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Congressional Black Caucus Members Ask Biden To Reverse Marijuana Deportation Cases

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A coalition of congressional lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, urging him to reopen certain deportation cases, including those involving marijuana.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) led the letter, which was signed by 30 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and is also addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. It emphasizes that deportations disproportionately impact people of color and implores the president to use his authority to create a process through which these cases can be reevaluated and reversed.

“We are grateful for President Biden’s commitment to redressing racial injustice, particularly after the last four years of the Trump Administration’s racist and xenophobic immigration agenda,” it says. “One critical step toward honoring that commitment is ensuring that people who were unjustly deported can be fairly and efficiently considered for return to their families and communities in the United States.”

The lawmakers cite a number of examples of deportation cases that they feel unjustly harmed immigrants.

The letter asks Biden and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “consider the stories of U.S. veteran Howard Bailey and long-time U.S. resident Kenault Lawrence,” both of whom were deported to Jamaica over “years-old marijuana convictions.”

“Howard served nearly four years in the U.S. Navy, including two tours in Operation Desert Storm, and received the National Defense Service Medal. Nevertheless, he was deported based on an old, first-time marijuana offense that the governor of Virginia subsequently pardoned,” the Black Caucus members wrote. “Kenault’s deportation robbed him of the chance to meet his newborn child, merely three months prior to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling finding his ground of deportation to be unlawful.”

“Despite these clear injustices and the compelling reasons to return both men to the United States, neither Howard nor Kenault have a meaningful chance to return home,” the letter states. “They remain in exile in Jamaica.”

Bailey’s case also caught the attention of three U.S. senators who similarly sent a letter to the DHS head last week, asking the agency to reopen a case for the military veteran.

Bailey was arrested after a package containing marijuana was sent to his house for a friend and he pled guilty, on the advice of counsel. He disclosed the conviction when later applying for citizenship, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used that single cannabis offense as basis to initiate a deportation proceeding.

In the new House letter, the coalition said these are only a few examples of “the many people who have been unjustly deported.”

“Untold numbers of others have been similarly wronged, from U.S. veterans who served their country to longstanding neighbors who found themselves deported because of contact with the U.S. criminal legal system—a system acknowledged to unfairly and disproportionately target and discriminate against Black and brown people,” they wrote.

“We urge you to utilize your broad legal authority to return everyone unjustly deported, including Paul, Howard, and Kenault,” the letter continues. “We further ask that you establish a centralized process for exercising your discretion to evaluate and authorize returns going forward.”

Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Karen Bass (D-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) were among the signatories.

“For decades, the U.S. government has exercised its power by enforcing U.S. civil immigration laws aggressively—initiating removals, detaining immigrants, and conducting deportation proceedings that lack even minimal due process,” it says. “Now is the time to turn the resources and power of the U.S. government toward repairing these harms in the name of racial justice for Black and brown immigrants.”

In a spending bill moving through the House Appropriations Committee that allocates fiscal year 2022 funding for DHS, there’s a provision that would prevent its component agencies from denying any person immigration benefits or protections, or penalizing them in an application, simply because they’ve admitted to using cannabis or were convicted of a low-level marijuana offense.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a person who admits to using cannabis—even in compliance with state law—is morally unfit for citizenship. The agency clarified that position in a 2019 memo, adding that employment in a state-legal marijuana market is another factor that could impact a person’s immigration status.

Standalone legislation has been introduced this session to resolve the problem, but it has yet to be acted on.

DHS did issue a memo in May that specifically encourages ICE attorneys to join motions to reopen immigration cases under circumstances where “an individual is eligible for relief under the law and merits relief as a matter of discretion.”

Read the letter to Biden and DHS on deportation cases involving marijuana below: 

Biden letter deportations m… by Marijuana Moment

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Massachusetts Lawmakers Discuss Bill To Create Psychedelics Legalization Task Force At Hearing

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Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday heard testimony about a bill to create a task force charged with studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

The legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee met to discuss legislation from Rep. Mike Connolly (D). While members didn’t vote on the proposal, the sponsor was able to make the case for the reform, noting the emerging research that suggests entheogenic substances hold significant therapeutic potential for certain mental health conditions.

He also pointed to the local reform movement that’s led three Massachusetts cities to decriminalize psychedelics so far, saying it represents “another reason why it should be a priority for all of us to bring stakeholders together and have that conversation about what policies should look like.”

“We’re hearing from the medical community, we’re hearing from clinicians and researchers that the potential benefits here simply can’t be ignored,” Connolly said. “There are these issues like PTSD and depression, anxiety and addiction that…we are struggling to address, and what the research is telling us is that these substances offer a tremendous benefit.”

The 21-member task force that the lawmaker is proposing would be responsible for analyzing the pros and cons of “legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi.”

The sponsor said on Tuesday that the group “could really allow Massachusetts to play a leadership role in crafting policies around these substances.”

In an email to Marijuana Moment, Connolly said that momentum for broader psychedelics and drug policy reform in states across the country shows that “our proposal to create a task force to craft policies around legalization is rational and warranted.”

“Given our status as a longtime leader in civil rights, freedom, academic research and advances in medicine,” he said, “it is important for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be proactive about crafting policies to ensure that as the movement for legalization of psychedelics continues to advance—and as the clinical trials showing the therapeutic value of these medicines continue to pile up—that we are moving forward in an equitable, just and inclusive fashion.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan also testified in favor of the reform proposal before the committee on Tuesday.

For the most part, the burgeoning psychedelics reform movement has been limited to decriminalization—with the exception or Oregon, where voters elected to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes during last year’s election. California activists are also pushing to place psilocybin legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot as a lawmaker works to pass a separate bill to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics that has already passed the state Senate and two Assembly committees.

While the Massachusetts legislation would only establish a task force to investigate the potential legalization of these substances, it marks another significant development demonstrating how local reforms have caught the attention of state legislators.

Connolly said at Tuesday’s hearing that it’s important to remember “that it was the Nixon administration in the 1970s that classified entheogens as Schedule I substances, without any real scientific basis. It was more to do with politics—it was more to do with systemic racism—that led to this classification and this criminalization.”

“Today, when you hear some of the professionals, some of the researchers talk about this, they really feel like we lost several decades of potential therapeutic benefit because of these arbitrary political decisions,” he said. “With this task force, there really is an opportunity for us in Massachusetts to bring policymakers and stakeholders together to make sure that as this research advances we can be ready with applicable policies, so don’t don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”

The lawmaker said “the war on drugs, racial injustice and years of oppression here in our country” partly motivated the introduction of his legislation.

The task force would “bring together stakeholders from the scientific, public safety, racial justice, harm reduction, indigenous, social work, the relevant regulatory bodies and medical communities to make recommendations for the legalization and possession, consumption and distribution of entheogenic substances,” he said.

Three Massachusetts cities—Northampton, Somerville and Cambridge—have each passed resolutions to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics and other drugs.

“I’m proud to represent Somerville and Cambridge, two communities that have acted in recent months to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics and entheogenic plans, primarily as part of the larger movement to continue working to undo the racist impact of the War On Drugs,” Connolly told Marijuana Moment.

If his bill is enacted, the 21-person task force would have until June 2022 to study the effects of plant- and fungi-based psychedelics and develop recommendations for how to legalize the substances “in a manner that maximizes equitable access and sustainable manufacture of these plants.”

Particular focus would be paid under the bill to the impact of drug prohibition on on marginalized groups, “including indigenous people, veterans, people with physical and mental health disabilities, Black people, people of Latino and Hispanic heritage, people of Asian descent, people of color, people in poverty, and people identifying with the LGBTQ community.”

The measure also calls for the task force to develop recommendations around “pardons, parole, diversion, expungement, and equity measures” for people with criminal records due to possession, or distribution of controlled substances.

The Massachusetts developments are some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.

Besides the cities in Massachusetts, four others—Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor and Washington, D.C.—have also decriminalized possession of plant-and fungi-based psychedelics.

An Arcata, California councilmember announced this month that she would sponsor a measure to decriminalize psychedelics. That measure has since been referred to a committee.

The governor of Connecticut signed legislation recently that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

Texas also recently enacted a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.

A New York lawmaker introduced a bill last month that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.

In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.

After Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution last year, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”

The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting in May. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.

Seattle lawmakers also recently sent a letter to members of a local task force focused on the opioid overdose epidemic, imploring the group to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine in curbing addiction.

The psychedelics conversation is also catching on at the federal level.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote this week on a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that remove a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine.

In 2019, a large majority of Democratic House members joined all but seven Republicans in a vote against an earlier version of the congresswoman’s amendment. But given the surge in state and local psychedelics reform efforts in the years since, it stands to reason that this Congress may take the issue more seriously this time.

Federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions, a report attached to separate spending legislation that’s part of an advancing minibus package says.

When it comes to broader drug policy reform, Oregon voters also approved an initiative in November to decriminalize possession of all drugs. This year, the Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.

Last month, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.

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Congress To Vote On Marijuana, Psychedelics And CBD Amendments This Week Following Committee Action

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A key House committee on Monday cleared a series of cannabis and psychedelics-related amendments for floor votes as part of large-scale spending legislation. That floor action could happen as soon as Tuesday.

However, the panel also blocked two measures on housing protections for cannabis consumers that legalization supporters hoped to see advance.

One of the most notable amendments the House Rules Committee allowed to move forward for possible attachment to appropriations legislation would remove a rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine.

The reform measure is being sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and it targets 1990s-era provision that’s long been part of spending legislation for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The congresswoman attempted to eliminate the language via an amendment in 2019 only to have it defeated by Republicans as well as a majority of her party. But it’s far from the only measure being proposed this appropriations season when it comes to drug policy matters.

Some are being backed by reform advocates, while others have received sharp criticism.

One pro-reform amendment that’s advancing would encourage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve rules allowing CBD as a dietary supplement and food ingredient.

On the other side, there is a proposal from Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) to the HHS appropriations bill to eliminate a rider that’s currently in the bill that “allows federal funding to go to institutions of higher education that are conducting research on marijuana.”

The reason this measure has generated particular pushback is because research into cannabis is an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue, and top federal drug officials have repeatedly urged Congress to support policies that make it easier to study the risks and benefits of the plant. What’s more, Lesko represents a state with adult-use legalization on the books.

Activists are disappointed that two marijuana reform measures from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) are being blocked from floor consideration. Her proposals—which were aimed at appropriations legislation for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—would have made it so marijuana possession or consumption could not be used as the sole basis for denying people access to public housing. One Norton amendment was narrowly focused on medical cannabis while a second measure would have covered all marijuana use that’s legal under state laws.

“It’s disappointing that those who rely on public support for housing will continue to be discriminated against for their state-legal choices,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment.

Advocates were surprised that the Rules Committee, chaired by marijuana reform supporter Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), sought to prevent a floor vote on the Norton cannabis amendments.

A committee spokesperson told Marijuana Moment that the proposals “had points of order against them and we never make amendments in order with points of order against them.”

Here are the descriptions of measures that the Rules Committee made in order for floor votes: 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): Allows United States researchers to study and examine the potential impacts of several schedule I drugs, such as MDMA, psilocybin, and or ibogaine, that have been shown to be effective in treating critical diseases.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR): Increases and decreases by $5 million, funding for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA, to highlight the need for the Agency to proceed with rulemaking on cannabidiol (or CBD) by no later than 180 days after enactment, out of concern that the FDA has not initiated rulemaking to establish a regulatory pathway for CBD as a dietary supplement and food ingredient.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ): Strikes language that allows federal funding to go to institutions of higher education that are conducting research on marijuana.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA): Transfers $25 million from the Environmental Programs and Management enforcement activities account to the National Forest System account for enforcement and remediation of illegal marijuana trespass grow sites on federal lands and for the clean-up of toxic waste and chemicals at these sites.

Here are the amendments that were not ruled in order and are thus dead: 

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC): Prohibits HUD from enforcing the prohibition on the use or possession of marijuana in federally assisted housing in states where marijuana is legal.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC): Prohibits HUD from enforcing the prohibition on the use or possession of medical marijuana in federally assisted housing in states where medical marijuana is legal.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA): Prohibits funds from this section from being used to fund needle distribution programs for illegal drugs.

Rep. Ted Butt (R-NC): Prohibits federal funds from being used to purchase clean syringes for illegal drug use.

Rep. Ted Butt (R-NC): Prohibits federal funds from being used to purchase clean syringes for illegal drug use in DC.

Rep. French Hill (R-AR): Increases funding by $50 million for the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program. Offsets the increase with a decrease in funding of $50 million for the Electric Vehicles Fund.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Overall, these amendments were targeted for inclusion in an appropriations “minibus” bill for fiscal year 2022 to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Rural Development, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

The spending package that is now heading to the House floor for votes on Tuesday also, under its language as originally introduced in appropriations subcommittees, would allow Washington, D.C. to use its local tax dollars to implement a system of lawful marijuana sales for adults.

That stands in contrast to a budget proposal from President Joe Biden, whose administration is seeking to keep language protecting medical cannabis states from federal intervention but has excluded the provision on giving D.C. autonomy to legalize marijuana commerce.

Another provision that was added as part of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) spending bill would protect banks that work with marijuana businesses. Further, the committee report attached to that legislation encourages federal government agencies to reconsider policies that fire employees for using marijuana in compliance with state law.

Federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions, a report attached to separate spending legislation that’s part of the advancing minibus package says.

Report language also directs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve communication on veteran eligibility for home loans and report back to Congress on its progress within 180 days of the enactment of the legislation. A separate provision urges VA to expand research on the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.

In the report for Agriculture Department funding, lawmakers took issue with the 2018 Farm Bill’s 0.3 percent THC cap for lawful hemp products and directed USDA to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and DEA on a study of whether that threshold is scientifically backed. That report also addressed numerous other issues related to the crop.

Other report language attached to this spending package highlights the difficulty of studying Schedule I drugs like marijuana, recognizes the medical potential of cannabinoids like CBD, encourages federal agencies not to restrict the plant kratom and acknowledges the lifesaving value of syringe access programs and safe consumption sites for illegal drugs.

The appropriations process this session has seen numerous drug policy reform provisions included in bill text and attached reports—also stopping immigrants from being deported for cannabis, for example, among other issues.

A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers recently circulated a letter to build support for an amendment to a separate Department of Justice spending bill that would protect all state and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference—going beyond the existing measure that shields only medical cannabis states that’s currently enacted into law. There are now 15 cosponsors signed on to the broader proposal, which is expected to be considered by the Rules Committee and then potentially see floor action this week.

The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) spending report also notes that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has moved to approve additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes and says the committee supports ongoing research efforts on cannabis, particularly in the wake of an outbreak of lung injuries associated with unregulated vaping products.

A provision was also attached to the bill that would make states and localities ineligible for certain federal law enforcement grants if they maintain a policy allowing for no-knock warrants for drug-related cases. That policy garnered national attention following the police killing of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by law enforcement during a botched drug raid.

The Rules Committee is set to take up CJS and other appropriations legislation on Tuesday.

White House Declines To Blame Marijuana Sales For Violent Crime Spike Despite D.C. Police Chief’s Comments

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White House Declines To Blame Marijuana Sales For Violent Crime Spike Despite D.C. Police Chief’s Comments

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The White House on Monday declined the chance to blame illicit marijuana sales for a rise in violent crime in Washington, D.C.—despite the city’s police chief recently arguing that the issues are connected.

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee suggested on Friday that part of the reason for the uptick in violent crime is connected to the illegal cannabis market, which he says has been deprioritized amid the national reform movement.

“When you have something where people get high reward—they can make a lot of money by selling illegal marijuana—and the risk is low, the risk for accountability is very low, that creates a very, very, very, very, very bad situation,” Contee argued at a press conference near the site of a shooting this month.

Advocates assert that Congress bears some blame for consistently passing a spending bill rider that bars the District from regulating retail sales after voters approved a 2014 initiative to legalize personal possession and cultivation for adults, thus relegating cannabis commerce to the illegal market.

Late last month, a House committee approved a large-scale funding bill that would allow the District to legalize cannabis sales by deleting the rider. The legislation is expected to pass the full House this week.

In any case, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked directly on Monday by a Fox News reporter whether the Biden administration thinks “that it may be time to get tougher on marijuana” in light of the chief’s comments. And she notably did not jump at the chance to vilify cannabis despite President Joe Biden’s ongoing opposition to adult-use legalization.

“We look to the crime that has been happening in D.C.—again one of the cities where we’ve seen rising violence over the past year and a half,” she said, pivoting quickly away from the cannabis query to discuss crime more generally. It’s “one we’re working in close partnership through both the [Justice Department] as well as our community violence intervention collaborative. We’re looking to address a range of causes, working in close partnership with the mayor and local police to bring crime down in our city.”

The fact that Psaki decided not to take aim at marijuana specifically, despite being prompted by comments made by one of the the top law enforcement official in the nation’s capital, is significant—if only because the administration to this point has been firmly footed in maintaining the status quo of prohibition.

Biden’s budget proposal specifically proposes continuing the longstanding Republican-led rider that has prevented the city from spending its own money to regulate adult-use cannabis commerce, for example.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in May blasted the president in an interview with Marijuana Moment for seeking to extend the provision blocking her city from making its own cannabis decisions, saying she is “going to be working very hard to make sure that that rider is not in the budget” that lawmakers ultimately send back to Biden’s desk.

Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said in April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational cannabis sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.

From advocates’ perspective, allowing D.C. to do what a growing number of states have already done by regulating cannabis could help mitigate the risks associated with enabling an illicit market to continue. Giving adults the option to purchase marijuana from a licensed retailer would make it less likely that the city would see any violent criminal activity that can be tied to illegal cannabis sales, they say.

Psaki didn’t make that point, but she didn’t seize the opportunity to target cannabis as a contributing factor to D.C. violence either.

This adds to the White House narrative on marijuana that’s evolved throughout the Biden administration.

During his presidential campaign last year, Biden ran on a pledge to enact other modest reforms such as decriminalizing cannabis possession, expunging prior records and respecting the rights of states to set their own laws. Since taking office, however, his administration has not made progress on any of those promises and has instead fired its own White House staffers over marijuana and is seeking to extend the D.C. sales block.

Biden took some by surprise by suggesting that international sports rules on marijuana may need to be reevaluated after star U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended following a positive cannabis test. But that’s a far cry from endorsing comprehensive reform.

Psaki, for her part, initially declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at an earlier briefing with reporters. But she later told CNN that the case highlights the need to “take another look” at the rules on cannabis.

In April, the press secretary said that Biden’s campaign pledge to release federal inmates with marijuana convictions will start with modestly rescheduling cannabis—a proposal that advocates say wouldn’t actually accomplish what she’s suggesting.

On broad legalization, Psaki said recently that the president remains opposed to the reform, despite Senate leadership introducing a bill this month to federally legalize marijuana.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), one of the three leaders on the measure, said recently that he and his Senate colleagues will be talking to the White House now that they’ve released draft reform legislation.

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