Politics

Screengrab by WESA

Christopher Wray, President Trump’s nominee for FBI Director, faces the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday for his confirmation hearing. Wray would replace James Comey, whom Trump fired in May. Wray served in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush and currently works on white-collar crime at an international law firm. Given Comey's dismissal and ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. election and potential ties to the Trump campaign, senators are expected to press Wray on his independence and integrity.

Kathy Willens / AP, file

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted images of emails regarding his 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer on Tuesday. An intermediary said he could connect Trump Jr. with people who had information "that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton]... and would be very useful to your father." Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting, which former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner also attended in June 2016.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

Aaron Anthony, his wife Lauren Kokai, two-year-old daughter Adelaide, and their long-haired cat Cyrus recently moved into a single family home in Anthony’s hometown, Shaler. It’s just north of Pittsburgh, along the Allegheny River.

“A hidden gem,” Kokai said. “There’s lots of kids running around, rugrats on bikes.”

Casey Heads To Pennsylvania To Hammer Senate Health Bill

Jun 23, 2017
Alex Brandon / AP

Pennsylvania's Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is in the state hammering the Republican health care bill in the U.S. Senate.

Casey, speaking after a Friday rally in the Pennsylvania Capitol, warned that the bill would change society radically because the country will stop taking care of people who need it most.

Casey and others say Pennsylvania stands to lose more than many other states. Also against it are Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania's hospitals, the Arc of Pennsylvania, the AARP of Pennsylvania and labor unions.

Evan Vucci / AP

The Trump administration has promised a return to "tough on crime" criminal justice policies, including a recent memo that instructs federal prosecutors to reverse Obama-era reforms meant to curb mandatory minimum sentences.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Results from a University of Pittsburgh survey published last week found that the presidential election impacted women's decisions about their contraception.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Tuesday’s voter turn out of 17.2 percent in Allegheny County was slightly down from four years ago and about 6 percentage points down from eight years ago. 

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Around the state, advocates and frustrated Pennsylvanians are pushing lawmakers to change the rules governing how district lines are redrawn every 10 years.

The current process lets politicians the skew districts in their political favor—a process known as gerrymandering.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Over the last several years, three separate scandals involving three separate judges have hit the commonwealth’s Supreme Court.

These and other issues have prompted nonpartisan group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to release a report detailing the judicial discipline system’s shortfalls—and what the state can do to fix it.

The high-profile problems came one after another.

In 2013, Justice Joan Orie Melvin was found guilty of multiple felonies related to her use of state employees for campaign work.  

Pennsylvania Primary Features Appeals Court, Local Contests

Apr 17, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Numerous contests for school boards and county and municipal government, as well as a handful of appeals court races will be on the ballot next month in Pennsylvania's primary election.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Eight weeks after Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a $32.3 billion budget proposal for the new fiscal year, the Republican-controlled state House Tuesday approved its own version, a $31.5 billion spending plan.

The GOP plan was introduced Monday and was approved quickly along party lines with four Republicans joining all Democrats in voting “no.”  The Republican budget includes no tax hikes and cuts $800 million from Wolf’s proposal.

The governor called the Republican version “an opening conversation.”

Maryland To Pennsylvania (And 4 Other States): We'll Redistrict When You Do

Apr 4, 2017
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President Donald Trump, a Republican, won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin of 68,000 votes. The state has about 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. 

Matt Rourke / AP

The 2018 gubernatorial election is still well over a year away. But already, Republicans are announcing intentions to contest Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf’s bid for reelection.

It’s likely that GOP House Speaker Mike Turzai—long rumored to be interested in higher office—will soon be among them.

Pittsburgh-based political agency Cold Spark Media has confirmed it’s working with the Allegheny County Republican. Mark Harris, a partner with the agency acting as Turzai’s strategist, said the politician may explore a run more seriously after the state budget is finished.

FBI Corruption Probe In Pennsylvania Had More In Its Sights

Apr 3, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Fresh revelations show how federal authorities tried to use disgraced former state Treasurer Rob McCord to implicate others in a broad pay-to-play investigation of Pennsylvania government, but it leaves the question of whether the FBI probe is effectively finished.

The investigation dates to 2009, when the FBI set up a fake company with phony executives who began hiring lobbyists in Harrisburg and making campaign contributions. It has thus far produced charges against four people, including McCord and John Estey, a onetime chief of staff to former Gov. Ed Rendell.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

After eight years on Pittsburgh City Council, Natalia Rudiak said she is “a bit burned out.”

“I'm looking forward to really spending some time on some self-care and spending some time with my family,” she said.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

One of Harrisburg’s perennial headaches is heading back to the legislative spotlight as Senate Republican leaders work to push a familiar pension bill through the chamber.

Last session, GOP lawmakers made a late-in-the-game attempt to pass a pension overhaul that would have offered state employees three retirement options—two so-called “hybrid” plans, and a 401k-style plan.

At the time, Governor Tom Wolf indicated he’d sign it. But the plan didn’t get full votes because House and Senate Democrats refused to support it, saying they hadn’t gotten enough input.

Renee Rosensteel

NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro wasn’t always in the news business. Though, he pursued journalism in college and worked for a newspaper after graduation, he also spent three years as a high school English teacher. 

He stopped by 90.5 WESA and spoke to Larkin Page-Jacobs about his work as a broadcast journalist and how it’s similar to teaching students.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Gerrymandering Battle Draws A Crowd In PA

Mar 1, 2017
Dave Davies / WHYY

Could a citizens' group defy tradition and change Pennsylvania politics?

Fair Districts PA, which has taken on the issue of gerrymandering in state political boundaries, is at least making some noise.

Republicans Eye Revenue Assumptions In Wolf's Budget

Feb 21, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Republican lawmakers are using budget hearings to question Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's assumptions for revenue from a minimum wage increase and a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production.

Kobi Gideon, GPO via AP

President Trump is the latest in a succession of U.S. presidents pledging unbreakable support for Israel. Last year, for instance, the US signed a $38 billion military aid package with the Israelis even as Washington pressed Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. 

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The state Senate has been closed for a day following a vandalism incident.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports an email was forwarded to all Senate employees on Sunday announcing the closure of the Senate side of the Capitol on Monday. Drew Crompton, counsel to Sen. Joe Scarnati, says a man gained access to the Capitol early Sunday and sprayed a fire extinguisher in the hallways by the Senate's offices and chambers.

Bradley C. Bower / AP

A Pennsylvania state senator has used a profanity-laced tweet to defend a fellow state lawmaker in Texas after President Donald Trump joked about destroying the unnamed lawmaker's career.

Trump told a Texas sheriff during a meeting at the White House on Tuesday that they could "destroy" the career of a Texas lawmaker who is trying to reform asset-forfeiture laws that critics say police abuse as a funding source. The comment was met with laughs in the room.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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Four out of Pennsylvania’s five Democratic congressmen have declared they’re sitting out President-Elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

They join a growing contingent of more than 50 Democrats opting out of Trump’s ceremony.

One after another this week, Brendan Boyle, Dwight Evans and Bob Brady of Philadelphia, and Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh variously expressed opposition to Trump’s rhetoric and policies, and support for Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

Lewis prominently tangled with Trump over his own inauguration boycott.

Chris Knight / AP

The three top state row officers—all Democrats—have taken their oaths of office in separate ceremonies.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is beginning his second term, while Treasurer Joe Torsella and Attorney General Josh Shapiro are new to their respective offices.

Thanks in large part to the last elected Attorney General—Kathleen Kane, who has been convicted of perjury and obstruction—Shapiro’s election to the office has had the highest profile.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The state House has passed a resolution that makes significant changes to its ethics rules.

Scott Petri, a Bucks County Republican and former chair of the Ethics Committee, said the updates have been in the works for the past two years and provide some very necessary clarification. 

He also said it’s conceivable the new rules could have prevented a recent debacle surrounding Democratic Representative Leslie Acosta.

She secretly pleaded guilty to embezzlement in March, kept her seat and then finally resigned on Tuesday after being reelected.

Matt Rourke / flickr

Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane says her nine-count perjury and obstruction conviction should be overturned because of trial errors and overlapping charges.

Kane has been sentenced to 10 to 23 months in jail but remains free while she appeals the August conviction.

Her lawyer in a filing Tuesday challenges the use of a special prosecutor to investigate the leak of grand jury material. The jury found that Kane orchestrated the leak to embarrass a rival.

Katie Meyer / WITF

New members have officially been sworn into the Pennsylvania legislature.

The first day of the new session saw further entrenchment of Harrisburg’s partisan divide. Republicans shored up their majorities in the House and Senate, where they’ve often clashed with Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Now, lawmakers are turning their attention to legislative priorities in the new session.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Though Republicans boosted their stronghold in the state legislature as they were sworn into office Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he's used to working in a bi-partisan manner. 

Republicans now have a veto proof majority in the Senate, 34-16, and increased their margin to 39 seats in the House, 121-82.

Wolf said he doesn’t believe the stronger GOP grip on the legislature will affect his upcoming budget, nor has it forced him to adjust his priorities.

Lawmakers Begin New Session With Old Leaders Again At Helm

Jan 3, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers are back in session with leadership teams largely unchanged from the two-year session that concluded in November.

The oath of office was administered Tuesday for members in both chambers, including 22 new representatives and six freshmen senators.

Republicans are again in firm majority control of both chambers, 121 to 82 in the House and 34 to 16 in the Senate.

Republican Rep. Mike Turzai was re-elected House speaker, while Republican Sen. Joe Scarnati is again the Senate's president pro tempore.

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