Washington prepares for change
We admit it: current events exceed our vocabulary. If you saw any news at all last week, you already know that the House of Representatives voted 232-197 to impeach President Donald J. Trump, whose term ends at noon this Wednesday.
The single article of impeachment will be delivered to the Senate this week, as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who remains Majority Leader until Georgia certifies its Senate elections, said it would not be possible to conduct “a fair or serious trial” before inauguration day. Everyone expects the Senate to conduct a trial after President Trump leaves office, however, and McConnell told his Republican colleagues in a letter last week that he would “listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.”
Meanwhile, a large swath of Washington will be entirely shut down to vehicle traffic until at least the 21st. Everyone in GrayRobinson’s Washington office will be working from home for the duration.
Senate control to shift this week
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger should certify the results of that state’s Senate runoff elections this week, possibly as soon as January 20. Senators-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff should be sworn in before the end of the week, creating a 50-50 party split with tie votes to be decided by Vice President Kamala Harris. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will become Majority Leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell will become Minority Leader. Warnock and Ossoff have not yet been assigned to committees, and other committee membership may shift to reflect the new party ratio.
Biden unveils $1.9 trillion relief plan
President-elect Joe Biden announced the first part of his “American Rescue Plan,” a package of public health initiatives and economic relief measures that he called for Congress to approve quickly. Major provisions include:
- $160 billion for a national plan to plan to deliver vaccines through community vaccination sites, expand testing, coordinate supply distribution, mobilize a public health jobs program, expand health care availability in underserved communities, and protect vulnerable populations
- $170 billion to help schools safely reopen in the first 100 days of the Biden administration, with $130 billion going to schools for K-12, $35 billion going to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, and $5 billion for governors to help the hardest-hit education programs
- Expanded emergency paid leave for those affected by COVID-19 until September 30, without exemptions for employers with more than 500 or less than 50 workers; a refundable tax credit will reimburse employers for the cost of this leave
- Direct relief payments of $1,400 per person to qualifying households
- Extended and expanded federal unemployment compensation, and full funding for states’ short-time compensation programs
- Extending the federal foreclosure moratorium to September 30
- $30 billion in additional rental, water, and energy assistance and $5 billion in emergency assistance for the homeless
- Extending the 15% increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit
- $3 billion in additional funding for the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children
- Raising the national minimum wage to $15/hour
- $25 billion for an Emergency Stabilization Fund for child-care providers
- $15 billion in additional funding for Child Care and Development Block Grants
- Emergency increases in child care tax credits
- A federal subsidy for continuation of health care benefits (COBRA) for workers who lost employer-sponsored health insurance
- $15 billion in grants to more than 1 million small businesses
- $35 billion to fund loans through state, local, tribal and nonprofit small business financing programs
- $20 billion in relief for the hardest-hit public transit agencies
- More than $10 billion to improve cybersecurity throughout government and civilian networks
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said they “will get right to work” on legislation to implement this plan, and called for quick bipartisan action.
OCC finalizes rule on access to financial services
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) finalized its proposed rule to require national banks and federal savings associations to make decisions about providing financial services to customers on a case-by-case basis, rather than making decisions to withhold services from categories of customers. The final rule excludes a section that would have prohibited banks from denying services if that denial would “prevent, limit, or otherwise disadvantage the person: (1) from entering or competing in a market or business segment; or (2) in such a way that benefits another person or business activity in which the covered bank has a financial interest.” The OCC noted that it had received approximately 35,700 comments before the comment period ended on January 4; of those, only 4,200 supported the proposal.
Confirmations, Nominations, Departures
- President-elect Joe Biden continues to announce his intended nominees; last week’s designees included William J. Burns as Director of the CIA, Deanne Criswell to be Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Shalanda Young to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jason Miller to be Deputy Director of OMB for Management, Janet McCabe to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power to be USAID Administrator.
- Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks stepped down from that position. The Biden transition team has not yet announced a nominee to replace him.
The Week Ahead in Washington
- Monday, January 18 is a federal holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. GrayRobinson’s offices will be closed for the day.
- January 19 at 10:00 a.m. Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Janet Yellen to be Secretary of the Treasury.
- January 19 at 10:00 a.m. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs holds a hearing on the nomination of Alejandro N. Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security.
- January 19 at 2:00 p.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State.
- January 19 at 3:00 p.m. Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Lloyd Austin III to be Secretary of Defense.
- January 20 at noon Joseph R. Biden and Kamala D. Harris will be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States. Offices in Washington, DC will be closed for the day.
The Ellis Insight
Jim Ellis reports on political news
Democratic National Committee: Jaime Harrison (D), the South Carolina Senate nominee who raised over $130 million for his failed effort against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), has been selected to become the new Democratic National Committee chairman. President-Elect Joe Biden also named Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) as the DNC’s Vice Chairs.
Prior to running for the Senate, Mr. Harrison served as chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. Despite the Democrats’ large spending advantage, Sen. Graham won the race with a 54-44% victory margin.
Alaska: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the Trump post-election situation and reportedly toying with the idea of leaving the Republican Party. She is saying, however, that joining the Democrats is not an option. Sen. Murkowski lost the 2010 Republican primary but was able to win in the general election by virtue of a write-in campaign.
Regardless of what Sen. Murkowski decides, a new voter-approved primary system will alleviate any further problems for her moving into the general election. The new law guarantees that the top four finishers in a new jungle primary system will advance into the general. Therefore, if Sen. Murkowski remains a Republican or becomes an Independent, she will be present on the general election ballot.
California: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), who will soon replace Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) when she resigns to become Vice President, is leaving no doubt to his intentions regarding seeking a full term in 2022. Mr. Padilla confirmed that he will enter the 2022 statewide race.
The last two California Senate campaigns have produced double-Democrat general elections from the state’s jungle primary system, and a good chance remains that the same could again happen. Unless Senator-Designate Padilla draws a serious Democratic opponent, he will begin the campaign cycle with the inside track toward winning a full term in 22 months.
Pennsylvania: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D reiterated last week that he would not run for Governor but did file a Senate campaign exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission and claims to already have pledges of over $500,000. St. Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), the son of former Philadelphia Mayor John Street, also confirmed that he will enter the 2022 US Senate campaign contest, according to a report in the Insider NJ political blog.
For the Republicans, former two-term US Rep. Ryan Costello, who dropped out of the 2018 House race because he felt he would lose the redistricted 6th CD, is indicating an interest in the Senate race. Also said also to be considering the Senate race are Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Jenkintown), former six-term US Rep. Jim Gerlach (R), and state Sen. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia). With Sen. Pat Toomey (R) already announcing that he won’t seek re-election, an open PA Senate race will be one of the nation’s top 2022 campaigns.
CA-50: Former Santee City Councilman Stephen Houlahan (D), who unsuccessfully ran for the Mayoral position for the San Diego County city of just under 60,000 people, announced that he will challenge Rep. Darrell Issa (R-San Diego) in next year’s midterm elections. Mr. Issa, now serving his tenth non-consecutive term, returns to the House after a two-year period in retirement. The Congressman was elected in a different district in 2020, the inland San Diego County’s 50th District, with a 54-46% victory margin to succeed resigned Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Alpine).
IL-16: Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon), one of President Trump’s strongest GOP critics in relation to the latest impeachment vote, has already drawn a 2022 primary opponent. Gene Koprowski (R), a former marketing director for the conservative Heartland Institute prior to him being terminated due to sexual harassment claims, announced that he will challenge the six-term Congressman next year. While it may be unlikely that Mr. Koprowski will develop into a strong contender, it is probable that Rep. Kinzinger will draw viable opposition in the March 2022 Republican primary should he choose to seek re-election.
IA-2: Since Congress is now embroiled in another impeachment controversy, the House Administration Committee does not yet have a full membership, meaning resolving the challenge to Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ (R-Ottumwa) six-vote victory remains on the back burner. The House provisionally seated Ms. Miller-Meeks, who is the certified state winner, and she will serve until the Committee makes a decision on the 22 contested ballots. If they accept challenger Rita Hart’s (D) petition the entire House would then take the final action in awarding the seat for the current term.
LA-5: Julia Letlow (R), the widow of Rep-Elect Luke Letlow (R) who passed away suddenly just three weeks after winning his congressional race, announced that she will compete in the special election to succeed her late husband. Activity has been light in anticipation of her entering the race. State Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), however, who lost the general election runoff to Mr. Letlow 24 days before his untimely passing, is still a potential contender. Candidate filing closes January 22nd. The jungle primary is scheduled for March 20th with a runoff, if necessary, set for April 24th. Republicans are a strong favorite to hold the seat.
MD-1: Former Maryland state Delegate and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, because of what she said via Twitter is Rep. Andy Harris’ (R-Cockeysville) “complicity w/treasonous insurrection against our govt,” confirms that she would consider challenging him in 2022. Rep. Harris also has to face questions about whether he will exceed his self-imposed six-term limit when he originally ran for the House. The 1st District is the only Republican seat of Maryland’s eight CDs.
MD-6: Maryland former state Delegate Aruna Miller (D) announced that she will run for Congress next year. She further stated she does not intend to challenge 6th District incumbent David Trone (D-Potomac), but believes the US Representative will soon announce his candidacy for the open Governor’s position and wants to get a head start in the campaign to replace him in the House.
MI-3: Freshman Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids), who scored an open seat 53-47% victory in November, has already drawn a 2022 Republican primary challenger. Tom Norton, who did not fare well against Rep. Meijer in the open 2020 Republican primary and lost previous races for the state legislature, announced last Thursday that he will challenge the new Congressman in next year’s Republican primary.
While Mr. Norton may not be the strongest of opponents for an incumbent, his move could be a precursor to a stronger candidate coming forward. Considering Rep. Meijer’s prominent position in supporting another impeachment of President Trump, the conservative base in the district will likely seek to rally around a stronger contender against the new Congressman.
NM-1: Arguably the Republicans’ strongest candidate in the budding special election to replace Interior Secretary-Designate Deb Haaland (D-Albuquerque) in the US House apparently won’t enter the race. 2020 US Senate candidate Mark Ronchetti, who held Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D) to a 52-46% statewide victory in November, returned to his position as an on-camera weatherman for the Albuquerque CBS television affiliate. This exposure gave him the residual name identification to make the open US Senate campaign competitive.
The special election will be called upon Rep. Haaland’s confirmation to her new position, at which point she will resign from the House. At that time, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) will take the necessary action to schedule the replacement special election in order to fill the vacancy.
NY-1: In 2018, local Long Island Democratic Party leaders attempted without success to recruit 911 first responders advocate John Feal into the congressional race against Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Mr. Feal ultimately declined to run, but now admits he is considering a 2022 challenge particularly, he said, after Mr. Zeldin voted against certification of the Electoral College results. Rep. Zeldin defeated Democrat Nancy Goroff, 54-43%, in the 2020 election to win a fourth term.
NY-22: The fate of the NY-22 candidates, 116th Congress Representative Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) and former Rep. Claudia Tenney (R), continues to hang in political limbo. The judge presiding over the disputed election continues to pour through the more than 1,700 contested ballots that will determine the final outcome. After more than two months since the actual election, Ms. Tenney retains the lead (29 votes), and the fate of these contested ballots will determine the final outcome.
Lawyers for the candidates must submit their briefs prior to arguing orally before the judge on January 22nd. Even with a ruling, however, we are likely to see one or more recounts before this seat is ultimately filled.
TX-22: Last week, local Brazoria County NAACP President Eugene Howard announced that he will challenge freshman Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Richmond/Sugar Land) next year. Previously, marketing executive Jim Squires (D) declared his candidacy.
The two may or may not have an opportunity to challenge Rep. Nehls. The 22nd District is the most over-populated district in a state that is expected to gain three seats in the next apportionment. This means the congressional district boundaries for the whole south Houston suburban region will drastically change under a new map. Expect the new 22nd District to be drawn as a much more favorable Republican seat than the current version.
IL House: For the first time since 1983, Democrats have a new official leader in the state House of Representatives. St. Rep. Chris Welch (D-Westchester) was elected Speaker of the House, thus ending the leadership career of now former Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) who presided over a legislative body longer than any person in US history.
Mr. Madigan served as Speaker since his original election in 1983 with only one break of service, that in 1995-96 when Republicans captured the House majority. He was long regarded as the most important figure in Illinois state politics and became a frequent Republican target in even statewide campaigns. Mr. Madigan suspended his Speaker campaign when it became evident that he did not have enough support within his own Democratic caucus.
New York City: As has been expected for some time, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang (D) announced last week that he will enter the open New York City Mayoral contest scheduled for later this year. The Democratic primary will be crowded, but early polling suggests that he and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams are the front runners for the party nomination. Winning the June 22nd Dem primary is virtually tantamount to claiming the position in the November general election.