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Impeachment looms

Political Notebook

With a House panel moving a step closer on Friday to a historic trial for President Donald Trump, Pennsylvania Democrats have lined up in favor of impeachment.

The House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against Trump, who is accused of pressuring Ukrainian leaders to investigate his political enemies. Republicans on the committee fought hard against the move, which is set to split the House in a final impeachment vote.

“Judiciary Democrats realize they can’t beat President Trump on the merits, so they caved to their radical base and rushed through baseless articles of impeachment in record time,” Pennsylvania Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, said.

The only Pennsylvania Republican on the committee, Reschenthaler unsuccessfully fought an obstruction charge against Trump during a partisan debate.

The Democrats who backed the move took a solemn tone on Friday. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, and a majority member of the committee, quoted George Washington and discussed the Constitution in remarks to colleagues.

“Today is not about punishment or hate. It is about love. Love of country. It’s about protecting this country — and our precious Constitution — for all the Americans yet to come,” Dean said.

The vote is far from the end. The next step is a full House vote, likely this week, to formally impeach the president.

With the House vote approaching, GOP lawmakers have ramped up rhetoric against their Democratic colleagues and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Those in heavily Republican districts, like freshman Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, dismiss the entire process as a “sham.”

“Since gaining control of the House in January, Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats have obsessed over endless investigations of the Trump Administration, grasping at straws while withholding evidence from elected Members of Congress,” Joyce said last week.

Democrats, meanwhile, have united in support of impeachment. While a small handful of representatives in pro-Trump districts nationwide have wavered, at least seven of Pennsylvania’s nine Democratic representatives have openly backed the move.

The latest, Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, announced his support Thursday.

Trump himself took his complaints to central Pennsylvania last week, suggesting the impeachment process would boost his tenuous support in the state.

“They’re impeaching me and there are no crimes. This has to be a first in history,” he said.

If the House votes to impeach Trump, the case would move to the Senate for a full trial. With removal from office a near statistical impossibility, Senate Republicans have proposed a trial schedule favorable to the president early next year.

Paid leave, Space Force

Even as Congress split bitterly over impeachment, Republicans and centrist Democrats managed to agree on an enormous military spending bill — one set to directly impact tens of thousands of government workers in Pennsylvania.

The House voted 377-48 Wednesday on a $738 billion defense spending bill packed with compromises and wish-list items from both parties. One key component: Twelve weeks of paid parental leave for federal civilian employees, including those in Veterans Affairs and other government agencies.

As of 2018, well over 50,000 Pennsylvanians were employed in federal jobs outside direct military roles and the United States Postal Service, which are not impacted. By far the state’s biggest civilian federal employer is the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Many congressional Democrats had pushed for the change, which ultimately drew support from members of Trump’s family. But it came at a cost: The bill includes huge increases in military spending and establishes the new “Space Force” that Trump has demanded.

Progressive Democrats in the House opposed the bill, arguing that the compromises were too steep. Only one Pennsylvania Democrat voted against it.

Republicans praised their preferred items. In a news release, Joyce didn’t mention the parental leave or Space Force by name, but pointed to pay increases for servicemembers.

The bill is set to pass the Senate and get Trump’s signature, paving the way for a sixth military branch and another increase in spending.

Truck group petitions Supreme Court

A coalition of truckers that sued the Pennsylvania Turnpike this year — tying up millions of dollars in PennDOT funds in the process — is seeking a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed a request for the nation’s highest court to hear their case against turnpike officials, who they accuse of unfairly raising tolls to fund outside transportation projects. The Turnpike Commission regularly forwards money to PennDOT for transit projects across the state.

After the group first filed its case, the courts put a hold on further money transfers, leaving PennDOT short and at risk of transit cuts. Officials warned that service like the subsidized Amtrak route through Altoona could be slashed if the freeze continued.

A federal court ruled in August against the trucker group, allowing the money to flow again. If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, the turnpike money would effectively be safe — but a ruling for the association could reignite the fight.

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