7 min read

14 things the government did this week

The bipartisan tax deal advances. Seizing Russian assets to help Ukraine. A pause on natural gas exports. And more.
14 things the government did this week
(Illustration by DALL-E)

Good morning! It’s Friday, January 26, 2023. The 2024 elections are 284 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

The surprising — and fragile — resurgence of congressional bipartisanship has been one of the themes of this newsletter throughout the Biden era, particularly these Friday updates on legislative developments.

Of course, Joe Biden was not quite right in 2019 when he predicted that his election would cause a Republican “epiphany” on Donald Trump. And yet, not only has Biden managed to enact several cross-party compromises, but in the times Trump has called for GOP lawmakers to back away from bipartisan negotiations, they have usually ignored him.

We saw this during negotiations over the 2021 infrastructure deal, the 2022 gun control deal, the 2022 push to reform the Electoral Count Act, and several rounds of spending talks. Each time, Trump tried to sabotage bipartisan lawmaking; each time, Republicans plowed ahead anyways. As the Washington Post’s Paul Kane once noted, Trump has also faced a mixed record in GOP congressional leadership elections, in which the congressional party has often ignored his endorsements during his post-presidency.

However, with Trump now waltzing towards his third straight presidential nod, Capitol Hill Republicans are no longer able to tune him out. His influence over congressional negotiations appeared to return this week, throwing a wrench into the latest bipartisan talks: an effort to craft legislation combining new border security measures with military aid for Ukraine.

It briefly seemed like Trump’s opposition had fully doomed the talks, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was reported telling his colleagues Wednesday that he planned to bow to the ex-president’s demands. “We don’t want to do anything to undermine [Trump],” McConnell said, according to Punchbowl News.

The politics of that decision were obvious: the surge in border crossings under Biden are a huge vulnerability for the president; as he gears up for their general election battle, it will be harder for Trump to bash Biden on the issue if a bipartisan bill has passed addressing it. But it was still surprising to hear McConnell echoing this logic, seeing as he’d been a major champion of the pending compromise. Republican senators were shocked.

McConnell soon reversed himself, reportedly telling colleagues Thursday that he still supports the deal, confusing everyone involved. But the damage might already be done: even if the bill slugs its way through the Senate, Trump’s word could still sink it in the House. One of the last chances for a major bipartisan compromise before campaign season — over two issues that have dominated political discourse, no less — might slip away for good.

That’s your big-picture look at bipartisanship this week. But, as you all know, there is always more going on in Washington than just the big-picture items. Now it’s time to dive into the rest, the less sexy — but often consequential — policies your representatives are working on:

Legislative Branch

1. The House Ways and Means Committee voted 40-3 to advance a bipartisan bill to expand the Child Tax Credit and restore three expired business tax breaks. The package, which could receive a full House vote next week, would make the CTC more generous for lower-income families, lifting as many as 400,000 children out of poverty, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The bill would also reinstate business deductions for research and development costs, incentivize the construction of 200,000 new affordable housing units through an expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and offer tax relief to people affected by natural disasters. (The bill)

2. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 20-1 to advance a bipartisan bill that would allow the president to seize about $5 billion in Russian central bank assets held in the U.S. The Biden administration froze the assets when Russia invaded Ukraine, but this bill would allow the State Department to actually confiscate the money and use it towards Ukrainian reconstruction efforts.

It would be the first time the U.S. has seized the assets of a country it is not at war with. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was the lone committee holdout. (The bill)

3. The Senate confirmed three district judges, bringing Biden to a total of 171 federal judges added to the bench. The chamber also confirmed three members of the Amtrak Board of Directors. (The judges)

4. The Senate unanimously passed the Train More Nurses Act, a bipartisan bill to address the national nursing shortage. The measure would increase pathways for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) to become Registered Nurses (RNs), while also directing the federal government to research ways to increase faculty at nursing schools, particularly in underserved areas. About 100,000 nurses are believed to have left the workforce in the past two years, partially due to burnout and stress. (The bill)

5. 49 Senate Democrats endorsed a measure reiterating U.S. support for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sens. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) were the only Democrats in the chamber who declined to sign on. Technically, the senators plan to offer the measure as an amendment to the as-yet-unwritten Ukraine/border bill, but they are unlikely to force a vote on the amendment, which could doom the larger package. (The amendment)

Executive Branch

6. The Energy Department announced a temporary pause on new Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export facilities, delaying the approval of an LNG export terminal in Louisiana that would be the nation’s largest yet. The department will use the pause to study the climate impact of LNG exports. Activists cheered the decision as a step towards reducing climate pollution; industry groups deemed it a “win for Russia,” noting that U.S. exports of LNG have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in a bid to replace Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow. (The pause)

7. The Transportation Department announced nearly $5 billion in funding for new infrastructure projects, including a $1 billion effort to replace the Blatnik Bridge connecting Superior, Wisconsin, with Duluth, Minnesota. The money comes from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure package. (The projects)

8. The Biden administration issued a suite of new actions on abortion access, including guidance clarifying that insurance companies must make FDA-approved contraceptive medications available for free under the Affordable Care Act. (The actions)

9. President Biden vetoed a congressional resolution that would have blocked his plan to waive “Buy America” requirements for electric vehicle chargers. The resolution had passed 50-48 in the Senate and 209-198 in the House, with slight bipartisan support in both chambers. (The veto message)

10. The Defense Department launched talks with Iraq to wind down the U.S. military presence in the country. The withdrawal, which would formally end the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS, would likely take several months. About 2,500 American troops are currently stationed in Iraq. (The talks)

11. The Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on the Houthis and Hamas. The Hamas sanctions, instituted in concert with the United Kingdom and Australia, hit financial backers of the group; the Houthi sanctions, jointly imposed with the United Kingdom, targeted several Houthi leaders. (The Hamas sanctions / The Houthi sanctions)

12. The Education Department announced that it would fix a mistake in this year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that could have cost students $1.8 billion in aid by incorrectly calculating family income. Correcting the error could lead to delays in students receiving their aid offers. (The fix)

Judicial Branch

13. The Supreme Court allowed Alabama to carry out the world’s first execution using nitrogen gas, which took place Thursday. Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted for a 1988 murder-for-hire killing, was put to death using the new nitrogen hypoxia approach. Both the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court declined to intervene in the execution; the high court’s three liberal justices dissented from the decision.

Smith’s lawyers had argued that the execution method amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, while Alabama pressed the case that the approach was more humane than lethal injection, the most common method in the U.S. Alabama had previously tried, and failed, to use lethal injection to execute Smith in 2022. (The decision and dissent)

14. The Supreme Court sided with the Biden administration over Texas, allowing U.S. Border Patrol agents to remove razor wire constructed by the Texan government along the U.S.-Mexico border. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the three liberals in the decision. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) has signaled plans to defy the ruling, refusing to allow the wire to be removed. (The dispute)

More news to know.

U.S. economy booms with 3.3% growth in final quarter of 2023 / Axios

Top UN court orders Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza but stops short of ordering cease-fire / AP

Reagan-appointed judge warns GOP's 'preposterous' claims about Jan. 6 could pose threat / NBC

Biden to deploy CIA director to help broker major Gaza deal / WaPo

U.S. Secretly Alerted Iran Ahead of Islamic State Terrorist Attack / WSJ

Nikki Haley touts $1.2 million in donations after Trump vows to blacklist her donors / CNBC

Peter Navarro sentenced to four months in prison for defying Jan. 6 committee / Politico

Trump briefly testifies in E. Jean Carroll defamation trial / CBS

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden has nothing on his public schedule except receiving his daily intelligence briefing.

First Lady Biden will deliver remarks on the administration’s economic policies in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; attend a campaign event in Columbia, South Carolina; and deliver remarks in Columbia at an event hosted by the local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically Black sorority.

Congress: The House and Senate are out for the week.

Supreme Court: The justices have nothing on tap.

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