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The Washington Report: March 19, 2021 … “Reflections, 75 Days In”
19 Mar 2021

The Washington Report: March 19, 2021 … “Reflections, 75 Days In”

Friday Reflections, 75 Days In … Dreamers & Farm Workers Path To Citizenship … Biden Cabinet … #StopAsianHate … Atlanta … 100M Jabs … Contemplating Normalcy … 600 Days To Midterm Elections (What Do Republicans Stand For?) … and other news of the week.
Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners

Friday Reflections

“Friday mornings are as good a time as any to pause and reflect. So stop for a second and recognize what’s happened in the 75 days since the 117th Congress began.
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi secured another term as speaker of the House, likely her final one.
  • Supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked and invaded the Capitol during Congress’s counting of Electoral College votes.
  • The House then impeached Trump. The Senate acquitted him.
  • Congress passed a huge $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, one of the most expensive pieces of legislation in U.S. history.  That’s all in less than one quarter of 2021.
    So we’re going to look back a bit, analyze what happened, what didn’t and what it will lead to next.
The Biden administration felt strongly that they needed to come out of the gate quickly with the American Rescue Plan. They knew it was big, and they knew it was expensive. And, frankly, they knew it probably wouldn’t get GOP support. But the White House was absolutely committed to nearly every policy proposal included in the bill — many of which were in the House-passed Heroes Act last year. They got it through the Congress the only way possible: With arm twisting and only Democratic votes, thanks to reconciliation.
Where Biden stands with Republicans: The Covid funding fight left Republicans feeling snubbed. … there was no deal between the Biden administration and the GOP on what became the ARP. Privately, the administration and congressional Democrats admit that they were simply of a different mindset than Republicans. The most ambitious Republicans wanted $1.3 trillion at most, and Dems wanted nearly $2 trillion. Democrats saw no deal for them there.
Where Biden stands with Democrats: The ARP was a massive victory for progressives on nearly every front. … though there are still some Democrats who argue, quite surprisingly, that the White House could’ve done more for progressives here.
Where Biden is going to go: The White House is now moving into a different phase: Standard-issue legislating. It plans to devote the next four to five months to infrastructure and various proposals. At some point, the White House will lay out the big package it wants passed: A large scale infrastructure bill with a tax hike — probably corporate, but they’ll pitch individual-rate increases too — to pay for it. This will take a lot of time and energy to cobble together. …The idea is to create a political drumbeat for infrastructure and public-works related legislation bookended by the announcement of the large-scale bill at the front end and its passage on the back end — with a bunch of incremental bills in between. A final vote on a large-scale bill would be aimed for the end of the summer or early fall.” (Punchbowl)

Legislative Pile Up Coming

There’ll be a legislative pile up at the end of September no matter what happens. The highway bill expires, so something needs to get done on infrastructure. A debt ceiling increase comes due and government funding expires on Sept. 30. We expect a late September legislative cliff. A big one. A cliff will test this White House in a huge way.”

Health Insurance Costs To Drop

Private health insurance through the nation’s public exchanges is set to become more affordable — at least for the next 2 years. The just passed $1.9 trillion Covid relief package removes eligibility caps, as well as limits the amount anyone pays in premiums to 8.5% of their income as calculated by the exchange.” (chart from Reddit)

Path To Citizenship For Dreamers & Farm Workers

VOA “The House voted Thursday to open a gateway to citizenship for young Dreamers, migrant farm workers and immigrants who’ve fled war or natural disasters, giving Democrats wins in the year’s first votes on an issue that once again faces an uphill climb to make progress in the Senate. On a near party-line 228-197 vote, lawmakers approved one bill offering legal status to around 2 million Dreamers, brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and hundreds of thousands of migrants admitted for humanitarian reasons from a dozen troubled countries. They then voted 247-174 for a second measure creating similar protections for 1 million farm workers who have worked in the U.S. illegally; the government estimates they comprise half the nation’s agricultural laborers.”

Domestic Violence Bill

NYT “The House moved on Wednesday to renew the Violence Against Women Act, adding firearm restrictions for convicted domestic abusers and other new provisions to a landmark law that has helped combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking but expired in 2019. … Wednesday’s vote was the first significant step toward putting it back into effect after lapsing under the former President. The law’s renewal has taken on added urgency amid alarming increases in domestic violence during the pandemic.
The House’s 244-to-172 vote was bipartisan, with 29 Republicans joining united Democrats to approve the bill. But conservative opposition to a measure that has enjoyed broad backing from both parties in the past foreshadowed a more difficult path ahead in the Senate, where Democrats control just 50 of the 60 votes necessary for passage.”

Biden’s Big Hurdles

Axios “President Biden’s next big moves require two things Republicans hate — new taxes and new filibuster limits. Both will make the $1.9 trillion spending bill look easy and calm. Why it matters: Biden wants to reform voting laws and dramatically increase infrastructure spending. It’s doubtful Republicans will rush to truly help on either front.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened to blow up the Senate to preserve the legislative filibuster rule, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is opposed to eliminating it. Senate Democrats who want to eliminate the filibuster, which would allow them to pass legislation by simple majority, don’t have a plan for flipping Manchin — and he may be immovable. THEN To partially pay for Biden’s coming infrastructure package, he’ll need to jack up taxes on corporations and the wealthy — with some of Washington’s most powerful forces opposed.
Look for Biden/Democrats to focus on raising the corporate tax rate to 28% and the highest tax bracket back to 39.6%, aides tell us.

The “Talking Filibuster”

Axios “Some Democrats hope they can use the pending fight over their massive voting rights package to convince more skeptical Democrats to back filibuster reforms. Why it matters: Many Democrats were thrilled after Biden said Tuesday night he supports the return of the “talking filibuster” — but they’re still a long way from any sort of meaningful change to the rule.
The key marker is S. 1, the Senate’s version of H.R. 1 — a bill the Democrats deem to be Congress’ top priority. Stay Tuned.

The Biden Cabinet

“Becerra ‘comfired’ to become HHS secretary,” WaPo: “[Xavier] Becerra, a congressman from Los Angeles for two dozen years and then California attorney general, squeaked by on a vote of 50 to 49, the closest margin for any of the Biden cabinet members the Senate has confirmed so far. … Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only member of the GOP to vote for Becerra’s confirmation along with a solid wall of Senate Democrats.”

Look Who’s Back

President Biden has tapped former congressman and three-term US senator from Florida, Senator Bill Nelson, for NASA administrator. Nelson, a politically experienced ally of the administration, would command the space agency as it races to return humans to the Moon, bolsters climate research, and expands its reliance on a flourishing commercial space industry. In 1986, Nelson became the second sitting member of Congress to fly to space, riding aboard Space Shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist. SPEAKING OF NASA — NASA’s future Moon rocket completed a critical hot-fire test. Click Here.


“A gunman’s rampage that killed eight people including six Asian women, in the Atlanta area this week has set off a new wave of fear and outrage among Asian-Americans, … and elicited grieving and organizing around the country, as America confronts a yearlong escalation in anti-Asian violence. … Remember their names: Soon C. Park, 74; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong A. Yue, 63; Delaina Yaun, 33; Xiaojie Tan, 49; Paul Andre Michels, 52; and Daoyou Feng, 44.”

Given the tragedy in Georgia on Tuesday night, President Biden and Vice President Harris … met [in Atlanta] with Asian-American leaders to discuss the ongoing attacks and threats against the community. Biden is lowering flags to half-staff for the next several days.”

Washington-Beijing: Rocky Relationship

”The first high-level U.S.-China talks of the Biden administration got off to a fiery start in Anchorage, with both sides leveling sharp rebukes in a rare public display of tension, Reuters reports. Why it matters: What is typically a few minutes of opening remarks lasted for more than an hour. Afterward, the U.S. accused China of grandstanding. Chinese state media said U.S. officials spoke too long and were “inhospitable.” Secretary of State Tony Blinken told his Chinese counterparts that the U.S. would “discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States.” China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, responded with a 15-minute speech in Chinese, lashing out at what he called America’s struggling democracy and poor treatment of minorities.

Normalcy Gets Closer

Axios “The pace of new COVID cases in the U.S. has stabilized as vaccinations ramp up. Why it matters: A safe return to some version of normalcy, even if it’s not as complete as it could be, is still close at hand, thanks to the vaccines.
The pace of new infections got better over the past week in 13 states, got worse in another 13, and held steady everywhere else. Michigan saw the biggest jump in new cases, at 53%.
The biggest improvements were in Alabama, Arizona, California and Georgia, each of which saw a decline of over 30% in new cases per day.”

100M Jabs

Axios “Today, on Day 59 of President Biden’s administration, he’ll pass his original goal of 100 million COVID vaccine shots in 100 days. Biden’s 100 million-dose goal was announced Dec. 8. By the time he was inaugurated, the U.S. had given 20 million shots. He revised his goal to 150 million doses in 100 days, AP notes. Now the U.S. averages 2.2 million doses a day.”

3′ Feet Apart

NYT “In a major policy revision intended to encourage more schools to welcome children back to in-person instruction, federal health officials on Friday relaxed the six-foot distancing rule for elementary school students, saying they need only remain three feet apart in classrooms as long as everyone is wearing a mask.”

600 Days To Midterm Elections

Relax … it was a good hook, we don’t have a countdown clock.
But try to answer this: What do Republicans stand for as a party [Deep Dive]?
We ask because as the 117th Congress unfolds, and lawmakers continue to process what happened on Election Day and Jan. 6, we’re trying to get a sense of what the political landscape is like in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidency. Democrats, of course, will follow President Joe Biden’s lead.
The Republican Party, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any unifying theme or issue. Trump is gone from Washington for the moment, but very much in the mix of the national political scene. And despite his popularity with the base, the GOP Establishment is done with the former president. Trump was more of a negative power than a positive one in most instances anyway, and whatever agenda he had was about himself, not the Republican Party as a whole.
So where does that leave the party?
  • Republicans used to be for fiscal discipline and balanced budgets, but they no longer are. Their 2017 tax cuts blew up the deficit, and they had no problem running up the red ink under Trump. They can’t make a case for fiscal discipline anymore.
  • Defense policy: They were once strongly pro-NATO, and believed America should be a muscular and interventionist presence on the foreign stage. But those ties frayed, and those beliefs faded under Trump. Republicans used to warn against cozying up to dictators. See Trump again.
  • Trade policy: Trump blew up decades of Republican orthodoxy on the benefits of free trade. Now some Republicans are for tariffs, others are not.
  • Health policy: Where do we start here? GOP leaders have claimed they would put forward and pass an Obamacare replacement plan for the last 11 years. We’re still waiting.
  • Science: Republicans were once strong supporters of premier federal institutions like the CDC and NIH. Now, a big chunk of their party sees top scientists as quacks, and polls show that something approaching 40% of self-identified Republicans are hesitant about taking the Covid-19 vaccine.
  • Separation of powers: Republicans said Trump was justified in unilaterally diverting funds approved by Congress for different programs for the border wall. Now Biden has canceled border-wall construction, and Republicans are complaining that he is violating the law.
  • Picking winners and losers: There was a period of time not too long ago where Republicans criticized Democrats for what they saw as overzealous intervention into the private sector — picking winners and losers, they said. This would be a tough argument to make now, as the GOP had no problem when Trump called CEOs and voiced opinion about private and public companies.
  • There’s a massive gulf between state and local GOP officials and Washington, D.C., policy makers. Mayors and governors gladly took the recent stimulus funds included in the American Rescue Plan. Every D.C. Republican voted against it.
  • Immigration: This may be the most dramatic change of all. Former GOP Presidents including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush spoke frequently about how valuable immigrants were for refreshing and renewing American society. Trump blew all that up. He got to the White House by demonizing Mexicans and Muslims, and he made sure the rest of the party toed that line. Now where is the GOP on major immigration issues? Are they for welcoming foreign students who study in America as permanent citizens (a huge plus for the country)? Are they for a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers or undocumented immigrants? What about reforming asylum laws? Refugees? Work visas? There is a wider ideological gulf internally between Republicans on this issue than between the two parties.
  • The GOP still revolves around one figure: Trump. There are many who want that to end, but they’re too afraid to say it because they fear the backlash from the base.
They don’t have to figure this all out now. For now, Republicans are in the minority. They’re an opposition party, and it’s easy to be against Biden. But at some point, they’re going to have to resolve these ideological and policy disputes if the GOP is to survive as an effective partner in the two-party system. And it won’t be easy.
  • One final point: On Wednesday, 12 House Republicans voted against a resolution awarding gold medals to the U.S. Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department for their heroism during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack because they didn’t like the word “insurrectionists” used to describe the Trump supporters involved in the incident. And one, Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, complained about describing the Capitol as the “temple of democracy” as a “little too sacrilegious for me.” That pretty much sums it up. (Punchbowl)

“New Normal” Political Spouses

In Washington, DC “a new class of political spouse is challenging ideas of who should serve as a supporting actor. … Starting with Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman (spouse of Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President), Mr. Buttigieg, (spouse of Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg), are now part of a growing club of Washington newcomers married to people who have broken barriers surrounding gender, race and sexual orientation in politics. Dan Mulhern, who is married to Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Biden’s new secretary of energy and the first woman to be elected governor of Michigan, is another member.
“It’s really pretty simple,” Mr. Mulhern said. “Men are doing what women have always done, just as women are doing what men have always done.”

A Truly ‘Original’ Political Spouse (RIP)

WI State Journal “Carrie Lee Nelson, the widow of Gaylord Nelson, former Wisconsin governor, U.S. senator and founder of Earth Day, died Monday. “There was absolutely nothing traditional about the way my mother walked through the world,” Tia Nelson said. Carrie Nelson … became a “political wife on her own terms.” Former State Senator Fred Risser, remembering Carrie, said she was an independent, colorful person. I remember on many occasions she would make known her feelings. She had a mind of her own.” (To those who knew her, no truer words.)


Oscar nominees were told that the Academy Awards on April 25 “will be held live at LA’s Union Station, where only nominees, their guests and presenters will be in attendance. There will not be an option to Zoom in.”
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