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D.C. Memo: There is no happiness in life

More awkward moments, a fatalistic Russian leader and Minnesota’s youngest 2021 Pulitzer Prize recipient.

photo of biden meeting with putin
Asked about whether Russia would change its behavior regarding cyberattacks on the U.S., President Vladimir Putin replied, “There is no happiness in life, there is only a mirage on the horizon, so cherish that.”
REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me rejoicing that the District has officially met the White House goal of having 70 percent of the U.S. adult population partially vaccinated by July 4. I might not be as hesitant this year to head over to the National Mall for its famous fireworks display on the fourth. This week in the Memo, you’ll find more awkward moments, a fatalistic Russian leader and Minnesota’s youngest 2021 Pulitzer Prize recipient.

It’s still Minnesota awkward

Last week, we talked about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweet mentioning the U.S. and Israel in the same sentence as Hamas and the Taliban, and how things got awkward when a group of House lawmakers including Rep. Dean Phillips sent a letter admonishing Omar for her tweet.

Well, things are still kinda awkward. House Democrats are still trying to move past the angry exchanges and accusations of bigotry. Republicans are seeking ways to exploit the divide in the Democratic party. The antagonism comes at a precarious time for House Democrats, who will need to unite in their slim majority to get legislation passed, including a massive infrastructure package and an expansion of the social safety net.

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The Congressional Black Caucus backed Omar on Wednesday, more than a week after her original tweet.

Still confused about what this is all about? This smart piece from Elizabeth Bruenig The Atlantic breaks down what Omar said and how it’s being interpreted — and willfully misinterpreted — by both Republicans and Democrats.

Emo Putin

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met Wednesday for the first time since Biden took office. Putin called the meeting “constructive,” while Biden said “I did what I came to do.” The three hours of meetings at the Geneva summit included discussions on cybersecurity and arms control, among other topics.

One of Biden’s team’s main goals in planning this summit was to avoid the Helsinki 2018 spectacle, when former President Donald Trump met alone with Putin for two hours and emerged to announce that he took the Russian leader’s word over U.S. intelligence on election meddling.

Biden made clear that Russia has a responsibility to tamp down on cybercrime originating from the country.

Still, when pressed by reporters on whether he was confident Putin would change his behavior in relation to cyber-attacks, Biden said, “I’m not confident of anything.”

Through his interpreter, Putin went dark for reporters: “There is no happiness in life, there is only a mirage on the horizon, so cherish that.” Sounds like Putin took a page out of my angsty teenage journal, but I digress.

Land grab, or conservation effort?

On Tuesday, Minnesota’s Republican delegation (Reps. Pete Stauber, Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn and Michelle Fischbach) sent a letter to President Biden to express their concerns over his proposed “Conserving 30 Percent of America’s Land and Waters by 2030” initiative, otherwise known as 30×30.

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Soon after taking office, Biden issued an executive order with the goal of tackling the climate crisis domestically and abroad. Part of that order is a national goal to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and freshwater and 30 percent of U.S. ocean areas by 2030. Hence, 30×30.

According to Minnesota’s Republican delegation, the 30×30 initiative would place 681 million acres of additional land and water under government control, including private land. “Hundreds of millions of additional acres, either privately owned or managed by federal, state, or local governments, are threatened by this land grab,” they wrote in a press release.

Stauber, a Duluth native whose district covers much of northern Minnesota, said that continued multiple-uses of our land, including recreation like ATV riding, hunting, snowmobiling, and fishing, along with productive uses like timber harvesting, mineral development, and farming, are absolutely essential to our livelihoods and way of life. Unfortunately, the 30×30 land grab proposed by the Biden Administration’s Interior and other Departments would impair my constituents’ ability to live their daily lives.”

In their letter, the representatives asked for answers from Biden about how it would respect ongoing state and local conservation efforts and how it would impact recreational use of ATVs, boats and snowmobiles.

Racial justice, but only figuratively

Observed on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas finally learned they had been set free two and a half years earlier, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Many states officially observe June 19 in some way but until now, Juneteenth hasn’t gotten much federal recognition. President Joe Biden signed a bill into law Thursday that establishes June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Although the bill made it through the Senate with no debate, 14 Republicans in the House voted against it. All eight of Minnesota’s House representatives voted in favor of making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Mainstream interest in Juneteenth was reinitiated last year following the protests of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and the countless others who were killed by police officers or white supremacists.

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There’s some criticism surrounding the bill, including that making Juneteenth a national holiday doesn’t solve material problems like voting rights and police brutality, which overwhelmingly affects Black people and people of color in general. Despite numerous attempts to criminalize lynching, the act is still not a federal crime.

Filmmaker Bree Newsome tweeted: “I find this insulting, actually. For the Senate to unanimously pass this bill but refuse to unanimously support Black voting rights is a spit in the face. It’s [an] entirely patronizing, hollow performance. They don’t deserve applause for this.”

Teenage Pulitzer Prize winner

The Pulitzer Prize board awarded a special citation last Friday to Darnella Frazier, the teenager whose cellphone footage of George Floyd’s murder last summer led to massive protests and sparked a racial reckoning in the country. Frazier was also a key witness in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of second-degree murder, third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Frazier has written that “behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day.”

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What I’m reading

  • New Zealand houseplant sells for $19,200 in online bidding war, CNN. I usually try to show you all some thought-provoking stories I’ve been reading, but this one is not necessarily as deep as usual. The title says it all, really: Someone out there in New Zealand paid out nearly $20k for a house plant with nine leaves. Even as a self-proclaimed house plant aficionado, I couldn’t imagine spending more than $100 on a plant.
  • ‘People of Praise leaders failed me’: Christian group tied to Justice Amy Coney Barrett faces reckoning over sexual misconduct, Washington Post. I was hooked as soon as I saw the dateline: Eden Prairie, Minn. This story dives into the controversy surrounding a religious group involved in a sexual misconduct case. And it goes even deeper: Amy Coney Barrett, the newest addition to the Supreme Court, was raised in a People of Praise community in Louisiana and has long been active in the church. This one is a wild ride.
  • US marshals act like local police, but with more violence and less accountability, The Marshall Project and USA Today. If you’ve been following the case of Winston Smith, the man who was shot and killed by officers in a U.S. Marshals task force on June 3, you’ll have heard about the marshals. I wrote a couple of articles on that situation, and in my research came across this excellent investigation looking into some of the regulations — or lack thereof — on some of  America’s most lethal fugitive apprehension teams. If you’re looking for more background on the marshals, I highly recommend this read.

That’s it from me. Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to send any questions, comments or awkward moments to ahackett@minnpost.com, or reach me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.