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D.C. Memo: More than a ceiling

Democrats raised the debt limit, DHS announced opening of the northern border and Rep. Tom Emmer urged Americans to learn to code.

The United States Capitol building
REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger
The United States Capitol building
Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me thinking about how to pronounce the word “gerrymandering.” Apparently a lot of us have been saying it wrong our whole lives, myself included. My apologies to the late Elbridge Gerry. Aside from my existential crisis over a word, here’s what else happened this week: Democrats raised the debt limit, DHS announced opening of the northern border and Rep. Tom Emmer urged Americans to learn to code.

Shattering the [debt] ceiling

After many a partisan argument, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives finally approved legislation to temporarily raise the government’s borrowing limit to $28.9 trillion Tuesday. This move only pushed the deadline for debt default until December, but it buys some more time for negotiations.

The $480 billion debt limit increase vote went along party lines, 219-206, and President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure into law before Monday, when the Treasury Department predicted it would no longer be able to pay the nation’s debts without further congressional action.

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Republicans were not keen on voting in support of raising the debt ceiling because they say Democrats should take sole responsibility due to their desire to spend trillions on the infrastructure bill and their budget reconciliation bill.

Democrats, on the other hand, say Congress needs the increased borrowing authority to cover the costs of tax cuts and spending programs that went into effect under former President Donald Trump’s administration, which Republicans supported at the time.

Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber released a statement after the vote, saying that raising the debt ceiling would “enable President Biden and his allies in Congress to fund their $5.5 trillion tax and spend package, which is filled to the brim with pork. It is unacceptable that Democrats want to spend more money at this critical juncture instead of discussing pro-growth policies that will change the direction of our nearly $29 trillion in national debt.”

Stauber said that because Democrats control the White House, Senate and House, they can figure out how to spend the money and “they can do so alone.”

The Marshals are coming

A member of the House select committee that’s been tasked with investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has warned former aides of Donald Trump that the U.S. Marshals Service could go after them if subpoenas are ignored, according to the Independent.

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the vice chair of the investigative committee, has warned that she will seek criminal contempt charges against any person who fails to comply with the subpoenas that the committee issued last month. The committee announced Thursday that it will move to hold former Trump advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress after declining to comply with a subpoena. The panel plans to vote to certify the contempt charge next Tuesday. The charge could result in a fine and jail time of up to 12 months.

So far, four members of the Trump administration have received subpoenas, or orders to hand over evidence and testify before the committee. Those members include former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, ex-White House adviser Steve Bannon, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino and ex-Defense Department official Kash Patel.

In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, committee member Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Florida, said that the Marshals were being considered to track down those who refuse to show up for testimony.

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The U.S. Marshals Service is a federal law enforcement agency that is primarily responsible for protecting the federal courts, but officers also serve subpoenas and warrants, as well as apprehending fugitives.

Relief at the border

After months of advocacy from Minnesota senators and representatives, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will loosen COVID-19 related restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border. 

Starting in November, non-essential travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to enter the U.S. “via land and ferry ports of entry.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has been sending letters to Canadian officials and asking for clarification from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the ban of Canadian travelers, called this decision “good news.”

“I’ve long advocated to safely open up both land and air travel between the United States and Canada,” Klobuchar said in a press release. “Businesses have suffered and friends and family have been separated for too long. As the Mayor of Duluth would say — we can see the lighthouse on the horizon. This is an important step as we continue to fight our way out of this pandemic.”

Sen. Tina Smith joined Klobuchar in her efforts to open up the border, and this announcement from DHS comes two weeks after Smith and Klobuchar pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to end the restrictions on non-essential land travel from Canada to the United States “because the restrictions have had a catastrophic economic impact on northern border communities.”

“Lifting of the restrictions on Canadian land travel to the United States could not have come soon enough for many Northern border communities and businesses that have been devastated by the steep drop in Canadian travelers,” Smith said in a press release. “We know the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe has seen its revenues down 70 to 80% below average with the restrictions in place, and many others have been hard hit by the restrictions.  This has been a very difficult time for these communities and I hope we will see them recover in the months ahead after the restrictions are ended.”

KSTP spoke with some local business owners in the International Falls area who said they are “really excited” that nonessential travelers will be able to cross the border. One business owner estimated that about 30 percent of her business comes from Canadians who come to shop from the Ft. Francis, Ontario area.

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Learn to code

Rep. Tom Emmer announced this week that he is reintroducing a bill called the Advancing and Promoting Programming (APP) Act. The bill, according to Emmer’s team, is “designed to help American innovators more easily access the tools and resources needed to create applications for web and mobile devices.”

“Facilitating the development of the technology workforce is essential for a strong post-COVID recovery,” Emmer said. “The APP Act will help entrepreneurs and encourage innovation at a critical time. As the digital revolution continues, it’s imperative we keep up with the changing times to improve our future success, and the APP Act will ensure we do just that.”

Emmer has been a vocal advocate of keeping the U.S. competitive in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. When I spoke with him about his focus on cryptocurrency legislation, he told me that a major goal of his is making the U.S. a place where developers are encouraged to innovate. He wants the “digital revolution” to happen in the U.S., not outsourced to other countries with more lax regulations.

What I’m reading

  • “True crime is rotting our brains,” Gawker. I’ll admit it: I used to be a true crime podcast fan. The stories on podcasts like Serial and My Favorite Murder were compelling, and I felt like they offered me real-life examples of crimes so that I’d know how to escape if something similar happened to me. But as I got deeper into my journalism career, I realized the harm that media like this has, especially on women, who are encouraged to “stay sexy and don’t get murdered” (a tagline of My Favorite Murder), as if being attacked is a choice women make, or something that can be avoided if we’re smart enough. This story by Emma Berquist is, in my opinion, an excellent critique of our culture’s obsession with true crime stories.
  • “‘I did feel that the people in the room did believe me’: Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford discuss testimony,” The 19th. Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford are inextricably linked as two women who testified in front of Congress to call out sexual misconduct by  Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh before they were both confirmed as justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. 30 years after Hill’s testimony and three years after Ford’s, the two women spoke to each other for the first time publicly in a podcast. The 19th covers a key moment of that conversation in this piece.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments, or thoughts about the real pronunciation of “gerrymandering” to ahackett@minnpost.com, or find me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.