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Progressive Bills in the GA, ERA passes, Trouble for Navy Hill, and former Senator John Warner on Impeachment: Political Analysis For Friday, January 31, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Shapiro with a microphone between them.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director for this week's political analysis. Topics include progressive measures making their way through the General Assembly, the Equal Rights Amendment passes in Virginia, problems facing the redevelopment of Navy Hill, and former Senator John Warner issues a statement regarding the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Phil Liles:  And good morning. This is VPM News.  In studio are VPM News Director Craig Carper and political columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jeff Schapiro, and good morning to both of you.  And Craig, the pace of the legislature is accelerating with the new Democratic majority following through on proposals that under Republicans went nowhere.

Craig Carper:  Thanks, Phil.  Good morning, and good morning, Jeff.

Jeff Schapiro:  Hi there.

Carper:  Those measures that you mentioned, Phil, included mostly new restrictions on firearms and getting rid of old restrictions on abortion.

Schapiro:  And of course, these were bills that were routinely killed under the old Republican regime.  The House, in particular a killing field for these bills, yesterday passing seven of eight gun control measures favored by Governor Ralph Northam.  This includes universal background checks, reinstatement of the one handgun a month law, also the red flag bill.  This is a measure that would give judges the power to remove firearms from individuals who are regarded as a danger to themselves or others.  There's still no action on the ban on military style firearms.  There’s a single bill on it on the House side.  There's a good deal of fussing and fighting over the definition of a so-called assault weapon.  The Senate has already taken up a lot of these bills, reporting out its versions.  Clearly when it comes to firearms restrictions post-Virginia Beach, it's not a question of if; it is just a matter of when.  And ditto, as well, on dialing back these abortion restrictions imposed by Republicans.  Both the House and the Senate approved these dial backs this week.  In the Senate, it required a tie-breaking vote by Justin Fairfax, Lieutenant Governor, because Joe Morrissey, a Democrat, joined Republicans in opposing an easing of these restrictions.

Carper:  And there almost wasn't a Democratic majority, Jeff.  This was the party's fear a year ago.  We're noting a dubious anniversary this weekend.

Schapiro:  Yes, and that would be Governor Northam’s blackface calamity.  This breakthrough on guns and abortion might not have occurred, would not have occurred had the Democrats not taking back the legislature.  And these are powerfully symbolic and substantive measures that are being passed by this new Democratic majority elected despite the governor's embarrassment.  But the outcome indicates, the outcome of the election clearly indicates and the votes in the legislature this week, underscore that voters were looking beyond this calamity and were a lot more worried about health, public safety.  It's clear that the governor screwed up.   It's clear, as well, that the Democrats overreacted in demanding his resignation.  And now those Democrats who wanted him out are cozying up to him, because they're going to need his signature on their bills.

Carper:  And the ERA got final approval in Virginia, but will the Commonwealth’s vote count?  Attorney General Mark Herring is going to court to make sure that it does.

Schapiro:  This is another promise that the Democrats say they are keeping - approval of ERA, final votes this week.  Fascinating image, the women who were presiding over the House and Senate at the time, Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, President pro tempore Louise Lucas, and the women who serve as the clerks of those bodies putting the final signatures on those resolutions.  The question about the ERA and whether it becomes part of the Constitution - the Justice Department under Trump argues that the deadline has passed, 1982.  Actually, that was the second deadline.  Herring is in court with the states of Illinois and Nevada, asking in a federal lawsuit that the amendment be folded into the Constitution. By the way, this is directed at the national archivist who is responsible for keeping the cornerstone of our democracy, the Constitution.

Carper:  And Navy Hill is becoming a very steep mountain for Richmond's Mayor Levar Stoney to climb.

Schapiro:  Five of nine council members are against the current proposal.  They want the mayor to withdraw this plan before they clearly vote it down next week.  The mayor is quite defiant, says “no way.”  He understands that this is a measure of progress and often a difficult measure of progress.  Of course, he's up for reelection this year, and could he go down now along with this proposal?  He’s increasingly being seen as taking his eye off the ball, that being his promise to make the city work.  P.S.  Jeff Bourne, the delegate in the City of Richmond, another blow to this idea, is pulling the House bill that would direct sales tax revenues to this project, the biggest mover and shaker of which is Tom Farrell, the head of Dominion Energy.

Carper:  And a voice from the past is emerging in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.  That is the voice of former Republican Senator John Warner.  Jeff, he's saying what many Republicans don't want to hear.

Schapiro:  This 90-something former U.S. senator who spent 30 years representing Virginia in Washington says that the Senate should be hearing witnesses and taking more evidence.  This appears unlikely.  We've been hearing developments overnight of swing Republican senators not siding with the Democrats.  What is important here is that John Warner is an institutionalist.  He's dedicated to the body.  Yes, he endorsed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president in 2016.  And yes, he voted to acquit Bill Clinton after he was impeached, but Warner says witnesses and evidence are normal in judicial proceedings.  This qualifies as one, albeit, a political, judicial proceeding.  And Warner says, and these are his words, “Not only is the President on trial, but in many ways so is the Senate itself.”

Carper:  Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro:  Roger that.

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