Maine’s congressional delegation will be here by coincidence on Thursday, just after a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election is scheduled to be released.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr will hold a 9:30 a.m. news conference before the release. All we know of the report is from Barr’s March summary of the “principal conclusions,” including that President Donald Trump and his campaign didn’t coordinate with Russia on the election but that he wasn’t exonerated of obstructing Mueller’s investigation.
The Maine delegation immediately called on the administration to release the report, with differing interpretations of Barr’s summary. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation called on Barr to release the report in March, but they took the summary of the report from the Republican president’s attorney general at differing values.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the lone Republican in the delegation, released a statement saying it was “good news for America” that Trump’s campaign didn’t conspire with Russia, praised Barr for releasing a summary “so quickly” and a quick release of the report was needed to “fully understand the rationale” for the key findings in his report.
Rep. Jared Golden, a freshman Democrat who represents Maine’s 2nd District, told Gray Television that the biggest question “has been answered” by Barr — that Trump and Russia didn’t coordinate.
He said the next step should be to “read it, talk about it and figure out what it tells us about how we can best protect our democracy,” but he also said it’s “not a top focus for many people” — a cautious approach nodding to his district, which Trump won handily in 2016.
Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, was slightly more skeptical than Collins. His statement said the summary left him with “several lingering questions,” including Barr and Mueller’s reasoning around the obstruction issue.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the liberal 1st District, noted that 37 people had been charged as a result of the investigation and said the public needs more than a summary from Trump’s “handpicked” attorney general to evaluate the findings.
The delegation will be together for a veterans event in Augusta today. The delegation will join Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie for the groundbreaking of a new $91 million, 138-bed Maine Veterans Home facility in Augusta on Thursday afternoon.
Today in A-town
The House and Senate will return to session this morning, and legislative committees will hold hearings on bills to prohibit conversion therapy on minors and one to allow students to opt out of standardized testing. Other proposals that could make it to the chamber floors Thursday include expanding membership of the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission, appropriating $2.5 million for hunger relief in Maine, raising the tax on tobacco products, and regulating excise taxes on retail marijuana.
The standardized testing bill from Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, would create new state Department of Education rules that allow any district to excuse a student from state testing with a written note from a parent or guardian. The education committee is slated to vote on the bill at 1 p.m. Tune in here.
A bill banning the use of conversion therapy on a minor from Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, would bar most health care or counseling professionals from administering the practice on anyone younger than 18 and prohibit the use of MaineCare to pay for it. Conversion therapy is a controversial method of therapy used to try and change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Former Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a similar bill from Fecteau last year, and both chambers were unable to muster enough votes to override it, with House Republicans largely siding with the governor. The health coverage committee is expected to vote on the proposal at 1 p.m. Listen here.
— A compromise paid leave bill won strong bipartisan support from a legislative committee. All but one Democrat and one Republican on the labor committee voted Wednesday to recommend passage of a twice-revised bill from Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, that would allow workers at businesses with more than 10 employees for more than three months in a year to accrue one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked up to a maximum of 40 hours. It would prohibit cities and towns from enacting their own paid leave programs, as Portland is considering. The revised version won support from business lobbyists and offers an alternative to a more progressive proposal for which a referendum signature-gathering effort had begun. The new leave provisions would take effect in 2021 if Millett’s bill becomes law.
— A legislative panel backed a bill calling for a study of how Central Maine Power’s proposed hydropower transmission line would affect Maine’s climate, but funding remains a question. The proposal from Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, would mandate a carbon-emissions impact study of the proposed 145-mile transmission line through Maine to send Hydro-Quebec power from Canada to Massachusetts. It still needs approval from two-thirds of both the Senate and the House, and it lacks a dedicated funding mechanism. Carson said he would speak with Mills, who supports the project, about finding money to pay for the study, which his bill says must be done by Aug. 15.
— A Democrat who recently gave up his seat in the Maine House of Representatives has died. Former Rep. Dale Denno of Cumberland, who resigned last month, died of lung cancer Tuesday at age 68. He had been elected twice to represent residents of Cumberland and part of Gray. Prior to his legislative service, Denno served as an assistant attorney general and director of the Office for Family Independence.
— Immigration is fueling slight population growth in Maine as more people died than were born here last year. U.S. Census data released this morning show that population increased in 10 of Maine’s 16 counties in 2018, spurring a 0.3 percent jump in the state’s overall population. Maine’s total population rose by an estimated 3,341 people in 2018, when it hit 1,338,404, and the population rise in the most recent year derives primarily from gains in net domestic migration.
The right stuff
Congratulations to Jessica Meir, a Caribou native who will make her first spaceflight as a U.S. astronaut later this year. She is due to become the third Mainer to be shot into space, following Christopher Cassidy, a York High School graduate who has completed six spacewalks and served as the nation’s chief astronaut from 2013 to 2017, and Charles O. Hobaugh, a Bar Harbor native who has made three spaceflights.
I grew up during an era when astronauts were revered, and it’s a little sad that space exploration is now treated as just another relatively cool occupation instead of as a heroic endeavor to expand human knowledge and push the bounds that constrict us.
My father and his brother were physicists, who each worked indirectly with NASA on some of the technology that makes rocketry and space travel possible. When we were little, he would gather us around our big, old black-and-white TV to watch snowy images of countdowns and liftoffs. Networks would preempt regular programming to beam images of astronauts in bulky spacesuits walking toward the rockets and capsules that would launch them skyward.
It seems quaint now, but there was a grandeur and suspense to it. Maybe there was a “beat the Soviets” competitive or jingoistic element embedded in the coverage, but — to a kid raised by a scientist — it was far more about adventure, exploration and discovery. The bold notion that humankind would be better as a whole if some of us went where no one had gone before permeated our culture, to the point that the first baseball team I ever played on was called the Explorers.
I never wanted to be an astronaut — because I recognized my physical limitations were far more vast than the cosmos and that I would always lose in any foolhardy attempt to fight gravity. But I have always admired them. To infinity and beyond, Jessica. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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