orham cam via shutterstock
The U.S. Capitol Building (orham cam via shutterstock)

President Donald Trump this week called on Congress to swiftly approve “one great piece of legislation” to prevent gun violence during a televised White House meeting with lawmakers that included Connecticut’s Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Esty.

“It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everybody could support,” Trump said.

Watch the video on C-Span here

Among his suggestions were to combine Murphy’s “Fix NICS” bill — aimed at getting states, the military, and federal agencies to provide crime data needed for instant background checks — with a bill that Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin proposed after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown to include pre-purchase reviews at online and gun show sales.

He also suggested raising the age for legally purchasing guns to 21, more emphasis on “mental health,” and endorsed so-called “red flag” orders to allow for guns to be temporarily taken away from individuals deemed to be an immediate threat to themselves or others.

Of the latter, he would go farther than Connecticut’s law — allowing law enforcement to seize weapons before a judge issues a court order.

Vice President Mike Pence began the discussion about “red flag” orders — something that his home state of Indiana allows. Under such laws, law enforcement officers can go to court to obtain an order to collect guns from someone who poses a danger. He noted that the court order guarantees due process so no one’s rights are trampled.

Trump interrupted him to suggest he would prefer the firearms are taken without delay of a court proceeding. “I like taking the guns early, like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida … To go to court would have taken a long time.”

Esty, who supports legislation to encourage other states to allow “red flag” orders, expects that Congress would not consider a bill that unlawfully circumvents due process. The court order, she says, is an important factor in to why law enforcement organizations and Republicans are interested in Connecticut’s law.

“I think cooler heads will prevail in Congress,” she said afterward.

Esty was generally upbeat about the meeting but cautioned that Trump will have to continue to press Republicans to get legislation across the finish line.

“If he leans in and pushes hard, I have no doubt it would give cover to Republicans who want to support that,” she said.

Murphy also suggested that Trump will need to stay engaged to offset the “veto” power of the National Rifle Association.

“The reason that nothing has gotten done here is because the gun lobby has had a veto power over any legislation that comes before Congress. I wish that wasn’t the case, but that is. And if all we end up doing is the stuff that the gun industry supports, then this just isn’t worth it. We are not going to make a difference,” he told Trump.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa announced that the committee will hold a hearing on the Parkland shooting and school safety on March 14.
Senator Richard Blumenthal is also working with South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham on so-called “Red Flag” legislation that they hope to introduce next week.

They want to expand the use of “extreme risk protection orders” — known as “red flag” orders — that would allow law enforcement and family members to petition a court to temporarily restrict access to firearms by individuals deemed to pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

“When law enforcement has solid evidence that someone is in crisis — intensely and imminently a danger — there should be a process for protecting them and the public from the guns they possess or buy. The absence of any federal process to remove guns from such immediately dangerous individuals can have deadly consequences,” Blumenthal said.

“Our government encourages our citizens that if you see something, say something. We also need ‘do something.’ Our goal is to have a system where we can get results which protect lives,” Graham said.

Late Wednesday, however, CNN reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would be turning to a banking bill next week, gun legislation.

Greenwich’s Hope Hicks Leaving White House

Greenwich native Hope Hicks announced this week that she will soon leave her job as White House communications director.

“There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump. I wish the President and his administration the very best as he continues to lead our country,” she said in a rare public statement after the New York Times broke the news of her looming departure.

The news came a day after Hicks had spent nine hours before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Hicks declined to answer many of the questions the panel asked during the closed-door meeting but did confess that she had occasionally told “white lies” for the president on inconsequential matters. She said she never lied about Russia.

White House officials were quick to make clear that the timing of her announcement had nothing to do with her appearance before the House committee but was something she had been considering for some time. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman said multiple sources confirmed Hicks’ resignation is not tied to the hearing.

“She had planned it before, had been thinking about it for months,” Haberman posted on Twitter.

Trump issued a statement supportive of Hicks.

“Hope is outstanding and has done great work for the last three years. She is as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person. I will miss having her by my side but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood. I am sure we will work together again in the future,” he said.

Hicks, 29, is Trump’s longest serving aide, having served as an adviser to Trump since he launched his presidential campaign in 2015. Her role evolved from a press and communications aide to White House communications director in September 2017.

Her exact departure is to be determined but it will be sometime in the next few weeks, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Murphy Calls For U.S. Withdrawal From Yemen

Senator Chris Murphy has teamed up with an unlikely pair of colleagues seeking to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen.

Murphy, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, and Utah Republican Mike Lee introduced a resolution this week calling on the Pentagon to remove U.S. forces from hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen, claiming that Congress has not authorized the war.

“Thousands and thousands of innocent civilians inside Yemen today are dying, and the United States is complicit,” Murphy said. “This horror is caused in part by our decision to facilitate a bombing campaign that is murdering children, and to endorse a Saudi strategy inside Yemen that is deliberately using disease and starvation and the withdrawal of humanitarian support as a tactic.”

Sanders said Congress has not declared war or authorized military force in this conflict, making U.S. involvement in Yemen unconstitutional and unauthorized. “U.S. military support of the Saudi coalition must end,” Sanders said.

Lee said Congress should “re-assert power over foreign policy decision-making” by voting — either in favor or against authorizing military force in Yemen.

Murphy has been a vocal critic of U.S. support for military campaigns in Yemen.

In 2017, he introduced legislation to limit U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign there. The bill would require the president to formally certify that the Government of Saudi Arabia is demonstrating an ongoing effort to target terrorist groups, minimize harm to civilians, and facilitate humanitarian assistance before Congress can consider the sale or transfer of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia.

“The United States has no business supplying a military that targets civilians or enables terrorist groups to thrive, but that’s exactly what we’re doing right now in Yemen,” Murphy said.

He has also called upon the Saudi government to take specific steps to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Read more on their concerns in this Washington Post op-ed

DeLauro Backs SNAP

Rep. Rosa DeLauro voiced her opposition this week to a Republican plan that would overhaul SNAP, the federal nutrition assistance program that provides supplemental income to the poor.

Speaking on the House floor, DeLauro said SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) should be strengthened to insure that no one goes to bed hungry in a nation as wealthy as the United States.

Instead, she said the Trump administration has proposals that would “sabotage” the program by imposing stricter work requirements and replacing some voucher assistance with a “food box.”

“Undermining SNAP will not eradicate hunger. It throws many Americans into deep poverty and desperation at times when they need support the most,” she said.

The floor speech came on a week when more than a thousand advocates were in Washington for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference.

Meanwhile, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy joined other Democrats this week to introduce legislation to support SNAP recipients.

The “SNAP Work Opportunities and Veteran Protection Act of 2018” aims to ensure that states provide enough job-training and job assistance programs so that every able-bodied SNAP recipients can participate and in the event there are not enough spaces they continue to keep SNAP. It would also allow a waiver to the work requirement for veterans participating in certain VA programs.

“Congress must ensure that SNAP recipients who are actively seeking employment are not unfairly stripped of their benefits simply due to lack of availability in job placement programs,” Blumenthal said.

“Some adults, including veterans, get kicked out of the program and left without food assistance in just three months. It’s unfair, and it makes it even more difficult for folks to get back on their feet and put food on the table,” Murphy said.

Dooley Confirmation Hearing Set

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Waterbury Superior Court Judge Kari A. Dooley to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

President Donald Trump in December nominated the former federal prosecutor to fill the vacancy on the state’s federal bench after U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny elected to become a senior judge, allowing him to carry a lighter caseload.

The Senate hearing, which will also review four other judicial nominees, is set for Wednesday, March 7 and will begin at 10 a.m.

Dooley is not expected to face serious opposition. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy had recommended her for the job.

“She has a well-deserved reputation for her tireless work ethic, a high standard of integrity, and an admirable judicial temperament. Most importantly, she has earned the deep respect of her colleagues and peers,” they said in a December press release.

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