By Jed Boyle
On November 6 2018, voters went to the polls. Despite the bouts of Americans biting their nails that evening, by midnight, it became clear that voters delivered a stunning rebuke of President Trump. Facing their worst Senate map in history, Democrats limited their losses to just two seats. They picked up seven governorships, seven state legislative chambers, and 40 seats in House of Representatives, thus capturing control of the chamber.
In the days following the midterm elections, however, a number of questions emerged: would Democrats retain Pelosi as their leader and return her to the speakership? Or would moderate Democrats that won promising to oppose Pelosi prevent that from happening? The media attention focused on one type of freshman Congressperson - the progressive. However, they failed to mention a different brand: the moderate.
These moderates would likely be part of an often overlooked group - the Problem Solvers Caucus. The Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group of congressman chaired by Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Tom Reed (R-NY). There are about the same number of Republicans as Democrats. Now that the Democrats control the House, the focus will mostly be on the Democratic members.
A central focus of the new majority was who would become the speaker of the house. Nancy Pelosi was Speaker before the Republicans captured the House in 2010. She became a figure of disdain and was often the target of many Republican attack ads. However, her supporters say she is a legislative genius and vital for fundraising efforts. Her critics, on the other hand, say that the 78 year old Congresswoman is taking positions that should belong to younger leadership in an increasingly young and diverse party. As a result, many freshmen pledged not to support her for speaker and won in their districts on that promise. In fact, 50 Democratic candidates in total pledged not to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.
After the Democrats retook the house, Nancy Pelosi set to work getting votes for her to be Speaker again. In her path to the speakership, Pelosi had to make promises and compromises to opposition. Many of those who opposed her were members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. To quote an article from the New York Times, “Ms. Pelosi, of California, has traded committee assignments, promises to prioritize lawmakers’ pet issues, rules changes to empower centrists and, ultimately, to relinquish her speakership.” In order to convince the Problem Solvers of her commitment to their goals, Pelosi has bargained by offering committee assignments to Caucus members, rule changes to uplift centrists, and, most notable of all, a promise to relinquish her speakership in 2020. After these abundant negotiations, Pelosi was able to seize just enough votes to become Speaker.
This is a prime example of the influence the Problem Solvers Caucus has had and could have in this new Congress. They may push the Democratic Party further toward the center, away from the progressive direction it appears to be going in right now. Furthermore, they might try to push bipartisan legislation on issues like immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, the opioid epidemic, and an infrastructure package.
The Problem Solvers have been known to attempt to push legislation to break the gridlock in Washington, but they have faced multiple criticisms. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin has criticized the group as being merely a fast track for lobbyists. It has also faced criticism as a hack for vulnerable incumbents to win re-election. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), for instance, barely won a tough battle for re-election this year and utilized his membership multiple times in the debates and just about every time he spoke in public.
The Republican members have voted with their party 93% of the time ,and Tom Reed, one of the co-chairs of the committee voted for the Republican-led 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Some on the progressive side claim it is a front for conservatives to push their policies. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, has said that they have no track record whatsoever, and has termed it a “political cover operation.” Reportedly, even Republican staffers say that the caucus has not gotten anything done.
No matter the underlying purpose, there is no doubt that the Problem Solvers Caucus will have a large impact on this Congress. It is unknown how the caucus will impact the investigations of President Trump that will likely soon begin. However, it is very likely that they will attempt to curtail the power of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. It is also likely that they will sometimes serve as a foil to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Republican leadership. Tom Reed, as mentioned earlier, a co-chair, voted with the Democrats to end the recent government shutdown. During the middle of the shutdown, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus went to the White House to meet with President Trump. However, it seems as if nothing was accomplished in that meeting. Freshman representative Max Rose (D-NY) said, “The president spent a lot of time with us, the vice president spent a lot of time with us, his team spent a lot of time with us. This is about trust building and opening the government back up. It’s a very slow process.”
Since President Trump never got the border wall he so desired, many speculate that he will close the government again. Some wonder if the Problems Solver’s Caucus will play a role in solving the next potential shutdown. Others question if the Caucus might try to break with the Democrats (like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia did) and support a shutdown deal with a wall in it. Representative Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) says that if experts say a wall is what is necessary, he would support a deal with funding for the wall. However, many Republicans found themselves in unexpectedly competitive races this year and just want this whole charade to end. So the question is, will the Problem Solvers work to change Washington? Or it it just for politics? Time will tell.
By Erin Flaherty
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. An important moment in the movement towards equality, this aimed to overcome the unfair barriers that many state and local governments had put in place to stop African Americans from voting. Unfair measures like using literacy tests and grandfather clauses were officially illegal. However, over 50 years later, this act is being used by the Trump Administration in a way that critics argue would bring the United States further away from equality.
The Trump Administration announced in March of 2018 that they are adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. This question would ask “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” for each family member that the survey pertains to. The Trump Administration says that this is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination against any citizen’s voting rights on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group”. They argue that minority communities can’t elect the representatives that they want in elections without this data being available to the government, since their districts have many ineligible voters.
Since this announcement, many have come out against this decision, citing several reasons as to why it would be a bad idea to add this question. Critics have worried that this added question will scare many immigrants away from filling out their survey. Having the census produce an accurate count of the population is essential, since the government uses this count in various ways, like when funding infrastructure or determining districts for congressional appointments. Cities where immigrants live could receive less funding if immigrants are scared away from filling out the census, leading skeptics to believe that this is an attempt by the Trump administration to hurt Latino and immigrant-heavy communities.
Even before this question was added, in the 2010 census, many researchers had already expressed concerns about possible skewed census results since immigrants were already avoiding taking the survey. In 2015, a respondent told researchers that “the possibility that the census could give my information to internal security and immigration could come and arrest me for not having documents terrifies me.” This concern among immigrants would only be heightened and intensified by adding a citizenship question. The Trump administration, nor is any immigration agency allowed to access specific Census Bureau information, but many immigrants are fearful of giving a government organization this info regardless.
In late March of 2018, a group of 14 states, led by California filed a lawsuit against the Census Bureau. These states arugethat in adding this question, the Bureau will violate the Constitution, since the Constitution requires that every resident, regardless of whether they are or are not a citizen, is counted in a census. These states argue that having this question would skew data and allow for funding to be allocated incorrectly, along with allowing incorrect political boundaries to be drawn. According to them, Trump’s citation of the Voting Rights Act is merely an excuse to hurt immigrant communities. “The census is supposed to count everyone”, says Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, a backer of the lawsuit. “ This is a blatant and illegal attempt by the Trump administration to undermine that goal, which will result in an undercount of the population and threaten federal funding for our state and cities.”
Judge Jesse M. Furman from the District Court of New York was the first federal judge to rule against the question. Trials are just beginning in California and Maryland, and many involved in the lawsuit had been expecting that the issue will make its way to the Supreme Court. Recently, it was announced that the Supreme Court will be making a decision regarding Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary of the Census Bureau. However, this decision won’t necessarily be in relating to the citizenship question; the trial will focus on whether Ross and others involved with the Census Bureau can be compelled to answer questions about the addition of the question. This is only really one component of the case and wouldn’t directly change the fact that right now, the Census is still planning on including this question.
It is getting closer and closer to when census surveys need to be printed. The deadline is in July of 2019, and many of the plaintiffs involved in the case are worried that trials won’t finish in time to change the current plan to include the question. This time crunch could cause various scenarios to play out, according to law expert Thomas Wold, counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. He speculates that the Supreme Court could rule against the lower courts and ask the lower courts to reconsider their rulings. However, he also doesn’t doubt the possibility that the Supreme Court doesn’t get to hear the case in time, and therefore the question is kept on the census. “The government could ask to leap over the appeals case in all three cases,” he adds. “The Supreme Court can move very quickly if it has to, but it doesn’t really like to do that because it doesn’t make for the best decisions.”
Whether it has been surrounding the legality or the morality of the question, this decision by the current United States administration has definitely brought light to significant conversations regarding the treatment of immigrants under the Trump Administration. “This decision comes at a time when we have seen xenophobic and anti-immigrant policy positions from this administration,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Many immigrants have told news organizations that they will not fill out their Census survey no matter the stance of the citizenship question come 2020, since their fear has already been stirred up enough. Will we ever be able to get an accurate count of our population with the current climate surrounding immigration? Perhaps, the census is no longer a viable option to do so.