Good morning! It’s Friday, April 21, 2023. The 2024 elections are 564 days away. Read this newsletter in your browser.
Congrats on making it to the end of the week! I always like to set Friday aside to give you a roundup of the policies enacted or voted on by your leaders in Washington during the past week.
Some journalists refer to “Secret Congress,” the idea that — contrary to the dysfunctional Capitol of the popular imagination — Congress is actually an under-the-radar policymaking engine, cranking out bills that have subtly large impacts but receive little coverage because they’re too in-the-weeds.
But I don’t like keeping secrets! And I don’t believe anything your elected representatives are doing should be kept secret from you. Hence, these Friday issues, where I try to dive into the weeds and break down policy news you may not have heard about elsewhere.
Also: My Twitter account may no longer have its little blue check, but I’m still @WakeUp2Politics if you’d like to follow me there. You can also find WUTP on Facebook or Instagram. Have a great weekend!
Policy news you may have missed this week
♻️ President Biden will sign an executive order on environmental justice today. The order will direct all federal agencies to develop plans to advance environmental justice, the idea that poor people and people of color should not unfairly bear the brunt of environmental hazards. It will also create a White House Office of Environmental Justice to coordinate these plans.
🌎 Biden also announced a $1 billion commitment to a global environmental fund. The money will go to the Green Climate Fund, which was established by the UN to help stem the effects of climate change in developing countries. It will come from discretionary funds already appropriated to the State Department, so the move will not require approval from Congress. Biden also called for the U.S. to pledge $500 million to the Amazon Fund, an initiative set up by Brazil to combat deforestation in the Amazon, which will require congressional support.
🏡 In another executive order, Biden directed federal agencies to expand access to child care and long-term home care. The order directed agencies to take more than 50 related actions, including making child care more affordable on military bases, improving long-term care for disabled veterans, and increasing the pay and benefits for Head Start staff. No new funding will be required for any of the actions.
🇺🇦 The U.S. sent $325 million in military aid to Ukraine. The 36th package of Ukraine aid since August 21, this one includes more ammunition for HIMARS rocket systems, more artillery rounds, and anti-armor weapon systems.
️🏀 The House passed a bill to prohibit transgender female athletes from participating in women’s and girl’s school sports. The measure would apply to all schools and colleges that receive federal funding (which is most U.S. public schools) by amending Title IX, the landmark statue prohibiting sex discrimination in schools, to define sex as “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” Schools that allow individuals “whose sex is male” to play on women’s and girl’s sports teams would risk losing federal support. The bill, which passed in a party-line vote, is not expected to go anywhere in the Democratic-led Senate.
🚓 The chamber also approved a measure to overturn a local D.C. police reform bill. The D.C. bill would ban police chokeholds, expand public access to body camera footage, and make it easier to fire police officers who have committed misconduct (partly by excluding union leaders from the disciplinary process). Congress has the power to overturn bills passed by the D.C. Council before they go into effect, but rarely uses it. This year, however, the House has now voted three times to overturn D.C. bills. This week’s overturn effort was supported by all House Republicans and 14 House Democrats.
🚒 The Senate passed the Fire Grants and Safety Act. The measure, which was approved in a 95-2 vote, would reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration — which handles fire training, data collection, and research — as well as two grant programs for local fire departments.
🤰 The chamber rejected a measure to limit abortion services for service members. The resolution would have overturned a Department of Veterans Affairs policy allowing VA clinics to perform abortion services in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk — even in states where abortion is banned. The measure failed 48-51, with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) in favor and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) opposed.
White House: Biden will sign his executive order on environmental justice this afternoon, before leaving to spend the weekend at Camp David.
Congress: Both chambers are out for the weekend. Before leaving, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) invited Chief Justice John Roberts to testify before his panel on judicial ethics, amid the firestorm surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas. If Roberts accepts, it would be the first time since 2011 that a Supreme Court justice has testified before the committee.
Supreme Court: The justices face a self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight to weigh in on the legal dispute over the abortion pill mifepristone. They can either allow a circuit court ruling — which kept mifepristone available, but with significant restrictions — to stand as the case works its way through the courts, or pause the ruling and maintain the status quo. It is the most significant abortion case to reach the court since Dobbs.
Campaign Trail: President Biden is preparing to announce his re-election campaign with a video on Tuesday, the four-year anniversary of his 2020 campaign launch, the Washington Post reported. Although he has long made clear he plans to seek a second term, the president has dithered for months on when to formally kick off his 2024 bid.
On the Republican side... The GOP remains divided over abortion, with the party’s presidential candidates and lawmakers split on whether to leave the issue up to the states or push for a national ban. Donald Trump indicated yesterday that he believes it should be a state issue, sparking backlash from pro-life activists.
Plus... Conservative radio host Larry Elder, who failed to unseat California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall election last year, launched a long-shot bid for the GOP nomination last night. Per the Dispatch, former vice president Mike Pence is planning to jump into the race before July.
Khartoum: Hundreds of people have died in Sudan — now including one U.S. citizen — as two warring generals continue to fight for control of the military. According to Politico, the U.S. is positioning forces in Djibouti to prepare for a possible mission to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.
Kyiv: According to the leaked documents on Discord, Ukraine considered attacking Russian forces in Syria last year, in what would have been an aggressive expansion of the battlefield in their ongoing war. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky eventually halted the plans.
4/20/23, “The art of the schmooze” (on Donald Trump beating Ron DeSantis in the battle for endorsements)
- Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), who has DeSantis’ old seat in Congress, became the latest Florida lawmaker to endorse Trump over DeSantis yesterday.
- Meanwhile, the New York Times chronicled more of the personal touches Trump has deployed in coaxing the Floridians to his side.
4/19/23, “Yes, negotiating over the debt ceiling is normal” (on Biden’s refusal to engage in debt ceiling negotiations)
- Congressional Democrats are beginning to grow antsy about Biden’s no-negotiations stance, both Politico and Axios noted yesterday.
- Several Democratic lawmakers are now calling for Biden to sit down with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who said Biden’s refusal to do so “signals a deficiency of leadership.”
2/2/23, “McCarthy rules out potential compromise” (on McCarthy, in response to a question from me, ruling out a deal to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for creation of a commission to study fiscal reforms)
- Talk of a fiscal commission is back, despite McCarthy dismissing the idea when I asked him about in February. A debt ceiling proposal released by the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus this week would create an independent commission to recommend steps to address the debt and deficit.
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