Live: AG Bill Barr testifies before Congress

Attorney General Bill Barr is testifying to Congress for the first time since he released his summary of the Mueller Report. Barr is appearing to discuss the Department of Justice budget with the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, but he’s expected to face questions from Democrats on the Mueller report. NBC News is carrying Barr’s testimony live:

Video: White House lawyers want to see Mueller report before Congress does

Robert MuellerWhite House lawyers are expecting to get a first look at the Mueller report when it’s filed, but before Attorney General Bill Barr submits it to Congress, multiple sources tell CNN. Those expectations could set up a political battle over the highly anticipated report. White House lawyers want to have an opportunity to claim executive privilege over some parts of the report that draw on documents and interviews with administration officials. Critics are concerned that President Trump may try to shield certain information that could be included in the report from the public. CNN’s Pamela Brown has more.

Congressional Leaders Unveil House and Senate Bills to End Forced Arbitration and Restore Workers’ and Consumers’ Rights

arbitrationAmerican Consumers and Workers Detail the Harm Caused by Forced Arbitration at Capitol Hill Press Conference

Victim advocates from around the country joined Congressional leaders at a press conference to bring attention to the secretive, rigged system of forced arbitration that is hidden in the fine print of many everyday consumer contracts, employee handbooks, and even “click-through agreements.” Together, they unveiled the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), that would restore the rights of consumers, workers, and patients to seek justice and accountability from the corporations that physically or financially hurt them.

New polling data was released in conjunction with today’s press conference. A recent nationwide poll by Hart Research found broad bipartisan support of 84% of voters for a bill to end forced arbitration (87% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats). More poll results can be found here.

“Forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print hurt everyone,” said Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice. “If corporations know they won’t ever be held publicly responsible, our civil rights, as well as our public health and safety are at risk, from the cars we drive, to the jobs we take, and the food we eat. That’s what makes this legislation so important, and I commend the advocates and Members of Congress who stood up today to demand action.”

“We at Public Justice routinely hear from people who are unable to seek justice after a corporation broke the law and harmed them. Forced arbitration clauses bar them from having their claims heard in court,” said Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice. “The energy in favor of the FAIR Act is like nothing I’ve seen before in this fight for corporate accountability and against perpetrators of gender and race discrimination. Its passage would make American life much safer, healthier, and fairer.”

“Real justice means that the people’s courts – not corporate courts like those in forced arbitration proceedings – decide who gets access to justice. Forced arbitration clauses literally pick consumers’ pockets by putting big business’s favored arbitrators in charge, leaving regular people with no choice but to accept secretive, one-sided proceedings for their claims,” said Patrice Simms, Vice President of Litigation and head of the Access to Justice program at Earthjustice.” Earthjustice applauds Chairman Nadler, his colleagues, and all of the advocates fighting against this unfair and unethical practice for their efforts to craft the FAIR Act, and we are proud to support the legislation.”

“Imagine if the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could escape lawsuits aiming to enforce consumer protection, worker rights and anti-discrimination laws simply by uttering a secret code. Outrageously, exactly that has happened, except it is not a secret. Corporations of all sorts insert forced arbitration provisions in worker and consumer contracts, and effectively wipe away people’s protection against financial rip-offs, wage theft, online swindles, harassment and discrimination and more,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “The good news is that the public has caught on to this racket and is demanding action. The FAIR Act, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, provides exactly what the public is demanding: an end to the forced arbitration fraud that systematically strips Americans of their legal rights and access to justice.”

“Forced arbitration is a rigged secret proceeding that denies the cheated and ripped off the right to seek remedies before a judge and jury, and allows corporations to hide their misconduct from the public,” said Christine Hines, legislative director at National Association of Consumer Advocates. “The FAIR Act and other bills introduced today will help to level the playing field for consumers and workers by ending forced arbitration in the corporate fine print and restoring our choice to seek to hold wrongdoers accountable in open court.”

“I am proud to have spearheaded the Ending Arbitration Act of Sexual Harassment. Forced arbitration clauses in employment agreements are not designed to achieve fair, expeditious or cost-effective resolutions for sexual harassment cases. They are often used by companies to demean and silence women and conceal pervasive sexual harassment while allowing sexual predators to operate with virtual impunity,” said Gretchen Carlson. “I believe every woman and man should be entitled to have their claims adjudicated in a courtroom rather than behind closed doors where victims can never discuss what happened. I’m thankful for this bi-partisan effort to make workplaces safer for ALL across our country.”

“Alliance for Justice applauds the FAIR Act and this very important step to address a serious injustice that affects millions of Americans,” said Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice. “Forced arbitration is an abusive practice that denies workers and consumers their right to a fair day in court. Instead, it corrals them into an unjust process controlled by the very party that harmed them, whether it be an employer, a lender, a nursing home, a service provider or some other entity. It’s time for forced arbitration to end.”   

ACLU and The Leadership Conference Praise Senate Passage of FIRST STEP Act

JailThe Senate has passed a revised version of the FIRST STEP Act by a margin of 87-12. It is expected to pass quickly in the House of Representatives in the coming days.

Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the Washington Legislative Office at the American Civil Liberties Union, had the following reaction:

“The FIRST STEP Act is by no means perfect. But we are in the midst of a mass incarceration crisis, and the time to act is now.”

“We applaud the bipartisan group of senators who were willing to listen to advocates and include important sentencing reforms that will grant thousands of currently incarcerated people a second chance.”

“People’s lives are at stake. We’re delighted to see common sense prevail and the FIRST STEP Act move closer to the finish line.”

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, had the following response:

“The Senate’s bipartisan vote to pass the FIRST STEP Act is an important, but modest step forward for justice and human dignity. But it is not the end of our fight. This bipartisan bill offers some important improvements to the current federal system, but it falls short of providing the meaningful change that is required, as we explained in a letter to the Senate. More work will be needed as we push for transformational change that will end mass incarceration in America.”

“We applaud our coalition members for their tireless work to ensure that the final bill included the vital sentencing provisions that improved the bill, Senators Durbin, Booker, Harris, Lee, and Grassley for their leadership, and the many formerly incarcerated allies and advocates who remind us that this work has real-world impact.”

More information about the ACLU’s position on the FIRST STEP Act can be found here:

Video: Ford’s lawyer explains why she wants an FBI investigation of Kavanaugh

FBI sealThe attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, says she wants the FBI to investigate the charges before she’ll testify to Congress. She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Ford has been forced into hiding because of death threats made against her since her name was revealed.

Podcast: Could anti-Trump fervor help Democrats win the Senate?

While most observers are paying attention to the possibility that Democrats can win back the House this November, they “definitely have a chance to win the Senate,” according to election analyst Nathan Gonzalez. In this edition of the CQ on Congress podcast from Roll Call, Gonzales shows where Democrats could pick up Senate seats, as well as which races they’re likely to lose.

Politicians’ Fitness for Office: Transparency Needed

by Elizabeth Lee Vliet, M.D.

As Democrats parade the opinions of various psychiatric and psychological TV “experts,” claiming that President Trump is “mentally ill” and unfit for office, I was recently asked: “Should Congress and political candidates release medical records to run for or hold political office?” And “Is it even ethical for psychiatrists and psychologists to be on TV claiming the President is mentally ill, or has a personality disorder, if they have not examined the patient?”

These questions became even more relevant with the recent revelation that Grubbs Pharmacy on Capitol Hill delivers prescriptions almost daily to members of Congress and their staff, some of which are medicines for serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s dementia. In fact, the pharmacist who handles these prescriptions for Congress and the elite on Capitol Hill is quoted in the article saying he finds it “troubling” that the public does not know who is suffering from such diseases that affect brain function, memory, judgment, and ability to think and analyze complex information.

In several recent media interviews, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demonstrated facial tics, long pauses as she searched for words, stumbling over the pronunciation of simple words, and difficulty remembering basic information, dates, names, and even who is President.

Democrat presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton displayed facial tics, speech pauses, difficulty standing, and difficulty recalling words during the 2016 campaign. Yet the public was only told she had “pneumonia.” These observations are not typical of pneumonia and suggest a more serious neurological problem.

Senator John McCain disclosed he has a serious brain cancer, but has remained in office casting critical votes that affect all Americans, although this type of cancer can impair thinking and judgment and cause behavior changes.

President Trump has not exhibited any of the behaviors described above to suggest a medical or mental problem affecting performance. His speech is fluid, articulate, and does not show the pauses and loss of common words that are easily observable with Pelosi, Clinton, or McCain.

The public is already aware of a marked double standard for members of Congress and political elites with regard to offenses that would lead to jail or major financial or other penalties for the average consumer and voter. Some recent examples include insider trading, failing to disclose contributions properly, failing to pay taxes, failing to disclose foreign investments, and a host of other offenses leading to politicians’ personal financial gain.

But what has not been discussed in the public debate or media is the even more serious issue of politicians’ failure to disclose to voters any physical or mental impairment and failure that may affect their ability to perform the job they are paid to do in representing us.

Compare politicians’ lack of transparency regarding serious medical illnesses or drug or alcohol abuse with what we see in other professions:

• Physicians are required, as a condition of their license to practice medicine, to disclose any mental or physical impairment, condition or disability that may affect their ability to carry out their duties to patients, including any substance abuse. They are also required to disclose any arrests (for anything other than minor traffic violation, such as speeding). Failure to disclose this information on a license application or renewal is terms for sanctions that can include loss of license to practice medicine, or inability to obtain hospital privileges in all 50 states.
• Airline pilots have similar requirements for an annual physical and mental exam, regular performance evaluations in the cockpit with instructors evaluating in-flight performance on required “check rides.” Airline pilots also have random drug screening
• Commercial truck drivers have requirements for random drug screens and physical and psychological exams as part of their commercial drivers license renewal.
• Law enforcement officers also face random drug screening, and are subject to internal affairs investigations if they display behavior that is unprofessional, or show physical impairments that may affect job performance.

Why are members of Congress, the Judiciary, and the Executive Branch of government exempted from similar requirements when they are making decisions that affect the lives of millions of Americans?
As a prescription for what is making Washington toxic and dysfunctional, this physician suggests requiring all politicians holding or running for office to release their medical records and disclose any medical or mental conditions for which they are being treated with prescription medications.

Would YOU want a pilot for your flight to show the problems exhibited by Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton or John McCain? Would YOU want your doctor displaying such incoherence and memory loss during your exam?

VOTERS, time to speak up. Hold politicians accountable for proper medical disclosures.
Then decide: Are they fit to hold office and make decisions that affect MY life?

Author/Contributor short bio:

Dr. Vliet has been a leader in patient centered, individualized medical care. Since 1986, she has practiced medicine independent of insurance contracts that interfere with patient-physician relationships and decision-making. Dr. Vliet focus is medical freedom and free market approaches to healthcare. Dr. Vliet is the founder of Vive Life Center and Hormone Health Strategies with medical practices in Tucson AZ and Dallas TX, specializing in preventive and climacteric medicine with an integrated approach to evaluation and treatment of women and men with complex medical and hormonal problems from puberty to late life.

Dr. Vliet is a 2014 Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient for her national and international educational efforts in health, wellness, and endocrine aging in men and women, and is recognized in the US as a motivational speaker in health and wellness and a powerful patient advocate, proponent of free market approaches to lower healthcare costs. Dr. Vliet is the recipient of Voice of Women Award from Arizona Foundation for Women in recognition of her pioneering advocacy for the overlooked hormone connections in women’s health.

Dr. Vliet’s consumer health books include: It’s My Ovaries, Stupid; Screaming To Be Heard: Hormonal Connections Women Suspect– And Doctors STILL Ignore; Women, Weight and Hormones; The Savvy Woman’s Guide to PCOS, The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Great Sex, Strength, and Stamina.

Dr. Vliet is a past Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a member of the AAPS Editorial Writing Team on healthcare reform, and a member of International Menopause Society and the International Society for The Study of the Aging Male (ISSAM). She received her M.D. degree and internship in Internal Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and completed specialty training at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She earned her B.S. and Master’s degrees from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Dr. Vliet has appeared on FOX NEWS, Cavuto, Stuart Varney Show, Fox and Friends, Sean Hannity and many nationally syndicated radio shows across the country as well as presented hundreds of Healthcare Town Halls addressing the economic and medical impact of the 2010 healthcare law and free market reforms, as well as seminars and radio shows on healthcare reform, Men’s Health and Women’s Health.

Dr. Vliet speaks as an independent physician, not as an official spokesperson for any organization or political party. Dr. Vliet has no financial ties to any health care system or health insurance plan. Her allegiance and advocacy is to and for patients.

Isn’t it time?

gun and bulletsJust a year and a few months after the previous deadliest mass killing in America, 59 more people are dead and at least 527 are recovering from gunshot wounds at the latest deadliest mass killing in our nation. 49 were killed and 58 others wounded in the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016. The latest happened the night of October 1, 2017, when Stephen Paddock, armed with 23 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas.

As investigators search for clues as to why Paddock would open fire on innocent people, many Americans are searching for answers as to why this keeps happening. Republican lawmakers claim “it’s too soon” after the mass killing to begin debate on strengthening the nation’s gun laws. Others say, “if not now, when?” Prayers and public vigils will not prevent this from happening again. How high does the body count have to get before Congress stands up to the National Rifle Association and says “enough!”

“Thoughts & prayers are NOT enough,” Tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The numbers of those killed by madmen will keep climbing until we, as a nation, finally get so angry and frustrated that we demand action from our elected officials. When will that time come? Isn’t it time? Are we resigned to the notion that the all-powerful NRA will continue to prevent passage of reasonable gun control laws that could keep semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of people like Stephen Paddock?

If you’ve been saddened, angered and moved by this senseless massacre, please do whatever you can to convince Congress to have the courage to stand up to the gun lobbies and enact gun control that can save lives. Call or write your representative or senator and demand action. It will take relentless pressure to make this happen. It has worked for Australia and other civilized nations around the world. It can work in America, but only if we insist upon it. One more person killed by the likes of a mentally-deranged assailant is too many.

What should Congress do about the ‘Dreamers?’

When President Trump announced he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program enacted by President Obama, he gave Congress six months to come up with its own solution. Immigration has proven to be a thorny issue for lawmakers, who have been unable to pass any significant legislation on the issue for decades. What should Congress do about the 800,000 young people who could face deportation if no solution is found? Jeremy Robbins, the executive director of New American Economy, a bipartisan coalition that supports immigration reform, has some suggestions in this commentary at CNN.