6 min read

What Washington got done this week

A look at what all three branches of government did in the week that was.
What Washington got done this week

Good morning! For the first time this year, I want to bring back a favorite WUTP feature this morning: the Friday roundup of what was achieved in Washington in the past week. As always, I hope this feature gives you an idea of the substantive policy work your leaders are doing behind the scenes.

A hallmark of this feature has been highlighting some of the under-the-radar bipartisan bills that move through Congress. This will be an interesting year to be tracking that, as we see whether any of the bipartisan progress of the last two years is able to continue in the newly divided Congress.

Yesterday, Punchbowl News reported that “something unusual is happening in the Capitol: Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries are getting along” and even texting each other, something that has surprised their aides. We’ll see whether the suddenly positive rapport between the two men translates to any major legislation.

If you appreciate my work covering the policies that get passed in Washington — including other pieces this week, like these ones on abortion and the debt ceiling — it’s always appreciated if you donate to support me and WUTP or even set up a recurring donation. Your generosity means so much to me.

And now, here’s what got done this week in Washington:

Legislative Branch

The House voted unanimously for a bill that would require federal agencies to record in a public database the details of all settlements or consent decrees they sign “related to an alleged violation of federal law.” The measure would increase government transparency, ensuring Americans can learn the details of the agreements agencies are making privately to avoid the more public trial process.

The House voted 422-2 for the Chance to Compete Act, which would reform the federal hiring process by eliminating certain barriers — such as key-word search reviews of résumés — in order to push agencies to hire based on a candidate’s skills, not their level of educational attainment.

The House voted 420-1 to pass a resolution celebrating the recent protests in Iran and condemning the Iranian government’s harsh crackdown on them. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) was the sole “no” vote, because he opposed the resolution’s call for sanctions.

The House voted 424-4 in favor of a bill to establish a task force to recommend improvements to the FAA computer system that crashed earlier this month and briefly grounded all U.S. flights.

The Senate did not do much this week, as the chamber has still not passed its organizing resolution, which means its committees cannot begin to function. The chamber simply confirmed a Defense Department nominee and voted unanimously for a resolution designating this month as “National Stalking Awareness Month.”

Executive Branch

The Defense Department announced a $400 million aid package for Ukraine, including a step the U.S. had long resisted: providing Ukraine with 31 of the world’s most powerful battle tanks, the M1 Abrams tanks. The move was coordinated with Germany, which will now provide Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv as well.

The Justice Department joined with eight states to sue Google, accusing the company of monopolizing digital advertising. It was the first major antitrust lawsuit filed by the federal government against a Big Tech firm since President Biden took office.

The FDA’s vaccine committee voted unanimously to recommend phasing out the original Covid vaccines and replacing them with the Omicron-specific bivalent vaccines as the primary shot, not just a booster. The FDA still needs to formally approve the change, which it is expected to do. The panel did not make a decision on an FDA proposal calling for yearly Covid booster shots.  

The State and Treasury Departments announced new sanctions against the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company, and designated the firm as a “significant transnational criminal organization.”

A slew of agencies announced new actions aimed at protecting renters, including creating a non-binding “Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights.” As part of the actions, federal agencies will collect information on unfair housing practices and launch a public process to begin crafting limits on “egregious rent increases.”

The Interior Department signed an order protecting Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from mining, while the Agriculture Department reversed a Trump-era move and restored environmental protections for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court released its first two opinions of the term, after a historically long wait. The justices dismissed a case on the scope of attorney-client privilege and unanimously ruled against a disabled veteran aiming to receive retroactive payments for a government benefit despite missing the deadline to apply.

What else I’m watching.

The Republican National Committee will choose its chair today. Ronna McDaniel, who has led the GOP since 2017, faces a challenge from California RNC member Harmeet Dhillon in her bid for a fourth term.

McDaniel is expected to win: 101 of the 168 voting RNC members have endorsed her re-election bid, more than the 85 needed for victory. But the race has turned bitter — with allegations that McDaniel allies have taken shots at Dhillon’s Sikh faith — and exposed deep frustrations within the party over the GOP’s disappointing performances in the three election cycle during her tenure.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, like Dhillon a promoter of former President Trump’s 2020 election lies, is also running. Trump himself has endorsed McDaniel, whom he handpicked for the RNC post. In an intriguing split with his possible future rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) called for “new blood” at the RNC on Thursday and offered praise for Dhillon, while still stopping short of an endorsement.

Although McDaniel has ostensibly already nabbed the endorsements needed to win, today’s vote — which will take place at the RNC winter meeting in southern California — is a secret ballot, so members are not bound to vote for a candidate they’ve publicly backed.

Ronna McDaniel is seeking a fourth term as RNC chair. (Gage Skidmore)

More news you should know:

  • California Rep. Adam Schiff announced a 2024 Senate bid on Thursday. He is the second House Democrat, after Katie Porter, to jump into the race, even though 89-year-old incumbent Dianne Feinstein has not said whether she will retire. I wrote more about the Golden State primary fight earlier this month.
  • The National Archives formally asked representatives for every president and vice president of the last 40 years to sweep their files for any presidential records and classified documents they might “inadvertently” still have. CNN has details from the Archives letters.
  • Special Counsel John Durham’s probe into the Trump-Russia investigators was elevated to a criminal investigation in 2019 because of a tip about possible financial crimes committed by former President Trump himself. Conservative media had promoted the development as evidence that Durham was preparing to charge “deep state” officials. The New York Times dove deep into the Durham probe.

What the government is doing today.

All times Eastern.

Executive Branch

President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing in the morning and travel to Camp David, the presidential retreat, in the evening. He will spend the weekend there.

Vice President Harris will host a White House summit on replacing lead pipes across the country. [Watch at 2 p.m.]

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff is in Krakow, Poland, for a trip focused on Holocaust remembrance and combatting antisemitism. Earlier this morning, he visited Auschwitz and attended a ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, which is today.

Later today, Emhoff will attend a Shabbat dinner with members of the Krakow Jewish community. Emhoff is the first Jewish presidential or vice presidential spouse.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing. [Watch at 1:30 p.m.]

Legislative Branch

The Senate is out until Monday.

The House will complete consideration of the Strategic Production Response Act, which would limit President Biden’s ability to continue withdrawing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve unless his administration produces a plan to increase oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

The measure is the first House bill since 2016 that is being considered under a “modified open rule,” which means any germane amendment that was filed in advance will receive a vote. The move is a fulfillment of House Republicans’ promise to hold more open debates on the House floor and empower rank-and-file members.

The chamber voted on 36 amendments yesterday, with 28 more set to be considered today. After the amendment votes, the House will hold a final vote on the measure at the end of today’s session. [Watch today’s session starting at 9 a.m.]

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court doesn’t have any oral arguments scheduled until February 21.

Thanks for reading.

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Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe