9 min read

What the U.S. government did this week

How your leaders are spending their time.
What the U.S. government did this week

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Friday, September 30, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 39 days away. Election Day 2024 is 767 days away.

Happy Friday! It was a busy week here at Wake Up To Politics, complete with analysis pieces on the midterm elections and Mitch McConnell in the Biden era, plus an answer to reader questions on a little-known — but consequential — Social Security provision. (And I had not one, but two, big papers due!)

And now, to cap off the week, I’ve got your weekly review of what your leaders here in Washington are getting done. Plus, keep scrolling for an on-the-ground report of a joint appearance by Bill and Hillary Clinton yesterday (including an X-rated yarn from Bill).

As always, if you appreciate the work I’m doing with WUTP — whether it’s analyses of the inner workings of Washington, answers to your policy questions, the weekly Friday reviews, or on-the-ground reporting — it’s always appreciated in turn if you’re able to offer some support.

You can help out by donating to support my work, setting up a monthly donation, buying some WUTP merch, or forwarding this email to friends and telling them to subscribe at wakeuptopolitics.com.

Thank you so, so much. I hope you all have a great weekend — but first, let’s jump into today’s newsletter:

Week in review: What the U.S. government did this week

Executive actions

➞ 💸 Student loan relief: The Education Department began the process of implementing President Biden’s August decision to cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year. However, the agency also quietly changed its guidance to say that borrowers who took out privately held federal loans through a now-defunt program will no longer qualify for the debt cancellation. The move, which will affect about 4 million borrowers, was likely done to avoid legal challenges.

➞ 🇺🇦 Ukraine aid: The Defense Department approved another $1.1 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including doubling its commitment of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The U.S. has now committed to more than $16.2 billion in security aid for Ukraine since the war began, in 22 separate packages. Controversially, this latest tranche could take several years to get to the battlefield. The State Department also sent $457.5 million in civilian security assistance this week.

➞ 🇵🇷 Puerto Rico waiver: After facing intense pressure, the Department of Homeland Security approved a waiver allowing a shipment of disel fuel to reach Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Fiona. The waiver created an exception to the Jones Act of 1920, which requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be ciarred by U.S.-flagged ships. The fuel had departed from Texas on a British-owned tanker and had been idling off the Puerto Rico coast for days as the Biden administration considered whether to grant a waiver.

➞ 🌪 Disaster relief: President Biden signed disaster declarations for Alaska and Florida, ensuring federal assistance as the states recover from recent flooding and Hurricane Ian, respectively.

➞ 🍲 Hunger: At the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health in 50 years, President Biden announced a national goal of ending hunger in the U.S. by 2030 and $8 billion in private sector commitments to help. Several agencies announced related steps, including the FDA’s update to its criteria for what foods can be labeled “healthy” on their packaging.

➞ 💊 Drug approvals: The FDA also approved a drug to treat ALS for the first time in five years. The therapy, which first began being worked on by two Brown University undergraduates a decade ago, has divided the medal community.

➞ 🏥 Medicare premiums: The Department of Health and Human Services announced that monthly Medicare premiums will decrease in 2023 for the first time in a decade, easing costs for seniors. However, the decrease is largely because 2022 premiums were so abnormally high, due to the expectation that a new Alzheimer’s drug would bring increased expenses for the program.

➞ ✈️ Plane tickets: The Transportation Department announced a new proposed regulation that would require airlines and travel websites to disclose the “true cost” of plane tickets upfront, including any baggage and change fees.

➞ 🔌 Electric vehicles: Transportation also approved Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment Plans for all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico, freeing up $1.5 billion in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure package to begin building electric vechile chargers covering 75,000 miles of highway across the country.

Bills sent to the president’s desk

➞ 🍼 Baby formula: The House and Senate both unanimously passed a bill to temporarily suspend tariffs for infant formula base power, allowing domestic manufacturers to increase their production of baby formula — which is still in short supply — at a lower cost.

➞ 🎖️ Veterans: The House voted 296-127 to pass a bill re-authorizing and expanding the Solid Start program, an outreach program for veterans in their first year of separation from the military. The Senate passed it unanimously last week.

➞ 🌪 Disaster relief: The House voted 296-127 to pass a bill allowing any disaster relief project costing less than $1 million to follow an expedited process. It was the first time the threshold had been raised in 34 years, updating it for inflation. The Senate passed it unanimously last week.

📜 Government contracts: The House unanimously passed a bill ensuring that the government terminates any contracts with contractors found to have been engaging in human trafficking. The Senate passed it unanimously in July.

➞ 🗳️ Voting assistance: The House unanimously passed a bill to expand a program helping disabled people to vote. The program will now cover two previously excluded areas: the Northern Mariana Islands and Native Americans in the “Four Corners” regions. The Senate passed it unanimously in March.

➞ 🤖 Artificial intelligence: The House voted 393-29 to pass a bill requiring the government to train its acquisition workforce on the risks and benefits of using AI. The Senate passed it unanimously last December.

Almost at the president’s desk

➞ 💰 Government funding: The Senate voted 75-25 to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to extend government funding through December 16. The House is poised to pass the measure today; the president will then have to sign it by midnight to avoid a government shutdown.

In addition to keeping the government open, the measure appropriates $12.3 billion in aid for Ukraine, $2.5 billion for New Mexico to recover from recent wildfires, $1 billion for a program helping low-income families heat their homes in the winter, and $20 million to address the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi.

What else you should know

Ukraine: In violation of international law, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed treaties this morning claiming to annex four regions of Ukraine, a major escalation of his war on the country. Read more

Hurricane Ian: After devastating Florida earlier this week, Hurricane Ian has picked up strength once again and is now expected to make landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm. At least 21 have been declared dead in Florida from the hurricane, with officials expecting that number to grow. Read more

Trump: The sage of the Trump documents case continues. After the special master — whom he requested — ordered Trump’s lawyers to submit a sworn statement backing up some of their flimsier claims, Trump-appointed federal judge Aileen Cannon stepped in to say the former president’s legal team did not have to comply after all. Read more

Russian president Vladimir Putin. (Kremlin)

More headlines to know:

  • “Georgia and Nevada on their minds: Senate watchers sweat two swing states” (Politico)
  • “GOP states sue Biden administration over student loan plan” (AP)
  • “Ginni Thomas tells January 6 committee she didn’t discuss election activities with Justice Clarence Thomas” (CNN)
  • “New Infectious Threats Are Coming. The U.S. Probably Won’t Contain Them” (NYT)

On the ground: The Clintons return to Washington

Bill and Hillary Clinton addressed students at Georgetown University on Thursday, participating in a symposium honoring the late Madeleine Albright.

Here are some highlights:

➞ Hillary on Ukraine: “I belive that if Trump had been re-elected, Putin would have waited for Trump to...pull us out of NATO, and that would have created such a vacuum that invading Ukraine...would have been a fait accompli.”

➞ Bill on the Democratic Party: “We lost the last two weeks of the 2020 election on “defund the police” and socialism. That was our fault. We shouldn’t have let that happen.”

➞ Bill’s advice to students engaged in politics: “It is not necessary to be miserable even if you’re worried.”

The couple’s return to the capital came amid a broader effort to dip back into the public arena, with an Apple docuseries and their conference on the sidelines of the UN coming back for the first time in seven years. Politico also reported this week that President Clinton met with President Biden in May, and also noted the string of his former aides coming into the current administration.

Both Clintons were just as you remember them. Long-winded as ever, at one point, Bill was telling three separate stories at once — bouncing between them — while also rattling off statistics on the Russian lifespan and offering analysis on the internal politics of several foreign parliaments.

In another classic Clinton touch, asked for his favorite memory at Georgetown (he graduated in the class of 1968), Bill grinned as he promised that it wasn’t “X-rated.” And then, three stories later, he told a yarn about a classmate of his who once wrote in an English essay that “for the most part” physical love ends after death. Their professor’s response: “I suppose for some people, there’s nothing better on a hot day than a good cold corpse, but I recommend that the rest of you be more careful with your language.”

After the symposium, even as his Secret Service agent yelled that he had to go, Bill leaned over a railing to shake every last hand. Then, when a swarm of students (some of whom had waited in line for four hours for the chance to hear them speak) surrounded their motorcade, Bill launched into another round of hand-shaking and selfie-taking, taking it all in.

Hillary hung back the entire time, waiting by the car, even as multiple students yelled out at her, hoping she’d walk over.

Today at a glance

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

AT THE WHITE HOUSE: President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (9 am), attend Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s investiture ceremony at the Supreme Court (10 am), deliver remarks on the federal response to Hurricane Ian (11:30 am), host a reception to celebrate the Jewish New Year (12 pm), and host a reception for Hispanic Heritage Month (4 pm).

  • Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Emhoff will also attend the Supreme Court investiture ceremony and the Jewish New Year reception. Later, Harris will participate in the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum conference (4 pm).
  • First Lady Biden will also attend the Supreme Court investiture ceremony, the Jewish New Year reception, and the Hispanic Heritage Month reception. In between, she will also deliver remarks at the Women’s Leadership Forum conference (4 pm).
  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will be joined by national security adviser Jake Sullivan at her daily press briefing (2:45 pm).

ON THE HILL: The Senate will convene (8:55 am) for a brief pro forma session. No business will be conducted.

  • The House will convene (9 am) and vote on two pieces of legislation: the continuing resolution (CR) extending government funding through December 16, and a bill concerning payments to families of 9/11 victims.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference (11 am).

IN THE COURTS: The Supreme Court will convene for a special sitting to hold Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s investiture ceremony (10 am). Jackson was already sworn in as a justice in June, but this ceremony — held just before the court starts its new term — is a formal celebration of her ascension to the court. As per tradition, Jackson will sit in a chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall during the ceremony.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

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

— Gabe