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Sewell calls Trump’s threat to shutdown the government over border wall “disgraceful”

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, said that President Donald J. Trump’s threat to shut down the government if his border wall project is not funded “disgraceful.”

The President made the comments in a televised White House meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

“We need funding for teacher pay, health care, for job skills training and access to higher ed,” Rep. Sewell said on social media. “We need funding for roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems. Shutting down the government over funding for a wall that the public doesn’t want is disgraceful. Plain and simple.”

Congress is currently considering the delayed 2019 Homeland Security budget. A key sticking point is a wall on the southern border that Trump promised in the 2016 election. Pres. Trump is demanding that the budget include a $5 billion appropriation for beginning construction of his wall along the approximately 1,954 miles of the U.S./Mexico border. The Democrats have offered just $1.3 billion for general border security. While Republicans have a one-seat majority in the Senate and a majority in the House, passing a budget is going to require bipartisan support, given Senate rules.

Leader Pelosi told the President, “You can’t win,” on the border wall issue and Senator Schumer warned that the President would be held responsible if there was a shutdown.

An angry President Trump replied: “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not gonna blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down. And I’m gonna shut it down for border security.”

Leader Pelosi replied, “Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you so that we can work together in a bipartisan way to meet the needs of the American people. I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open — that a shutdown is not worth anything. And that you should not have a Trump shutdown.”

“A what, did you say?” Pres. Trump said.

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“Trump shutdown,” Pelosi responded. “You have the White House. You have the Senate. You have the House of Representatives. You have the votes. You should pass it.”

“No, we don’t have the votes, Nancy,” Pres. Trump replied. “Because in the Senate we need 60 votes.

“No, but in the House,” Rep. Pelosi said. “You can bring it up right now.”

After the meeting, Schumer and Pelosi told reporters outside the White House that the shutdown will be Mr. Trump’s responsibility, and Trump’s alone.

“The President has the White House, he has the Senate, he has the House of Representatives, all in Republican control,” Pelosi said. “He has the power to keep government open. Instead, he has admitted in this meeting that he will take responsibility, the Trump shutdown is something that can be avoided. The American people do not need at the time of economic uncertainty, people losing jobs, the market in the mood and the rest, the Trump shutdown is luxury that the American people cannot afford.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement after the meeting, “President Trump had a constructive dialogue with Democrat Leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. The President and the Democrat Leaders agreed to support the passage of historic criminal justice reform, and discussed significant progress with the farm bill. Major disagreement remains on the issue of border security and transparency. Walls work – where walls have been built, illegal crossings have dropped substantially. President Trump made clear that any government funding measure must include responsible border security, including a wall, to protect the American people from drugs, crime, terrorism, public health threats, and the severe straining of the social safety net.”

A shutdown does not necessarily benefit the President’s position. There is only expected to be a week left in this lame-duck Congress. When Congress returns from the Christmas break, Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) will be out as the Speaker of the House and instead, Pelosi will be Speaker because Democrats picked up 40 Republican seats and will have the majority of the House for the first time since 2010. Passing a budget through a Democratic-controlled House could be more difficult for the President.

Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District and is a member of the House Democratic leadership. Sewell is presently the ranking member on the Subcommittee on the Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture so could chair that important subcommittee when the Democrats take over in January.

Original reporting by Fox News and CBS News contributed to this report.

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Health

Sen. Doug Jones calls on Alabama governor to order shelter-in-place

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones during a virtual town hall on Thursday called on Gov. Kay Ivey to implement a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order.

“I have been promoting stay at home orders for some time,” Jones said, adding that he “absolutely” thinks the state should implement such an order.

“The reason I would like to see one is because it sends a strong message to the people of Alabama of how significant it is to use the social distancing, to use whatever means necessary to stop the spread of this virus,” he said.

Jones said an order from the governor would have more force than social media messages asking people to stay home.

Public health experts have also called for such measures.

“People’s health is about the least political thing there should be,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and a professor of medicine at The University of Alabama Birmingham, who participated in the town hall. “I don’t care what you call it, but the messaging should be consistent. We should all be playing from the same playbook.”

Ivey has said she is trying to balance the economy and public health by closing beaches and closing some non-essential businesses. But she has not ordered people to stay home. She has said she doesn’t want to put more strain on the economy by adding a more restrictive shelter-in-place order.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

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Jones said what would be best for the economy is to defeat the virus.

“We help this economy by staying home because we can stop the spread, and we can get rolling again pretty soon,” Jones said.

Jones also encouraged the president to continue to invoke the Defense Production Act to direct companies to manufacture more personal protective equipment, testing supplies and ventilators for hospitals fighting the virus. “We need to have more and if it takes an invoking of the Defense Production Act, then so be it.”

In the town hall, Jones warned that Alabama is on the verge of a health care crisis. As of Thursday morning, there are nearly 1,200 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in the state and at least 32 deaths.

“Our healthcare response is getting overwhelmed,” Jones said.

Jones continued to call on Alabamians to heed the advice of medical professionals who are asking people to stay home except for most essential needs.

“Listen to the medical professions. Do it for yourself and do it for your parents and do it for each other,” Jones said.

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Congress

Alabama municipalities may be left out of $2 trillion stimulus package

Bill Britt

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As the largest economic stimulus in American history flows to states and municipalities around the nation, stipulations in the two-trillion dollar emergency fund may leave Alabama cities out altogether.

As enacted, the third stimulus bill, the CARE Act, directs funding for states, and local governments, the catch is that the act only allocates funds for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more.

No city in Alabama has a population of 500,000, leaving an unanswered question as to who gets what and who gets nothing?

The state has 463 municipalities spread out over 67 counties. Not one has a population nearing half a million yet each one is experiencing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working with Treasury and the Governor’s office to understand what municipalities can expect,” said Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

Alabama will receive $1.9 billion from the stimulus package, as a block grant, which could be allocated in a 55-45 split, according to the League’s estimation with around $1.04 billion to the state and $856 million going to local governments.

“Currently, there is little guidance on how those shared resources are to be distributed to local governments,” said Cochran. “Nor is there clear directive that those resources are to be shared with local governments with less than 500,000 populations.”

The National League of Cities is also seeking clarification from Treasury Department on these questions and guidelines to ensure funds are shared with local governments.

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“Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill, and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation, NLC and other stakeholders to have all cities and towns are recognized for federal funding assistance,” Cochran said.

However, on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on a fourth package, saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s needed to “stand down” on passing another rescue bill. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” as reported by The Washington Post.

Alabama’s biggest cites, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, are already facing strain under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But so are smaller cities like Auburn, Hoover, Madison, Opelika and others. Lee County and Chambers County have far more cases of the virus per capita than the state’s more populous counties.

“I was not really happy with the way that they limited the money,” Jones said, adding that the money could go to counties with 500,000 or above. Jefferson County would qualify for that.

Jones also said he would like to see more money for city and county expenses not directly related to COVID-19 like fire and police. “We’re going to have to do what I think we can to backfill some of the expenses,” Jones said.

In addition to health and welfare concerns for residents during the COVID-19 calamity, cites are dealing with what is certain to be a downward spiral on tax revenue and other sources of income and a subsequent rise in costs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that at least 90,000 people have applied for unemployment compensation in the state over the last two weeks.

“Knowing that our municipalities will experience a loss in revenue because they rely on sales, motor fuel and lodgings taxes, we are urging our state Legislature to be mindful of actions they take when they return regarding unfunded mandates/preemptions,” said Cochran. “Additionally, we are concerned about the adverse impact this could have on 2021 business licenses, which are based on sales from 2020.”

The combined population of the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, do not equal 500,000, the threshold for receiving funds under the Care Act.

Cochran says that the League is working tirelessly to find answers as to how local governments can participate in Congress’s emergency funding.

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Aerospace and Defense

Brooks releases road map for completing defense appropriations bill despite coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, on Wednesday released the House Armed Services Committee road map for completing the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“National defense is the #1 priority of the federal government. Despite the once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic, the House Armed Services Committee stands fully committed to passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act,” Brooks said. “The NDAA has passed Congress 59 consecutive years. I will work to ensure FY 2021 is no different. I thank Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry for their leadership and commitment to passing the FY21 NDAA in the face of COVID-19 challenges. While the process will be different, I am confident the final House Armed Services Committee product will be no less effective at securing America.”

Committee Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry’s attached the March 31, 2020 letter providing HASC’s plan to have the NDAA ready for committee debate by May 1st.

The letter was addressed to Members of the Committee on Armed Services, including Brooks.

“We want to update HASC members and staff on plans for our committee during the month of April, given the nationwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith and Thornberry wrote. “One challenge is deciding how to handle meetings of the committee and subcommittees since all such meetings for April will have to be held by conference call or video conference.”

“We must continue to exercise our oversight responsibilities and prepare to pass the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) out of committee and off the House floor,” the letter continued. “Our goal is to have the bill ready to go by May 1st, and we will schedule the date of the mark up once the House schedule for the next few months becomes clear.”

“First, we want you all to understand that because of House rules we cannot hold public hearings or classified briefings in the formal sense like in normal circumstances,” they explained. “We will have to do what can best be called, informal events.”

“Public hearings are required to be open to the public,” the leaders of the HASC committee wrote. “They also require a quorum, involving the physical presence of members. Neither of these things are possible to achieve in conference calls or video conferences. Obviously, we also cannot have classified briefings over the phone or on video. There is no way to set up secure connections amongst the number of people that would have to be involved.”

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“Informal events, therefore, would take the form of the full committee or the subcommittees doing video or phone conferences and linking up the necessary members, staff, and witnesses,” the letter continued. “We have one such informal event, set for April 1st with Department of Defense officials to discuss their response to the pandemic. This will be a conference call.”

“We believe that future informal events like this for the month of April make sense, and welcome any suggestions from members on appropriate topics and witnesses,” Smith and Thornberry continued. “But, we hope members will keep in mind some of the responsibilities that will need to be balanced in deciding when to pull together such informal events. We face three significant limitations during the month of April when it comes to setting up these informal events. First, HASC staff and members, as they always are in the month leading up to finalizing full and subcommittee marks, are spending an enormous amount of time doing the work necessary to get the mark done. In fact, we did not plan on having a significant number of public hearings or briefings in April even before the shutdown happened due to this staff workload. Second, these are not normal times. As we’re sure all of you have been doing, we and the HASC staff and everyone at the Department have been fully engaged on managing the pandemic crisis. It is a complex problem and the Department plays a crucial role. We are all working countless angles to address the crisis and that crucial work must be given priority. Finally, efforts to prevent the spread of the virus among Department personnel and others will without question limit the ability of the Department and other witnesses to be available at times in the coming month.”

Smith and Thornberry wrote that these informal events are needed for to get the bill done, while exercising the necessary oversight of the Department.

The informal events are meant to substitute for normal public hearings and briefings and are not the only or even the main thing that the committee is doing.

Social distancing and the prohibition on meeting with more than ten present has made it difficult for Congress to fulfill many of its duties.

Congressman Mo Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Brooks recently won the Republican primary. Since he has no Democratic opponent this means that Brooks has been effectively re-elected to his sixth term in Congress.

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National

As cases surpass 1,100 in Alabama, still no “stay-at-home” order

Chip Brownlee

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The number of positive novel coronavirus cases in Alabama rocketed past a thousand Wednesday, but the state still has no shelter-in-place order — and Gov. Kay Ivey’s office says she is not ready to implement one.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday.

By 6 p.m., there were 1,108 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 28 deaths statewide related to COVID-19. Cases grew by triple digits again after a brief lull in new cases Tuesday. But the infections are also widespread. Cases have been reported in 62 of the state’s 67 counties — and not just in the more urban ones.

Only one city in the state, Birmingham, has issued a shelter-in-place order. The city is in Jefferson County, which, in coordination with the city, has taken a stricter approach to handling the coronavirus outbreak because it has the most cases in the state.

The cities of Montgomery and Tuscaloosa have also implemented curfews, but they have far fewer cases per capita than many other areas of the state. (No. 30 and 31 out of 67 counties in per capita cases.)

But some of the hardest-hit counties in the state are outside of Jefferson County, and the health departments in those counties do not have as much authority to issue their own directives as Jefferson County and Mobile County do. They’re the only two health departments in the state that are independent with the legal authority to act autonomously from the state health department.

Cities and counties in some of the hardest-hit areas like Lee and Chambers counties have also not issued shelter-in-place orders by municipal ordinance as has been the case in Jefferson County.

Lee County and Chambers County in East Alabama have the highest infection rates in the state, and the highest per capita number of cases, yet the cities and counties there are following a statewide order that is less restrictive than the measures in place in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa or Montgomery.

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Lee County has 83 cases, and Chambers County has 45. But per capita, Chambers County has 135 cases per 100,000. (For comparison, Jefferson County, where there are 302 cases, has only 46 cases per 100,000 people.) Chambers County also has the highest number of deaths per capita in the state, at 12 per 100,000 people.

The hospital that serves Lee, Chambers and the surrounding counties — East Alabama Medical Center — is currently treating 30 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. It has already discharged 16 other COVID-19 patients, and there are 12 more in the hospital with suspected cases of the virus.

While the hospital says it is currently stable in the number of ventilators and other equipment it has available, it is still asking for donations of some needed supplies like latex-free gloves and bleach wipes.

Aside from UAB in Birmingham, EAMC is currently treating the most COVID-19 patients, according to data APR collected over the past two days. As the state continues to avoid issuing a statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, East Alabama Medical Center is urging the residents in the area to act as if there has been an order issued.

“While there is not yet a mandate to shelter in place, EAMC encourages it as the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the hospital said. “Community leaders, city officials and the media have shared this important message, but there are still reports of groups gathering, children playing in neighborhood parks, dinner parties, bible studies and other events.”

All of Alabama’s neighboring states have issued shelter-in-place orders. Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana have done so. The governors of Mississippi, Florida and Georgia all decided to issue orders today after balking at the idea for weeks.

Ivey has taken steps to curb the spread of the virus. She and the Alabama Department of Health issued an order on March 19 that closed the state’s beaches and limited gatherings of 25 or more people. She’s also closed schools for the remainder of the academic year.

On Friday, March 27, Ivey ordered closed a number of different types of businesses including athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact. The state has also tightened its prohibition on social gatherings by limiting non-work related gatherings of 10 people or more.

Ivey’s order Friday is not that far off from a shelter-in-place order, but it lacks the force of telling the state’s residents to stay home if at all possible. A number of businesses and manufacturing facilities are also allowed to keep operating, though they have been encouraged to abide by social-distancing guidelines as much as possible.

But Ivey has said she doesn’t want to issue a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order because she doesn’t want to put more stress on the economy.

“You have to consider all the factors, such as the importance of keeping businesses and companies open and the economy going as much as possible,” Ivey said on Friday.

Ivey’s spokesperson Wednesday said the governor has taken appropriate action thus far.

“In consultation with the Coronavirus Task Force, the governor and the Alabama Department of Public Health have taken aggressive measures to combat COVID-19,” her spokesperson, Gina Maiola, said. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

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