The House Passes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

On Tuesday, August 24, the House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act by a vote of 219-212.1 The bill is an attempt to reestablish some voting protections that the Supreme Court struck down as outdated and unconstitutional in its 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.2 The bill faces a steep climb in the Senate, where it may not receive a vote.3 The bill is named for John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, civil rights leader, and former chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who passed away in 2020.4

LISTEN: “The Right To Vote: The Impact Of Shelby County v. Holder on Voting Rights,” from NPR

In a written statement, Vice President Kamala Harris celebrated the passage of the legislation. “Congressman John Lewis was an American hero who dedicated his life to fighting for our nation’s highest ideals,” she said. “Today, the House of Representatives honored Congressman Lewis by passing his namesake legislation, which restores and expands the historic Voting Rights Act. This important step represents progress, but there is more work to do. The Senate must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act so it can become the law of the land and protect voters across the country.”5

What Is in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act?

The legislation restores “voting rights protections that have been dismantled by the Supreme Court. Under the proposal, the Justice Department would again police new changes to voting laws in states that have racked up a series of ‘violations,’ drawing them into a mandatory review process known as ‘preclearance.’”6 Essentially, it would require certain jurisdictions “with a history of racial discrimination in voting” to get permission from the Department of Justice to make changes to their voting rules.7

What Are Supporters Saying?

Representative Terri Sewell, D-Ala., argued, “When we see states running amuck, we need federal oversight. If it wasn’t for federal oversight, we not only would not have gotten the Voting Rights Act, we wouldn’t have gotten the Civil Rights Act. After the Shelby v. Holder decision, we saw states like North Carolina and Texas reinstate restrictive voting laws and those voting laws are suppressive, oppressive, and depressive. They stop the people who need to vote from voting.”8

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill. “We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”9

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Attorney General Merrick Garland contended that the Voting Rights Act’s “preclearance” provision was “enormously effective” and helped block “thousands of discriminatory voting changes that would have curtailed the voting rights of millions of citizens in jurisdictions large and small.”10

What Are Opponents Saying?

For the most part, Republicans are not supporting the legislation and will likely filibuster the bill in the Senate. As the bill was being considered in the House, Representative Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the top Republican on the House panel that oversees federal elections, denounced the legislation as a “federal takeover” of elections and a “partisan power grab.”11

Representative Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., said the bill would make it easier for advocacy groups and lawyers to “file as many objections as possible to manufacture” lawsuits. “It empowers the attorney general to bully states.”12

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the bill “unnecessary” because “it’s against the law to discriminate in voting on the basis of race already.” Furthermore, he said it would “grant to the Justice Department almost total ability to determine the voting systems of every state in America.”13

What’s Next?

The bill still has significant hurdles to clear in the Senate. So far, Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is the only Republican senator who has indicated she will support the bill.14 There remain opportunities for citizens to weigh in by contacting their senators.

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you heard about election laws and voter suppression in the news or from other sources?
  2. What different laws, ideas, and proposals to address elections and voting concerns have you heard about?
  3. Which arguments in support of this bill resonate most with you? Which arguments in opposition resonate most with you?
  4. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote on this bill? Explain or justify your vote.
  5. What other proposals or measures would you support to reform voting rights or access?

Get Involved

  • Write to your senators about this issue. Use this directory to find how to contact them.
  • Call your senator or representative by phone through the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.
  • Post about the bill on Twitter or Instagram using #hr4 or #votingrights.

Related Blog Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
[2] Brennan Center for Justice:
[3] CNN:
[4] BBC News:
[5] CBS News:
[6] Associated Press:
[7] CBS News:
[8] ABC News:
[9] Yahoo News:
[10] CNN:
[11] Politico:
[12] Associated Press:
[13] CNN:
[14] NBC News:


The House Passes a $3.5 Trillion Budget Framework

On August 24, the House of Representatives passed a $3.5 trillion spending bill, committed to passing an infrastructure bill, and moved forward with significant voting rights legislation.1 It was an important step in enacting such a large spending plan, but it was not the final step. Republicans and a number of conservative and moderate Democrats oppose some measures in the spending bill; thus, the final version of the legislation has not yet taken shape.2

What Is in the Current Spending Bill?

The budget framework includes the following spending targets:

  • Over $700 billion for universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds, child care for working families, tuition-free community college, funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and other grants for higher education3
  • $330 billion to invest in public housing and housing affordability4
  • $200 billion for natural resources and clean energy development5
  • Over $100 billion to address forest fires and drought concerns and to reduce carbon emissions6
  • An increase in the debt ceiling7

Clearly, this bill would lead to significant, structural, economic changes by increasing access to education and housing and taking some steps to address environmental concerns.

What Are Supporters Saying?

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the initial architect of the spending plan, argued that the needs of working- and middle-class people “have been neglected for decades.”8 He noted that “three people own more wealth than the bottom 50%” and that “real wages for workers haven’t increased in almost 50 years.”9

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the budget framework “so transformative [that] we haven’t seen anything like it.”10 In a letter to his Democratic colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote, “When we took the majority in the Senate earlier this year, the American people entrusted us with a great responsibility: to make their lives better. I am happy to report that we are making great progress towards that goal.”11 He added, “The Democratic budget will bring a generational transformation to how our economy works for average Americans.”12

What Are Opponents Saying?

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., stated that she does not support such a large bill. “I have told Senate leadership and President Biden that I support many of the goals in this proposal to continue creating jobs, growing American competitiveness, and expanding economic opportunities for Arizonans,” said Senator Sinema in a statement. “I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”13

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the budget framework a “historically reckless taxing and spending spree.”14

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “railed against the spending plan, saying it would fuel inflation, lead to higher taxes and energy costs for working Americans and open the border to more illegal immigration.”15

What’s Next?

Now that there are House and Senate versions of this framework, both chambers of Congress will move forward with outlining the specifics of the spending package.6 There are still hurdles to clear, as well as opportunities for citizens to weigh in by contacting their members of Congress.

Discussion Questions

  1. Review the list of what is included in the spending bill. Which of those items would you most highly prioritize? Which would you prioritize the least?
  2. Is there anything that you would add or subtract?
  3. Which arguments in support of this bill resonate most with you? Which arguments in opposition most resonate with you?
  4. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote on this bill? Explain or justify your vote.

Get Involved

  • Write to your House member about this issue. Use this directory to find out how to contact them.
  • Write to your senators about this issue. Use this directory to find out how to contact them.
  • Call your senators or representative using the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!


Featured Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
[1] CNBC:
[2] Politico:
[3] NPR:
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] New York Times:
[8] Associated Press:
[9] Wall Street Journal:
[10] Axios:
[11] NPR:
[12] CNBC:
[13] NBC News:
[14] NPR:
[15] Reuters:
[16] Politico:



Extended Unemployment Benefits: Helping Workers or Holding the Economy Back?

UnemploymentAfter April’s jobs report fell short of predictions and unemployment ticked up for the first time in the last year, some politicians and policymakers, particularly conservatives, called for an end to the generous unemployment insurance (UI) benefits that have been place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.1

Although federal pandemic-related UI benefits are set to cease in September 2021, the majority of Republican-led states have set expiration dates between mid-June and early July. For example, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming will end COVID-19-related UI benefits the week ending June 19.2 So far, no Democrat-led states have sought to end benefits early.

In March 2020, in response to the rise in unemployment due to the pandemic, Congress passed several emergency UI benefits programs designed to help workers maintain financial security as “non-essential” businesses closed due to stay-at-home orders.3 Subsequent legislation, most recently the American Rescue Plan Act, increased UI benefits, expanding the number of eligible workers, increasing the number of weeks workers are eligible, suspending the requirement to look for work, and providing a federally funded $300 bonus in weekly benefits beyond which workers would normally qualify.4

Economists and policymakers have studied the effects of UI on the economy for decades. One side has concluded that extended and bolstered UI benefits in a recession keep the economy from spiraling downward and should not be removed until the economy is clearly recovering. The other side claims that generous UI benefits, when provided for too long, can extend recessions and keep people from going back to work, as they make it more profitable to collect unemployment, particularly in low-wage jobs.5 As states are removing COVID-19-related restrictions and policymakers are working to develop strategies that continue the economic recovery, this debate has surfaced again. This issue is important because approximately 20 million Americans are still receiving UI benefits, and changes in policy could have a significant effect on them.6

Conservative lawmakers and business owners generally agree that now is the time to reduce UI benefits. Business owners, particularly those paying lower wages, have reported difficulty attracting employees despite offering hiring bonuses and higher wages than have been normal in industries such as food service.7 Industry giants such as Amazon and McDonald’s may be able to absorb the extra cost of labor, but small businesses such as independently owned restaurants already operate on razor-thin margins and risk going out of business. They argue that it is unwise policy to continue to pay Americans, and pay them handsomely, to stay home from work when vaccines are widely available and the economy is ready to fully reopen.

LISTEN: Representative Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., explains his stance on unemployment benefits

Liberal policymakers and labor unions are seeking to keep the extended UI benefits until the economic recovery is stronger and the pandemic is better contained.8 Food service and warehouse workers have seen the economic disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to demand higher wages and better working conditions.9 And, a Census Bureau survey reported that 4.2 million workers are not returning to their jobs due to fears of the coronavirus.10 Americans’ hesitancy to return to work may actually be pushing wages higher, as businesses compete for a limited pool of employees who may be unwilling to go back to the status quo even after the pandemic is over.11 Progressives and workers’ rights organizations herald this shift in employer-employee power as a step toward more equitable treatment of low-wage workers and a silver lining in a recession that has been devastating for Americans.12

Discussion Questions

  1. How has unemployment due to the pandemic affected your community?
  2. What goals do you think conservatives are pursuing? What goals are liberals pursuing?
  3. What values do you think conservatives are prioritizing? What values are liberals prioritizing?
  4. Which side of the debate over UI benefits do you support? Why?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Charles Krupa/AP
[1] New York Times:
[2] National Law Review:
[3] U.S. Department of Labor:
[4] Center on Budget Policy and Priorities:
[5] New York Times:
[6] Brookings Institution:
[7] New York Times:
[8] New York Times:
[9] ABC News:
[10] Wall Street Journal:
[12] Center for Employment Equity:



Conflict in Israel and the U.S. Response

Conflict in IsraelA ceasefire has brought an end to weeks of increasing violence between Israel and the Palestinian communities in the territory it controls, particularly the Palestinian Islamic-nationalist group Hamas. This latest outbreak of conflict ended a period of relative calm that had persisted for the better part of a decade. Adding to the complexity of the conflict is the role of the United States and emerging disagreements over what the nature of that role should be.

Israel’s history has been fraught with struggle and violence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, even before the state of Israel was founded in 1948. Numerous wars with neighboring Arab countries and the lingering consequences of those wars also inform this issue.

If you’re looking for more information on the broader history of Israel and its Palestinian population, check out “Israel-Gaza Violence: The Conflict Explained” from BBC News.

Timeline of the Current Conflict

While the full history between Israelis and Palestinians is beyond the scope of this blog post, the current conflict does have an immediate timeline of events that can help shed light on the situation.

  • APRIL 13: The first night of Ramadan (Islam’s most sacred month) in 2021 coincides with Israel’s Memorial Day commemorations. The president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, is set to make a speech at the Western Wall near the Al-Asqa Mosque. The Western Wall and the site of the Al-Asqa Mosque are sacred sites to Jews. However, Al-Asqa itself is currently open only to Muslims, as it is among the most sacred sites in Islam as well.1 The president’s team requests that the loudspeakers that are used to call Muslims to prayer be turned off during his address, claiming that they could drown out the speech. The mosque refuses the request but Israeli police enter the complex and allegedly disconnect the loudspeakers, sparking backlash from Muslims in Israel, most of whom are Palestinian.2
  • APRIL 13 – MAY: The Al-Asqa controversy occurs in the midst of growing unrest surrounding the attempted eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Protest and unrest continue to escalate throughout April, with direct fighting taking place between pro-Palestinian protesters and Israeli police and pro-Israeli counterprotesters. Forming a backdrop to all of this are political crises in both the Israeli and Palestinian governments, adding to the instability of the situation.3
  • MAY 4: Hamas, which the United States has officially labeled as a foreign terrorist organization, presents itself in the midst of this crisis as the bold, revolutionary leadership that the Palestinian people need to assert their rights and independence. It announces a “final warning” on May 4, declaring that Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah must be allowed to remain and, more broadly, that the Israeli police and military must stop clashing with Palestinian demonstrators.4
  • MAY 7: On the last Friday of Ramadan, Israeli police raid the Al-Asqa Mosque. Police claim that the action is in anticipation of the site being used as a gathering and supply storage space for violent Palestinian demonstrators. The Arab-Palestinian community responds with even more demonstrations, and violent clashes between Jewish and Arab groups spread throughout the country.5
  • MAY 10: Coinciding with the final hearing in the Sheikh Jarrah case and celebrations and demonstrations for Jerusalem Day (a holiday celebrating East Jerusalem coming under Israeli control following the Six Day War in 1967), another raid takes place at Al-Asqa. At 6 pm, Hamas launches 150 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts many of the rockets. Ultimately, no one is killed in the attack but the rockets injure some people and damage property.6
  • MAY 10 – MAY 20: Immediately following the rocket attack, which in part targeted the capital, Jerusalem, the Israeli military begins an airstrike campaign killing 20 people, including nine children. Hamas rocket fire, street clashes, Israeli airstrikes, and military and police actions continue. Thus far, the conflict has resulted in deaths of more than 200 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel, with thousands more injured and hospitalized on all sides. Adding to the tensions are rocket attacks that are suspected of originating in Syria and Lebanon, as well as growing anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian demonstrations in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. Across the world, demonstrations are also taking place with various groups demanding support or condemnation for the actions of Israel and Hamas.7
  • MAY 20: Israel and Hamas agree to a ceasefire to be monitored by Egypt.8

The U.S. Response

Historically, the United States has been a strong supporter of Israel and it remains among Israel’s closest allies. Public support for Israel, and specifically for the Israeli people, has remained fairly widespread in the United States, with roughly 70 to 75 percent of Americans expressing a favorable view of Israel in Gallup polls between 2018 and 2021. Sentiment toward the Palestinian Authority has gradually warmed over time, with favorability increasing from 21 percent in 2018 to 30 percent in 2021.9

A possible result of this shifting sentiment is an increasing number of lawmakers, particularly liberal Democrats, speaking out against U.S. policy toward Israel. Representative Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the nation’s first Palestinian American elected to Congress, has been vocal in her opposition to the Biden administration’s statements of support for Israel in this conflict and has spoken frequently about crimes she alleges Israel has carried out against its Palestinian population.10 Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also made headlines when she recently drafted a resolution to block a $735 million arms sale to Israel, a resolution which has gained the support of other prominent officials such as Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.11 Most Democratic leaders have yet to publicly make such criticisms, but the willingness of any national politician to be so openly critical represents a significant development and a likely shift in Democratic voters’ opinions.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have remained steadfast in their support for Israel, choosing either to not comment beyond voicing their support for Israel’s right to defend itself or to outright condemn Democratic colleagues who have voiced opposition. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats of “regularly engaging in hateful antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric,” while Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has criticized the Biden administration and suggested that President Joe Biden will yield to the “far-left” and block the upcoming arms sale.12

For its part, the Biden administration has been relatively cautious in its public statements on the conflict. Initially, the administration made little commentary beyond President Biden affirming Israel’s right to protect its interests.13 However, on May 19, it was reported that President Biden held a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging a de-escalation of the conflict. Despite this, Netanyahu recommitted to the offensive against Hamas as necessary for any ceasefire to occur.14 Although a ceasefire has now been agreed to, this seeming divide between the two leaders has fueled speculation about how the U.S.-Israeli alliance will evolve moving forward.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are questions you have about the current and historical Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What do you know for certain about the region and its people? What are areas you need to learn more about?
  2. What do you believe the role of the United States should be in conflicts outside of the country? What role could the United States play if it is not already doing so?
  3. For decades, the typical response of U.S. politicians regarding conflict in Israel has been that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Do you agree with that sentiment? To what extent? Is that sentiment alone sufficient to address the issue? Why or why not?

Related Posts:

U.S. Iranian Relations Following the Death of Qasem Soleimani

President Trump Seeks to Further Reduce U.S. Military Presence in Syria

Calm or Chaos: The Role of the Media During a Crisis

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES
[5] Ibid.



Reshaping the Economy

Joe and Jill Biden at School

President Joe Biden is currently promoting his plan to transform the U.S. economy.1 In a previous blog post, we explored one element of that plan: infrastructure. In this post, we will examine some details of the Biden administration’s American Families Plan.

What is in the Plan?

According to the White House, the American Families Plan is “an investment in our kids, our families, and our economic future.”2 The White House argues, “It is not enough to restore where we were prior to the pandemic. We need to build a stronger economy that does not leave anyone behind—we need to build back better.”3

The American Families Plan focuses on education, medical leave, and the costs of raising children. Some of the most significant elements of the plan include:

  • Making College More Affordable: The plan would invest roughly $160 billion to make two years of community college free and increase Pell Grants for low-income students who are admitted to universities. The plan would also create a program to subsidize tuition for low-income students who attend historically Black and other minority-serving institutions.
  • Universal Preschool: The plan calls for a $200 billion investment to create universal preschool for three- and four-year-old children. The plan would call for state governments to pay half of the cost with the federal government paying the rest.
  • Child Care and Child Nutrition: The plan would subsidize child care for low- and middle-income families and expand current programs to include roughly ten million more children in free and reduced-price meal programs.
  • Paid Family Medical Leave: Under the plan, the federal government would subsidize sick leave for all workers who do not have sick leave from their jobs. The White House estimates that this would cost $225 billion over ten years.4

The Biden administration argues that it would be able to pay for the plan by raising taxes on the top one percent of earners to pre-2017 levels, raising the tax on investment income for anyone earning over $1 million through investment, eliminating a tax break for real estate investors, and enhancing Internal Revenue Service enforcement on the very wealthy.5

The Debate

Congressional Republicans have raised many concerns about the American Families Plan. They argue that the tax increases would hurt the U.S. economy, slow job growth, and harm the very people that the plan is intended to help.6 They note that the plan throws astronomical sums of money—which the government simply does not have—at new entitlements, such as universal preschool, that some Americans do not need. Kelsey Bolar, a senior policy analyst at the conservative-leaning Independent Women’s Forum, argues that the plan is not what women, and especially working moms, need. She contends that the one-size-fits-all approach would further limit people’s flexibility and choice.7

A recent poll showed that nearly 60 percent of voters support the American Families Plan and 30 percent oppose it, with the rest having no opinion.8 Kevin Shafer, a health and social policy expert at Brigham Young University, argues that the plan is necessary to bring about equity in the economy and to protect children from poverty.9 Bernard Yaros of Moody’s Analytics said that the plan has “meaningful longer-term economic benefits by increasing labor force participation and the educational attainment of the population.”10

This is a large bill that would impact many aspects of the U.S. economy and it is made all the more complicated because it is part of the president’s broader economic plan for recovery and infrastructure. As Congress debates the future of the U.S. economy, this is a good time for voters to make their voices heard on these issues.

Discussion Questions

  1. How has your community’s economy been affected by the pandemic?
  2. Do you think there are people in your community who struggle with the cost of child care? What about higher education?
  3. Do you think that it is the government’s responsibility to address economic inequality? Is that an appropriate power of the federal government?
  4. How would passage of the American Families Plan impact the community in which you live?
  5. Do you support the ideas in the American Families Plan? Why or why not?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!


Featured Image Credit: Evan Vucci/AP
[1] Politico:
[3] Ibid.
[4],, NPR News:
[6] Washington Post:
[7] The Hill:
[8] Morning Consult:
[9] Deseret News:


Build It and They Will Come: The Biden Infrastructure Plan

Alex Brandon/AP ImagesPresident Joe Biden is currently campaigning to promote his administration’s infrastructure plan. The plan is intended to address three main areas of concern: crumbling or inadequate infrastructure, job creation and economic growth, and environmental issues. In this post, we will focus on the infrastructure goals of the plan.

What is Infrastructure?

Infrastructure refers to the basic facilities and structures that allow a community or nation to function. It can include transportation, energy and power, basic resources such as water, telecommunications (phones and internet access), and waste removal and management. While talking about infrastructure often conjures images of rebuilding old bridges and adding new highways, it also includes other less “tangible” structures such as broadband access.

What’s in the Biden infrastructure plan?

The plan, formally named the American Rescue Plan, would invest two trillion dollars over a fifteen-year period to rebuild or build new infrastructure, make the economy more equitable, combat climate change, and boost economic growth.1 Major infrastructure-related portions of the proposal include2:

  • 621 billion dollars for transportation, with a focus on roads, bridges, and railways.
  • 300 billion dollars towards reinvesting in U.S. manufacturing, with a focus on green energy, high tech, and medical manufacturing.
  • 213 billion dollars on affordable and energy efficient housing.
  • 111 billion dollars for water infrastructure, including replacing old pipes and removing any pipes containing lead, and upgrading sewage and water runoff systems.
  • 100 billion dollars to build or upgrade public school buildings.
  • 100 billion dollars in digital infrastructure, including providing nation-wide affordable broadband access, with a focus on rural and urban areas.

The plan also calls for raising corporate taxes to pre-2017 levels and changing tax codes to encourage large global companies to invest and produce more in the U.S.3

Hear from Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and David Rouzer (R-NC) as they discuss President Biden’s 2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

The Debate

Most of the debate over the infrastructure spending outlined above revolves around how much the U.S. can afford to spend and whether it is a good idea to raise taxes. Steve Scalise, a Republican member of Congress from Louisiana, called the plan a “budget-busting tax hike spending boondoggle masquerading as an infrastructure bill,” and said it would send more jobs overseas and hurt the middle class.4 Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) the Republican leader in the House, said the plan is too big and too expensive. He also cautioned that “the real challenge is in these great big bills there’s just waste, fraud, abuse, but more importantly corruption.”5While critics of the plan have focused on cost, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg argued that “doing nothing is what’s truly unaffordable.” He went on to say that, as infrastructure fails and the U.S. continues to fall behind other nations, the cost for addressing these issues will only grow. “We’re either going to pay now or we’re going to pay a lot more later.”6

While Congress is largely divided along party lines, the plan is finding some Republican support among governors and mayors. Nic Hunter, the Republican mayor of Lake Charles, Louisiana said, “I do believe we can agree on the dire need here in Lake Charles for an infrastructure plan that can build us a new bridge and I do believe we can agree on the dire need to support disaster relief in Southwest Louisiana…Any member of Congress out there listening: Lake Charles needs help right now. And we are asking for it.”7

This is a large and complicated plan. In this post, we’ve only examined some of the largest elements of the proposal. As the proposal takes shape in Congress, the debate may become even more contentious, or there may be places where the two parties can negotiate.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you describe the infrastructure of your community? Think of road quality, traffic, access to rail and public transportation, the state of public school buildings, and internet access, among other things.
  2. How would you prioritize infrastructure spending? Think of the specific goals outlined above.
  3. How would you advise your member of Congress to vote on this proposal? Which elements of the proposal are most important to your community? Which elements are the least important?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Alex Brandon/AP Images
[2] New York Times:
[4] AP News:
[5] New York Post:
[6] ABC News:
[7] AP News:



The Georgia Election Law—Election Security or Voter Suppression?

On April 3, 2021, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Election Integrity Act of 2021. This new voting law enacts sweeping changes to Georgia’s election system which could have significant implications for the outcome of future elections. Republicans in Georgia and across the United States have hailed the law as a vital and necessary reform to enhance the security of elections, with similar measures coming before legislatures in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, and Texas.1 Democrats, including President Joe Biden and Georgia voting activist Stacey Abrams, have described the law as modern day Jim Crow, invoking the obstacles put in place prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prevent people of color from voting throughout the American South.2,3

So, what exactly does this law do?

Provisions of the Law

The Election Integrity Act of 2021 creates numerous changes, but some the most significant include:

  • Instead of a signature, absentee ballots will require a voter’s driver’s license number or state ID number, the last four digits of a social security number, or a photocopy of an approved alternate form of ID.
  • Ballot drop boxes will now be available in all elections but are limited to one per 100,000 voters or one per voting location (whichever is the lower number). Drop boxes will no longer be available 24/7; they must be placed inside voting locations and be accessible during operating hours only.
  • Early in-person voting has been expanded to three weeks before an election.
  • Absentee ballot request forms can no longer be sent out without being requested by individual voters.
  • The time to request an absentee ballot has been reduced from six months to three months before an election. The deadline to submit an absentee ballot has been changed from four days to 11 days before an election.
  • It is now a misdemeanor for any non-poll worker to provide food or water to anyone within 150 feet of a polling location. Poll workers may only make water available to people in line to vote if the water is not attended by a person.
  • The Georgia General Assembly will now appoint three out of five of all county election boards and have the ability to replace that board with a special administrator if they judge the board to have “poor performance.” The law revokes the ability of the secretary of state to vote on the State Board of Elections.
  • Runoff elections will now occur four weeks after the general election instead of nine weeks after the general election (which makes it impossible to register to vote between the general election and the runoff, according to current state registration deadlines).
  • The law prohibits private donations to fund local elections.4

The Controversy

Proponents of the new law argue that its provisions are vital to maintaining election security, particularly in the wake of the 2020 election, which saw numerous emergency changes made to Georgia voting procedures due to social distancing requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic.5 Supporters insist that the changes the law makes are commonsense measures, such as improving security for ballots left in drop boxes. For example, by asking voters to provide an ID number on an absentee ballot instead of signing it, supporters note that the law removes the need for the sometimes confusing process of signature verification. Supporters of the law in Georgia state government (most of whom are Republicans) also cite public mistrust of election integrity following unfounded accusations of voter fraud made by former President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans, and Georgia legislators.6

Opponents of the law argue that these changes have little to do with election integrity, since thorough auditing of the Georgia elections and elections throughout the country have revealed virtually no voter fraud or significant errors.7 Instead, critics suggest that the law is a response to the record voter turnout in the 2020 election, particularly among minority populations, which played a role in President Biden’s win in Georgia as well as the upset victories of Senators Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.8 These 2020 victories for Democrats marked the first time since 1992 that Georgia went to a Democratic presidential candidate and had two Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Opponents of the law suggest that the majority Republican legislature is taking steps to ensure that fewer poor, urban, and minority voters (who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats) can easily cast ballots going forward and guarantee Republican victories at both the state and national levels.9

WATCH: Learn more about the competing arguments surrounding the Georgia voting law and other voting laws around the country by watching Georgia state Representatives Jasmine Clark (D) and Robert Dickey (R) discuss their views on ASP Explores

Discussion Questions

  1. What provisions of the law, if any, do you find reasonable? What provisions, if any, do you object to?
  2. What do you think the criteria should be for an individual to cast a vote?
  3. Do you believe that states should continue to maintain control of the elections they hold? Should there be different standards for local, state, and national elections? Should national elections be administered or regulated by the federal government instead?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

Related Blog Posts:

Restoring Confidence or Destroying Democracy?

The 50th Anniversary of the 26th Amendment

Political Violence and the 2020 Election





Record Numbers of Unaccompanied Minors Are Seeking Asylum in U.S.

unaccompanied minorLast month, nearly 19,000 unaccompanied migrant children were stopped at the U.S.-Mexican border, a record since documentation began in 2010, beating a previous record set in May of 2019.1 Currently, the Biden administration is allowing only children traveling alone to stay in the U.S. while their asylum claims are being evaluated, a process that can take up to five years due to the large backlog of cases.2 Apprehended adults, even those claiming asylum, are being turned away under Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control policy that was implemented last year in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.3

When children are found by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), they are placed in a detention center awaiting transfer to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which will then place them in foster care, usually close relatives living in the U.S.4 CBP must turn over children to HHS within 72 hours, but because of the large number of children arriving and the shortage of HHS facilities, children are staying in CBP custody an average of 117 hours.5 Currently, HHS is opening several Emergency Intake Sites (EIS) along the border, in some cases taking over performance and convention centers in order to avoid crowding and adhere to COVID-19 protocols.6

The reasons for the surge of unaccompanied migrant minors attempting to cross the border are complex and debated. Eve Meade, professor at the University of San Diego states that “most immediately we have a sequence of natural disasters in Central America. And in a little bit of broader context, we have the coronavirus pandemic which has hit Central America and Mexico much worse. And then third you have this long-term security crisis in the region.”7 Critics of Biden’s administration point to his loosening of the Title 42 restrictions; under the Trump administration even unaccompanied children were sent back to Mexico.8 President Biden has responded to criticism denying that more migrants were arriving because he is “a nice guy,” reasoning that “they come because their circumstance is so bad.”9 In a March 25 press conference, Biden maintained that the high number of migrants was cyclical with increasing numbers of people finding the situation in their home nations untenable.10

In order to address the growing numbers of children, in addition to opening more HHS facilitates, the Biden administration is deploying the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to help shelter and transport children. President Biden is collaborating with the Mexican government in order to start talks with several Central American governments.11 He is asking for $4 billion dollars in aid to be sent to these countries in order to address crime, poverty, and other factors driving migration, and is restarting “a program that allows certain Central American children with parents lawfully living in the United States to apply for a refugee resettlement from their home countries.”12 On March 24, he appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the task force assembled to address the issue.13

Some critics of Biden’s plans have pointed to a broken immigration system that is in need of a complete overhaul. Immigration attorney, Andy J. Semotiuk, writes in Forbes, “In the end, however, what is happening at the border is part of a larger broken immigration system that is in need of reform…What is needed to address the southern border problem is a displaced persons policy similar to what America had at the end of World War II where U.S. sponsors help relieve the burden of bringing refugees into the country.”14

Although critical of Biden’s response to the record number of migrants arriving at the border, Republicans are not currently pushing for complete immigration reform because what has been seen as previous failures to address illegal immigration.15 Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn has proposed a different plan that would eliminate the “catch and release” policy that allowed children and adults in CBP custody to be released to their families in the United States while waiting for their immigration cases to be heard. He is instead advocating that immigrants and asylum seekers be processed while their cases are being heard.16 With a backlog of cases that numbers in the millions, it is unclear how that kind of speed in proceedings would be achieved.17

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with President Biden’s change in the Trump administration’s policy that now allows unaccompanied minors to stay in the U.S. while awaiting their court hearings? Why or why not?
  2. Which policies presented above seem the most reasonable to enact? Why?
  3. Immigration reform is a complex policy issue that includes humanitarian, political, social, and international concerns among others. What values do you think policy makers should consider when making decisions regarding problems in our immigration system? Explain your reasoning.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!


Featured Image Credit: Dario Lopez-Mills – Pool/Getty Images
[1] NBC Los Angeles.
[2] NBC News.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Associated Press.
[5] NPR.
[6] The Grunion.
[7] NBC San Diego.
[8] Reuters.
[9] Ibid.
[10] USA Today.
[11] Time.
[12] Reuters.
[13] Time.
[14] Forbes.
[15] Houston Chronical.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.


Women: A Majority in the United States, A Minority in U.S. Government

Andrew Harnik Press PoolThe year 2021 has already been a ground-breaking one for women in national politics. Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman and person of color to hold the office, the 117th Congress includes the largest number of female members in U.S. history, and President Joe Biden’s cabinet will ultimately include 11 women, setting a new record. The number of women in the cabinet is particularly noteworthy; with 13 men making up the rest of the cabinet, the positions are almost evenly split (although among the heads of the executive departments, there are five women and ten men).1 During this Women’s History Month, just over 100 years since women had their right to vote ratified in the Constitution, the continued expansion of the role of women in government is worth celebrating.

However, despite a trend that has seen more women occupying elected offices around the country each year, the overall representation of women in politics remains disproportionately low. Women make up just under 51 percent of the U.S. population—or to put it plainly, more Americans identify as women than do not.2 Yet women occupy only 26.4 percent of congressional seats (House and Senate), 30.3 percent of state-level executive offices, and 30.9 percent of state-level legislative seats.3

VIEW: “Women in Elective Office 2021,” from Rutgers University

The numbers are even more disproportionate when one looks at women of color in political office. Women of color make up 18.7 percent of the U.S. population, yet they occupy only 9.2 percent of congressional seats, 5.8 percent of state-level executive offices, and 7.5 percent of state-level legislative seats.4 For national and state governments to be genuinely representative of the population by sex and race, we should expect there to be nearly twice as many women in office and nearly three times as many women of color.

VIEW: “Women of Color in Elective Office 2021,” from Rutgers University

There are a litany of factors to account for this discrepancy, from issues as esoteric as gerrymandering and the prolonged incumbency of men to problems as fundamental as systemic racism and barriers to entry for women in careers which lend themselves to running for elected office (such as lawyers, judges, and CEOs).5 However, the discrepancy between the female population and female representation has not gone unnoticed. Dozens of grassroots organizations, nonprofits, and political action committees have emerged and dedicated themselves to supporting women who are interested in running for office at all levels of government. Many of the organizations have seen tremendous success and count dozens of women currently serving in government among their alumnae.

You can learn more about these organizations, ways to get involved, and how to prepare to run for office yourself using these links:

IGNITE (nonpartisan)

VoteRunLead (nonpartisan)

Emily’s List (liberal-progressive)

Maggie’s List (conservative)

Higher Heights for America (liberal-progressive/women of color)

Republican Women for Progress (conservative)

Run for Something (liberal-progressive)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What particular challenges might women face when running for office in your town, in your state, or nationwide?
  2. What other groups do you imagine are underrepresented or overrepresented in government? What reasons might there be to explain this?
  3. As mentioned before, President Biden’s cabinet now consists of 11 women and 13 men, making it closer to being representative of the female share of the population than any other cabinet. Should government bodies make more of an effort to have their membership reflect the demographics of their constituency? If so, how? If not, why not?
  4. Within the political parties themselves, there is a discrepancy in female representation, with far more women running and being elected as Democrats than as Republicans. Currently in Congress, of the 141 women serving, 103 are Democrats (38.3 percent of the party’s seats) and 38 are Republicans (14.6 percent of the party’s seats). Both of these totals fall below the female proportion of the overall population, but why do you believe there is such a discrepancy between the parties?

Related Posts:

New Congress New Ideas

Gender Identity and Official IDs

ERA Won’t Go Away

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!





The 50th Anniversary of the 26th Amendment

student-protests-26th-amendmentCongress passed the 26th Amendment in March 1971; it was ratified by the states and signed by President Richard Nixon by July of that same year.1 The amendment lowered the voting age to 18. It reads:

Section 1

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Section 2

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.2

WATCH: President Nixon Certifies the 26th Amendment

The movement to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 was the product of several decades. In 1942, Representative Jennings Randolph, D-W.Va., introduced the first federal legislation to lower the voting age to 18, arguing, “They possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world and are anxious to rectify those ills.”3 During World War II, advocates used the slogan, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”4 This slogan became a rallying cry during the Vietnam War because of that war’s unpopularity.5

Primary Source: Letter from the Youth Franchise Coalition to Senator Birch Bayh, D-Ind., Chairman of the Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee (Judiciary)

Image Credit: Scot Wilson; Birch Bayh Senatorial Papers, Indiana University

Debates over access to the ballot remain a central feature of U.S. democracy. Recently, Republicans have proposed at least 250 state laws that would make voting requirements stricter in various ways, while Democrats in Congress are promoting federal legislation to increase voter registration, soften voter ID laws, and require states to make voting more convenient.6 For more on this, see our March 8 post on competing election reform proposals.

READ: From the Current Issues Blog, “Should the Voting Age Be Lowered to 16?”

As debates about elections and voting continue, it is important to pause and reflect on the turning points that expanded suffrage in U.S. elections.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think that the rallying cry, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” makes a good argument? Why or why not?
  2. Were there other good arguments for lowering the voting age to 18?
  3. Turnout among 18-20-year-old voters lags behind that of other age groups. Why do you think that is the case?
  4. How could schools and other community organizations support the engagement of young people with the political process?
  5. How could political candidates better engage young voters?

This year marks 50 years since the passage and ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 in all 50 states. Join us for a conversation this Thursday, March 25, on the importance of this amendment, how young voters have grown over time, and how to engage young people in our democracy.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Tom Barlet; Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection
[4] National World War II Museum:
[5] National Archives:
[6] Washington Post: