. OASH houses the Office of Population Affairs, which oversees the Title X family planning program, and the Office of Adolescent Health, which oversees the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP). Valentine has deep ties to the anti-reproductive rights movement, from his stint at SBA (widely believed to be the most extreme and out-of-touch so-called “pro-life” groups) to his long tenure working for anti-reproductive health leader and longtime Pro-Life Caucus chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). In his previous role at HHS, Valentine led the charge to gut TPPP.
Kavanaugh hearing to begin after labor day
On September 4, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will commence the confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s US Supreme Court nominee. Senator Robert Portman (R-OH), former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and attorney Lisa Blatt will introduce Judge Kavanaugh. The hearing is expected to last through Friday, September 7. NCJW opposes Kavanaugh’s confirmation and the rushed nature of the hearing, especially given the complete lack of transparency surrounding his record. Read our letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee here. And, please continue to call your senators — even if your senator has been outspoken about Kavanaugh. How can senators ensure a fair, non-partisan review of Kavanaugh’s record or confirmation hearing without access to all of the documents?
On August 28, Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) Senate cut a deal to fast-track votes on 15 nominations, including seven of President Trump’s nominees to be district court judges. All seven judges were confirmed the same day. There were never as many judges confirmed in one day during the eight years of the Obama Administration. President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have orchestrated the confirmation of 60 lifetime judges to the federal courts — including 33 district court judges, 26 appeals court judges, and US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. NCJW opposes packing the federal court system with narrow-minded elitists.
#CourtsMatter to voting
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided on August 27 that North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. They also recommended that the districts be redrawn before midterm elections on November 6, but given an expected appeal, the Supreme Court will likely decide whether that occurs. North Carolina’s maps have been under litigation since they were finalized in 2011.
On August 23, a federal judge in the Northern District of Florida ruled that the Florida Department of Corrections to accommodate a transgender inmate, including providing her necessary health care and allowing her to express her gender via hair style and clothing. The judge was forceful in his naming and rejection of the harm done by the prison, writing, “Ms. Keohane is not an animal. She is a transgender woman. Forthwith, defendant shall treat her with the dignity the Eighth Amendment commands.”
#CourtsMatter to health care
In February, the Texas Attorney General and 19 other conservative state officials filed a lawsuit, Texas v. US, challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate — now that the penalty has been repealed — and, with it, the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA). This extraordinary attempt to destabilize the entire US health care system and eliminate vital protections is currently before Judge Reed O’Connor in the federal district court in the Northern District of Texas. Oral arguments in the case have now been moved up to September 5.
In related news, 10 Republican senators last week introduced legislation that would amend federal law to guarantee the availability of health insurance to all Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions, regardless of the outcome of the federal lawsuit. However, the measure would allow insurers to exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions. Premiums could also vary based on age, gender, or occupation — all of which is currently prohibited under the ACA.
Gun Violence Prevention
DeVos considers allowing schools to use federal funds to buy guns
US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering whether states can use federal grant money from the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (Title IV) in the Every Child Succeeds Act, to buy guns for schools, including possibly arming teachers. Congress has included prohibitions on using other federal school safety grants to purchase firearms, but no such language exists about the TItle IV grants. On August 23, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced an amendment to the Senate’s FY’19 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to block the idea, but it was not considered as part of the larger package. Both Texas and Oklahoma have reached out for clarity on how they can use funds, inquiring if they could use it to arm and train school marshals, who are sometimes teachers, as well as other school security measures. DeVos’ school safety commission is expected to include a section in its report on best practices for arming school personnel. NCJW believes teachers should be armed with guns, not books. More guns in schools creates a more dangerous environment, not a safer one.
Senate approves massive spending bill
The Senate approved (85-7) the third “minibus” package on August 23 — FY’19 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (HR 6157) a massive spending bill funding the Department of Health and Human Services, other critical domestic agencies, and the Pentagon. It includes:
- $5 billion over FY’17 for the National Institutes of Health;
- $3.2 billion over FY’17 for Child Care Development Block Grants;
- $3 billion over FY’17 to combat the opioid crisis; and
- $2.3 billion over FY’17 to increase college affordability.
Fifty amendments were included in the final package including a Cortez-Masto-Ernst amendment to provide for conducting a study on the relationship between intimate partner violence and traumatic brain injury. The Senate has now passed nine of the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government past September 30. Earlier this year, Democrat and Republican Senate leaders made a deal to avoid attaching “poison pill” riders, such as abortion or immigration-related amendments, in an effort to pass all of their spending bills to avoid both an omnibus package, which the president has said he won’t sign again, and a government shutdown. House and Senate conferees will reconcile their respective bills once the House returns from Labor Day recess. Funding the Department of Homeland Security past September, however, is still an issue and could easily lead to the third government shutdown of the year.
Farm bill conference gets under way
The first formal meeting of farm bill (HR 2) conferees will be held on September 5, and can be seen live streamed here. The Senate version of HR 2 largely maintains current SNAP law, while the House version proposes to cut SNAP food benefits by approximately $20 billion over ten years. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP is our nation’s largest and most critical nutrition assistance program. NCJW supports fully funding and strengthening SNAP.
Take Action! Call your lawmakers (Capitol Switchboard #202-224-3121) and urge them to oppose harmful SNAP provisions in any final Senate/House negotiated farm bill.
Immigration and Refugees
Family separation: report from the field
Every Friday, parties involved in Ms. L v. ICE, the family separation lawsuit, release a reunification report. As of August 23, 528 children were still separated from their parents (23 of whom are age 5 or under). Of this total, 343 kids (6 of whom are age 5 and under) have parents outside the US because they were deported. Also on August 23, the judge in charge of the case issued a new order protecting parents separated from their children of deportation.
Gender-Based and Sexual Violence
DeVos strikes again, this time it’s campus sexual assault rules
US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is preparing new proposed campus sexual assault rules that would narrow the definition of sexual harassment; strengthen the rights of students accused of assault, rape, and sexual harassment, and reduce liability for institutions of higher education. Last fall, DeVos announced she was rescinding Obama-era guidance on sexual assault, effective immediately, vowing to balance the rights of victims and the accused. The Obama guidance led to widespread changes in how colleges addressed sexual assault on campus, bringing the issue to light and holding colleges and universities accountable. Among other things, DeVos’ new proposed rules are expected to allow schools to use mediation to reach informal resolutions and for parties to cross-examine one another in disciplinary hearings, and to let schools decide what standard of evidence to use in disciplinary proceedings as well as whether to have an appeals process. Unlike the Obama administration’s guidance documents, these rules will have the force of law and can go into effect without an act of Congress after a public comment period. NCJW opposes DeVos’ efforts, which eliminate key protections and increase obstacles for survivors, and plans to submit comments once the comment period is open.
NCJW is engaged in issues and supports organizations in Israel that work in the areas of: Gender Equality and Empowering Women; Strengthening Democracy, Equality, and Civil Society; and Advancing Peace. Here are some of the topics we are following currently.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment
Women in Politics – making the leap in the important arena of local politics:
Local elections are taking place this October 30th in Israel – they take place every 5 years. This year we are witnessing a large increase – 100% – of women running for mayoral offices since the last elections in 2013. Around 84 women have declared their intention to run this year for the top posts in local elections – whether for mayor or for the head of the local council. At present, of about 257 local municipalities in Israel, only 6 are headed by women, including no women mayors in the Arab Israeli communities. [Through its Israel Granting Program (IGP) supports organizations that train and encourage participation by women in the political sphere.] The question is, will this year be the one to actually get women elected?
The Israeli Supreme Court earlier this month decided in a case that a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political party, Agudath Yisrael, should change its by-laws to allow Haredi women to run for Knesset. The Supreme Court, (apparently trying to tamp down criticism from right wing accusers of its liberal decisions), gave the Haredi party Agudath Yisrael a month to return to court on September 2 with a fix to their by-laws. If the party does not do so, the Supreme Court said it would issue a formal ruling.
Democracy, equality, and civil society
The Nation-State Law increases pressures on fabric of Israeli society
The Nation-State Law was voted in on July 19th, and since then we have been watching as Israel’s social fabric undergoes severe challenges. In particular the Arab communities have felt more alienated than ever before, including the Druze community in Israel which has seen itself as aligned with the Jewish national homeland, has fought in the army and has attained leadership roles in government since Israel was founded. Increasing incidents of harassment against Arabs are being reported in the news, and strong reactions are coming from the Druze community as a result of the Nation-State Law. The latest was an incident at the airport against an Israeli Druze family going on vacation.
Two-state solution, where are you?
As supporters of a 2-state solution and a robust peace process, NCJW is following the bits of news trickling out concerning the upcoming (maybe) peace plan from the Trump government. Jason Greenblatt, the Trump envoy on the peace plan, and Jared Kushner, also involved, have kept news of the plan under wraps, but there are hints that the Trump envoys are creating a plan emphasizing economic goodies as a way to entice both parties, the Palestinians in particular. But we have not yet seen any real indications of progress or success towards a workable 2-state solution. The US government seems to be increasingly alienating the Palestinian leadership and community, especially since the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem outside of any negotiated plan, and the recent slashing of US and UN funds for Palestinian refugee communities.
Sign On Letters
- On August 14, NCJW joined more than 120 state and national organizations on a letter urging the Senate to carefully consider the health care stakes of the Supreme Court confirmation battle.
- On August 27, NCJW sent a letter to the Senate, spearheaded by NCJW and signed by 37 national faith-based, nontheist, and religious liberty organizations, expressing concern about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
On August 29, NCJW joined 30 LGBTQ rights and allied organizations on a letter organized by the National Center for Lesbian Rights urging Congress to protect nutrition assistance in the farm bill.