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Joyce bucks GOP, backs Trump

Political Notebook

Even as most House Republicans split from President Donald Trump on Wednesday and condemned his sudden military withdrawal from Syria, U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, remained in the minority.

The vote — part of an ongoing political battle that has roiled Washington and rippled across the military and diplomatic worlds — was a bipartisan rebuke of Trump’s Syria policy. But while 354 representatives backed the measure, including nearly all of Pennsylvania’s delegation, 60 members opposed it.

The nonbinding resolution described the rapid military withdrawal as “beneficial to adversaries of the United States government” and called on the U.S. to seek a resolution in northern Syria, where formerly U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters hope to fend off an attack by Turkey.

Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces in anticipation of the Turkish attack led to accusations of betrayal by Kurdish-led forces, while Russian and Syrian army forces swiftly took over for the Americans. Even Republicans normally supportive of the president’s foreign policy criticized his actions, prompting Trump to lash out on Twitter and in a White House meeting.

Many Republicans have long praised the Kurds who lead an autonomous region of northern Syria; their troops fought heavily against the Islamic State group and have hosted U.S. special forces and advisers.

“This betrayal of the Kurds will also severely harm our credibility as an ally the world over,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said earlier this month, after Trump’s initial announcement. “President Trump should rethink this decision immediately.”

Of the Pennsylvania GOP delegation, only Joyce and U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9th District, opposed the vote. U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-15th District, voted yes on the resolution.

In an email to TribLive, Joyce defended Trump’s decision.

“President Trump and his administration are holding Turkey accountable for its actions while protecting our men and women in uniform,” he wrote, according to the site.

Bill would spare responders scrutiny

As the state House prepares for its first session in nearly a month, a little-noticed bill to exempt some emergency departments from the right-to-know law could appear on the floor.

House Bill 1780 — cosponsored by Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon — would remove volunteer fire departments, rescue companies and emergency medical services from the list of agencies that must abide by right-to-know laws. The law requires government- or government-backed agencies to provide certain documents and information to the public upon request.

“Volunteer fire and EMS companies do not have the resources for this type of mandate, whether these resources are financial or human,” primary sponsor Rep. R. Lee James, R-Seneca, wrote in a memo when he first proposed the bill. “Our volunteer emergency organizations should not be expending their resources on a governmental function, which does not and should not apply to a private emergency organization, especially when they are already struggling with recruitment and retention of first responders.”

The bill cleared a House committee last month, paving the way for a vote if leaders approve.

Rumors of an impending vote were first mentioned this week on Twitter by Nick Malawskey, a former reporter who now works in the Capitol. While the bill is not yet scheduled for a vote, other fire department-related bills are under committee discussion.

Cash assistance

fight continues

Last week, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on whether it should halt the cutoff of funds to poor and disabled Pennsylvanians under the now-canceled General Assistance program.

Attorneys on both sides argued their case, with those who back the program arguing that its elimination this summer violated the state constitution.

The program, dating to the Great Depression, provided cash payments to several thousand Pennsylvanians. Many who used the program were in addiction treatment, had disabilities or otherwise couldn’t provide for themselves, advocates said.

Long targeted by Republicans in Harrisburg, General Assistance was finally eliminated this summer during state budget negotiations. The cut spurred angry public exchanges in the Capitol between Republicans and Democrats, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

If the state courts issue an injunction, the funds could be temporarily restored.

In the meantime, lawmakers have proposed Senate and House bills to create a similar program that could replace General Assistance. Neither has moved beyond the committee stage.

Ryan Brown can be reached at rbrown@altoona mirror.com.

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