Wake Up To Politics - September 30, 2021
Good morning! It’s Thursday, September 30, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 404 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,132 days away.
Democrats arrive at their moment of truth
After weeks of posturing and negotiations, congressional Democrats are facing two key legislative deadlines today: a statutory deadline to extend government funding by midnight (or risk a government shutdown), and a self-imposed deadline to pass the bipartisan infrastructure package (or risk setting back the Biden agenda.)
Let’s start with the easy one: It seems like a government shutdown will be averted, albeit with little time to spare. Both chambers of Congress are expected to easily approve a continuing resolution (CR) extending government funding today, kicking the can down the road until December 3.
It should be noted that, in order to pass the CR, language to also lift the debt ceiling will have to be stripped out of it, since Senate Republicans are refusing to help Democrats avoid a default. It remains unclear whether Democrats will use the reconciliation process to address the debt ceiling; per Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, they have until October 18 to take action.
And now on to the more suspenseful issue before lawmakers today: infrastructure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has promised moderate backers of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that she will hold a vote on the measure today.
But the prospects of such a vote have been thrown into doubt by the House Democrats’ sizable progressive wing, who are not budging in their threat to sink the bipartisan bill if it isn’t preceded by serious progress on the rest of President Biden’s economic agenda, which is contained in the reconciliation package also moving through Congress.
(Only a dozen or so House Republicans are expected to vote for the infrastructure package, meaning the bill is doomed without near-unanimous Democratic support.)
Progressives say they are holding out for a vote on reconciliation, but Pelosi has been angling for a deal in which House progressives and Senate moderates ink an agreement on the “legislative language” by today’s vote, as a signal that the reconciliation package is at least making progress.
But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), as usual, has other ideas. “That won’t happen,” the leading centrist told CNN when asked about the possibility of arriving at an agreement on the reconciliation language by today. Then, he drove the point home in a sharply-worded press release:
“Every Member of Congress has a solemn duty to vote for what they believe is best for the country and the American people, not their party. Respectfully, as I have said for months, I can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March. At some point, all of us, regardless of party must ask the simple question – how much is enough?”
...“Overall, the amount we spend now must be balanced with what we need and can afford – not designed to reengineer the social and economic fabric of this nation or vengefully tax for the sake of wishful spending.”
...“While I am hopeful that common ground can be found that would result in another historic investment in our nation, I cannot – and will not — support trillions in spending or an all or nothing approach that ignores the brutal fiscal reality our nation faces. There is a better way and I believe we can find it if we are willing to continue to negotiate in good faith.”
You don’t have to be a legislative genius to understand that places Manchin far away from House progressives, who are calling for exactly what Manchin bemoans: a trillions-dollar package that would “reengineer the social and economic fabric” of the nation.
So what are the ways today’s standoff might end?
- Progressives could just back off of their threats and be persuaded to vote for the infrastructure bill. (But that doesn’t seem all that likely, especially considering Biden has been loath to lean on them too heavily.)
- Moderates and progressives could come to some sort of deal on the reconciliation package, allowing progressives to declare victory and vote for the infrastructure package. (Read Manchin’s statement again and judge for yourself how likely that is.)
- Pelosi could move forward with a vote on infrastructure, only to have it go down in flames. (Although she is known to resist holding votes on bills unless she’s certain they’ll pass.)
- The infrastructure vote could be delayed.
At this moment, most observers view Option #4 as the most likely scenario. That would be a huge setback for the two prongs of Biden’s domestic agenda — infrastructure and social spending — as both packages would lose momentum while the stalled negotiations drag on.
Manchin said himself on Wednesday that he sees little urgency in moving forward either bill, setting his own deadline as the end of the year rather than the end of this week. That means Democratic leaders could be staring at several more months of talks between moderates and liberals until a consensus on the two packages is reached.
As for Pelosi, the speaker — a famed legislative strategist who views these bills as central to her legacy — has refused to project far down the road. “One hour at a time,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
Policy Roundup: Legal
On Thursdays, Wake Up To Politics contributor Anna Salvatore offers a briefing on the legal news to know for this week:
Three years after a deadly shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom, a Maryland federal judge has sentenced the gunman to six life terms in prison without parole. “To say the defendant showed a callous and cruel disregard for human life is an understatement,” said Judge Michael Wachs. Prosecutors noted during the trial that the gunman — who killed five people that day —had harbored a deep grudge against the newspaper for writing about his harassment conviction in 2011.
- During Tuesday’s hearing, he showed no visible emotion as victims and relatives shared their stories from the massacre. The Gazette reported a “collective sigh of relief” in the courtroom when his sentence was announced.
The Second Circuit ruled on Monday that New York City can require public school teachers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Though more than 90% of city teachers are already vaccinated, some teachers unions feared that a vaccine mandate would cause staffing shortages. According to city lawyers, the teachers’ right “to remain unvaccinated… is dwarfed by the public safety interest in safely resuming school operations for a million public school students.”
- A group of teachers may soon appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that social media companies aren’t legally responsible for the propaganda that led to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016. Victims of the massacre had argued that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube violated federal law by hosting ISIS recruiting content, which radicalized the shooter. The three-judge panel rejected their arguments on Monday, holding that these companies were not liable because ISIS had not directly helped the gunman plan the attack.
- The Ninth Circuit ruled similarly last year; it held that companies weren’t liable for the San Bernardino, California shooting in 2015.
More legal headlines, via Anna:
- An investigation by the Wall Street Journal shows that 131 federal judges have violated federal ethics laws by hearing cases where they had a financial interest. In these situations, they rule in their own interests about two-thirds of the time.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Wednesday about Texas’s restrictive new abortion law and the Supreme Court shadow docket. “To argue this shadow docket is routine, the numbers just don’t tell that story,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.
- After a month-long trial, R&B singer R. Kelly was found guilty on Monday of violating a federal law against sex trafficking. His sentencing date is in May 2022, and he is expected to face several decades in prison.
- In March of last year, a Wisconsin sheriff asked a local teenager to delete her Instagram post about contracting COVID-19. A federal judge ruled on Monday that this request violated her First Amendment right to free speech.
All times Eastern, unless otherwise noted.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive their daily intelligence briefing at 10 a.m.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 9:30 a.m. and proceed to consideration of H.R. 3505, the continuing resolution (CR) to extend government funding through December 3. The measure will keep government spending at its current levels, with two additions: $28.6 billion for areas hit by Hurricane Ida and $6.3 billion for relocating Afghan refugees. At 10:30 a.m., the chamber will vote on three GOP amendments to the CR:
- An amendment by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Afghan refugees (needs a simple majority to pass)
- An amendment by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) on vaccine mandates (needs 60 votes to pass)
- An amendment by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) to revoke congressional salaries until Congress passes a full budget (needs 60 votes to pass)
The Senate will then vote (possibly by voice vote) on a substitute amendment, which will strip out the original House language in the bill that would also lift the debt ceiling. (Republicans blocked the version with the debt ceiling on Monday; with the threat of a shutdown looming tonight, and still a few more weeks to handle the debt limit, Democrats agreed to remove the debt ceiling provision to ensure the CR can pass.)
Finally, the Senate will hold a vote on final passage of the CR, which will require 60 “yeas” to be approved, followed by a cloture vote (requiring only a simple majority) to advance the nomination of Rohit Chopra to be Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The House will convene at 10 a.m. The chamber is currently scheduled to vote on H.R. 3684, the bipartisan infrastructure package — although it’s hard to know if the vote will actually take place. The House is also expected to vote on the continuing resolution after it passes the Senate.
Additionally, the chamber may vote on four pieces of legislation under suspension of the rules:
- H.R. 1029, the Free Veterans from Fees Act
- H.R. 3533, to establish occupational series for Federal positions in software development, software engineering, data science, and data management, and for other purposes
- H.R. 4611, the DHS Software Supply Chain Risk Management Act
- H.R. 4089, the Darren Drake Act
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will hold his weekly press conference at 11:30 a.m. Neither will be lacking for topics to discuss.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on school reopenings during COVID-19. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona will testify.
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing at 10:30 a.m. on protecting kids online, following a Wall Street Journal report on Facebook’s internal research showing the harmful mental health effects Instagram has had on teenage girls. Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, will testify.
The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. to conduct oversight of the pandemic response programs being run by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will testify.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on abortion. Witnesses will include feminist activist Gloria Steinem; two Texas-based OB/GYNs; and Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Kat Commack (R-FL).
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing at 10:30 a.m. on college athletes’ rights to their names, images, and likenesses. Witnesses will include National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert and National College Players Association (NCPA) Executive Director Ramogi Huma.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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