7 min read

A chaotic week in Washington

What Washington did — and didn’t — get done in the week that was.
A chaotic week in Washington
(Illustration by DALL-E)

Tensions are running high in Washington.

In the House, profanity was flying yesterday as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) battles a faction of right-wing rebels, desperately trying to keep the government open and his job intact all at the same time.

During a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, McCarthy essentially dared Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to go ahead with his plans to file a motion to vacate, which would trigger a vote on his ouster. “Move the f***ing motion,” McCarthy reportedly said.

Gaetz responded in kind: “How about just move the f***ing spending bills?” he asked, referring to McCarthy’s inability to pass appropriations measures. The House had been set to vote on a defense spending package this week, but McCarthy was forced to pull the bill from the floor after Gaetz and others signaled they would sink it.

“We’re going to have a shutdown, it’s just a matter of how long,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) predicted. Congress has just 15 days to avert one.

On the Senate side, the spending process was supposed to go much easier. All 12 funding bills have passed out of committee with bipartisan support; a “minibus” package combining three appropriations measures was advanced in an overwhelming 91-7 vote this week. But then, when the chamber tried to vote on amendments to the package, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) objected, grinding the process to a halt.

Johnson objects to the three bills being considered together, which he said “can hardly be called regular order.” Per Axios, Johnson isn’t alone: Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Roger Marshall (R-KS), and Rick Scott (R-FL) also have problems with the measure, which will have to be ironed out before it can advance any further.

Speaking to reporters, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was visibly frustrated as he warned that “MAGA Republicanism seems to be taking over the Republican Party,” between the spending breakdown in the House, Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-AL) blockade against military promotions, and the “small group in the Senate trying to mimic the Freedom Caucus in the House” by holding up the appropriations package.

Those are the same themes that I touched on in Thursday’s newsletter, noting that the chaos in the House seems to be bubbling up to the Senate, helped along by the departures of Senate centrists like Mitt Romney. Read that piece here if you missed it.

Finally, there’s the White House, where officials were feeling good at the beginning of the week after President Biden returned from a busy trip to Asia.

Then, two pieces of bad news arrived: McCarthy announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden, and the president’s son, Hunter Biden, was indicted by a grand jury on felony gun charges. The younger Biden was charged with two counts of making false statements while purchasing a firearm — he falsely said he was not using drugs at the time of the purchase — and a third count of illegally possessing the firearm. He is the first son or daughter of a president to face criminal charges.  

After this week’s developments, the 2024 election cycle could feature four criminal trials for the Republican nominee, an impeachment trial for the Democratic nominee, and a criminal trial for the Democratic nominee’s son. Buckle up.

Here at Wake Up To Politics, I try to do two things at once: give you a big-picture look at how Washington is working, but also delve into the nitty-gritty of the legislative process and the specific bills and regulations marching through it.

Hopefully, that leaves you with two impressions: long-term, the prognosis for our political process isn’t necessarily looking great, as I wrote yesterday; Congress continues to duck some of the biggest issues facing our country, as I wrote in July. Or as Politico put it this morning: “The Capitol is in crisis.”

But in the short-term, glimmers of bipartisanship are still present if you know where to look — and responsible for noteworthy developments, even if they are on smaller issues than the ones that normally occupy our national attention. Each Friday, as you all know, I try to shine a light on precisely those under-the-radar governmental actions.

This week, here’s the theme I want to focus on:

Reporting brings results.

No less than three governmental actions this week were the direct result of investigative journalism:

1️⃣ In response to a 2022 investigation by NBC News into incorrect statistics being reported by the U.S. Forest Service, the House passed the Accurately Counting Risk Elimination Solutions (ACRES) Act, which would improve procedures for tracking wildfire protection data.

The measure passed with bipartisan support, in a 406-4 vote. It now heads to the Senate.

2️⃣ NBC notched another reporting win when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted to endorse a proposal creating the first federal safety requirements for nursing pillows. An NBC investigation in August found that at least 162 infant deaths since 2007 have been linked to nursing pillows, usually because the babies are placed to sleep on the U-shaped pillows — which can cause the pillow to conform to the infant’s face, leading to suffocation.

The new proposed regulations would require nursing pillows to be “sufficiently firm,” so they can no longer conform to the infant’s face, and curved to a specific width, making it less likely that they would be able to cut off the infant’s airflow. Companies will also be required to make warnings against letting children sleep on the pillows more visible.

The proposal was approved by the commission in a bipartisan, 4-0 vote, receiving support from the body’s three Democratic commissioners and one Republican commissioner. It will now face a 60-day public comment period before being finalized by the CPSC.

3️⃣ A Senate panel launched a bipartisan inquiry into the Coast Guard’s handling of sexual assault.

CNN reported in June that the U.S. Coast Guard Academy conducted a secret, years-long investigation — dubbed “Operation Fouled Anchor” — that uncovered decades of sexual abuse at the school. The findings were kept confidential by Coast Guard leadership; most of the allegations were never criminally investigated, with the perpetrators receiving internal punishments “as minor as extra homework or lowered class standings”

In response to CNN’s reporting, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) teamed up across party lines to open an investigation and pen a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan. Blumenthal and Johnson, the leaders of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, demanded that Fagan turn over all records relating to “Operation Fouled Anchor” by October 3.

“The public deserves to know why so many reported cases of sexual assault and harassment were allowed to go uninvestigated for so many years,” the Senate duo wrote.

What else Washington did this week:

  • In a flurry of moves in the Middle East, the Biden administration advanced a prisoner swap with Iran, imposed new sanctions on the country, inked a security agreement with Iranian adversary Bahrain, and joined an infrastructure initiative with Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE, Jordan, and other countries.
  • Relatedly, Blumenthal and Johnson wrote another bipartisan letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, demanding that the Justice Department turn over all records relating to Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks.  
  • The House passed the Preserving Choice in Vehicle Purchases Act, which would block states from implementing emission standards for motor vehicles that are stricter than the federal government’s. The bill, which is aimed at reversing a California rule to ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles after 2035, passed 222-190, with support from eight Democrats and all Republicans.
  • Colleen Shogan was sworn in as the first female Archivist of the United States. Tanya Bradsher was confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the first woman to hold the No. 2 post at the agency. (VA and Defense are the only two Cabinet agencies never to have been led by a female secretary.)

Thanks for reading WUTP this Friday morning. If you appreciate my weekly roundups of under-the-radar progress in Washington, I hope you’ll consider donating to support my work. Your contribution truly does go a long way. Have an amazing weekend!

More news to know.

AUTO STRIKE: “The United Auto Workers union is on strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the first time in its history that it has struck all three of America’s unionized automakers at the same time.” — CNN

BADGER STATE: “The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted Thursday to fire the battleground state’s nonpartisan top elections official, prompting a legal challenge from Democrats who say the vote was illegitimate.” — AP

COMING UP: “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to visit Washington next week to meet President Biden at the White House and hold meetings on Capitol Hill during his trip to the U.S. for the UN General Assembly, according to two sources.” — Axios

SELF-PARDON: “Trump says it’s ‘very unlikely’ he’d pardon himself if elected” — NBC

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will deliver remarks on the UAW strike. VP Harris will continue her college tour with an event at North Carolina A&T University.

Congress: The House and Senate are both out until Monday.

Before I go...

Here’s something fun: Politicians have speechwriters. Authors have ghostwriters. So why can’t rabbis?

The New York Times reports on “rabbi whisperer” Michele Lowe, an advertising executive who has turned her skills into a side business helping rabbis write their High Holiday sermons: “a college-essay coach for the rabbinate,” as the Times puts it.

Lowe, who charges $400 an hour, helps brainstorm and edit sermons for her clients — and also dispenses tips like telling one New York rabbi to stop “futzing” with his yarmulke.

Rabbis often ask her for help giving ancient texts a “contemporary sparkle.” After working with Lowe, one such rabbi will now be blending “lessons from the ‘Barbie’ move with those of Rabbi Hillel, the Babylonian theologian born in 110 B.C.E., into a sermon about embracing imperfection.”

Click here to read the Times piece for free. And L’Shana Tovah to any readers celebrating Rosh Hashanah tonight and tomorrow. Here’s to a sweet new year!

Thanks for reading.

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— Gabe