Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Great River Energy generously supports MinnPost’s D.C. Memo. Learn why.

D.C. Memo: Pony up

This week: Stillwater’s Denis McDonough joins the Biden administration; Republicans remain silent; and Dylan keeps being Dylan.

Denis McDonough
White House/Pete Souza
Denis McDonough
Welcome to this week’s edition of the D.C. Memo.  Since last week’s memo was hailed by readers, family members and my editor alike as “not half-bad,” I get to do it again!  So let’s get started.  This week: Stillwater’s Denis McDonough joins the Biden administration; Republicans remain silent; and Dylan keeps being Dylan.

McDonough for Veterans Affairs

Politico reports that Denis McDonough — Stillwater Pony, St. John’s University alum, former White House chief of staff, and featured MinnPost anniversary party guest (surely his proudest achievement) — will be named secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Per Politico, the move is considered something of a surprise; McDonough had not been considered a leading contender for the job, but Biden believes he has been crisis-tested and knows how to “pull the levers of government.”

Article continues after advertisement

Not everyone is as excited about the move, however. In the Washington Post, Alex Horton writes that some vets groups expressed skepticism at the pick, since McDonough has never served in uniform.

“He’ll have to go a long way to prove himself to a very skeptical population who would prefer someone with more direct veteran and VA experience,” said Jeremy Butler, chief executive of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group. “He’s starting in a position of public deficit because of who he is not,” he said.Veterans groups have come to expect VA chiefs to carry deep community ties into the job, and there is disappointment among group leaders that McDonough did not serve in uniform, said one top veterans service organization official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss the selection. … If confirmed, McDonough would be the 11th VA secretary since the agency was elevated to a Cabinet-level organization in 1989 but only its second nonveteran leader. VA, the second-largest federal agency, includes health care for 9 million veterans, a vast benefits bureaucracy and dozens of national cemeteries, with a budget of $263 billion in 2021.

Whatever those concerns, they were outweighed by Biden’s familiarity with and confidence in McDonough. Writes The New York Times:

Mr. McDonough is a comfortable choice for Mr. Biden at the scandal-plagued V.A. Mr. McDonough has a background in national security affairs, having served at the White House as the deputy national security adviser before becoming Mr. Obama’s chief of staff. In both roles, he worked closely with Vice President Biden. Part of those responsibilities included Mr. McDonough working on behalf of military families, a role that helped convince Mr. Biden that he was the right person to run the sprawling agency that manages health care and other benefits for veterans. … As a member of the national security staff, Mr. McDonough made frequent trips to meet with members of the military, according to a person familiar with the discussions who requested anonymity to speak about private conversations. Mr. McDonough also worked with Robert A. McDonald, the former Veterans Affairs secretary, on improving care for veterans in the wake of devastating reports of long waits to see doctors.

Top GOPers remain silent

The Star Tribune’s Patrick Condon tried valiantly to get Minnesota’s GOP congressional delegation to go on the record about President Donald J. Trump’s election fraud allegations — to no avail.  Condon reports that the newspaper renewed requests for comment from the offices of U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer, Pete Stauber and Jim Hagedorn, as well as from Rep.-elect Michelle Fischbach.

The response: crickets.

That makes political sense.  As Condon writes: “The three GOP congressmen have all positioned themselves as supporters of Trump’s agenda, and there’s little doubt the president’s popularity with Republican and right-leaning voters boosted their own electoral prospects.  Their new colleague, Fischbach, unseated long-serving Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson last month in northwestern Minnesota’s Seventh District, where Trump performed strongly.”

Article continues after advertisement

And though Condon managed to find a Republican willing to criticize the electeds’ reticence (Andy Brehm, a Minneapolis attorney who worked for former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and in the George W. Bush White House) the delegation is hardly alone. Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported:

“Just 27 congressional Republicans acknowledge Joe Biden’s win over President Trump a month after the former vice president’s clear victory of more than 7 million votes nationally and a convincing electoral-vote margin that exactly matched Trump’s 2016 tally. Two Republicans consider Trump the winner despite all evidence showing otherwise. And another 220 GOP members of the House and Senate — about 88 percent of all Republicans serving in Congress — will simply not say who won the election. Those are the findings of a Washington Post survey of all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate that began the morning after Trump posted a 46-minute video Wednesday evening in which he wrongly claimed he had defeated Biden and leveled wild and unsubstantiated allegations of ‘corrupt forces’ who stole the outcome from the sitting president.”

Land returned to Leech Lake

Both chambers of Congress have now passed a bill that would return more than 11,000 acres of land in Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.  Sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the bill passed the House this week after having passed the Senate more than a year ago.  It will now go to the White House for the President Trump’s signature.

As Hannah Smith of the Duluth News Tribune reports, the land was wrongly transferred from the tribe in the 1940s and ‘50s.  According to language in the bill, Smith reports, the land was taken during a time in which “the Bureau of Indian Affairs incorrectly interpreted an order of the Secretary of the Interior to mean that the Department of the Interior had the authority to sell tribal allotments without the consent of a majority of the rightful landowners.”

Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson characterized the development as a win for treaty rights.

‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ (in the basement)

No, this isn’t Washington news, but it is about a matter of great importance. The AP reported that Bob Dylan has sold the rights to his catalog of songs to the Universal Music Publishing Group for an estimated $300 million to $500 million (the actual figure wasn’t disclosed).  That catalog, of course, includes “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and other seminal tunes by the Duluth-born, Hibbing raised Nobel Prize-winner. Meanwhile, the Star Tribune debunked some fake Dylan news – the purported discovery of a tape of a young Bobby Zimmerman practicing for his bar mitzvah in 1954 in the basement of a Hibbing church that was once a synagogue. Alas, the pastor of the church called B.S. on the story, which was published on a fan website in the U.K.  Pastor Andy Petter of Wesley United Methodist Church told the Star Tribune’s Jon Bream that the church was never a synagogue and that the pastor quoted never existed.

Article continues after advertisement

What I’m reading

Why Obama Fears for Our democracy”: In a Q-and-A with The Atlantic, former President Barack Obama (who is out with a new memoir) sounds the alarm about threats to American democracy, including the malevolence of social media.  But he also urges Americans to keep things in perspective.  Money quote: “Compare the degree of brutality and venality and corruption and just sheer folly that you see across human history with how things are now,” he told interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg.  “It’s not even close.”

The Heartbreak of the Black Belt: A Story of Survival in Small-Town America”: Sports Illustrated tells the story of high school football players in an impoverished region of Georgia whose hopes for gridiron glory – if not college scholarships – were upended by the coronavirus pandemic.  One of the players highlighted in Brian Burnsed’s story, Ju-Marcus King, cares for his ailing grandfather, who is recovering from COVID-19, while dreaming of a scholarship from a powerhouse like Alabama.

Exhaustion, injury, freezing cold: This Beargrease dog race competitor braves it all to win’: If you’ve ever wondered about the appeal of a long, cold sled dog race, this piece by Pam Louwagie for the Star Tribune Magazine, about Minnesota musher Ashley Thaemert, lets you in on the secret.  “About 25 miles into her first mid-distance sled dog race, the Beargrease 120 in Minnesota’s arrowhead, Thaemert feels fulfilled,” Louwagie writes. “Her team is running across a postcard-perfect frozen landscape of rolling hills, paper birch and tall pines flocked with fresh white snow and shimmery silver frost.”

ICYMI: Three must-read MinnPost from the past week: 

Well, that’s it for this week.  Don’t be afraid to contact me at or find me on Twitter.