WASHINGTON — The new Democratic-controlled House has moved toward defending former President Barack Obama’s health care law against a federal court ruling that the statute is unconstitutional, part of the party’s effort to use the issue to embarrass Republicans.
The House has filed papers seeking to intervene in the case, Democrats announced Friday, which by itself is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the litigation. The House action’s greatest impact is likely to be political.
The chamber plans to vote next week to authorize its attorneys to enter the case and defend the law. That is designed to force Republicans to choose between seeming to defend the statute they have long despised or supporting the demise of its widely popular benefits.
“While the administration refuses to meet its responsibilities to defend the laws, the House of Representatives is acting to uphold the constitutionality of this law and protect the health care of every American,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a written statement.
In June, Trump administration lawyers stopped defending key parts of the law, including its guaranteed access to health insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The Justice Department usually defends federal laws in court, but Trump has long unsuccessfully sought to repeal the health care statute. Congressional Republicans unanimously opposed the 2010 law and have voted repeatedly to repeal it.
The statute has gained public acceptance, particularly its protections for people with pre-existing conditions. To defend themselves during last fall’s campaigns, many Republicans said they’d back legislation ensuring coverage for people with pre-existing medical issues.
A federal judge in Texas said last month that the law was unconstitutional because Congress repealed its fines on uninsured people. The suit has moved to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and in the meantime the law’s provisions remain in effect.
The House voted Thursday — the first day of the new Congress — to give preliminary approval to its attorneys to enter the case, a provision that was part of a broad package of rules the chamber adopted. Democrats intended the early vote to signal that health care is a high priority.
During that debate, Republicans offered a non-binding measure saying lawmakers should produce legislation protecting consumers with pre-existing conditions. Democrats blocked it.
The Mayborn Museum’s “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” is sailing on to its next destination, with two days left in the blockbuster show that is leaving organizers with smiles.
The exhibit, which tells the story of the 1912 sinking of the passenger liner RMS Titanic through 150 items recovered from the sea floor, drew some 50,000 visitors and boosted overall museum attendance during its seven-month run, the Mayborn’s longest time to host a national touring exhibit.
That increase and the expanded attention to the museum during the “Titanic’s” stay rewarded the extra expense, logistics and manpower needed for the show, museum Director Charlie Walter said.
“It was an outstanding experience for us and for our visitors,” Walter said. “You do something like this every three to five years because it’s hard on your institution and staff, but it shows the community what you can do.”
Museum spokesperson Rebecca Nall said anyone wanting a last-minute visit Saturday or Sunday should buy tickets online in advance or come early. The exhibit’s last entry time is 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Mayborn administrators considered “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” the 14-year-old museum’s first true blockbuster show in terms of scale and audience appeal. Attendance seemed to prove that true, amplifying the peaks of the museum’s usual attendance patterns and bringing in visitors from across the state and nation. Nall, like other Mayborn staffers, filled in for Baylor student workers during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, during which she fielded calls from incoming visitors from Dallas, Austin and Central Texas.
“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” brought some firsts for museum operation, including online ticketing, timed entry tickets, revamping of the museum’s foyer space to accommodate an admissions queue, extra staffing to handle crowds and designation of some McLane Stadium parking for overflow when the Mayborn’s lots were filled. All but the overflow parking were needed, Walter said.
“I’m very proud of the staff and the planning that was done,” he said.
The increased visibility the “Titanic” show gave the Mayborn also may have led to a bump in giving that benefited the museum’s upcoming Backyard Ecology Hall, a $1.2 million renovation to part of the Discovery Center expected to open in September.
The big bump in museum attendance resulted in a slight bump in revenue. Much of the difference between the Titanic ticket price and that for regular museum admission went to the exhibitor, Premier Exhibitions, with the Mayborn enjoying the uptick in regular museum admissions.
Hosting “Titanic” meant some increased expenses for the Mayborn, including about $30,000 for additional special lighting and another $30,000 in shipping costs to return the exhibit back to its Atlanta storehouse.
Normally, the next museum or venue on an exhibition’s tour picks up the shipping costs from its previous location, but a Premier Exhibitions bankruptcy case has put “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” tour temporarily on hold until some legal issues are resolved, saddling the Mayborn with both sets of shipping expenses.
“(Financially) it was pretty much a wash,” Walter said.
The Mayborn’s “Titanic” experience will prove valuable in other ways, he said. There is the experience gained to stage future big exhibits, a higher visibility and prestige and the memories that museum visitors take away.
Nall said many of those leaving the “Titanic” exhibit during its run commented on how its account of the luxury liner’s tragic sinking that killed more than 1,000 passengers, had touched them emotionally.
With “Titanic” sailing away, the museum’s next blockbuster on the horizon will be dinosaurs, really big dinosaurs in the American Museum of Natural History’s touring exhibit on the world’s largest dinosaurs, penciled in for the summer of 2021.
Later this month, the Mayborn will open a new exhibit on a much smaller scale and for a much, physically anyway, smaller audience: a kid-friendly “Very Eric Carle” based on the children’s books by Eric Carle.
That variety in exhibits and the experience planned for audiences who visit them point to a museum’s mission, Walter believes.
“I think that’s what museums are for: To experience the world on a deeper level,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said President Donald Trump is correct to demand $5 billion for border security, including a border wall, in negotiations to end the partial federal government shutdown that has lasted two weeks so far.
Flores, who on Thursday started his fifth term representing Waco, said Friday morning he was hopeful that congressional leaders would reach a deal with Trump. But after leaders met with Trump, the president threatened the shutdown could last “months, or even years” if the wall is not funded.
Flores said he believes Democrats are simply looking to “fight the president,” because they have supported border security measures in the past.
“I think one of the challenges is the president refers to border security as the wall,” Flores said. “I’m not in his head. Here’s my thinking on that. My hypothesis is that, one, it keeps his base engaged. The second thing is I think it irritates the Democrats.”
He said an uptick in attempted illegal border crossings shows the need for a package that would include a physical barrier, technology to help border agents and more boots on the ground.
“I’m against anything the length of the border from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico,” Flores said. “But there are areas where the geography will allow for a barrier, and we have increased risks of crossings where a barrier is the most cost-effective way to maintain border security.”
Flores said he also wants Congress to reach a solution on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program implemented under President Barack Obama that allowed young immigrants illegally living in the United States to remain in the country because they were brought as children. He would also support a solution to the family-separation crisis and an investment to improve the economic and security situations in violent Central American countries people are fleeing.
Mary Duty, chairwoman of the McLennan County Democratic Party, said the shutdown has become a “sideshow” and is an unfortunate situation for the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are not being paid.
“His constituency that got him in the White House is thinking about a wall, like the Great Wall of China. … It’s semantics,” Duty said. “I do think the Democratic Party, with Nancy Pelosi and her leadership, has provided a way out” through stopgap spending bills.
“The Democrats seem to be asking for a broader discussion, and I think that’s the way they ought to go,” Duty said.
Vice President Mike Pence and other leaders are expected to participate in discussions this weekend on the shutdown and border security.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Friday he could keep parts of the government shut down for “months or even years” as he and Democratic leaders failed in a second closed-door meeting to resolve his demand for billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico. They did agree to a new round of weekend talks between staff members and White House officials.
Trump met in the White House Situation Room with congressional leaders from both parties as the shutdown hit the two-week mark amid the impasse over his wall demands. Democrats emerged from the two-hour meeting, which both sides said was contentious at times, to report little if any progress.
Appearing in the Rose Garden, Trump spoke more positively, calling it a “very good meeting.” He confirmed he “absolutely” made the comment about the possible length of the shutdown but said he hoped it wouldn’t last that long.
He also said he could declare a national emergency and authorize more wall funding on his own but would first try a “negotiated process.” Trump previously described the situation at the border as a “national emergency” before he dispatched active duty troops in what critics described as a pre-election stunt.
Asked if he was still proud to own the shutdown as he has previously declared, Trump said: “I don’t call it a shutdown. I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and the safety of our country.”
As anxiety mounts over the length of the shutdown, Trump said the hundreds of thousands who are furloughed or working without pay would want him to “keep going” and fight for border security. He said, “These people in many cases are the biggest fan” of his actions.
Democrats, on the other hand, spoke of families unable to pay bills and called on Trump to reopen the government while negotiations continue on border security. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It’s very hard to see how progress will be made unless they open up the government.”
Friday’s meeting came after House Democrats muscled through legislation Thursday night to fund the government but not Trump’s proposed wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said those measures are non-starters on his side of the Capitol without the president’s support.
As the impasse dragged on, however, some GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 voiced discomfort.
Cory Gardner of Colorado said Congress should pass bipartisan bills to fund government “while we continue to fight for more border security money.” And Susan Collins of Maine said her “goal is to get government reopened as quickly as possible.”
“Negotiations on border security should continue while a stopgap funding resolution is approved for the Department of Homeland Security,” she said.
Trump designated Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and adviser Jared Kushner to work with a congressional delegation over the weekend. He was joined by Pence in the Rose Garden, as well as House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise.
McConnell, who went back to the Capitol instead, said it was encouraging that the working group of White House officials and the congressional contingent would meet over the weekend “to see if they can reach an agreement and then punt it back to us for final sign off.”
Senate Democratic leader Schumer said that if McConnell and Senate Republicans stay on the sidelines, “Trump can keep the government shut down for a long time.”
“The president needs an intervention,” Schumer said. “And Senate Republicans are just the right ones to intervene.”
Adding to national unease about the shutdown are economic jitters as analysts warn of the risks of closures that are disrupting government operations across multiple departments and agencies at a time of other uncertainties in the stock market and foreign trade.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump and Senate Republicans should “take yes for an answer” and pass the House legislation — without money for the wall — that the Senate approved on a voice vote last month.
“We’re not doing a wall. Does anyone have any doubt that we’re not doing a wall?” Pelosi said Thursday night.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is close to Trump, said he spoke to the president Thursday about a potential compromise package that would include wall money and some way to provide legal standing for the young immigrants here illegally but working or attending school under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump ended the program, but a lawsuit to allow it to continue is making its way through the courts.
“He’s open-minded to this,” Graham said in an interview, but he added the president “hasn’t committed.”
Pelosi has already said she opposes trading DACA for the wall. But Graham said in the interview, “If you got a better off-ramp I’m all ears.”
Trump appeared cool to the prospect of a deal including DACA, saying “we’ll discuss it at another time” and adding that he was waiting to see what happens to that issue in the courts.
In their first votes of the new Congress, House Democrats approved bills Thursday night to re-open government at previously agreed upon levels. Several Republicans crossed over to join them.
Friday’s White House meeting with Trump included eight leaders — the top two Democrats and Republicans of both chambers. A session earlier in the week produced finger pointing with no breakthroughs.
Trump on Wednesday told the leaders he would “look foolish” if he gave in without the billions of dollars he is asking for the wall.
Asked if she would give Trump $1 for a wall to reopen the government, Pelosi said: “One dollar? Yeah, one dollar. The fact is a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation.”
Polls show a majority of Americans oppose the border wall, although Republicans strongly support it.
White House and Department of Homeland Security officials have spent recent days trying to make both a public and private case that the situation at the border has reached a crisis point.
Trump tweeted an ominous video Thursday with images of what appeared to be migrants trying to rush the border and clashing with law enforcement, beneath the words “crisis at the border,” ‘’drugs” and “crime.” The video concludes with footage of Trump at the border along with audio from one of his rallies in which he vows to build his promised border wall and the crowd chants “Build the wall!”