8 min read

What a rail strike would mean

Breaking down the potential consequences of a rail strike, as Congress takes up a bill to try to avoid one.
What a rail strike would mean

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, November 30, 2022. The Georgia runoff is six days away. The 2024 elections are 706 days away.

There’s a lot of news to cover today. I want to start by filling you in on the latest developments and the stakes at play in an issue that the House will take up today: the looming rail strikes.

Plus: The Senate approves the same-sex marriage bill. Hakeem Jeffries is set to take Nancy Pelosi’s mantle. And an update on the January 6th investigations. Let’s dive in...

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🚊 Lawmakers rush to avert rail strike

After months of trying to negotiate a new contract, with little success, railroad companies and their unions are facing a pivotal deadline in just over a week.

To review: In September, the Biden administration mediated an agreement between management and unions — but workers in four of the rail unions have voted to reject the deal agreed to by their leaders.

The tentative agreement included a 24% pay increase for rail workers by 2024, their biggest raise in decades — but it only gave them one day of paid sick leave per year, much less than the 15 days that workers had pushed for.  

All 12 of the unions have to agree to accept the agreement for it to go into effect: if even one union is still not on board by the December 9 deadline, they will all honor that decision and all 115,000 of America’s freight rail workers will go on strike.

Such a strike could have devastating consequences for the economy. Here’s how Voice of America put it:

“A rail traffic stoppage could freeze almost 30% of U.S. cargo shipments by weight, stoke inflation, and cost the American economy as much as $2 billion per day by unleashing a cascade of transport woes affecting U.S. energy, agriculture, manufacturing, health care and retail sectors.”

Or, in President Biden’s words:

“Communities could lose access to chemicals necessary to ensure clean drinking water. Farms and ranches across the country could be unable to feed their livestock.”
President Biden speaking in front of Amtrak trains. (Adam Schultz / White House)

In order to avoid such an outcome, President Biden has called on Congress to force the unions to accept the terms of the tentative agreement mediated by his administration. The courts have said that Congress has the authority to do this under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause and lawmakers have done it repeatedly in the past.

The House will take up the issue today. To mollify progressives opposed to the agreement, the House is poised to vote on two pieces of legislation: one approving the deal as is, and another that would give workers seven days of annual paid sick leave.

Both measures are expected to pass the House; what’s unclear is what will happen once they arrive in the Senate. Leaving a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said they agree on the need to pass a bill — but both have rank-and-file members putting up roadblocks.

In fact, this has become the rare issue that unites Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio. Here’s Sanders (I-VT), writing on Twitter:

“At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it’s unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days. It’s my intention to block consideration of the rail legislation until a roll call vote occurs on guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to rail workers in America.”

And here’s Rubio (R-FL), also via tweet, coming out to the left of Biden and much of Democratic leadership:

“The railways & workers should go back & negotiate a deal that the workers, not just the union bosses, will accept. But if Congress is forced to do it, I will not vote to impose a deal that doesn’t have the support of the rail workers.”

Today’s House votes could provide some clarity on how members of both parties will act in the Senate, as lawmakers rush to find a deal that can avert a looming strike that would upend shipping — and other key parts of American life — just before the holiday season.

🌈 Senate approves same-sex marriage bill  

The Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act in a 61-36 vote on Tuesday, with 12 Republicans joining all present Democrats in support. The bill would codify federal recognition for same-sex and interracial marriages in case the Supreme Court ever overturns its landmark rulings protecting both.

Importantly, the measure would not require states to perform same-sex marriage if the Supreme Court ever changes its stance — but it would require them to recognize any and all marriages performed in other states.

The bill passed the House in a 267-157 vote in July, but because the Senate amended it to include religious liberty protections, the lower chamber will have to take up the measure again before it can go to President Biden. The House is expected to hold a vote on it early next week.

The White House lit up in rainbow after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. (State Department)

🗳 Checking in on the leadership elections

House Democrats will hold elections today to pick their leaders for the new Congress. In something of a twist for Democrats, there is almost no drama: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is expected to easily be elected Minority Leader, the first time in 20 years that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will not be the top House Democrat.

Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA) are set to be chosen as his top deputies, with longtime leadership denizens Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC) stepping away from their posts as well. (Clyburn alone will remain in leadership, although in a lower post; his decision to remain has rankled younger members.)

Today’s vote will mark a historic shift, both generationally (the ages of the top three House Democrats will drop from 82/83/82 to 52/59/43) and racially (Jeffries is set to become the first Black lawmaker to lead either party on either side of the Capitol).

Hakeem Jeffries is poised to make history today. (Paul Morigi / Brookings Institution)

Republicans, meanwhile, will be mired in a messy internal fight today as they meet to vote on their conference rules for the next Congress. The meeting will be a big moment in Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) quest to become the next House speaker.

So far, five House Republicans have signaled plans to oppose McCarthy in the January speakership vote; with a 222-seat majority, that would be one more defection than the Californian can afford. That’s why today’s meeting is so important: McCarthy’s antagonists are pushing for a suite of rules changes that would take power from leadership and give it to the rank-and-file. McCarthy will be closely watched today to see how many of the rules changes he allows in order to mollify his defectors.

McCarthy vowed on Tuesday that he would not drop out of the speakership race before January, promising to fight through multiple rounds of voting if necessary. “I’ll get there,” he said.

🏛 January 6th investigations

BIG CONVICTION: “Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn President Joe Biden’s election, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.” AP

GEORGIA PROBE: “South Carolina’s Supreme Court has unanimously ordered former White House Chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify to an Atlanta-area grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the election in Georgia.” Politico

DOJ PROBE: “Former Trump adviser Stephen Miller testified on Tuesday to a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, as part of the January 6, 2021, investigation, CNN has learned, making him the first known witness to testify since the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to oversee the criminal investigations around the former president.” CNN

JAN. 6 COMMITTEE: “A top GOP official in Wisconsin who said former President Donald Trump called to urge him to overturn the state’s 2020 election results is scheduled to sit for a deposition Wednesday with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 riot, two people familiar with the matter said.” NBC News

Stephen Miller is the latest Trump aide to go before the January 6th grand jury. (Gage Skidmore)

🗓 What your leaders are doing today

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch or listen to it.

Executive Branch

President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (9 am), deliver remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Summit (11:30 am), and deliver remarks at the National Christmas Tree Lighting (5:30 pm).

Vice President Harris will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron at NASA headquarters to highlight U.S.-France space cooperation (10:10 am), deliver remarks at the Tribal Nations Summit (3 pm), and attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting (5:30 pm).

First Lady Biden will host a media preview of tomorrow night’s State Dinner in honor of Macron (3 pm) and attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting (5:30 pm).  

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing (2 pm).

Legislative Branch

The Senate will convene (10 am) and hold cloture and confirmations votes on two district judge nominees: Camille Velez-Rive (District of Puerto Rico) and Anne Nardacci (Northern District of New York).

The House will convene (9 am) and vote on H.J.Res. 100, which would avert a national rail strike by forcing the unions to accept the tentative agreement mediated by the Biden administration earlier this year.

Later, the chamber will vote on H.Con.Res. 119, which would approve the tentative agreement with one addition: giving workers seven days of paid sick leave a year.

Committee meetings will include a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee hearing on the mental health of teens (10 am) and a Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing on President Biden’s nominee to serve as ambassador to Russia (2:30 pm).

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in Wilkins v. United States (10 am). The case asks the justices to interpret the statute of limitations at play in a lawsuit against the U.S. government by two Montana landowners protesting a road that passes by their homes in a National Forest.

👋 Before I go...

Here’s a story I found uplifting: This piece in the Washington Post by health care reporter Fenit Niraapil about his mother’s journey to accepting him as a gay man — only for her to come down with Covid right before his wedding.

It’s a beautifully written piece about love, acceptance, and the risk calculations we’ve all been forced to make in the age of coronavirus. Read the piece here.

👍 Thanks for reading.

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Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe