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Manchin permitting reform bill includes approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline

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WASHINGTON – The energy permitting proposal that centrist Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III made a condition of his support for the Inflation Reduction Act would impose timelines on federal agencies responsible for approving energy projects, according to the text of the measure released late Wednesday.

Congressional Democrats are deeply divided over the Manchin permitting bill, with some on the left worried it would remove tools for communities to oppose projects with major environmental impacts. The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, blasted the Manchin plan on Wednesday night and said, “My colleagues and I don’t want this.”

A provision in the legislation to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and Manchin’s home state of West Virginia also alienated Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who said he was not consulted and raised strong objections.

“I cannot support the Mountain Valley Pipeline-related provisions in this legislative text,” he said in a statement. “Over 100 miles of this pipeline are in Virginia, but I was not included in the discussions regarding the MVP provisions and therefore not given an opportunity to share Virginians’ concerns. In that sense, I stand in the same position as many of my constituents who have felt ignored along the way.”


Meanwhile, Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley is leading a letter from Senate progressives urging separate votes on a must-pass stopgap spending measure and the permitting legislation, according to a Politico report.

Adding to problems, the top Senate Republican on the chamber’s spending committee told States Newsroom Wednesday afternoon that the inclusion of the permitting measure and other provisions may make the stopgap bill unworkable.

But Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has continued to say the Manchin plan will be included in the stopgap spending bill to keep the government open when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Details on Manchin plan

The Manchin bill would not remove any federal permitting requirements.

Instead, it would prescribe timelines for federal agencies to complete their reviews, including a two-year target for National Environmental Policy Act reviews on major projects. Such reviews can take up to 10 years, Manchin has said.

The bill includes a section requiring federal agencies to approve the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has been partially constructed to send natural gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia, upsetting Kaine.

Federal climate deal could force completion of Mountain Valley Pipeline

The bill would also set a five-month limit on court challenges and require federal agencies to act within six months when a court remands a decision to them.

Manchin’s proposal would also designate a lead federal agency to coordinate project reviews. The lead agency would monitor requirements and deadlines set at the state level.

Manchin and other supporters of the measure have said it’s needed to deliver energy from renewable sources like wind and solar.

“If you’re going to build a wind farm or a solar farm in the middle of the desert where there’s no people … you’ve got to have permitting reform to get it done,” Manchin said Tuesday. “You’re not going to be able to deliver the energy that people need.”

American Clean Power Association Heather Zichal said that “as renewable energy projects become more prevalent … we must consider reasonable permitting reforms that preserve the substance of bedrock environmental laws while expediting the review process under them.”

But other environmental groups have already come out in opposition to the measure.

“Building a clean energy future that benefits all Americans cannot start by silencing frontline communities and eroding the laws that protect our access to clean air and water,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Director of Federal Affairs Nat Mund in a statement. “It’s absurd to suggest this deal, early versions of which were literally covered with fossil fuel lobbyists’ digital fingerprints, will do anything but exacerbate climate change at the expense of communities that depend on clean air and water that this proposal threatens.”

Progressive opposition

Members of Senate Democrats’ progressive wing have for weeks criticized potential permitting reforms, which they say would remove power from local communities seeking to challenge pipelines and other projects.

Merkley, the chairman of the Senate appropriations panel on Interior and environmental agencies, and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, all reportedly signed on to the letter calling for separate votes on the permitting bill and the stopgap bill — which would allow senators to stake out a clear position on the Manchin plan.

A spokeswoman for Merkley confirmed the Politico report but declined to comment further or provide a copy of the letter Wednesday.

“We are making clear we would like a separate vote — a separate debate and a separate vote — on the permitting process,” Warren told reporters Wednesday.

More than 70 House Democrats sent a similar letter to leaders of their caucus earlier this month.

Grijalva, who spearheaded House Democrats’ letter, issued a strong statement in opposition to the Manchin proposal.

The measure shortens public comment periods, provides fewer ways for communities to oppose projects and weakens enforcement of foundational environmental and public health laws, the Arizona Democrat said.

Federal court (again) overturns (another) Mountain Valley Pipeline permit

“These dangerous permitting shortcuts have been on industry wish lists for years,” he said. “And now they’ve added the Mountain Valley Pipeline approval as the rotten cherry on top of the pile. The very fact that this fossil fuel brainchild is being force-fed into must-pass government funding speaks to its unpopularity.”

Kaine, who recently reintroduced separate legislation with Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner to increase public input and notification requirements for pipelines as well as clarify the circumstances under which eminent domain can be exercised, said he agreed “with the need to reform our broken process for permitting infrastructure” but disagreed with the congressional approval of the pipeline.

“Green-lighting the MVP is contrary to the spirit of permitting reform,” he said. “Such a deliberate action by Congress to put its thumb on the scale and simply approve this project while shutting down opportunities for full administrative or judicial review is at odds with the bipartisan desire to have a more transparent and workable permitting process.”

In a statement accompanying the bill announcement, Manchin repeated that Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House had all agreed to pass the legislation, which was part of a deal this summer to pass the Inflation Reduction Act.

The Democrats opposed to the bill have not threatened to vote against the combined measure and risk a government shutdown.

Spending bill pitfalls

With annual government funding set to expire at the end of the month, Congress is expected to consider very soon a short-term bill to keep the government open for the coming months.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he and fellow GOP lawmakers may filibuster the short-term government funding bill — which would need Republican support to pass — if Democrats add too many additional provisions.

That means they would not supply the 10 Republican votes needed for any legislation to advance in the evenly divided Senate.

“What could be telling would be when Schumer puts the legislation on the floor and there’s a motion to proceed, subject to debate, subject to 60 votes — that vote will be indicative of maybe things to come if he’s loaded it up with extraneous things,” Shelby said. “It probably won’t carry that well.”

When asked about Manchin’s permitting reform bill, which at that point had not been made public, and Schumer’s commitment to add it to the must-pass government funding bill, Shelby said, “I think it’s going to be hard to carry that.”

“We haven’t seen the language of it,” he said. “But it’s a raw political deal.”

by Jacob Fischler, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hours ahead of shutdown deadline, U.S. House sends Biden stopgap spending bill

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WASHINGTON — U.S. House members, mostly along party lines, cleared a Friday spending package that would bolster natural disaster response funding. With Hurricane Ian still battering the Southeast, lawmakers will likely need to approve another aid bill later this year.

The measure would provide $2.5 billion in assistance for the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that destroyed parts of New Mexico this spring, $2 billion in Community Development Block Grant disaster relief funding for states affected by natural disasters during 2021 and 2022, and $1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The measure also includes $12 billion to help Ukraine continue to defend itself following Russia’s invasion in February.

The package would keep the federal government up and running through Dec. 16, giving congressional leaders and the White House more time to work out how much to spend on discretionary programs and to draft bipartisan versions of the dozen annual government funding bills.

The billapproved 230-201, now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature. He needs to sign the measure before midnight, when the current government spending law expires ahead of the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.


Virginia’s House delegation split on party lines on the measure, with all seven Democrats supporting it and all four Republicans voting no.

If the stopgap spending bill hadn’t cleared Congress, the federal government would have begun a partial government shutdown early Saturday.

The U.S. Senate approved the bill following a 72-25 vote Thursday, with all opposition coming from Republicans.

Republicans blast December deadline

GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House spoke out against the package Friday, arguing that setting up a government funding deadline during the lame-duck session following the midterm elections wasn’t the right decision.

“This legislation represents Congress at its worst,” said GOP Rep. Bob Good of Virginia.

The stopgap spending bill, Good said, shouldn’t expire until after the new Congress convenes in January, preventing the current Democratic-controlled House and Senate from passing any more spending bills.

Even if Republicans were to gain control of the U.S. House and Senate following November’s midterm elections, the spending bills would still need bipartisan support to clear the Senate’s 60-vote legislative filibuster and the backing of the Biden administration to avoid a veto.

House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, urged lawmakers to vote against the bill, saying it didn’t do enough to address border security, energy or inflation.

Granger also chastised Democrats for releasing the short-term bill Monday with just days to go before the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s unfortunate that this bill would be rushed through the House today with just hours to spare to avoid a government shutdown,” Granger said. “The American people continue to wonder why Congress can’t get its job done until the very last minute.”

Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz called on House members to vote for the package, saying the disaster relief funding is crucial for states like hers.

“Look no further than Southwest Florida, in my home state, where Hurricane Ian inflicted tragic human loss and massive property damage,” she said.

“We cannot leave communities behind that are still picking up the pieces from disastrous floods, wildfires, and hurricanes, and even basic water system failures,” she added. “This federal funding bill comes to the rescue by helping to meet long-term housing, infrastructure, and recovery needs.”

Short-term bills

Congress hasn’t completed its appropriations process on time since 1996 and regularly starts off the new fiscal year under a stopgap spending bill that typically lasts through mid-December.

Republicans and Democrats have consistently leaned on short-term government funding bills, or continuing resolutions, to give themselves more time to negotiate the full-year spending bills.

Congress relied on a string of short-term bills to keep the government running for the full year in fiscal years 2007, 2011, and 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The stopgap spending package approved Friday mostly continues current spending levels and policies from the omnibus spending package Congress approved with bipartisan majorities in March.

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Former Valley Health CEO Mark Merrill honored with VHHA Distinguished Service Award

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Former Valley Health president and CEO Mark Merrill was honored September  22 with the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association’s Distinguished Service Award. The award is presented to a past or current chief executive officer with a “long record of performing outstanding, valuable, and unique services to the hospital and health system community.” Merrill retired in 2020 after a 35-year healthcare career, serving the last 11 years with Valley Health.

“Mark Merrill cares deeply about the health and well-being of Virginians in a way that extends well beyond his work as the past president and CEO of Valley Health System,” said VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton. “He and his wife, Teri, have planted deep roots in the Winchester community and have served the region by donating their personal time and resources to support young people who aspire to careers in health care. Mark was also essential during the multi-year campaign to help hundreds of thousands of low-income Virginians gain access to essential health care coverage through Medicaid expansion.”

During his 11 years at Valley Health, Merrill led the system to many significant achievements, including:

  • completing new facilities or substantial renovations at Valley Health’s six hospital campuses, and expanding ambulatory care sites in the rural region;
  • being named 2016 Large Business of the Year in the Greater Good Awards of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber;
  • investing $300,000 in a 3-year health career partnership with 12 Virginia public schools and 4 hospital programs to build the workforce of the future and inspire youth to pursue health careers;
  • advocating for Medicaid expansion in Virginia as a VHHA Board member, then chairman when Medicaid expansion was approved by the Virginia General Assembly in 2018;
  • and partnering with providers under a variety of arrangements, engaging with legislators and business leaders to share insights from front-line health care, and advocating for VHHA and American Hospital Association policy positions to ensure access to care within Virginia.

Since his retirement, Merrill has continued to serve the commonwealth through his appointment to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees the roadway infrastructure of Virginia.


Harry Smith, Chairman of the Valley Health Board of Trustees, commented: “Mark is a passionate and dedicated servant leader, with a deep concern for the health and wellbeing of his community. This dedication shows in all he does.”

Merrill was one of two recipients of the Distinguished Service award. The other was James B. Cole, former president and CEO of the Virginia Hospital Center Health System. The award was presented at the VHHA Annual Meeting held last week in Williamsburg, VA.

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U.S. Senate approves stopgap spending bill with disaster relief, heating aid

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate approved broadly bipartisan legislation Thursday that would provide billions for natural disaster relief, military and economic aid to Ukraine, and funding to help low-income families offset the rising costs of heating and cooling their homes.

The legislation includes $2.5 billion in assistance for the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that burned large swaths of New Mexico this spring, $2 billion in Community Development Block Grant disaster relief funding for states impacted by natural disasters during 2021 and 2022, and $1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that given ongoing natural disasters, such as the hurricane in Florida now moving up the coast, more funding may be needed later this year to help communities recover from hurricanes and severe storms.

The package approved Thursday was formed around a short-term spending bill that must pass before Friday at midnight to keep the federal government open through Dec. 16 while congressional leaders and the Biden administration attempt to reach a full-year spending deal.


Using the stopgap spending bill to give themselves a couple more months to work through the annual appropriations process is a regular practice for Congress, which hasn’t completed its work on time since the last century.

The 72-25 Senate vote Thursday sends the measure to the U.S. House, where members are expected to clear the package for Biden on Friday.

Manchin plan yanked

The legislation cleared an important procedural vote earlier this week after West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to remove an energy permitting reform bill the two had agreed to tack on to the must-pass package.

Republicans had broadly rejected the energy permitting bill, while Democrats in both chambers of Congress criticized both the substance of the bill and the fact Manchin and Schumer struck a deal to advance the measure through Congress without input from other Democrats.

Schumer and Manchin both said they hope to find a path forward for the energy permitting legislation before this session of Congress ends later this year. But that bill will likely need a rewrite to garner members’ support.

The spending bill approved Thursday includes more than $12 billion in economic and military assistance for Ukraine as the country continues its war against Russia’s invasion into the winter months. The new round would bring U.S. investment in the conflict to $66 billion.

Schumer said in a floor speech Thursday that American weaponry has helped Ukraine’s military turn the tide against Russia.

“We cannot stop now,” he said.

The package doesn’t include any new funding for ongoing public health emergencies, rejecting the White House’s request for $22.4 billion in COVID-19 funding and $4.5 billion for the monkeypox outbreak.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said just before the vote that he will push to get COVID-19 funding in the full-year government funding package that could pass in December.

More time for negotiation

The short-term government funding part of the measure is intended to give Congress and the Biden administration more time to negotiate total discretionary spending levels for the fiscal year 2023, slated to begin Oct. 1.

Those negotiations never really got off the ground after Biden sent Congress his budget request in March, asking U.S. lawmakers to provide $795 billion for defense spending and $915 billion for nondefense programs, which includes funding for the Homeland Security, Justice, and Veterans Affairs departments.

Republicans scoffed at the defense request, saying it didn’t increase spending on those programs nearly enough compared to current funding of $782 billion.

Many GOP lawmakers also argued the proposed jump in nondefense funding, from $730 billion, was a bit too high.

Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican set to retire at the end of this Congress, said he thinks there’s a good chance the two parties will reach an agreement this year.

“A lot of that will come from what we can do with the defense number — if we can work that out, I bet we can work the other out,” Shelby said.

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, chair of the subcommittee that funds the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and rural development programs, said she expects Leahy and Shelby’s retirements will provide momentum to complete full-year government spending bills during the lame-duck session.

“I think minds will focus, and agreement will be reached following the midterms,” Baldwin said. “I think that’s when there’ll be greater focus and a month to get it done, basically.”

“You have a retiring chairman and ranking member who very much want to make sure we have an omnibus rather than a continuing resolution,” she added. “And I think they’ll be committed to that.”

Waiting on November

Indiana GOP Sen. Mike Braun, the ranking member of the Legislative Branch funding panel that provides money for Congress and the Supreme Court, said he expects the dozen spending bills will come together faster than the last go around, which ended more than five months late this March.

“I do think it will probably get done more quickly than that, but nobody’s given any indication,” he said.

Braun doesn’t expect congressional leaders and the Biden administration will agree to total spending levels, the first step to writing full-year bills, until after November’s midterm elections.

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, the top Republican on the subcommittee that funds the Energy Department and Army Corps of Engineers, also said he expects the package to come together after the election.

“Look, what I see happening is once again the so-called leadership gets together and puts together an omnibus and gives it to us and says, ‘Take it or leave it,’” he said.

That process, Kennedy said, is “an insult to the American people and a horrible way to put together” the final versions of the annual government funding bills.

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Manchin seeks bipartisan ‘sweet spot’ for a new try at his energy permitting bill

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators from both parties said Wednesday they still hope to negotiate energy permitting reform bill this year, reviving efforts to streamline the process after West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III had to pull back his plan amid broad opposition.

The Manchin proposal was attached to a must-pass government funding bill as part of a deal he struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this summer to advance the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. But permitting reform was rejected by GOP senators irked by that deal and members of his own party.

large group of House Democrats — and a smaller Senate cohort — intensely opposed what they characterized as a fossil-fuel-friendly measure from the start, saying Manchin would weaken environmental protections and make it more difficult for communities to object to new construction. The House opposition was led by progressive Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva, but also included leaders of budget and spending panels.

Senate Republicans meanwhile refused to endorse the Manchin-Schumer deal that allowed the passage of Democrats’ sweeping climate, health and taxes bill this summer, even if they agreed in principle that permitting requirements should be updated.


Despite the widespread condemnation of his measure, Manchin said Wednesday he expects to keep working to get an agreement before the new year, a goal many of his fellow senators said they share.

Manchin said he plans to talk with fellow West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, when the two are back in their home state next month, noting he’s optimistic the duo can work out a final bill.

“We just have to find the sweet spot, find the middle that kind of appeases the majority,” Manchin said.

The centrist Democrat nodded when asked by a reporter if Schumer had assured him he’d try again with another floor vote.

Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County near the Blue Ridge Parkway in July 2018. (Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)

Mountain Valley Pipeline

After stripping Manchin’s permitting bill from the must-pass government spending package, Schumer pledged Tuesday evening to “have conversations about the best way to ensure responsible permitting reform is passed before the end of the year.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Tuesday night saying President Joe Biden “supports Senator Manchin’s plan because it is necessary for our energy security, and to make more clean energy available to the American people.”

“We will continue to work with him to find a vehicle to bring this bill to the floor and get it passed and to the President’s desk,” she added.

Whether Manchin’s bill would still include the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline running from West Virginia to Virginia was unclear on Wednesday.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who was furious Manchin’s permitting reform bill included approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, said he believes there’s a good outlook for a bipartisan permitting reform bill, estimating it could get at least 70 votes in the Senate.

Work on permitting reform by the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Manchin, has already found a good starting point for a bipartisan bill, Kaine said.

“They worked on it very, very carefully,” Kaine said, noting he’s not on either of those panels. “I don’t want to tell them what their timing should be. But they’re down the road, and there’s a bipartisan group that wants to do it, including me.”

On the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Kaine said he didn’t want to get into “a hypothetical world and what might be acceptable.”

But Kaine, who has said he was not consulted about the inclusion of the pipeline in the Manchin plan, did say the way Manchin handled the pipeline in his bill wasn’t the right way to go.

“It was taking something out of permitting and saying, ‘You don’t have to comply,’” Kaine said. “But permitting reforms could make the process better, and then Mountain Valley and others could have a better process to go through.”

Republicans want another try

During a brief interview Wednesday, Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines said he hopes there’s a way for Democrats and Republicans to draft a bill after the elections and before the next Congress begins that both parties could support.

“It’s an issue that we need to address. And it’s a significant obstacle to continue to allow us to develop our natural resources,” Daines said. “It’s not just about energy. It’s also about forestry. It’s about mining, and it takes way too long to get projects approved.”

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy said a permitting reform bill is essential for lawmakers who want to see more fossil fuel extraction as well as those who want “cleaner forms of energy.”

“I hope we can sit down and put together a permitting bill,” Kennedy said. “I mean, no fair-minded person can believe that it should take five, seven, eight years to get a project permitted in America. I don’t care what the project is.”

Kennedy said the rejection of Manchin’s permitting reform bill was about more than just signaling the GOP wanted a more bipartisan bill.

He said it was about members of both parties sending a message to Manchin following months of negotiations on the Democrats’ spending package from this summer that included money for renewable energy, among dozens of other provisions.

“What I saw happen yesterday — how can I explain this — two wrongs rarely make it right, but they do make it even,” Kennedy said. “And what happened yesterday was people who are unhappy with Senator Manchin, on both sides of the aisle, made it even.”

“We now have a fresh start, and I hope we can sit down and put together a permitting bill,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said he’d like a final, bipartisan energy permitting reform bill to set firm end dates for studies into energy projects.

“I don’t want to foreclose anybody’s right to study or object, but have some hard and fast rule saying this is the end of the process,” he said. “Two or three years is plenty of time for people to be able to study a project before a decision has to be made.”

Louisiana GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy said more lawmakers than just Schumer and Manchin need to be involved in drafting the measure if it’s going to have any chance of becoming law and improving the energy permitting process.

“I’d like to have some sort of shot clock with teeth so that agencies can’t just sit on an application and do a pocket veto of things that otherwise meet every criteria. This permitting reform did not really have that,” Cassidy said.

He said he doesn’t mind if a bipartisan bill gets attached to an unrelated must-pass bill, saying he’s “never a purist on procedure.”

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said he’d like to have more input in negotiating the permitting reform bill.

Tricky path

If senators, and possibly their U.S. House colleagues, work out a bipartisan bill, Schumer will have to decide how to move the legislation through the floor.

Given the amount of time it takes to move stand-alone legislation on the U.S. Senate floor, and the short amount of time the chamber will be in Washington, D.C., during the lame duck session following the midterm elections, several lawmakers have floated the idea of attaching permitting reform to a must-pass bill.

One possible option is the National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon’s annual policy bill, which Schumer has said the chamber will take up during October.

That option might not be especially appealing to panel members who have traditionally walled off the bill from policy proposals that aren’t directly related to defense or national security.

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, a Senate Armed Services Committee member, said Wednesday she doesn’t want to see a permitting reform bill tacked onto the defense policy bill.

“I don’t know that that’s a good idea. I’ll be honest,” Ernst said. “I’d rather see germane amendments being placed, and we have a lot of amendments that we would like to see come up that are germane. So to have one that’s not germane be placed upon the NDAA would probably create some heartache.”

Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.

by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Afghan evacuees press for bill that could help give them US legal status

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WASHINGTON – For 105 days, beginning in December 2021, Afghan-American Safi Rauf lived in an 8×8-foot cell in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan with few connections to the outside world.
Now, he is running a 24-hour “fireguard” with dozens of other volunteers outside the United States Capitol to raise support for the Afghan Adjustment Act.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, meets last week with a group of supporters holding a “fire watch” outside the United States Capitol in support of the Afghan Adjustment Act. (Eve Sampson/Capital News Service)

The bipartisan bill, introduced in both the House and the Senate, would provide Afghans who worked with the United States during the 20-year war in Afghanistan a clear path to legal residency.

The Afghan Adjustment Act was not included in the stopgap spending bill to fund the federal government after Friday. Supporters hope it will be included in the upcoming defense policy bill or an expected continuing resolution in December.


The Department of Homeland Security reports that approximately 82,000 Afghans have been evacuated to the United States since the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rise to power.

Most evacuees live in this country under humanitarian parole status, which normally lasts two years. The bill would allow Afghans who pass additional vetting to apply for permanent legal status.

Rauf, a Navy reservist and the founder and president of Human First Coalition, a nonprofit that works to provide humanitarian aid and resettlement assistance to vulnerable Afghans, estimates his organization has evacuated over 10,000 people from Afghanistan in the last year.

The nonprofit chartered several flights after U.S. forces left Afghanistan. But when visiting the country for a planning trip last December, Rauf and his brother, Anees Khalil, who also works for Human First Coalition, were taken hostage by the Taliban and tortured.

“You cannot prepare for something like that,” he told Capital News Service. “Every day was incredibly hard. Initially, they put us in a basement that was not really fit for living. It was just a basement that did not have any ventilation, any blankets, any mattresses.”

Rauf said he and his brother were forced to go a month without showering while wearing the same clothes.

Bathroom breaks were scheduled and supervised, and meals were scarce – meager portions of tea, rice, beans, and bread. Rauf said his captors left the lights on all day. He spent most of his time lying down, marking a calendar he scrawled on the wall.

The brothers eventually attempted multiple hunger strikes to protest their treatment.

Eventually, the U.S. government secured the brothers’ release on April 1.

“Our world basically stopped on December 18,” Rauf said. “When I got out on April 1st, the world had moved on.”

Still, Rauf cannot slow down. He is haunted by the hundreds of calls he still receives from Afghans begging for help.

“I’m still getting chaotic messages from people who are scared for their lives,” he said. “The administration is doing their best, but how do you work with a de-facto authority that doesn’t recognize human rights?”

In folding chairs outside the Capitol building, former Afghan pilots and parliamentary members are among the volunteers who help themselves to traditional Afghan food while petitioning for the legislation’s passage. The American flag waves alongside the Afghan flag in front of a folding table with information about the bill.

On Thursday evening, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, who introduced the bill in the Senate, came out to the lawn for an impromptu visit with the group.

Addressing the volunteers, who included members of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, Women for Afghan Women, and various former military members, Kloubacher thanked the group for continuing to campaign for Afghans.

“I thank you for sitting out here on the lawn to remind our colleagues that promises made, promises kept,” she said, her hand upon the shoulder of an Afghan woman. “And there (are) promises made to the people who stood on the side of democracy and freedom with our military in Afghanistan.”

 

By EVE SAMPSON
Capital News Service

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Key U.S. Senate panel advances bill aimed at preventing another Jan. 6

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Tuesday passed legislation that would update an 1887 elections law and clarify how electoral votes are certified, hoping to prevent another attempt to overturn a presidential election.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, put forth the bill, known as the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act. The aim of the legislation is to deter another Jan. 6 insurrection, in which former President Donald Trump tried to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election by citing the 19th-century law.

“On that day, enemies of our democracy sought to use this antiquated law to thwart the results of a free and fair election,” Klobuchar said in her opening remarks.

The bill passed on a nearly unanimous vote, 14-1. The only senator present to vote against it was Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.


Cruz called it a “bad bill” and questioned why Republicans would support it.

“This bill is all about Donald J. Trump,” Cruz said.

Sens. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York were not present but voted yes by proxy.

The U.S. House passed its version of the bill earlier in September, 229-203, with nine Republicans joining Democrats. Virginia’s House delegation split into party lines, with all Democrats voting for the measure and all Republicans voting against it.

Trump and Pence

Blunt said there was broad support on both sides of the aisle to update the act after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, in which Trump pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. The vice president’s role in the certification of electoral votes isn’t exactly clear in the Electoral Count Act.

“We found out last year it’s outdated and needed reform,” Blunt said.

U.S. House passes bill reforming Electoral Count Act to stop Jan. 6 repeat

Klobuchar, who leads the committee, said it took months of bipartisan effort from the committee and other Senate colleagues to put the bill together.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said the committee did not try to “reinvent the wheel” but took a very careful approach to update the law.

“We did spend a lot of time trying to get it right,” Warner said.

He added that he wanted the committee to consider protecting elections from future cyberattacks.

Bipartisan backing

The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate.

Sens. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, worked to gather the support of 11 Republican and 11 Democratic senators to cosponsor the measure, meeting the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the legislation past a filibuster.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said he “proudly supports” the overhaul of the Electoral Count Act.

“I strongly support the modest changes our colleagues in the working group have fleshed out after months of detailed discussions,” McConnell said.

The timing of the bill’s final passage is still unclear, though it could come up during the lame-duck session of Congress expected after the election.

“We’ll move into next year with this done,” Blunt said.

Schumer has not announced when he will bring the bill to the Senate for a vote.

“Make no mistake,” Schumer said in a statement. “(A)s our country continues to face the threat of the anti-democracy MAGA Republican movement — propelled by many GOP leaders who either refused to take a stand or actively stoked the flames of division in our country — reforming the Electoral Count Act ought to be the bare minimum of action the Congress takes.”

Senate version

The Senate bill has two provisions, the Electoral Count Reform Act and the Presidential Transition Improvement Act.

The Electoral Count Reform Act states that the vice president’s role in presiding over Congress when certifying electors is ceremonial and that the vice president does not have the power to object, accept or adjudicate disputes over electors.

Most notably, it also raises the threshold for lawmakers to make an objection to electors. Under current law, only one U.S. House representative and one U.S. senator need to make an objection to an elector or slate of electors. Under the new law, that would be raised to one-fifth of members from both chambers to lodge an objection.

The act also adds several reforms for electors from each state. It identifies each state’s governor as the official responsible for submitting the state’s official document that identifies the state’s appointed electors and says that Congress cannot accept that document from any official besides the governor.

“This reform would address the potential for multiple state officials to send Congress competing slates,” according to the bill’s summary.

This reform was included because Trump and his campaign tried to replace legitimate slates of electors in several states with fake electors who would cast ballots for Trump, an effort detailed by the Jan. 6 committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.

The act also provides an expedited judicial review of any challenges made and removes a provision in the law “that could be used by state legislatures to override the popular vote in their states by declaring a ‘failed election’ — a term that is not defined in the law,” according to the bill’s summary. The bill reforms this by stating a state can move its presidential election day to the following first Monday in November every four years only if needed due to “extraordinary and catastrophic” events.

The Presidential Transition Improvement Act provides “guidelines for when eligible candidates for President and Vice President may receive federal resources to support their transition into office,” according to the bill’s summary.

by Ariana Figueroa, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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11:00 am Fall Farm Days: Life on the Farm @ Sky Meadows State Park
Fall Farm Days: Life on the Farm @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 9 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Fall Farm Days: Life on the Farm @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Come back to the family farm at Sky Meadows. Explore the park’s sustainable farming practices, visit the barred plymouth rock hens, learn about our cattle operation in partnership with the Department of Corrections’[...]
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
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The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
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6:30 pm Bethel Life Revival 2022 @ Bethel Assembly of God
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Bethel Life Revival 2022 @ Bethel Assembly of God
Please join us on October 9th at 10:30am and October 10th-12th at 6:30pm nightly for a special series of services with Johan Bruwer. Johan is from Bloemfontein, South Africa, and will deliver a very inspiring[...]