More Info: Michael DiMaria | Partner and SW Regional Director | 602-717-3891 | [email protected]
Thanks for your interest in Washington, and thanks for reading This Week in Washington.
This is the fourth anniversary of This Week, so “Heard on The Hill” is devoted to some of the new features you will see this year and thanking all those who have made this milestone possible. Patrick Robertson covers early action in the Senate in “Washington Whispers,”andAl Jackson provides an update on defense.
We will be back in two weeks for another issue of This Week. Stay well.
Steve Gordon, Managing Partner
Total Spectrum Spotlight
Episode 5 – Rural Broadband
Heard on the Hill
By Steve Gordon, Total Spectrum Managing Partner
A milestone – and a big thank you.
We started This Week in Washington exactly four years ago with the goal of providing accurate and insightful coverage of the policies and the politics of Washington, D.C. tailored to the wants and needs of Arizona. Our goal after four years remains the same, but I know we always need to adapt and grow.
This Week started adapting last year. Our most important structural change was creating Total Spectrum Spotlight, in which we highlight newsmakers and news shapers and discuss important topics in short but meaningful interviews. We also expanded our team with Congressman Erik Paulsen, a former member of the House Ways and Means Committee and a former Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee; and Patrick Robertson, who was the Assistant Chief of Staff to former Senator Jay Rockefeller and has outstanding relationships with Senate and House Democrats.
Erik co-wrote “Heard on the Hill” with me last year. He will continue contributing to my column, and he will also debut his own column next month. Patrick started writing “Washington Whispers” last year, and the response was outstanding. Watch for much more from Patrick in 2021.
We have a great team of experts who focus on specific legislative areas. John McKechnie is a wealth of experience in the banking-financial services sector. Andy Ehrlich, a former Chief of Staff to Reps. Rick Lazio and Randy Tate, brings his expertise in telecommunications, energy/environment, and agriculture. Steve Ruhlen is our appropriations expert, having served as Deputy Assistant for Legislative Affairs for Vice President Cheney; and as Chief of Staff to both Congresswoman Kay Granger, then ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, and to former Congressman Henry Bonilla, then a member of the House Appropriations Committee and a subcommittee chairman. Todd Smith was Chief of Staff for Congressman and later Governor Nathan Deal, and has vast experience in healthcare, food and drug safety, and environmental policy. Michael DiMaria, our Southwest Regional Director and Jim Campbell, our Colorado Director, have been working in telecommunications and internet issues for years at the state and federal levels. Al Jackson specializes in national security, foreign affairs, homeland security, and aviation.
I will continue writing “Heard on the Hill” while also developing several concepts that will expand our coverage. Dana Marston will continue to serve as the editor of This Week, and Ramona Lessen provides content while also reading and proofing every word we publish.
Thanks to our great partners at the Arizona Chamber, particularly Glenn Hamer and Erica Wrublik. Most importantly, thanks to you for your interest in Washington and for reading This Week in Washington.
By Patrick Robertson, Total Spectrum Strategic Consultant
The last few weeks in Washington have seen insurrection, special elections, an inauguration, a power sharing agreement, and an impeachment. And now both political parties need to decide how to move forward and get back to governing.
This week Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer hammered out a power-sharing agreement paving the way for Senator Schumer’s ascension to the job of Majority Leader, setting the agenda in the Senate. Leader Schumer’s first orders of business are (1) confirming President Biden’s nominees, (2) managing the impeachment trial of former President Trump, (3) passing some form of COVID relief, and then (4) moving on to a Democratic growth agenda.
The nominee confirmations have begun moving and should continue, although there will almost certainly be one or two who get hung up in a partisan battle – likely either California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, nominated to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, or Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden. Since a number of cabinet nominees have been confirmed, attention will soon turn to impeachment, but first let’s examine the Senate makeup.
After Democrats swept the two special elections in Georgia earlier this month, the Senate is split evenly with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, two of whom identify as independents who caucus and most often vote with Democrats. The Vice President, in this case Democrat Kamala Harris, breaks ties in the Senate, giving Democrats the tiebreaking vote. Senators McConnell and Schumer have looked to the 2001 precedent in organizing the Senate. Under the power-sharing agreement, committees had equal number of members, although the Democrats will chair and set the agenda. Nominees and legislation will be able to be reported out of the committees on a tie vote as well, a rule that is not usually in force.
This power-sharing agreement, while giving Democrats control, does not guarantee that Democratic priorities will pass. While they have the narrowest of majorities, the Democratic Caucus has a wide range of political views from Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. With the Senate filibuster rules still intact, at least for now, Democrats may try to use an arcane procedure called budget reconciliation, requiring only 50 votes in the Senate, to try and pass some of their priorities, although there are significant limitations to that procedure.
Budget reconciliation is a complex process that allows the Senate to bypass the 60-vote threshold of the filibuster to pass legislation that has a direct impact on federal spending. It has traditionally been used once per fiscal year and has significant limitations based on the rules mandating that policies spend or save money. It has only been used when a party has narrow control of the Senate, control of the House, and control of the White House.
In short, grand partisan policies could very well give way to big, bipartisan bills, but Democrats will likely try to move some priorities on a partisan basis. Budget reconciliation has been used in recent years to pass the Affordable Care Act, to attempt to repeal it, and to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which officially lost its title to something called The Byrd Rule. We will cover the process in more depth in a future installment, but Democrats could introduce their budget to set up this process in the next few days.
Before the Senate begins legislating it has two weeks to organize and work on nominations before the impeachment trial begins. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) forced a vote on the constitutionality of impeaching a former president and the Senate agreed to move forward with five Republicans joining the 50 Democrats. After some legal briefs, the impeachment trial will begin in two weeks with most observers concluding that the Senate does not have anywhere near the 67 votes needed to convict former President Trump.
Once that is resolved the Senate will turn back to legislating with President Biden having already sent a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan to Congress. Conventional wisdom is that there can be a smaller bipartisan compromise bill that will get 60 votes or Democrats can use budget reconciliation to get the whole thing through, burning one of their limited opportunities to use that special process. President Biden’s unity message may soon run into political reality when he must decide which path to take.
Once the new Congress and Administration navigate these very rocky shoals, they will be facing many even more complicated questions. They will have to decide how to pass the bipartisan priority of infrastructure spending, close out the pandemic, fund the government, deal with the debt limit expiration on July 31, reform the immigration system, work on health care, and many more issues.
The work of these first few weeks will bleed into the first 100 days and before we know it, we will be staring at the midterm elections in 2022… after another round of Congressional redistricting. We will be here all the way through – watching, reporting, and interpreting.
By Al Jackson, Strategic Consultant to Total Spectrum
By a vote of 93-2, former U.S. Central Command leader Lloyd Austin was confirmed Friday as the next head of the Department of Defense, an historic vote that makes him the nation’s first Black person to hold that post. Lloyd Austin, a four-star Army general, served more than 40 years. Before the vote, both the House and Senate approved waiver language allowing Austin, who retired in 2016, to serve in the post despite a law mandating a seven-year gap between military service and the top civilian post at the Pentagon. Similar accommodations were also made for former Marine Corps General James Mattis in the Trump administration. After leaving the Army, General Austin served on the Board of Directors for Raytheon Technologies. Austin confirmed during his confirmation hearing that he would recuse himself from decisions involving Raytheon for at least four years.
Two issues high on the agenda of General Austin include the military’s continued problem with sexual misconduct and the perception that the armed services need to be continually mindful of diversity. General Austin indicated during his confirmation hearing, “…the military cannot accomplish its missions if we also have to battle enemies within the ranks.” Austin issued a memorandum directing Pentagon senior leaders, combatant commanders, and defense agency and DoD field activity directors to enhance efforts to deal with the issue of sexual misconduct.
President Joe Biden has ordered a 90-day commission to “pursue solutions to sexual assault in the military.” Austin, in response to the introduction of the commission, said “that while the department will aggressively support that effort… I do not want to wait 90 days to take action.” General Austin ordered senior leaders to report to him by Feb. 5, 2021 “a summary of the sexual assault harassment and accountability measures taken in the past year that show promise, as well as a frank, data-driven assessment of those which do not.” The Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will consolidate the findings and make the report to the Secretary of Defense.
Joe Biden, prior to being elected president, did not foresee major reductions in the U.S. defense budget as the military refocuses its attention to potential threats from world powers such as China and Russia. The challenge of meeting this objective will come from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which is calling for drastic reductions in defense spending, thereby weakening the strides made by the previous administration to strengthen the military. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is focused primarily on combating climate change through the Green New Deal and more spending on domestic giveaway programs. Combine this notion with pandemic-related economic pressures and it may ultimately add up to budget cuts at the Pentagon.
As highlighted in his confirmation hearing and among other Members of Congress, General Austin is not only seen as a capable leader but also an important advocate for diversity among the armed forces. One issue of concern is the belief in the Biden administration that political extremists including white nationalists and supremacists exist within the military. General Austin addressed this issue during his confirmation hearing. During his hearing, twelve of the more than 25,000 National Guard troops stationed in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration were sent home because they were suspected of possible links to right-wing/pro-second amendment militias.
In his written remarks submitted as part of his nomination hearing, General Austin said, “We also owe our people a working environment free of discrimination, hate and harassment. If confirmed, I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault, to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity. The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
President Joe Biden issued an executive order reversing the policy of the Trump administration banning transgender individuals from joining the military. General Austin, during his confirmation hearing, spoke in favor of reversing the policy as well.
President Biden also signed an executive order reversing President Trump’s order to restrict diversity training, formally known as “critical race theory,” in the federal government. The initial order from President Trump mandated that all federal agencies cease from conducting any training that included “divisive” topics and submit all diversity training programs to the Office of Personnel Management for review and approval. Federal contractors would also have been prohibited from using such training programs for their employees. The training focuses on white privilege and race theory that has the potential of defining individuals based on their race as opposed to the content of their character. It accepts the narrative that America is inherently racist, which continues to be a divisive topic.
There remains more than 20,000 members of the National Guard in Washington, D.C. at the time of this report, but that number is expected to reduce to 5,000 troops, then likely remain steady through mid-March. The Senate trial of the impeachment of President Trump, set to begin February 8, is the reason for the continued presence. This will be the first impeachment trial of a former U.S. president.
Actions Biden took during his first day in office
Biden’s executive actions to tackle Covid-19
Marijuana developments during Trump’s presidency
By Ramona Lessen, Executive Director, Total Spectrum
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Hearing on the presidential nomination of Gina Raimondo to be Secretary of the Department of Commerce
Tuesday, January 26, 2021; 10:00 a.m.
To view a livestream of the hearing please click here.
The Honorable Gina Raimondo
Governor of Rhode Island
Transcripts of opening remarks by Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Monday, January 25
- 6:00 p.m. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a vote on the nomination of Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State.
Tuesday, January 26
- 10 a.m. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a markup of pending business.
- 10 a.m. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to be Commerce Secretary.
- 11 a.m. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a markup to vote on the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to be Homeland Security Secretary.
Wednesday, January 27
- 9:30 a.m. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be the Energy Secretary.
- 10 a.m. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold an executive session.
- 10 a.m The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on the nomination Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the Representative to the United Nations.
- 3 p.m. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Denis McDonough to be Veterans Affairs Secretary.
- 3 p.m. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee holds a business meeting re: Committee rules for the 117th Congress and a resolution authorizing expenditures by the Committee for the 117th Congress.
Thursday, January 28
- 10 a.m. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee holds a remote hearing on the nominations of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to be Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Cecilia Rouse to be Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
This e-newsletter is produced by Total Spectrum/Steve Gordon and Associates and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The views expressed herein may include subjective commentary and analysis that are the views of the editors and authors alone. Information in this e-newsletter is obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but that cannot be guaranteed as independently investigated or verified. Information in this e-newsletter is not an endorsement, advertisement, recommendation, or any type of advice; political, legal, financial or otherwise. For questions about the content of this e-newsletter, please contact the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.