House makes lynching a federal crime, 65 years after Emmett Till

WASHINGTON – Sixty-five years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in the U.S. state of Mississippi, the House has approved legislation designating lynching as a hate crime under federal law.

The bill, introduced by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and named after Till, comes 120 years after Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation and after dozens of similar efforts were defeated.

The measure was approved 410 to 4 on Wednesday. The Senate unanimously passed virtually identical legislation last year, although that bill wasn’t named for Till. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill, which designates lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to life in prison, a fine, or both.

Opposers to the bill included 3 Republicans and 1 Independent politician. Sixteen political leaders abstained from the vote. Results of the vote, and all others, are made viewable at the official website for the House. The results of this vote can be viewed here: Final House Votes for Roll Call 71.

Rush, a Democrat whose Chicago district includes Till’s former home, said the bill will achieve justice for Till and more than 4,000 other lynching victims, most of them Blacks or African Americans.

Till, who was black, was brutally tortured and killed in 1955 after a white woman accused him of grabbing her and whistling at her in a Mississippi grocery store. The killing shocked the country and stoked the Civil Rights Movement.

“The importance of this bill cannot be overstated,” said Rush, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “From Charlottesville to El Paso, we are still being confronted with the same violent racism and hatred that took the life of Emmett and so many others. The passage of this bill will send a strong and clear message to the nation that we will not tolerate this bigotry. ”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who represents the area where Till was abducted and murdered, called the anti-lynching bill long overdue, but said: “No matter the length of time, it is never too late to ensure justice is served.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., used similar language to urge the bill’s passage. “It is never too late to do the right thing and address these gruesome, racially motivated acts of terror that have plagued our nation’s history,” he said, urging lawmakers to “renew our commitment to confronting racism and hate.”

Two of the four representatives who opposed the bill—Louie Gohmert, R-Tx., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky.—explained their reasoning for doing so.

Gohmert said he supported the bill’s concept, but preferred that those accused of lynching in Texas be tried in state court, where they could face the death penalty.

Massie said he opposed the expansion of federal hate-crime laws. “A crime is a crime, and all victims deserve equal justice,” he said in a statement. “Adding enhanced penalties for ‘hate’ tends to endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech.”

Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, called lynching a lasting legacy of slavery.

“Make no mistake, lynching is terrorism,” she said. “While this reign of terror has faded, the most recent lynching (in the United States) happened less than 25 years ago.”

Although Congress cannot truly rectify the terror and horror of these acts, Bass said, a legislative body that once included slave owners and Ku Klux Klan members will belatedly “stand up and do our part so that justice is delivered in the future.”

Unity urged among Democrats

WASHINGTON – Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday urged party unity amid Bernie Sanders’ surge in the presidential race, even as House Democrats worry about a volatile election season that could put a self-described democratic socialist atop the ticket and threaten their majority.

“I would hope that everyone would say, no matter who the nominee is for president, we wholeheartedly embrace that person,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told the House Democratic caucus at a closed-door meeting. “We cannot show any division. This has to be about unity, unity, unity,” she said, according to a Democratic aide who attended the session. The aide was not authorized to discuss the private meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The urge for unity comes amid chaos at the Democratic Debates.

Down-ballot jitters are apparent as Sanders takes an increasingly commanding lead in early voting and withstands the constant pummeling by rivals who have been unable to slow his rise.

With South Carolina’s primary on Saturday, followed by the Super Tuesday contests on March 3, House Democrats are navigating how best to hold onto their seats while opponents try to lasso them to Sanders’ socialist label.

Many first-term Democrats are counting on their own well-crafted brands, not the party’s eventual presidential nominee, whoever that may be, to see them to reelection. The House majority was built by lawmakers who come from districts where President Donald Trump is popular, and his campaign operation will be turning out voters in the fall. But in a campaign cycle full of unknowns as the party tries to unseat Trump, they are relying on the backgrounds that pushed them to office in the first place to do it again.

“I will go into my race with the same degree of confidence, no matter who is at the top of the ticket,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a freshman Democrat from a competitive New Jersey district who supports former Vice President Joe Biden in the primary for the Democratic nominee.

Malinowski said he will “absolutely” support Sanders if the senator becomes the party’s nominee. But the congressman said Democrats need to simplify their message and seize the moment with a candidate who can topple Trump. “Why we would risk this extraordinary opportunity by nominating somebody who has a tendency to divide our own side is beyond me,” he said.

Other Democrats, though, are more open about their fears of a Sanders nomination.

First-term Rep. Elaine Luria, who defeated an incumbent Republican in 2018 in a swing district in coastal Virginia, said a Sanders candidacy would be “incredibly divisive” and could endanger more centrist members of Congress like herself.

Her opponents are already trying to tag Luria, a former Navy commander and Naval Academy graduate, as a “socialist,” she said. Luria rejects the label as “ridiculous.”

“Bernie Sanders just adds fuel to that fire,” Luria said.

She has endorsed Biden but had praise for former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, calling both of them politicians who “build bridges rather than break them down.”

Hoping to propel Biden’s lagging candidacy in a state he has pledged to win, the No. 3 House Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, an influential leader and the highest-ranking African American in Congress, announced his endorsement on Wednesday.

Veteran Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said of Biden: “There’s not a congressional district in this country he couldn’t campaign in.”

Divisions run deep among House Democrats, whose primary preferences span the party’s ideological reach as a de facto big tent party, from the most liberal and progressive members backing Sanders to those preferring Biden, Bloomberg or the other more centrist candidates.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is one of Sanders’ most high-profile backers in the House. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., is a Sanders campaign co-chairman.

Many liberals say Sanders is the only candidate able to energize base voters and take on Trump. His commitment to curbing income inequality and his bold policy proposals, including “Medicare for All” and tuition-free college, are galvanizing voters, they say. They point to Sanders’ strong showing in Nevada as a snapshot of the coalition he could build nationwide against Trump.

Campaigning Wednesday in South Carolina, Sanders warned that a “conventional campaign” like Biden’s won’t defeat Trump.

In Tuesday night’s presidential debate, candidate Pete Buttigieg warned of the potential down-ballot consequences in Congress if Sanders won the nomination. Senate Democrats are struggling to flip the chamber from Republicans, who have a slim majority, while House Democrats are working to retain their advantage.

Pelosi said she thinks that “whoever our nominee is, we will enthusiastically embrace — and we will win the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

House Democrats hold a modest majority, and while Trump is eager to have his party in control of the chamber, House Republicans have seen a rush toward the exits with retirements. The House GOP is still recruiting candidates to challenge the Democrats and has lagged in fundraising.

Pelosi said lawmakers will have a briefing Thursday at the Democratic National Committee headquarters about the nominating process. The party convention is in July.

Democrats changed the nominating rules to reduce the power of “superdelegates”— lawmakers and other VIPs—to choose the nominee.

If no candidate secures the nod outright on the initial round of voting at the convention, the superdelegates, including lawmakers, may have a role to play in casting votes.

At an earlier debate in Las Vegas, the 2020 presidential candidates were asked whether the candidate with the most delegates should be the nominee, even if that person lacked a delegate majority. Almost every candidate suggested that the convention process should work its way out.

Sanders, who helped force the changes to the nomination process this year and expects to take a significant delegate lead in the coming weeks, was the only exception.

“The person who has the most votes should become the nominee,” he said.

House Democrats, particularly the freshmen, are being told to chart their own course as they did running in 2018.

In much the way some House Democrats won their seats as they distanced themselves from Pelosi, they may be faced with running for reelection by distancing themselves from the party nominee.

“This is tough,” Pelosi told the House caucus. “We have to win.”

Surely for the Democratic Party to win this year’s election, unification is vital, and it would appear the moderates of the left are keyholders toward fighting President Trump, though Sanders and his supporters have argued otherwise.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

House votes to end support for Yemen war

WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday voted to end American involvement in the Yemen war, rebuffing the Trump administration’s support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia.

The bill now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to veto it. The White House says the measure raises “serious constitutional concerns,” and Congress lacks the votes to override him.

By a 247-175 vote, Congress for the first time invoked the decades-old War Powers Resolution to try and stop a foreign conflict. The Senate vote was 54-46 on March 13.

“The president will have to face the reality that Congress is no longer going to ignore its constitutional obligations when it comes to foreign policy,” said Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said the humanitarian crisis in Yemen triggered by the war “demands moral leadership.”

The war in Yemen is in its fifth year. Thousands of people have been killed and millions are on the brink of starvation. The United Nations has called the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, acknowledged the dire situation in Yemen for civilians, but spoke out in opposition to the bill, saying it was an abuse of the War Powers Resolution.

“This radical interpretation has implications far beyond Saudi Arabia,” McCaul said. He warned that the measure could “disrupt U.S. security cooperation agreements.”

Democrats overcame a Republican attempt to divide the majority party through a procedural motion involving Israel just minutes before the Yemen vote. Republicans wanted to amend the Yemen bill with language condemning the international boycott movement and efforts to de-legitimize Israel. Democrats argued the amendment would kill the Yemen resolution, and most of them voted against the Israel measure.

“This is about politics, this is about trying to drive a wedge into this caucus where it does not belong,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said to applause from Democrats. Deutch described the boycott movement as “economic warfare,” but called on lawmakers to vote against the amendment.

“The Jewish community also has a history of standing up against atrocities like the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. My colleagues are trying to block us from standing in support of human rights,” he said.

Opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen gathered support last year in the aftermath of the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post columnist was killed in October by agents of the kingdom, a close U.S. partner, while he was in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence agencies and lawmakers believe that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who had written articles critical of the Islamic kingdom.

Lawmakers from both parties have scrutinized U.S.-Saudi ties and criticized Trump for not condemning Saudi Arabia strongly enough.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

PRC spy indicted in Taiwan

TAIPEI – A convicted Communist Chinese spy was indicted by Taipei prosecutors Wednesday on another charge of violating national security laws in collusion with members of the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROCOT)’s opposition New Party.

The indictment was handed down after the ROCOT’s Supreme Court upheld a high court ruling March 14 that sentenced Zhou Hongxu to 14 months in prison after he attempted to bribe an employee of the ROCOT’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs into spying for the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Zhou, who graduated from Taiwan’s National Chengchi University in 2016, was indicted for trying to develop an espionage ring in the ROCOT through a news website and an association set up by New Party spokesman Wang Ping-chung and two other members of the party’s youth committee.

The three New Party members were indicted by Taipei prosecutors in June last year for spying for the Communist Chinese government, in violation of the National Security Act.

As for Zhou’s part in the case, the Taipei District Prosecutors Office decided to send his case to the Taiwan High Court to handle the two cases together.

However, the High Court returned the case to the prosecutors office on the grounds that the recruitment of the Taiwanese diplomat was unrelated to the case involving the three New Party members.

Dissatisfied with the High Court decision, the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The appeal was rejected Wednesday and the case was returned to the Taipei District Prosecutors Office, which decided that day to indict Zhou.

The indictment follows the People’s Republic of China’s recent violation of the Republic of China on Taiwan’s ambiguously sovereign territory, stressing Cross-Strait relations.

President Trump signs memorandum to stem counterfeit goods trafficking

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum on Wednesday to rein in what the administration calls the “Wild West” of online trafficking in counterfeit goods.

The memorandum is aimed at stopping the sale of counterfeit products on sites like Amazon, eBay and the People’s Republic of China’s e-commerce leader, Alibaba.

“This president has decided that it’s time to clean up this Wild West of counterfeiting and trafficking,” said Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council.

“The central core of the problem is that right now, third-party online marketplaces … have zero liability when it comes to trafficking in these counterfeit goods. That simply has to stop. We are going to attack that on numerous fronts.”

In a statement released on Wednesday, Amazon said that it “strictly prohibits” the sale of counterfeit products and welcomes more coordinated support from law enforcement to stem the problem. Amazon said that last year it spent more than $400 million fighting counterfeits, fraud and other forms of abuse.

“We have built industry-leading tools like Brand Registry, Transparency and our newly launched Project Zero to protect our customers and help rights owners drive counterfeits to zero,” the company said. “With these and other tools, we ensure that over 99% of the products that customers view on Amazon never receive a complaint about counterfeits.”

Navarro said discussion of possible actions the administration will take to deter online trafficking in counterfeit merchandise is premature. He says the directive orders the Department of Homeland Security to work with other agencies on a report identifying the scope of the problem. The report also is to identify the origin of the fake goods and recommend administrative, regulatory, legislative or policy changes to stem the problem.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the value of trade in counterfeit and pirated goods is about a half trillion dollars a year, with roughly 20% infringing on U.S. intellectual property, according to the directive.

The U.S. is engaged in a trade dispute with the People’s Republic of China after the Trump administration made several complaints, including that the PRC was stealing U.S. trade secrets and forcing companies to give them technology to access its market. Trump imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Communist Chinese imports, about half what the United States buys from that country. China retaliated with tariffs on about $110 billion of U.S. items. Trade talks are ongoing.

Navarro told reporters in a conference call, however, that the new memorandum has nothing to do with the U.S.-PRC trade talks or Trump’s criticism of Amazon owner, Jeff Bezos. Trump has accused Amazon of not paying its fair share of taxes, harming the U.S. Postal Service and putting brick-and-mortar stores out of business.

A recent Government Accountability Office report examined four categories of frequently counterfeited goods, and, based on a small sample of these goods purchased through various online third-party marketplaces, investigators found that more than 40% were counterfeit, Navarro said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Newly elected Chicago mayor: Victory means ‘a city reborn’

CHICAGO – Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot’s resounding victory was a clear call for change at City Hall and a historic repudiation of the old-style, insider politics that have long defined the nation’s third-largest city.

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who’d never been elected to public office, defeated Cook County Board President and longtime City Council member Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday with backing from voters across the city. Late results showed Lightfoot, 56, winning every one of the city’s 50 wards.

Lightfoot also made history, becoming the first African American woman and the first openly lesbian person to be elected Chicago mayor. Chicago will become the largest U.S. city to have an African American woman serve as mayor when Lightfoot is sworn in May 20. She will join seven other African American women currently serving as mayors in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New Orleans, and will be the second woman to lead Chicago.

“Out there tonight a lot of little girls and boys are watching. They’re watching us, and they’re seeing the beginning of something, well, a little bit different,” Lightfoot told a jubilant crowd at a downtown hotel. “They’re seeing a city reborn.”

She pledged to make Chicago “a place where your zip code doesn’t determine your destiny,” to address the city’s violence and to “break this city’s endless cycle of corruption” that allows politicians to profit from their office.

Lightfoot emerged as the surprising leader in the first round of voting in February when 14 candidates were on the ballot to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who decided against running for a third term.

She seized on outrage over a white police officer’s fatal shooting of African American teenager Laquan McDonald to launch her reformer campaign. She got in the race even before Emanuel announced he wouldn’t seek re-election amid criticism for initially resisting calls to release video of the shooting.

Joyce Ross, 64, a resident of the city’s predominantly black or African American West Side who is a certified nursing assistant, cast her ballot Tuesday for Lightfoot. Ross said she believes Lightfoot will be better able to clean up the police department and curb the city’s violence.

She was also bothered by Preckwinkle’s association with longtime Alderman Ed Burke, who was indicted earlier this year on charges he tried to shake down a restaurant owner who wanted to build in his ward.

“My momma always said birds of a feather flock together,” Ross said.

Preckwinkle said she called Lightfoot Tuesday night to congratulate her on a “hard-fought campaign.”

“While I may be disappointed I’m not disheartened. For one thing, this is clearly a historic night,” she told a crowd gathered in her South Side neighborhood. “Not long ago two African American women vying for this position would have been unthinkable. And while it may be true that we took two very different paths to get here, tonight is about the path forward.”

That path will have major challenges. Chicago has been losing population, particularly in predominantly African American neighborhoods hit hardest by violence and a lack of jobs.

The new mayor will take over a city that faces massive financial problems. She will have just a few months to prepare a new budget, which in 2020 is expected to have a roughly $250 million deficit. Lightfoot also will take over the worst-funded public pensions of any major U.S. city. Chicago’s annual payments to the retirement systems are slated to grow by $1.2 billion by 2023.

She has expressed support for a casino in Chicago and changing the state’s income tax system to a graduated tax, in which higher earners are taxed at a higher rate—two measures lawmakers have tried for unsuccessfully for years to pass.

Violence and policing will also continue to be an issue, and one that has proven to be politically difficult.

The Chicago Police Department must implement a federally monitored consent decree approved in January. It followed the McDonald killing and a U.S. Justice Department review that found a long history of excessive use of force and racial bias by officers.

While voters also elected several newcomers over City Council veterans, Lightfoot will have to work with a council that has a sizable number of members who are the type of politicians she railed against during her campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.