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D.C. Memo: From the great Ferris wheel of Santa Monica to the mighty twine ball of Darwin

photo of the santa monica pier in the evening, featuring a large ferris wheel
Sen. Amy Klobuchar was in Santa Monica, CA this week.

The D.C. Memo is a weekly recap of Washington political news, journalism, and opinion, delivered with an eye toward what matters for Minnesota. Sign up to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the D.C. Memo. This week in Washington, Congress is in recess, but like boats against the current, the news cycle pushes forward. First to the Santa Monica pier.

The President Next Door?

Sen. Amy Klobuchar was in Santa Monica, CA this week, pitching her campaign to Democrats. Running on “Heartland Economics,” Klobuchar came to the small, wealthy Los Angeles County city aiming to bridge the gap between Minnesota and California.

“We have a problem in the Midwest,” she said, according to the LA Time’s Seema Mehta, referring to her belief that Democrats need to win over a larger coalition of voters. “I am from the Midwest.”

This week, Klobuchar also cemented her farming policy priorities, adopting some of the same approach (and legislative support) she has already backed in the Senate: For example, increasing the Chapter 12 bankruptcy operating debt cap $10 million.

And during an event in Des Moines, IA, Klobuchar recalled sitting next to the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona during President Trump’s inauguration.

“I sat on that stage between Bernie and John McCain, and John McCain kept reciting to me names of dictators during that speech because he knew more than any of us what we were facing as a nation,” Klobuchar said. “He understood it. He knew because he knew this man more than any of us did.”

Up against the sprawl

Rep. Tom Emmer, MN-6, the Chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, briefly detailed his plan for Republicans to take back the House in 2020.

“The road back to the majority is through the suburbs, and the road through the suburbs is going to be with strong female candidates,” he told The Hill. “And we’re going to have it.”

The organization’s counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, looks as if it intends to invest heavily in suburban districts that they say they believe will flip in 2020, primarily in Texas. Both suburban seats surrounding Minneapolis, MN-2 and MN-3, are currently held by Democrats — Rep. Angie Craig and Rep. Dean Phillips, respectively.

Walz calls for a ‘major disaster’ declaration due to storms

After evaluating the damage from storms that hit Minnesota earlier this year, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz formally requested the President designate a “Major Disaster,” so that funding can be allocated for repairs. The entire delegation (apart from Collin Peterson, MN-7) endorsed the governor’s plan.

A foreign policy ‘Green New Deal’

Rep. Ilhan Omar, MN-5, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, talked with the the Star Tribune’s Patrick Condon about how she intends to make her mark on U.S. foreign policy. Most recently, Omar introduced a bill to hold Brunei accountable for criminalizing, among other things, homosexuality and abortion.

“When I think about foreign policy, we need something equivalent to the Green New Deal,” she said in an interview.

Omar’s existence on the committee is perhaps a test, as well as a chance, to show what the Congressional Progressive Caucus (Omar serves as Whip) will have to say about foreign policy both now, but as one of the newer members of the caucus, in the future.

Even Al Franken has a podcast

Former Sen. Al Franken, who was accused of sexual misconduct by eight women, has returned to the spotlight with a podcast hosted in D.C. Franken has actually been hosting a podcast for the last year, but the relaunch seems intended to expand the number of listeners.

“I can’t explain it right now,” he told the Washington Post outside of the studio where the podcast is recorded, referring to the allegations. “There will be a certain point I give my first interview, and when it happens, I think you’ll understand.”

Franken has slowly been moving back into the spotlight, using his platform to fundraise for causes of his choice. And several prominent celebrities have lamented about Franken’s resignation.

“I actually miss him and I’m sorry that he’s gone. Do you think the Democratic voters are going to turn on you for this?,” The View host Joy Behar asked Presidential Candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, since she was one of the first Senators to publicly ask for Franken’s resignation.

“I think there are a few influential and powerful Democratic donors and elites who are angry about it,” Gillibrand said. “But if they’re going to be angry about me standing up for women who were groped, that’s on them.” For the campaign, that reality seems to have come to fruition: she has suggested that prominent donors are punishing her campaign for her stance.

Moving forward, Franken looks poised to make more public appearances, and is set to be the keynote speaker at the Jewish Family Service of St. Paul Jazz Brunch on June 2nd.

Dean Phillips wants a 21st century Congress

Most visitors to the U.S. Capitol come for the novelty of sneaking a peak at a member of Congress. The history. The architecture.

But across the street from the U.S. Capitol, when members of Congress are done with their votes, they walk (or take a not-very-secret miniature subway) back to offices that look straight out of the 1980’s: most of them cramped, adorned with mahogany furniture, and hidden behind a maze of doors and construction noises. The Washington Post covered the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, with modernization efforts being pushed by Rep. Dean Phillips, MN-3.

When I visited Phillips office earlier this month, his staff were meeting in the reception area, doughnuts from a constituent breakfast sprawled out on the table. Some members don’t have a lot of room to work with: Phillips staff squeezed into the Congressman’s office to finish up their meeting, and then back out again when the Congressman came back from voting.

“My upbringing and experience in building businesses taught me the importance of listening and the practice of radical hospitality,” Phillips told MinnPost this week. Ideally, Phillips would like to see collaborative meeting spaces, instead of cramped offices, and for Congress to take modernization seriously.

To illustrate his point, Phillips pointed me to something that he was given the first day in office: a pager on his desk that was gathering dust. He hasn’t used it since.

“As people spend more time in front of screens and less time in front of one another, I believe in convening and inspiring others to do the same in their own neighborhoods and communities. That starts with how I run my own office; a welcoming, friendly environment in which to enjoy a cup of coffee and have a conversation with me or my staff. That’s representation.”

In other news

  • Former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III gave a public briefing in which he declined to clear the President, contradicting Attorney General William Barr’s assessment that President Trump was not guilty of “obstructive conduct.”
  • The White House asked the U.S. Navy to hide a ship named after Sen. McCain (as well as his father and grandfather), while the President visited Japan this week.
  • Rep. Duncan Hunter, CA-50, in the San Diego Union Tribune: “We fired hundreds of rounds into Fallujah, killed probably hundreds of civilians — probably killed women and children…do I get judged too?”

Quote of the week

“You guys have this beautiful solar-powered Ferris wheel (on the Santa Monica Pier) — very famous. And we have the world’s largest ball of twine.” — Klobuchar in Santa Monica.

What I’m reading

Rewire.News: On the Trump Administration’s “Zero-Tolerance” Policy

This week, something a bit different. Tina Vasquez, a reporter at Rewire.News, has been running a series all month on the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

The headlines speak for themselves, but I highly suggest taking a read.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for sticking around. Until next week, feel free to send tips, suggestions, and sound advice to: gschneider@minnpost.com. Follow at @gabemschneider.

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