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D.C. Memo: POTUS up north

Biden visited the North Star state, Omar got wrapped up in more far-right harassment and Smith introduced a bill that could help save lives.

photo of joe biden speaking
President Joe Biden spoke at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me absolutely overwhelmed with joy: I adopted a Welsh Corgi puppy last week while I was home with family in Minnesota, and now the little guy is back in the District with me, lying on my feet while I write this edition of the Memo. Who knows, maybe when he stops making messes on the floor he’ll join me at the Capitol and become part of the exclusive group of pups on the Hill. Speaking of overwhelmed, it seems that lawmakers may be feeling that way with everything going on after their holiday recess. Here’s what has happened so far this week: Biden visited the North Star state, Omar got wrapped up in more far-right harassment and Smith introduced a bill that could help save lives.

Minnesota Joe

In his first trip to the state as president, Joe Biden made an appearance in Minnesota on Tuesday, flying into Minneapolis and then heading to Rosemount to talk up his infrastructure bill at Dakota County Technical College. The location was reportedly suggested by Second District Rep. Angie Craig.

“They have a really strong construction trades program there at the college. And, of course, when we’re talking about highways, roads, bridges, investments, we also want to make sure we’re talking about the jobs that are going to be created and upgrading the infrastructure of America,” Craig told CQ Roll Call. “There’s also a really good other reason. … The bipartisan bill that passed makes substantial investment in the transportation sector, and so when we think about training the next generation of heavy-duty truck drivers and to help with us shoring up our supply chains across the country, this is a place that can symbolize those efforts to do just that.”

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Biden touted the infrastructure bill’s ability to create jobs and stimulate the economy, and he also talked up the Build Back Better Act, a $1.75 trillion social spending bill, telling students in attendance that it would include $5 billion for community colleges to expand workforce training programs.

“We’re going to help America win the competition for the 21st Century,” Biden said to his audience. “We’re getting back in the game.”

The president met with several of Minnesota’s Democratic members of Congress, including Second District Rep. Angie Craig, Third District Rep. Dean Phillips, Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

Phillips posted a picture on Twitter of the lawmakers in front of Air Force One, calling them “the five members of the Minnesota delegation who voted to bring home >$6 billion” for the state through the passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law. (This may or may not have been a shot at Rep. Ilhan Omar, who was the only Minnesota Democrat to vote “no” on the bill because it didn’t coincide with a simultaneous vote on the Build Back Better Act.)

Minnesota Republicans were not as welcoming to the president. First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn sent out a fundraising email Tuesday bashing the president: “If you haven’t heard yet, President Biden is visiting Minnesota today. Unsurprisingly, Biden is more focused on pushing his disastrous multi-trillion dollar bill than fixing any of the crises he created.”

Deadline? What deadline?

If you’ve been following along with the D.C. Memo for the last couple of months, this idea will be familiar to you: Congress sets a mandatory deadline for a big piece of legislation, claims they’ll have a vote by the deadline, and inevitably the deadline passes and they simply set a new one.

The deadline game is on again, this time with the Build Back Better Act, which lawmakers like Sen. Amy Klobuchar have said will be done before Christmas.

But there are only 10 working days between Congress’ Thanksgiving recess and their winter recess, which causes a reporter like me to ask whether anything will be determined at all before the effective end of the year.

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Congress narrowly avoided missing the deadline for funding the government, which if missed would have shut down most government functions at midnight tonight.

The Senate voted 69 to 28 Thursday night to approve a short-term continuing resolution that will extend current funding approved during the Trump administration until February 18. This came after a House vote of 221 to 212.

Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum spoke on the House floor during the vote on the continuing resolution: “As Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, it is clear that Republicans are undermining our national security. … I am voting for this Continuing Resolution to prevent a Republican shutdown. But I must say, while this CR is necessary, I find it to be an unacceptable outcome.”

For more on lawmakers’ list of bills they need to pass and promises they need to fulfill before the end of the year, check out our piece that published this morning.

Rep. Omar fends off more attacks from the right

While fielding hate messages from people all over the country, Fifth Congressional District Rep. Ilhan Omar has been forced to continue fending off attacks from her Republican colleagues in the House. The last couple of weeks have been a doozy.

This week, Omar and Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado had a phone call with each other that was meant to defuse tensions between the two lawmakers after Boebert made Islamophobic comments about Omar.

This excerpt from NPR breaks it down pretty well: “The communication came after a video emerged of Boebert telling a Colorado audience a story about how she once shared an elevator with Omar. Boebert said she saw a U.S. Capitol Police officer running toward the elevator. ‘I looked to my left and there she is: Ilhan Omar. And I said, “Well, she does not have a backpack — we should be OK”’’ The audience laughed. She also referred to Omar as a member of the ‘Jihad Squad.’ Omar denied that the incident Boebert recounted ever took place.”

Omar is one of just three Muslims serving in Congress, and has been subject to attacks like this before. But Boebert seems to have taken things to the next level, bashing Omar after their call on her personal Instagram account.

Meanwhile, the fallout from Boebert’s Islamophobic comments has reached further into the Republican party. As POLITICO reports, far-right Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and conservative South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace have spiraled off of Omar v. Boebert into their own separate Twitter fight after Mace condemned Boebert for her attacks on Omar and Greene came to her defense. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is not happy about it.

“As more controversies crop up in McCarthy’s conference, the ultra-conservatives in his party are increasingly emboldened. Their calls to squeeze out Republicans who have rebuked former President Donald Trump, despite McCarthy arguing that the GOP is a ‘big tent party’ that has never been more united, are only growing louder,” POLITICO reports.

In a statement released after her call with Boebert, Rep. Omar said that the Republican party has done nothing to hold their members accountable for instances of hate and harassment.

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“This is not about one hateful statement or one politician; it is about a party that has mainstreamed bigotry and hatred,” Omar said. “It is time for Republican Leader McCarthy to actually hold his party accountable.”

PrEP for all

In more wholesome news, Sen. Tina Smith joined California Rep. Adam Schiff in introducing a bill that will expand access to HIV prevention medications like PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis). Sen. Amy Klobuchar is also a cosponsor.

The “PrEP Access and Coverage Act of 2021” addresses the underutilization of PrEP and PEP in high risk communities by “ensuring these medications and any associated costs are covered by health insurance.” The two drugs tend to be expensive if not covered under one’s health insurance, and cost can make it particularly difficult for disadvantaged communities to reliably take the life-saving medication.

“Too many people in Minnesota and across this country are unduly burdened by the high costs of HIV drugs, and many others are going without this lifesaving preventative medication,” Smith said in a press release announcing the bill. “This bill takes an important step towards ensuring that these highly effective medications are accessible and affordable for every patient who needs them.”

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What I’m reading

  • “Abortion in America: a visual timeline,” The 19th. Many of  you will have had eyes on the Supreme Court oral arguments yesterday in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which could overturn Roe v. Wade,  the landmark SCOTUS case that guarantees Americans the right to an abortion. The 19th put together a stunning timeline of abortion policies in the U.S., complete with photos of protest movements that look achingly similar to the ones still going on today.
  • “Omicron’s best- and worst-case scenarios,” The Atlantic. The lead of this story really gets it: “World, meet Omicron; Omicron, meet a lot of people who are very, very anxious to know more about you.” So, the new coronavirus variant omicron has made it to the U.S. — and to Minnesota — already. If you’re like me, you might be thinking that this really affects your winter holiday get together plans. Or, you may say that your vaccination and booster combo will ease your nerves over this new strain. Either way, the best way I know to ease my anxiety about things like this is to be as informed as possible. (And I recommend taking a look here — there could be good news when comparing omicron to delta.)

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or pictures of your puppies to ahackett@minnpost.com, or find me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.