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Rep. Elizabeth Esty, under fire for her handling of accused sex harasser, won’t seek re-election

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said Monday she won’t seek re-election amid calls for her to resign because of her handling of a sexual harassment case involving her former chief of staff.

The Democrat issued a statement saying she has determined it’s in the best interest of her constituents and her family to end her time in Congress at the end of this year “and not seek re-election.” Esty is in the middle of her third term.

Esty is again apologizing to a former female member of her staff who said she was punched in the back and received death threats in 2016. The man accused of punching her was not fired for several months, pending an internal investigation.

Esty says she’ll work to improve workplace protections during her final months in office.

Earlier Monday, Esty asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether she did anything wrong in her handling of the firing of her former chief of staff accused of harassment, threats and violence against female staffers in her congressional office.

She is as outspoken #MeToo advocate who has been accused of not protecting female staffers from the ex-chief of staff.

Esty has said she regrets not moving along an internal investigation into the allegations, which revealed more widespread alleged abuse, and regrets providing “even the slightest assistance to this individual as he sought a new job.”

“Although we worked with the House Employment Counsel to investigate and ultimately dismiss this employee for his outrageous behavior with a former staffer, I believe it is important for the House Ethics Committee to conduct its own inquiry into this matter,” Esty said in a written statement, acknowledging “it certainly was far from a perfect process.”

Esty said she wants the committee to “clarify whether there was any wrongdoing” on her part.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement issued before Esty announced she would not seek another term, “As Congresswoman Esty has acknowledged, her actions did not protect Ms. Kain and should have. Congresswoman Esty has now appropriately requested an expedited review by the Ethics Committee.”

Esty’s announcement that she won’t seek another term comes amid calls for her resignation from a growing number of state politicians in Connecticut, including fellow Democrats. Bob Duff, the Democratic state Senate’s majority leader, was among the latest to urge Esty to step down in the midst of her third-term.

Duff said Monday that he has spoken with Esty about his concerns, acknowledging it was a difficult decision to call for her resignation given her record in Congress.

“However, no matter the hard work Elizabeth has exhibited and my admiration for her bipartisan accomplishments, the news of the last few days is certainly disheartening,” Duff said.

He said several points led him to call for Esty’s resignation, including her reluctance to speak out publicly about the situation and using taxpayer money to pay her former chief of staff, Tony Baker, about $5,000 in severance. Staffers said Esty repaid the federal government last week with her personal funds.

A spokesman for Baker told Hearst Connecticut Media and the Washington Post that he denies some of the allegations. A phone number listed for a Tony Baker in Columbus, Ohio, where the spokesman said the former chief of staff was living, was disconnected.

In her letter to committee members, Esty said she learned through a third party in 2016 about possible misconduct by Baker involving a former staffer, who worked in her office from January 2013 to March 2015. Esty has said she fired Baker three months later after receiving an internal investigation report that revealed improper behavior by Baker that affected multiple female staffers.

Before news of the controversy broke, Esty had issued press releases calling for tougher harassment protections for congressional staffers and was among those demanding that then-U.S. Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, resign amid allegations of misconduct.

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Boris Johnson told 'up your game' and 'listen to shop floor' in fishing row

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A FORMER Brexit Party MEP has called on Boris Johnson to “up your game” to help British fishermen amid claims post-Brexit trade barriers had left some within the industry struggling to survive.

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Biden calls for ‘peace and calm’ in wake of Daunte Wright shooting in Minnesota

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President Joe Biden on Monday called for “peace and calm” in the wake of the”tragic” fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota.

“I haven’t called Daunte Wright’s family, but my prayers are with the family. It’s really a tragic thing that happened,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office of Wright’s death Sunday. “The question is, was it an accident? Was it intentional? That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation,” he said, describing the body-camera footage of the shooting as “fairly graphic.”

Wright, 20, was shot after he was pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center for allegedly having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota. Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said he believes, based on the body camera footage, that the officer who shot Wright mistakenly believed she was firing a taser and not her gun.

The shooting took place about 14 miles north of where George Floyd was killed last year, as former police officer Derek Chauvin is standing trial for Floyd’s murder. Floyd’s death set off a wave of protests across the country last year, some of which led to rioting and looting.

Biden called for any protests to Wright’s shooting to remain “peaceful,” echoing a plea from Wright’s mother.

“There is absolutely no justification, none, for looting, no justification for violence. Peaceful protests, understandable, and the fact is that, you know, we do know, that the anger, pain, and trauma that exists in the Black community in that environment is real, it’s serious, and it’s consequential. But it will not justify violence and/or looting,” he said.

“And we should listen to Daunte’s mom, who is calling for peace and calm,” he said.

Asked if he’d deploy federal resources to help keep the peace if necessary, Biden noted that he’d already done so because of the Chauvin trial.

“There are already federal resources,” Biden said. “There will not be a lack of help and support from the federal government if the local authorities believe it’s needed.”

Emma Thorne contributed.

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Trump-era tax change emerges as wedge issue in Democrats’ infrastructure debate

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Dissent whether to reinstate unlimited state and local tax deductions has emerged as a critical wedge in Democrats’ path to advancing President Joe Biden’s sweeping infrastructure plan.

Unlike most of former President Donald Trump’s policies, which the Biden administration has aimed to largely undo, the institution of the so-called SALT caps by Congress in 2017 has received support among elements of the Democratic Party — not least of all from the president himself.

Progressive groups have maintained the deduction predominantly benefits the wealthy, and the White House has signaled it wants to keep them because they can help pay for the infrastructure plan. Calls to reverse the caps, and restore the unlimited deduction, however, have emanated from a growing number of moderate Democrats predominantly from the Northeast and California — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — where property-owning residents of those high-tax states stand to benefit from the relief on their federal taxes.

The debate puts Biden, who campaigned on reversing most of Trump’s tax moves, including the SALT caps, in the unusual spot of siding against reversing a Trump policy.

Democratic strategists and lawmakers say the battle should come as no surprise: Trump set up this very fight to occur when he included the controversial caps on SALT deductions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The measure has, as intended, divided Democrats into a wealthier, establishment camp that favored the uncapped deductions, and a more populist and progressive wing that outspokenly supports higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for social programs and reduce income inequality.

“Democrats haven’t shown that they’re all in this together. And Mr. Biden doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room here,” said Glenn Totten, a veteran Democratic strategist.

“For now, all this debate does is make the job of Mitch McConnell and the Republicans easier because it frames it as a blue state versus red state issue,” he added. “Which was one of the intentions of the SALT caps in the first place.”

‘Not a revenue raiser’

The White House has repeatedly signaled that SALT caps are the rare policy issue from the Trump era that Biden supports.

During press briefings last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to multiple questions about the SALT issue by pointing out that undoing the caps “is not a revenue raiser,” even after it was pointed out to her by reporters that Democrats who support reversing the caps could easily sink an infrastructure bill.

Axios reported earlier this month that senior members of the administration felt that keeping the caps in place is “good policy” because they bring tens of billions of dollars in federal tax revenue.

A Biden administration spokesperson responded to questions from NBC News about the White House’s position on SALT by pointing to Psaki’s comments at recent briefings.

Progressive groups and strategists have said they support the SALT caps because they do, in fact, make a large portion of high earners pay more in federal taxes, which can then be used to fund progressive programs.

“It’s necessary to tax the wealthy, which has become a widely popular position. It’s clear that needs to happen. That is one way to do it,” said Maura Quint, the executive director of Tax March, a progressive group that advocates for tax fairness.

But so far, those lawmakers who want to reverse this particular Trump policy aren’t budging.

Eight moderate House Democrats, mostly from the blue states where residents were hammered by Trump’s SALT caps, penned a letter earlier this month, saying they were a hard “no” on Biden’s plan if it didn’t include lifting them.

“We’re going to keep fighting until this is part of the bill. It’s as critical as a road or a bridge or a tunnel, which is why we are going to keep fighting for it until the end,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who was one of the eight to sign the letter, said in an interview.

“The SALT deduction cap was designed to target blue states,” Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., who also signed the letter, said in an email. “We are being punished for running programs that help our citizens.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., another signatory, told NBC News that, “If we don’t get it done now, we won’t get it done. I’m pushing for a full repeal.” He added, “No SALT, no deal,” repeating a mantra both he and Gottheimer have said recently.

Pelosi has said in recent days that she is a “big supporter” of and was “sympathetic” to removing the caps and that “hopefully we can get it into the bill.” Schumer, meanwhile, sponsored a bill earlier this year that would restore the SALT deduction.

That could end up being more than enough to push Biden, who had expressed support for repealing the caps during the presidential primary, to undo them and align with the moderates.

Democrats have a narrow majority in the House and must keep their defections to a minimum in order to pass a bill, unless they get Republican support. In the Senate, a host of other issues, including a robust debate over raising corporate taxes, promise to further complicate the plan’s future.

‘Retribution politics’ or tax the rich?

Prior to 2017, filers could deduct all of their state and local taxes against their federal taxes.

For taxpayers in high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, the SALT deduction offered potentially enormous federal tax relief, because filers could write off the large amount of state and local taxes they were paying.

But the Trump administration, as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, instituted a $10,000 cap on that deduction, meaning filers who pay tens of thousands of dollars in state and local taxes now faced a very low ceiling to what they could deduct. As a result, the amount in federal taxes these filers owed went up significantly.

Proponents of keeping SALT caps, including progressives, have pointed to the fact that their removal would disproportionately benefit the wealthy. According to a 2020 Brookings Institution analysis, 96 percent of the benefits of a SALT cap repeal would help the top fifth of all taxpayers, and nearly 60 percent of the benefits would help the top 1 percent. Twenty-five percent of the benefits of a SALT cap repeal would benefit the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers, the analysis found.

Lawmakers in high-tax blue states have claimed Trump and Republicans included the measure to punish them. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the policy “retribution politics, plain and simple.”)

“It’s impossible to deny that Republicans when they fashioned their tax bill, were quick to try to use wedge issues wherever possible,” Totten said.

What happens next?

The irony that Biden’s posture on a policy created by Trump could make or break an infrastructure package isn’t lost on strategists. Several said that regardless of that unusual intersection, Biden’s apparent support of keeping the SALT caps simply helps bolster the consistency he’s so far maintained in pitching progressive policies.

“It makes for some strange bedfellows,” Democratic strategist Joel Payne said.

Payne pointed out that, even though it was a Trump-era policy, SALT caps actually align with a progressive ”bottom-up approach” to the economy — one on which the Biden presidency has been consistent.

“The president is siding with the progressive position, which has been a consistent thread in all of his policy pronouncements so far, certainly with tax policy — that wealthy and the well-connected should pay more,” he said. “And that he could possibly dig in there represents a sea change in mainstream Democratic politics.”

In Payne’s estimation, Biden “is going to negotiate on this.”

The president is scheduled to meet Monday with Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate to talk about his infrastructure plan.

What future talks look like — possibilities include giving moderate Democrats what they seek; raising the caps instead of lifting them altogether; or promising that addressing the caps will come in a different bill, possibly Biden’s promised second infrastructure bill — is just the latest example of how Biden will have to work to keep the Democratic Party’s delicate coalition together while also keeping promises to undo many of his predecessor’s policies.

Some progressives are signaling they’re willing to cede some ground.

“Fundamentally, SALT isn’t necessarily the top issue,” said Quint, of Tax March, whose group just last year had been strongly opposed to efforts to repeal the caps. “We need to be looking at larger issues like increasing the corporate tax rate, looking at a wealth tax. The SALT cap is not an area for us to get lost in or divided over.”



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