What the U.S. government did this week
by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Friday, September 23, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 46 days away. Election Day 2024 is 774 days away.
Earlier this week, I received this news notification from a little news outlet called the New York Times:
This news alert caught my eye for two reasons: First, of all the news outlets I receive breaking news alerts from (and I get way too many), it was the only one that flagged the ratification of this treaty, which is called the Kigali Amendment. None of the other news outlets I receive notifications from gave any mention to the treaty (nor did most of the newsletters I subscribe to).
The second reason was the use of the word “rare.” Yes, it’s conventional wisdom to view Congress as a place of gridlock and partisanship — and there’s no question it is often just that.
But major bipartisan votes have actually not been that rare as of late: as I’ve chronicled in this newsletter, in its current two-year session, Congress has passed bipartisan infrastructure, gun control, manufacturing, and veterans health care laws.
Plus, they’ve also rescued the Postal Service from insolvency, reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, named Juneteenth a national holiday, ended forced arbitration for sexual misconduct cases, made lynching a federal crime, sent aid to Ukraine, and allowed Finland and Sweden to NATO — all on a bipartisan basis.
Here at Wake Up To Politics, I’m not trying to be pollyannish about the state of partisanship in our country, but I also don’t try to hide that bipartisan progress being made. I try to center it.
Which is why today’s newsletter will start out by talking about the Kigali Amendment — explaining why it’s actually a fairly big deal, even though few other political newsletters have mentioned it. (69 votes for a major climate change treaty is no small thing!)
And then, as I do every Friday, I’ll give you a rundown of what else your leaders have been working on this week. You’ll notice almost all of it is bipartisan (and much of it unanimous).
As always, if you appreciate that mission — and want to keep receiving updates explaining what the government gets done — there are a few ways you can help:
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Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much your support means to me.I hope you have a great weekend — but first, let’s look back at the week that was:
What the U.S. government did this week
Notes: To read a piece of legislation, click “bill” or the measure’s name to see its text. To see how your member of Congress voted, click on the roll call tally. For context to measure how bipartisan a bill’s support was, the Senate is composed of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans; the House is composed of 212 Democrats and 212 Republicans.
Sent to the president’s desk
➞ 🌎 Climate: The Senate voted 69-27 to ratify the Kigali Amendment, the first climate treaty to receive congressional approval in 30 years. The treaty, a modification to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, would commit the U.S. to slashing its use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 85% over the next 15 years. HFCs are greenhouse gases often found in refrigerators and air conditioners; they trap 1,000 times more heat than carbon dioxide, making them a key contributor to climate change.
Scientists estimate that adoption of the treaty could avoid up to 0.5°C of global warming by 2100; economists say it will lead to 33,000 new manufacturing jobs being created in the U.S. as demand increases for clean energy alternatives.
- Since it is a treaty, the Kigali Amendment does not require House approval but it will need sign-off from President Biden. 137 other countries have ratified the treaty.
➞ 🧑🎓 Student loans: The House voted 232-193 to pass a bill that will allow divorced couples who consolidated their student loans while married to undo the consolidations. Importantly, the bill includes a pathway for domestic abuse victims to get out of having to pay back their abuser’s loans; no mechanism had previously existed to allow this.
- The Senate unanimously approved the measure in June.
➞ 🌪 Disaster recovery: The Senate unanimously passed a bill updating the threshold for what qualifies as a “small project” during disaster recovery. “Small projects” are able to be implemented faster under simplified procedures; historically, 95% of disaster projects qualified, but because the threshold has not been updated for inflation, only about 75% do now. This measure will increase the threshold to projects costing up to $1 million.
- The House approved the measure in a 414-11 vote in April.
➞ 🥣 Malnutrition: The Senate unanimously passed a bill directing the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop an action plan for addressing global malnutrition, select countries to receive prioritized nutrition aid, and otherwise increase its global malnutrition efforts.
- The House approved the measure in a 384-44 vote in April.
➞ 🎖️ Veteran benefits: The Senate unanimously passed a bill to increase certain veteran benefits to adjust for cost of living increases.
- The House approved the measure in a 397-29 vote last week.
Passed by one chamber of Congress
➞ ✅ Electoral reform: The House voted 229-203 to pass a bill updating the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and reforming the Electoral College certification process. The measure clarifies that the vice president’s role in the process is merely ceremonial, limits the objections lawmakers can raise to electoral votes, raises the threshold for those objections, and requires states to send a single electoral slate to Congress that follows their pre-Election Day laws.
➞ 🚓 Police funding: The House passed a quartet of bills creating grant programs for police departments: one for departments with fewer than 125 officers (passed 360-64), one to aid in investigating homicides and shootings (passed 250-178), one to fund hiring and training of mental health professionals to be dispatched to some 911 calls instead of police (passed 223-206), and one to support programs in communities disproportionately impacted by violence (passed 220-207).
➞ 👮 FBI threats: The Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that threats of violence against FBI personnel are “unacceptable and should be condemned.” The measure specifically mentioned threats against the FBI after the Mar-a-Lago search, and called out inflammatory rhetoric by sitting House members and former President Trump, so the mark of unanimity is notable.
➞ 📰 Press freedom: The House unanimously passed a bill prohibiting the government from compelling journalists to reveal their confidential sources. The measure would also prohibit the government from compelling phone and internet companies to hand over a journalist’s data that would reveal their sources. Exceptions are made in “limited circumstances” to prevent terrorism or imminent violence.
➞ 🚨 Missing people alerts: The Senate unanimously passed a bill reauthorizing Kevin and Avonte’s Law, which sets up an alert program and authorizes additional funding to help find missing people with Alzheimer’s, autism, and other disabilities. The measure, which expires this month and would be reauthorized for four more years, is named for two boys with autism who wandered from their homes and drowned.
➞ 🌀 Puerto Rico aid: President Biden signed a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico that guarantees the federal government will pay for 100% of the costs of the island’s recovery from Hurricane Fiona for the next month. Generally, the government only pays about 75% of a state or city’s disaster recovery expenses.
➞ 💸 Foreign aid: During his speech at the UN, Biden announced over $2.9 billion in new U.S. aid to address global food insecurity. The State Department also announced $376 million in humanitarian aid for Venezuelans and Venezuelan refugees, nearly $200 million for Mexico and Central America, and $170 million for the Rohingya people inside and around Burma.
What else you should know
➞ Midterms: The election forecasters at the Cook Political Report have shifted their rating for the key Arizona Senate race from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democrat,” upgrading Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly’s odds against Republican Blake Masters. Kelly leads in the FiveThirtyEight polling average by 7.5%.
- In the race for the House: The Democratic spending advantage is slipping away as Republicans outpace them in advertising. Even former President Trump is poised to begin helping with a new PAC. However, in one Ohio district, the GOP has cut their candidate loose after reports that he lied about his military service and participated in the January 6 protests.
➞ Ukraine: As world leaders lined up to condemn Russian president Vladimir Putin at the UN — including at a heated Security Council meeting — he is facing increased backlash at home over the war in Ukraine.
- Meanwhile: Four Russian-occupied swaths of Ukraine began voting today on referenda to join Russia. The U.S. and other Western governments have already dismissed the Russian-controlled votes as “shams.”
➞ Congress: There is now one week left for Congress to extend government funding, or else the government will shut down. The main sticking point is whether Sen. Joe Manchin’s permitting reform proposal will be included; the provision gained one key Republican backer on Thursday, but is largely opposed by the GOP and by many Democrats.
- On the topic of election reform: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is “leaning toward” supporting a bipartisan bill to avert another January 6, Politico reports this morning. He’s expected to reveal his position next week.
Today at a glance
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.
➞ President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (8 am), deliver remarks at a Democratic National Committee event at the National Education Association headquarters (1 pm), and deliver remarks at a White House event called “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” featuring a musical performance by Elton John (8 pm).
- More details: The Elton John event, a collaboration with A+E Networks and The History Channel, will “celebrate the unifying and healing power of music, commend the life and work of Sir Elton John, and honor the everyday history-makers in the audience, including teachers, nurses, frontline workers, mental health advocates, students, LGBTQ+ advocates and more.”
➞ Vice President Harris will meet with young NAACP leaders to discuss civil rights topics “critical to young people” (12:50 pm).
➞ First Lady Biden will deliver remarks at a White House Historical Association celebrating former First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s legacy (2:30 pm) and also deliver remarks at the Elton John performance (8 pm).
➞ Second Gentleman Emhoff will deliver remarks at the White House Recovery Month Summit (1:45 pm) and host a roundtable to celebrate National Public Lands Day (3:30 pm).
➞ White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press briefing (2:30 pm).
➞ The Senate will convene for a brief pro forma session (11 am). No legislative business will be conducted.
➞ The House will not meet.
➞ The Supreme Court will not meet.
Before I go...
A few times in this space, I’ve shared photos from NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope. I think many of these images give a unique, humbling perspective for life down here on Earth and, at least for me, just inspire a sense of wonder.
According to NASA, this new one released yesterday shows the clearest glimpse we’ve had of Neptune’s famous rings in more than 30 years. One scientist who works on the telescope tweeted that she “ugly-cried” when she first saw the magestic photo.
Here it is
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Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.