Wake Up To Politics - February 1, 2022
by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Tuesday, February 1, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 280 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,008 days away.
Dems, GOP hone their midterm agendas
There is a lot on Congress’ plate as the House and Senate return from a late January recess: Both chambers must pass a spending bill by February 18 to avoid a government shutdown. Bipartisan groups of lawmakers are working on electoral reform and Russia sanctions. And now there’s a Supreme Court seat to fill.
But there’s another issue that House Democrats will be focusing on this week: semiconductors. In the coming days, the House is expected to vote on the America COMPETES Act, the lower chamber’s version of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which passed the Senate in June.
Both bills aim to increase competition with China by spending $52 billion to boost U.S. production of semiconductors, the computer chips that power everything from cars to smartphones.
Many Democrats view the measure as essential to their midterm hopes. The House bill also includes $45 billion to strengthen supply chains, intended to address the product shortages and rising inflation that have haunted the pandemic-era economy — and helped contribute to President Biden’s sinking approval ratings.
According to Politico, “swing-district Democrats have been the most vocal proponents” of moving forward with the competitiveness bill, “anxious to show voters that they’re tackling the crises that could seal lawmakers’ political fates in November.”
While the Senate bill passed with bipartisan support, Republican leaders are urging their members to oppose the House version, highlighting the political salience of the issue.
It’s one of several bills Democrats are anxious to pass before November. Coming after two years of complete Democratic control over the White House and Capitol, the midterms are expected to be a referendum on what the party has (and hasn’t) been able to achieve in the Biden era.
Democrats will likely run on the competitiveness bill, plus the two major packages Biden has been able to usher through — one on Covid relief and the other on infrastructure — and the historic nominee he is soon expected to name to the Supreme Court.
The biggest question mark is whether the party will also be able to add Biden’s signature “Build Back Better” initiative to their list of midterm selling points. Per the Wall Street Journal, Democrats are growing increasingly desperate to pass anything in time for the fall — with many members giving up on their pet priorities and instead handing centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) the pen and resigning themselves to pass whatever he will allow.
The West Virginia centrist has said negotiations on the package — which is still expected to include funding for child care, health care, and combatting climate change — to have yet to resume since they hit a dead end in December.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the debate is whether to run on a specific policy agenda at all. The GOP opted against outlining a platform in 2020, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is reportedly advocating to run another policy-free campaign in 2022, focused on criticizing Democratic bills instead of promoting Republican ones.
Asked to name his party’s priorities if they retake the Senate next year, McConnell told NBC News: “That is a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we take it back.”
House Republicans are taking a different tack, though, as House Minority Leader McCarthy (R-CA) works with his deputies to craft a list of policy pledges in the style of the famed 1994 “Contract with America.”
Per the Washington Post, McCarthy’s platform will focus on “education policies aimed at tapping into parental discontent; countering the rise of China with new economic measures; and ‘oversight’ of the Biden administration.”
Looming over all of the GOP’s midterm activities is former President Donald Trump. A spate of news outlets (the Post, NBC, the New York Times, and the Associated Press among them) have come out with articles this week asking whether Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is slipping — a question I’m not convinced news outlets will ever stop asking.
While there are some signs of slippage (polls showing fewer Republicans excited about a Trump 2024 bid, for example), Trump remains firmly at the center of the GOP midterm apparatus.
Fundraising appeals invoking his name continue to fuel the Republican money machine, while joining Trump in (baselessly) denying the results of the 2020 election has become a litmus test in GOP primaries.
Trump’s singular focus on 2020 could pose problems for Republicans. Even exiled to Mar-a-Lago, Trump remains the party’s effective leader and the political figure most tied to the GOP brand. He brings a bevy of small-dollar donations and enthusiastic supporters with him, but also a message that could distract from both McConnell’s anti-Biden platform and McCarthy’s new “Contract with America.”
That dynamic was on stark display on Saturday, as Trump used a rally in Texas to make common cause with the January 6 rioters and even suggest he might pardon some if re-elected to a second term in 2024.
Within hours, Trump’s comments were front-page news and top Republicans were rushing to condemn them, just like the old days. Any mention Trump made at the rally of the GOP’s midterm platform or candidates was quickly lost entirely, a familiar pattern that Republicans seemed destined to repeat until November.
January 6 probe
-- As the House January 6 committee has begun receiving Trump White House records from the National Archives, investigators have found that some of the documents were ripped up and then taped back together by archivists, per the Washington Post and CNN.
- The National Archives said it was former President Donald Trump himself who ripped up the documents, a habit he was known for while in office, in potential violation of presidential record-keeping law.
- Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Trump was also more personally involved than previously known in proposals for the federal government to seize voting machines after the 2020 election.
-- CNN also reported on Monday that Marc Short, who was by former Vice President Mike Pence’s side during the Capitol riot as his chief of staff, recently testified before the House committee.
-- Plus, CNN reported that then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris drove within several yards of a pipe bomb lying outside the Democratic Party headquarters on the day of the Capitol attack and then spent nearly two hours inside the building. The pipe bombs left at the two major party HQs on January 6 remain one of the day’s most enduring unsolved mysteries.
-- Pfizer is expected to ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as soon as today for emergency authorization of its vaccine for children 6 months to 4 years old, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported. Vaccines could then be available for the age group as soon as the end of February, far sooner than previously expected.
- Meanwhile, the FDA fully approved Moderna’s Covid vaccine on Monday, making it the second inoculation for the virus (after Pfizer’s) to receive full approval
-- Inside the White House, frustrations are reportedly mounting with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra over his role in the Covid response. Becerra has been much less visible than other officials throughout the pandemic; White House aides have apparently mused about potential replacements for the secretary.
- The FDA, one of the agencies under Becerra’s purview, has been without a permanent administrator since President Biden took office. Biden’s nominee, Robert Califf, faces possible rejection amid opposition from five Senate Democrats.
- Califf received a boost on Monday from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Monday, who indicated she’d back his nomination after he pledged not to enter the pharmaceutical industry within four years after leaving government.
-- Russia and the U.S. faced off in a United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday. The U.S. promised to impose sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, while Russia denied any plans to do so, accusing the Americans of whipping up fears of war. “You want it to happen,” Russia’s UN ambassador said. “You’re waiting for it to happen, as if you want to make your words become a reality.”
- Russia also delivered a written response on Monday to a U.S. proposal aimed at de-escalating the crisis. U.S. officials have not revealed the contents of the response.
In Monday’s newsletter, I referred to the Netflix movie “Don’t Loop Up.” Of course, that should have been “Don’t Look Up.” Thanks to the many readers who flagged the typo, and my apologies to President Meryl Streep.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive their daily intelligence briefing at 10:15 a.m. and hold a meeting at 1:45 p.m. with Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee — to discuss the forthcoming Supreme Court vacancy.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this morning, as tensions continue to rise amid Russia’s troop buildup at Ukraine’s borders.
- White House press secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1:30 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and continue considering the nomination of Bridget Brennan to be a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio. At 11:30 a.m., the chamber will vote on Brennan’s confirmation, followed by a cloture vote to advance the nomination of Charles Fleming to join the same court.
- After those votes, the chamber will recess for its weekly caucus lunches. At 2:15 p.m., Senate will return and vote on Fleming’s confirmation, followed by a cloture vote to advance the nomination of David Ruiz, also for the Northern District of Ohio.
- The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. on expanding broadband Internet access. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will testify.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing at 3 p.m. on the state of the U.S. territories. The governors of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgn Islands, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands will testify.The House will convene at 2 p.m. The chamber is scheduled to vote on 11 pieces of legislation, ten of which will rename post office buildings, including one measure to name an Atlanta post office for the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).
- The only non-post office bill is the PRICE Act, which aims to “encourage innovation in contracting and expand opportunities for small businesses to work with the federal government,” according to its sponsors.The Supreme Court is not in session.
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