Good morning! It’s Friday, April 28, 2023. The 2024 elections are 557 days away. Read this newsletter in your browser.
The policy news you may have missed this week
But every Friday, I like to turn my attention to policy news that didn’t get as much attention during the week — highlighting the developments in Washington (and across the country) that will impact day-to-day lives but don’t always draw big headlines. So let’s dive in:
ABORTION: As Republicans on the national level grapple with what abortion policy to pursue, the same divide is apparent in GOP-controlled state legislatures. This week, a near-total abortion ban failed to pass in the South Carolina legislature and six-week abortion ban was rejected in the Nebraska legislature. In Congress, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) continued his blockade of 184 military promotions in protest of the Defense Department’s new policy to pay for service members if they need to travel out-of-state to have an abortion.
ENVIRONMENT: The Senate voted for a resolution that would overturn an EPA regulation setting strict emission standards for heavy-duty trucks. The vote was 50-49, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) joining Republicans in support of the measure. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), still at home recovering from shingles, was absent, allowing the resolution to pass.
FOREIGN POLICY: South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol was in D.C. this week. With President Biden, he signed the Washington Declaration, a new statement of policy for the U.S.-South Korea relationship. Under the declaration, Yoon restated South Korea’s commitment not to develop nuclear weapons — as long as Biden promised to give South Korea a say if the U.S. ever decided to use nukes against North Korea. (The U.S. would still have the final say.) Seoul has long asked to have a formal part in those deliberations.
MARIJUANA: The Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct clinical trials to study whether medical marijuana could help veterans suffering from PTSD. The measure needed 60 votes to advance; it was voted down 57-42, with eight Republicans joining all Democrats in support. (Majority Leader Chuck Schumer changed his “yea” vote at the last minute, a procedural move that allows him to more quickly bring it up again for a vote.)
GENDER EQUALITY: The Senate also failed to advance a measure that sought to eliminate the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment. The needed 38 states have ratified the ERA, but three of those ratifications came after the 1982 deadline set by Congress. It is unclear whether Congress can eliminate the deadline after the fact; the matter is further complicated by the fact that six of the 38 states have rescinded their ratifications. In any event, the resolution failed 51-47, with Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joining all Democrats in support. (Again, Schumer changed his vote so he could bring it up again.)
TRANSGENDER RIGHTS: The fight over trans rights continued across the country this week, with Kansas and North Dakota both enacting laws prohibiting transgender individuals from accessing bathrooms that match the gender they identify with. In Missouri, a judge temporarily blocked the state’s restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors and adults from going into effect. Meanwhile, the Biden administration sued Tennessee for banning gender-affirming care, while Washington state and Minnesota approved bills protecting it.
IMMIGRATION: The Biden administration is preparing for the May 11 expiration of Title 42, the pandemic-era public health order that empowered the U.S. to rapidly expel migrants who sought asylum at the border. Ahead of the expiration, the U.S. is setting up regional processing centers across Central and South America to pre-screen migrants and determine their eligibility for asylum before they arrive at the border.
MILITARY: The House voted down a resolution by Rep. Matt Gaetz that would have removed all U.S. troops currently stationed in Somalia, except those assigned to protect the American embassy. (There are about 450 U.S. troops there, aiding in the fight against terrorist group al-Shabab.) The vote was 102-321.
White House: The president, first lady, vice president, and second gentleman will all attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee tonight at a D.C. hotel. Biden is expected to house much of his re-election operation at the DNC; the president’s team reportedly hopes to raise a combined $2 billion in 2024 between the formal campaign, the DNC, and outside groups.
House: The lower chamber has one vote scheduled today: on a resolution to reverse the Biden administration’s pause on U.S. tariffs on solar cells imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Biden’s Commerce Department has found that China has tried to skirt tariffs by moving its solar products through these four countries. Biden issued an order preventing new tariffs from resulting from those findings for at least two years, prioritizing the expansion of U.S. solar energy usage over punishing China. This resolution would undo that two-year pause.
Senate: The upper chamber is off until Monday. As CNN’s Manu Raju noted, the Senate came into session at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday this week and then closed up shop after lunch on Thursday. In the words of Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman: “Good work if you can get it!”
Justice Department: Former Vice President Mike Pence testified for seven hours yesterday before the federal grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Pence’s testimony came after a subpoena from Special Counsel Jack Smith, which both Trump and Pence tried unsuccessfully to block.
Why did I cover Carlson, but not Lemon?
Q: “I have to point out, today you wrote 7 paragraphs about Tucker and ONE sentence about Don Lemon. I’m not a Tucker fan but his ending is Not understood and only rumors of why it happened while you have Don who has a Serious reason for his firing! Seems like political gossip is more important than Women’s rights! This is the first time I’m writing you and Disappointed in today’s coverage.” — Laura M.
A: This is in reference to Tuesday’s newsletter, where I — as Laura correctly points out — devoted several paragraphs to Tucker Carlson’s firing at Fox, but only one sentence to Don Lemon’s ouster from CNN. Several readers wrote in to question that decision, with emails that raised very fair points like this one.
In cases like this, I like to sometimes use space in the newsletter to explain my thinking to you all; obviously, readers are free to agree or disagree — but I do think you’re owed the transparency of knowing what drives my editorial decisions.
This explanation, for me, is a fairly simple one: this is not a media newsletter. Personally, as someone who follows the media industry quite closely, I’m a big consumer of media news. (Some of my favorite media newsletters, if you’re looking for recommendations, are Semafor Media, In the Room, Reliable Sources, Confider, and Fourth Watch.)
But, as a journalist, I write a political newsletter, not a media one, and it’s hard for me to justify how most media gossip matters to the daily lives of 99.99% of Americans. That’s why you didn’t hear much from me about Don Lemon — but you also didn’t hear from me about, say, the end of BuzzFeed News or layoffs at FiveThirtyEight. (It’s been a tumultuous week in the media world.)
So why cover Tucker, then? Because I do cover media (or anything else) when it intersects in an important way with American politics, and Carlson was (probably is) a political force, not just a media one. He was highly influential in the Republican Party, pushing the GOP in a more nativist/populist direction — and often succeeding.
He was a convener within the party; earlier this year, he managed to get almost all of the 2024 GOP contenders on the record on Ukraine before any other media outlets could. His hour of television could occasionally make or break candidacies (at least in primaries); his promotions on the air helped pave the way for Carlson favorites like J.D. Vance and Blake Masters to win Senate nominations last year.
You didn’t see Pentagon officials celebrating (or at all noting) Lemon’s ouster like they did Carlson’s, anonymously wishing “good riddance” to one of the country’s leading opponents of Ukraine aid. Nor do you see CNN’s ratings collapsing post-Lemon like Fox’s are after Carlson:
Lemon was an important media figure, but just not one with the same political weight. It is unlikely the Democratic Party will notice his absence from the air like the GOP will Carlson’s. (Although Lemon did make a brief cameo in the 2024 race with his sexist comments about Nikki Haley.) The presumed reasons for Lemon’s firing (which I mentioned briefly on Tuesday) are important: he had a history of misogynous behavior throughout his career.
But, in my view, his firing is a media story, not a political one.
Let’s end the week on a lighter note. As mentioned above, South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol was in town this week. At a state dinner at the White House, Yoon even provided some of the entertainment — belting out a verse of the classic song “American Pie,” one of his favorites.
“I had no damn idea you could sing,” an impressed President Biden said after the performance, before gifting Yoon a signed guitar from “American Pie” songwriter Don McLean.
Here’s the video from C-SPAN’s Howard Mortman. I defy you to watch it without smiling:
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