The Port of Virginia® and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today, May 20, 2022, signed the agreement committing the federal government to begin its financial investment in the construction effort to widen and deepen the commercial shipping channels and Norfolk Harbor. Close collaboration with Army Corps has the project on schedule for completion in 2024.
With a group of federal and state officials in attendance, Virginia Port Authority CEO Stephen A. Edwards and Col. Brian P. Hallberg, the US Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District commander, signed the Project Partnership Agreement. The document formally commits the port and the Army Corps to collaborate to deliver the Norfolk Harbor widening and deepening project. Further, it allows the Army Corps to use federal funding to award its first construction contract on the project.
“The importance of this moment in the evolution of The Port of Virginia cannot be overstated,” Edwards said. “This is a modern, 21st-century port, and when you couple our land-based assets and capabilities with the deepest and widest channels — and safest harbor — on the entire U.S. East Coast, you have a recipe for success here for decades to come.
“We absolutely would not be here today if it weren’t for the perseverance of our elected leaders at the federal and state levels, the US Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District office, and the Virginia Maritime Association. Everyone played a critical role in this project, and it is important to thank them for their support and effort. The Virginia Legislature funded the entire project cost up-front with the understanding that the federal government would share half the cost. Today, we welcome the federal government representatives who are here to finalize that commitment,” Edwards added.
The signing ceremony was attended by US Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Shalanda D. Young, director of the US Office of Management and Budget, US Reps Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), Jamie A. Pinkham, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Virginia Transportation Secretary W. Shepphard “Shep” Miller III, Virginia Sen. Louise Lucas, and Virginia Del. Robert Bloxom Jr.
The commercial shipping channels from the Atlantic Ocean and into the harbor are being deepened to at least 55-feet and made wide enough to safely accommodate two-way traffic of ultra-large container ships. These features put the port ahead of its East Coast peers and in a unique position to attract more cargo and increase efficiency at its terminals. Edwards said the biggest ships afloat will be able safely sail to-and-from the port fully laden with containers. And, he said, the wider channels and two-way ship traffic means greater use of the port’s vessel berths.
“The benefits of this project are unparalleled anywhere on the US East Coast,” Edwards said.
The final installment of the federal investment, $72 million, included the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The federal government and the port agreed to a 50-50 cost share of the project at its outset in 2015 when the Army Corps began evaluating the economic value of a deeper and wider Norfolk Harbor and commercial shipping channel. The dredging work began in December 2019, nearly two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law continues to deliver for Hampton Roads, Luria said. “I was proud to join my colleagues in securing an additional investment of more than $69 million in the port to expand economic opportunities for Coastal Virginia, the Commonwealth, and the country. This agreement today will strengthen the public-private partnership that supports the Port of Virginia and ensures that the Port remains a vital economic engine.”
“This historic investment through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will allow more goods to move faster through the port, drive significant new economic opportunities to Norfolk, and help bring down costs for families across Virginia and the country,” said OMB Director Young. “This [investment] is in addition to the $150 million the Biden-Harris Administration is providing to protect families and businesses in Norfolk and across the region from the impacts of climate change by building floodwalls, storm surge barriers, levees, and other flood-control measures. I want to thank Senator Warner, Representative Scott, and Representative Luria for their partnership in securing these federal investments to keep this community safe.”
While the project will help drive the port’s cargo volumes, the dredge work contains an important and useful byproduct: dredge material that will benefit regional beaches.
“Over the course of the project, we’ll dredge a large volume of sands – millions of cubic yards,” said Keith Lockwood, Norfolk District Water Resources Division chief. “The US Army Corps of Engineers and Virginia Port Authority are collaborating with the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach to maximize the beneficial use of this dredged sand by placing it along beaches for additional coastal protection.”
(The Virginia Port Authority (VPA) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The VPA owns and, through its private operating subsidiary, Virginia International Terminals, LLC (VIT), operates four general cargo facilities Norfolk International Terminals, Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Newport News Marine Terminal, and the Virginia Inland Port in Warren County. The VPA leases Virginia International Gateway and Richmond Marine Terminal. A recent economic impact study from The College of William and Mary shows that The Port of Virginia helps to create about 437,000 jobs and generated nearly $100 billion in total economic impact throughout the Commonwealth on an annual basis.)
Little appetite for Manchin permitting bill in congressional lame-duck session
Among the items on Congress’ lengthy to-do list by the end of the year is U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s proposal to speed up the federal government’s permitting process that certifies energy projects do not harm the environment.
But the bill, which was a condition of the centrist West Virginia Democrat’s support for his party’s larger climate, health care, and taxes measure earlier this year, may still not have the support it needs to pass, with progressive Democrats concerned about the effects on environmental protections.
Failing to pass a bill this year would be a disappointment to Manchin and his allies in the oil, gas, and coal sectors, who have pushed for years to loosen federal permitting requirements. Some renewable energy advocates also say that federal permitting must be reformed for wind and solar technology to reach their highest potential.
But it would be welcome news for environmental advocates, who say the bill would weaken a fundamental environmental law that protects communities from pollution while providing little in the way of new renewable energy capacity.
Congress is expected to be in session through much of December before adjourning for a new session in January, and a split government as Republicans take over the House with a slim majority.
“It’s a pretty tight calendar, and they have a lot they have to do,” said Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes the Manchin bill, speaking of the lame-duck session of Congress. “So, do you spend a lot of time on a piece of legislation that is very deeply divisive?”
Environmental justice concerns
Environmental groups, including those in the environmental justice movement that seeks to protect marginalized communities from exposure to pollution, have opposed the bill from the start.
The measure would put time limits on environmental reviews and restrict communities’ power to challenge agency decisions in court.
“Senator Manchin’s legislation is a harbinger for the permanent silencing of environmental justice communities in the permitting process, while also eviscerating the rights to due process in a court of law should they deem it necessary to protect their communities from harm,” 70 environmental justice organizations said in a Nov. 15 letter to President Joe Biden.
The letter was distributed Monday by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a progressive Arizona Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and has vocally opposed the Manchin bill.
The Manchin bill targets requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, demanding that environmental reviews of major projects be completed within two years and all others within one.
Those time limits don’t actually weaken the requirements of the law, but an artificial timeline without additional resources to complete reviews could lead to agencies cutting corners, said Aaron Weiss, the deputy director of the conservation group Center for Western Priorities.
“And when agencies cut corners on NEPA reviews, that’s how they get tied up in court for years,” Weiss said. “So the irony of at least the last Manchin proposal that we saw is it didn’t seem like it would actually do much to streamline NEPA reviews and, if anything, that it could backfire.”
A major sticking point in the Manchin bill is its provision approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said earlier this year that he opposed the bill because of that section. The pipeline should go through standard environmental reviews, he said.
The permitting bill was part of a deal Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made with Manchin to secure his support for Democrats’ major climate, health care, and taxes bill, which provided $370 billion in clean energy spending.
Schumer said at the time he didn’t love the idea of weakening environmental statutes, but it was a necessary concession to Manchin to pass the larger bill. He also said that reforms could speed up clean energy projects.
“In terms of the permitting reform, I didn’t like it, but it was something that Sen. Manchin wanted,” he said in a press conference immediately following Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in August. “We modified it some, and, in fact, it has some very good things for the environment. It’s going to make permitting easier for clean energy.”
But that argument hasn’t caught on completely, as environmental advocates oppose trading away longstanding federal protections for permitting changes that would help both clean energy and fossil fuel production.
“It is pretty naïve to think that if we gut NEPA that the bigger winner would somehow be renewable energy,” said Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“I think (renewable energy) transmission is important,” said Lisa Frank, the executive director of the Washington office of the environmental group Environment America. “But we don’t see it as this do-or-die moment that we have to pass something by December or a clean energy future is wrecked.”
Prospects yet this year
There are indications Manchin and Schumer are continuing to work to appease the bill’s opponents and pass it this year, likely as an attachment to either a government funding bill or the annual defense authorization.
The White House is supportive. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during the Nov. 10 White House daily briefing that the defense bill should include Manchin’s permitting proposal.
But the permitting bill remains without critical support in Washington.
“As you saw when we tried it last time, there weren’t enough Republican votes,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “I’m working with Sen. Manchin to see what we can get done.”
Despite Schumer’s blessing, rank-and-file Democrats, especially on the House side, have largely not endorsed it.
Progressives have well-documented concerns about the bill. Neither progressives nor Republicans have given any indication that they are changing their positions. Grijalva, in the Monday letter, reaffirmed his opposition.
Republicans, in theory, should favor a proposal to streamline federal permits. Some Republicans have railed for years at the red tape that slows down and increases the cost of infrastructure building.
A more conclusive victory for Republicans in the midterms may have brought Democrats and environmental groups back to the negotiating table this year to try to hash out a deal — especially on clean energy transmission — before the less environmentally conscious GOP takes over in January, Hartl said.
But with a slim, single-digit majority in the House, Republican Leader and presumptive next House Speaker Kevin McCarthy may be unable to corral votes on a permitting bill, and progressives appear more willing to take their chances.
“The odds of Republican dysfunction and inability to function are extremely high in the next Congress,” Hartl said.
Still, Manchin and Schumer have pulled off surprises before. Most recently, Manchin insisted this summer he was still working on a climate bill that he could support, even as his colleagues in Congress and many other observers blamed his ambivalence for tanking the chances of any legislation to address climate.
He and Schumer emerged within weeks with a deal for a major bill.
An individual close to Manchin said in late November that the senator “continues to look for ways to pass it by the end of the year.”
But given the packed agenda — funding the government, authorizing annual military spending, perhaps raising the debt ceiling, and passing a bill to clarify how the Electoral College works — Democrats may prefer to stick to items they agree on, Hartl said.
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: email@example.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.
The Wildlife Center of Virginia serves Thanksgiving meals for dozens of wild animals
Staff at The Wildlife Center of Virginia are checking ingredients and updating their guest list. Currently, the Center’s veterinary and rehabilitation teams are expecting to provide care, and species-specific meals, for approximately 98 animals on Thanksgiving Day. A sampling of which species are currently being cared for at the Center, including information on their histories, treatments, and plans of care, can be found at wildlifecenter.org/critter-corner/current-patients or through links featured on the organization’s homepage at wildlifecenter.org.
On November 24, the Center anticipates to be caring for approximately 77 patients and 21 education animals. Wildlife rehabilitators will be preparing and delivering meals, as well as cleaning enclosures and updating patient records. Compared to the summer months when the Center had nearly 300 patients to serve on a daily basis, a guest list of 98 will be comparatively “easy” to handle.
Turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce aren’t on the Wildlife Center menus – instead of a traditional family-style Thanksgiving meal, the Wildlife Center crew will make dozens of species-specific diets, which cater to each species’ needs and each patient’s particular desires.
While the rehabilitation staff are busy in the kitchen, Center veterinarians will provide medical care for patients in need – distributing and administering medications, cleaning wounds and changing bandages, completing daily checks, and other medical procedures – and remain ready for any new patients that might arrive. New patient admissions are always a possibility, any day of the year. By the time the staff go home to their Thanksgiving dinners, all 98 animals will be fed, watered, and cared for.
The Center is able to provide quality healthcare to wild animals in need through the generosity and support of caring individuals. We send our supporters and friends our best wishes for a wonderful holiday. Our patients are thankful for their support… and we are too!
Looking at the NFL’s history of concussion failure after Tagovailoa scare
Earlier this season, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa took two major hits to the head within four days, prompting questions about the NFL’s commitment to their concussion protocol.
Tagovailoa sustained an injury against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 after being shoved, falling backward, and bouncing his head off the turf.
He stumbled as he got to his feet, with teammates supporting him until he was taken back to the locker room for evaluation.
The Dolphins tweeted that he was questionable to return with a head injury, but he returned for the second half.
Four days later, Tagovailoa started against the Cincinnati Bengals and was subsequently slammed to the turf, sustaining a frightening concussion.
Viewers watched in horror as he raised his locked-up hands in front of his face. Tagovailoa suffered the “fencing response,” one of the body’s responses to brain trauma where the arms go into an unnatural position, according to Healthline.
The incident was severe enough to spark revisions to the NFL’s concussion protocol and created “Tua’s Rule.” The new revision states that ataxia, poor muscle control that can result from injury, is grounds for immediate removal from the game.
A doctor, who remains unnamed, was let go from the Dolphins in the wake of the scare.
According to CBS, John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens head coach, was astonished by what he saw Tagovailoa endure.
During a high stake playoff game versus the Buffalo Bills in January 2021, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson left the game with a concussion.
The Ravens did not score for the rest of the game, but when asked about the situation in the press conference after the season-ending loss, Harbaugh said, “I’m not frustrated at all. He was in the concussion protocol. He had a concussion and was ruled out with a concussion. That’s where it stands.”
Some have pointed to Jackson being taken out as a team prioritizing concussion protocol in even more serious games than Tagovailoa’s Week 4 match-up.
While sustained concussions have been down since the pandemic, concerns are still being raised about the failure of the concussion protocol.
Recently, eyes have fallen on the injury rate in special teams, the members of a team who are on the field during kicking plays. ESPN reported before the 2022-23 season that one in six concussions occur within special teams despite their plays only making up 17% of a game.
Given the high injury rates, the NFL is funding technologies to help lower the rate of concussions in practices but has no active intent to deploy them in the game.
After receiving $20,000 in funding from a competition that promotes safety innovation in the NFL, Guardian Caps were used by every NFL team before the start of this season.
The cap is Guardian Sport’s soft-shell helmet cover created with the purpose of minimizing the risk of concussions in practices after the founders realized that changing the “look and sound” of the sport is something that players and fans alike would not want. In response, Guardian Sports created an easily detachable cap for practices.
The padding on the helmet helps absorb the impact from a collision, potentially saving players from head trauma.
The NFL reported that all offensive linemen, tight ends, and linebackers were required to use the caps until the second preseason game.
Usage of the cap saw a 50 percent reduction in concussions compared to the average rate in 2018, 2019, and 2021.
The NFL tweeted, saying, “The Guardian Cap results in at least a 10% reduction in the severity of impact if one player is wearing it, and at least a 20% reduction in impact if two players in a collision are wearing it.”
However, the caps have not been received well by many players who used them at training camps. Notably, J.J. Watt, three-time NFL defensive player of the year, expressed his displeasure.
ESPN reported that Watt joked about being fined for how much he expressed distaste with the caps. He felt off balance wearing it and said it made him feel like a bobblehead.
The consequences of not taking any preventative measures for concussions are dire, and the use of Guardian Caps alone may not be enough to help players in the long run.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition caused by repetitive head trauma, has been found in 99 percent of donated brains of NFL players.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation says that behavioral symptoms linked to CTE can begin in a patient’s 20s. Commonly reported symptoms to include impulse control problems, aggression, mood swings, depression, paranoia, and anxiety.
Symptoms tend to worsen over time and give way to cognitive issues like confusion, impaired judgment, and dementia. Players face the risk of premature death while the disease continues to degenerate their brains.
One of the head researchers of CTE, Doctor Ann McKee, stressed that the numbers from this study should not be used to estimate the number of overall patients due to the studied brains all coming from symptomatic individuals.
However, CBS reported that the NFL expects 6,000 of 20,000 retired players to one day suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia.
No treatment for CTE exists.
The frightening number of potential cognitive issues caused by playing in the league prompted a $1 billion settlement, but black retired players struggled to qualify for dementia-related payouts due to racial bias.
“Race-norming” was used in the dementia testing, assuming that black players would have lower baseline scores. The profiling complicated the process for retired players to show they had a substantial decline in their mental state, according to The Washington Post.
Despite steps being taken by the NFL and the National Football League Players Association to begin addressing the dangers of head trauma and CTE, well over 1,600 players have been concussed since the 2015-16 season.
Dr. McKee stressed the importance of the NFL accepting and combatting their high concussion rate to PBS, saying, “The NFL concentrating on concussions means that athletes at the college level, the high school level, and hopefully at the Pop Warner level are going to pay attention to concussions, too.”
By Matthew Wynn
Capital News Service
House GOP lawmakers say they will probe Hunter Biden
WASHINGTON – Reps. On Thursday, James Comer of Kentucky and Jim Jordan of Ohio set the focus of the soon-to-be Republican-led House oversight and judiciary committees on an investigation of President Joe Biden and his family.
As the new 118th Congress takes shape and prepares to take office in January, the House will flip narrowly to Republican control, in turn giving the party the chairmanships of committees for the first time since the 115th Congress in 2019.
Comer is expected to chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Jordan likely will be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The pair, flanked by other Republican committee members, spoke at a press conference about the alleged international dealings of the president’s son Hunter Biden and how they implicated the president.
“This is an investigation of Joe Biden, the President of the United States, and why he lied to the American people about his knowledge and participation in his family’s international business schemes,” Comer said.
A spokeswoman for the House Democrats, Nelly Decker, told CNN the GOP’s targeting of the Bidens was politically motivated.
“Now that former President Trump is running for office again, House Republicans’ top priority is attacking President Biden and his family in a desperate attempt to return Mr. Trump to power,” Decker said.
More broadly, the future committee heads said they would prioritize investigating activities they consider overreaching by the federal government.
Jordan said the judiciary panel would target what it deems to be political within the Justice Department, keying in on specific actions that he said interfered with U.S. elections in the past.
Jordan alleged that the FBI spied on former President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 and went on to speculate that the bureau’s raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in August was an attempt to influence the most recent election.
“Maybe it’d be nice if the FBI and the Justice Department just stayed out of it and let we, the people, decide who we think should represent us, who we think should lead us?” Jordan asked rhetorically. “That’s supposed to be how America works.”
On the oversight side, Comer said the committee had obtained two Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) from banks that involved members of the Biden family. SARs are filed by financial institutions to report known or suspected violations of law, according to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
“We’re going to do a lot of investigations. We’re going to do a lot of probing,” Comer said. “We’re focused on waste, fraud, and abuse, and there’s no shortage of that in this federal government; let me assure you that.”
Republicans on the oversight panel published an interim staff report entitled “A President Compromised: The Biden Family Investigation,” a 31-page document that included screenshots of emails, SARs, and articles that alleged corrupt dealings.
Most of the evidence presented was allegedly obtained from Hunter’s laptop, which was said to be recovered from a Wilmington, Delaware, repair shop in 2020.
A Justice Department investigation led by the U.S. attorney in Wilmington began in 2018 and remains open, but no charges have been brought against Hunter or the president thus far.
Neither Comer nor Jordan responded when asked about the possibility of an attempt to impeach Biden in the House.
“You’re going to be presented with something you haven’t been used to over the past four years: evidence,” Comer said.
Investigation remains ongoing into shooting incident at UVA
The criminal investigation remains ongoing into the tragic shootings that claimed the lives of three University of Virginia (UVA) students and injured two others on the evening of Nov. 13, 2022. Christopher D. Jones Jr., 22, of Petersburg, Va., had his first appearance in Albemarle County General District Court on Nov. 16, 2022 on three felony counts of 2nd degree murder, two felony counts of malicious wounding, and five felony counts of the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Jones is being held at the Charlottesville-Albemarle County Regional Jail without bond.
The investigation confirms that Jones had traveled with other UVA students on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, to Washington, D.C. to attend a theater performance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Following the play, the students and a professor ate dinner in the District. The professor and 22 students returned to Charlottesville in a chartered bus, arriving at UVA at approximately 10:15 p.m. that same day.
The chartered bus pulled to a stop at Culbreth Garage on The Grounds. As the students were getting up to exit the bus, Jones produced a weapon and began firing. As Jones exited the bus, he fired additional rounds and then fled the scene on foot. Jones left the area in his black Dodge Durango.
At approximately 11 a.m. on Nov. 14, 2022, Henrico County, Va. Police apprehended Jones without incident. The officer observed Jones’ SUV and initiated a traffic stop in the 5700 block of Edgelawn St. in the eastern area of the county.
Investigators are still actively piecing together Jones’ movements between the time he fled the shooting scene and was apprehended in Henrico County. At this stage of the investigation, state police is not in a position to comment on Jones’ motives behind the shootings.
Devin Chandler, 20, of Virginia Beach, Va., and D’Sean Perry, 22, of Miami, Fla., succumbed to their injuries at the scene. Lavel Davis Jr., 20, of Ridgeville, S.C., was transported to UVA Medical Center, where he later died from his injuries sustained in the shooting. Their remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner for autopsy and examination.
A 19-year-old student from Baton Rouge, La. and a 19-year-old student from Houston, Texas were also shot. They both were transported to UVA Medical Center for treatment of life threatening and non-life threatening injuries, respectively.
During the course of the investigation, a handgun was recovered in relative proximity to the shooting scene. No firearms were recovered inside the bus. A search warrant, executed by investigators on Jones’ residence in Charlottesville, resulted in the recovery of a rifle and a handgun. All firearms have been turned over as evidence to the ATF for processing.
The investigation remains ongoing at this time with the assistance of the University of Virginia Police, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Albemarle County Police, Charlottesville Police, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Office of the Virginia Attorney General, ATF and FBI.
Senate moves ahead on bill to protect same-sex, interracial marriages
WASHINGTON – The Senate on Wednesday voted 62-37 to advance a bipartisan bill that would provide federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriage.
Twelve Senate Republicans joined Democrats to advance the Respect for Marriage Act, which was already passed by the House of Representatives by wide margins in July.
“We are on the cusp of a historic vote in the Senate because of everybody’s efforts,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, said.
The measure would require the federal government to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages if passed. This would include repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and codifying the Supreme Court’s rulings in Obergefell v. Hodges and Loving v. Virginia.
Rep. Jerrod Nadler, D-New York, introduced the original version of the Respect for Marriage Act in 2009.
The bill has been introduced five times but only picked up momentum following the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturning Roe v. Wade, which established the right to abortion. In his concurrence with the Dobbs decision, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court should reconsider Obergefell.
Multiple senators referenced Thomas’s suggestion in their floor speeches Wednesday, including Baldwin and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
Baldwin, the first openly gay woman elected to the Senate, called Thomas’s opinion an “open invitation to litigators across the country to bring their cases to the court, inevitably instilling fear among millions of Americans.”
Lawmakers and marriage equality activists became concerned that the court could possibly overturn Obergefell and return the question of same-sex marriage to the states. Supporters of the bill are aiming to prevent this outcome by enshrining recognition of same-sex marriage in federal law.
The 2022 version of the bill also includes protection for interracial marriages, which while protected under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia, is not codified in federal law.
Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats, voted to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed with the bill.
“It is long past time for Congress to make clear that equal rights are guaranteed across America, no matter who you love, who you marry, or where you live,” Van Hollen told Capital News Service. “The Respect for Marriage Act ensures that no matter where in America they live, all married couples are afforded equal rights, freedom, and dignity.”
Cardin said before the vote Wednesday that he was “optimistic” the Senate would pass the bill.
“Today is going to be a great day for the United States Senate and the American people,” Cardin told CNS. “We’re going to be able to protect marriage equality in our country.”
A Maryland law legalizing same-sex marriage went into effect in 2013. The state began recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions in 2012.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Washington, D.C., in 2010. It has been legal in Virginia since 2014.
Following bipartisan support in the House with a 267-157 vote – with 47 Republicans voting in support of the bill – the Respect for Marriage Act was delayed and negotiated for months before Wednesday. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle used the time to work together to ensure enough senators would vote to pass the bill.
Republican supporters of the bill highlighted an amendment to the act that recognized the protection of religious liberties and clarified that the act would not allow polygamy.
Portman called current federal law a “disconnect” from American opinions, as lawmakers pointed to polling that has shown more than 70% of Americans — including a majority of Republicans —support same-sex marriage. The Ohio senator said he recognized that “millions” of American couples are hoping for peace of mind about the permanent validity of their marriage.
“We must not let them down,” Portman said.
By HUNTER SAVERY and GRACE YARROW
Capital News Service