Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me joyfully watching our Minnesota athletes compete in the Olympics, especially Sunisa Lee, who won gold in the women’s gymnastics all-around competition! I’m also celebrating Simone Biles for the honesty and bravery she showed in removing herself from the competition. It’s been a whirlwind of a week in Washington. Here’s what we’ve got: The Capitol Police speak out about Jan. 6, a Minnesota fourth grader prompts political outrage and things get heated in the House.
The huge source of drama on the Hill this week came from a House hearing where a select panel heard from four law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol during the insurrection. It was emotional, to say the least.
Officers gave firsthand accounts of being overrun, assaulted and taunted by rioters, who called some Black officers racial slurs and called others traitors.
“Terrorists” was the word that one officer used exclusively when referring to the rioters. Another said that he was more afraid on Jan. 6 than he ever had been during his time serving in the Army in Iraq. Sgt. Aquilino Gonell said he thought to himself, “This is how I am going to die.”
Officer Michael Fanone of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department said he was tased repeatedly and dragged into the crowd as rioters took his firearm and threatened to shoot him with it.
Fanone was visibly angry at lawmakers who have downplayed the insurrection. He pounded the table, shouting “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!”
I’ve heard Capitol Police officers, who staff each door of the Capitol building and generally provide security and direction here, discussing the hearing with one another. And as D.C. Memo founder Sam Brodey said on Twitter, nearly every USCP officer he passed had the hearing streaming on their phone.
Though none of Minnesota’s congressional delegation took part in this hearing, they had some reactions. Or not.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted an excerpt of the hearing video saying, “This testimony is harrowing and painful. … We deserve answers and accountability. Our democracy demands it.” Rep. Dean Phillips said: “May today’s remarkable and poignant testimony by Sgt. Gonell and Officers Fanone, Hodges and Dunn inspire a new generation of similarly honorable and principled young Americans to become police officers. Our nation needs you now more than ever.”
Rep. Pete Stauber, a former Duluth police officer, on the other hand, declined an interview request from the Duluth News Tribune to react to the hearing.
A fourth grader runs the news cycle
Parents and lawmakers were alarmed this week when a fourth grade student in the Sartell-St. Stephen School District said in a school board meeting that she and her classmates took a survey as part of an “equity audit” and were told by teachers not to repeat the contents of the survey to their parents or ask them questions about topics they did not understand.
Republicans jumped on this issue, saying the school was using COVID-19 relief funding to provide equity audit services. The audits were aimed at helping teachers and staff “understand how culture, power, and race impact self and others.”
“As a father, I am deeply troubled by the reports coming from the Sixth District. It is never appropriate for our students to feel like they cannot share information with their parents or guardians. Even worse, our students should never be instructed to withhold things from them,” Rep. Tom Emmer said in a statement. Emmer sent a letter with the rest of Minnesota’s Republican representatives, Michelle Fischbach, Pete Stauber and Jim Hagedorn, to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen questioning the use of funding.
“It is imperative that this money is used to help our nation recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote. “In this situation it is difficult to understand the correlation between the COVID-19 recovery and forcing fourth graders to take a survey without any parental guidance that makes them feel uncomfortable.”
Mask your enthusiasm
D.C. passed into the “substantial” level of community spread of COVID-19 Tuesday, with over 50 cases per 100,000 over a seven-day average. As a result, at 5 p.m. the White House announced that staffers were once again required to wear masks inside the building, and the White House Correspondents’ Association quickly revised its guidelines for reporters, who will once again mask up in the briefing room.
While the West Wing masked up, members of the House of Representatives were also directed to wear masks while in the Capitol. On Tuesday night the attending physician of the U.S. Congress, Brian Monahan, wrote to members that “for meetings in an enclosed U.S. House of Representatives-controlled space, masks are REQUIRED.”
Some Republican representatives were not masking their anger and frustration at this decision: There are reports of Lauren Boebert of Colorado throwing her mask back at a floor staffer when she was offered one while trying to walk onto the House floor.
Other Republicans including Reps. Brian Mast of Florida, Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa and Beth Van Duyne of Texas all received $500 fines for second offenses of the mask mandate. Additional offenses would result in $2,500 fines.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, the Georgia lawmaker who compared scenes from Jan. 6 to a “tourist visit,” found a way to evade the House’s mask fines. Normally fines are taken from a member’s congressional salary, but Clyde, who owns a firearm business, reportedly “went to payroll and had his federal withholding raised to $11,284 a month. So he only gets $1 of pay.”
Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips wasn’t thrilled, saying that “The lack of basic human decency being exhibited in the House is a stain on our country.”
I don’t have to sit here in D.C. and tell you that there’s a drought happening in Minnesota. Those temperatures are wild, and I don’t envy my friends and family dealing with a lack of rain and 97-degree heat. Here in Washington, Minnesota’s congressional delegation is making moves on behalf of Minnesota farmers.
Sen. Tina Smith introduced a bill along with South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune that would allow future emergency haying on federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land. Right now, emergency haying on CRP land is not allowed until after the primary nesting season, which ends Aug. 1 in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig introduced the House companion to the bill.
And in other agriculture news, Smith and Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced this week that producers in Minnesota and across the country hit hard by the pandemic can apply for federal relief funds before Sept. 17. The two senators, both members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, pressed U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in June to expedite and prioritize relief for farmers, livestock producers, biofuel processors, and timber harvesters and haulers.
What I’m reading
- He couldn’t get over his fiancee’s death. So he brought her back to life, San Francisco Chronicle. Okay, everyone. I have not read a story like this in a while, or maybe ever. I implore you to read this, but only if you’re ready to shed some tears (as I may or may not have done). This story chronicles the attempts of Joshua Barbeau, a Canadian man who lost his fiancee to a rare liver disease eight years earlier, to lessen the burden of grief that he felt. Joshua struggled relentlessly to get over her death, and in an effort to close loops in their relationship, he created an Artificial Intelligence persona that spoke to him the way his fiancee used to do. “With every line, he was buying into the illusion more fully.”
- The Congressional Progressive Staff Association wants to transform Capitol Hill, Teen Vogue. While Congress is now more diverse than ever, staffers remain overwhelmingly white, and staff pay is notoriously low, with morale among staff dropping in the months since the Jan. 6 riot. The average staff member leaves the Hill after only three years, and median salaries for some positions have dropped as much as 20 percent since 2010 with inflation. A group of progressive young staffers on the Hill are trying to change that.
- Benji is one down dog, Texas Monthly. This may be a deep cut for some, but if you ever tried out a YouTube yoga class during the pandemic, you’ve probably heard of “Yoga With Adriene” and maybe remember her dog, Benji. I love reading profiles on people with big public profiles, but I’ve never read one for a dog. This piece was light and fun. Highly recommend.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated what officers testified some January 6 insurrectionists used to trgrt to them. The officers said rioters called them “traitors.”