5 min read

Politics make strange bedfellows

What happened in Washington this week — from canceled oil leases to new aid for Ukraine.
Politics make strange bedfellows
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Good morning! It’s Friday, September 8, 2023. The 2024 elections are 424 days away.

If it’s Friday, that means it’s time for a recap of what got done in Washington this week...

🛢️ Interior Secretary Deb Haaland canceled all seven outstanding oil and gas leases that the Trump administration had awarded for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). At the same time, Haaland also proposed new regulations that would prohibit drilling in more than 13 million acres — or about half — of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the nation’s largest tract of public land.

  • Context: During his campaign, President Biden pledged to approve “no more drilling on federal lands, period.” But it is a promise he has not always kept, most notably approving the Willow oil project in Alaska earlier this year, angering environmentalists. Now, as he is suiting up for 2024, this week’s moves amount to a pre-campaign olive branch from Biden to the climate left.

🇺🇦 Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a surprise trip to Kyiv, announced a new $1 billion Ukraine aid package. The package will include $175 million in military equipment — including depleted uranium munitions, a controversial weapon that the U.S. hadn’t previously sent — as well as $300 million to aid Ukrainian law enforcement, $206 million in humanitarian assistance, and $100 million to support longer-term military needs, among other elements.

  • Context: The new aid shipment comes at a critical juncture in the war, as Ukraine continues to see mixed success in its long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia. It also comes just days after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky sacked his defense minister, calling for “new approaches” to the conflict, and amid a clash on Capitol Hill over whether to approve $24 billion more in Ukraine assistance.  

💵 The Senate filled the last open seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, confirming labor economist Adriana Kugler to the central bank’s governing body in a 53-45 vote. The chamber also voted 88-10 to confirm Fed governor Philip Jefferson as the board’s vice chair and 51-47 to re-up Lisa Cook for a full term on the board. Kugler will be the first Hispanic member of the Fed board; Jefferson and Cook are both Black, and Cook is the first Black woman on the board.

  • Context: All seven members of the Fed board — who are given 14-year terms — serve on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the policymaking body that sets interest rates. That means Kugler will join Jefferson, Cook, and a handful of others in exercising influence over the committee’s ongoing campaign to raise interest rates in order to continue lowering inflation.  

Plus: The State Department announced a $30 million effort to boost climate resilience in Africa... President Biden nominated four new district court nominees... The Senate confirmed new members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Something that caught my eye: Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Alaska Republicans, joined with Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) on Wednesday to harshly condemn the Biden administration’s drilling announcements in a joint statement. The actions were “unconscionable,” Murkowski said; they amounted to a “war on Alaska,” according to Sullivan.

But just minutes before issuing the statement, Murkowski and Sullivan also teamed up to rescue one of Biden’s nominees, his NLRB pick Gwynne Wilcox. With Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) voting no and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) absent, Murkowski and Sullivan’s votes pushed Wilcox across the finish line and ensured her confirmation.

I’m highlighting this because I thought it was a great illustration of the shifting alliances that can crop up in Washington, which might surprise some people considering how hardened and polarized politics can often feel. Even in today’s Congress, you still see tons of examples of these strange bedfellows: AOC and Dan Crenshaw working together on drug restrictions, say, or Raphael Warnock and John Kennedy trying to lower the price of insulin.

In legislating, yesterday’s enemy can always be tomorrow’s friend. Or, in this case, just because a senator accuses the president of launching a war on his home state doesn’t mean he won’t still rescue one of that president’s labor nominees in the same hour. (Alaska, after all, is one of the nation’s most unionized states and the one most dependent on oil.)

It’s one of the parts of Washington I love covering: the often surprising and unexpected coalition-building it can take to pass a law or confirm a nominee across party lines.

It’s also exactly the type of dynamic I try to highlight in these Friday roundups, where I’m always looking for interesting policy actions and examples of bipartisanship that show how Washington works — and what it works on.

If you appreciate my efforts, I hope you’ll consider donating to support WUTP or encouraging your friends to sign up. I hope you have a great weekend.

More news to know.

Former Trump aide Peter Navarro convicted for contempt of Congress (Axios)

Republicans are trying to find a new term for ‘pro-life’ to stave off more electoral losses (NBC)

Presidential centers from Hoover to Bush and Obama unite to warn of fragile state of US democracy (AP)

What $50 Million Can Buy: Inside the Sleek New White House Situation Room (NYT)

Plus: Two updates to my piece earlier this week on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment...

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden is on his way to New Delhi, India, where he will participate in the annual G20 summit, a gathering of most of the world’s largest economies. Neither China’s Xi Jinping nor Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be in attendance this year; in their absence, the New York Times reports, Biden will seek to “present the United States as an economic and strategic counterweight” to the two countries.

The summit is also a key moment for host country India, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to assert himself on the world stage.

Campaign trail: Former President Donald Trump will hold a fundraiser in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he is set to be endorsed by Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD). Noem, who had reportedly rankled Trump by holding out her endorsement for this long, is seen as a top candidate to be his running mate if the former president receives the GOP nomination.  

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— Gabe