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D.C. Memo: (Almost) sleeping on the job

An infrastructure bill finally passed, where $17 billion in federal aid to Minnesota businesses went and MyPillow guy’s legal woes.

U.S. Capitol Building
REUTERS/Jim Bourg
The Senate passed a major infrastructure bill this week. It still has to pass the House.

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me attempting to cast away the existential dread inspired by the most recent UN climate report. It’s not looking good, my friends, but work can still be done to avoid the most catastrophic end-states. (I’m really fun at parties.) But still, the show must go on, and in Washington this week we had some big news: an infrastructure bill finally passed, where $17 billion in federal aid to Minnesota businesses went and MyPillow guy’s legal woes.

The senators can go home now

69-30. That was the vote that passed the massive infrastructure package in the Senate, marking a bipartisan win that seems relatively rare in this year’s 50-50 Senate. Every Democrat, including Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, voted in favor of the bill that will invest over $1 trillion in infrastructure across the country.

The bill still has to pass in the House, and it’s pretty high priority — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cut representatives’ summer recess short by two weeks, asking everyone to return to Capitol Hill to vote on August 23. The Senate is out on recess now, with plans to return September 13.

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Up next: reconciliation. As a side dish to the infrastructure deal, Dems are proposing a $3.5 trillion deal that they can pass through the budget reconciliation process, which is a way of amending the federal budget that only requires a simple majority in the Senate.

This bill will be a harder sell in the Senate — it’s chock-full of progressive priorities like universal child care and environmental sustainability programs — but for now, the Senate has approved the framework for the budget. This is not the same as passing the Senate: The approval just allows lawmakers to start crafting legislative text and proposals. Still, senators were up late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning voting on amendments.

“Not going to lie, I almost fell asleep last night several times,” Smith said on Twitter about the Senate’s long night. Smith said they were voting until 5 a.m. because “Senate rules are nuts,” but she called the reconciliation bill “once-in-a-generation” legislation.

Craig & Phillips on their home turf

On Wednesday, Rep. Dean Phillips, Chair of the Small Business Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations, and fellow committee member Rep. Angie Craig got a chance to meet with people in the homeland.

The lawmakers led a listening session with small business owners and advocates for the live events industry from across Minnesota. Many live events venues in Minnesota got federal funds to help offset the huge losses they incurred when they shut their doors. Check out this story to see which venues received funds, and how much money they got.

Phillips and Craig have been vocal advocates since taking office for Minnesota’s small businesses, especially those disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Phillips recently sent letters to state and county leaders requesting additional targeted relief for businesses which rely on in-person service or gatherings, including the myriad of businesses that make up Minnesota’s once-thriving live events industry.

Where did all that federal aid go?

Over the last year, Minnesota businesses and organizations have received around $17 billion in federal money to offset losses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the largest infusion of taxpayer money into the private sector in modern U.S. history. Another bonus? Most of the money will not have to be repaid.

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As reported in the Pioneer Press, three major programs were responsible for most of the aid, which the Small Business Administration says saved 1.8 million Minnesota jobs:

  • The Paycheck Protection Program that sent about $16.6 billion to Minnesota businesses in the form of low-interest loans so they could keep paying their workers. Nearly $10 billion of those loans have already been forgiven.

  • Another $525 million went to Minnesota restaurants through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The $28 billion federal program quickly ran out of money and thousands of restaurants that applied lost out.

  • The Shuttered Venue Operator Grant sent $165 million to the state. It supports entertainment venues that were forced to close.

Though many businesses suffered during the pandemic, the amount of federal money spent in aid eclipses anything seen in recent years — the stimulus money spent during the COVID-19 pandemic is more than triple the 2008 Great Recession-era aid.

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MyPillow case

There will always be a place in this newsletter for MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, the Minnesota man who became a big part of Donald Trump’s sphere of influence. Now, he’s being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems for allegedly claiming without evidence that the voting machine company rigged the 2020 presidential election for President Joe Biden by manipulating votes. The lawsuits are asking for $1.3 billion each.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in D.C. rejected requests from former Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and Lindell that he dismiss lawsuits from Dominion against the trio.

Dominion, in its January complaint, alleged that Powell promoted “a false preconceived narrative” about the 2020 vote, which included unsubstantiated claims that the company was established in Venezuela as part of a vote-rigging operation in favor of the late socialist leader Hugo Chávez and that Dominion bribed state officials in Georgia to secure its contract.

If you’ve been following along with Minnesota’s strange pillow celebrity, has his newfound fame made you want to buy a MyPillow more or less than before? Let me know; I’m curious.

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What I’m reading

  • Press Secretary Jen Psaki is good at mending fences. Just don’t call her nice,” Vogue. This article voiced for me a thought that I’ve been having for a while: Is Jen Psaki actually a press queen, or does she just answer reporters’ questions without spouting easily disprovable lies? That may still be up for debate, but it seems that most White House reporters appreciate her civility and demeanor that feels like “a return to an earlier era.” Psaki told Vogue that President Biden said “We are healing a country whose nerves have been frayed…We need to be projecting calm.” And it seems Psaki has done that. Read on for a deeper dive into her professional life.

  • Why so many Republicans won’t get vaccinated,” The Atlantic. Writer Olga Khazan interviewed self-identified Tucker Carlson fans who had elected to get a vaccine. Carlson, the star of FOX News TV segment Tucker Carlson Tonight, has been credited with spreading vaccine hesitancy among his viewers. This story is an interesting look into the mindset behind vaccine hesitancy and how people ensconced in right-wing conspiracy theories decided that vaccines were the right move for them.

  • What Bobby McIlvaine left behind,” The Atlantic. The tagline of this story by Jennifer Senior reads “grief, conspiracy theories, and one family’s search for meaning in the two decades since 9/11.” This is truly a gripping read that sifts through the grief and confusion still felt 20 years later by many who lost friends and loved ones in the September 11, 2001 attack.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading! As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or thoughts on iconic MyPillow guy to ahackett@minnpost.com, or follow me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.