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D.C. Memo: Not optimistic

Infrastructure moves; the eviction ban; and Emmer on what makes America beautiful.

screenshot of formerr rep. collin peterson speaking at farmfest
During a Farmfest panel, former Minnesota Seventh Congressional District Rep. Collin Peterson expressed pessimism about the future of U.S. governance.

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me obsessing over an infrastructure deal, which truly is not something I ever expected to say. Such is life as a Washington correspondent. Infrastructure is dominating conversations at the Capitol this week, but there’s more in store: Omar joins protest in support of extending the eviction moratorium,  Emmer on what makes America beautiful and some sobering words from former Rep. Collin Peterson.

The long road to infrastructure nearing its end

I’ve written about infrastructure so much in the last few months that I’m running out of road puns, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. The most dramatic thing happening on Capitol Hill this week is what senators are calling the final push on Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Minnesota’s delegation is a perfect case study for the congressional divides over the infrastructure package. Moderates are generally happy with the bill, but progressives and conservatives take issue with its contents because it lacks support for their priority issues or spends too much money on suggested projects. For more information on how our senators and representatives are dealing with the prospect of this huge package, check out my story from yesterday.

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It’s still TBD on when we might see the vote on the final passage. Technically, senators should be on recess back in their home states starting next week, but I’ve heard from some lawmakers, including Sen. Tina Smith, that senators plan on staying in the Capitol until they can come to a vote. This could take a while, or, if there is widespread agreement on the contents of the bill, they could wrap things up as soon as Saturday.

In more Minnesota-specific infrastructure news, the White House released yesterday some preliminary numbers on how much federal money Minnesotans can expect if the deal passes:

    • $4.5 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs

    • $302 million for bridge replacement and repairs

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    • $820 million to improve public transportation across the state

    • $68 million to support the expansion of an electric vehicle charging network in the state

    • $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 83,000 Minnesotans who currently lack it

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These are just general preliminary predictions, and more information will be available in the coming weeks if the bill passes into law.

Evictions protest

Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri slept in a chair on the Capitol steps for three nights to protest the end of a federal ban on evictions. Her goal was to convince President Joe Biden and lawmakers in Congress to reinstate a federal eviction moratorium that had expired on Saturday, putting millions of people at risk of being removed from their homes.

Bush, who had experienced homelessness earlier in her life, said she would not leave until the president reinstated the ban on evictions as COVID-19 infections surge nationwide again.

Fellow lawmakers — including Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar — and activists stopped by. Omar joined Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley in staying with Bush overnight on Friday.

“This pandemic is not behind us, and our federal housing policies should reflect that stark reality. With the United States facing the most severe eviction crisis in its history, our local and state governments still need more time to distribute critical rental assistance to help keep a roof over the heads of our constituents,” said Bush in a joint statement with Rep. Jimmy Gomez of California and Pressley.

Bush’s efforts gained national attention and praise, fueling the mounting pressure on the Biden administration to take immediate action to protect tenants after Congress failed to extend the moratorium and the House adjourned Friday for a seven-week recess.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would implement another order barring evictions through October 3, 2021, for “United States counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels” of COVID-19.

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In a press conference before news of the CDC’s announcement broke, Bush spoke about the hardships of housing insecurity. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 11.4 million adult renters are behind on rent payments. Beyond caring about humanity, Bush told reporters, she is able to draw from her own experience living in a car about 20 years ago.

‘Patriots’ on the ballot

We talk about Jan. 6 a lot in this memo. That’s partly because hearings and investigations of the insurrection are still ongoing, partly because I was present for it and that will stay in my mind forever, and partly because it is a huge sticking point for the GOP campaign arm. That’s what we’re talking about today.

Some House Republican leaders have condemned the violent Capitol riot, but various GOP candidates looking towards the upcoming midterm elections either took part in the riot or have voiced support for the actions taken by the pro-Trump mob there.

One GOP hopeful is Tina Forte, a long-shot candidate seeking to unseat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. She posed for a picture the day of the insurrection wearing what appears to be black body armor, and in another photo from that day she displayed a white power hand gesture. Derrick Van Orden, who is running for Democratic Rep. Ron Kind’s seat in Wisconsin’s third congressional district, used leftover campaign funds from his 2020 run against Kind to travel to D.C. for Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally. Van Orden has claimed that he never stepped foot on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, but there is some photo evidence to the contrary.

As midterm campaigning ramps up, National Republican Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer is faced with a party somewhat divided over the large, divisive issue of the Jan. 6 attack. During a town hall meeting last week, Emmer was asked, “I’ve seen reports that many patriots that rallied in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 are now running for Congress. Do you support these patriots in their efforts to take back America?”

“The beauty of this country is that anybody who wants to run for office can,” Emmer said in response to the question. “I want as many people as possible who share our values to step up and be the voice and run for office,” Emmer said.

Collin it like he sees it

It’s Farmfest week, meaning farmers and agriculture advocates gathered near Morgan to participate in panels and conversations about Minnesota agriculture. Former Seventh District Collin Peterson was present, and he voiced his concerns about the state of the U.S. today.

“I’m not optimistic about the country because we are so damn divided. I don’t know how we continue to govern this country. I really don’t,” he said. Peterson, who represented western Minnesota in Congress for 30 years before being unseated by Rep. Michelle Fischbach in 2020, kept going down this doom-and-gloom path.

“We’ve got these cable news shows that are making it worse and just, I don’t know how we’re gonna pull this thing back together. You know, people say to me, do you miss being in Congress? And I said no, I don’t miss it given what’s going on. What I miss is what it was like 15 or 20 years ago. And I’m not sure it’s going to ever come back. So anyway, I’m going to stay involved and all of you need to get involved. And we’re going to have to put more time and more money into the politics to make this work in the future,” Peterson said.

What I’m reading

  • Biden’s climate plans are stunted after dejected experts fled Trump,” New York Times. Hundreds of scientists and policy experts fled federal agencies when Trump took over the White House, with some saying that being pushed to downplay mentions of climate change was demoralizing. Now, recruitment is suffering as government science jobs are no longer seen as insulated from politics.
  • Overwork is taking a huge physical and mental toll on workers,” Teen Vogue. Rainesford Stauffer, a favorite author and journalist of mine, spoke with a number of young workers, labor empowerment advocates and Rep. Ayanna Pressley for this story on overwork during the pandemic.
  • A psychologist explains why the pandemic has destroyed your memory (and what to do about it),” Inc. At least now I know I’m not the only one who has had weird memory issues during the pandemic. If you have too, this article might be a good pick-me-up: technically, your brain slowdowns may not be your fault. And the good news is, there are some ways to fix it: more exercise/outside time and getting vaxxed and (safely) resocializing with family and friends.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or thoughts on preliminary infrastructure numbers to ahackett@minnpost.com, 0r reach me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.