The Trump administration had approved plans by two states to deny coverage to poor people unless they were working, volunteering, or training for a job.
The Justice Department asked the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to cancel an argument in a case testing the government’s ability to approve state programs that impose a work requirement on recipients of Medicaid.
The Trump administration approved plans by two states, Arkansas and New Hampshire, to deny coverage to poor people unless they were working, volunteering, or training for a job. Medicaid recipients in those states sued, arguing that the plans would let states kick people off Medicaid for failing to get jobs that had become scarce during the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lower courts agreed, ruling that the government did not have the authority to approve such programs. The Trump administration appealed, and the case was scheduled for Supreme Court argument on March 29.
But the Justice Department said the Department of Health and Human Services under President Joe Biden is now reviewing whether it ever had such authority. For that reason, government lawyers said, the court should cancel the argument, vacate the lower court rulings and send the issue back to HHS.
Only Arkansas actually began to drop Medicaid recipients from the rolls for failing to satisfy work requirements. More than 18,000 people lost coverage. But that practice stopped last year with the onset of the pandemic and the adverse court rulings.
A law passed last March further stopped the states from imposing a work restriction. It conditioned a state’s receipt of increased Medicaid funding on maintaining existing Medicaid eligibility rules during the pandemic.
Tuesday’s hearing is the first of a series of hearings the committees will conduct as a part of their investigation into the attack on the Capitol.
Six weeks after an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, some of the key figures who were in charge of keeping the building secure on Jan. 6 will answer questions under oath about how the highly secure facility was breached during the electoral vote count meant to symbolize the peaceful transfer of power.
The hearing Tuesday before a pair of Senate committees will include testimony from three officials who resigned after rioters disrupted the joint session of Congress, imperiling lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the vote count that cemented Joe Biden’s win over Donald Trump.
The trio of former officials who are testifying publicly for the first time is Steven Sund, who was the chief of the Capitol Police; Michael Stenger, who was the Senate sergeant-at-arms, and Paul Irving, who was the House sergeant-at-arms. Also testifying will be Robert Contee, acting chief of the Washington, D.C., police.
Two other current officials, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman and acting House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett, will testify Thursday at a virtual House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
The riot left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. Police were able to regain control of the building with help from the National Guard and federal law enforcement officers after several hours, and the vote counting was completed. Over 200 people have been criminally charged.
The joint hearing before the Rules Committee and the Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee is expected to focus on why officials weren’t better prepared for the attack and why it took so long to repeal the mob from a building that had been considered one of the most secure in the world.
Tuesday’s hearing is the first of a series of hearings the committees will conduct as part of their investigation into the attack. More hearings are expected later, including a hearing with the acting heads of the entities that they will be talking to Tuesday, as well as a hearing at which they will bring in representatives from the federal agencies responsible for the intelligence-gathering and response.
The Homeland Security Committee has been conducting interviews as part of its investigation to inform members’ questions. It has conducted closed-door interviews with Sund, as well a Pittman, said a senator on the committee.
Committee Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., previewed some of the expected lines of inquiry: “Questions about intelligence, what did they know, what did they expect? Why were they not fully prepared to deal with what was a very large violent attack on the Capitol? Questions related to the National Guard. I mean, there’s a long list of questions that we’re going to be going through,” he said.
The federal government’s power goes only so far, especially when it comes to public health.
President Joe Biden wants to vaccinate teachers to speed school reopenings, but more than half the states aren’t listening and haven’t made educators a priority — highlighting the limited powers of the federal government, even during a devastating pandemic.
“I can’t set nationally who gets in line, when and first — that’s a decision the states make,” Biden said while touring a Pfizer plant in Michigan on Friday. “I can recommend.”
Under the Constitution, the powers of the federal government are far-reaching but not all-encompassing. States have always retained control over public health and safety, from policing crimes to controlling infectious disease, including distribution of coronavirus vaccines that Washington helped create and whose supply it controls.
That the U.S. has the world’s highest death toll from the pandemic has renewed criticism of the federalist system that has allowed the states to do as they please, with very different approaches and very different results.
“There’s a pretty strong argument that the confusion we’ve created has, in fact, cost human lives,” said Donald Kettl, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and author of “The Divided States of America: Why Federalism Doesn’t Work.” “We pay a pretty high price sometimes for letting states go their own way.”
He added: “The founders were very conscious of the fact that it was a collection of states that had succeeded in winning the Revolutionary War. If you roll that forward, you end up with this patchwork of different vaccine priorities, mask mandates, and lockdown rules, because the federal government cannot force states to do things.”
The feds and the states have been in a near-constant tug-of-war for 230 years — sometimes violently, as during the Civil War — often referred by the Supreme Court, which has ruled that it’s the states that have “the authority to provide for the public health, safety, and morals” of their residents.
The federal courts — not the federal government — have been able to exert their will over the states on issues from school desegregation to abortion to voting rights. But schools, abortion clinics, and elections are still run or regulated by the states.
The federal government has spent the past two centuries trying to come up with creative ways to push its agenda on the states, sometimes by dangling the promise of federal funding as a carrot — and the threat to withhold it as a stick.
For instance, to build the Interstate highway system, the feds promised to foot 90 percent of the bill if states put up just 10 percent. The catch was that the roads had to abide by regulations that started small — bridges needed to be tall enough to allow tanks to pass under, to cite one requirement — but quickly grew to encompass the nationally uniform system of roads we take for granted today.
During the oil crisis of the 1970s, when gas prices skyrocketed amid tensions in the Middle East, Congress wanted Americans to slow down to conserve fuel. But it couldn’t institute a national speed limit, so lawmakers tried to compel the states to do it, passing a law to withhold highway funding from states that didn’t set the maximum speed limit at 55 mph. (Congress repealed the law in 1995.)
Washington pulled a similar move in 1984 when it forced states to raise the drinking age to 21 if they wanted highway money.
But just as often, the courts have pushed back against what they view as Washington overreach.
“When you boil it down, the delivery of public health interventions resides, really, at the state and local level,” said Josh Michaud, associate director for global health policy at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “That’s been the model since very early on in our republic.”
The Affordable Care Act is a hodgepodge of incentives and mandates because, in part, it was built to comply with the complexities of American federalism, by, for example, giving states the responsibility to set up their own insurance exchanges.
The Supreme Court nearly killed the law for unconstitutionally coercing states to expand their Medicaid programs. The court found a workaround, like a highway funding trick, in which the Medicaid expansion became a federal incentive, instead of a federal mandate. But 12 states have still legally refused to join the expansion.
When it comes to fighting infectious diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide guidance on health issues to states, which delegate much of their authority even further to counties and municipalities.
Legislators across the country, mostly Republicans, are moving to strip the powers of governors, many of them Democrats, who have taken on extraordinary authority to fight the pandemic.
Republicans in the G.O.P.-controlled Idaho State Senate have moved to limit emergency powers wielded by Gov. Brad Little, a member of their own party. Credit…Keith Ridler/Associated Press
Partisan warfare over pandemic lockdowns and mask-wearing is on the wane in Washington: A bitter presidential election has been decided, coronavirus cases are plummeting nationally and vaccines are rolling out slowly but steadily.
Yet in state capitols, the politicized fights are boiling over.
State lawmakers across the country, most of them Republicans, are moving aggressively to strip the powers of governors, often Democrats, who have taken on extraordinary authority to limit the spread of the virus for nearly a year.
In a kind of rear-guard action, legislatures in more than 30 states are trying to restrict the power of governors to act unilaterally under extended emergencies that have traditionally been declared in brief bursts after floods, tornadoes, or similar disasters. Republicans are seeking to harness the widespread fatigue of many Americans toward closed schools, limits on gatherings, and mask mandates as a political cudgel to wield against Democrats.
Lawmakers frame the issue as one of checks and balances, arguing that governors gained too much authority over too many aspects of people’s lives. These legislators are demanding a say in how long an emergency can last, and insisting that they be consulted on far-reaching orders like closing schools and businesses.
But governors respond that a pandemic cannot be fought by committee. They say that the same Republicans who politicized the science of the pandemic last year, following former President Donald J. Trump is waging a new battle in the culture wars, should not be trusted with public health.
“Governors have done the right things in trying times and circumstances, and their willingness and courage to do it is exactly why their authority has to remain with them,” said Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat who is in a pitched fight with Republicans in the Legislature.
Mr. Beshear went to court this month to block bills by G.O.P. lawmakers — one that would end a governor’s emergency order after 30 days, and another that would effectively make Mr. Beshear’s statewide mask mandate unenforceable. Republicans in the Legislature overrode his vetoes of the bills before he sued.
“The bills filed in Kentucky would eliminate each and every rule or regulation that we have put in place that has proven to be effective in protecting the lives of Kentuckians,” Mr. Beshear said.
Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, is battling the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature to keep his emergency orders in place. Credit…Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader, via Associated Press
State Senator Damon Thayer, the majority floor leader, rejected the notion that Republicans were moving against the governor because he is a Democrat. He said the once-a-century pandemic had revealed a constitutional imbalance.
“This pandemic has exposed awareness of state governance that gives one person an inordinate amount of power,” he said, adding that the governor had been highhanded in closing bars, restaurants, schools, and churches.
The Legislature is weighing a petition calling for the impeachment of the governor for infringing individual rights with his coronavirus restrictions. The State Supreme Court ruled last year that Mr. Beshear had the authority to impose the restrictions.
The coronavirus is not the first time Republican legislators have pushed back at Democratic governors in recent years. After Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina was first elected in 2016 and Gov. Tony Evers won the election in Wisconsin in 2018, Republicans passed legislation stripping them of some of their powers, actions widely criticized as efforts to undermine the will of voters.
On the other hand, it is not just Republican lawmakers who are seeking to strip powers from Democratic governors. In New York, Democratic leaders of the State Senate are moving to cut back some emergency powers granted last year to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after the governor admitted to withholding data on deaths in nursing homes — a remarkable rebuke of the three-term governor by members of his party.
Republican lawmakers in the majority in Ohio and Idaho have also moved to trim emergency powers wielded by those states’ Republican governors. In some cases, lawmakers have echoed disinformation about the coronavirus. YouTube last week removed video footage of the opening testimony for a bill in the Ohio House that would limit the powers of the governor after the person who was speaking baselessly claimed that no Ohioans under 19 had died of Covid-19.
Gov. Brad Little of Idaho has pushed back on disinformation: “Abandon the myth that the emergency declaration somehow shuts down Idaho,” he said in a video statement last month. “Abandon the myth that the emergency declaration somehow infringes on your rights.”
Last April, when governors in all 50 states declared disaster emergencies for the first time in the country’s history, support for their initial stay-at-home orders to slow the virus’s spread was generally bipartisan.
But that soon evaporated as Mr. Trump, obsessed about the economy in an election year, downplayed the virus. Supporters echoed his dismissal of health experts and defied governors who filled the federal leadership vacuum to manage the pandemic — especially Democratic governors whom the president took to insulting, issuing cries to “liberate” states like Michigan.
In Wisconsin, the Republican-dominated State Supreme Court ruled in May at the request of G.O.P. lawmakers to end the stay-at-home order of Mr. Evers. The governor’s statewide mask mandate is now also before the court after Republicans in the Legislature voted this month to abolish it. One Republican senator tweeted that the governor was a “dictator.”
“The loudest folks around the state seem to be folks that are very supportive of former President Trump and anti-mask, dismissive of the Covid threat,” said Gordon Hintz, the Democratic minority leader in the Wisconsin State Assembly.
Across the country, lawmakers in 37 states have introduced more than 200 bills or resolutions this year to clip the emergency powers of governors, according to the lobbying firm Stateside, which focuses on state governments.
“It is a fairly large legislative volume for any single policy trend,” said Michael J. Behm, the chief executive of Stateside. “Most of this is about the legislatures trying to reassert their authority after being pushed into the shadows by governors for the last 10 to 11 months during this awful pandemic.”
A number of states would limit a governor’s power to unilaterally declare emergencies to 30 days, after which lawmakers would approve any extension. The 30-day window is in model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an influential conservative group funded by businesses.
Most of the bills will die in committees or be vetoed by governors. Only two states, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, have so far enacted significant legislation.
Republicans in Pennsylvania did an end-run around the possibility of a veto by the Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, by placing a measure on the statewide ballot in May to amend the state constitution. If it is passed by voters, a governor’s ability to declare a state of emergency would expire after 21 days unless the legislature agrees to extend it.
The measure follows a year in which many Republican lawmakers raged against Mr. Wolf’s handling of the pandemic — including some who questioned the scientific consensus about masks, headlined “Reopen Pennsylvania” protests, and defied federal and state guidelines about crowds to appear at Trump campaign rallies.
But Jake Corman, the president pro tem of the State Senate, said the constitutional amendment wasn’t about political payback.
“Ultimately, this is about not allowing any individual — as well-intended as I’m sure the governor was — the power to handle all these decisions unilaterally,” he said. “No one ever envisioned governors of any party having this much power in an emergency.”
Mike Brunelle, the governor’s chief of staff, warned that if the constitutional amendment had been in place last year, health outcomes would have been worse in Pennsylvania.
“We know their response to the pandemic and their priorities,” he said of Republicans. “Everything would have been opened up at a very critical time when we needed folks to stay home. That would have led to more deaths and our hospitals would have been overrun.”
Ten U.S. corporations slashed donations to candidates seeking federal office by more than 90% in January, after pledging to cut off giving to the Republicans who supported former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn his election defeat.FILE PHOTO: Police release tear gas into a crowd of pro-Trump protesters during clashes at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
None of the political action committees of 10 major companies reviewed by Reuters, including Microsoft Corp, Walmart Inc, AT&T Inc and Comcast Corp, donated to any of the 147 congressional Republicans who voted to support Trump’s claims just hours after his supporters launched a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Disclosures to the Federal Election Commission ahead of a Saturday filing deadline showed the group of corporate PACs affiliated with those 10 companies made $13,000 in new donations to candidates in January. The reports were the first by the PACs to detail contributions made since the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
The money donated during the month was less than one-tenth the roughly $190,000 the 10 company PACs gave candidates in January 2017, and tiny relative to the roughly $10 million donated to candidates during the 2019-2020 election season. The 147 lawmakers who voted to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory had received more than $2 million from those 10 PACs during the last two-year political cycle.
Only committees tied to two of the companies – General Electric Co and American Express Co – reported any new giving to federal candidates in January.
American Express’ PAC gave $5,000 to Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota, while GE’s gave $5,000 to Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a prominent Republican Trump critic, and $1,000 to Representative Rick Larsen of Washington, a Democrat.
Political giving usually slows down in the months after a U.S. general election and money from corporate political action committees is a small slice of the funds raised by political campaigns.
But the paucity of corporate-affiliated giving in January points to a slower start in one corner of political finance ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Corporate PACs cannot donate money from the company treasury but generally serve as a conduit for contributions from managers and shareholders.
Committees affiliated with Best Buy, State Street Corp, Dow Inc and Nike Inc did not report new donations to any candidates in January.
While more than a thousand PACs are associated with corporate America, the 10 reviewed by Reuters include major companies which made clear public statements that they would throttle back donations following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Happy Sunday. As President JOE BIDEN gets ready for two of the most important weeks of his presidency, the big political story is the cracks that are emerging in the Democratic coalition.
We’ll dig deep into the competing factions of the Democratic Party on Monday morning, but until then here are three must-reads on the subject:
ERIC WOLFF and REBECCA RAINEY document what will be a familiar storyline going forward: the divisions between environmentalists and labor. The green movement wants to solve the climate crisis. Labor unions want worker protections and beefed-up industrial policy.
Often the two goals collide.
One big example Biden’s economic team is working through: Does the U.S. pursue an America-first policy when it comes to renewables, even if it makes reaching aggressive carbon goals more difficult? Or is it better to buy the cheap and readily available wind turbines, batteries, and solar panels from countries like China right now?
Eric and Rebecca look at another collision:
“President Joe Biden’s green energy agenda is in danger of being engulfed in a fight between organized labor and industry over unionization, wages, and other workplace issues.
“As the renewable energy industry expands, unions and their allies in Congress are determined to unionize more of the jobs or, at the very least, require the payment of union-equivalent wages. But the industry says such moves would cripple some of their operations.
“While both sides are eager to push clean energy projects forward and make them a bigger part of the nation’s electrical grid, their disagreements will test Biden’s vow to be both the greenest and the most pro-union president in history.
“The clash is playing out in Congress, where Democrats are cranking out bills filled with carrots for developers of zero-emission infrastructure, but with pro-labor strings attached, including wage requirements, job certification, and Buy American provisions. Labor groups skeptical of whether green jobs can adequately replace high-paying union jobs in the fossil industry see these provisions as the bare minimum, while solar and wind producers want to see those labor demands dialed down.”
In the NYT,ASTEAD HERNDON reports on the growing impatience of many progressives and has a nice overview of how Biden is suddenly grappling with friendly fire on the minimum wage, student loan policy, immigration, and his OMB director.
There are cameos by BERNIE SANDERS (Obama-era “Democrats had the power and they did not exercise that power for working families”), ELIZABETH WARREN (“can’t give Mitch McConnell a veto”), and numerous progressive activists arguing for results over unity. JOE MANCHIN is cast as a sort of villain and someone who has “at times stood in the way of progressive change.”
Biden is seen as risking his bold agenda because of his “deference” to “the entrenchment by moderate senators,” though none of the progressives quoted offer a plan to get 50 votes for the Biden agenda absent some deference to Manchin.
Finally, if you want to read some history on this dynamic, check out JONATHAN COHN’S interview with BARACK OBAMA out this morning in HuffPost. The piece is adapted from Cohn’s forthcoming book, “The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage” ($29.99), which will be released Tuesday.
One big takeaway from Obama, who sat down with Cohn for over an hour last year: There’s nothing new about moderate Democratic senators from conservative states frustrating Democratic presidents. And even without the filibuster, there’s no magic solution that allows progressives to enact ambitious legislation without winning the support of the Manchins of the world.
This week, all eyes have been on Texas. An unprecedented winter storm left 4 million people without power across the state and put nearly half of all Texans under a boil-water advisory. Initial reports from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state’s power grid, suggested frozen wind turbines were partially to blame. Though ERCOT’s report on Sunday said that limited natural gas supplies had also crippled the power grid, many Republican officials seized on frozen wind turbines and solar panels as primary culprits behind the outages. On Tuesday evening, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, told Fox News host Sean Hannity that due to the weather “our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collected more than 10% of our power grid and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”Texas GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw listed “frozen wind turbines” as a major reason for the statewide outages. “This is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on the wind as a power source. When weather conditions get worse as they did this week, intermittent renewable energy like the wind isn’t there when you need it,” Crenshaw said in a Twitter thread Tuesday.
Facts First: It’s incorrect to claim that issues with wind and solar were directly or even primarily responsible for the state’s power outages. Additionally, suggesting that Texas has “force[d] the grid to rely in part on the wind” energy is misleading. Though frozen wind turbines were a contributing factor, wind shutdowns accounted for less than 13% of the outages, Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for ERCOT, told Bloomberg. Most of the power outages were due to losses in coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy, according to ERCOT. On Wednesday, ERCOT reported 46,000 megawatts of generation were offline. Of that, ERCOT officials said 28,000 megawatts came from thermal sources such as coal, gas, and nuclear plants, and 18,000 megawatts were from renewable energy, namely solar and wind. “It’s really a bigger failure of the natural gas system,” Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told CNN. “That’s the part that really struggled to keep up.”
Webber said it is “disingenuous to blame the grid’s struggles” on renewable energy, given that the state’s energy supply is dominated by fossil fuels. According to a report from ERCOT, solar accounts for only 3.8% of the state’s power capacity throughout the year. Wind energy accounts for 10% of Texas’s winter energy capacity and throughout the entire year, it is able to provide 24.8%, the second-largest source of energy in the state under natural gas, which accounts for 51%. Webber also clarified that “Texas does *NOT* force the grid to rely on the wind” as Crenshaw claimed. “Other than a small mandate signed into law in 1999 by Governor Bush and revised in 2005 that we install a few GW of renewables, we use market forces to make decisions about what to build and what to operate,” Webber told CNN. The 2005 mandate revision Webber referenced required the state to produce at least 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2025, 500 megawatts of which needed to be from a source other than wind. According to the Energy Information Administration, Texas exceeded the 2025 goal in 2009, due in large part to the generating capacity of the state’s wind farms.
Preparing for the cold
On Fox, Abbott also said that the failures from renewable energy sources like wind turbines “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” He added that “[i]t just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.” Facts First: Wind turbines can properly function even in freezing temperatures if properly winterized. Furthermore, the cold weather also caused generators and other parts of Texas’s energy infrastructure to fail and regulators have previously warned about the lack of preparedness when a 2011 cold snap caused power outages in the state. Webber disagreed with Abbott’s assessment, noting that “Wind performs just fine in many colder climates where they prepare for it.” Wind turbines can be equipped with different devices that heat and de-ice parts of the turbine along with other measures like water-resistant coatings to help keep them operational in severe cold. Some wind turbines can function at -22 degrees Fahrenheit. According to Webber, a lack of winterization affected power supplies across the board in Texas, not just wind turbines and solar panels.
On Twitter, Crenshaw acknowledged that the state was not prepared for such a storm, claiming “Texas infrastructure isn’t designed for once-in-a-century freezes.”However, the state had previously been warned about the issues in its infrastructure and what steps they could take to be better prepared for future cold weather situations. After low temperatures battered the Southwest in 2011 — resulting in the loss of power for 1.3 million customers across several states and rolling blackouts for several million Texans — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation released a report recommending preventative measures to protect Texas’s energy infrastructure from future extreme winter storms. The 2011 report also notes that after a similar cold snap in 1989, recommendations to better prepare energy infrastructure for such weather went largely unheeded. “[T]he answer is clearly that the corrective actions were not adequate, or were not maintained,” the report says. “Generators were not required to institute cold weather preparedness, and efforts in that regard lapsed with the passage of time.”David Tuttle, a research associate in the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, told CNN “[T]here is a fair criticism that the Texas generator fleet was not sufficiently winterized” but noted that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation did not mandate Texas to follow its recommendations.
“It looks like NERC made recommendations on best practices but did not make them mandatory,” Tuttle said. While key questions remain as to the extent these recommendations were implemented across the state, at least one Texas city took precautions that might have paid off. Following the freeze of 2011, El Paso winterized its power plants, and this time, the city experienced minimal outages compared to the rest of the state.
With impeachment in the rearview mirror, congressional Democrats are directing their full attention toward President Joe Biden’s agenda as they return to Washington this week. House Democrats unveiled their full $1.9 trillion stimulus bill on Friday, which is expected to move through the House Budget Committee and to a House floor vote this week. Senate Democrats are preparing to tackle the bill with the narrowest of majorities while Senate committees ramp up confirmation hearings to approve key Biden administration nominees. The pivot to the White House’s legislative agenda comes after the first month of Biden’s presidency was often overshadowed by former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, both in the public spotlight as well as in the Capitol, with the trial halting any other business being taken up by the Senate while it was ongoing.
Some confirmation hearings were put on hold during the trial earlier this month, and the initial idea of a “bifurcated” Senate that could do two things at once was quickly abandoned because it would have required unanimous support from Republicans. Instead, Senate Democrats implored House impeachment managers to abandon their desire for deposing witnesses since hearing from them could have delayed the trial for weeks. Now Democrats can turn their full attention to passing Biden’s Covid-19 relief proposal, and navigating the tricky politics of the Senate’s budget reconciliation process. They’re doing so for the first time in a decade that they control the White House and both chambers of Congress, although they have just a narrow majority in the House and a 50-50 split in the Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaking vote. Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter to Democratic senators Friday that the Senate would move forward on the Covid relief package after it passes the House, vowing to pass the bill ahead of a March 14 deadline when expanded unemployment benefits are set to expire.
“Make no mistake: the era of Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard is over,” Schumer said.
House to take up $1.9 trillion bill this week
The House’s stimulus bill unveiled Friday includes an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, $1,400 direct checks for Americans making up to $75,000 per year, an extension of $400 federal unemployment benefits, and more money for small businesses struggling in the pandemic. The House Budget Committee plans to take up the measure on Monday, and the full House is likely to debate and vote on the plan at the end of the week. Then the legislation will head to the Senate, where Democrats cannot afford to lose any votes unless they can persuade Republicans to sign onto the legislation.
It’s not clear whether there will be much, if any GOP support, however. House Republicans are already mobilizing to oppose the legislation, with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise urging his members to vote against the bill in an email to Republicans Friday. Biden has conducted outreach to moderate Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, but Senate Democrats are preparing to move the legislation through a budget reconciliation process that requires only a simple majority, meaning Republicans cannot filibuster it. But the reconciliation process also requires that Democrats adhere to a strict set of rules. Democrats must show that every item in their bill has a real budgetary impact that isn’t just an “incidental” effect of a bigger policy change — which is why some have doubted that the minimum wage increase could make it through the process.
The minimum wage has also caused heartburn for Democrats as some moderates in the caucus have signaled they can’t support a relief bill that includes an increase to $15 an hour.
The Senate is also ramping up its confirmation hearings for Biden’s nominees this week, starting with one nominee who’s waited five years for a hearing: Merrick Garland, Biden’s nominee to be attorney general.
Garland was famously former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016, when Republicans held open the seat through the presidential election, denying Garland a hearing. Now he’ll finally appear before the Judiciary Committee on Monday as Biden’s pick to lead the Justice Department. While Garland is expected to attract bipartisan support, his hearing was stalled by a combination of the Senate impeachment trial and a delay in striking the Senate’s 50-50 power-sharing agreement that gave Democrats formal control of the Senate committees. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, had hoped to hold Garland’s confirmation hearing on February 8, the day before the impeachment trial started, but former Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, had denied that request while he still had control of the committee, arguing attorney general nominees typically get two-day hearings, and he would not cut that short because of the pending trial. A number of other Biden nominees are also appearing before Senate committees this week, including Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra on Tuesday and CIA director nominee William Burns on Wednesday.
So far, Biden’s first set of Cabinet nominees has been confirmed by the Senate will little drama, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. That may soon change, however. In addition to what’s expected to be a contentious hearing for Becerra, Biden’s nominee to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, is facing staunch opposition from Republicans over her past criticisms of GOP lawmakers on Twitter. She apologized for the tweets during her confirmation hearings earlier this month. But on Friday, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat, announced he would oppose Tanden’s nomination, saying her “overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact” to the working relationship between Congress and the budget director. Manchin’s opposition means Tanden will need to find at least one Republican to support her or her confirmation will fail.
Former President Donald Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, next Sunday, according to a source familiar with the matter, while former Vice President Mike Pence declined an invitation to speak at the conference, two sources told CNN. One source said organizers still hope to change Pence’s mind about attending, while another source said Pence is planning to stay under the radar for the next six months. Politico first reported that Pence declined the invitation. The divergence between the two former leaders, which comes as the GOP is grappling with its future in the wake of the Trump presidency, follows tensions between Trump and Pence surrounding the January 6 riot at the US Capitol and Pence’s role certifying the results of the election for President Joe Biden. “We accept Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States,” former Pence chief of staff Marc Short told CNN’s Pamela Brown on “Newsroom” Saturday evening, despite Pence playing a role in perpetuating baseless election fraud theories that Trump repeatedly pushed ahead of the attack on the Capitol. Unlike Trump, Pence attended Biden’s inauguration in Washington, DC, last month — after skipping Trump’s farewell ceremony.
Short said Saturday that Trump and Pence “departed amicably” and that they’ve spoken since. The source familiar with Trump’s plans to attend CPAC, who is also familiar with the former President’s speech, told CNN on Saturday that “he’ll be talking about the future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.” “Also look for the 45th President to take on President Biden’s disastrous amnesty and border policies,” the source added. The speaking engagement would mark Trump’s first public appearance following his departure from the White House last month and comes as senior Republicans are split over how to treat the former President, with his loyalists paying him visits recently in Florida. One of Trump’s campaign managers, Brad Parscale, met with the former President at his club in Mar-a-Lago this week for a lengthy meeting, according to a source familiar. Utah Sen. Mike Lee is holding a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago Saturday night, according to another source familiar, a potential sign of more visits to come. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, met privately with Trump on Tuesday at Mar-a-Lago, CNN reported, the day before Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell vowed never to do so.
The simmering feud between Trump and McConnell has escalated in recent days, raising questions about whether the two can ever work together for the future of the GOP. Trump went after McConnell in a lengthy statement released Tuesday night after McConnell harshly criticized the former President from the Senate floor last Saturday and in an op-ed on Monday in the Wall Street Journal, despite voting to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial. In his Tuesday statement, Trump vowed to endorse candidates in Senate primaries who espouse his world view — something that could lead to a clash with McConnell’s preferred candidates as the seven-term senator pushes Republicans whom he believes stands the best chance of winning in next year’s midterm elections. That tension underscores the divide among top Republicans over how to navigate the party post-Trump. Unlike McConnell, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy went down to South Florida after the January 6 attack on the Capitol to meet with Trump and later proclaim unity with him in trying to take back the House in 2022.
But McCarthy leads a conference where a majority of members are strongly supportive of Trump — unlike Senate Republicans, who are split over the former President and where some top leaders are eager to move past him and focus instead on uniting the party around ideas, not a person.