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D.C. Memo: Dean of the Problem Solvers

This week: House Republicans back a last-ditch election lawsuit; Omar softens her tone while Phillips toughens his.

Rep. Dean Phillips
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Rep. Dean Phillips has continued pushing for a new federal COVID-19 stimulus package.
Welcome to this week’s edition of the D.C. Memo. This week: House Republicans back a last-ditch election lawsuit; Omar softens her tone while Phillips toughens his. But first, a brief plea: MinnPost is a nonprofit news organization that relies on support from our readers for a big portion of our budget. If you value the D.C. Memo, or even if it’s just a hate-read for you, please consider becoming a member now. Alright, here we go!

Mitch, please

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, about to become the most powerful Republican in Washington, acknowledged Joseph R. Biden’s win in the presidential election — more than a month after votes were cast. McConnell congratulated Biden Tuesday, a day after Electoral College voters cast their votes affirming the election results.

Late last week, before the Electoral College had certified the vote, Minnesota’s GOP delegation in the House of Representatives got behind a quixotic Texas lawsuit intended to upend the election. Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Peter Stauber joined Tom Emmer in backing an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit, which sought to invalidate 62 of Biden’s Electoral College votes in four swing states. In a prepared statement, Hagedorn, who represents the rural First District, said, “Election laws across several states were amended or suspended in the closing months of the 2020 election by acts of state officials and courts, not state legislatures.” He said the U.S. Supreme Court should consider the case “to ensure that all U.S. citizens are treated fairly and the election was conducted in accordance with state laws.” Alas, the measure, which was signed by a total of 126 House Republicans, was thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Some love for electors

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In a normal presidential election year, few people would be paying attention, but at the state House of Representatives on Monday, 10 electors and eight alternates convened to cast Electoral College votes for Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. Spoiler alert: The state’s 10 electoral votes, according to both Minnesota law and precedent, went to Biden and Harris, who received 1,717,077 votes compared with 1,484,065 for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, according to the state’s official tally.  If you really want to, you can watch the proceedings on this Pioneer Press link.

Just a few things, Mr. President

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar has a few requests for President-elect Biden, reports the Star Tribune’s Briana Bierschbach. Her wish list, included in a petition rolled out last week, urges the Biden administration to support the cancellation of tens of thousands of dollars in federal college debt per student; pay all federal contractors a $15 minimum wage; and declare climate change a national emergency, among other things. Oh, and she’d like it done in the first 100 days of the administration.

“President-elect Biden ran on putting together the most progressive administration in American history,” Omar, a Democrat who represents Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District, told Bierschbach. “He has a real opportunity to keep that promise.“  Collaborating with the president, Bierschbach notes, would be a big change for Omar, who often clashed with President Trump.

Though she endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and said she will continue to promote progressive positions, Omar said she wants to work privately with Biden and others to find compromise on issues that have languished under Trump.  “We’ve done a lot of stuff publicly and a lot privately on our relationship as we move forward with an administration that is of our own party,” she said.  “That is going to be very different, and our strategy as the progressive wing will be very different.”

Her predecessor, Keith Ellison, now the Minnesota Attorney General, did much of the same when he represented the district, which covers a portion of Minneapolis. Every time he saw Obama in person, Ellison said, he handed him a letter urging him to support a $15 minimum wage for federal contractors. “Having an administration of the same party has its own challenges and you’ve got to continue to advocate,” he said. “Not because Biden doesn’t want to help, but because Biden has so many competing things, so many others are asking for things, that they might be inclined to help you but you are just way down the list.”

No more Mr. Nice Guy

U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips is continuing to be a prominent part of a push on a proposed $908 billion federal COVID-19 economic recovery bill. Phillips is part of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of 50 lawmakers who say they have kept momentum going for a deal by proposing alternatives.  The Democrat, who represents the suburban Third District, told the Star Tribune that he told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that his support for her in a leadership vote on Jan. 3 would depend on getting a deal.  “Most people who meet with the speaker and discuss support for her ask for a committee assignment … or for personal favors,” Phillips told the paper.  “(My request) was pretty simple and it, frankly, has repercussions to me and others and they have already started.”

In an interview with National Public Radio, Phillips also explained why he was so committed to getting COVID-19 relief passed:  “I saw a photo a couple weeks ago, like many of your listeners, of thousands of cars lined up in Dallas, Texas, at a food bank. I learned that 40% of those families had never needed a food handout before in their lives. And I made the decision after seeing that photo and similar ones from my own hometown of Minneapolis that I would speak with the speaker and let her know that it was the single most important issue to me, that being on any certain committee or having a certain bill passed was in second place compared to the most important mission. And it still is the truth. If we get this bill through the Congress, I will vote for her. If we do not, I will seek new leadership because that is the responsibility of leadership.”

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What I’m reading

Here’s a couple of stories that should give the Democratic Party the shudders: The first is, “The Fight to Win Latino Voters for the GOP,” a New York Times Magazine piece by By Marcela Valdes that examines the Republican Party’s efforts to bring more Latinos into the fold – specifically through an organization funded by the Charles Koch Institute called Libre Initiative. “Going into the 2020 election, progressives still cherished the fantasy that Latino voters across the country would line up behind Democrats en masse.  Several Southwestern states with large Latino populations — Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico — did give their electoral votes to Biden.  In Arizona, Democrats flipped a Senate seat.  Even in Pennsylvania, Latinos’ nearly 300,000 votes might have been decisive in Biden’s win.  But in several states where Democrats thought they would get a boost from Latino voters, they lost. Florida and Texas each went to Trump, just as they did in 2016.  In Florida, Republicans also gained two House seats.”

The second story is, “How Trump Won One of America’s Most Diverse Counties — By a Lot.” Written by Michael Kruse for Politico, the piece takes a look at Robeson County, a region of North Carolina that went for Trump in 2016 and 2020 and which Politico calls a “barometer” for future elections. The county of 130,000 is “one of the most broadly diverse in the nation — 42.3 percent American Indian, 30.6 percent white, 23.6 percent black, with a growing Hispanic presence as well.“ Here’s the heart of the piece: “For all the headaches that Trump’s overall manner and refusal to concede pose for Republicans and those candidates eyeing House, Senate or presidential bids, he has crafted a sort of template for how the GOP might prevail even without him.  Because as Democrats made marked gains with an increasingly multiracial mix of voters in and around the most metropolitan areas, Trump did a version of the same out in the hinterlands—defying the conventional wisdom that rural America is a sprawling demographic dead end of a steadily dwindling swath of less-educated white voters.  On the contrary, Trump found ways to juice his support in these places, drawing support from pools of people previously considered all but unreachable for Republicans.”

Finally, ICYMI, here are some good MinnPost reads from the last week:

Well, that’s it for now — and, actually, for a while. Our regular publication day falls on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve this year, and while I (like all good Minnesotans) can be a work martyr with the best of them, my editor went soft long ago after spending too much time on the East Coast. That means the next memo won’t hit your inbox until Jan. 7, 2021. So stay safe and be well until then and, as always, don’t hesitate to contact me at gaamot@minnpost.com or find me on Twitter.