Border agency set to jumpstart Trump’s wall in a Texas wildlife refuge

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin constructing the first segment of President Trump’s border wall in November through a national wildlife refuge, using money it’s already received from Congress. That’s what a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official recently told a nonprofit group that raises money to support two national wildlife refuges in South Texas, according to the group’s vice president. “I was alarmed,” said Jim Chapman of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. “It was not good news.” For the past six months, CBP has been quietly preparing a site to build a nearly 3-mile border barrier through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, according to The Texas Observer.

Committee clears Luján on ethics complaint

The U.S. House Committee on Ethics unanimously dismissed an ethics complaint against Rep. Ben Ray Luján. The committee made the announcement Tuesday, and a spokesman for Luján praised the decision shortly after. In a statement, Joe Shoemaker said the allegations came from a “ politically motivated complaint, filed by a partisan outside group.” He added that Luján is “committed to abiding by House Rules and will continue to do so in the future.”

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a conservative group, complained that Luján conducted campaign or political activity from the House floor, which is prohibited, after he sent a  fundraising email highlighting a sit-in he participated in on the House floor in 2016. During that sit-in, Democrats demanded a vote on legislation barring those on the federal no-fly list from legally purchasing guns. .

McCain votes no, derails ‘skinny repeal’ on marathon session

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who interrupted brain cancer treatment to return to Capitol Hill and advance the health law repeal efforts, cast the dramatic and decisive “no” vote in the early morning hours that upended the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Senate struggled late into the night to craft and then vote on a “skinny repeal” of the health law, but came up empty as the bill was defeated in a 51-49 vote that prompted gasps in the chamber. McCain’s vote was unexpected and ends — for now — the Republican Party’s effort to kill Obamacare. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) cast the two other Republican “no” votes in a cliffhanger drama that ended just before 2:00 a.m. Friday.

Udall, Heinrich slam ‘skinny repeal’ effort

Ahead of another health care vote in the Senate, which came today after multiple Republican plans failed earlier in the week, New Mexico’s U.S. Senators took to the chamber’s floor for the debate. Sen. Tom Udall described the chaotic healthcare process as “healthcare roulette” with leadership deciding what version of a health care bill to vote on by the bounce of a ball. “Not even Republicans know what proposal is coming next and the American people certainly don’t know what’s coming,” Udall said. From what Udall knows of the latest plan, dubbed the “skinny repeal” effort, he said it would kick millions off of insurance rolls while raising premiums for those who still have insurance by 20 percent. Sen. Martin Heinrich also was critical of the “skinny repeal,” and the congressional process.

A Moral Choice: As pressure mounts, faith sustains veteran ABQ doctor who performs third-trimester abortions

If Curtis Boyd lives by one professional mantra, it’s this: Unless a woman has full autonomy over her body, she lacks full citizenship and lives instead as a second-class citizen. The controversial and celebrated abortion provider explains this thoughtfully on a hot, dry Fourth of July day in his Albuquerque office. A wiry man of 80 years, Boyd wears a gray surgical gown and says he’s working the holiday because the type of procedure that his clinic, Southwestern Women’s Options, is known for requires multiple days. The clinic sits near I-25 on Lomas Boulevard, a crowded east-west thoroughfare on the edge of downtown Albuquerque. Across the street looms a pink billboard paid for by the group Prolife Across America.

Feds to look into behavioral health services in NM

The federal government will take a look into New Mexico’s behavioral health services, according to the four Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation. In a letter last month to Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján, the federal Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson confirmed the upcoming review. “OIG will review the extent to which behavioral health providers are included in the States’ managed care plans and the types of care offered by these providers,” Levinson wrote in the June 28 letter.

State makes ‘shockingly little progress’ in mending SNAP scandal

More than one year after three top state officials refused to answer questions in federal court about fraud allegations and nine months after a federal judge held their cabinet secretary in contempt of court, the state Human Services Department (HSD) appears to still be seriously mishandling how it processes federal benefits to New Mexico’s poor. This includes an apparent department directive instructing caseworkers to limit interviews with those enrolled in and seeking federal benefits and lie to their superiors about it. Now, the advocacy organization representing plaintiffs in a decades-long lawsuit against HSD is asking a judge to impose monetary sanctions on HSD and its secretary, Brent Earnest. The call for sanctions comes over the department’s alleged failures to meet federal guidelines on processing Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Update: Special master: HSD staff shakeup needed to address SNAP problems

Medicaid is the federal health care program for the poor while SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, provides federal food aid to the poor.

Heinrich, Udall slam Education Department’s civil rights division changes

New Mexico’s U.S. senators say that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos does not support civil rights or oppose discrimination. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, signed onto a letter to the secretary telling her “your actions belie your assurances” on these issues. The letter cited her ties to a prominent anti-LGBTQ group and her appointment of staff who oppose a 2011 Title IX Guidance on sexual assault.The two highlighted her ties to the Family Research Council, a Washington D.C. organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-LGBT extremist group, and contrasts her relationship with the group with testimony she gave in front of a Senate committee. “In testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, you attempted to distance yourself from your family’s giving to organizations such as the Family Research Council, which promote intolerant views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming Americans and others,” the senators wrote. “Yet, on June 15, 2017, the Family Research Council participated in an official event on engaging fathers in students’ education at the Department.”

The two also criticized DeVos’ Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson.

House Ethics Committee probing complaint against Luján

The U.S House Ethics Committee will take a deeper look at an ethics complaint against Rep. Ben Ray Luján. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, and Michael Collins, the chief of staff to Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, are also under review by the watchdog panel. The committee did not say why the three are under investigation, but Luján’s office said his comes from a complaint from a conservative group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust. The committee noted that the announcement of the extension of the matter “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”

According to Luján, the complaint stemmed from a sit-in by House Democrats on the House floor in which Democrats sought to force a vote on legislation that would bar those on the federal no-fly list from purchasing guns. A spokesman called the complaint “frivolous” and “without merit” and that it was “filed by a highly partisan outside group about activities during the sit-in last year.”

The complaint noted that Luján sent an email asking for contributions, and that it “included a photograph of the House floor that credited ‘video provided by House Television.’” The House’s Official Code of Conduct says representatives cannot use House Television images “for any partisan political campaign purpose.”

The organization also said the sit-in itself was part of the representatives’ official capacity and so could not be fundraised off of.

No sign that Russians accessed NM voter systems

There’s no indication that New Mexico’s voter databases were improperly accessed, according to New Mexico’s secretary of state. This comes even as U.S. senators probed the issue in a hearing Wednesday morning. Wednesday morning, Jeanette Manfra, the acting undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that election systems in 21 states were targeted in a Russian cyber attack. Manfra declined to say which states were targeted or what, if any, data was accessed by the hackers. Jeh Johnson said that while interference by Russia “was unprecedented” in “scale and scope,” there was no indication that Russians changed any votes in 2016.