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D.C. Memo: The last infrastructure Memo🤞

Plus: explaining the origin of “Let’s go Brandon,” Republicans on inflation and Minnesota Reps. introduce Veterans Day legislation.

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
The House finally passed its long-awaited infrastructure bill Friday night.
Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me continually laughing about the strange experience of living in the D.C. area: I was at a birthday event at a downtown bar late Friday night when a cheer rang out…not to raise a drink for the birthday girl, but to celebrate the infrastructure bill passing the House. Can’t make this stuff up. Aside from passing that major bill, here’s what else has been going on in the District this week: explaining the origin of “Let’s go Brandon,” Republicans on inflation and Minnesota Reps. introduce Veterans Day legislation.

We can finally stop talking about Infrastructure Week

Or is this really just the start of Infrastructure Week?

I for one am relieved that the House finally passed its long-awaited infrastructure bill Friday night, if only because that means I likely will not have to start every Memo talking about infrastructure. I’m sure you will all be thrilled.

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The vote was 226 to 208, going mostly along party lines, although 13 Republicans voted in favor of the bill and six Democrats broke ranks to vote against it. None of Minnesota’s Republican representatives voted for the bill, but Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar voted against it.

Omar has said that this move wasn’t because she’s against the idea of the bill, but she is against the political ramifications of passing it right now. Along with other members of “The Squad,” Omar has repeatedly said that she would not support the bill unless Congress first voted on the Build Back Better Act, a social spending bill that contains priority provisions for her like subsidized child care and universal Pre-K.

“From the beginning, I have been clear that I would not be able to support the infrastructure bill without a vote on the Build Back Better Act,” Omar, the whip of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement after the vote. “Passing the infrastructure bill without passing the Build Back Better Act first risks leaving behind child care, paid leave, health care, climate action, housing, education, and a road map to citizenship.”

For breakdowns of what Minnesota can expect from the bill, how the money is distributed and the politics surrounding its passage, check out our story from earlier this week. Let’s just say MnDOT will have its hands full over the next five years.

And just for fun, let’s talk briefly about the absolute mayhem that has ensued during and after the infrastructure debates and vote.

During a floor debate on Friday before the infrastructure bill vote, Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast screamed across the floor after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech in support of the Build Back Better Act, yelling “you can get an Emmy for that one.” He then heckled Rep. Salud Carbajal of California, shouting about a provision in a Democratic bill that would hire more IRS enforcement. Carbajal yelled “you’re an idiot” at him as he walked away.

And perhaps in the best description of the day, progressive Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin summed it up: “The whole day was a clusterfuck, right?”

After the dust settled, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted the office phone numbers of all 13 Republicans who voted in favor of the bill, and some are now getting thousands of calls from constituents. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan reportedly got a call from someone saying “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your f—ing family dies.”

The next big American problem

Democrats’ next political nightmare is taking the shape of inflation, and right now it’s inflation worse than the country has seen in years. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is showing that the cost of living in the U.S. rose 6.2 percent over the last year, which is the highest rate in 30 years.

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The price of gas is surging, averaging $3.40 nationwide (I saw it around $4.30 at a station near the Capitol here in D.C. this week). This is a tough pill to swallow for many Americans coming out of a destructive pandemic, and it’s threatening Biden’s already weakening political standing.

In a speech at the Port of Baltimore on Wednesday that was supposed to promote his infrastructure win and plan for social spending, Biden seemed forced to acknowledge the nation’s rising prices.

“The American people, in the midst of an economic crisis, that recovery is showing strong results, but not to them,” Biden said. “They’re still looking out there. Everything from a gallon of gas to a loaf of bread costs more. And it’s worrisome, even though wages are going up.”

Lawmakers have already jumped on inflation as a partisan issue. Tyler Kistner, who is campaigning to replace Rep. Angie Craig as representative of Minnesota’s Second District, tweeted this week that as inflation rises, Craig and Democrats are “continuing to call [inflation] a high class problem and asking Americans to lower their standards.” He called inflation a cause of Biden and Democrats’ “failed economic policies.”

Who is Brandon and why do Republicans love him?

The phrase “Let’s go Brandon” has been circulating around Republican circles recently, becoming an ending to speeches on the House floor and even a part of one Southwest Airlines pilot’s address to his passengers.

“Let’s go Brandon” has become right-wing code for “F–k Joe Biden.” But how did we get here?

According to analysis by CNN, the origin of the chant seems to have come from a NASCAR race in Alabama in early October. When an NBC Sports reporter was interviewing the winner of the race, a driver named Brandon Brown, the crowd started chanting. When the reporter mentioned the chant, she said to Brown, “As you can hear the chants from the crowd, ‘Let’s go Brandon.’”

Except that wasn’t what the crowd was actually chanting. You can listen to the real chant here. After that misunderstanding, right-wingers took it as evidence of “fake news” and the media’s choice to not show the anti-Biden sentiments around the country.

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The catchphrase has now likely reached its peak as it has spiraled into jokes in liberal circles.  Like so many other political memes, “Let’s go Brandon” will likely fade almost as quickly as it became popularized. So if you or someone you love is a Brandon, they might just have to wait this one out for a little bit longer.

Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day, and if you are or were a member of the military, thank you for your service. Some of Minnesota’s congressional representatives are celebrating this year’s holiday by introducing bills that could help veterans or current servicemembers.

Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber introduced the Restore TRICARE Select Act, which would eliminate or cap enrollment fees on TRICARE health insurance. TRICARE provides health insurance to active-duty and retired service members, National Guard Reserve Members and their families when services cannot be provided at a military treatment facility. Starting on Jan. 1, 2021, TRICARE Select Group A retired beneficiaries have had to pay an annual fee of $150 annually or $300 annually for families.

Of his legislation, Congressman Stauber stated, “Despite promises made to America’s heroes, President Obama signed legislation that enabled his Department of Defense to place burdensome enrollment fees on military retirees who signed up for TRICARE. This broken promise came as a surprise to American veterans as they were never required to pay for TRICARE before.”

Third District Rep. Dean Phillips and Republican Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin introduced the No Veteran Falls Through the Cracks Act, legislation that would ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) follows up with veterans rescheduling mental health appointments at the VA. Currently, if a veteran cancels or misses a mental health appointment online the VA is not required to follow up to reschedule.

“As a Gold Star Son, I am committed to ensuring our veterans receive the support that they deserve,” Rep. Phillips said in a statement accompanying the bill. “Addressing the crisis of veteran suicide in this country is of paramount priority. Scheduling a mental health appointment online has become the preferred method for this generation of transitioning veterans, so it is crucial that those cancelled online appointments receive follow-up.”

Phillips and Second District Rep. Angie Craig joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Governor Walz today for a visit to a veterans center to highlight the importance of access to mental health care and readjustment services for veterans.

What I’m reading

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  • “The myth of the woke college graduate,” The Atlantic. There has been a good amount of discourse online and in national media about the “woke left,” often referring to uppity, white college-educated people who spend time doing things like policing people who say “pregnant women” instead of “pregnant people.” But a poll conducted by The Atlantic/Ledger showed that there was no significant difference in “woke” viewpoints between people who went to college and those who did not. Findings from this poll suggested rather that there were much larger discrepancies in opinion among older age groups vs. younger age groups. If, like me, you enjoy geeking out on sociological findings like this, I highly suggest giving this one a read.
  • “Doctor accused of falsely reporting hypothermia to get helicopter rescue off Denali,” Gawker. Honestly, I kind of understand where this guy is coming from. How often have I gone on a grueling hike to only want to cry when I realize I have to get back down? (To this guy’s credit, the longest hike I’ve gone on is probably 10 miles round trip, whereas summiting the Alaska mountain is slightly more grueling.) Now, this Utah doctor is facing federal charges for faking two other climbers’ hypothermia, even though the other hikers claim that they were fine and had been trying to convince the doctor to climb down for hours.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or hot takes on infrastructure and inflation to ahackett@minnpost.com, or find me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.