Good morning! It’s Friday, June 23, 2023. The 2024 elections are 501 days away.
This week, I’ve covered a range of topics, from AI in politics to America’s embrace of India. I’ve also been all over the capital, covering a speech by Chuck Schumer, a press conference with President Biden, and — this weekend — an event featuring Donald Trump.
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Now, as I do every Friday, I want to take a break from political coverage and focus on policy. Let’s look at the under-the-radar policy developments you might have missed this week:
One important piece of legislation
It isn’t every day that one of the Senate’s most progressive Democrats and a Republican presidential candidate team up to pass a major piece of legislation through committee — and through a committee that hasn’t approved a single bill in the past four years, no less.
But that’s what happened Wednesday when the Senate Banking Committee voted 21-2 in favor of the RECOUP Act, authored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tim Scott (R-SC).
The RECOUP Act marks Congress’ highest-profile effort to respond to the recent collapses of First Republic, Silicon Valley, and Signature Banks — the second-, third-, and fourth-largest bank failures in U.S. history. The legislation aims to hold the executives of failed banks accountable, empowering the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to claw back their compensation, remove them from their positions, or even ban them from the industry outright.
The measure would also require banks to adopt standards that “promote safety, soundness, and responsible bank management” in their bylaws.
“It’s time for CEOs to face consequences for their actions, just like everyone else,” Brown said.
The measure still needs to pass the full Senate before moving on to the House. But the bill received impressive bipartisan backing on the Banking Committee: the panel’s 12 Democrats all voted in support, as did 9 Republicans. Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN) voted against it.
Also in the Senate: The Senate voted 95-2 to ratify a tax treaty with Chile. The treaty, which has been awaiting Senate approval since 2012, will boost investment between the U.S. and Chile — including allowing expanded U.S. access to the Chilean lithium industry. Chile boasts the world’s largest lithium reserves; the mineral is critical for powering electric vehicle batteries
- The Senate unanimously passed a pair of bills to increase disclosures of foreign influence in lobbying. The chamber also confirmed its 100th district court judge of the Biden era.
Also in the House: The House voted unanimously to authorize an entrepreneurship training program for veterans. On a more partisan basis, the chamber voted 220-209 for a bill that would allow companies to reimburse their employees for individual health insurance plans, as opposed to offering group insurance plans.
One important Supreme Court decision
The U.S. Constitution gives convicts the right to petition the courts to overturn their sentence and secure their release from prison, a process known as habeas corpus.
Prisoners are always allowed to submit a habeas petition at least once. However, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) imposes limits on a federal prisoner’s ability to submit a second habeas petition if their first one fails. Under the 1996 law, a second petition is only allowed if “newly discovered evidence” emerges or if the Supreme Court has set “a new rule of constitutional law.”
Jones v. Hendrix, which the Supreme Court decided this week, involved a federal inmate, Marcus DeAngelo Jones, who was sentenced in 2000 to 27 years in prison for being a felon in possession of a handgun. His first habeas petition failed. Since then, in 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in Rehaif v. United States that a felon can only be convicted for possessing a gun if the government can prove that the felon knew that they were not allowed to have one.
Jones has maintained that he believed his record had been expunged and did not know his possession of a firearm was prohibited. After the court’s ruling in Rehaif, he motioned to file a second habeas petition and have his conviction reversed on those grounds.
In an opinion issued Thursday, the court voted 6-3 against Jones, along ideological lines. Writing for the conservative majority, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that because Rehaif was a new interpretation of statutory law — not of the Constitution, as AEDPA required — it did not apply in Jones’ case. “Congress has chosen finality over error correction,” he concluded. The majority also rejected Jones’ attempt to use another law that allows judicial intervention if the normal habeas process is found to be “inadequate or ineffective.”
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pushed back in a dissent, writing that she was “deeply troubled” by the idea that “legally innocent or not, Jones must just carry on in prison regardless, since [according to the majority] no path exists for him to ask a federal judge to consider his innocence assertion.” According to experts, the ruling will likely close off the ability of other prisoners — who, like Jones, may now be considered innocent due to new court decisions — to receive relief if they had a habeas petition denied previously.
Also at the Supreme Court: The justices ruled against the Navajo Nation in a water dispute, held that undocumented immigrants can be deported for obstruction of justice, and allowed a Russian businessman’s racketeering claim to move forward.
One important executive action
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing Amazon.
The agency filed a lawsuit against Amazon this week alleging that Amazon “knowingly duped millions of consumers into unknowingly enrolling in Amazon Prime.”
The FTC alleges that Amazon illegally used “manipulative, coercive or deceptive” designs to trick consumers into enrolling in Prime memberships, and then made it almost impossible for consumers to unsubscribe from the automatically renewing subscription.
Amazon has denied the allegations, calling the FTC’s complaint “false on the facts and the law.” The company added in a statement: “The truth is that customers love Prime, and by design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership.”
The suit is just the latest move by FTC chair Lina Khan to target Big Tech; she has also waged legal battles against Google and Meta, the owner of Facebook. This is the first time Khan has gone after Amazon in court.
Also in the executive branch: President Biden is signing an executive order today aimed at expanding access to contraception. Biden also announced major deals on AI and defense with India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit.
- The Agriculture Department granted approval for lab-grown meat to be sold in the U.S. for the first time. The Defense Department approved a policy that will allow service members to seek reimbursement for costs associated with moving their pets when they are transferred to a new military base.
"WHY NOT ME”
The Republican presidential field has a new candidate: former Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX).
Hurd, 45, is a former CIA clandestine officer who served as a Texas congressman from 2015 to 2021. The son of a Black father and a white mother, he was the only African-American Republican in the U.S. House for parts of his tenure.
Hurd has also been a frequent critic of former President Donald Trump, whom he referred to as a “lawless, selfish, failed politician” in his announcement video.
Trump allies celebrated Hurd’s arrival in the race, crowing that the entrance of yet another contender is further proof that Republicans don’t believe Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has what it takes to defeat the former president.
They might be crowing even more soon. Per the New York Times, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is also considering a White House run. He would be the fourth Floridian in the race, joining Trump, DeSantis, and Miami mayor Francis Suarez.
Why do candidates without any shot run for president anyways? Read my answer in the newsletter earlier this month.
BLOWING THE WHISTLE
A pair of IRS whistleblowers told Congress on Thursday that the Justice Department slow-walked and interfered in the tax investigation into presidential son Hunter Biden.
The whistleblowers testified that the IRS recommended to prosecutors that the younger Biden be charged with tax evasion and filing a false tax return (both felonies) for 2014, 2018 and 2019, and for failing to pay taxes on time (a misdemeanor) for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
In a plea deal announced earlier this week, Biden was charged with just two tax misdemeanors, along with a felony gun charge. He pleaded guilty to the tax crimes and acknowledged the facts of the gun charge.
One of the IRS officials, Gary Shapley, who supervised the Biden tax investigation, also claimed that Biden sent a text in July 2017 that invoked his father in conversation with a Chinese business partner.
“I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment made has not been fulfilled,” Hunter Biden allegedly wrote, adding later: “I am sitting here waiting for the call with my father.”
The “commitment” being referred to is unclear.
ON THE GROUND
In his nine years as prime minister of India, Narendra Modi has almost never taken questions from reporters. He rarely holds press conferences; when he does, he generally offers a statement and then lets another official answer questions for him.
Which is why anticipation was running high in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, as Modi and President Biden emerged for a joint press conference. The journalists in the room — myself included — sat shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting to see whether Modi was really planning to engage with reporters as promised.
Before the two leaders arrived, a guessing game ensued: who would they call on to question Modi for the first time in years? Traditionally, White House press conferences with foreign leaders are known as “two by twos” because each head of state calls on two reporters from their country to ask questions of both leaders. But only one reporter from each country was selected on Thursday — and interestingly, Biden called on both of them.
Notably, from the U.S. side, he chose Sabrina Siddiqui of the Wall Street Journal, a Muslim-American journalist. Siddiqui asked Modi directly about allegations that his administration has discriminated against Muslims and other religious minorities: “What steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?”
“I’m actually really surprised that people say [that],” Modi responded, through a translator. “And so, people don’t say it.”
He went on to insist that “democracy is in our DNA” in India. “Democracy is our spirit,” he continued. “Democracy runs in our veins.”
“There’s absolutely no space for discrimination” in the country, Modi added. As I detailed yesterday, religious hate crimes against Muslims have increased 90% since Modi took office; leaders of his party have attended anti-Muslim rallies and he signed legislation expediting citizenship for members of all faiths except Muslims.
President Biden will hold one more event with Prime Minister Modi: a meeting with CEOs from both the U.S. and India to discuss “innovation, investment, and manufacturing in a variety of technology sectors, including AI, semiconductors, and space.”
Later, the president — along with Vice President Harris, First Lady Biden, and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff — will participate in an event with abortion rights groups to mark the anniversary of the Dobbs decision, which was handed down a year ago tomorrow.
The Senate is out. The House will vote on the Middle Class Borrower Protection Act, which would undo changes by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to the fee structure for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Supreme Court will will issue opinions at 10 a.m.
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