The World-Herald’s Washington Bureau rounds up news highlights from Capitol Hill and beyond.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial kicks off in earnest this week in the wake of a federal watchdog agency’s finding that his administration violated the law by freezing aid to Ukraine.
In a statement, Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb cited the Government Accountability Office’s report and posed a rhetorical question to the state’s all-Republican trio of House members:
“Now that you know Trump broke the law … will you change your stance and speak in support of the impeachment?”
They stood by their opposition to impeachment.
Rep. Don Bacon said he would look at the GAO report, but questioned how the law could have been broken when the aid was only temporarily frozen and was ultimately provided before the date required.
“I don’t agree with withholding the aid, anyway. I thought they needed it,” Bacon said. “I have no doubt they were using this thing for leverage. I don’t support that, I don’t agree with it. I just don’t think, I personally don’t think a law was broken, because they got it before the law required.”
Bacon said that politicians from both parties have been guilty of seeking assistance from other countries and that he continues to feel that Trump did not commit offenses that rise to the level of impeachment.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry also stood by his opposition to impeachment.
The Lincoln lawmaker said he doesn’t understand the role Trump’s private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has played in the Ukraine matter. But he also was not calling for further investigation by the House.
“It’s gone to the Senate,” Fortenberry said. “Let them unpack all of these things.”
Fortenberry declined to criticize Trump’s actions. Instead he took issue with reporters for not paying more attention to aid that was withheld to other countries such as Guatemala and Honduras.
Across the Capitol, it’s an open question whether the Senate will call new witnesses during the trial.
Iowa and Nebraska senators have supported Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s position that the question of witnesses should be resolved at a later time.
In other news:
Breakthrough with China?
Trump signed a “phase one” trade deal with China last week as that country says it will significantly boost its purchases of American farm products.
Experts say it’s a move in the right direction, while cautioning that the massive farm purchases being discussed are a goal for now, not a guarantee.
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But farmers and ranchers — and their Capitol Hill allies — are hopeful there will be a phase two and as many more phases as needed to normalize trading relations between the two countries.
“It’s going to take time before we know if China is a reliable bargainer in this effort to become economic partners with the United States in the 21st century,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
One trade deal that’s almost in the bag
Just before taking their impeachment trial oaths Thursday, senators overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement by a vote of 89-10.
All four Republican senators from Nebraska and Iowa voted for the deal, which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Canada still has to ratify the agreement. For agriculture, the biggest benefit will be to provide much-needed certainty about the future.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told reporters the Hawkeye State exports more to Mexico and Canada than its next 27 trade partners combined.
“This is a huge, long-awaited, wonderful arrival for Iowa,” Ernst said.
Looking out for older employees
The House approved bipartisan legislation intended to protect older Americans from age discrimination in the workplace.
The bill passed 261-155, with no Democrats voting against it. Bacon and Fortenberry were among the 34 Republicans who supported the measure.
Bacon said it sets the burden of proof for age discrimination on an equal level with other forms of workplace discrimination.
“Currently, the bar is set much higher in these cases, making it difficult for older workers to prove they have been unjustly terminated,” Bacon said. “Workers in America who happen to be older contribute a great deal to our economy and society and they deserve to be protected the same as all other workers.”
Nebraska's and Iowa's members of Congress
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