Good morning! It’s Friday, June 16, 2023. The 2024 elections are 508 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here.
There was one story that dominated headlines this week, in this newsletter and elsewhere: the historic federal indictment of Donald Trump.
But even as Trump was arrested and arraigned, the gears of government kept turning in Washington, as they always do. That’s why — no matter what’s going on — I make a point most Fridays to cover the substantive policy developments that transpired in the previous week.
The Trump indictment and other attention-grabbing stories are often important — but so is covering the day-to-day business conducted by the leaders we elect to represent us. My goal is to never let the former distract me from the latter — and my hope each Friday is that you learn a little bit more about what’s going on in Washington, especially about the small but important policy changes that can have a real impact on our everyday lives.
If I achieve that goal, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support my work, especially by setting up a monthly donation. Your support ensures I can continue writing these Friday roundups, as well as pieces like yesterday’s explainer on a much-cited (but faulty) Trump defense.
With that, let’s take a look back at the news you might have missed this week from each branch of government:
One important executive action
The National Labor Relations Board issued a decision tightening the definition of “independent contractor” for the purposes of federal labor law.
During the Trump era, the NLRB had said that one factor should be weighed most heavily when considering if someone is a contractor: how much “entrepreneurial opportunity” they have in their role. The more someone functions as an entrepreneur (by hiring employees, for example, or investing in supplies), the more likely they were to be considered an independent contractor.
Contractors, unlike full employees, do not have the right to unionize. The Trump-era decision was seen as a victory for “gig companies” like Uber and Lyft, which wanted their drivers classified as contractors to avoid unionization. (The companies argue that drivers have the “entrepreneurial opportunity” to decide where and when they work, the cars they drive, and whether to work for multiple companies.) In a 3-1 vote this week, along party lines, the NLRB restored the Obama-era definition that does not prioritize “entrepreneurial opportunity” and will allow more workers to be classified as full employees (and therefore join unions). The decision could still face legal scrutiny in federal court.
Plus: The Homeland Security Department extended “temporary protected status” for more than 330,000 immigrants from Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Nepal, allowing them to continue living in the U.S. through 2025.
- President Biden signed a bill increasing veterans benefits to adjust for the current cost of living, and vetoed a resolution that would have nullified his administration’s strict emission limits for heavy-duty trucks.
One key congressional vote
As I’ve written previously, most policy changes in the United States don’t exactly follow the tidy procedure laid out by “Schoolhouse Rock.” In fact, some of the most consequential actions to come out of Washington — on issues ranging from the environment to immigration to abortion — don’t go through Congress at all: they’re issued as regulations by the executive branch.
Recall this graph I included in the newsletter last month, showing how recent presidential administrations have taken advantage of congressional dysfunction to implement more and more executive regulations:
These regulations often face legal challenges, but are generally protected by “Chevron deference,” a 1984 Supreme Court precedent that tells courts to defer to federal agencies if Congress left it “ambiguous” how a law should be carried out. The Supreme Court is poised to consider a case next term that could chip away at Chevron; this week, though, congressional Republicans tried to beat the justices to it.
The House passed the Separation of Powers Restoration Act, which would overturn Chevron and require courts to decide regulatory disputes de novo (“with fresh eyes,” meaning no deference would be given to agencies). If approved by both chambers of Congress, the measure would take a major step towards dismantling the regulatory state — but it is unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate or be signed by President Biden.
The bill passed 220-211, along party lines except for one Democratic “yea” and one Republican “nay.” (In Thursday’s newsletter, I incorrectly summarized this legislation based on the text of another bill with the same name. My apologies for the error.)
Plus: In another attempt to claw back power from the executive branch, the House voted 221-210 to pass the REINS Act, which would require that any regulation with an annual economic impact higher than $100 million receive congressional approval.
- The House also approved a resolution to overturn a Biden administration rule regulating stabilizing braces for firearms (219-210) and a bill prohibiting the Energy Department from banning gas stoves (249-181).
- On a more bipartisan basis, the chamber approved a bill creating a special envoy tasked with encouraging more countries to recognize Israel (413-13) and a resolution calling for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been imprisoned by Russia (422-0).
- Over in the Senate, Nusrat Choudhury was confirmed as the first Muslim woman to serve as a federal judge in U.S. history. In total, four more judges were confirmed for lifetime appointments this week, bringing Biden’s total judges confirmed as president to 134.
One interesting Supreme Court ruling
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to uphold a provision of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 that gives priority to Native American parents when Native American children are being fostered or adopted.
Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, as well as a Texan couple, had challenged the provision, but the court ruled that they did not have standing to sue. Even though adoption is typically a state issue, Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the majority opinion that Congress had authority here due to its broad jurisdiction to legislate on Native issues.
The justices did not address the challengers’ claim that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits racial discrimination. (Native tribes, which support the law, responded by arguing that they are political, not racial, entities.) Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, arguing that the law was unconstitutional.
- The justices also ruled 9-0 that it doesn’t violate double jeopardy for the government to re-try a defendant in a new venue if the initial venue of a trial is found to be improper. (A decision that Special Counsel Jack Smith may find interesting.)
More news you should know
U.S. government agencies have been breached in two separate cyberattacks, officials acknowledged Thursday. One attack, tied to state-backed Chinese hackers, gained access to servers by sending malicious file attachments through Microsoft Exchange. The other, tied to Russian cybercriminals, exploited a vulnerability in the software MOVEit. Both cyberattacks have also targeted universities, nonprofits, and foreign governments.
Donald Trump is signaling that he would “fully jettison the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department independence” in a second term as president, the New York Times reports. Trump has said the recent indictment against him opens the door for him to use the DOJ to “go after” Joe Biden if he returns to the White House.
Judge Aileen Cannon issued one of her first orders in Trump’s documents trial: requiring the ex-president’s lawyers to contact the Justice Department about obtaining security clearances. Politico has more in this interesting piece about the steps involved in conducting a public trial in which the evidence is largely classified.
Speaking of facing classified document charges, former Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira was indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday for six counts of willful retention and transmission of national defense information. Teixeira was allegedly behind the massive Discord leak of classified Pentagon documents that revealed secrets about the war in Ukraine and other issues.
Ask Gabe: What’s behind the Schiff censure effort?
Brent B. writes: “My question regards the censure and attempt to sue Adam Schiff. Can you provide any further background on the supposed legal justification for this act by the Republicans? Can anyone in Congress be censured just for carrying out an investigation if the opposite party doesn’t like the result? Or is this just all related to McCarthy’s claim that Schiff lied about knowing the identity of the whistleblower for the Trump call?”
This question is about another House vote taken this week: on the resolution to censure Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).
For starters, yes: the House can censure a lawmaker for basically anything it wants, as long as a majority of the chamber signs on. This power derives straight from Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which gives each chamber of Congress broad latitude to police their own members. (“Each House may...punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour,” the Constitution says. There’s no further specification, so the chambers can define “disorderly Behaviour” however they see fit.)
Despite this leeway, congressional censures are very rare. The House has only issued 24 censures in its history (and only two in the past 40 years). The process is designed to ensure maximum embarrassment for the punished lawmaker: a censured member is required to stand in the well of the House and listen as the speaker of the House reads out the resolution rebuking them.
In this case, the Schiff resolution focuses on his handling of investigations into Donald Trump while serving as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The measure brings up various flashpoints from these probes, including Schiff’s reading parts of the largely debunked “Steele dossier” into the Congressional Record, falsely stating his committee had not been in contact with the whistleblower in Trump’s second impeachment, and reciting a highly dramatized version of the infamous phone call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Schiff purposely deceived his Committee, Congress, and the American people,” the resolution states.
The censure resolution ended up failing, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats to reject it in a 225-196 vote. The resolution’s sponsors plan to bring it up again, however, this time without a provision calling for the Ethics Committee to consider fining Schiff $16 million. (Some Republicans, including Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, argued that such a fine would be unconstitutional.)
One final note on the matter: another criticism the resolution levels at Schiff is that he used his position as Intel chairman to “amass political gain and fundraising dollars.” This is somewhat ironic, since the censure effort itself will likely allow him to do the same thing. Schiff is currently running in a hotly contested Democratic primary for California’s open Senate seat; in that race, being targeted by Republicans in this manner will probably be more of a political gift than anything. Sure enough, Schiff has already started fundraising off it.
Today’s political planner
All times Eastern.
President Biden will travel to West Hartford, Connecticut, to participate in the “National Safer Communities Summit,” an event marking the first anniversary of last year’s bipartisan gun control package. He will deliver remarks at 2:05 p.m.
Before returning to Washington later tonight, Biden will headline a campaign fundraiser in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Vice President Harris will travel to Denver, Colorado. She will deliver remarks at 3:40 p.m. on the Biden administration’s efforts to combat climate change. She will also attend a campaign fundraiser before heading to Los Angeles to spend the weekend.
Attorney General Merrick Garland will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. to announce the results of the DOJ’s civil rights investigation into the the Minneapolis Police Department, which was launched after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
The House and Senate are out until Tuesday in honor of Juneteenth.
The Supreme Court will release opinions at 10 a.m. The justices still have 20 cases to decide before the end of the month — including major opinions looming on affirmative action, student loans, LGBT rights, and the independent state legislature theory.
Before I go...
Here’s something fun ahead of Father’s Day: A recent study published by the British Psychological Society argues that “dad jokes” — those corny quips told by fathers everywhere — can actually play a positive role in a child’s development.
By telling embarrassing jokes, fathers “show their children that embarrassment isn’t fatal,” humor researcher Marc Hye-Knudsen writes.
“For a child who is approaching or has entered adolescence...this is an immensely valuable lesson,” Hye-Knudsen continues. “In this sense, dad jokes may have a positive pedagogical effect, toughening up the kids who are begrudgingly exposed to them.”
Read the study here. And happy Fathers’s Day to all the dads out there!
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