by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Friday, June 17, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 144 days away. Election Day 2024 is 872 days away.
Thanks for following along with WUTP this week. I hope you all have a good weekend, especially all the dads out there.
In today’s newsletter: What we learned at yesterday’s January 6 hearing, answering a reader question, marking the 50th anniversary of Watergate, and more.
But first — a look back at the week that was:
Week in review: Here’s what Washington got done this week
One of the central theses of this newsletter is that — contrary to popular belief — the U.S. government actually gets a fair amount done each day, behind the scenes.
And an important corollary to that thesis is that you, their constituents, deserve to know about those things your leaders are doing. Sure, most of them aren’t necessarily sweeping or historic, but many of them are still quietly consequential and substantial — even if most outlets don’t give them much attention unless there’s a partisan food fight attached. (You’ll notice that almost everything I’ll outline below was done on a bipartisan basis.)
That’s why I include the schedules of the president, Congress, and Supreme Court each morning. But I often get asked about the fates of some of those lower-profile bills and cases that are voted on or heard — so, from time to time, I like to offer an update.
So let’s take a look at some of the important actions taken in Washington this week that you might have missed:
Here are some of the bills President Biden signed into law this week:
The Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which seeks to address recent supply chain challenges and port backlogs. The measure authorizes the Federal Maritime Commission to block foreign ocean carriers from “unreasonably declining” U.S. exports and charging extraneous shipping fees, two practices that have led to shipping delays and increased costs being passed onto the consumer.
- The bill was approved by the Senate unanimously in March and by the House in a 369-42 vote earlier this week.
The Supreme Court Police Parity Act, which will expand police protection to the immediate families of Supreme Court justices, amid protests at the justices’ homes and a recent murder attempt aimed at one of them.
- The bill was approved by the Senate unanimously in May and by the House in a 396-27 vote earlier this week.
A bill creating a commission to study the possible creation of a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., possibly as part of the Smithsonian.
- The bill was approved by the House unanimously in April and by the Senate unanimously in May.
Here are some executive actions Biden took this week:
Signed an executive order implementing a series of actions aimed at protecting LGBT Americans, including calling on the Federal Trade Commission to consider whether “conversion therapy” constitutes an “unfair or deceptive act or practice.”
- The order also directs federal agencies to release sample policies for states in response to recent state laws banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth and limiting discussion of LGBT identity in schools.Wrote a letter to oil companies, beseeching them to produce more gasoline in a bid to lower gas prices and warning that he was prepared to “use all reasonable and appropriate” tools at his disposal to push them to do so.
- The letter also called it “not acceptable” that the companies are experiencing increased profit margins as Americans are paying more at the pump.Signed a memorandum creating a White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse.
- The memorandum called on the task force to “develop concrete recommendations to improve prevention, response, and protection efforts” against online harassment.
Here are the bills that passed the House this week:
The Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act, a package aimed at combatting rising food and gas prices. The measure would create an Agriculture Department office to investigate allegations of meat packers unfairly consolidating and driving up prices. It would also take steps to offer aid to farmers and encourage increased production of ethanol (a lower-cost alternative to gasoline).
- The bill passed the House in a 221-204 vote, mostly along party lines (but with some bipartisan support). It now goes to the Senate.The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would create a $1.3 billion annual fund to be distributed to states to support their efforts to conserve wildlife and protect endangered species.
- The bill passed the House in a 231-190 vote, mostly along party lines (but with some bipartisan support). It now goes to the Senate.The Federal Reserve Racial and Economic Equity Act, which would require the Federal Reserve Board to “carry out its duties in a manner that supports the elimination of racial and ethnic disparities in employment, income, wealth, and access to affordable credit.”
- The bill passed the House in a 215-207 vote, mostly along party lines. It now goes to the Senate.
The Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act, which would call for the development of new policies to address advanced air mobility (AAM), an emerging concept that would allow people and cargo to be transported by flying electric vehicles (like on-demand air taxis).
- The bill was approved by the Senate unanimously in March and by the House in a 380-30 vote this week, so it now heads to the president’s desk.The Small State and Rural Rescue Act, which aims to ensure fair access to federal disaster aid for small states and rural communities.
- The bill passed the House in a 396-14 vote. It now goes to the Senate.The Post-Disaster Assistance Online Accountability Act, which would create a centralized location online for federal agencies to public information on disaster assistance.
- The bill passed the House in a 412-2 vote. It now goes to the Senate.
Here’s what passed the Senate this week:
The Honoring our PACT Act, which would widely expand health care access and benefits to 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances during their military service. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) referred to the long-sought measure as “the greatest advance in veterans’ health care in decades.”
- The bill passed the Senate in a 84-14 vote. It previously passed the House in a 256-174 vote, but changes were made in the Senate so it will need to pass the House again before going to the president’s desk.
The Senate also voted 52-41 to advance the nomination of Steve Dettelbach to be Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), putting the agency one step closer to having its first permanent director since 2015.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators continued negotiations on a gun control package, although they did not settle on legislative text this week, as they had hoped.
WUTP’s legal correspondent, Anna Salvatore, wrote earlier this week about the five opinions released by the Supreme Court on Monday, so check out that piece to read about the justices’ rulings on cases involving double jeopardy, immigration law, and more.
Here are Anna’s updates on the opinions released by the court on Wednesday, starting with Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas:
Just two days after the Washington Post called Justice Neil Gorsuch “the court’s staunchest defender of tribal sovereignty,” Gorsuch lived up to that title by a 5-4 ruling blocking Texas from applying all of its gaming regulations to tribal land.
The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe argued that it had the right to host any gaming activities that weren’t flatly prohibited by state law. In doing so, the tribe traced its argument to California v. Cabazon, a 1987 decision that had outlined a distinction between “prohibition” and “regulation.” It argued that while states like Texas could apply “prohibitory” gaming laws to reservations, they could not apply “regulatory” laws.
To understand what this means in practice, take the example of bingo. If Texas had banned bingo across the state, then it could also ban bingo on all 6,000 acres of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation. If the state permitted bingo under certain, limited circumstances, then it had merely “regulated” the activity and must allow it to take place on the reservation.
Gorsuch was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett in siding with the tribe’s interpretation.
And here’s Anna on Golan v. Saada:
Even for the Supreme Court, which often intervenes in situations of loss and distress, this case came with an unusual amount of emotional baggage. The dispute involved an American mother who suffered repeated abuse from her Italian husband, causing her to flee from Italy to the United States with her young son in 2017. The husband then filed a complaint under the Hague Convention, alleging that his wife had violated his right to custody by wrongfully removing the child.
A district court in New York had ruled that the child should return to Italy as long as certain protective measures were put in place, but the mother appealed. The dispute before the court was whether the court had followed the Hague Convention, a 1983 treaty, in allowing the return even in a situation they recognized could be harmful, but with certain measures to ameliorate the harm.
Justice Sotomayor, writing for an unanimous court, sided with the mother, meaning the custody case will return to the lower courts, which have now been granted broad discretion to allow the child to stay in the U.S. or to return with certain protective measures.
And here, via Anna, are the three other opinions that came out Wednesday morning:
American Hospital Assn. v. Becerra: In an unanimous opinion, the Court ruled that the government had improperly withheld more than $1 billion a year in Medicare reimbursements from hospitals.
George v. McDonough: As SCOTUSblog put it, “when the VA denies a veteran’s claim in reliance on an agency interpretation that is later deemed invalid under the plain text of the relevant statutory provisions, is that the kind of ‘clear and unmistakable error’ that the veteran may invoke to challenge the VA’s decision?” The justices answered “no” by a 6-3 vote.
Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana: An 8-1 Court held that federal arbitration law preempts California law on contractual waivers of representative claims.
Jan. 6 panel examines pressure on Pence
Here’s a look at yesterday’s January 6 hearing, via Bloomberg:
“The mob invading the Capitol got within 40 feet of Vice President Mike Pence as his security team rushed him away on Jan. 6, 2021, and an informant later told the FBI that extremists leading the assault would have killed him given the chance.”
“Those were among the harrowing new details a House committee investigating the insurrection on Thursday added to accounts of Pence’s ordeal during the riot. The panel rendered a portrait of Donald Trump callously indifferent to the danger his vice president faced throughout the day.”
“The panel also heard testimony that top White House lawyers believed Trump’s plan to use Pence to block congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election wasn’t legal. Even John Eastman, the author of the strategy, admitted beforehand that the Supreme Court would rule against it ‘nine-to-nothing,’ Pence chief counsel Greg Jacob told the committee.”
More from the January 6 committee:
- “Eastman sought White House pardon after Jan. 6” (Axios)
- “Jan. 6 committee asks Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, to testify” (NPR)
Ask Gabe: Why would GOP lawmakers want pardons?
Here’s a question I received earlier this week, amid the ongoing January 6 hearings:
Q: I understand that Liz Cheney alleged that Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and other members of Congress contacted the White House about pardons “for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.” But I am unclear on exactly what laws they believed that they violated that caused them to be so concerned that they would need pardons.
Is voting to overturn an election in itself a crime? Were their votes as members of Congress to deny the election results technically illegal? Is there a chance they could be indicted for further crimes? — Sam from Nashville, TN
A: Cheney gave very few specifics when making this allegation, including how the committee might have learned this and what Perry might have sought a pardon for. So we don’t have much information on why Perry might have made that request (if he, in fact, made it: Perry has called the allegation “an absolute, shameless, and soulless lie.”)
But to answer Sam’s question, I think it would be hard to construe voting to overturn the election as a a crime. The Electoral Count Act clearly allows for objections to be made during the January 6 certification — a process that Democrats have availed themselves of in the past repeatedly as well.
If Perry was afraid of any legal exposure, it was probably more for his efforts leading up to January 6. A federal judge has already suggested Trump “more likely than not” broke the law by spreading lies about the election and encouraging Pence to intervene on January 6. (It was never suggested that encouraging the lawmakers to object was criminal, as they acted within the ECA, whereas Trump was prodding Pence to act outside of the statute.)
Perry spread those same lies and may have played a role in the Pence efforts. (We know he met and texted with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during the post-election period, and that Meadows burned papers after a meeting with Perry).
But my guess is, if the pardon request really was made, Perry wasn’t necessarily worried about being charged with one of those specific crimes. In the closing days of the Trump White House, there was a lot of talk about Trump issuing pre-emptive blanket pardons for a host of Trump aides, relatives, and allies (and even for himself).
That shows how worried a lot of people in Trumpworld were about possibly being targeted by a Biden Justice Department, even if they didn’t have a specific crime in mind they thought they’d committed. And yes, there is precedent for a pardon being issued without mentioning a specific crime: Ford’s pardon of Nixon, for example.
It seems more likely to me that Perry was more seeking something like that, just as a general shield of protection against possible prosecution in the next administration.
What’s going on in government today
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.
— President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (7:30 pm) and then host the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a virtual meeting of the leaders of 17 major economies (8:30 am). The leaders will discuss global energy and food security, as well as climate change.
Later, Biden will travel to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (11 am), where he will spend the weekend.
— Vice President Harris will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (10:05 am). While there, Harris will hold an event to highlight the Biden administration’s efforts to remove and replace lead pipes (1:15 pm).
The VP will then return to Washington (3:25 pm); later, she will visit Dulles International Airport to meet with workers facilitating the delivery of baby formula (4:30 pm).
— First Lady Biden will deliver remarks (11 am) at the National Parent Teacher Association’s 125th anniversary convention in National Harbor, Maryland.
— The Senate will briefly convene (8:30 am) for a pro forma session, a quick meeting in which no legislative business will be conducted.
— The House will gavel in for a short pro forma session as well (1 pm).
— The Supreme Court has nothing on tap today.
— Former President Donald Trump will deliver remarks at a conference in Nashville hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative group (1 pm).
Before I go...
Today is the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, the beginning of a scandal that took down the Nixon presidency and marked a turning point in American politics.
The anniversary is being marked in all kinds of ways, including a new edition of “All the President’s Men,” a CNN documentary, a new show on Starz, and quite a few pieces in the Washington Post.
Here’s one unique way to mark the milestone: the Watergate Hotel itself — site of the infamous break-in — is offering a “50th anniversary package” all month, including a stay in the hotel’s “Scandal Room.”
The “Scandal Room” is a redesigned version of the room rented by the Watergate burglars, so some of them could stay behind and keep watch on the DNC offices (which were then housed at the Watergate, in full view of the room) as the others staged the break-in.
I got a sneak peak at the room, to see what a Watergate super-fan might be getting with their stay this month. Pictures are below; note the vintage set-up, the Nixonalia on the walls, the tape recorder on the desk, and the “Cover Up” robe sitting on the bed.
“You have to walk a very fine line,” a hotel official told me. “Like, you can’t throw a giant party because it’s not exactly celebrated, right? We’re not celebrating what he did. However, it’s like, what can we do in a way that can bring history and tell people what happened here, as opposed to making money off of it.” (The package does cost $1,972 per night, however. 1972, get it?)
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