Wake Up To Politics - March 9, 2021
Good morning! It’s Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 609 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,337 days away.
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What Roy Blunt’s retirement means
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) announced on Monday that he would retire in 2022 instead of running for a third term. “After 14 general election victories — three to county office, seven to the United States House of Representatives and four statewide elections — I won’t be a candidate for re-election to the United States Senate next year,” Blunt said in a video sharing his decision.
What it means for 2022: Blunt has been a fixture of Missouri politics since 1972 (and a member of the state’s congressional delegation since 1997), so the most immediate consequence of his departure will be the vacuum it creates on the ballot next November. A large field of Republican primary candidates are expected to seek to succeed him: Jean Evans, the former executive director of the state GOP, told Wake Up To Politics that Reps. Jason Smith and Ann Wagner would likely consider bids for the seat, along with Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, and others.
And then there is the elephant in the room: former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace amid a sex scandal in 2018 but has frequently teased a return to public office. Former state Sen. John Lamping, a friend and ally of Greitens’, told Wake Up To Politics that he doesn’t expect the former governor to run for the seat — but he speculated that Blunt’s retirement was at least partially motivated by the threat of a populist primary challenge from Greitens. However, without Blunt in the race (and with other Trump-friendly candidates likely to run for the seat), Lamping said that the ex-governor wouldn’t have much of a lane to run in anymore. “Today was the worst for Eric Greitens,” he declared.
Democrats have a much smaller bench for the seat: the state party’s highest-profile names, former Sen. Claire McCaskill and former Secretary of State Jason Kander, quickly took themselves out of contention Monday. (A former state senator, Scott Sifton, is already running in the Democratic primary.) “I think we're a center-right state,” Evans said of Missouri, which has steadily moved into Republican hands in the last decade. “Certainly with the seat being open and not having an incumbent, that gives them a better chance, but it’s still an uphill battle.”
What it means for the Senate: Blunt is well-liked across both sides of the aisle in Washington, known for working with Democrats and speaking frankly with the press. (As the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, he most recently had a starring role at President Joe Biden’s inauguration and the certification of his Electoral College victory, at a time when some in the GOP denied the results of the election.) His retirement marks the exit of one of the chamber’s few remaining institutionalists, as a new era of younger, more partisan firebrands takes holds.
What it means for Mitch McConnell: The wave of GOP retirements in 2022 will also mark a new era for the Senate Republican Conference. Blunt is the fifth Republican to call it quits ahead of next year, joining Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin may also step aside as well. Many of the retiring Republicans are among the last of the Senate’s “old bulls,” and they are some of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s closest allies. (Blunt, the fourth-ranking member of Senate GOP leadership, was previously seen as a possible successor to McConnell.)
The exits of Blunt and his colleagues mean McConnell will increasingly be leading a conference that is out of step with his own sensibilities. While McConnell has harshly condemned former President Donald Trump in recent weeks (and been engaged in a war of words with the ex-president), Blunt and the others are likely to be replaced by Trump acolytes, whether it be Eric Greitens or another one of the Missouri Republican officials who has remained loyal to the former president.
As recently as three years ago, Missouri’s Senate delegation included Blunt, a leading member of the Republican establishment, and McCaskill, a Democrat also known for her bipartisan chops. By 2023, it will likely consist of Josh Hawley — who made his mark on the national stage when he refused to rest his objections to Biden’s Electoral College win even after a deadly riot at the Capitol — and a fellow Trump booster. That could lead to an uncertain future for McConnell (and for the Congress at large), as the longtime leader finds himself atop a caucus with a very different vision for the party than his own.
A record number of unaccompanied migrant children are currently being kept in U.S. detention facilities along the southern border. According to documents obtained by CNN and the New York Times, the number of children in U.S. Border Patrol custody has tripled in the past two weeks to 3,200, amid a surge of immigration from Central America. (At the peak of the 2019 border crisis, there were around 2,600 unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody.) The Biden administration is struggling to find suitable facilities to house the migrant children: the shelters meant for minors only have about 500 beds, meaning most of the children are being kept in jail-like facilities for longer than the 72 hours allowed by law.
--- Related: The Biden Administration announced on Monday that hundreds of thousands of undocumented Venezuelan immigrants living in the U.S. would become eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which offers deportation relief and work permits to immigrants whose home countries are mired in conflict or disaster.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released long-awaited guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans on Monday. The guidance said vaccinated people could visit indoors with unvaccinated members of a single household without wearing masks or social distancing, allowing vaccinated grandparents to safely visit their unvaccinated children and grandchildren for the first time since the pandemic began. The CDC also said that fully vaccinated people could gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people. The agency still recommended that vaccinated people refrain from long-distance travel.
--- Related: The rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is steadily climbing. According to Bloomberg, the nation is now averaging 2.2 million doses per day; on Saturday, the U.S. recorded a high of 2.9 million vaccinations. A recent Pew survey also found that vaccine hesitancy is dropping among Americans as more people clamor for their shots.
A review of security at the U.S. Capitol launched after the January 6 riot has been completed. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who was appointed to lead the review by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, briefed lawmakers Monday on his findings. The report, which was obtained by the Washington Post, found that the Capitol Police force is too “understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained” to prevent another attack from occurring. Honoré recommended adding up to 850 more officers to the force and installing a permanent fencing system around the Capitol, among other suggestions.
--- Related: Authorities arrested a New York man with ties to longtime Trump associate Roger Stone on Monday and charged him in connection to the January 6 riot.
Q: Which of the amendments proposed during vote-a-rama actually made it into the stimulus package? — Maria S. of Valley Cottage, New York
A: Nearly 600 amendments were filed for the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, but only 29 were voted on by the Senate during the marathon session over the weekend. Of those, six were adopted. Two of them related to the $300-a-week enhanced unemployment benefits: an amendment by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) that would have ended the benefits in July and a competing amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OH) to extend the benefits through September 6.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted for the Portman amendment, but then also voted for the Wyden amendment to supersede it after hours of negotiations with his Democratic colleagues. Here were the other four amendments approved during the vote-a-rama:
- An amendment by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Patty Murray (D-WA) requiring schools to create reopening plans within 30 days of receiving funding from the package
- An amendment by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) to delay by six months the package’s closure of the “90/10 loophole,” which allows for-profit education institutions to count Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense Department funds towards the 10% of their revenue that is supposed to come from non-federal sources.
- An amendment by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rob Portman (R-OH) to allocate $800 million for a program to identify and support homeless children by enrolling them in schools and offering them “wrap-around services.”
- An amendment by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Warner (D-VA) to extend the authority for federal agencies to pay contractors unable to perform work due to the pandemic through September 30.
Q: If I have a child and I already filed my taxes this year and received my federal refund check, am I still getting additional money back when (presumably) this stimulus bill is passed for the increased Child Tax Credit? Or would that not go into effect until next year’s tax return? — Michelle S. of Albany, New York
A: The expanded Child Tax Credit will be effective for the 2021 tax season, not for the taxes being filed for 2020. However, 2020 tax returns will be used by the IRS to determine eligibility for the tax credit — a system which could make it difficult to make the credit available to some families, since millions of children live in poor households that do not file federal income taxes. (The IRS also plans to create an online portal to allow Americans to update their eligibility information for the credit.)
The tax credit will then be offered to qualifying Americans in monthly installments starting in July, instead of as one lump sum in a tax refund. Under the plan set to be signed by President Biden this week, the tax credit will only be in place through 2021, although congressional Democrats are hoping to extend it permanently.
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Yesterday, I wrote that First Lady Jill Biden would visit two military bases in Washington state on Monday. She traveled to Washington on Monday but will be visiting the bases today. My apologies for the error.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. in the Oval Office. At 11:45 a.m., Biden will visit a small business in Washington, D.C., that has benefited from a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.
- First Lady Jill Biden will visit two military bases in Washington state to “listen and learn directly from military families about the unique challenges they are facing and the support they need, especially during the pandemic.” She will visit Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord at 11:30 a.m. and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island at 2:45 p.m.
- White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 1:30 p.m. with Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council. The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will proceed to Executive Session and resume consideration of two Biden Cabinet nominees. At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will hold cloture votes to advance Secretary of Housing and Urban Development nominee Marcia Fudge and Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland.
Fudge is currently a Democratic congresswoman from Ohio; Garland is a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing at 10 a.m. on Deputy Attorney General nominee Lisa Monaco and Associate Attorney General nominee Vanita Gupta. Monaco served as White House Homeland Security Advisor during the Obama administration; Gupta served in the Justice Department under Obama and now heads The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
- The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. to “examine Gamestop, Robinhood, and the state of retail investing.”
- The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. to “examine the COVID-19 response, focusing on an update from the frontlines.”
The House will convene at 10 a.m. to consider H.R. 842, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. According to the Washington Post, the measure “would amend some of the country’s decades-old labor laws to give workers more power during disputes at work, add penalties for companies that retaliate against workers who organize and grant some hundreds of thousands of workers collective-bargaining rights they don’t currently have. It would also weaken ‘right-to-work’ laws in 27 states that allow employees to forgo participating in and paying dues to unions.”
The chamber may also vote on the Senate version of H.R. 1319, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package which has been titled the American Rescue Plan Act, although a delay in transmitting the full language to the House could push the final vote to Wednesday.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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