Biden extends COVID relief through executive orders
On his second full day in office, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order to launch an “all of government” effort to provide economic relief to families, communities, and small businesses in distress because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order:
asks the US Department of Agriculture to consider expanding and extending federal nutrition assistance programs for children
- asks the Treasury Department to examine its delivery system for direct assistance and change it to focus on providing relief to 8 million Americans who have not yet received benefit payments as authorized
- asks the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts
- asks the Department of Labor to make it clear that anyone who quits their job because of unsafe working conditions remains eligible for unemployment insurance
- creates an interagency benefit coordination structure
The President also announced that he was directing his administration to start work on an Executive Order that would require all federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $15/hour and provide emergency paid leave to workers.
Senate control shifts, organization remains unresolved
Senators Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) were sworn in last Wednesday, changing the composition of the US Senate to 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris shifting the majority to the Democrats. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are still negotiating a power-sharing agreement; McConnell has said he will not agree to one unless the Democrats agree to preserve the filibuster, which effectively requires a 60-vote majority to pass legislation.
Senate Finance approves Yellen nomination as Biden appoints more to Treasury
The Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to send the nomination of Janet Yellen to serve as Secretary of the Treasury to the full Senate, which may vote on the nomination. Yellen appeared before the Finance Committee last Tuesday, where she said she would help implement President Biden’s plans for a “sweeping response” to the COVID-19 pandemic, but promised to consult regularly with Congress before making decisions. “The damage has been sweeping . . . and our response must be, too,” Yellen said. “The smartest thing we can do is to act big.” Relief to those in greatest need and to small businesses will have the biggest impact on the economy, she said.
Separately, the Biden administration appointed senior staff to the Treasury Department who do not require Senate confirmation. Didem Nisansci, most recently Global Head of Public Policy for Bloomberg LP, will serve as the Secretary’s Chief of Staff. Deputy Chiefs of Staff will be Julie Brinn Siegel, who served as Senator Elizabeth Warren’s senior counsel for economic policy, and Alfred Johnson, an Obama administration veteran who was most recently co-founder of Mobilize, an events management and volunteer recruitment platform. Ryan Jacobs, former Head of Speechwriting for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will be Chief Speechwriter and Senior Advisor; Jacob Leibenluft, who was Deputy Director of the National Economic Council and Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy under President Obama, will be Counselor to the Secretary. Calvin Mitchell, a former Executive Vice President for Communications of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, will be Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, and Marti Adams, a veteran of both the Treasury Department and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, will be Executive Secretary.
Biden names Gensler to SEC, Chopra to CFPB
Gary Gensler, who had headed the Biden-Harris transition review team for the Federal Reserve, Banking, and Securities Regulators, is Biden’s choice to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission. Gensler chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Obama administration, and was Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance from 1999 to 2001. SEC Commissioner Allison Herrera Lee is serving as acting chair until Gensler is confirmed. Biden also named Rohit Chopra, currently a member of the Federal Trade Commission, as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Chopra worked at Treasury to help set up the CFPB after the enactment of Dodd-Frank, and was Assistant Director of the CFPB with responsibility for student loan oversight. David Uejio, the CFPB’s chief strategy officer, is serving as Acting Director pending Chopra’s confirmation.
Safety will be DOT’s top priority, Buttigieg says
At a cordial confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee last week, Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg said safety for travelers and workers would be his top priority, which takes on new meaning during the pandemic. He pledged to work to make all aspects of the US transportation system safe during this period, and then to focus on infrastructure projects that will help grow the economy. Grant programs such as BUILD and INFRA will be essential to this effort, he said. Committee members emphasized the need to address rural and small-town infrastructure demands, and asked Buttigieg to do whatever he can to reduce lengthy and burdensome permitting processes.
Blinken promises to reinvigorate State Department, revitalize US diplomacy
Antony Blinken, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for almost five hours last Tuesday to answer questions about how the Biden administration will address global challenges. Members identified Iran, China, North Korea, Russia, and Turkey as areas that require immediate attention; outgoing Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) called China the greatest foreign policy challenge of this century for the United States. Blinken said that he would work with Congress to reinvigorate the Department of State, bringing its diplomatic corps to full strength, and will engage with allies to reestablish the United States’ global leadership position: “American leadership still matters.” He also promised to “restore Congress’s traditional role as a partner” in foreign policy, consulting with Congress before taking action on foreign policy initiatives.
Waters names Democratic members of House Financial Services Committee
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, announced the Democratic membership of the Committee. The Committee will include three newly elected members: Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA), and Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA). The Democratic members are:
- Rep. Maxine Waters (CA), Chairwoman
- Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (NY)
- Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (NY)
- Rep. Brad Sherman (CA)
- Rep Gregory Meeks (NY)
- Rep. David Scott (GA)
- Rep. Al Green (TX)
- Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO)
- Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO)
- Rep. Jim Himes (CT)
- Rep. Bill Foster (IL)
- Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH)
- Rep. Juan Vargas (CA)
- Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ)
- Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (TX)
- Rep. Al Lawson (FL)
- Rep. Michael San Nicolas (GU)
- Rep. Cindy Axne (IA)
- Rep. Sean Casten (IL)
- Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA)
- Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY)
- Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA)
- Rep. Alma Adams (NC)
- Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI)
- Rep. Madeleine Dean (PA)
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY)
- Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (IL)
- Rep. Sylvia Garcia (TX)
- Rep. Nikema Williams (GA)
- Rep. Jake Auchincloss (MA)
Confirmations, Nominations, Departures
- President Biden has transmitted 113 nominations to the US Senate. If you’re interested, you can keep up with that list and status of nominees here.
- This week the Senate confirmed the nominations of Avril Haines to serve as Director of National Intelligence and Lloyd Austin to serve as Secretary of Defense.
The Week Ahead in Washington
- The House will not hold floor votes next week, but Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is expected to deliver the Article of Impeachment against former President Donald J. Trump to the Senate on Monday. House Committees will hold organizational meetings.
- January 26 at 10:00 a.m. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation holds a hearing on the nomination of Gina Raimondo to be Secretary of Commerce.
- January 26 at 11:00 a.m. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs meets to vote on the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security.
- January 27 at 9:30 a.m. Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources holds a hearing on the nomination of Jennifer Granholm to be Secretary of Energy.
- January 27 at 11:05 a.m. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure holds a hearing on “Protecting Transportation Workers and Passengers from COVID: Gaps in Safety, Lessons Learned and Next Steps.”
- January 28 at 10:00 a.m. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs holds a hearing on the nominations of Marcia Fudge to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Cecelia Rouse to be Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
The Ellis Insight
Jim Ellis reports on political news
Full Senate: Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris last Wednesday officially resigned her US Senate office in preparation for taking the oath of national office. After becoming Vice President, Ms. Harris then returned to the Senate chamber to administer the swearing in ceremonies for her successor, Senator-Designate Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Democratic Georgia runoff winners Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The actions mean that all 100 Senate seats are now filled.
Pennsylvania: Before the Martin Luther King holiday break, state Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) was indicating that he would enter the open 2022 US Senate race. This week, however, he is said that he won’t make a final decision about his impending candidacy until the end of 2021.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) has already announced for the Senate race and begun raising money. It appears he has the early inside track to the party nomination, and with Sen. Street now apparently backtracking on his original statement further credence is lent to the analysis depicting Mr. Fetterman as the Democratic nomination favorite.
FL-1: Though Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Ft. Walton Beach/Pensacola) clearly shot down any idea that he was considering challenging Sen. Marco Rubio in next year’s Republican primary, he did admit to looking at a run for state Agriculture Commissioner. The incumbent, Democrat Nikki Fried, was elected in 2018 with the barest of percentages, 50.04%. All of the Florida state constitutional offices are on the ballot next year. The top vote getter scored only 52%, so we can expect competitive races from the top of the 2022 Florida ballot to the bottom.
IA-3: When questioned last week, two-term Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Des Moines) confirmed that she would consider running statewide next year, reflecting that Iowa will have both a Senate and Governor’s race on the ballot in 2022. As has been pointed out, with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) turning 89 years of age before the next election the chances of seeing him retire are strong. Sen. Grassley, at this time, refuses to comment upon his 2022 political plans. In the Governor’s race, incumbent Kim Reynolds (R) is expected to seek a second four-year term.
LA-2: Former US Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans) resigned from the House on January 15th in order to prepare to accept his position in the Biden White House, and this week endorsed a successor for the March 20th special election. Mr. Richmond urges the voters of his former district to support state Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans).
With candidate filing ending, seven contenders have announced, but others are expected to file. If no candidate receives majority support on March 20th, a runoff election between the two highest finishers will be held April 24th. The Democrats will retain this seat, and we can expect a double Democratic runoff to unfold for the secondary election.
MD-1: Citing how the country has changed in the last ten years, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Cockeysville), despite campaigning in 2010 that he would only serve six terms, announced earlier in the week that he will seek re-election again in 2022. Mr. Harris is the lone Republican in the eight-member US House delegation. Redistricting may be Rep. Harris’ biggest political hurdle to overcome in 2022, however, as Democrats have a power edge in Maryland but not full control.
NY-22: The legal process of determining a winner in New York’s 22nd District remains in suspension. Final oral arguments will be presented, meaning we could finally see a ruling this week, almost three months after the original election. State Supreme Court Justice of Oswego County Scott DelConte, who admits he has “no great options” in deciding this case, continues to admonish the Oneida County Elections Office personnel now citing 2,418 individuals who met the voter registration deadline but whose applications failed to be processed; hence, they were denied the opportunity of voting.
Currently, the vote totals stand with challenger Claudia Tenney (R), a former Congresswoman, leading 116th Congress incumbent Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) by 29 votes of more than 311,000 ballots counted. The Brindisi legal team has presented 69 ballots they believe DelConte should add to the count. The Judge pointed out that the 69 are overwhelmingly Democratic and indicated that the Brindisi team was simply “cherry picking” favorable votes.
It is likely we will see a ruling sometime this week, and it is unclear how such a declaration will unfold. Chances are very high that the losing candidate will appeal the impending DelConte decision, meaning this embroiled contest will likely continue for quite some time. It is also possible that a new election could be ordered.
NC-5: Eight-term North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk/Gastonia) has drawn a 2022 GOP primary challenger. Bo Hines is a former football player for North Carolina State University. He announced last week his intention to enter the 5th District primary, but redistricting may change the footprint of virtually every CD in the state. This means, while Mr. Hines may in fact run for Congress, he may or may not eventually face Rep. Foxx. For her part, the Congresswoman has already announced her intention to seek re-election next year.
OH-11: Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Cleveland) is expected to easily win confirmation to her new post as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, so the Democratic field to replace her in the safe Cleveland-Akron congressional seat is already forming.
Last week, former state Sen. Shirley Smith indicated she would join the special Democratic primary that will be scheduled upon Rep. Fudge’s official resignation. Already saying they will enter the race are former state Senators Jeff Johnson and Nina Turner, ex-state Rep. John Barnes, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, and Ms. Smith.
WY-AL: It didn’t take long for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wilson/Jackson) to draw a 2022 Republican primary opponent. State Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Laramie) last Wednesday said he will enter the GOP race against Rep. Cheney directly because of her vote to impeach President Trump.
Rep. Bouchard was quoted in the Daily Kos Elections website as saying that Ms. Cheney’s, “long-time opposition to President Trump and her most recent vote for impeachment shows just how out of touch she is with Wyoming.” It is likely that more people will join this race before candidate filing closes in May of next year. The Wyoming primary will be scheduled in mid-August ’22.
Minnesota: For the second time since the election, two-term Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Hermantown/ Duluth) has confirmed that he is not closing the door on entering the 2022 gubernatorial campaign and could compete to capture the Republican nomination in order to challenge Gov. Tim Walz (D).
Rep. Stauber’s consideration of running statewide is likely serious. Minnesota looks to lose a seat in reapportionment, now scheduled for a March 6th announcement, and it will likely mean that Reps. Stauber and freshman Michelle Fischbach (R-Regal) could find themselves competing for the same seat. Both his 8th and her 7th District have the lowest population figures.
Rhode Island: Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) confirmed that she is considering entering the state’s gubernatorial race next year. With Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) resigning her position upon being confirmed as US Commerce Secretary, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee (D) will assume the Governorship and become an unelected incumbent in preparation for the next campaign.
Mr. McKee, who has a poor relationship with Gov. Raimondo, is expected to draw serious Democratic opposition despite him administering the office for well over a year by the time the September ’22 Democratic primary occurs.
New York City: It appears that former Citigroup executive Raymond McGuire’s (D) campaign has jumped out to a strong start, but his opponents may actually see some benefit this week from his success, as well. Since mid-July, Mr. McGuire has raised over $5 million for his Mayoral effort and holds $3.7 million cash-on-hand.
Under the City’s public campaign finance law, a candidate not voluntarily agreeing to a $7.3 million spending limit for the primary election allows the barrier to increase at a 50% rate for all other candidates upon the non-conforming candidate exceeding the gross expenditure limit. With $5 million already raised, it appears a virtual certainty that Mr. McGuire will exceed the threshold, thus increasing the spending limit for his opponents.
Pittsburgh: Two-term Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto looks to face a Democratic primary challenge from his political left. State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Pittsburgh) announced last week that he will run for Mayor later this year and declaring that he is the more progressive. He will first have to dislodge incumbent Democrat Peduto in the party primary, an election that will be held on May 18th. Winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to claiming the citywide position in November.