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D.C. Memo: On the roads, again

A bipartisan 1/6 commission, roadblocks to an infrastructure package, and Omar doubles down.

President Joe Biden reached a compromise with Republican lawmakers last week on his major infrastructure plan, but that was just the first step.
President Joe Biden reached a compromise with Republican lawmakers last week on his major infrastructure plan, but that was just the first step.
Minnesota Department of Transportation

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week, you can find me finally relaxing a bit as Congress moves toward its holiday break. I hope you all are able to take a breather this coming weekend, and if you have access to a lake, please know I’m jealous — the Potomac River is no match for White Bear Lake. Or Lake Elmo. Or Bde Maka Ska. Or Gull Lake. (I think you get where I’m going here.) Jealousy aside, here’s what we’ve got this week: A bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, infrastructure package roadblocks, and Omar doubling down.

A bipartisan Jan. 6 commission

We’ve been covering weekly updates on Congress’ attempt to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot for a while now, and though it’s taken more than six months to get there, lawmakers have finally landed on a select bipartisan committee.

The House voted 222-190 Wednesday to create a new committee that will investigate the deadly attack on the Capitol, with the vote falling mostly along party lines. Just two Republicans joined with Democrats to support its creation: Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

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As members of Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Capitol Police looked on from the gallery, Democrats tore apart GOP members who opposed the committee ahead of the vote.

“I think for some on the other side, nothing that gets to the truth will ever be good enough, because they do not want the truth,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, who led the debate ahead of the vote.

The vote comes after Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan probe into the events surrounding the Jan. 6 riot and its aftermath. The select panel will have subpoena power and a total of 13 members, with eight selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and five by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Some lawmakers celebrated the vote, though Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District Rep. Michelle Fischbach wasn’t one of them. “Democrats refuse to put together a truly bipartisan commission,” Fischbach said. “There is no doubt that what transpired Jan. 6 was a dark day, but instead of a good faith effort to reach an objective conclusion, Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats have placed partisan divisive politics ahead of the interests of the American people.”

The commission will run parallel to criminal investigations by the FBI that have led to more than 500 arrests connected to the breach of the Capitol.

Long road ahead for infrastructure package

President Joe Biden reached a compromise with Republican lawmakers last week on his major infrastructure plan, but that was just the first step. Progressives in the House on Monday continued to make clear that they won’t support a bipartisan infrastructure deal without an accompanying liberal bill. 

Within hours of announcing the infrastructure deal, Republican leaders started complaining that Biden said he’d only sign it alongside a filibuster-proof bill to invest in child care, education and climate action. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox News that his party went “from optimism to pessimism” after that.

Is the infrastructure agreement already hitting roadblocks? (Sorry, I’ll stop.)

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Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips soon got involved, calling threats from Republicans like McConnell “political posturing.”

“Let the minority leader say whatever he wishes,” Phillips said. “This is chapter one of a multichapter book, so we’ll see where it goes.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar said to “expect a huge revolt” if Biden fails to deliver both bills. Omar, who serves as the whip for the Progressive Caucus, told the Washington Post that when she surveyed the caucus on the issue last week, 80 percent of their members responded, with 60 percent indicating “they will not support a bipartisan legislation if there is no movement on a reconciliation legislation that includes our five priorities.”

What’s this job worth to you?

House appropriators are feeling out the option of raising congressional member pay, requesting a report on comparison of member salaries to those in the private sector. The current salary for rank-and-file House and Senate lawmakers is $174,000, but it’s higher for those with official leadership titles and responsibilities. Though that number might not sound too shabby to some, member pay hasn’t changed since 2009.

And yet: Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig joined Chris Pappas, a Democratic representative from New Hampshire, in writing a letter to the House Legislative branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan of Ohio urging the subcommittee to again prevent a pay raise. 

Yes, they’re pleading to not get a pay raise.

“For the last year and a half, hardworking Americans in our districts and across the country have been fighting to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn,” Craig and Pappas wrote. “To be clear: these hardworking Americans have not been able to give themselves raises. Members of Congress should not do so either.”

There is also a pay disparity on Capitol Hill the people who might actually need a raise aren’t members of the House or Senate, but their staffers. The average salary for a legislative assistant in Congress was $54,659 in 2020, but many staffers made as little as $43,811. That’s a salary that, in D.C., would not get you much more than a shared bedroom in a rowhouse basement. Congress only recently started paying its interns.

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A group of 110 House Democrats recently endorsed a 21 percent increase in the Member Representational Allowance, which they said would go toward increasing staff salaries.

Omar doubles down

Rep. Ilhan Omar, who came under fire by members of her own party in June after comments about Israel, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday that she does not regret her comments. When pressed by Tapper on how she would respond to her fellow House Democrats who have called some of her remarks antisemetic, Omar said she has already apologized and clarified those remarks when she felt her words offended others. Omar also said “it’s really important for these members to realize that they haven’t been partners in justice, they haven’t been, you know, equally engaging in seeking justice around the world.”

Then, on Wednesday, Omar issued a lengthy statement on Twitter highlighting the historic ties between the Black and the Jewish communities and said she’s committed to finding solidarity with both her Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues to fight injustices. 

“I am someone who has survived war and experienced injustice firsthand,” Omar said on Twitter. “I know that many of my colleagues — both Jewish and non-Jewish — deeply share that commitment to fighting injustice.”

Ellison goes federal

Last week, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison secured a sentence of 22½ years in prison for Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. During a press conference immediately after the sentencing hearing, Ellison, who had requested that the former Minneapolis police officer get a 30-year prison sentence, acknowledged that the punishment is “one of the longest a former police officer has ever received for an unlawful use of deadly force.”

Ellison also said that by itself, Chauvin’s sentence is not enough, adding that “concrete change” must come through legislative action at the local, state and federal levels. He said that Congress has not yet passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, calling it critical legislation.

“I call on leaders and members of Congress to pass the best and strongest version of this bill that can be passed and to pass it now,” the attorney general said, pointing out that President Biden himself has urged lawmakers to quickly pass the sweeping police reform legislation. “It must be passed,” Ellison argued. “Lives are depending upon it. It’s just that simple.” 

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What I’m reading

  • I write about the law. But could I really help free a prisoner? New York Times. Times reporter Emily Bazelon writes a compelling narrative about her experience meeting a man who had been in prison for years while maintaining his innocence. As a total legal nerd, I love “how it’s made” articles like this, which look behind the scenes on what it takes to write a huge story or achieve something like getting someone out of prison. It’s a long one, but you can also listen to the audio version at the top of the article.
  • America’s workers are exhausted and burned out — and some employers are taking notice, Washington Post. “Burnout” seems to be the buzzword in corporate America these days, and for good reason: Many people have just had enough. Enough Zoom meetings, enough working from the same room or corner of a bedroom every day, and enough emotional and physical fatigue after being witness to so many deaths during the pandemic. This article explores how some tech companies are giving their employees a mandatory week away from work this summer, and how it seems to be working.

That’s all from me this week. As always, please feel free to send any comments, questions, or your best infrastructure puns to ahackett@minnpost.com, or find me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.