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Tides Continue to Shift on Capitol Hill as Election Approaches

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This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

Passing of RBG Alters Landscape Moving Forward in Congress

The sudden passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg a week ago—and the subsequent immediate determination by President Trump that he would move a nominee to fill the vacancy quickly—have altered the DC landscape dramatically. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) quickly assembled the 51 votes he needs for confirmation of her replacement. Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsay Graham (R-SC), has indicated that confirmation hearings for the new nominee may take place the week of October 12. All roads lead to a final floor vote in the Senate before the November 3 election, possibly on Halloween. The Democrats will be unable to block this vote. The only way it could fail is if three Republican Senators oppose the nominee. Two have indicated that they are opposed to this vote prior to the election (Sen. Collins of Maine and Sen. Murkowski of Alaska), but the elusive third appears out of reach.

These developments may have sidelined talk of a new COVID relief bill, though efforts at resuscitation remain, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Steve Mnuchin from the White House as the key negotiators. A short-term funding extension (Continuing Resolution) was adopted in a bipartisan vote by the House Tuesday night. The Senate is expected to follow suit next Tuesday or Wednesday, thus avoiding a government shutdown when the Fiscal year ends September 30.  The bill extends funding until December 11, setting up another confrontation during the lame duck session.

Members of the House hit the road Friday going home to campaign, with Senators expected to follow next week. They could be called back to consider a COVID relief bill if an agreement is reached, or to take a vote on the new Supreme Court nominee. Other than that, they are likely to be out of session until the lame duck, which will reconvene in mid-November.  Note that Senate confirmation hearings in the Judiciary Committee for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will proceed even though the Senate is technically out of session. 

Trump’s Assault on Anti-Racism Initiatives as “Anti-American Propaganda” Continues, as Does the Response

Last week I provided an overview of the Trump Administration’s efforts to root out “Divisive Anti-American Propaganda” and end “left-wing indoctrination,” which appear to be efforts to push back against educational initiatives intended to address racism head on. This week, President Trump doubled down by issuing an executive order to federal agencies directing them to root out trainings, grants and contracts that may promote a “destructive ideology” that is designed “to divide us and to prevent us from uniting as one people” or are “inherently sexist and racist …  appearing in workplace diversity trainings and across the country.” 

The order goes on to list nine “divisive concepts” that must not be supported by federal funds and orders all agency heads to review grants, contracts, and trainings and report back to the Office of Management and Budget in 60 days for grants and contracts and 90 days for Federal employee trainings. The review process will take place for both higher education and K-12 grants and contracts and any related staff trainings.

On the higher education side, more than 80 universities signed onto a letter urging the Trump Administration to end its probe against Princeton University. The Trump Administration claims that Princeton may be violating assurances it has signed as a condition of receiving federal funds. Those assurances are related to practicing non-discrimination. Princeton has issued a call to “combat systemic racism,” which was interpreted by the Administration as admitting racist practices. Michael Roth of Wesleyan University said, “The Department of Education’s action against Princeton is a cynical political stunt that misrepresents the admirable efforts of an institution that, like so many of us in higher education, is striving to do better.”

This unleashed frenzy attacking anti-racism educational practices is undoubtedly part of the Trump re-election strategy. It will be interesting to see if it bubbles up during one of the upcoming presidential debates and/or continues to expand in the coming days before the election.

New Resources for Educators

  • The National Academy of Education has launched a three-year Study on Evaluation and Improvement of Teacher Preparation Programs led by Linda Darling Hammond and Ken Zeichner. Funded by the Gates Foundation, the study will yield a consensus report identifying best practices of existing models of evaluation tools and recommendations for the development of new models.

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information and remember. Remember to follow me on twitter @janewestdc.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant