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D.C. Memo: Feet of bipartisanship

The success of an infrastructure deal and the failure of a voting rights package, trouble at the northern border and Doug Emhoff’s cool Minnesotan ex.

screenshot of video of dean phillips and peter meijer exchanging a shoe
Rep. Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota’s Third District, and Rep. Peter Meijer, Republican of Michigan, exchanged shoes on Wednesday.

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week, you can find me trying hard not to think about congressmen’s shoes. Apologies in advance for that gem today. But all feet aside, this week’s memo includes: the success of an infrastructure deal and the failure of a voting rights package, trouble at the northern border and Doug Emhoff’s cool Minnesotan ex.

‘We have a deal’

President Joe Biden struck an infrastructure deal Thursday afternoon with a bipartisan group of senators, approving their plan to provide about $579 billion in new investments in roads, broadband internet, electric utilities and other projects.

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“We have a deal,” Biden said to reporters outside the Oval Office, surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers after their final compromise. “I think it’s really important — we’ve all agreed that none of us got what-all we would have wanted.”

Though this approval is momentous after weeks of haggling and compromising with lawmakers, this is just the beginning. The plan only constitutes a fraction of the original $4 trillion economic proposal Biden has put forth, and top Democrats have said the plan can only move in tandem with a much larger package of spending and tax increases.

Many details of the infrastructure plan have yet to be fully laid out. And as for where the money’s coming from, well, it’s complicated. Right now, it’s expected to be paid for with revenue increases that do not violate either Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class or Republicans’ staunch opposition to reversing business tax cuts passed under former President Donald Trump in 2017.

In addition to all that, legislative text still needs to be drafted, and leading lawmakers will have to balance a lot of different priorities from within each party.

Not for the people anymore

The Senate failed to advance the For the People Act Tuesday when Republicans blocked the sweeping voting rights bill from moving to the floor for a debate. In a vote of 50-50, the bill fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. All Democratic senators voted to begin debate, while Republicans unanimously voted to block it.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Senate Rules Committee Chair and leader on the bill, told reporters Tuesday that Democrats would emerge “united behind getting votes” on the legislation. She also said Republicans “are wanting to stop the debate, just like they tried their hardest to stop people from voting in Texas” and other states.

In March, the bill passed the House mostly along party lines, with one Democrat and all Republicans voting against it.

Rep. Dean Phillips issued a searing statement after the Senate vote, saying that “despite repeated good-faith attempts to forge a bipartisan voting rights package, [senators] refused to even consider Senator Manchin’s compromise proposal. Our founding fathers never envisioned a government so unprincipled, so self-interested, and so unresponsive to the American people it is sworn to serve.”

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Phillips echoed a refrain that’s becoming increasingly common among Democrats: “It’s time to modify the filibuster.”

Trouble at the Northern Border

Last month we reported on Minnesota’s Northwest Angle, the tiny splice of land separated from the contiguous United States by the Lake of the Woods and about 40 miles of Canadian wilderness. Angle residents struggled during the pandemic, locked out of travel to and from the U.S., and separated from tourism revenue.

This week, Rep. Michelle Fischbach issued a statement in response to the news that the U.S.-Canada border will be closed to non-essential travel until at least July 21, 2021.

“It is disappointing to see these unnecessary restrictions continue. Americans have a right to travel to their own country, and commonsense tweaks to travel protocols can effectively facilitate travel while minimizing the risk of COVID-19,” Fischbach said. “I will continue to press the Canadian & U.S. administrations to heed the calls of border communities & allow them to recover. I also urge my colleagues to pass my ANGLE Act to provide aid to the communities that face a second straight summer of virtually no tourist travel.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he hopes “in the coming weeks” to announce loosened travel restrictions at the U.S.-Canadian border, though any decisions will depend on the trajectory of COVID-19.

“We will attentively monitor, but for me the gradual reopening will take place on timelines of several weeks — not several months,” Trudeau said. The prime minister’s caution comes amid growing concern about COVID-19’s Delta variant, and at a time when Canada’s own rate of fully vaccinated people only just moved above 20 percent.

The most bipartisan among us

Rep. Dean Phillips and former Rep. Collin Peterson were among a group of House members awarded the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Jefferson-Hamilton Award for Bipartisanship. Phillips rated at 97%, and Peterson nearly topped the charts at 99%. The ranking, according to the Chamber of Commerce, is based on a number of bills, except those “formally opposed by the Chamber,” that are introduced by a member of the opposite party.

“I’m on a mission to inspire a new era of collaboration in Congress,” Phillips said. “As other political leaders focus on division, my staff and I will always prioritize unifying over common ground for the common good.”

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Listen, bipartisanship can be a good thing, but Phillips and Rep. Peter Meijer, a Republican congressman representing western Michigan, just made it weird. At the Capitol Thursday they decided to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” literally switching shoes with each other. Here’s a video.

Second Gentleman’s Minnesotan ex is cooler than him

“I don’t want to just be the famous ex-wife. I am accomplished in my own right.”

Kerstin Emhoff, the 54-year-old producer, mom, and, yes, ex-wife of the second gentleman Doug Emhoff spoke with POLITICO this week to talk about her life and refreshingly friendly relationship with Emhoff and Vice President Kamala Harris. And she’s from Minnesota, a bonus in my book.

Kerstin grew up in Minnesota and moved to Los Angeles to go to film school. She met Doug when she was waitressing in the early ’90s. Echoing a good chunk of the population, she said she never would have imagined marrying a lawyer. “I was a film student and I grew up in a performing arts school, but you know I like really smart people, and he’s incredibly smart and we connected very quickly,” she said.

In 2007, Kerstin decided to start her own production company called Prettybird, which Ad Age recently named the 2021 Production Company of the year. Since then, she’s produced Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Colin Kaepernick, and some preliminary work on a potential upcoming documentary on flipping Georgia blue.

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What I’m Reading

  • Crushing climate impacts to hit sooner than feared: Draft UN report, Gizmodo. If you’re in the mood for a healthy dose of existential dread today, take a look at this Gizmodo breakdown of the UN’s latest climate report. Reader, things are looking grim. For decades, scientists have warned that warming the earth’s temperature more than 2 degrees Celsius will be catastrophic for the planet — and for humans — but that figure, at least to me, seemed rather far off. Now, we know that the planet is getting dangerously close to that threshold.
  • ‘We stand in solidarity’: Reproductive justice advocates react to Britney Spears’ forced IUD, The 19th*. If you haven’t been following along with the #FreeBritney story, here’s a short catch-up: Popstar Britney Spears has been in a court-ordered conservatorship for 13 years, and until now has been quiet about it. But in an emotional statement delivered to a courtroom, Spears, now 39, said that in this conservatorship she’s not able to get married or have a child — she’s been forced to keep an IUD in by her conservators. The Spears case has become a focus of disability rights and reproductive rights activists, and it’s far from over.
  • Supreme Court sides with high school cheerleader in free-speech dispute over profane Snapchat rant, Washington Post. In an 8-1 opinion Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Pennsylvania cheerleader whose profane off-campus Snapchat stories cost her a spot on the squad. SCOTUS said that the First Amendment rights of high school students should be protected, especially for social media posts made off-campus. This case is pretty big: it’s the first time in over 50 years that a high school student has won a free-speech case at the Supreme Court.

That’s it from me this week. Thanks for reading! As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or a time you walked a mile in someone else’s shoes to ahackett@minnpost.com, or reach me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.