Category Archives: Congress

Haslam ‘not holding my breath’ on sales tax action

Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s backing a state Department of Revenue rule to requiring out-of-state retailers to collect Tennessee sales taxes because he has little confidence Congress will act, reports the Times-Free Press.

“They [Congress] keep saying that they’re going to take it up, but I am not holding my breath they’ll take it up any time soon,” Haslam said in an interview Friday.

“For me, it’s just this: The economy is shifting so much that way [to the internet],” Haslam said. “It’s literally not a fair playing field for our in-state retailers. And those are folks who are not only having to collect the tax, but they’re paying property tax. They’re sponsoring the local Little League team, and these are folks who are contributing in a full way to our economy.”

He said the present situation gives internet retailers up to a 9.75 percent advantage over their brick-and-mortar competitors in Tennessee, which must collect the state’s 7 percent sales tax and local government taxes of up to 2.75 percent.

“It’s not fair to say, well, we’re going to let your competitors not collect that tax we make you collect,” Haslam added.

Haslam’s Revenue Department recently held a rule-making hearing on the proposal. It would require internet, catalog and other out-of-state companies with no physical presence in Tennessee but with annual in-state sales of at least $500,000 to collect state and local sales taxes starting in 2017.

TN GOP congressmen: Khan’s a ‘hero,’ but no criticism of Trump

When asked about a harsh exchange between Donald Trump and the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in action, Republican members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation are strive to avoid taking sides, reports Michael Collins.

The GOP lawmakers called Capt. Humayun Khan, killed by a suicide bomber in 2004 as he tried to save other troops, “an American hero” but were careful not to condemn Trump for ramping up his feud with the slain soldier’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan.

“The issue here is not one of the Khan family’s patriotism or sacrifice — that is indisputable — it is about stopping the encroachment of radical Islam,” U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin said. “Donald Trump remains the only candidate in this race with the strength to combat this threat and to keep Americans safe, which is why my support for him will not waver.”

Black said Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, have clarified via social media that Capt. Humayun Khan “is an American hero and that his family, like every Gold Star family, is deserving of our respect.” Continue reading

Congressional Gold Medal for Pat Summitt will have to wait

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. says he has ended his campaign to award Pat Summitt the Congressional Gold Medal medal because of a lack of support among fellow congressmen before her death and a law requiring a five-year wait for posthumous honor, reports Michael Collins.

Legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal must be sponsored by two-thirds of Congress — 290 House members, 67 senators. Duncan’s bill to honor Summitt had just 142 co-sponsors — 73 Republicans and 69 Democrats.

Summitt’s death last month further complicated matters: To qualify for the award posthumously, a recipient must be deceased at least five years.

While it won’t be possible to award Summitt with the gold medal right now, Duncan said he intends to see if there are other ways for Congress to honor her life and career.

“She has been honored about every way she can,” he said.

Duncan nominated Summitt for the Congressional Gold Medal back in 2014, just a couple of years after she ended her reign as the head coach of the UT women’s basketball team.

TN a model for D.C. statehood; not for TN congressmen

If the District of Columbia becomes the 51st state, Tennessee will have helped pave the way, reports Michael Collins. But don’t expect Tennessee’s Republican congressmen to help the effort.

Now, D.C. leaders are making another push for statehood. And they’re looking to take the same route that Tennessee followed when it became the 16th state in 1796.

In November, D.C. residents will vote on a statehood referendum that would split the city in two. One part would be a new state called New Columbia. The other part would remain a small federal district that would house government buildings and monuments.

If the referendum is approved, D.C. would petition Congress for statehood. That’s where Tennessee comes into play.

Because Tennessee was already a federal territory in the 1790s, Congress allowed it an abbreviated entry into the union. Tennessee residents voted to ratify a constitution and pledged to begin a republic form of government. Congress then admitted the new state into the union without requiring a ratification vote by existing states.

If “the Tennessee model” worked for Tennessee, the thinking goes, it might work for D.C.

Not everyone, though, is on board. Opponents to granting D.C. statehood include Tennesseans in Congress.

“I’m very much opposed to D.C. statehood,” said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville. “The District of Columbia was set up to belong to all Americans, and it has a special place, not only in the life of our country, but I think to all of the individuals who come here from all of the states.”

In reality, Duncan said, D.C. is nothing but a city.

“It’s a very important city,” he said, “but it is a city. All other states are combinations of urban, suburban and rural areas, and they have all of these different aspects to them, all of these competing interests, all of these combinations that D.C. doesn’t have.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville, makes essentially the same argument.

“Our nation was formed by states, and the district is a unique city — not a state,” Alexander said. “The Constitution itself makes that distinction.”

Note: As a state senator, now U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, sponsored a resolution giving Tennessee’s endorsement of statehood for the District of Columbia. It failed.

Blackburn pushes corruption investigation of Clinton Foundation

Rep. Marsha Blackburn is asking the FBI and other federal agencies to open a “public corruption” investigation into the activities of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, reports Michael Collins.

In a letter she is circulating to other House members, the Brentwood Republican says media reports have raised significant questions about the foundation’s practices and their intersection with American foreign policy.

“These reports, along with recently discovered information about the foundation’s initial tax exempt filings, portray a lawless ‘Pay to Play’ enterprise that has been operating under a cloak of philanthropy for years and should be investigated,” the letter says.

The letter will be sent Friday to FBI Director James Comey, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission. Blackburn asks all three agencies to investigate the foundation’s practices.

A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

In the letter, Blackburn suggests the foundation’s international activities are illegal. In its initial filings with the IRS, the foundation said its activities would involve constructing a presidential library, maintaining a historical site with records and engaging in study and research.

“No mention is made of conducting activities outside of the United States, which is one of the codes included in the IRS ‘Application for Recognition of Exemption’ in effect at that time,” the letter says.

TN GOP congressional delegation to attend convention, except Black (and maybe Duncan)

U.S. Rep. Diane Black is skipping the Republican National Convention this year to campaign in her home district while U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. hasn’t decided if he’ll make the Cleveland scene. Otherwise, reports Michael Collins, all of Tennessee’s Republican senators and representatives plan to be on hand.

“While I enthusiastically support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and would, of course, appreciate the opportunity to take part in such a historic occasion, I ultimately believed that my time is best spent here in Tennessee,” the Gallatin Republican said.

GOP leaders across the country who can’t stomach the thought of Trump as their party’s standard-bearer are skipping the nominating convention, which opens July 18 in Cleveland. Prominent Republicans taking a pass include more than a dozen U.S. senators.

Black is staying home for a different reason.

Tennessee’s primary will take place Aug. 4, just two weeks after the GOP convention ends. Given that she faces a challenge from three fellow Republicans — state Rep. Joe Carr, Tommy Hay and Donald Strong — Black decided to remain in Tennessee and hold meet-and-greet events across the state’s 6th Congressional District.

Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. of Knoxville hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll attend the convention. But if he stays away, it won’t be because of Trump. Duncan has publicly endorsed the New York real estate mogul and has been vocal about his support for Trump’s campaign.

“At this point, I have not decided (about the convention) because I have some events in my district that I feel I should attend,” Duncan said.

“In our country, we are very fortunate that the people through the democratic process choose the president of the United States, and the conventions are an important part of that,” Alexander said. “So I consider it a privilege to attend the convention and have tried to do so most of the years I have been active in public life.”

Corker, who could end up with a Cabinet post in a Trump administration, has been offered a speaking role at the convention.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood also has been invited to speak and will serve throughout the week as a Trump “surrogate,” speaking on behalf of the campaign in interviews and at events.

“Our party is seeing record turnout in the primaries, and I think that’s a great indication of the excitement going into the general election,” Blackburn said. “We’re looking forward to an energized convention and a Trump White House.”

TN GOP congressmen praise Trump after meeting with him

Tennessee Republican congressmen came out of a meeting with Donald Trump Thursday praising the party’s presumptive presidential nominee and declaring commitment to help him get elected; reports Michael Collins.

“Mr. Trump was well-received by House Republican members,” said Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin. “He focused on his agenda for getting the economy moving and bringing people together. There was great energy and enthusiasm in that room, and with Donald Trump at the top of the ballot, we are all ready to take on Hillary Clinton this November and hold our majorities in the House and Senate.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood described the meeting as positive. “He took questions from many members, addressed the issues, and focused on unity and winning in November,” she said.

With the Republican National Convention kicking off in Cleveland in a little more than a week, Trump made the rounds on Capitol Hill in meetings billed as a chance for lawmakers to get to know the presumptive GOP nominee for president.

In his meeting with House Republicans, Trump spent roughly a half-hour talking about policy and issues such as caring for veterans, strengthening the military and repealing and replacing Obamacare, said Rep. Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg. Continue reading

Blackburn to speak at GOP convention, downplays VP talk

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said she will speak at the Republican convention in Cleveland this month, but declined to comment on growing buzz that she’s being vetted for vice president, according to Politico.

“I am a very unlikely candidate,” Blackburn said when asked Thursday whether she’s submitted documents to Donald Trump’s campaign for vetting.

She repeated, “I am a very unlikely candidate, we all know that. I am a conservative from a red state. I am a very unlikely candidate.”

Blackburn would, indeed, be an unconventional candidate. She is not from a swing state, representing a conservative western Tennessee district between Memphis and Nashville.

Blackburn, 64, was first elected to the House in 2002. She is an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, and has frequently advised GOP leadership on the issue.

She attended a Thursday morning meeting with Trump at the Capitol Hill Club, and said Trump did a “very good job” during his first confab with the House GOP.

Cohen denounces pro-gun ‘nuts’ as windup to House sit-in

As House Democrats suspended their sit-in over gun violence Thursday, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen called the 25-hour protest “a great day for America” and denounced “crazy, looney tweets” from pro-gun “nuts,” reports Michael Collins.

“What a great opportunity for Democrats to come together and show unity on an issue of such importance as saving lives,” the Memphis Democrat said in a fiery speech from the House floor, about 30 minutes before the sit-in ended. Democrats have vowed to restart it when the House returns from its July 4 recess.

Cohen said the gun-control measures Democrats are seeking — to expand background checks and prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns — are “low-hanging fruit,” and Congress should be working to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

Yet, he said, a lot of gun owners have taken to social media to argue they need assault weapons “to defend themselves from their country.”

“They’re nuts,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat who also participated in the sit-in, said House members should be allowed to vote on issues of concern to the public.

“Making sure that terrorists can’t easily get their hands on guns is a no-brainer, and we should vote on it,” Cooper said. “We should not shirk our responsibilities to the country on any of the important issues of the day.”

…Cooper said that while the “no-fly” list is not perfect, “it has been good enough to keep airplanes from exploding over the U.S. since 9/11.”

“I am exploring ways to get a better list, and I am open to all good ideas,” he said. “But the legitimate problems with today’s no-fly list are solvable, such as by adding due process protections. The key point is that Congress should be working on these issues, not ducking them. We should be solving the problem of identifying terrorists, not giving up.”

TN cookie-cutter reaction to Supreme immigration ruling

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has declared dismay over the U.S. Supreme Court deadlock that derails President Obama’s attempt to block deportation of millions of illegal immigrants and some Democrats are equally unhappy. Tennessee’s Republican congressmen are celebrating. So is Republican Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who had joined the Texas-initiated lawsuit after prodding from GOP legislators.

All, of course, echo national partisan gridlock on the issue, illustrating once again that the old cliche about of all politics being local is no longer true. Here’s a roundup of Tennessee commentary from the quickly-generated press release pile: Continue reading