8 min read

What Washington got done this week

Including bipartisan bills to boost health care access, reduce carbon emissions, and combat child sexual abuse.
What Washington got done this week

Good morning! It’s Friday, May 10, 2024. Election Day is 179 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

A quick programming note: Wake Up To Politics will be off next week so I can, well, graduate from college. As much as I’d love to spend my last week before graduation covering the Trump trial or RFK Jr.’s brain worms or the epic fight to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, I want to take a beat to soak everything in and spend some time celebrating with my friends and family.

So, I’ll see you on the flip side — hopefully with a bachelor’s degree in hand! 🤞

But first... It’s Friday, which means it’s time to recap what got done this week in Washington.

In yesterday’s newsletter, I already tackled the week’s most prominent example of bipartisanship: the coalition of 196 Republicans and 163 Democrats who voted to dismiss Marjorie Taylor Greene’s attempt to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson.

In some ways, this outcome was remarkable: it’s the first time since 1917 that a House speaker has been propped up by members of an opposing party. But, in other ways, it was utterly ordinary. After all, the House has been functionally run by a bipartisan coalition for several months now:

Graphic by the Wall Street Journal

The week’s events merely confirmed what has long been true: very little happens in Washington without bipartisanship. In an era where divided government is frequent, slim majorities are the norm, and the 60-vote filibuster reigns, few bills become law without buy-in from both parties.

Lawmakers who recognize this, like Johnson, are able to get things done and succeed in pushing policy closer to their own preferences. Those who don’t, like Greene, generally fail to accumulate political power and deliver wins to their constituents. (Although, of course, some constituents might prize cable news hits over legislation.) Again and again this Congress, Greene and her faction have ensured their own irrelevance by entering negotiations with extreme demands that had no chance at becoming law in divided government, and then stubbornly refusing to budge.

That has left Republican leaders no choice but to look across the aisle for negotiating partners. By signaling from the beginning of every negotiation that they would never strike a compromise, right-wing lawmakers have handed their leverage over policy directly to the Democrats. By refusing to take half a loaf, they have ended up with none.

This dynamic was at play yet again during the motion to vacate. Greene’s price for saving Johnson included unrealistic demands like defunding Jack Smith’s special counsel office, which never would have made it past both chambers of Congress. (“That’s not something you wave a wand and just eliminate the special counsel,” as Johnson put it.) The Democrats’ price was Ukraine aid, which more than 70% of lawmakers supported already. Johnson chose Option B. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, of course, made the opposite decision — trying to appeal to his own faction of rebels to the very end, even as they signaled their enduring disinterest in coming to a compromise. “I couldn’t live with myself if I did a deal with the Democrats,” McCarthy explained in an interview this week.

Fair enough, but there’s a reason Johnson is sitting in the speaker’s suite today, while McCarthy is left taking shots at him in the pages of Politico. In a period of divided government, if you want to actually play a role in policymaking — which, to be clear, not all members of Congress do — bipartisanship is the name of the game.

So, with that, here are some examples of bipartisanship from the last week in Washington:

Health care access

Since Covid, telehealth services have become an increasingly important part of America’s medical system, offering health care access to patients who have trouble leaving their home or who live in rural areas without a nearby hospital. The House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved a bill extending Covid-era flexibilities that allow Medicare patients to receive care without in-person appointments, as well as a program that provides care to seniors at their homes. Both programs were set to expire in December.

The measure would also extend various Medicare programs that help fund rural hospitals, many of which operate in dire financial shape but offer vital care for the 61 million Americans who live in rural areas.

Continuity of government

Remember when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized and had to transfer duties to his deputy and almost nobody — not even the White House — knew about it? The House unanimously passed a bill that would prevent that from happening again. The measure would require that the president and congressional leaders be within 24 hours whenever National Security Council members (like the Secretaries of State, Defense, or Treasury) are medically incapacitated.

Climate change

Both chambers approved bipartisan bills geared at reducing planet-warming emissions. The Senate’s bill, which passed unanimously, would reduce emissions from diesel engines, which currently account for about 25% of U.S. transportation sector carbon emissions.

The House approved a measure that would expand America’s nuclear energy sector, which is currently the country’s largest source of carbon-free electricity. The nuclear bill was tucked inside a fire safety package, which passed the lower chamber in a 393-13 vote.

Child sexual abuse

President Biden signed the bipartisan REPORT Act into law. The measure expands the types of child sexual exploitation that online platforms have to report to the feds, while also significantly increasing the fines levied on platforms that fail to make such reports.

It would also shield minors, or parents acting on their behalf, from liability for possessing child sexual abuse material if they only have the material so they can report it; currently, victims and their families can technically face criminal charges for possessing material that proves their own abuse. The bill passed both chambers of Congress unanimously.

Taiwan allies

The House select committee on China has been a key incubator of bipartisanship this year, most notably proposing the bill forcing a TikTok sale that has now become law. According to Semafor, the leaders of the committee — chairman John Moolenaar (R-MI) and ranking member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) — are set to introduce a bill today to protect Taiwanese allies from Chinese pressure.

The measure would reportedly authorize $120 million over the next three years to set up a “Taiwan Allies Fund,” which would offer assistance to countries that face economic backlash from China for forging ties with Taiwan. (As an example, China blocked exports from Lithuania in 2021 after Taiwan opened a de facto embassy there.) Only countries that receive less than $5 million in other forms of U.S. development aid would qualify for the program.

FAA reauthorization

The slog to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues. With the authorization set to expire at midnight tonight, both chambers of Congress passed a bill to push off the deadline by one week. The House approved the stopgap in a 385-24 vote; the Senate did so unanimously.

The Senate also voted 88-4 to pass a five-year reauthorization bill, which now has to be approved by the House. Perhaps most controversially, the Senate package included a provision to expand the number of flights from Reagan airport, which is bitterly opposed by Virginia and Maryland lawmakers.

Territorial rights

The American Samoa is the only U.S. territory that has to go through Congress to make changes to its constitution. The House Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a bill that would allow the people of American Samoa to amend their constitution by themselves from now on.

Reports and regulations

The House unanimously passed bills that would pave the way for unnecessary government reports to be eliminated and that would ensure the comment process for federal regulations don’t get overwhelmed by computer-generated writings.

Odds and ends

The House voted 401-0-2 to name a Louisiana post office for the late Luke Letlow, a congressman-elet who died of Covid in 2020. Rep. Julia Letlow (R-LA), his widow who now holds his seat, delivered an emotional speech expressing her gratitude:

The House voted 371-28-3 to name a Virginia post office for the late Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), who sponsored the bill, spoke on the floor about the measure via a voice assistive app, which she uses since her diagnosis with progressive supernuclear palsy:

The Senate unanimously passed a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress — to tennis player Billie Jean King.

Bipartisan congressional leaders joined together to unveil a new statue in the Capitol, depicting Daisy Bates, a civil rights leader who played a key role mentoring the “Little Rock Nine.” Each state is allowed to install statues of two prominent citizens in the Capitol; the Arkansas legislature voted in 2019 to replace the current statue of Uriah M. Rose, who was an official in the Arkansas Confederate government. (Arkansas’ other statue, of former Gov. James P. Clarke, is set to be replaced with one of Johnny Cash later this year.)

Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Eric Schmitt (R-MO) hosted a bipartisan Congressional Chess Tournament.

Reps. Tim Burchett (R-TN) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) bonded over a longboard. “Skateboards are the great Uniter,” he wrote on Twitter.

Finally, Speaker Mike Johnson had some kinds words to say about Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), another notable expression of cross-party sentiment. (Granted, Jeffries did save Johnson’s job this week). Here’s Johnson, speaking to Politico:

Hakeem is a good man. We’ve worked well together. We have a lot more in common than people might think. You know, he’s from New York and I’m from Louisiana. While we have lots of disagreements on policies and the fine points of policy, I think you can appreciate people for who they are as a person. I think that’s what we’re called to do. And he and I both kind of share the worldview on that. I can appreciate that he’s a good family man. We have a lot in common in that regard. And he lost his father recently, I lost mine three days before I got elected to Congress. We’ve talked about that.

... And I think what we’ve appreciated about one another is that I believe that when Hakeem Jeffries is telling me something, I believe he’s telling me the truth. I believe he is a man of his word. And I think he believes that about me as well. That’s a big thing in Washington. You know, trust is a rare commodity around here. While we don’t agree on many things, it’s really refreshing to sit across the table from someone who is your political adversary and know that they’re shooting straight.

More news to know.

Appeals court upholds Trump White House aide Steve Bannon contempt of Congress conviction / CNBC

Michael Cohen to testify in Trump trial on Monday / Fox News

Back-to-back rulings against Hunter Biden pave way for June gun trial / CNN

The United States is expected to announce a new $400 million package of weapons for Ukraine / AP

VA improperly approved nearly $11 million in bonuses for execs, watchdog finds / WaPo

Biden’s big bet hits reality / Politico

The day ahead.

President Biden will participate in two campaign fundraisers in California and a third in Seattle.

Vice President Harris has nothing on her public schedule.

The House and Senate are done for the week.

Thanks for reading.

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