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D.C. Memo: Virginia blame game

A win for Rep. Angie Craig in the Build Back Better Act, the GOP’s caravan anxieties and Sen. Amy Klobuchar on gun mods.

Glenn Youngkin speaking during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Glenn Youngkin speaking during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia.
Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me navigating whiplash as I returned from vacation on Wednesday to some pretty big overnight changes. Election Day was a bit hectic this week, but pretty tame compared to the 2020 waiting game. In the memo this week, we’ll talk about that as well as a win for Rep. Angie Craig in the Build Back Better Act, the GOP’s caravan anxieties and Sen. Amy Klobuchar pushing for investigations on gun mods.

All eyes on Virginia

2021 is an off year for elections, meaning that even though some local elections took place yesterday, the balance of power in Congress was not affected. At least not directly.

Republicans saw some wins across the country Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, with a notable victory coming from Virginia. Republican Glenn Youngkin, in his first run for office, beat Democrat Terry McAulifffe in a race for governor. Virginia had been trending blue for the better part of the last decade.

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Though Youngkin’s election doesn’t technically have much to do with Congress, congressional Republicans are taking it as a good omen for their future success. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a memo to lawmakers Tuesday night, saying that Youngkin’s win “sent an undeniable message that extends beyond the Commonwealth to every corner of the country…Americans want a change in leadership, and Virginia is just the first step.”

The finger-pointing over McAuliffe’s loss has already started on Capitol Hill. Some Democrats are blaming progressives after McAuliffe warned Dem leaders that they needed to pass the pending infrastructure package in order to turn out more moderate voters. Progressives, on the other hand, are assigning blame to moderates, arguing that the obstruction from Sens. Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema got in the way of a Democratic victory in Virginia.

Minnesotan judge takes questions before Congress

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kate M. Menendez was questioned by U.S. senators including Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Wednesday as Congress works through President Joe Biden’s court nominations.

Biden nominated Menendez for U.S. District Court Judge for Minnesota in September, and she has the support of both Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith and Klobuchar.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary committee, which has responsibility for overseeing judicial and executive nominations, questioned Menendez about speeches she had given and her time as a public defender, saying that “it is of concern that you would seek to use your position on the bench as an advocate.” Klobuchar also asked Menendez about her experience as a public defender.

“From the moment I took the bench, I was actually somewhat surprised at how easy it was to leave behind my role as an advocate and to assume the role of judge, where I have to decide the cases before me based on the facts and the law,” Menendez said. “Positions that I took as an advocate, my personal beliefs, those things play — and can play — no role in the decisions I make as a judge.”

Drug money

It looks like Second District Rep. Angie Craig secured a big win this week in the budget reconciliation bill, otherwise known as the Build Back Better Act. On Tuesday, Craig released a statement following reports that Democrats had reached an agreement on lowering prescription drug costs, one of the final provisions negotiated as part of the bill.

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Over the weekend, Craig led 14 of her Democratic colleagues in writing a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer urging “immediate action” to address the high cost of prescription drugs in the U.S.

Prescription drug reform was not among the original suggested provisions in the Build Back Better Act, but Craig and a group of fellow swing district colleagues pushed to include the provision in the bill at what seemed like the last minute (though with Congress missing most self-imposed deadlines, what does “last minute” really mean?).

“While we still need the legislative language, I am encouraged by the news that we’ve reached an agreement to lower prescription drug costs for seniors and families as part of the Build Back Better Act,” Craig said in a statement. “This agreement would allow Medicare to negotiate some drug prices for the first time, penalize companies for outrageous price hikes and cap the amount of money seniors pay for their drugs.”

Caravans, again

In a fundraising campaign email from First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn, the congressman expressed concern and contempt for a caravan of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers — mostly women and children — from Central America and the Caribbean that is making its way through southern Mexico.

“The Biden Administration’s complete incompetence has resulted in the worst migration crisis America has ever experienced. There is only one solution to this crisis: we need to bring back Trump-era policies like Remain in Mexico and building the wall,” Hagedorn said in the campaign email.

Hagedorn and his colleague Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber joined 42 other House Republicans in sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and Attorney General Merrick Garland expressing urgent concern regarding a recent report from the Wall Street Journal that the Biden Administration is considering paying certain people who crossed the U.S. border in 2018 roughly $450,000 in compensation per person.

Specifically, though, the money has been suggested as a way for the Biden administration to settle with the immigrant families who were separated from their children during the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, which was later abandoned and halted by a judge.

The GOP letter asserts that “promising  tens of thousands of dollars to those who unlawfully entered the United States would not only reward criminal behavior, but it would surely send a message to the world that our borders are open, and our rule of law will not be enforced.” However, any money the Biden administration is considering giving to immigrant families would not go to current migrants, but to survivors of family separation and human rights abuses under the Trump administration.

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Klobuchar and Booker take on gun modifications

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey are pushing the federal government to take action against the sale and distribution of certain gun modifications that can convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic firearms.

The two senators sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland voicing their concerns and asking the Department of Justice to investigate “auto sears” and other conversion devices. As ABC reports, “when an auto sear is installed into a semi-automatic firearm, the weapon will fire multiple rounds as long as the trigger is pulled instead of just one round.”

In the letter, the senators note that “The proliferation of these illegal devices has increased nationwide, in part due to the ease and accessibility of 3-D printing and the availability of cheap imported conversion devices from countries like China.” They also said that data from the Minneapolis Police Department found that there have been more than 72 incidents involving automatic weapon discharge in 2021 so far, compared to five during the same time last year.

Klobuchar and Booker also asked the DOJ for the agency’s current plans to address the rise of gun mods and any strategies for curbing illegal sales it is considering.

What I’m reading

    • “Hustle culture is grinding us down,” Dame. My favorite quote of this piece: “Capitalism demands you grind yourself into the grind.” I love most writing by Rainesford Stauffer, the author of this piece, because she has an ability to dig into the cultural forces behind the burnout many Americans are feeling while also centering the experiences of a wide range of people. This piece explores the glorification of “hustle culture” and how it’s been exacerbated in many cases during the pandemic.
    •  “Oldest U.S. president and Senate in history face growing calls for senility tests,” Fortune. When I first saw this headline, I kind of thought it was a joke. But on second thought, Biden will turn 79 in a few weeks, Pelosi is 81 and McConnell is 79. Sen. Diane Feinstein of California is 88, and has faced some allegations of cognitive decline. I’m a firm believer in the old cliche that age is just a number, but it’s also about representation: With the average age in Congress at 61 and the median age in the U.S. at 38, you’ve got to wonder whether younger constituents are being represented by people who understand them.

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